Just days until the opening of the New York deer season opener, I was getting multiple calls every day with friends and acquaintances looking for ammunition, as they had been to the gun shops and sporting goods stores searching for various different cartridges, most with little or no luck. Weatherby cartridges, Winchester Short Magnums, 8mm Mauser; all were rarities to the shopper, and even the .30-06 Springfield and .30-30 Winchester guys were having considerable trouble. Simply put, the ammunition crunch of 2020 (and now into 2021) just plain sucks.
I feel pretty comfortable saying that I enjoy using the obscure cartridges just as much as anyone out there; it’s not strange to find me hunting behind a .318 Westley Richards, .300 H&H Magnum, .280 Ackley Improved or .404 Jeffery. I also appreciate the most common cartridges, such as the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and 7mm-08 Remington, though I can understand why some hunters want something a bit different, perhaps to personalize the experience or simply to stand out from the crowd.
Looking at the availability and production of ammunition, one might draw the conclusion that in order to best combat a situation like we faced in 2013-2014, as well as the ugly mess we’re in right now, owning a rifle in one of the most popular calibers would make the most sense. When discussing the choice of cartridge for a hunting rifle—whether a varmint rifle, big-game rifle or dangerous game rifle—the ability to find ammunition for that rifle in some gun shop in the middle of nowhere (where the best hunting usually happens) is paramount.
Those common cartridges—say .223 Remington in the varmint world, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield for the big game crowd and the .375 H&H Magnum for those who pursue the heavyweights—will definitely get the job done, even if you don’t feel they are flashy, attractive or even cool. I will attest to this as well: any cartridge you can effectively use on a hunt is better than no cartridge at all. Nothing is more depressing than spending the time, money and effort to buy and practice with a rifle/cartridge combination, travel halfway across the globe to your hunting destination and finally hear that your luggage is lost, especially when you’re passionate about your chosen rig. But I’m also sure that rather than sitting in camp sulking, you’d accept the ‘loaner rig,’ chambered in a less-sexy-but-thoroughly-useful cartridge, and head afield.
If you’ve already adopted one of the commonplace cartridges, you’re undoubtedly ahead of the game; they will (usually) be the first to be replenished, as the sales and popularity figures will ultimately dictate where the ammunition companies will focus their efforts. In other words, you’ll see .30-06 Springfield and .223 Remington ammunition on the shelves much sooner than you’ll see 7mm Winchester Short Magnum or .30 T/C. That is not to say that you should only own rifles in common calibers, but I think that with the recent improvements in off-the-shelf rifles, you could easily acquire an affordable rifle in a common caliber.
Should you absolutely detest the ‘plain vanilla’ cartridges and insist upon using one of the rarities, I would advise that from this day forward you maintain a healthy supply of ammunition for your rifle. If you find it difficult to obtain ammunition even during good times (cartridges like the .358 Norma Magnum, 8mm Remington Magnum, .257 Roberts or .225 Winchester are rare when things are plentiful) you might want to consider delving into the world of handloading in order to keep those rifles fed. Going back to that .318 Westley Richards I enjoy so much, there simply is not a single source of factory ammunition; all my stuff is handloaded, and that rifle has been on safari to Zimbabwe with me, as well as yearly jaunts to the deer and bear woods here in my native New York. So long as there are projectiles available, I can make brass cases from plentiful .30-06 Springfield cases, and keep that rifle in the hunting fields.
That said, I still keep rifles in .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum, for which I can almost always procure ammunition, ready to go at any point in time. Are the cartridges sexy? Probably not, though I will always love that .300 Winchester Magnum. I am a cartridge junkie, and I love the history and romance involved with them. Cartridges like the .350 Rigby Magnum, 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer and .333 Jeffery grab my attention much more than does the .270 Winchester, but I know which of those I can buy ammunition for.
Being completely honest, there isn’t too awful much that a .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield can’t do, and at the risk of sounding ‘prepper-ish’ there will always be supplies of ammunition and components for that pair and many like them. Having a rifle chambered in one of those cartridges—even if not the coolest rifle in your collection—can alleviate some headaches in these trying times when the ammunition supplies have dried up.