The Most Powerful Hunting Rifles

Pistols have outsold rifles in the United States nearly every year since 2010, according to government data. But while handguns are now the most popular firearm type among American gun owners, for many of the 15.9 million licensed hunters in the U.S., there is no substitute for a rifle. 

Rifles are long-barreled weapons designed for accuracy over relatively long distances. While each rifle is designed to be used only with a specific caliber of ammunition, some common rifle calibers are more versatile than others and are capable of taking a wide range of different game – from rabbits and groundhogs to deer and elk – depending on bullet mass and distance from the target. (Here is a look at the 14 most versatile rifle cartridges for hunting.)

In many cases, however, rifle calibers are highly specialized and appropriate only for specific purposes. A big-bore rifle, for example, would be overkill for small to medium sized game, while a smaller caliber rifle will lack the power necessary for a clean and humane kill of larger game.

For the subset of hunters interested in pursuing the largest game in North America and beyond, there is no shortage of capable rifles to choose from. 

Using ballistics data on 92 rifle different calibers, compiled by outdoor gear retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most powerful hunting rifles. The 30 rifles on this list are ranked by estimated foot-pounds of energy delivered at a range of 100 yards. For each caliber, we selected the bullet weight, or grain, that delivers the most force at 100 yards. This ranking does not account for variations in barrel length and is based on a limited, and not necessarily comprehensive, list of available bullet weights. 

The 30 different rifle calibers on this list can deliver anywhere from 2,933 to over 12,000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. Each of these rifles is powerful enough for the largest game in North America, including moose and grizzly bear. Some are also well suited for hunting or protection from larger African mammals, according to the gunmaker and shooting academy, Griffin and Howe – though specialized and heavier grain bullets than those used to create this ranking may be necessary in some cases. (Here is a look at the states where hunters get the most deer.)

The most powerful rifle on this list, the 50 caliber BMG, is a military-grade weapon accurate out to 2,000 yards and capable of penetrating structures and destroying lightly-armored vehicles. Though too powerful to be a practical hunting weapon, rifles chambered for 50 caliber ammunition are available to civilians in much of the United States. (Here is a look at the 16 sniper rifles used by the U.S. military.)

It is important to note that hunting laws vary by state and municipality, and in some parts of the country, hunting with a rifle is not permitted. Be familiar with your quarry and with all local rules and regulations before selecting a firearm.

Click here to see the most powerful hunting rifles.

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