Most Versatile Rifle
When we talk about the most versatile rifle for hunting there are several items that must be addressed. First of all it must be powerful enough to handle the job at hand without being excessively powerful. An excessively powerful rifle will dish out more punishment then many hunters can tolerate. That will cause missed and wounded game due to bad bullet placement. I have seen hunters with big magnums that they were terrified of their weapon so the rifle was essentially useless to them. No rifle is perfect for every situation so a versatile rifle has to have the ability to cover most situations likely to be encountered. Other factors in deciding versatility is the availability of ammo at locations that may be out of the large areas. If you lose your ammo and have a wildcat or odd ball and are in outback Alaska then your rifle is useless. You might want to have ammo in two different locations just in case.So we need something that is powerful enough for the job at hand, easy to place a shot, and be able to buy ammo anywhere. Ok so lets examine some of the contenders to see who floats to the top.
The 270 Winchester has been around since 1925. That is good because ammo should be available anywhere that sells it. The recoil level is reasonable and any hunter should not have a problem in that area. Accuracy and long range qualities are both very good. With modern bullets such as the Barnes or Hornady’s killing power should be adequate for most game though it would be a bit light on large bears and similar game. If you are hunting deer and antelope type of game you can’t go wrong with this round. With well placed shots it will do ok on elk. It is flat shooting out to ranges that most people have any business shooting. As good as it is it would not be my first choice as an all around rifle for the one gun hunter. I prefer something that takes a heavier bullet.
The 308 likewise has been around for over 50 years. It enjoys widespread popularity because it very accurate and can be effective in many hunting situations. Recoil is entirely manageable making shot placement easy. Anywhere ammo is sold 308 is likely to be found. There are many styles of rifles available which enhances it desirability. It is flat shooting enough for most hunting situations. The one downside is it doesn’t handle heavier bullets that well as it the twist won’t stabilize some of the heavier stuff unless it has a target barrel. How important that is would up to the user. If I had to go to one gun it would not be a 308 in spite of it good points.
Rounds such as the 30-30 while well distributed and easy to find would not qualify as an all around choice. It lacks the power for long range work or larger animals. Yes it has killed everything but so has a 22 rimfire. If you hunt deer in the woods then a 30-30 or similar offering is just what you need. Among others in that category is the 35 Remington and similar cartridges.
A dark horse in the fray would be the 280 Remington. In a bolt action rifle with good loads it should be able to handle virtually any situation that may come up. It is flat shooting, versatile and accurate. It approaches the 7mm Remington magnum in power with a good handload. It would not, however, be my first choice for large bears with any load. The problem with the 280 is in spite of its good points is the lack of popularity puts a crimp in ammo availability. For the handloader they can be flexible especially if the magazine allows the bullet to be seated out. If you are in the boonies and lose you ammo then you have an ineffective club. For that reason it would not be a good all around rifle. The same can be said about the 284. Good rifles are sometimes hard to find in either offering which makes it less desirable as an all around cartridge.
The 30-06 has been around for over 100 years and without a doubt is the greatest and most successful cartridge ever brought out. All other rounds are judged against the 06 when they are being discussed or written about. While not the most powerful round in existence it can do the job almost all of the time. Bullets up to 250 grains can be used for dangerous game and if properly placed will do the job. It is a very flexible cartridge with a splendid choice of bullets. Honesty would compel me to state if I was going after a grizzly then I would probably take my 338 Win mag over the 06. If an ammo store has one box of ammo left it would probably be in 30-06. There are all styles of rifles available for any taste. Like the others listed accuracy is very good with most loads. It’s capable of anchoring game at long distance with good shot placement. Any experienced hunter should be able to tolerate the recoil without a problem. If it gets much more then the 06 then a lot of people will start having flinch problems. At the risk of controversy the 30-06 would be my choice for the one rifle hunter.
If you like belted magnums then there are a couple of good choices. The 7mm Remington mag has been around for over 40 years. That helps in the distribution of ammo and guns. There is a great selection of bullets and ammo some with premium bullets which will enhance its effectiveness. It will shoot as far as anyone has any business shooting at game. Recoil while a little stiffer then a 06 is still manageable for an experienced shooter and hunter.Accuracy is splendid in the big 7. If I couldn’t get a 06 then this might be my selection as an all around rifle.
The other belted magnum that needs to be considered would be the 300 Winchester mag. It has been around for awhile which will enhance ammo availability. Like the 7mm it has a good selection of ammo components and is capable of great accuracy. For that reason and because of its flat trajectory long range snipers like it. On game such as large bears it would be preferable to the 30-06 given proper bullets. The only down side is the recoil which is measurably more noticeable then the other contenders which might make it more difficult to shoot. If you can handle the recoil then you could do worse then the 300 for the all around gun.
There are other magnums that will do what the contenders do but lack distribution or are excessively powerful producing too much recoil. That would include such numbers as the 308 Norma, 300 Weatherby, 338 Win mag, 375 H & H among other worthies. There are a number of short magnums that are very competent rounds but the jury is still out on them as to whether or not they will survive commercially. I have done s lot of work on the new offering from Ruger and Hornady called the 300 RCM. It is accurate, powerful and we have killed game with it. Will it survive? I don’t know.There are some other good hunting rounds but do to lack of distribution of guns and ammo they can’t be considered. If you have such a gun and plenty of ammo then it might be “your” all around gun.