General Hunting Tips

How to Choose the Right Hunting Caliber

A hunter shows a box of shotgun shells, choosing the right hunting caliber concept.

One thing hunters love to do (besides hunting and enjoying wild game) is debate different types of hunting calibers. 

Which caliber is the best all-around choice? Which rounds are better for small game vs. big game? What goes into choosing a caliber based on what you plan to hunt? 

In addition to understanding how to stay safe when using firearms and hunting, hunters must choose the right hunting caliber to ensure a clean and ethical kill shot. Take a look at our thoughts and an infographic we put together to help you select your caliber for a successful hunt! 

What Does "Caliber" Mean?

You probably know that rifles need different ammunition than a shotgun or handgun, but what do we mean when we talk about choosing a caliber? 

"Caliber" refers to a bullet's width or diameter. Caliber designations relate to the measured diameter of a bullet expressed as hundredths, thousandths, or millimeters. For example, a 9mm round measures nine millimeters across as the bullet's diameter. 

How to Choose the Right Hunting Caliber

Using the wrong ammunition can leave you with a wounded animal (instead of a cleanly killed animal) or without enough meat to take home because the caliber caused too much damage. 

First, decide what you plan to hunt, whether it's waterfowl, turkey, deer, or something larger, like elk. When hunting duck, you won't need as large of a round as you will to take down an elk cleanly. 

You'll also need to choose a caliber that fits the firearm you plan to use. Loading the wrong ammunition into a rifle or shotgun can lead to serious injury. 

How Do Different Calibers Stack Up?

So, which caliber is ideal for different types of game? 

Take a look at our infographic showing 19 calibers and how we think they best apply based on what you prefer to hunt. While there is always room for debate, ultimately, hunters should choose firearms and ammunition based on their comfort and skill level and what they plan to hunt. 

Infographic showing How to Choose the Right Hunting Caliber.

If you plan to hunt a Jurassic creature, be sure you're prepared! 

Use Hunter Safety Education and the Right Caliber for a Successful Hunt

In addition to the right caliber, you'll need an understanding of hunter safety best practices before heading out into the field for your next hunt! In fact, most states require hunters to get safety certified before buying a hunting license. 

Even if you have your firearm and ammunition ready to go, don't forget to plan for your hunter safety course. Hunter-Ed makes it easy to take our state-approved hunting education courses online – anywhere you can connect to the internet using a mobile device or a computer. 

Learn how to carry your firearm and load it safely, then how to identify your safe zone of fire before taking a shot and bringing home plenty of wild game for your freezer this season. Find the course for your state and start learning! 


Originally published October 29, 2013. Content updated April 11, 2024.