Rifle cartridge selection
Rifles can fire powerful ammunition. So, everyone should get the most powerful rifle possible, right? Not necessarily. It depends on what you want to use the rifle for.
I'm going to break up rifle ammunition into four types based on power level. These borders are subjective, but should suit our purposes fine.
|From L to R: .22LR, 9mm (for handguns), 7.62x39, .30-06|
Small caliber rimfires
The chief candidate in this category is the .22LR. This is a cartridge chosen for the exact reason that it is weak. For plinking (i.e., shooting targets for fun) and small game, such as squirrels, you will be hard pressed to beat .22LR. .22 ammo is also very cheap. You can shoot this ammo all day long for under $10, which will give you plenty of marksmanship practice (and fun!).
The so-called "intermediate" power cartridges are used in most of the military rifleman's automatic weapons. In the M16, it's the 5.56 NATO cartridge, aka the .223 Remington. In the AK-47, it's the 7.62x39mm. Cartridges in this category have light recoil and good power for targets within about 200 meters. They are generally not suitable for deer-sized game, although they can be used for that purpose.
Full power cartridges include the .308 (aka 7.62 NATO) and .30-06 (pronounced "thirty ought six", yes, it's tradition). These rounds can be accurate for longer ranges than the intermediate power cartridges and are powerful enough for anything in North America, except maybe grizzlies. Recoil of rifles in this category ranges from bearable to fierce.
Magnum power cartridges are anything more powerful than .30-06, including the .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua. These rounds are generally used for extreme long range. I do not recommend these power rifles to most people and certainly not beginners.
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