Choosing A Caliber
The choice of calibres out there for the discerning shooter is huge, most of which you should never consider if you are new or reasonably new to shooting. Some calibres are very popular and therefore a wide range of factory loaded ammunition is available for those shooters that have no interest in reloading, other calibres you will need to reload in order to successfully and cost effectively shoot the calibre.
Short or Long Action?
A good deal of shooters are unaware of the length of an action and the affect this has on the handling of the rifle. The length of the action is based on the size of the cartridge with the most popular being the short action. This is mainly based on the '08' case whilst the long action rifles are mainly based on the '06' case and tend to be used by more experienced shots as these tend to require home loading in order to be cost effective to shoot. The main difference is the feel of the shot and the amount of down range energy that the bullet maintains. The short action rifles, especially in the larger calibres can be a bit snatchy on the shot providing a reasonable amount of recoil whilst the long action rifles tend to have a longer burn and less recoil yet provide a good deal of down range energy. (This is a rule of thumb and of course there are exceptions to every rule, especially in ballistics).
The short action is most popular in the UK as this is the one with the widest choice of factory made cartridges. Based on the '08' case developed in the US as a military calibre that could be used on bolt action, semi-auto and full-auto weapons Winchester put the case into sporting production with the .308 calibre in the 50's. From this variants have been made by the shooting fraternity, some of which have been adopted by Winchester or Remington into their mainstream which is why the amount of factory loads available today is high. The smaller .223 and .222 calibres are not based on the '08' case as they are smaller cartridges designed for varminting or target shooting.
The popular short action rounds are listed below. For the smartarses out there this is a guide not a definitive list put together for shooters that are looking to purchase a rifle from the main manufacturers, there are far better and more detailed web sites for those looking for more information. The bold numbers are it's actual name whilst the numbers in brackets are the metric or imperial equivalent, again purely for interest.
As you can see the calibres tend to have different names depending on who named them but essentially the larger calibres could be referred to in the mm-08 names such as
According the those that know, the best co-efficient bullet is the 6.5mm for stability and down range energy. If you choose the .260 Rem as your calibre in the UK then reloading your cartridges is the only sensible option as factory loaded rounds are expensive. Amazingly the .260 Rem is one of the newest cartridges only being made commercially available in the 1990's!
The Popular Short Action Calibres
Starting from the smallest the .223 Remington is very popular with target shooters and varminters alike (varmint means small quarry such as rabbits and fox). It has become very popular as the .223 Remington is very similar to the NATO 5.56mm round so cheap ex-military ammunition has fuelled the growth of this particular calibre.
The .243 Winchester (6mm-08) is probably the most popular calibre in the UK as it is deer legal for all of the UK species. Yes the 5.56mm can be used to shoot Muntjac and CWD and in Roe deer in Scotland but in England .240 is the minimum for Roe and above, most Police Authorities are also happy for the calibre to be used to control foxes making it a very universal cartridge. As a result there is a plethora of factory loaded ammunition available, some at very reasonable prices.
The next popular is the .308 Winchester (7.62mm-08) and as the secondary name suggests the 7.62 NATO round can be used in this calibre (but be careful loading a .308 Win in a 7.62 NATO rifle as the pressures can be higher in the Winchester round). The .308 Win is of course deer legal for all of the UK deer and is used extensively in target shooting with the F Class being shot at 1000 yards, lesser rounds may struggle to reach this distance and remain accurate. Again as a result the .308 Winchester has a wide variety of factory manufactured rounds and also a plethora of cheap NATO rounds available making it a very popular choice with the target shooters.
Whilst the other calibres listed are still available they are not as popular with the .222 Rem and 22-250 Win calibres in decline. The .260 Rem and 7mm-08 Rem are gaining in popularity but due to limited factory ammunition and the need to reload they probably will not becomes as popular as the .243 Win and .308 Win even though the calibres offer smooth shooting and good downrange energy.
Not as popular in the UK as the short action rifles, mainly I think due to the abundance and lower cost of short action ammunition. As the name suggests the long action rifles use a longer case than the short action such as the US '06' Springfield Armoury case. In the UK the long action rifles are primarily used by the hunter due to the larger calibres being smoother to shoot with better down range energy than the short action equivalent. For years the deer managers in Scotland have been using the .270 Winchester as the round has a good amount of energy for those 400 yard shots across the glen but as reloading has taken over to give the deer manager a more consistent shot the larger 30-06 Springfield is taking over in popularity. The 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser has also gained in popularity as there are a few more factory loaded ammunition available albeit they are quite expensive. The larger .300 Win Mag and .338 Win Mag are used by some target shooters but the large energies that the calibres generate are not allowed on many ranges so their use is limited.
The popular long action rounds are listed below and as in the short action I am aware that there are more available but we are purely listing what you can reasonably purchase in rifles calibres in the UK from the biggest manufacturers so please keep your comments to yourself if you know of more - so de we!
As the name suggests the 25-06 is based on the Springfield '06' case, a ¼" bullet (6.37mm) in a necked down '06' case. The .270 Winchester (6.86mm) is also based on the Springfield '06' case whereas the Winchester and Remington magnum cartridges are derived from the .375 H&H cartridge and are less popular in the UK than either the '06' derivatives or the Swedish Mauser cartridge.
By far the most popular at present is the 6.5x55 Swedish followed by the 36-06 Springfield and 25-06 Rem whilst the .270 Win is in decline due to the better ballistics and down range energy of the 30-06. The 300 Win Mag is growing in popularity with the target shooters but is too big, heavy and punchy for the hunters.
To Sum Up
Our advice is usually as follows, if you want a good versatile rifle that will take fox and deer and do not want to reload then the .243 Winchester is the calibre for you. If reloading is of interest then the 25-06 has better co-efficient and downrange energy than the .243 Win whilst the .260 Rem and the 6.5x55 Swedish are better again as the round has the best coefficient and down range energy.
If deer is your only quarry then the .308 Winchester could be your calibre as off the shelf factory loaded ammunition is widely available and cheap. However the rifle in my opinion has a bit too much recoil and is overkill on all but the two largest species. If you want to reload then consider the 6.5x55 Swedish, the 7mm-08 Rem or 30-06 Springfield is definitely worth a look, however once again the 30-06 would be overkill for all but the two largest deer species. If longer range deer "on the hill" is your bag then the 30-06 is ideal providing huge down range energies and smooth shooting.
Click on the image below to view Hornady's cartridge list published in 2007
We hope that this small insight into the popular calibres in the UK helps, it is difficult to choose sometimes and everyone has a mate full of advice that in our experience isn't always the best advice, especially for those new to shooting.