7mm-08 for Elk Hunting: Why it’s an excellent choice

Since the creation of the 308. cartridge gunsmiths and ammunition manufacturers have been necking its case down to form different wildcat cartridges. The 7mm-08 is a byproduct of this process. The 7mm-08 takes the cartridge of the well known 308 and combines it with the ever popular 7mm calibre of bullets. With a short action cartridge and high ballistic coefficient bullets this combination has shown promise in the hunting industry notably in the backcountry world.

The 7mm-08 is held in high regards for elk hunting. With the benefits of having reduced recoil, a light short action and a large variety of bullets this cartridge simply checks all of the boxes. The 7mm-08 is almost in every way the best wildcat cartridge of the 308.

With the recent interest in backcountry hunts and notably backcountry elk hunts, hunters are looking for the ideal cartridge to round out their kit. The 7mm-08 is a lesser known although, excellent choice when looking at your next elk rifle. With a mild recoil and extensive bullet selection to name a couple benefits of the 7mm-08 lets break down this cartridge and see why it should be on your list for future elk hunts.

Light Rifle

Backcountry hunters know all too well about having to carry all of your required supplies and equipment on your back for any prolonged distance. For this reason backcountry hunters have gone to extreme lengths to reduce weight within their kit and your rifle setup has no exemption.

The 7mm-08 is a short action cartridge and for many that will just mean you don’t have to move the bolt as far to eject your spent brass. However this also means that less metal is used in the machining of the action. Less metal equals lighter actions. 

With factory rifles coming in at just over 6 pounds this wight is minimal compared to some of the 9 pound long action magnums. Though if you think a 6 pound rifle is impressive some of the more expensive and even custom 7mm-08 rifles can wight in under 5 pounds! One of these rifles for example is the Kimber Mountain Ascent coming in at 4 pounds 13 ounces.

Many hunters have learned from personal experience that a light rifle though nice to carry can be absolute murder on your shoulder when the time comes to take your shot. This is true, heavier rifles absorb the felt recoil much better then light rifles although the 7mm-08 has an advantage in this ring also.

The felt recoil of the 7mm-08 is modest to say the least. Recoil sensitive hunters and even youth hunters can tame the felt recoil of the 7mm-08 with even without the use of a muzzle break or suppressor. This will help improve accuracy by reducing the likelihood of a jerked shot from fear of a large recoiling rifle.


A major advantage of the 7mm-08 over the traditional 308 is the fact that the 7mm-08 is 7mm caliber. The 7mm caliber holds many advantages when comparing the traditional 308 cartridge and traditional caliber of .308 (30 cal). The slimmer 7mm bullets have on average a higher ballistic coefficient then comparable 30 caliber bullets. This means the 7mm-08 will more often out perform its predecessor in the field.

Bullet selection for the 7mm-08 is abundant to say the least. Hand loaders will have the advantage of choosing many different bullet types and wights to best fulfill their needs. For elk however, hunters should be looking for a heavier bullet with good penetrating characteristics. Bullets such as Hornady’s ELD-X and Barnes LRX to name a couple will be excellent choices when looking to use your 7mm-08 on elk.

For those interested in hand loading for their 7mm-08 you should know that the original 308 brass (that is extremely common) can be resized to the 7mm-08 in case your having any troubles finding pre-sized 7mm-08 brass. This can be done with a resizing die and works well in a pinch.

Effective Range

The standard recommended minimum bullet energy to ethically and effectively harvest an elk sized animal is 1500 ft-lbs of energy upon impact. The 7mm-08 is well within this energy suggestion with a 162 grain bullet. 

Though the distances are suggested and can be increased or decreased depending on the setup these numbers are based off a 162 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2620 FPS. At the muzzle you will have approximately 2469 FT-LB of energy and at a common zero distance of 200 yards you will still have 1973 FT-Lb of energy. The maximum effective range of the 7mm-08 with this cartridge setup is at a range of 400 yards. This is where the bullets energy is approximately 1555 FT-LB.

The effective range of the 7mm-08 will also change depending on the elks position. If the elk is a perfect broadside or even a slight quartering-away the 1500 FT-LB energy threshold will be acceptable. However, if the elk is positioned in a quartering-too angel (facing you) your bullet will require more energy to insure a deep penetrating wound. This is where shooters discretion will have to come into place.

I would recommend a 2000 FT-LB minimum energy threshold in order to pass through large bone. Solid core bullets will also help in holding together and increasing penetration. Note* Do not mistake solid core bullets for full metal jackets.

The Setup

The 7mm-08 has all the right characteristics for a superb mountain rifle. These are my personal recommendations if you are looking to put together a 7mm-08 for your next backcountry elk hunt.

The Rifle. I personally love the Tikka rifle. Specifically the “lite stainless” models. With a modest price tag and a light weight build coming in just over 6 pounds this is the platform of my choice for this build.

Ammunition. For a bullet setup I would not hesitate to use Hornady’s ELD-X bullets in a 162 grain offering. I have personally used the ELD-X line up of bullets to harvest deer, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep with devastating performance. I would look for my personal favourite quartering-away shot where I could line up the opposing shoulder for a short tracking job.

Optics. Optics are a personal choice through and through. I would go will a slightly heavier optic and sacrifice some wight for quality.

Accessories. For a back country build like this I would keep accessories to a minimum to help keep the weight down.

  • I would not take a sling. Just for the fact that the rifle is either in my hands or in the pack.
  • I would not take a bipod. Elk hunting with a 7mm-08, your effective range is not horribly far. your hiking poles will do nicely for a sitting shot and your backpack for prone shots.
  • I always take a method of covering/ encasing my rifle when in the back country. This is purely to keep the snow and rain off the rifle and the weight is minimal. The Solo Hunter rifle cover is perfect for this and my personal choice.