With expanding elk populations across much of the elk’s range and growing opportunities for hunters opening up every season more and more hunters are chasing wapiti in the high country. The weapon of choice for a hunter is the most personal piece of equipment they will carry. The familiar weapon is the most trusted so does it make sense to buy a specific elk gun if you don’t live in elk country? The question becomes can I use my .308 for elk hunting?

Is .308 Enough for Elk?

While you can certainly kill an elk with a .308 the question becomes is it sufficient for humanly hunting a wild animal of the size and toughness of elk. Does the .308 perform as well on large game such as moose, elk and the big bears as it does on deer and black bears? Using a rifle chambered for .308 has its drawbacks and its advantages but more than anything it comes with responsibilities.

Reasons to Use .308 for Elk Hunting

Medium size short action cartridges have huge advantages; everything from cheaper and more available ammo to less recoil and more options for rifles. Pretty much everyone has shot a .308 or knows someone who owns a .308. The cartridge is about as common as house flies.

Size and Weight

Being short action and also soft recoiling this cartridge has a lot going for it as a candidate for an ultra-lightweight rifle. Everyone knows that you carry your gun way more than you shoot it and having a booming wiz-bang-super-magnum in a chiseled to the bolt, 6lbs rifle is a recipe for a great scope bite scar. Rifles can be had in your models for younger, smaller statured hunters or women.

The .308 cartridge it’s self is very well balanced and not overbore and lends it’s self well to short barrels around 20 inches.

Shoot-ability

As mentioned .308 just doesn’t kick very hard. It’s great to introduce new shooters and for honing skills. It’s light enough to shoot for fun or long range sessions but strong enough to shoot anything worth killing at a reasonable distance.

By far one of the biggest advantages of the .308 is the cost and availability of ammunition. Very few cartridges in America are as prolific as .308. Well over 50+ factory loads are available and anywhere that sells ammo will have it. The cost is about as cheap as it gets for a big game worthy round.

If you don’t practice with your gun, you won’t be able to shoot it when it counts. If you have a 7lbs .338 win mag you’ll hate to shoot it. It recoils like a freight train and the ammo costs a small fortune. Get a rifle you’ll actually shoot.

Preference

Hunters are human. We all have tastes and preferences for things we like. The rifle you love is the rifle you’ll carry. Maybe it’s a high tech new age rifle or maybe it’s the hand me down rifle that you took your first deer with, either way hunting at its core is a recreational activity and the more you enjoy your hunt the more you’re doing it right.

How to Kill an Elk?

Finding elk is hard. Killing elk is usually the easy part. All you have to do is disable one of three things:

  • The Central Nervous System: Brain or Spine
  • The Cardiovascular System: Major Arteries and Veins
  • The Respiratory System: Lungs

If you poke a hole through any one of these main systems, you’ll have a dead elk. The challenge is where that elk is when it dies and what the elk went through before it died. They’re not bullet proof they’re not impervious to mortal wounding. They bleed just like we do but there are a few main considerations before running into the high country with your deer rifle.

Size

The size of elk varies greatly so consider what you plan on taking. From Tule elk bulls from northern California to smaller Rocky Mountain cows in Colorado take into effect elk can vary as much as 300lbs on the hoof. Take into account the toughness and location of the elk. If you shoot an elk with any caliber and then watching that elk run off a cliff is going to be an awful site, no matter what you shot it with.

Outlining the hunt you plan on having will go a long way in choosing your cartridge rifle combination.

Distance

It takes more gas to smack a target at 400 yards than it does 100 yards. If you’re highly trained and your ethics allow you to take shots at game from further than 200 yards you need a big gun. While a bigger gun never replaces marksmanship there’s a lot to be said about bringing enough gun to get the job done.

Shot Opportunity

This is where there’s little room for debate.

Real hunters only take shots they’ll never regret regardless of the game, distance, or weapon!

Much like when judging the distance to a target, a larger gun will allow for more flexibility for a given shot and lightly constructed bullets of smaller calibers can only reliably take game with broadside or quartering too shots.

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When traveling across the country (or in some cases from other countries) to hunt you won’t have all season. Most western states have very short seasons to begin with. Imagine hunting hard for several days only to be shown a shot window you can’t take because of the angle and the size of the animal.

Smaller calibers don’t lend themselves to snap shots, they’re scalpels for precision shots that take time to set up. Always carry shooting equipment like shooting sticks or a bi-pod and use them whenever possible when using marginal calibers.

Real hunters only take shots they’ll never regret regardless of the game, distance, or weapon!

Best Cartridge for Elk

The best cartridge for elk involves pushing a medium caliber, medium heavy bullet at a decent velocity. Splitting hairs with arguments like the age old “.308 vs .30-06” are pretty much a toss-up. The .30-06 pushes slightly heavier bullets slightly faster while the .308 is cheaper and lighter weight.

Best cartridges for elk include:

  • .300 and 7mm Magnums
  • .30-06
  • .45-70
  • .338 Magnums

Regardless of cartridge, optimizing the bullet weight and bullet type is exceptionally important. Varmint style bullets are out. Any premium bullet such as Nosler Partitions, Barnes TTSX, Federal TBBC, or Hornady GMX will do great. The best elk bullet is a bullet with at least 80% weight retention that shoots well in your gun.

In .308 it is very hard to beat a 168gr premium bullet for elk. Put that load in the boiler room and it will kill any elk on this earth. Avoid excessively light weight or lightly constructed bullets or excessively heavy bullets. A happy medium almost always works best.

Should You Use a .308 for Elk?

Yes, you can kill elk with .308. The question “Can you use .308 for elk hunting?” seems simple at face value. If you Expect close range shots, with a stable rest and average sized animals a .308 can definitely work, but only if you’re responsible to pick your shots carefully and are willing to eat tag soup if you don’t find one.

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It all boils down to experience, marksmanship and maturity. Almost all hunting questions depend on ethics of the individual holding the weapon. Choose your rifle and stock it with the best ammo you can get your hands on and get into the woods!