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Even in normal times, one of the more significant considerations for anyone buying a new rifle contemplates is ammo availability for their cartridge of choice. Many hunters select rifles chambered for cartridges that are available at just about any backroad mom and pop store. The logic here is that no matter where you decide to hunt, or what circumstances you encounter, you’ll never be far from available ammo. In typical times, this makes sense, but these aren’t typical times.
We’ve been through a couple rounds of ammunition shortages in the past decade, and this one has been incredibly frustrating not only for recreational shooters, but hunters, as this shortage has heavily impacted many of the most-commonly used hunting cartridges—some hunters haven’t seen ammo for their rifles on the shelf in nearly two years.
Ammunition for many go-to big-game hunting cartridges like .300 Win. Mag., .243 Win, and .30/06 have been all-but-unobtainable in many areas of the country. Sporting goods and hardware stores everywhere have had perpetually empty shelves, often filling them with other merchandise in a passive move of surrender to the reality of the current shortage. Things won’t be back to normal soon.
However there are some hunting cartridges that seem to still be available. The shelves have maintained some strong holdouts, and maybe it shows that we can’t always count on old reliable cartridges being there. Maybe it’s better to pick something slightly off-beat if you want to find ammo. Although availability certainly varies depending on location, I’ve noticed several cartridges that have maintained a presence on most store shelves throughout the entire shortage here in Alaska. I did some crowdsourcing with my hunting buddies around the country and their anecdotes have pretty-well backed up what I’ve seen. If you can’t wait-out the shortage, a new hunting rifle chambered in one of these cartridges might make sense for you.
The .25/06 is an old, but fantastic hunting cartridge. This is the single most-noticeable cartridge that I’ve seen a wide variety of ammo stay on the shelves. This made me happy, as the .25/06 is a long-time favorite chambering for Dall sheep. It’s also an excellent choice for deer, antelope, and black bears.
One of my favorite bullets for the .25/06 is the Nosler 110-grain Accubond. Loaded by Federal Premium, the 110 Accubond has a flat-shooting muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps and holds together well enough to tackle just about any big game. I’ve killed moose with this bullet with no issues, but it’s ideal for medium-sized big game.
For the average deer hunter, it’s hard to argue with the 120-grain Remington Core-Lokt if your rifle likes them. Core-Lokt sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s a fine choice for an affordable bullet that’s put an unfathomable amount of venison in freezers.
.300 Weatherby Magnum
Not long ago, I was talking to a guy who mentioned that at the front end of this ammo shortage, he sold his rifle chambered in .300 Weatherby Mag and bought a .300 Win. Mag. because he thought he’d have a better chance of finding ammo. The opposite turned out to be true. Although I’ve recently seen some .300 Win. Mag. showing up on shelves, selection is limited. Ammo for .300 Weatherby Mag. however, has stuck on many store shelves throughout the past couple years.
A little faster than the .300 Win. Mag., the .300 Weatherby Mag. is an ultra-capable and great all-around big game rifle. It’s perfectly suited for taking anything in North America—and much of the world. It’s turned out to be just popular enough to have a lot of ammo produced, but not so popular that it all dries up the instant people make a rush for toilet paper.
Weatherby Select Plus isn’t cheap, but it’s premium ammo that is typically very accurate and dependable. Loaded with a 180-grain Barnes TTSX at 3240 fps, it’s a dependable bet for deer, elk, or even Alaskan brown bears.
Most hunters don’t have (or don’t need) a .375 Ruger in their gun case, but it’s been one of the few cartridges that hasn’t surrendered its spot on the shelf over the past two years. Despite not catching widespread popularity, the .375 Ruger has its share of fans. It slightly edges out the .375 H&H in performance—but from a shorter standard-length action.
I’ve had my .375 Ruger for about 10 years, and it’s been used to kill several brown bears and black bears—and even a mountain goat. It’s my go-to backup and tracking rifle for bear baiting in the spring and I used it while working as an assistant guide for brown bears.
For bear-stopping, I prefer the Hornady 300-grain DGX bonded, but the Hornady 250-grain GMX Superformance load would be an absolute hammer on almost any game in the world. They say the .375 H&H is the most versatile big-game cartridge in the world, but I’d say the .375 Ruger can do everything it can, but just a little better.
Although folks in some areas report 6.5 Creedmoor as being one of the steadfastly available cartridges, it’s the 6mm Creedmoor that seems to have been the most consistent through this shortage. Like some other cartridges, it’s possible that its popularity in some circles drives enough of a push to produce a lot of ammo, but it’s not as wildly sought-out as its parent, the 6.5 Creedmoor.
For many of the applications that the 6.5 Creedmoor excels in, the 6mm Creedmoor is close. In some specific ways, it outshines the 6.5. It’s a very shootable, accurate cartridge, and is a great option for medium-sized big game—although with the right bullet and shot selection it would have no problems on black bears, elk, or moose.
Hornady’s Precision Hunter 103-grain ELDX load is a great option for most big game, and the Nosler 95-grain ballistic tip load at 3,100 fps would be a great option for varminters—just don’t expect to salvage much for hides.
The venerable .308 is sort of the exception to the trend in this shortage—at least for big game cartridges. It’s one of the only extremely popular cartridges to be on the shelves during this ammo famine. To be fair it was cleared out for a while, but it’s back now with a wide variety of loads available. At a local ammo store, I recently saw no less than 6 premium .308 loads—even from top European brands like Lapua and Norma. Even Barnes Vor-TX 168-grain TTSX loads are available. Loads I’ve been able to find from Federal Premium include Fusion 180-grain, and 165-grain Swift Scirocco II. Another great all-around deer load for the .308 is Winchester’s Deer Season XP 150-grain Extreme Point, as well as Remington Core-Lokt Tipped 165-grain.
The .308 is probably the only cartridge on this list that would firmly find a place in just about any hunter’s “top” hunting cartridge list. It really needs no primping or preening to let you know that it’s one of the most versatile big-game cartridges ever produced. Having such a wide variety of premium ammo available make it an oddball, but it may have something to do with the massive push to catch up on ammo and components from the previous shortage—primarily of .223/5.56mm and .308/7.62mm. Maybe being primed—so to speak—has allowed companies to catch up on both of those cartridges more so than any other.
Although it’s not a rifle cartridge, the 10mm Auto is certainly worth mentioning in this list because of its flabbergasting abundance. From the very beginning of this shortage, 10mm has certainly been the most-available handgun cartridge here in Fairbanks, Alaska—and maybe even the most abundant centerfire cartridge period. Even now, one sporting goods store has pallets of the stuff sitting on the shelves and in the walkways—and the 10mm isn’t exactly a typical high-volume cartridge.
Again, the common theme seems to be cartridges that are popular but not too popular. The 10mm Auto has experienced another resurgence in recent years as it’s gained acceptance as a backcountry defense option that’s preferable to over-sized, unwieldy revolvers. We even did a bear gun shootout at our review of the best handguns of 2022 at Gunsite in Paulden, AZ. The 10mm has become popular enough to kick manufacturers into gear, but not so popular that people are gobbling up every round as quickly as it comes off the press.
There are a lot of great ammunition options available for 10mm—and your choice will vary depending on application. Earlier this year, I did a review of the best 10mm ammo that I could find on store shelves, and there were a lot of options.
Cartridge Selection in the Future
I can’t say that the old way of thinking about ammo availability was wrong. In normal times, ammo availability at far-off locations was the biggest concern for hunting ammo. However, more than gravitating toward what the hottest ticket currently is, it seems like it’s not a bad idea to pick a cartridge that’s just popular enough if potential availability is a big concern in the future.