Many hunters believe if they are going to a new destination or hunting a species they’ve never hunted before a new rig is required. It might be, and even if it’s not, it’s a great excuse to add a new firearm to your collection, but most of the time a rifle you already have at home and with which you shoot confidently will serve you well on any new hunting adventure.
If you’ll be hunting with a guide or outfitter and you ask him ahead of time, “What’s the best rifle/cartridge combo for XYZ?” You can judge his knowledge, experience and trustworthiness by his answer.
He should tell you the most important thing is you hunt with a rifle and cartridge with which you are comfortable and familiar. Guides and outfitters want you to make a sure, clean, one-shot kill. It boosts their success rate, and makes their jobs of recovering and packing out an animal much easier. You are most likely to make that kind of shot shooting a rig that is familiar to you … especially the ballistics of the cartridge.
For example, if you’ve shot a .30-06 with 150-grain bullets year after year for your whitetail hunting, there is absolutely no reason to switch guns or loads to go elk hunting. You already own a great elk rifle and shoot a load that will do the job just fine! Even if you’re deer rig is a .30-30 lever action, it can handle elk hunting IF YOU AND YOUR GUIDE are willing to work within its limitations—no shots beyond 100 yards and only at a perfectly positioned animal—pretty much the same limits you’d be working under if you were hunting with a muzzleloader. But you’ll be much better off shooting your .30-30 well at close range than poorly shooting a sizzling hot, shoulder pounding, tricked-out rifle/cartridge combo with which you’re not familiar.
You should hunt with a rig that doesn’t beat you up with recoil. The worst mistake you can make is to jump into a new magnum cartridge of some kind if you can’t commit to learning to shoot it well before your trip. There’s nothing “sissy” about not liking recoil. If you are punished by it at the range it will stick in your memory and negatively impact your shooting in the field.
For every critter in North America, short of brown bear, grizzly bear and polar bear, there’s no need for anything beyond a .30-06 or a .300 Win. Mag. with good bullets. Even in Africa, until you move up to the big five and animals like crocodile, eland and giraffe, a 30-caliber magnum will take everything you need it to with room to spare.
Most important is that the rig is wearing good optics. If you have to decide between spending money on a new rifle or putting a top-quality scope on your old rifle, go with the scope every time. There are tiers of quality in rifle scopes. The very top end scopes (with exotic names like Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski and Trijicon) can cost much more than the rifle itself—and they are worth it. The next tier includes those same names, just less expensive lines that will run from $500-$1,000 for a scope. Other American makers also enter the game at this point. If you’re serious about hunting big game and are willing to spend the money it takes to book hunts with top-quality outfitters, then optics from these tiers are where you should be looking. They provide the sharpest picture in the lowest light conditions to give you the best chance of making that clean shot when it counts.
So what’s the best rifle/cartridge combo for anything? The one you shoot best and is wearing the best optics you can afford. That’s the right rig for you.