For rifle hunters, some cartridges have become legends. One of these legends is the 7mm Remington Magnum, a longtime favorite of western big game hunters in North America. This powerful, flat shooting cartridge has taken every kind of big game animal on the continent, even big bears!
For elk hunting, there are few cartridges as well suited for the task as the 7mm Rem Mag. Using a heavy bullet at ethical distances, the 7mm packs a punch capable of quickly killing even the largest bulls.
My personal favorite western cartridge is the 300 Win Mag. However, as a teen my main hunting rifle for big deer was a Remington 700 chambered in it’s famous 7mm cartridge. It was more than capable of dispatching big Midwestern whitetails, but it has also made a name for itself out west. In this article we’re going to find out why the 7mm Rem Mag is near the top when it comes to elk hunting calibers.
To reliably kill an elk, a bullet needs to retain as much mass, and therefore momentum, as possible to penetrate deeply into the vitals. It also needs to reliably expand once making contact, creating a wide wound channel. While in flight the bullet must also fly predictably and buck the wind. In the mountains it’s not uncommon for the wind to be blowing multiple directions at once between the hunter and elk.
Bullet design is therefore the most critical component of a good hunting cartridge. This happens to be where the 7mm Rem Mag shines. Right from the beginning, this cartridge was designed to hunt big game. Below is the ballistics of an old factory cartridge using the 175gr Remington Core-Lokt bullet:
Using the data from this old load, we can see that the 7mm Rem Mag was great for elk even a half-century ago! The numbers in bold represent the point at which the bullet falls outside of it’s ideal boundaries. Retaining 1500 ft-lbs of energy to around 450 yards, staying above 2000 fps until 400 yards, not dropping out of the vitals until 300 yards, and not drifting out of the vitals until 250 yards.
Using this data, we can conclude that the Core-Lokt load will retain enough energy and velocity to deliver good results to at least 400 yards. Wind and drop depend a lot on the skill of the shooter, but this load will easily hit the target out to 300 yards without needing to hold for elevation and only a slight hold for wind.
If that number sounds convenient, it’s because it is. 300 yards is about as far as the typical hunter will shoot at game, even in the western U.S. Someone who knows their gun and cartridge can easily make the 7mm Rem Mag work for them out to around 500 yards. Keep in mind that modern loads will beat this old workhorse of a cartridge handedly in almost every category.
The 7mm Rem Mag doesn’t just have naturally good ballistics, but there are other great things about the cartridge hunters enjoy. For one thing, it is more powerful than a 30-06 but it’s recoil is still tolerable. Using the Backfire Recoil Table, the 7mm Rem Mag produced an average of 23.15 ft-lbs of free recoil vs 21.34 ft-lbs for the 30-06. In contrast, my beloved 300 Win Mag punches the shoulder with 30ft-lbs.
The 7mm Rem Mag enjoys a sort of versatility that rivals the 30-06. While doing best in bullets from 150gr to 175gr, modern loads can be used with bullet weights below 140gr and above 185gr. This makes the 7mm Rem Mag an ideal cartridge for taking big game in North America. Everything from a pronghorn to a moose can be easily killed with a 7mm.
Probably the biggest benefit though is that this cartridge is one of the most common offerings in the famous Remington 700 rifle. While the company recently got broken up and sold off, for decades the 700 action has served as the bolt action standard. Even today it’s possible to build a custom rifle on a 700 action, and this has helped keep the 7mm Rem Mag relevant in the 21st Century.
Speaking of the 21st Century, hunters wanting a 7mm Rem Mag are blessed to have a wide variety of commercial ammunition to choose from. That Core-Lokt was a good design for it’s era but we’ve seen some great improvements just in the last couple of decades. Below are three excellent ammunition choices for the dedicated elk hunter:
I use this same bullet design in my 300 win mag and its a big-game killer. No elk kills yet but I’ll get back to you all on that! Federal Fusion is a relatively affordable hunting ammunition design and this particular load is right in the sweet spot for elk. You could but an older 7mm Rem Mag from the pawn shop and this load will almost certainly shoot accurately from a slower twist barrel.
Using modern bullet design, Nosler ammunition is some of the best on the market. While 160gr might seem a bit light for an elk, it expands reliably and is very efficient at retaining energy and velocity. Compared to the Core-Lokt bullet, the Nosler 160gr. Accubond will extend the range of a 7mm Rem Mag elk gun by another 100-150yards. Up close this bullet should hit strike like lightning.
This is one of the best choices Hornady has to offer elk hunters in the 7mm Rem Mag. The ELD-X bullet is a modern, yet proven design. Almost as important as the bullet, Hornady is known for making consistent, clean loads, so there should be very little variation between shots. This bullet is best inside 400 yards but it can work out to around 500 yards, covering 90%+ of the shots an elk hunter will take.
The 7mm Rem Mag is a proven classic for western hunters and has an excellent reputation. Recently our boss, Jim, uploaded a new cartridge wars video about the 7mm Rem Mag that you can find here. Personally, I’m hesitant to herald the fall of this titan but stranger things have happened! Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this old magnum for elk hunters. It’s one of those cartridges that just works.