“Gird your loins,” is the warning given any writer attempting to list the best cartridges for any type of hunting. There will always be exceptions, like the Eskimo who thinks nothing of taking a polar bear with an AR-15, or that tiger shot in the head with a .22 long-rifle. The only thing a writer can do is respond with the most consistent rounds.
As an Alaskan, I’ve seen a number of moose taken with a variety of cartridges. Some you may find surprising. If anything, they’re a reminder that any good bullet, in a solid caliber, sent on its way with enough speed into the animal’s vitals can do an excellent job.
The .45-70 is my moose and bear defense round when I’m at gold camp, or out picking berries. When the Alaska gold rush picked up in earnest with the Klondike in 1899, those who had the money and wisdom brought their Winchester 1886s and Marlin 1895s: they shot a much better round for putting moose on the table than the .30-30 and .38-55, and such, of the time. I’ve enjoyed carrying both iron-sights lever-actions, and trust my life to 405-grain Remington Core-Lokt, and 430-grain Buffalo Bore cartridges.
Hunters do like to bring much bigger rounds to Alaska and Canada in their search for that wall-hanger Bullwinkle. I once tested two rifles in .375 H&H: one was the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express, which was a true pleasure to shoot. I’ve even nicknamed it “Thor,” because I love carrying and shooting it so much. The other rifle, even though much heavier, clocked me so much I couldn’t get it shipped back to the manufacturer quickly enough. On that T&E, I learned a lot about stock design and distribution of rifle weight from muzzle to shoulder—choose wisely. 300-grain Hornady DGX and Nosler Partitions are my favorites, making complete pass-throughs and easy-to-follow blood trails a reward, with surprisingly low meat damage.
This is the modern improved answer to the old Alaskan’s .375 H&H standby. The ballistics are even better than that of its grandfather, and in shorter action: it will fit the action of a .30-06. Its only drawback is like that of my other favorite new offering moose-capable round, the .338 Federal: it’s hard to get in Anchorage, much less the bush—bring your ammo with you.
This round has a definite following in Alaska, and is one of friend and colleague Bryce Towsley’s favorites. Just a month before moose season a whole table in sporting goods section of a large Alaska discount retailer in Kenai was stacked with case after case of Core-Lokt .35 Whelen. Only a few weeks later, it was gone. The number of people who purchased all those boxes could be counted on one hand. That pretty much sums it up: a great moose round with a very defined following.
.338 Winchester Magnum
I don’t know about you, but for some reason, next to a .50 BMG, I seem to get my noggin rattled by just about every rifle I’ve shot this in, except for the Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS I’ve learned to love because of a well-designed Bell & Carlson stock that makes it a pleasure to shoot. Ask most Alaskans about their favorite and the “.338 Win Mag” is the answer you get, next to .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag. Send a 200- to 250-grain A-Frame, AccuBond or Nosler Partition from this round and you’ve got powerful moose medicine.
I’m writing a new rifle book dedicated to this subject, so you can definitely say I’m partial to a round that delivers speed near that of a .338 Win. Mag., but the recoil of a .270 Win. As I said in my cartridge intro for the 8th Edition of the Nosler Reload Guide, “If I have to choose a single rifle, my ‘shoot everything’ rifle, even if I’ll be running into one of my angry neighbors that others call a coastal brown bear, it’ll be the .338-06 A-Square.”
With the number of bullets available that dwarf the list of those for the .35 Whelen, and the fact that I can send 200 grain .338 only 200 fps slower than the same bullet in a .338 Win. Mag., has made this round a no-brainer choice for me.
JJ Reich at Federal Premium introduced me to this round a couple years ago, in the Savage Arms Bear Hunter, when I was just starting to work on my rifle book about the .338-06 and was keen to try another cartridge that is also a wildcat based on a military round. Like the .338-06, it’s a reloader’s dream: beaucoup bullet options, and .308 Win. brass is everywhere—just run the .338 Federal resizing ball through it. It’s that easy.
Now personally, I prefer the .338-06 just because I have more space to work with powder loads. But, for a very light kicking round, with a hard hitting bullet, this can’t be beat. Two-hundred grains out of this round will put a bear or moose on the ground efficiently.
.300 Winchester Magnum
A strong following for this round in Alaska. It’s flat shooting and with a 180-grain or 200-grain bullet it packs a punch. I’ve got one and find it a pleasure to shoot in Remington 700 Stainless Steel Synthetic that I switched the factory stock out for a recoil-dampening, H-S Precision Sporter, effectively taking it from shooting 1-MOA to half-MOA with the new stock, and a switch out of the trigger for a Timney Trigger at 2.75 pounds pull. One-hundred-and-eighty AccuBond and Bear Claws are my choice, while other Alaskans prefer to send 200 grains.
Master Alaska guide and longtime outdoor writer Phil Shoemaker, owner of Grizzly Skins of Alaska, has this to say, “There are no particularly bad cartridges but only improperly using them for unsuitable chores. The American .30 calibers, from the .30-30 and .308 through the .30-06 and various .300 magnums with all the great bullet choices available, seem to be less affected by those problems than most other calibers. There are very few other calibers where you can easily buy factory ammo with bullet weights that vary by a factor of two, from 110 to 220 grains.
About the Author
Cork Graham has been covering guns and hunting since 1983, when he asked for an LOA from his NROTC squadron at UC Berkeley, and headed to SEA to cover wars as an 18-year-old photojournalist. He’s presently the team leader on Discovery Channel’s Treasure Quest. For more on his articles and books, visit his official site here.