When hunting elk and other large game, you need a round with enough punch to put it down quickly. An exceedingly popular choice is the 7mm-08. These rounds have some improvements on their .308 parent round, but even if they are an “upgrade,” should you use a 7mm-08 round for elk hunting?
The 7mm-08 is well known as a medium-game caliber round; however, it is also effective in elk hunting if you use a sufficiently sized bullet grain. Due to its lighter weight, reduced recoil, improved ballistic coefficients, and effective range, the 7mm-08s make fantastic mid-ranged elk rounds.
Although the popularity of the 7mm-08 is largely due to deer hunting, the hunting contingent which uses these rounds on elk is growing. They are ideal “all-rounders” taking out medium and large-sized game alike. However, what are some of their shortcomings? Are they better than .308s? And what does it take to down an elk?
Hunters are spoiled for choice when it comes to the various calibers available. Although 7mm-08s are often more associated with deer rounds, they can bring down elk-sized game as well, and many agree that the 7mm-08 is the “sweet spot” when elk hunting.
Shot placement is a critical factor when elk hunting. Although 7mm-08s are more than capable of downing an elk, if the shot is severely off, they struggle a bit in terms of penetration.
The 7mm-08 is a necked-down version of the standard .308 caliber round. These rounds are considered custom-made (wildcat cartridges) and are fashioned to accommodate the 7mm bullet. This modification gives the round a slightly longer casing.
The popularity of these rounds resulted in various ammunition companies manufacturing their variations of the 7mm-08 rounds. Some of these companies include:
- Federal Premium
- Prvi Partisan (PPU)
To understand why these cartridges are so effective, let’s quickly look at what they are up against.
Elk are the largest deer species on the North American continent. Adult bulls reach around 700 pounds (although some do get to 1,000).
These bulls need to be strong, tough, and resilient to injuries and predation to reach this ripe weight and size. This resilience comes from thick hides, strong muscles, and dense bones.
To bring down a mature elk, you will require:
- A bullet that packs a punch.
- A bullet that covers a lot of ground without losing power.
- A good quality bullet that translates the force generated from the cartridge.
Ideally, the type of bullet you need to hunt large sub-adult to adult elk pierces through the hide, muscle, and bones to strike a vital spot for a quick clean kill.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 1500 lbs.-ft. is the minimum amount of kinetic energy required to quickly and “humanely” kill an elk. Anything less, and you stand to only wound the animal, which results in unnecessary suffering, and prolonged death.
Elk hunting is an exciting yet challenging venture. The terrain, the vegetation, and the climate are some of the forces at work against you (let alone stalking and getting a clean shot). To compensate for the hilly, bushy terrain, hunters need to travel as light as possible, especially when hunting in the sticks (backcountry).
How Does The 7mm-08 Answer These Requirements?
The 7mm-08 caliber round comes in weights that range from 100 to 195 grains. When hunting elk, you ideally want a grain with more subsistence, so anything larger than 140 grain would be good, with grains around 160 being preferable.
If 1500 lbs.-ft. is the minimum standard, the 7mm-08 is well within range. According to ballistics tests conducted by Federal Premium Ammunition:
|Grain||Velocity (feet per second)||Impact Energy (pounds per foot force)|
|140 Nosler Partition||2,800||2,437|
|150 Speer Hot-Cor SP||2,650||2,339|
|175 Nosler Partition||2,595||2,617|
These rounds are more than sufficient for taking down an elk on paper. The most important factor is where you position that bullet. Some hunters are a bit wary of the smaller caliber rounds and steer clear of them, but a well-placed shot will ensure the elk goes down quickly.
Due to its streamlined design, 7mm-08’s have a better ballistic coefficient (BC) than most 30 caliber rounds of the same grain. The Ballistic coefficient depends on the bullet manufacturer, but BCs are usually comparable.
The table below shows grain size and their corresponding BC.
This improved BC also results in a much flatter trajectory of the 7mm-08s.
This improved BC and flat trajectory also mean that the bullets fly further while striking their quarry with the intent to kill (and kill they do), shattering bone, penetrating tissue, and eviscerating organs.
These caliber rounds are great for distances under 500 yards (ideal is between 200 and 350 yards), making them effective mid-range projectiles. They lose effectiveness the closer they get to 500 yards.
For example, when a 140-grain bullet leaves the rifle’s muzzle, it should move at speeds of around 2,800fps. At 200 yards, bullets will still move at approximately 2,400fps, but by 375 yards, the same bullet would be close to 2,200fps.
7mm-08 rounds are for short-action rifles, usually with a 22-inch barrel (although barrels range from 20 to 24 inches). Short action rifles are overall lighter in weight than long action rifles. The 7mm-08 works particularly well with Remington models 700 and 788s.
Additional rifles which support the 7mm-08 include:
- Tikka T3x Lite Rifle (weighing 6 pounds)
- Kimber Hunter (weighing 5 pounds 7 ounces)
- Barrett Fieldcraft (weighing 5.2 pounds)
- Kimber Mountain Ascent (weighing 4 pounds 13 ounces)
These light rifles allow easier movement in rugged terrain while tracking elk, which is a blessing for many hunters.
Ultimately the brand of rifle you select is a matter of personal preference, as some rifles instantly “click” for you.
One major plus to the 7mm-08 is that they produce far less recoil than other similar caliber rounds.
Lighter, short-action rifles often handle recoil poorly when compared to longer, heavier rifles (more body to distribute the force through), but due to the reduced recoil from 7mm-08s, this weight issue is mitigated.
This reduced recoil means more accurate shooting and, overall, a more deadly shot with less shoulder damage.
These cartridges are designed to suit most hunting terrains, whether you’re hunting in dense forests, open prairies, mountain slopes, or exotic species on the African plains.
The 7mm-08 is not limited to elk (or other game) hunting. Other uses for this round include:
- Shooting metal silhouettes
- Long-range target shooting
When selecting bullets for your 7mm-08s, the standard Remington elk rounds are a fine choice as they are soft point, hollow point, or jacketed for better penetration and “felling.” Most standard edition 7mm-08s are available as 120, 140, 150, and 160 grain for those needing greater stopping power.
Other choices of bullets to accentuate for your 7mm-08, for those who prefer to hand-load include:
- Federal’s 140-grain Trophy Copper and 140-grain AccuBond
- 140 grain Remington Core Lokt
- 140/150/160 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet
- 160 Hornady Extremely Low Drag eXpanding (long-range)
The Shortcomings Of The 7mm-08 Round
Although the 7mm-08 cartridges are ideal for medium-sized game, they may be slightly underpowered when hunting large game species. Although they can take down an elk, moose, or black bear, shot placement is paramount to ensuring that this kill is humane and quick.
Broadside and mildly quartering shots are alright, but if the elk turns toward you, then it’s better not to take the shot unless you are within 100 to 200 yards, but even then, it might be too big of an ask.
Anything larger than an elk/moose, and we highly recommend that you opt for a bigger caliber. Brown, grizzly, and polar bears are completely out of the 7mm-08 capacity.
These rounds are also limited in their effective range. If you’re shooting targets, then 500 yards is not an issue; the bullet will hit the target with relative ease and accuracy.
However, when hunting, the bullet needs to incapacitate/kill quickly. A distance of 200 to 300 is ideal for achieving this, while 400 yards is the better limit you should approach (some hunters boast about their 500-yard shots with 7mm-08, but we feel that erring on the side of caution is always better. Respect, especially when hunting).
Head To Head: 7mm-08 Vs Traditional .308 Cartridges
Although the 7mm-08 is derived from the .308, there are marked differences in their performance. Some of these differences are tabled below.
|Criteria||7mm-08 Round||.308 Round|
|Length||2.035 inches||2.015 inches|
|Bullet Diameter||0.284 inches||0.308 inches|
|Effective range||Up to 500 yards for targets and 400 for elk||Up to 1,000 yards for targets and 500 for elk|
|Ballistics: 150 grain||2,650 fps | 2,339 ft-lbf | 0.493-0.546||2.820 fps | 2,648 ft-lbf | 0.314 BC|
|Trajectory Bullet drop after 200 yards||3.6 inches||3.9 inches|
The biggest deciding factor between these two calibers is personal preference and what you intend to do. The 7mm-08 is a versatile, lightweight round that functions well, with limited recoil, while the .308 has a further range, but its recoil is a bit harder because the bullets are less aerodynamic, requiring a bigger “kick” to push them along.
Although 7mm-08 are popular medium game caliber rounds, they are more than sufficient for hunting elk and other large game, provided your shot placement is accurate. Due to their improved ballistic coefficients, 7mm-08s are as effective at medium-range as their parent caliber, the .308. With their reduced recoil and lighter weights, the 7mm-08 is a better choice for backcountry hunting.