5 Most Underrated Rifle Calibers


There are some calibers that just go unnoticed or lose popularity to more modern cartridges.

However, this does not mean that they are worthless.

Here are some of the most underrated rifle calibers that deliver amazing performance.

6.5×55 Swede

At roughly 130 years old (developed in 1891), this caliber has fallen out of favor for “better” performing 6.5 rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor, the 6.5 PRC, or if you like ARs, the 6.5 Grendel.

With all except the 6.5 Grendel, there is a performance drop. The 6.5×55 Swede is capable of pushing a 140-grain projectile traveling at 2,650 fps.

This is roughly 50 fps slower than the average factory 6.5 CM pushes the same projectile at 2,700 fps.

The 6.5 PRC ups this into the 2,900 fps range, but moves the felt recoil from the 11 to 12-pound range up to around 16 to 18 pounds on a similar weight rifle.

Certainly, that is not huge recoil, but it is a significant increase and inside 200 yards (most people’s deer range) there is minimal advantage to the higher velocity and recoil.

At distances past 400 yards, it may well be worth it from a drop and retained energy perspective.

This round does have a MPBR of roughly 270 yards despite the relatively slow velocity.

In truth, how many of us are comfortable/capable or willing to extend our hunting ranges out to the distances where these advantages actually matter.

Not to mention, how much more awesome is it to harvest deer with a Pre-WWII “battle” rifle as opposed to a cookie-cutter, generic modern rifle. 

6.5x55 Swede ammo box and cartridges

7mm-08 Remington

This cartridge is a necked-down variant of the .308 Winchester cartridge.

This round uses the casing capacity to push a thinner bullet harder, with decreased recoil.

Depending on the projectile weight chosen, it could be as much as 20% lower than a comparable weight from a .308.

The 7mm-08 Remington is also more efficient in shorter barrels than its larger parent.

This allows both the use of carbine and standard-length barrels with a much smaller penalty in the shorter barrels.

Ballistically, a 139-grain 7mm-08 projectile travels at 2,860 fps and provides 2,520 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and close to a 300-yard MPBR.

Other heavier options may be better suited for longer distances, but to keep the numbers comparable, I chose to highlight the +/- 140-grain option.

The .308 Win numbers on that projectile weight are 2,950 fps and 2,710 ft/lbs energy, but has a 20% higher recoil.

7mm-08 Ammo Box Rifle Calibers

 .243 Winchester       

I know many of you who are close to my age (50ish) are rolling your eyes.

Who doesn’t already know about the potential associated with the .243 Winchester caliber?

To be perfectly honest, many who are younger than us have been indoctrinated into believing all the hype associated with the need for everything to be big-bore and magnum or ultra magnum.  

This caliber is also a necked-down .308 Winchester. It also reduces the felt recoil, even below that of the 7mm-08 by as much as another 20%.

It also provides a MPBR of 270 yards with a 105-grain bullet at 3,025 fps and 2,130 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.

At the other end of the spectrum, varmint hunting is easily handled with a 55-grain projectile at 4,000 fps and 2,010 ft/lbs of energy.

Please understand the varmint round will bleed energy a lot faster than the heavier bullet.

The more important factor for many shooters, it can do the job comfortably in a package that can easily weigh in at less than seven pounds.

This makes it possible for my mother to hunt deer without being burdened with a heavy rifle on her way to the stand, or paying any significant recoil penalty in practice sessions or when harvesting deer.

.243 Winchester Ammo

.280 Rem/.280 Ackley Improved     

I would say the .280 Remington, but if you are going that way, the step up to .280 AI is a no-cost improvement of 200 fps.

The simplest way to work this caliber is to buy factory .280 Remington and shoot it in the AI chamber.

The spent brass will now be .280 AI and provide the increased horsepower and accuracy for future reloading.

This round provides performance nearly identical to 7mm Magnum with a much lower recoil penalty. This is a function of efficient use of powder.

A similar performing round of .280 AI uses 10% less powder.

This goes a long way towards reducing felt recoil and a small way towards cost savings in saved powder.  

In comparison to the 7mm Mag, it also does not use a belted case, which helps to improve accuracy and ease of reloading.

Using a 140-grain projectile, this cartridge pushes at 3,200 fps and 2,800 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and a MPBR of roughly 310 yards.

.280 AI ammo

.338 Federal

The .308 Win is a parent case for many calibers, including two listed above. Most often, the choice is to neck-down the case for smaller faster projectiles.

In the case of the .338 Federal, the case has been necked-up. In this instance, it allows the use of a heavier .338 diameter bullet.

The 210-grain bullet produces 2,630 fps and 3,225 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and roughly 23 ft/lbs of recoil in an eight-pound gun.

This round does not exactly produce .375 H&H levels of energy (270-grain projectile, 2,650 fps and 4,100 ft/lbs muzzle energy), but it produces all the energy needed for any game animal or deadly predator in the United States.  

Despite the slower velocity and heavy bullet, the MPBR is 220 yards.

This makes it a very handy choice for close or distant encounters with anything from large deer, to caribou or even bear. It does so without having to endure almost double (38-40 pounds) of recoil found in the African game round.

.338 Federal Ammo

Conclusion: Most Underrated Rifle Calibers

The cartridges on this list have been serving shooters for years, but for one reason or another, have dropped in popularity.

But this does not mean they aren’t amazing choices that will serve you well.

If you choose any of the rifle calibers on this list, you are sure to love it.

What are your favorite underrated rifle calibers? Let us know in the comments section below!

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