View Full Version : lowest recoil rifle for elk

January 26, 2012, 04:30 PM
A conversation with some friends turned into a vigorous discussion, with strong opinions on every side. I would like to get the opinions of the experts on this forum.

What is the lowest-recoiling rifle/cartridge combination that would be suitable for elk hunting?


The hunter is an experienced deer hunter, and she has taken many white-tails over the years, but has never been elk hunting.

No shots beyond 200 yards.

She can afford a new rifle but would prefer to keep the cost of rifle/scope below $2000.

She currently uses a 6mm Remington 700 on deer because of the light recoil. She has an old shoulder injury which makes her recoil sensitive. She can tolerate the higher recoil of a 9 lb 30-06 for 3 to 5 rounds, but that’s about it. She also had to give up shooting skeet and sporting clays. She can shoot a bolt 223 all day.

January 26, 2012, 04:46 PM
270 or 7mm-08 would do the trick if that is light enough. Or a 30-06 shooting 150gr?

I don't believe I've shot a 270. I did shoot a 7-08 once though and I though recoil was very mild.

Brian Pfleuger
January 26, 2012, 04:58 PM
I have a friend who has hunted elk in the area of Paonia, Colorado for over 20 years running. He reports that there are a good number of women and others with an aversion to recoil that hunt elk every year with 243s.

There is no reason that a 243 is not acceptable with proper bullet choice and shots limited to broadside and not too far. 200 yards should be fine with the right bullet.

If it were me, I'd prefer to step up to a 25-06 or 7mm-08 and consider the 7mm-08 to be ideal.

But the 243 will certainly work for a responsible, knowledgeable hunter.

January 26, 2012, 05:14 PM
257 Roberts. Just because that's the only one I've had much experience within your criteria.

January 26, 2012, 05:16 PM
Her 6mm Remington with the right bullet would work. Like peetzakilla said though, I'd keep the range down. Nosler Partition for example would be a good bullet.

January 26, 2012, 05:43 PM
Yeah I'll second the tough bullet selection if she's gonna use the 6mm. It will work, I prefer bigger as most do but I wouldn't necessarily buy a new rifle for one elk hunt. If she can handle and borrow something bigger though that would be my advice. Cup and core bullets in 6mm come apart very easily in my experience. They are fine for deer but it takes a good shot to put down an elk. I'd go bonded or Barnes TSX type of bullet as heavy as you can get.

Major Dave (retired)
January 26, 2012, 05:53 PM
The 6mm she already owns is capable of about 100 fps greater MV than the 243, when hand loaded, and uses the same diameter bullet. Therefore, technically speaking, for her to buy a 243 would be a (very small) step backward.

To go up the power scale (rather than down slightly) it would go something like this: 257 Roberts (uses same capacity case as 6mm Rem/7X57 Mauser)
260 Rem (uses same capacity case as 243/308)
25-06 (uses same capacity case as 30-06)
7mm-08 (uses same capacity case as 243/308)
7X57 Mauser (same capacity case as 6mm Rem/257 Roberts)

Anything bigger would be too much recoil, for sure.

The 7X57, in factory 139/140 grain loads will have less recoil than the 7-08 factory loads of the same bullet weight, because the MV is about 200 fps slower that the MV of the 7-08. Still good to 200 yards, though. The 7X57 can be hand loaded to 100 fps faster than the 7-08, but then the recoil is increased. Makes it a 300 yard load, also.

January 26, 2012, 05:55 PM
I'll add another thought.

While I don't think many of us would question the ability of a 6mm Rem/.243 Win to kill an elk. There is the question of how fast would it kill it and how far it might go before it died.

I'm familiar with incidents of people shooting elk in crowded hunting areas and tracking it down, only to find other hunters claiming its their elk. Perhaps looking into neck shots with the 6mm might be worthwhile?

I've only ever killed two elk and they were with shoulder shots using a .338 Winchester Magnum. So I can't be much help on smaller caliber advice. I/m sure one of our more experienced elk hunters will come along and offer more/better advice.

January 26, 2012, 05:56 PM
The 6mm she already owns is capable of about 100 fps greater MV than the 243, and uses the same diameter bullet. Therefore, technically speaking, for her to buy a 243 would be a (very small) step backward.

I think his point was the 6mm Rem/243 is a simialr and adequate platform... not that she should go buy a 243;)

I can't be much help on smaller caliber advice. I/m sure one of our more experienced elk hunters will come along and offer more/better advice.

I've hunted elk with a 243. I didn't like it. I was using cup and core bullets, and I was in my teens. It worked when I made a good shot, the elk got away when I made a bad one. However, it got away because of my poor shot. A heavier caliber may have put it down, but not for sure. With a good bullet placed from what is described as a knowledgeable hunter... the 243 will work. I would advise something bigger if possible, but wouldn't say "you have to go buy another rifle." If borrowing is possible or if she wants another rifle, there are better options for elk than the 243. Any step up is a lot better. And the 6mm is indeed a little faster than the standard 243.

Brian Pfleuger
January 26, 2012, 05:57 PM
The 6mm she already owns is capable of about 100 fps greater MV than the 243, and uses the same diameter bullet. Therefore, technically speaking, for her to buy a 243 would be a (very small) step backward.

True, this is... but I was responding to "what is the lightest recoiling cartridge/rifle combination that would be suitable for elk hunting." I would use the 6mm and not buy a 243 but a 243 is pretty much the lightest recoil cartridge suitable for elk.

I guess I should have specified that I wouldn't buy another rifle. The implication wasn't as clear in writing as it was in my head.;)

January 26, 2012, 06:07 PM
The first thing is: do not underestimate the power of a woman. Men always make that mistake. A lady friend of the family uses a 338 Federal to hunt elk here locally and has taken game in over 300 yards. And, she is as girly as they come with two teenage children. She should try first a 308; 30-06, and a 300 WSM. Don't be surprised if she happens to like one of these.

January 26, 2012, 06:27 PM
I guess that I have 2 questions that might help find an answer:

1. what is the terrain like where she will be elk hunting? If she's in deep timber, a 150 yard shot might be the outside limit, so her 6mm would be fine. If she's out in the high plains of central Colorado, she might be looking at a minimum 250 or 300 yard shot. Whatever you choose, ask how will your cartridge perform at 300 yards. If it's heavy woods, choose a rifle that you can point and shoot quickly, b/c you won't have a lot of time to think about things.

2. Will she have a cow tag or a bull tag? If it's a bull tag, 6mm Rem and 243 Win are not ineffective, but have less wiggle room for error, especially if you find yourself "lobbing one in." If it's a cow tag, you could use either of those with more confidence.

I think you might already have enough tool for the job, but to make myself feel like I'm helpful, I'll add that I like these suggestions already given above:
270 win

Good luck!

Jim Watson
January 26, 2012, 06:33 PM
A friend reports that a .280 Rem will not bounce off an elk.
A 7mm 08 would get close to that with the wide range of fine 7mm bullets.

January 26, 2012, 06:35 PM

A $2,000 limt allows for a nice rifle AND scope.

January 26, 2012, 06:37 PM
In Wyoming, the lowest recoiling rifle cartridge (smallest) that is legal for elk hunting is the .243 caliber! If she is going to hunt in Wyoming, her 6mm will be fine.


January 26, 2012, 06:41 PM
Jim Watson wrote:
A friend reports that a .280 Rem will not bounce off an elk

I hope you don't mind that I'm going to steal that line to use at some point in the future. Pure Gold!

January 26, 2012, 06:56 PM
agreed with Veryolddog, alot of woman are great shots and can handle heavy recoil. my mom shoots a Winchester 70 featherweight in 300wsm. few years ago i watched her shoot a running Muley in the back of the head off hand at 175 yds with it....then again she does rope elk also :D but the OP stated the shooter had a shoulder injury recently and cant handle much recoil...so the magnums are out of the question

Art Eatman
January 26, 2012, 07:15 PM
Going back to the first post: If she can tolerate a few shots from an '06, remember that it's common that only one or two shots get fired on a critter. And if her previous "06-ing" was with summer-weight clothing, remember that's it's usually chilly-to-cold temperatures in most elk hunting and a jacket's padding helps a good bit with recoil.

January 26, 2012, 07:54 PM

I wouldn't do it, but here is an elk dropped in it's tracks at 688 yards from 1 shot from a 243.

January 26, 2012, 08:47 PM
MY wife took a medium cow elk last year with a 25-06,120gr.gameking
it took 3 steps & fell.But I must say My wife is a monster of a women @
5' 2 ,135lbs. She has no problem with the 25-06 up to a box or so.
Good luck with your choice.

January 26, 2012, 09:11 PM
Thanks for all the opinions.

The discussion got heated when one buddy told her and her husband that she could use his 30-30 with 170 grainers, as long as she kept it within 100 yards.... which caused another guy to howl in protest, claiming that you needed at least a 200 grain bullet for elk, and 30-06 was the absolute minimum. I pointed out that 270 Win has had a good reputation as an elk gun, which caused further spitting and hair pulling. We ended up in two camps... My team, which thought that 7mm-08 and 270 win might be about the minimum, and the opposing team which maintained that 30-06 and 7mm-mag were the minimum, and 338 federal was preferable to either, and 338 win mag and 35 whelan were by far the preferred cartridge.

If they go elk hunting (and it is a big IF), it will be in the deep forests of Ontario north of Lake Superior. She is mid 50's excellent condition. She is a hunter and a shooter, but not really a "gun" person. And as Art pointed out, once it is sighted in, a successful hunt often involves just one shot.

Thanks again for confirming my thoughts.......... Jim

January 26, 2012, 09:28 PM
.... and as far as getting a new rifle, she is actually looking forward to getting a new one. She has her eye on Sako and Weatherby Mark V. The Mark V would blow her $2k budget, and probably is not available in the light calibers she needs)

Art Eatman
January 26, 2012, 11:27 PM
Another thing you might consider is installing a Limbsaver or equivalent butt pad. All the reports are that there is a lot of reduction in felt recoil. I'm not particularly sensitive to recoil, but I don't equate masochism with intelligence, either. Softer is better...

Deja vu
January 26, 2012, 11:41 PM
a 44 mag lever gun is pretty low recoil and can kill at better than 200 yards if the shooter can do there part.

January 26, 2012, 11:48 PM
I would say a Browning BAR (new modle) in 270 Winchester with their "BOSS" break would be about the lowest recoiling elk rifle you can get

January 27, 2012, 12:31 AM
I LOVE my Marlin .444 as a woods gun and a very accurate hunting rifle that I can shoot 1.5 inch groups at 100 yards with Skinner Peep sights. It weighs about 9.5 pounds with the added lead I had placed in the stock. I added Limbsaver and then covered that with a Kick Killer pad to protect the soft Limbsaver. It is a great gun to shoot, accurate and throws a big chunk of lead. It feels like a 20 ga to me.

If that is not to her taste, then make sure the rifle has a little extra weight, has a Limbsaver and then throw a Kick Killer on top of it and no matter what caliber you choose, it will ease the recoil.

As far as the .270, Jack O'Connor used that as his primary elk rifle. One of my friends in Idaho who has shot dozens of elk over the years uses that combination not just by coincidence. His father was good friends with Jack and learned well from his hunting experiences. So, yes, in the right hands, the .270 is a great rifle for elk.

January 27, 2012, 02:07 AM
6.5x55 with 156-160 grain bullets.

January 27, 2012, 02:58 AM
I have never shot an elk, and likely will never get the chance.

Hve done a bunch of reading by those that have. I was thinking .270 as well, based on O/Connor's experience and now many others.

With modern high tech bullets, the .270 is likely more elk rifle than it was in Jack's day, and it seemed plenty good enough then.

January 27, 2012, 04:48 AM
If she can handle 3-5 shots from a 30-06 at a sitting, what's the problem? How many shots is she going to get at one time at an elk? If a 30-06 is too much, a 270 or a 7mm-08 with 140 grain premium bullets should do nicely.

She should get one of these:


You can buy shirts with a pouch to hold the pad, or it can easily be added to an existing shirt:


January 27, 2012, 05:22 AM
If she can shoot with confidence at the 200 yd limit,that matters a lot.If there is no pressure to "get one",she can wait till a proper rib/heart/lung shot is offered,or pass on the shot.
These "ifs" ,along with a substantial bullet,will be pretty reliable.Once through the ribs,the heart and lungs will soup pretty well.No,honestly I do not have experience shooting elk with a 6mm but I have seen it done with a 243.

On the idea of "She is OK for 3-5 shots with a 30-06"

I am not trying to assign limitations to her,but a concern might be,At what price?I can get down on a bench with a 416 Rem Mag for 3=5 shots,but I won't really enjoy it because it hurts.The danger is if I get the dread squinty eye cringe.Then I have to focus and follow through my way out of it.

I'm saying if she develops a flinch from trying to make a 30--06 work,the 30-06 will be less effective than the 6mm due to shot placement.

IMO,Peetza's 7-08 is a darn good suggestion.Maybe a 140 gr Accubond or Partition.

And,I will add,while a Sako or similar is a fine rifle,I would look very carefully at finding a rifle that fits her well.It may be something like a Ruger Compact or similar rifles would fill the bill.

January 27, 2012, 05:26 AM
I guess it depends on what is meant by "OK".

I'm saying if she develops a flinch from trying to make a 30--06 work,the 30-06 will be less effective than the 6mm due to shot placement.

If this is the case then she's NOT OK with the 30-06.

January 27, 2012, 09:21 AM
The 6mm will be just fine.


January 27, 2012, 09:56 AM
Try some managed recoil .30-06. They're quite a bit lighter with Remington's being a 125 grain core lokt at around 2650 fps. That's almost 2000 ft lbs of energy. I'm not sure how that little short bullet performs on elk, but core lokts are decent. Also, the 6mm will work with good bullets. Barnes comes to mind, as does Nosler. I've used 270 130 grain cheapo walmart federal specials, and they work just fine if you hit them behind the ear or centerpunch the lungs. Basically, with any lighter caliber, avoid heavy bone, specifically the shoulder bone. Out here in NM, it specifies .24 caliber centerfire or larger. CO has more specific regulations regarding energy, etc. Make sure she can shoot it, but more importantly, make sure you're legal. There are some interesting .30 caliber choices out there now like .30 T/C and .30 Remington AR. Before I get flamed, I must say I don't know the ballistics of these rounds, but they are worth looking at for a lower recoil alternative.

January 27, 2012, 09:58 AM
She has her eye on Sako and Weatherby Mark V

She should get what she wants, I love my mark V and the Sako's are dandies!

Since she has a past injury, make sure her LOP, comb to cheek, and most of the heel to shoulder area comes into contact. It sounds like she is lucky to be surrounded by other hunters with rifles. If so, I hope they'll lend her a few to get an idea of a proper fit (she doesn't even have to fire them). Have her pull up the gun to her shoulder and look through the scope, WITHOUT MOVING HER HEAD or leaning into the stock or leaning way back. This alone will improve felt recoil. If she contorts at all, its gonna hurt.

There are so many great guns out there in so many designs she should find one close to fitting her! - DO THIS FIRST, CALIBER NEXT!:cool:

confirmed shooter
January 27, 2012, 10:00 AM
I shoot a 6mm also, so you know that I understand the recoil of that round. I would consider a 308 in the AR platform with a brake. Its 180 gr bullet at 2650 fps has less recoil than my 6mm. hope this was helpfull.

January 27, 2012, 10:20 AM
IMO,Peetza's 7-08 is a darn good suggestion.Maybe a 140 gr Accubond or Partition.

As much a fan of the .270 WIN as I am, I vote 7-08 for the recoil shy..... my niece uses one for deer..... and she's 12. With controlled expansion bullets, I think it'd work just fine.

What weight of bullet is she using in the 6mm now? The original .244 Remingtons had too slow of a twist to stabilize 100 grain bullets .....

January 27, 2012, 10:33 AM
If it's a true 6mm and not a .244, she should stabilize 100 grain bullets. At least my 80's vintage gun does. That was the reason for the name change. It basically indicated a twist rate change.

Irish B
January 27, 2012, 02:46 PM
.270 is plenty for elk if you're a decent shot. I learned to hunt Moose and Elk with a .270

Art Eatman
January 27, 2012, 06:11 PM
Checking back with the opening post, I figure he's got enough info to chew over, for now.