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Choosing a Rifle Caliber for Home Defense and Hunting

Comparing Cost and Effectiveness of Rifle Cartridges for Home Defense & Hunting

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Two Ruger 44 carbines. These are among the best combination guns for hunting and defense.

Two Ruger 44 carbines. These are among the best combination guns for hunting and defense.

Photo © Russ Chastain
So you want the best rifle for home defense? Well, most rifles are poor choices for self-defense, but some will work for both hunting and home defense.

If you choose an "assault rifle" and decide on an M4/AR15/M16 type rifle, be prepared for sticker shock. Most are good guns, but the price is way up there. Their high-velocity ammunition (usually 223 Remington) is also more likely to punch through walls.

The most practical hunting rifle for home defense is a lever-action carbine chambered for 44 Remington Magnum. Most hold plenty of ammo in a tubular magazine, function reliably and easily, and hit hard - and also serve well for short-range hunting. Ammo isn't hard to find and is affordable. You can also use 44 Special ammo in the same gun, and although it's harder to find and often more costly than 44 Mag, it's less likely to overpenetrate.

Second-best for home defense is a lever-action chambered for 38 Special/357 Magnum, again with a long, high-capacity tubular magazine. This is not nearly as effective for hunting as a 44 Mag. Like the 44, ammo is widely available and tends toward the low end of the price range. I rate both of these as "good" for home defense due to widespread ammo availability, reasonable ammo cost, availability of reliable, easy-to-use guns, and the short-range nature of the ammunition.

I'm not overlooking the AK-47 as an affordable home-defense gun. Imported AKs are often chosen because most are affordable and reliable, high-capacity magazines can be had, and ammo cost is usually reasonable. The downside is they don't usually make very good hunting rifles, and are somewhat overpowered for home-defense.

Now, let's compare rifle cartridges in terms of price, availability, and effectiveness for hunting and home defense. This comparison takes into account the number and type of guns available for a given cartridge. Cost comparisons are relative - these days, all ammo costs seem higher than they should be.

The best self-defense rating I gave any of these cartridges is "good," and they only earned that due to availability of suitable guns (handy, compact guns capable of rapid fire) which use handgun cartridges somewhat less likely to shoot through walls and into bystanders.

22 Caliber

222 Remington
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Varmints & Small Game
Self-Defense: Poor

223 Remington/5.56x45mm NATO
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Varmints/Small Game
Self-Defense: Fair

22-250 Remington
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Varmints/Small Game
Self-Defense: Poor

243 Caliber

243 Winchester
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including Deer
Self-Defense: Poor

270/280 Caliber

270 Winchester
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including Deer
Self-Defense: Poor

270 Winchester Short Magnum
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Poor

7mm Mauser
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Poor

7mm-08 Remington
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Poor

7mm Remington Magnum
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

30 Caliber

30 Carbine (30 M1 Carbine)
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Small/medium game
Self-Defense: Fair

30-30 Winchester
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Fair

7.62x39mm Russian
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Fair

308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including deer
Self-Defense: Fair

30-06 Springfield/7.62x63mm
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

300 Winchester Magnum
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

300 Weatherby Magnum
Cost: Very High
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM)
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

338 Caliber

338 Federal
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Poor
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

338 Winchester Magnum
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

338 Remington Ultra magnum
Cost: Very High
Ammo Availability: Poor
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

35 Caliber

35 Remington
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Big game, including black bear
Self-Defense: Fair

358 Winchester
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Poor
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

35 Whelen
Cost: High
Ammo Avaiability: Fair
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

350 Remington Magnum
Cost: Very High
Ammo Availability: Poor
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

38/357 Caliber

38 Special
Cost: Low
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Small/medium game
Self-Defense: Good

357 Magnum
Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Small/medium game
Self-Defense: Good

Popular Big-Bores
44 S&W Special

Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Small/medium game
Self-Defense: Good

44 Remington Magnum

Cost: Medium
Ammo Availability: Good
Hunting Performance: Big game, including black bear
Self-Defense: Good

444 Marlin
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Fair

45 Colt
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: Small/medium game
Self-Defense: Good

45-70 Government
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Fair
Hunting Performance: All North American big game (with suitable loads in modern guns)
Self-Defense: Fair

450 Marlin
Cost: High
Ammo Availability: Poor
Hunting Performance: All North American big game
Self-Defense: Poor

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