We were hunting on Greg Badgett’s west Texas ranch. A winter storm had locked the mountains and mesquite draws in a cloak of glistening ice.
The cold weather seemed to have turned up the intensity on the whitetail rut, and suddenly, we found ourselves center stage as bucks appeared from every dark corner of the property and pursued does across the frozen landscape all hours of the day. I can’t recall ever being witness to such intense rutting activity. Some of the younger bucks had simply gone stupid with lust, running blindly from one mesquite patch to another, without any concern for our presence.
“Let’s try rattling,” Greg said. I thought that was a fine idea. And—no surprise—we saw a buck coming from 300 yards on our very first setup.
As the deer dodged in and out of the icy clumps of cover, Greg leaned back and whispered, “Cull buck.” That also implied this would be a good deer to harvest, and I was ready.
When the buck stepped into a clearing at 80 yards and stopped, I dropped the hammer on the Uberti .45-70 rifle I was carrying and simultaneously dropped the buck. I don’t recall ever seeing a deer go down with the finality with which he collapsed—unless, perhaps, it was the trophy deer I shot on Greg’s ranch two days later.
The .45-70 produced two dead-right-there shots. And, best of all, there was so little meat damage with the Hornady LEVERevolution bullets that I don’t think I lost more than a pound of meat on either deer.
The .45-70, a great, classic cartridge that originated in the black powder era, was once carried by U.S. soldiers. If you’ve grown up in the black gun/5.56 era (by now, that includes just about all of us), that might seem shocking, because the rimmed .45-70 fires bullets from 225 to 500 grains and travels at very modest velocities.
However, as a whole slew of my native Ohioans are now learning—the .45-70 is one of the centerfire rifle cartridges allowed for deer hunting in that state—the old warhorse is a death ray. For deer, black bear, elk, pigs and similarly sized game at moderate ranges, it’s an authoritative hunting cartridge. In addition, with hot loads in a lever-action rifle, it’s far better equipped to stop an angry grizzly than most anything you can carry in a holster.
I’m a huge fan of the .45-70, but it’s just one of the four major cartridges I believe don’t get nearly the respect they deserve. Here’s a look at three more rounds you should consider this hunting season.
“The .45-70 produced two dead-right-there shots. And, best of all, there was so little meat damage with the Hornady Leverevolution bullets that I don’t think I lost more than a pound of meat on either deer.”
.240 WEATHERBY MAGNUM
The .240 Weatherby Magnum, like every other round that bears that family’s name, is a scorcher. It’ll push a 100-grain bullet more than 3,400 fps, and it shoots laser-flat. But, unlike many of the other Weatherby rounds, it doesn’t produce heavy recoil; and with a tough bullet, it will drop medium-sized game with authority.
I’ve shot these guns on the range and carried them on hunts, but I’ve never had a chance to shoot any game with one. I have, however, been on several hunts with other hunters who were carrying the round, and I’ve witnessed first-hand what it will do to pronghorn, whitetails and hogs: What it does is produce clean, efficient kills without wrecking your shoulder.
Before you start lambasting me for recommending a cartridge that is only chambered in expensive rifles and costs a fortune to shoot, understand that Weatherby now sells affordable Vanguard rifles in .240 and offers its Select 100-grain softpoint load for about $40 a box, which is within the reach of many hunters.
Does it shoot flat? Of course. Weatherby data says that when sighted in at 3.6 inches high at 100 yards, the 100-grain Select load strikes 4.4 inches high at 200 yards; is dead nuts at 300 yards and is just 11.1 inches low at 400 yards. If you’re a Western deer and pronghorn hunter who occasionally shoots coyotes, this is a superb choice.
Based on the .30-06 (hence, the name), and championed by such notables as the great outdoors writer, Bob Milek, this quarter-bore is a stunningly effective and surprisingly effective hunting round.
As with the .240 Weatherby, my love for the .25-06 came after watching what it could accomplish in the field. Good friend and fellow outdoor writer David Draper carried one on an aoudad hunt. Secretly, I was a little shocked that David, a seasoned hunter, chose such a light round for these ultratough sheep. However, I ate crow when he shot a huge ram at 200 yards and killed it quickly and cleanly. No .300 Magnum could have been more effective.
On another occasion, a friend was guiding a client who had drawn a once-in-a-lifetime Idaho moose tag and was carrying a .25-06 rifle. I thought this was “heresy” and voiced my opinion—but I changed my tune when I learned that the .25-06 had cleanly taken a huge north-Idaho bull with a single round through the heart.
Would I recommend the round for moose? Well, no … but if you’re one of the 12 million whitetail hunters in this country, I’d recommend it as one of the best deer cartridges money can buy. Plus, it produces light recoil, and there’s a wide selection of really great hunting loads available for the .25-06.
Hornady’s new Precision Hunter .25-06 110-grain ELD-X load has a muzzle velocity of 3,140 fps; and, when zeroed at 200 yards, that round drops just 6 inches at 300 yards, offering magnum-level trajectories without magnum-level recoil. It’s been overshadowed by the 6.5 Creedmoor of late, but this is a round that deserves a lot of love.
.280 ACKLEY IMPROVED
The Ackley Improved is based on the .280 Remington and has an altered shoulder design that allows for more powder capacity. It’ll fire .280 Remington ammo in a pinch. However, Nosler, Hornady and other companies now offer factory .280 AI loads, so it’s not strictly a hand-loader’s cartridge any longer.
This round nips at the 7mm Remington Magnum’s heels, but it’s more efficient, produces less recoil and muzzle blast, and can be built in lighter rifles with shorter barrels. I’d consider it the ultimate mountain game cartridge—and I’m not alone in belief.
Hornady’s Neal Emery used a Kimber rifle chambered in .280 AI to take a really great mountain goat billy; and the .280 AI is also perfectly suited for black bear, deer, elk, pronghorn and exotics. It’s a flat-shooting round, to be sure: When zeroed at 200 yards, Nosler’s 140-grain Accubond load drops fewer than 6 inches at 300 yards and carries 2,000 foot-pounds of energy out past 300 yards.
Additionally, companies such as Montana Rifle, Savage and Kimber now offer factory rifles chambered for this utilitarian cartridge.
If you’re looking for a single-bolt gun that’s good for all North American hunting (short of grizzlies), and you don’t want to pay a premium in terms of recoil and muzzle blast, the .280 AI should be on your short list.
Brad Fitzpatrick is a full-time freelance writer based in Ohio. His works have appeared in several print and online publications, and he is the author of two books: The Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry and Handgun Buyer’s Guide 2015. He has hunted on four continents and was a collegiate trap and skeet shooter before becoming a writer.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.