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Best Calibers for
Moose Hunting

By Gary Winterton |
Moose standing in the mountains

The Lakota called it “Heblaska” a large animal they rarely encountered in their original lands stretching from Western Minnesota to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Heblaska is the moose, known scientifically as Alces alces Americana. No matter what you call moose, they are magnificent animals, the largest members of the deer family that regularly stand taller and weigh more than the next largest member of their family the elk.

Finding the best caliber for moose hunting isn’t a challenge, but it does require a little research. You’ve probably read that moose require huge calibers to hunt efficiently, calibers with 2000 or more foot-pounds of energy, that’s not exactly the truth. Moose are large, but they’re not as dense as a grizzly bear and don’t require “heavy artillery” to take ethically with a single shot.

The best calibers for moose aren’t much different than those for elk, black bear, or mule deer. The .30-06 remains the most popular caliber among moose hunters, but the .308, the .270, .300 Win Mag and 7mm magnum work equally as well. We’ll take a look at all of these calibers and a few more in the sections below.

Criteria for a Good Moose Caliber in Both Styles of Hunting

A good caliber for moose depends on a couple of factors:

  • What level of energy does it take to humanely harvest a moose?
  • How far is the shot?

A bullet arriving on target with more than 1,000 foot pounds of energy is sufficient to take down the largest moose. Shot placement is equally as important as bullet mass, velocity and ultimately, energy—but when considering calibers, we’re looking at energy on impact.

There are many calibers that are a great choice for moose hunting. We’ll review each of them in depth below. We’ve broken the categories into distance shots and meadow, or close range shots. Distance shots are at distances of beyond 400 yards, while closer, meadow style shots are rated for smaller calibers that still deliver the 1,000 pounds of energy. You’ll quickly notice, the venerable .30-06 is the only cartridge in both lists.

Distance shots < 400 yards
Meadow shots(close range) > 400 yards

Distance moose hunting calibers (over 300 yards)

  • .30-06 Springfield (180 grain)
  • .300 Winchester Magnum (200 grain)
  • .338 Winchester Magnum (225 grain)
  • 7mm Remington Magnum (162 grain)
  • .375 Ruger (250 grain)

Meadow moose hunting calibers (under 300 yards)

  • .30-06 Springfield (180 grain)
  • .270 Winchester (150 grain)
  • 35 Whelen (200 grain)
  • .300 H&H (200 grain)

Distance Moose Hunting

Selecting a caliber for the long distance shots you can find in the vastness of the Rocky Mountain West and the Alaskan wilderness is an important consideration, both for accuracy, and for the ethical taking of a moose, preferably with a single shot.

.30-06 Springfield (180 grain)

.30-06 Springfield

More moose have been taken with a .30-06 than any other cartridge. Hunters have been using these bullets for generations. Evolved from the British .303 at the beginning of the 20th century, it is a great all-around hunting platform available in bullets from 125 to 180 grains right off the shelf.

One of the easier to obtain calibers, the ammunition is readily available. This is a strong all-around caliber that is the focal point of many manufacturers. It is an excellent moose cartridge for both long range and close range hunting.

A loud cartridge, it offers a manageable recoil, rated as moderate by Sportsman’s, with a rating of 3.64 when firing a 180-grain bullet. It is a great choice for distance shots, with a drop of only 20 to 22 inches depending on the style of 180-grain bullet fired at 400 yards. The energy is substantial as well, delivering 1478 to 1772 foot-pounds at 400 yards, again depending on the style of 180-grain bullet.

Contrary to some opinions, the .30-06 is not the smallest round for moose hunting. Moose are large animals, but their muscle density and bone mass doesn’t compare to a grizzly or an African or Asian Cape Buffalo in terms of the toughest game. Most hunters rate moose as medium to large game when reading ballistic charts. A 180-grain bullet, fired from a high energy, express style cartridge, will drop a moose in its tracks at a quarter mile away with a well placed shot.

The .30-06 that has served you so well with 150-grain bullets on deer and pronghorn will continue to deliver top performance in a 180-grain bullet when hunting moose.

Pros Cons
  • Good availability
  • Manageable recoil
  • Good choice for close range or distance shots
  • Classic cartridge
  • Loud

.300 Winchester Magnum (200 grain)

300 Winchester

This is an excellent big game caliber whether you’re shooting 150-grain or 200-grain ammunition. It delivers tremendous shock on impact. The .300 Win Mag is growing in popularity among big game enthusiasts and has been a contender with the venerable .30-06 over the last decade for moose hunters.

The .300 Win Mag has an excellent trajectory. Loaded with 180-grain bullets, the drop ranges from five to seven inches at 300 yards, and just 15 to 18 at 400, making it one of the best platforms for distance shots.

A drawback to the .300 Win Mag is the cost of ammunition, but it is easy to reload and the power it generates at distance is impressive. Off the shelf, boxed ammunition delivers between 1500 and 2000 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards in the various offerings.

Pros Cons
  • High energy on impact
  • Excellent trajectory for long distance
  • Expensive

.338 Winchester Magnum (225 grain)

338 Winchester

In America, bigger is better, and more is almost always want the consumer is looking for. When it comes to the .338 Win Mag, that’s the case in comparison with its little brother the .300 Win Mag.

This caliber walks the line between a standard rifle caliber and a next-level powerhouse. You’ll feel that power in your shoulder with a recoil score of 4.8, at the very extreme of moderate. The 338 Win Mag was developed in 1958 for big game hunters as a middle ground between the lighter .30-06 Springfield and the heavier .375 H&H. They became known for their heavier slugs, which gave them greater striking power.

It is a very accurate round, and as a result, is a popular platform for long distance shooting competitions.

Pros Cons
  • Larger cartridge
  • Very accurate
  • Heavy recoil

7mm Remington Magnum (162 grain)

7mm Remington Magnum

The 7mm Mag is a classic, proven cartridge for big game hunting. They have excellent ballistics, especially for their weight. It has a shorter case than some heavy calibers such as the .300 H&H, which allows it to fit with more standard-length actions.

The 7mm Mag is offered in many varieties of rifles and ammunition. It is being introduced to more big game rifles each year as its popularity grows. All ammunition supply is fickle, but 7mm Mag is usually accessible and not overly expensive.

The recoil is moderate, with a 3.42 rating. Moose hunters often hike many miles to find an animal. The lighter rifles designed for 7mm Mag make it easier to hike those steep trails along mountain valleys.

Offered in 139, 154, and 162-grain bullets, the 162-grain variety offers the best energy at 400 yards, delivering over 2000 foot-pounds in a couple of off the shelf loads. An added benefit is a bullet drop of less than 20 inches at 400 yards.

Pros Cons
  • Excellent ballistics
  • Standard-length action
  • Affordable & accessible
  • Moderate recoil
  • Smaller bullet

.375 Ruger (250 grain)

375 Ruger

This cartridge is made for big game, largely the African variety, with a tip of the hat to Alaskan brown bear hunters. It has a high recoil with a 6.02 rating. It will work for moose, but it is overkill.

You don’t need artillery to ethically harvest a moose. If you want to take a .375 Ruger moose hunting, that’s fine, there is nothing wrong with it, but it is a very stout cartridge for the job.

A caveat on .375 Ruger is the cost and availability of ammunition. Many .375 Ruger advocates buy the highest quality ammunition they can find, then reload to reduce cost over time. In a world of diminishing ammunition supply, the .375 Ruger is one of the first to become scarce.

The .375 Ruger will fit in a shorter action than the comparable .375 H&H, while still having similar ballistics. This means that you can use it in a lighter, more portable rifle. This shorter length is its primary advantage over other high-power cartridges, but that light weight comes with a tremendous shock at the shoulder in extreme recoil.

Pros Cons
  • Major stopping power
  • Fits in a shorter action
  • Very heavy recoil
  • Larger than necessary for moose
  • Expensive
  • Can be hard to find

Meadow Moose Calibers

The magic of meadow moose hunting is that you don’t need a cannon to ethically harvest a big bull or cow. Smaller caliber rifles, those used traditionally for other big game such as deer, elk, and pronghorn work just fine at the closer targeting distance you’re likely to encounter along streams, adjacent to heavy brush with broken cover, and in swampy riparian areas.

.30-06 Springfield (180 grain)

.30-06 Springfield

The .30-06 remains the favorite among big game hunters for its ballistics, energy, and accuracy. Add the wide variety of rifles that chamber this popular round, with the ability to purchase standard sized bullets in 150, 165, and 180-grain cartridges and you have a winner proven by the test of time.

The .30-06 delivers far more energy than is necessary to drop a moose, especially at close range. At the 200-yard extreme, the maximum you’re likely to encounter a moose living in broken, heavily brushed country every cartridge available in boxed ammunition from 150 to 180 grains, delivers 1888 to 2300 pounds of energy. That’s well beyond the threshold for the largest bull moose.

Some make the claim the .30-06 is too small for moose, but that is simply not true. The .270, a much smaller cartridge and even the lightweight .243 deliver ample energy at distances under 300 yards to drop the biggest moose with a single shot.

Pros Cons
  • Good availability
  • Manageable recoil
  • Good choice for close range or distance shots
  • Classic cartridge
  • Loud

.270 Winchester (150 grain)

270 Winchester

This is another excellent caliber. While it’s known as an ideal medium-grade bullet, it is powerful enough for moose as well. If you’re looking to use the same rifle for deer, pronghorn, hogs, and elk, this caliber is as versatile as they come and will tackle any big game.

The .270 Winchester has a flatter trajectory with strong range and accuracy. The drop for a 150-grain bullet at 250 yards is only six inches. The energy for the most popular big game bullets in .270, 140 and 145 grains deliver between 1770 and 1900 foot-pounds of energy at 300 yards. More than adequate for moose.

Flat shooting and high velocity, this is a popular caliber for hunters looking for a pinpoint shot at less than 300 yards, while stiller delivering a wallop in energy.

To the .270’s credit, ammunition is readily available in a variety of loads and bullet sizes, making it arguably the most popular “one size takes all game” rifle on the market.

Pros Cons
  • Flat trajectory
  • Accurate
  • Can also be used for medium game like deer
  • Accessible and affordable
  • Often seen as “medium-grade” depending on range

.35 Whelen (200 grain)

35 Whelen

Firing a 200-grain bullet, and dropping just 8.6 inches at 300 yards, the .35 Whelen is making inroads into the big game arena. This is a powerful caliber, especially at close range.

Considered a very useful all-around sporting cartridge, it is practical, fitting in standard actions. Add a widely available ammunition supply and a moderate recoil rated at 3.97 and you’ve got a keeper for many moose hunters.

All major manufacturers offer some variation of the .358-inch diameter rifle.

The major complaint about the .35 Whelen is a lower powder charge that some hunters claim is too light. Ballistics would indicate otherwise as the .35 Whelen carries an energy of 1778 foot-pounds at 300 yards and 2,968 foot-pounds at 100 yards. That’s enough stopping power for any moose, and it is an accurate flat shooting cartridge as well.

Pros Cons
  • Fits in standard actions
  • Widely available
  • Moderate recoil
  • Lower ballistics

.300 H&H (200 grain)

300 H&H

Delivering almost 3000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards, it still retains 1586 pounds at 500 yards. The .300 H&H is not as popular as it once was with the advent of the .300 and .338 Win Mag cartridges, but it remains a good round for moose.

Recoil is manageable at 3.75, a moderate rating, and the flat shooting 200-grain bullet drops just seven inches at 300 yards.

Ammunition for the .300 H&H is readily available, but it is one of the easier rounds to reload, so it’s very popular in reloading circles.

Comparable to a .30-06 in many aspects, it is a good big game rifle that is currently suffering from a bit of identity crisis due to better marketing by other calibers. In recent years, it’s been replaced by similarly powerful calibers on more affordable guns, but it’s still a quality caliber for moose hunting.

Some hunters still use the .300 H&H as a vintage British cartridge with a unique feel.

Pros Cons
  • Manageable recoil
  • Flat trajectory
  • Readily available
  • Less affordable than some comparable calibers


When it comes to moose hunting, there is nothing resembling “one size fits all.” The widely varied terrain that represents moose habitat creates a wide range of calibers that work with each. Some cartridges, like the .30-06 work well everywhere, making the venerable “ought six” the go-to rifle cartridge for moose hunters.

Others work well with long distance shots, and some are better suited to shorter distance hunting in heavily brushed areas.

Once you’ve found a cartridge that has the energy and the accuracy to drop a moose, it’s up to you to decide how much recoil you’ll put up with, how heavy the gun will be when packing it on a long hunt, and how easy it is to get ammunition for your choice.

They are all steps in finding the right moose caliber for your style of hunting.