Much of what has been written about calibers is wrong. The fact is that the .45 ACP is just not the “manstopper” people like to say it is. The fact is that the .223 in the civilian realm is good for coyotes and target practice and that’s about it. Not only that, it also isn’t the best at either thing.
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However, guns are tools, and so are the various calibers of handguns, rifles and shotguns. The tool you pick determines what you can do with it. How can you get a lot of bang for your buck? By picking the most diverse tools.
What, though, are the most diverse calibers? What caliber of firearm will give you the widest range of function? The following three do, as they can do just about everything.
Handgun Calibers: The 10mm
Say what you want about 10mm fans; they have some serious points on their side. No other handgun round is as diverse as the 10mm Auto.
The 10mm Auto can be loaded as soft or as hard as you want. Light loadings that are just a .40 S&W with a longer case for target shooting or defense are available. Medium loads with a bit more zip are too. At the upper end, the 10mm is one of the few legitimate magnum auto rounds, surpassing even the .357 Magnum in velocity and muzzle energy.
Only the hardiest of handloads are close to the .41 Magnum, and even then only rival the lightest loadings, so don’t start.
No other handgun round compares in this regard. The .357/.38 Special family is great for small game and can be serviceable for deer, but the 10mm packs more punch for not too much more recoil. Most serious handgun hunting starts with either the .41 or .44 Magnum, but deer and hogs are well within its capabilities.
That said, there aren’t too many .44 Special or .41 Magnum concealed carry guns out there — you have the Charter Arms Bulldog and that’s about it.
It’s still a good choice as a backup gun in bear country, and there are reports of grizzlies being felled by 10mm handgun fire. It’s good at the range. Lastly, it’s good for personal protection, such as in a carry gun in a concealed carry holster. It can put food on the table. You really can’t get any more out of a handgun.
Shotgun Calibers: 12-Gauge Shotshell
The king of shotgun cartridges is undeniably the 12-gauge. Sure, the 10-gauge packs more punch and the 20-gauge does most of what the 12 does with less recoil, but the 12-gauge is just so good that there’s almost no point in really getting anything else unless you just can’t handle it.
Virtually everything you can do with a shotgun could be done with a single 12-gauge pump. Shooting sports to hunting to home defense, that Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 will do it all. Throw in a few chokes (though some say Improved Cylinder or Modified is all you need) and you’ve got one of the most diverse firearm platforms known to man.
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For small game, a 2.75-inch loaded with #7 will put that cottontail or snowshoe hare or squirrel in the pot. Ditto for grouse, ptarmigan, pigeon, dove, quail, pheasant or chukar. For duck or goose, step up to a 3-inch #2…or 3.5-inch if your gun (or more to the point your shoulder) can take it. Go down to #5 for turkey and never bother with Butterball again.
It doesn’t end there. Slugs, sabot and buckshot can be used for deer, elk, or hogs (in some states, that’s all you can use) to fill the freezer with larger game. Police and military personnel load combat shotguns with buckshot, and you can too to keep the homestead safe.
Granted, there are many 12-gauge shotguns out there, with a multitude of purposes. Cheap pump guns for the entry level. Semi-autos for the tactical set and/or the 3-gun crowd, or for serious waterfowlers. Over-unders and side-by-sides ranging from the economical to bespoke guns of lascivious finery (and a price point to match) and all points in between.
Few guns give you the same bang for the buck, so to speak, as a 12-gauge shotgun.
Rifle Calibers (TIE): .308 and .30-06
As far as rifle calibers, the two most diverse in terms of function are the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm and good old .30-06, which as Townsend Whelen said is never a mistake. It’s hard to declare one over the other, since these rounds share certain positives but also have attributes the other lacks.
Both are excellent medium range rounds. Both are widely available. They are also quite cost-effective. Both rounds will take most North American game without issue, and a good deal in Africa besides. Both are easy enough for all but the most recoil-sensitive shooters to manage.
There are some finer points to each, though.
The .308 is a short-action round, meaning rifles can be lighter and more compact. The .308 is more popular in the long-range crowd, and is a go-to for F-Class and Palma matches. You’ll also find more match-grade ammunition for those events on many shelves.
Plenty is out there for ’06 — you just have to look — and handloaders have found it capable of every bit the accuracy as .308 at long range. Carlos Hathcock, after all, did most of his sniping with a .30-06 Model 70 (with a 4X Unertl scope, no less) in the 1960s, so don’t go believing too much of the hype.
However, the longer case of the .30-06 means more bullet choice since it can handle grain weights from 110 grains up to 220. The .308 tops out at 180. While underpowered compared to .300 Winchester Magnum and other larger .30 caliber rounds, the 200- and 220-grain loadings are considered the minimum acceptable round for hunting the great bears (not stopping; that’s a whole other ball game) though most serious bruin hunters opt for a .338 Win Mag at the minimum.
That said, either chambering can do a whole lot of target shooting, can put most game on the table without issue, and can be found in every gun store from coast to coast and many more worldwide. If you had only one rifle, either is a solid choice.