Elk Rifles & Ammunition
Our Top Elk Guns
By Guy Eastman and Staff
Probably one of the most debated topics among hardcore big game hunting enthusiasts is the best gun, caliber and bullet setup for taking down big bull elk. The Eastmans’ staff and I scoured the industry and came up with what I believe are the best half dozen elk rifle setups. These rifles fit the bill as true elk gravediggers. This is a grouping that completes the spectrum for any budget and performance requirement. Keep in mind, these setups are all different and could easily be mixed and matched to suit your personal needs and expectations.
These guns and loads are based on what we would personally choose, optics are up to you! Here is how we came up with the tough decisions that created the lineup.
Rifles | We wanted to select a good spectrum of rifles that would suit every budget. Whether you have $800 to spend or $8,000, there is a semi-custom or a production gun in here that will probably fit your budget. There are some very good guns available on the market today, but when you have to boil it down to only a half dozen, the decisions get very difficult.
Caliber | The .30 caliber is considered the best all-around caliber for elk but there are other excellent choices as well. The big 7’s edge out the 30’s in B.C. and sectional density but if you want the absolute best elk caliber look to the .338. However, the .30 caliber and its variations have probably crushed more elk bone, creased more elk lungs and blown out more elk hearts over the past 20 years than all the other calibers combined. Oh, and yes, we did include the 6.5 as well, not the Creedmoor though.
Bullet | We chose a pretty wide array of easy to find and readily available elk bullets for the group. We also went with the heaviest loads that are readily available for the cartridges chosen in order to maximize performance on tough old bulls. Thanks to ammunition manufacturers such as Hornady and Federal Premium, and a lot of others, today’s factory ammunition is better than ever and leaves little wanting.
Optics | We left those up to you but feel you cannot go wrong with models from any of the top brands.
1. H-S Precision PLR
Precision and performance pretty much describe what any western rifleman is looking for in a big game hunting rifle. H-S Precision has taken this desire to the next level with the PLR.
This rifle is built around H-S Precision’s Pro-Series 2000 action made of stainless steel. Every turn of the bolt is smooth and pushes rounds into the chamber cleanly. H-S Precision also found that accuracy was improved with a straight feed, detachable magazine.
The “stress-free 10X cut” barrel raises the accuracy bar by cutting/milling the rifling instead of pulling the rifling. The reduction of stress during this process creates more consistent rifling and directly improves accuracy. Barrel fluting not only cuts down on heat but also the overall weight of the rifle. To see all the options available in this amazing platform HS Precision’s website.
Chamber all of this in the bone-crushing 28 Nosler and you might as well be hunting with Thor’s hammer. This round easily outpaces the venerable .7mm Remington Magnum with readily available factory ammo in velocity, energy and trajectory. Our choice for ammo would be the Hornady Precision Hunter offering spitting the 162 grain ELD-X at almost 3200 fps. But if you handload, look hard at the 175 grain ELD-X, Nosler Partition, Accubond LR or Berger’s 195 grain EOL pill.
2. PROOF Research Terminus
This rifle is paradigm shifting, lightweight, game changing and takes it to the next level of innovation for the weight-conscious western hunter. Though this rifle is not light on price, it sure makes up for it in accuracy and ease of carrying in the backcountry. This sniper-grade setup is a precision elk-killing machine – plain and simple.
Its custom Jewell trigger is extremely clean, user-friendly and flat out makes you a more accurate shot. Combine this with the PROOF H6 Cerakoted action and you have a match made in heaven. In fact, the list of features packed into this rifle is stunning and one must be seen and shot to truly be appreciated. Proof offers ready to ship rifles but also semi-custom rigs as well, visit their website to see the possibilities. View their website for more information.
This rifle in the hot new 300 PRC is a state of the art, elk killing masterpiece. The 300 PRC is the newest iteration of a .30 caliber magnum, brought to you by Hornady and boasts all the advancements of modern cartridge design to specifically launch heavy for caliber, high B.C. bullets with precision and power.
Shoot Hornady’s Precision Hunter 212 grain ELD-X load and don’t look back. Again, if handloading for the PRC there are several good options; the Berger VLD 210 grain, Barnes 200 grain LRX, and the venerable Nosler Partition 200 grain or Accubond in 180 grain.
3. Weatherby Mark V Accumark Pro
Weatherby has raised the bar with the Mark V Accumark Pro. Its 26” barrel digests bullets pushed at not just magnum but Weatherby Magnum velocities with precision. Weighing in at less than eight pounds without a scope also makes this rifle highly desirable in all western hunting scenarios.
Its infamous Three Rings of Steel bolt surrounds the casehead with the recessed bolt face, barrel and forged and machined steel receiver, creating an extra measure of strength and industry-leading integrity. The list of features packed into this rifle are simply too long to list here and you need to visit the Wetherby’s website to truly appreciate what this model boasts.
That said the TriggerTech trigger is as good as it gets and is a critical component in Weatherby’s revamped design. Add to that a carbon fiber stock and reimagined muzzle brake and you have the perfect platform for Weatherby’s elk eating dragon… the .338-378 Weatherby Magnum! If you’re looking for the single hardest hitting elk hunting cartridge under .375 caliber then this is it. I’ve shot a pile of elk with this monster and DRT takes on a whole other meaning when you smack a bull with one of these.
However, if you’re not looking for a fire-breathing monster of an elk rifle then look at this same platform in a .300 Weatherby Magnum, still more than enough for rugged old bulls and the ammo is much easier to find.
Speaking of ammunition, for the .338-378 either factory load from Weatherby is lights out but if I had to pick one it would be the 225 grain Barnes. For handloaders this round takes those big 250+ grain bullets to the next level with Barnes, Hornady, Berger and Nolser offering exceptional bullets. If only Weatherby would take note of this and update the offerings, I’d love to see Hornady’s 270 grain ELD-X loaded in the Weatherby lineup.
4. In Rut Typical Light
The In Rut Typical Light is the company’s latest offering in their line of superb mountain rifles. The semi-custom platform is incredibly accurate across a wide range of chamberings with an accuracy guarantee standard. In fact, the In Rut rifles are, without exception, some of the most accurate rifles we shoot each year.
Boasting a carbon fiber stock, cut rifled barrel, Jewell trigger and a host of chambering options as well as other choices The In Rut Typical Light gives you a darn near custom rifle at a fraction of the price. For a full look check it out on the In-Rut Rifles website. Tipping the scales at under 7lbs., naked, this rifle won’t slow you down in the mountains and is built exactly for that purpose. So you can cover ground to cut the distance on that big bull as quickly as possible. It’s a true mountain rifle and let’s face it, that’s where most big bull elk are found, in the mountains.
In keeping with the lightweight design we’d get this one in a 6.5 PRC and to keep it as short and handy as possible. That’s right, a 6.5 in the elk rifle review. The 6.5 PRC is a legitimate elk round and at this time the best possible factory ammo choices are the Hornady Precision Hunter 143 grain ELD-X and Federal Premium’s 130 grain Terminal Ascent. Again, handloaders have many more options and some of the best for the PRC would be the new Berger 156 grain EOL, The 140 grain Nosler Accubond, or the Barnes 127 grain LRX.
5. Bergara Highlander
Virtually impervious to the elements, I carried a Highlander around this past fall and it lived in the scabbard on my Eberlestock pack for weeks. When I pulled it out to be pressed into service it performed flawlessly, one shot, one kill. If that’s not exactly what you need out of an elk rifle then I don’t know what is. The Highlander is one of the most impressive new rifles we’ve seen in years.
All of this performance is due to a complete Cerakote finish of Bergara’s superb proprietary barrels, action and bolt handle while the bolt shroud and stop are Nitrided and the whole thing sits in a rugged fiberglass stock that looks cool to boot. But is it accurate? Oh, you betcha! The one I shot punched little clusters for groups and was fun to send bullets down range with. From 100 to 1000 yards, hits on steel were elementary. I fully expect big things from Bergara as the company continues to make a name for itself in the hunting world.
The Highlander is part of Bergara’s Premier line of rifles but there are other offerings as well, any of which would undoubtedly make stellar elk guns. For the full lineup visit Bergara’s website.
Offered in a spate of elk appropriate chamberings I would choose the Highlander in .7mm Remington Magnum and never look back. This famous old cartridge has stacked up more elk over the years than can easily be counted and is a personal favorite. As for factory loadings, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Hornady Precision Hunter 162 grain ELD-X (yes, they are that good) is a top choice but the new Outfitter 150 grain GMX is worth a look as well. Federal Premium’s outstanding 175 Trophy Bonded Bear Claw load can be hard to find but is wicked on big bulls. That said I wouldn’t shy away Federal’s 160 grain Nosler Partition offering. The Barnes Vortex 160 TSX load is an elk hammer as well.
Handloading is where the .7mm Rem. Mag. shines as heavy for caliber bullets can be pushed much faster than factory loads, upping the on game performance. Top picks for bullets would be the Berger 180 grain VLD, 175 grain Hornady ELD-X (I wish they would load this bullet in the Precision Hunter line), 175 grain Nosler Partition, 160 grain Nosler Accubond, and of course the Barnes 168 grain LRX.
6. Savage 110 Storm
If it absolutely, positively has to fire in any weather condition – the 110 Storm might be the rifle for you. Savage’s reputation for outstanding out-of-the-box accuracy is now almost legendary across a wide range of chamberings. This is due in large part, to the AccuTrigger and AccuStock and their near-match grade performance. Add to that the AccuFit system and you’ve got an elk rifle that the entire family can enjoy.
All metal components are made of stainless steel and will readily handle any and all weather conditions you’ll face in the western mountains. The Accustock stock cuts weight and resists warping in extreme heat or contracting in extreme cold, providing you reliable accuracy in all hunting conditions.
The 110 Storm is an elk hunting workhorse that will get it done season after season at an affordable price. When the chips are down, I suggest you give the Savage 110 Storm a very hard look. Savage’s line of elk rifles doesn’t begin and end with the 110 Storm however as the company offers a stunning array of winning elk rifles and the new 110 Ultralite is sure to become one of our favorites in the years to come. Visit Savage Arms to see the myriad of options available.
Since 1985, it seems the gold standard in elk calibers has been the .300 Win. Mag. So for this robust elk rifle, I felt the .300 Win. Mag. was the most versatile and proven chambering. For the factory ammo guys you’d be hard pressed to beat Hornady’s Precision Hunter 200 grain ELD-X, Federal Premium’s all new 200 grain Terminal Ascent loading or the Barnes Vortex 190 LRX offering. Again, the sky’s the limit for handloaders, the 200 grain Nosler Partition, 180 Nosler Accubond, 210 grain Berger VLD or the Barnes 168 grain TTSX will all lay an elk down hard and fast.
We are fully aware that we left some rifles and chamberings off the list and that folks have killed a pile of elk with the 6.5 Creedmoor in recent years but when the chips are down we truly feel that the rifles and rounds listed above will flat out get the job done every single time and you’d be hard pressed to find better options in the semi-custom or production rifle category.