The 12 Hottest Cartridges for Hunting and Shooting

It won't kill you to mix up your load selection every once in a while
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hot cartridges
Ah, the .30/06. So useful, versatile, practical and–dare we say it?–boring. And what of the .308, the .243 and the .30/30? They don't offer much to quicken the blood either, capable though they all are. If you desire a gun that not only gets the job done but does so with a bit of flair and panache, then these 12 cartridges are for you. OL
.17 hmr
The .22LR might be the most popular varmint round in existence, but the .17 HMR kicks its backside by every ballistic measure. It is speedy–2,500 fps with a 17-grain bullet–flat-shooting and almost universally accurate in the guns it is chambered for. For varmints within 150 yards, it is seriously bad news. For the shooter on the trigger, it is habit-forming fun. OL
Ruger varmint vaporizer
The .204 Ruger breaks the 4,000 fps barrier and has so little recoil that it is easy to spot your hits–two qualities that can lead to uncontrolled and inappropriate laughter when shooting over a prairie dog town. The light bullets it uses also buck the wind surprisingly well. It is a sexy little number and you can count on explosive performance out to 500 yards. OL
.220 swift
The Swift is as old as your grandfather and burns barrels like they were made of dried pine, but don't let that stop you from acquiring the ultimate varmint round. The stubby .223 WSSM made a brief claim for the title of fastest commercially loaded cartridge, but not enough folks took a shine to it with 40-grain bullets–so 76 years after its introduction, the .220 Swift still reigns supreme. OL
257 roberts
If you want Junior to blend into the crowd, then by all means get him a .243 for his first deer rifle. But if you want him to become a ballistic aficionado, go with this little quarter-bore instead. Its larger bullet diameter gives it an edge over the 6mms, it can be downloaded for first-time and recoil-sensitive shooters and it has a name that befits a Scottish laird. OL
high plains hunter
The .257 was Roy Weatherby's favorite of his eponymous magnums, and if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for you, too. It is a quintessential open-country deer and antelope round. It scoffs at long shots and high winds and burns a cupful of powder every time you pull the trigger. OL
6.5 creedmoor
The world's foremost ballistics geeks teamed up to design the 6.5 Creedmoor as an accurate long-range target round with mild recoil that's also easy to reload. Offered now with Hornady's 120-grain GMX bullet and propelled by Superformance powder, the 6.5 Creedmoor is making a name for itself as a deadly hunting round as well. OL
.280 remington
If the .270 Win. or .30/06 strike you as too ordinary, fear not. The .280 is an excellent all-around hunting round, although it took a while for its popularity to grow. But its star-crossed beginnings are part of its charm. It's also a handloader's dream. OL
lazzeroni warbird
The Warbird has the profile of an ICBM and delivers nearly the same killing power. At 400 yards, this .30-caliber magnum hits with the velocity and energy that a .30/06 has at the muzzle. Its exclusivity gives it undeniable snob appeal, but it also means you'll never find a spare box of ammo on the shelves of your gun store. OL
38 super
It was the most powerful handgun cartridge on the planet when it was introduced in the late '20s and, over the years, it has developed a cult-like following among pistoleros. It's been carried by assassins, secret agents, Mexican drug lords and action-pistol shooters, all of whom rely on its speed and knockdown power to gain an edge. OL
35 Remington
Show off your sophistication by opting for the .35 Remington over the .30/30 for your "brush" gun. It has better terminal ballistics, making it more capable on large-bodied whitetails and black bears. Plus, it was the cartridge–chambered in the Remington Model 8–that lawmen used to bring down outlaw Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. OL
.416 Rigby
Professional hunting guides in Africa love it when clients show up with a rifle caliber that starts with the number four. And when that cartridge bears the name "Rigby," they shriek and stamp their feet like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert. The four-one-six generates a thunderous 5,000 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and is a consummate dangerous-game cartridge. OL
.500 S&W Mag
Why did Smith & Wesson build this behemoth of a pistol cartridge? Because anything larger would have been against the law. This maxed-out round can handle any creature that walks, flies or crawls through the dirt. Able to deliver five quick shots from a revolver, it's a good option on dangerous game. Heavy, long-barreled handguns with muzzle brakes make the recoil manageable. OL