Want to learn all about the most popular rifle calibers? You’re in the right place!
We have too many calibers to properly label…so I’ve broken it down into two parts.
And now onto the bigger boys…
We’ll cover pros/cons, average price, recoil, and recommended ammo for a bunch of popular rifle calibers.
Plus for the ones we shoot regularly…some short video clips!
Table of Contents
What Does Caliber Mean?
Now let’s get some easy terminology out of the way…
Caliber is the size of the bullet’s diameter and can be measured in both imperial (inches) and metric (mm) units. If it doesn’t say mm after, it’s likely in inches (because ‘Murica).
And for terminology’s sake…a “bullet” is just the metal projectile while the entire thing is called a “cartridge” or “round.”
And a 9mm deconstructed in real life…
Here are the definition and units of some of the things we’ll be using to compare the different calibers.
- Bullet weight: Measured in grains (gr) where 7000 grains make up a pound…so it’s a really small unit.
- Velocity: Speed of the bullet in feet/sec
- Energy: Measured in Joules (J), a rough approximation for the power of the round
Popular Rifle Calibers Guide
Let’s get to it with our first part…
Now…there’s A LOT of calibers we’re going through. And some are more popular than others. I’ll highlight those with an underline in the header.
This tiny low-recoiling round is popular for both rifles and pistols.
Called the “twenty-two” long rifle, it’s a “rimfire” cartridge instead of “centerfire” because the firing pin hits the rim of the case instead of…the center.
Here are some fired versions…
The .22 long rifle is probably the most popular rifle round out there.
Its small size and high velocity make it ideal for hitting small game like squirrels at range, and its low recoil makes it a great round for beginners and children who want to shoot but don’t want the shoulder bruises that come with a larger round.
Here it is in a .22LR pistol…
It’s even less recoiling in a rifle (Ruger 10/22 shown).
Usually reserved for target shooting or small pests, that doesn’t mean it’s not deadly to human targets either. The small caliber bullets tend to bounce around inside a body, follow bones, and wreak havoc.
Take a look at our Best .22LR Ammo: Accuracy, Plinking, and Hunting.
- Bullet Weight: 30-40 gr
- Velocity: 1200-1600 ft/s
- Energy: 140-160 J
- Price Per Round: ~7 cents
Newer to the game than most cartridges, the .17HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) is an ultra-light bullet designed to be as flat a trajectory as possible for a rimfire round.
This is a cartridge that has room to grow in many ways.
Flat shooting trajectory makes it great for precision shooters while the energy downrange is also good enough for varment hunters looking to put down small game.
Either way – a great option with dozens of loadings available. And it packs way more oomph than the .22LR!
Learn everything about it in our .17 HMR [Guide]: Best Ammo & Guns!
- Bullet Weight: 17-20 gr
- Velocity: 2350-2650 ft/s
- Energy: 330 J
- Price Per Round: ~18 cents
A new-ish round for personal defense developed by FN Herstal to fly through soft body armor like a hot knife through butter.
It does this with a small projectile going incredibly fast. Unfortunately it’s only really chambered for two FN guns…the Five-SeveN handgun…
And the P90 rifle…
With the rifle you get an ammo capacity of 50 rounds in a funky magazine. But as a civilian you can’t go full auto or get the armor piercing rounds. So ehh…
- Bullet Weight: 40 gr
- Velocity: 2300 ft/s
- Energy: 500 J
- Price Per Round: ~50 cents
Blast to the past! Not super common nowadays, but it was the ammo for the M1 carbine back in WWII and up to the Korean War.
Pretty low recoil and really fun to shoot in the M1 if you get a chance.
- Bullet Weight: 110 gr
- Velocity: 2000 ft/s
- Energy: 1300 J
- Price Per Round: ~40 cents
.300 Blackout (BLK)
The “three-hundred blackout” is a new-ish round (2011) that aimed to put the larger .30 caliber bullet (such as the AK-47) into the AR platform that normally took .22 caliber bullets.
And also to offer great suppression abilities and the use of current magazines. Recoil is pretty similar to the regular soft-shooting 5.56x45mm of the AR-15. If you’re looking for .300 BLK ammo or uppers, we got you covered.
- Bullet Weight: 125 gr
- Velocity: 2200 ft/s
- Energy: 1360 J
- Price Per Round: ~70 cents
The 7.62x39mm cartridge is a Russian round designed for use in the venerable AK-47 and SKS rifles.
With the importation of these rifles to the U.S., the 7.62x39mm has become a popular round, and some bolt-action rifles, notably from CZ, and semi-autos like the Ruger Mini-30 use it.
The round is large enough for a medium-sized game such as deer and more than adequate for self-defense.
Moderate recoil and moderate range but great knockdown power. Especially when compared to the 5.56/.223 AR round coming up soon.
Check out the Best 7.62×39 Ammo article.
- Bullet Weight: 123 gr
- Velocity: 2400 ft/s
- Energy: 2180 J
- Price Per Round: ~20 cents
A very new round from Federal that used the AR-15 platform and could reach 100 yards.
Swap out your upper, get a 6.8 SPC magazine (ok a little annoying) and you’re ready to go.
You can shoot it all day without bruising your shoulder and even I was able to get 1000 yards semi-consistently. Those better skilled shooters were hitting 1250 around me.
However, the round was initially plagued with ammo problems which are now fixed.
Learn more in our Complete .224 Valkyrie Guide.
- Bullet Weight: 60-90 gr
- Velocity: 2600-3500 ft/s
- Energy: 2000 J
- Price Per Round: ~45 cents
5.56x45mm or .223 Remington
The standard caliber of the M-16, M-4, and the civilian AR-15.
5.56x45mm (five-five-six) is a NATO round and is normally loaded a little “hotter” than the civilian .223 (two-two-three) even though the two are dimensionally the same.
Extremely accurate and soft shooting.
Larger than a .22lr, but not by much, many states don’t allow hunters to use .223 on large game like deer because it’s considered inhumane.
It’s used, therefore, more as a varmint round used to kill prairie dogs at long range or predators such as coyotes. There’s also a lot of military and accurate available although the standard is 55 gr.
Best AR-15 Ammo: Home Defense & Range for more information
- Bullet Weight: 55-77 gr
- Velocity: 3100 ft/s
- Energy: 1770 J
- Price Per Round: ~25 cents
What’s your take on the super popular 5.56?
A name almost as long as the story that created the cartridge, the 6.8 Remington Special Purpose Cartridge was designed for the United States Military as an intermediate step between 5.56 NATO and 7.62 NATO.
While the history behind this cartridge is totally worth reading, you’ll have to take a look at our dedicated article for that!
The short version of the story is that while it performed well in field testing among Special Forces units in Iraq and Afganistan, it never saw wide adoption in any form.
But the 6.8 SPC lives on in the civilian world due to its power and range offered in an AR-15 platform, much like the 6.5 Grendel.
- Bullet Weight: 85-120 gr
- Velocity: 2500 ft/s
- Energy: 2000 J
- Price Per Round: ~60 cents
Ever growing in popularity with long range shooters looking to get the most out of their AR-15 rifles, the 6.5 Grendel delivers supersonic speeds well past 1,000 yards.
Because of the precision and wide range of bullet options the Grendel is also a great option for hunters, especially since it proves to be capable of dropping deer with ease out to 300+ yards using a 12.5″ barrel!
Take a look at the Best 6.5 Grendel Uppers.
- Bullet Weight: 90-130 gr
- Velocity: 2700 ft/s
- Energy: 2500 J
- Price Per Round: ~80 cents
As the name suggests, the .458 SOCOM was designed by US Special Operations members as an alternative caliber for the M4/M16 rifle.
Born out of the lessons learned by the Rangers and Delta teams in Operation Gothic Serpent, .458 SOCOM is a heavy beast of a cartridge designed to deliver a huge amount of power on target, roughly equivalent to a light .45-70!
Firing a bullet at least 5 times heavier than standard 55gr 5.56 NATO, .458 SOCOM was designed to be 100% compatible with standard M4/M16 rifles – including magazines!
The only things required are a new barrel, bolt, and slightly enlarged ejection port.
Although it never saw service with US Armed Forces, the concept behind the .458 SOCOM lives on in the .300 AAC Blackout.
.458 SOCOM offers civilian shooters a great option for big bore shooting out of an AR-15, perfect for hunting T-Rexs or other dangerous game!
RIP shoulder and wallet though…
- Bullet Weight: 250-600 gr
- Velocity: 1000-2200 ft/s
- Energy: 1800-3500 J
- Price Per Round: ~$2.00
Whew…we’re basically halfway there…now onto Part II.
There is a popular saying that more deer have been killed by the .30-30 in North America than all other cartridges combined.
And really, we believe it!
Introduced all the way back in 1895, the .30-30 is one of the oldest center fire smokeless cartridges still in production today.
Normally found in lever-action rifles, this great-great-granddaddy of a round delivers a lot more knockdown power than most people give it credit for.
Check out the Best .30-30 Ammo and the Best Lever Action Rifles!
- Bullet Weight: 110-170 gr
- Velocity: 2400 ft/s
- Energy: 2400 J
- Price Per Round: ~75 cents
Bullet weights range from 110gr up to 170gr with velocities averaging around 2,400-2,500ft/s. Perfect for stalking deer in the woods!
The 6mm Creedmoor (CM) is simply 6.5 Creedmoor necked down and with a smaller bullet.
What this offers shooters is a lighter recoiling, faster-moving round that is winning championship marksman competitions the world over!
Still new to the world of shooting, 6mm has a lot of growth potential as shooters learn more about it and test it in new applications. Although, it is already clear that it shines brightest as a long range precision shooter’s competition cartridge.
- Bullet Weight: 85-130 gr
- Velocity: 3000 ft/s
- Energy: 2800 J
- Price Per Round: ~$1.20
Introduced in 1955, .243 Winchester opened the doors for cartridges based on the popular .308/7.62 NATO necked down to smaller bores.
Designed for varmint hunting and target shooting, .243 Win is popular due to its age and capability as a cartridge both for precision and for its flat trajectory…but it is an older cartridge that is starting to show its age.
While .243 Win will have a special place for hunters looking to harvest game at medium ranges, for target shooters the .243 Win has been almost completely replaced by the higher BC 6mm Creedmoor.
- Bullet Weight: 58-105 gr
- Velocity: 3000-4000 ft/s
- Energy: 2700 J
- Price Per Round: ~60 cents
Named “Government” because it was developed at the US Army’s Springfield Armory in 1873.
It’s a big boy round…or more specifically…a big buffalo round. Check it out compared to the (now) tiny 5.56…
And it packs a wallop…
Nowadays you’ll find them in some lever-action guns. Check out our review of the Henry .45-70.
There’s a wide range of bullet weight, velocity, and energy…
- Bullet Weight: 250-405 gr
- Velocity: 1500-2000 ft/s
- Energy: 2300-4600 J
- Price Per Round: ~$1.25
7.62x51mm or .308 Winchester
The big brother of the 5.56, the “seven-six-two” NATO round is used by the US military and the .308 “three-oh-eight” is its civilian equivalent.
But this time, the .308 is usually the hotter round.
Much more recoil than the 5.56 but with extended range and knockdown power.
Plus tons of choices for ammo.
There are very few animals this round won’t take down and it’s also the de facto sniper round the world over.
Check out Best 7.62×51 Ammo and also Best AR-10s for the AR platform chambered in 7.62×51.
- Bullet Weight: 147-175 gr
- Velocity: 2600-2700 ft/s
- Energy: 3300-3500J
- Price Per Round: ~75 cents
One of the military’s newest calibers!
And for good reason…it gives awesome long distance precision without insane recoil/blowback.
And when does it go subsonic?
That’s why both the military and competition shooters love the 6.5 CM.
I was able to hit 1000 yards semi-easily with a 6.5 Creedmoor from PSA (full review) and I’m not an excellent shot.
It’s getting more and more popular so there’s plenty of loads too.
Check out our 6.5 Creedmoor Guide for the best ammo and guns.
- Bullet Weight: 120-140 gr
- Velocity: 2700-3000 ft/s
- Energy: 3000 J
- Price Per Round: ~70 cents
Russian cartridge that is still in military issue today.
Popular for their sniper rifles, the 7.62 “Russian” (the R actually stands for rimmed and not Russian), is hard hitting with a good amount of recoil.
When you hear this round mentioned, there is one rifle that is always associated with it: the Mosin Nagant. Surplus makes it cheap to shoot such a large caliber though.
- Bullet Weight: 150-181 gr
- Velocity: 2500-2800 ft/s
- Energy: 3600 J
- Price Per Round: ~60 cents
Many have a special place in their hearts for .270 Winchester as their first deer rifle caliber.
Knocking down deer since the early 1920s, .270 Win is basically .30-06 necked down from .30 cal to .277 cal. This gives you the bullet options for everything 7mm with the case and action length of .30-06!
The .30-30 might be the grim reaper of deer, but I suspect the .270 Win is a close second due to the flat shooting of the round and the real power it can push behind it.
- Bullet Weight: 90-150 gr
- Velocity: 3000 ft/s
- Energy: 3500 J
- Price Per Round: ~$1.00
The .30-06 (thirty-ought-six) began life as the .30 Government and was made the primary U.S. military round in 1906 (hence the “06” in the name).
Though it was eventually replaced by the 7.62x51mm round in the military after 50+ years, the 06 remains a popular bolt-action hunting round capable of killing any animal in North America given its tremendous knockdown power and range.
With great power comes great recoil, and a pretty steep price per round.
- Bullet Weight: 150-200 gr
- Velocity: 2500-2900 ft/s
- Energy: 2800-3000 J
- Price Per Round: ~$1.50
.338 Lapua Magnum
Everyone likely says it wrong…it’s “LAH-poo-uh” instead of “lah-POO-uh” but everyone agrees it’s a big hard hitting round.
One that got the then-new record for the longest confirmed sniper kill at 2707 yards in Afghanistan.
Check it out when compared to the huge 30-06 Springfield!
- Bullet Weight: 200-300 gr
- Velocity: 2800-3400 ft/s
- Energy: 5000 J
- Price Per Round: ~$2.50
No rifle caliber guide is complete without the big boy “fifty-cal” BMG (Browning Machine Gun).
Manageable when you’re standing and with a suppressor!
It puts everything else to shame with its immense size difference. Let’s zoom out to show proper perspective.
Super long range, knockdown ability, and recoil in the form of everything from machine guns to sniper rifles.
If you ever need to take down a T-Rex at 1,500 yards – this is the round you want.
- Bullet Weight: 647-800 gr
- Velocity: 2800-3000 ft/s
- Energy: 18,000 J
- Price Per Round: ~$3.00
So there you have it, our guide to some common rifle calibers.
Anything we missed that you really think should be here? Check out the most Popular Handgun Calibers as well as How Bullets Work.
51 Leave a Reply
300 WinMag is my favorite large game round. Would like to see a "here's the best cartridge" review.
Let’s not forget the 6.5 Carcano. A lot of those rifles have been recently imported and are still being so.
...no .338 Win mag? Awesome caliber for any big game in Canada...
Please take this as constructive critism. (sp) A cartridge is contained in a "case" not a casing. Casing is for sausage or to describe the pipe used in oil wells. You will note that more people use the incorrect term "casing" than case to describe a spent cartridge. Popularity however doesn't make the term correct. This is one of professional firearms examiners pet peeves!
Hi Eric. Super article. Lots of research. Thanks. Where do you fit the .270 Winchester Short Magnum in the list? The Browning semi-auto is great for those follow up shots on T-Rex.
"A very new round from Federal that used the AR-15 platform and could reach 100 yards."
I hope so! I think you mean 1,000 yards.
300blk can be used in a 556 upper?
Use same bcg ?
I already suggested the .50 Beowulf as it's becoming much more popular and if you're going to mention the .224 Valk, then I thought it worth mentioning the Beowulf. I reload my own 300FTX all the way to 500Gr FMJ and it's SUPER fun to shoot. With a tanker brake it's manageable. And in Texas we have the odd T-rex in disguise as a 300 lb feral hog which many calibers need more than one shot to drop. The beo leaves nothing to chance with these behemoths (hogs) running around suburbia and our ranches. I've seen more and more people using the 12.7x42mm round at the range and even one brave soul with a binary trigger on his.
Not a single Chey-Tac or Barrett round here. Need to expand this, and correct the CPR's. The .338LM is averaging $4.75 per round.
Interesting. Good article all in all; when you're bored bring up some variants if you can. I have a 30-30WIN that loads to Norma spec and blows away the 'light' 170gr. 180gr, short ogive, FN, knocks a solid 3/4" in dent in 1/4 hot rolled steel at 100yds. Or, if you like, cuts steel t-posts along the fence in two at 200yds. (if you happen to put the paper target on a steel t-post...) Just saying. Do you want heavy and slow, or fast and flat? Then there's the 50cal black powders. Don't laugh.. there was no IMR in 1776, and a half inch ball still makes a big whack when it hits stuff. Now we have sabot rounds, if you want long range fast n flat.
And where is the 25-06? A couple inches drop at 500yds, really. Plenty of bang behind it too.
Sorry my numbers were incorrect..
Im paying $ 6.15 per round..
The article was great... i want to know where you found .338 lapua for $2.50 a round?? Im paying $11.15 a round..
I like your article and it was very clean and helpful to compare cartridges. I only wish the 300 aac showed its true energy at 1800 J on average (it out paces the 556 slightly but holds it at longer ranges). This round is better for camping for me in the rare case I ever needed to stop an angry/hungry bear compared to the 556. I love the shorter barrel builds for home defense as long as you get a good round that breaks up easier (mostly sups). I just love how you can get a sleek light AR build that you can carry around and have so many versatile rounds to choose from. Great article though!
A long time friend of mine recently passed away an left me a Modello Carcano Italian military rifle dated 1938 he’d had for over 60 yrs that is a beauty an looks like it’s made of chromium or stainless metals ? I was told it’s a “parade” edition for high ranking officers but besides the above can I shoot the .308 bullet (rounds) safely in this rifle ?
I'd add 7.5x55, aka 7.5 Swiss. Basically a .308 designed in 1911. Big brother to the first FMJ round ever, 7.5x53.5 Swiss.
Eric, yes, 22LR, 223, 30-06 (and 308). But what about the 222, 270, 375 H&H and of course the 458 Lott? All hunting calibres for small to dangerous game.
222 bee is an awesome prariedog cartridge!
Jim West. John I like your video iam new at this I will watch it why I take it down hope I can put it back . I have watch one video where he used some clean and oil spray let it soak for about 15 min, and wipe it off and put it back . He said that all he has every done. What do you thank about that.?
out of all your research on ammo why no 45/70 or 30/30 ????
I was just thinking the same thing...
Nothing was said about the 7MM Magnum or 270 caliber.
I appreciate your honest replies to inquiries from folks like me.
Please double check your numbers on the 3006. Should have more energy than either of the other 30 caliber rounds. Although they are all close, 06 is the strongest in any flavor...
3006 energy is off by at least 1000j. Should be 3800-4000+
Verify and fix your data. A round that helped win two World Wars deserves better. I know that the '06 is old and not trendy, but still one of the best all around North American hunting rounds. I could care less that it is not popular choice in an AR. It is still the benchmark for hunting rounds.
I generally see the bullet's energy expressed in foot pounds, but agree that there are errors.
Hi Eric, thx for your presentation on the different calibers! Your info helped me settle on a steal of a deal (w/manuf. rebates and Academy store coupons) for a Savage Arms Axis XP with Weaver 3x9x40 Scope! Your article helped me choose the .308 specifically due to all around accuracy, application, and price per round cost.
But since I've checked out comparative data on .270 for ages, I couldn't dismiss the .270 very easily..... So, could you pls add three or four more calibers to your data? I think many would appreciate these:
(1) .270 Win,
(2) .300 Win Mag,
(3) 30-30 lever action previously requested,
(4) 45-70 another common lever action.
Although I'm no hunter (I didn't have a mentor that showed me how that worked), so I target shoot for fun and knowledge, geek-style. Maybe sometime I'll just put my YouTube research to work, so I would appreciate your wisdom on these added calibers!
Hi Matt, glad I could help! Unfortunately I'm not too familiar with those calibers but I'll see who on my writing staff can help.
Seems you left out 90% of the rifle calbres. Not much of an information section here without all if them.
Hi Harold, I probably did...but tried to hit all the common ones most people will see.
.243, .270, 7mm-mag, .300, are very common in my part of the woods.
Found some empty brass in some I picked up. Marked R-P, remuc, peters, and h&h. All look about the same and R-P marked 300 mag, h&h marked h&h mag. Know these two can't be as h&h is a tapered case and all look more like 300 weather by cases. What was the 300 mag in R-P cases. Could they all be 300 win magfired in a 300 weatherby?
Hi James, sorry but that's out of my knowledge base.
wreak havoc, not wreck havoc.
Thanks for catching that!
Any thoughts on lever action rifles?
Thank you for making it simple. I am looking for information on power and size comparison, pricing and availability of fairly common rounds like the .243, .270 vs. the .223 or 308. I am not much of a hunter anymore but would like a substantial enough self defense round with low recoil that I can also use for frequent target shooting. I now have a Ruger 10/22.
Hi, I know it's an old round and some class it as redundant, but where does the 30/30 fit in here- I'm curious about its 'energy' and suitability for wild pigs.
Shooting Xenomorphs? I died laughing.
Lols, thanks Derek.
Thanks for catching that!
7.62x54mmR the R is for Rimmed. You have a typo in your description "(the R actually stands for rimless and not Russian)", should be (the R actually stands for Rimmed and not Russian),
Why, in the size comparison, is the 5.56 after the 7.62, when the 7.62 is bigger?
Hey Johnathan, great question. I went with height...the 5.56 I had is slightly taller than the 7.62x39mm round. But yes, the 7.62 actual bullet projectile is bigger.
Most of it is pretty accurate except the 308 and 30-06 area. I own both and the 30-06 is a good 200-1000 fps and 200-700 ft-lbs of force.
You have become my "go to" place for information. Thank you for your efforts
Thanks so much Mike...glad I can help out. More to come!
Eric, where does a .270 fall in your caliber display? I'm looking into hunting wild hog and the .270 is my largest caliber rife (at the moment) and wondering if I need to purchase a larger caliber for the upcoming hunt?
Hi Greg, I haven't had personal experience shooting the .270 but I know it's a necked down version of the 30-06 (meaning the top part of the brass is resized smaller to fit smaller diameter bullets). It shoots fast and flat and is especially good for open fields.
I have several cartridges with head stamps LC 89. I don't know what caliber they are and am trying to find out. Any help would be appreciated.
Hi Robert, from that I only know that it was Lake City ammo manufactured in '89. I'd bring it in to a gun shop to see or you can get a micrometer and start measuring and try to match it up against SAAMI specs.