If you don't mind me asking, in what general area do you hunt?
I know you said that you do not like the recoil from the 300 but I can tell you from personal experience that a lot depends on a particular rifle.
Case in point my two brother in laws and one of their freinds bought Rugger 7 mags from the same shop just west of I.F. the oldest BIL and the friend bought their guns at the same time with consecutive serial numbers. The youngest BIL bought his a year or two later. You can literally lay all three side by side and not tell them apart. All have the same scope rings base wood lam stock the whole nine yards. The ones with consecutive numbers are fine to shoot while the one bought later kicks like a mule. All three shoot the same reloads my oldest BIL produces. I bought a Rugger 7 mag with the old boat paddle stock and it was somewhere between the two extremes as far as recoil.
I have since sold the rifle and they still have theirs, but I did wind up with a RMEF raffle gun that is a Winchester 300 win mag. I think it has less recoil than the 7mag I had and definitively less than my youngest BIL'S. I am even loading some near max 180 grain loads over some reloader powder(don't remember which one of the top of my head)
The point is, I don't think you are going to solve your problem by just switching from one magnum to another, you might just need to try a whole new rifle altogether, the 30 cal magnum may be just fine. If I were you I also would consider a non magnum caliber. Depending on which elk unit you hunt I believe you may be right about your yardage limitations. But I have yet to hunt an area in south east Idaho where you could not do it with a 30-06 or 270. I know you don't want another 06 and you don't like the 308 both of which are fine calibers for this area, but have you looked at a 270?
Marlins XL line is a good option for your price range, I really like my 308 that I got and I was just about 500 for the rifle and the scope. I bought a Vortex scope that seems to be holding up just fine, even the one on my 300 is doing well.
* (Swinging club) Whack! whack! whack! *
Nope, the old nag's still dead .
Last edited by grubbylabs; September 17, 2012 at 10:43 PM.
Reason: clarify post