Choosing the Right Calibre

Senior CIC International Trophy Judge Iain Watson talks calibres and reveals his choice for UK Deer stalking.

Iain Watson

(Above: Iain Watson - "Choice of Calibre is one of the most divisive questions") 

“What’s the best breed of dog for a stalker to have?” Surely along with “What’s your favourite calibre?” The dog issue has to rank as one of the most vexatious or divisive questions that you can be asked.

Now before I commit myself, to hoots of derision from County Deer Stalking readers about either, isn’t it interesting to take a moment to reflect on the changes that have taken place in our stalking lifetimes? Think of the numbers who stalk, the way we are trained, how we access stalking, the importance now accorded to trophies, the universal acceptance of moderators, the status of the Muntjac, the list is extensive and it’s growing. Amongst it is the availability of a growing range of calibres, our perception of them, and there use in the field.

243winchesterWhen I started stalking back in the late 1970’s, certainly in Central Scotland, the .243 reigned supreme. It was the choice for roe, red, and Sika. Chaps, and it was almost all chaps, who used it were seen to be at the forefront of progress and modernity. They had cast off the burden of fathers sporterised .303’s, and decided to dodge the loose filling syndrome caused by the .270.They used for the most part factory loaded Nordic ammunition, (there was very little else available) and claimed to be able to shoot out a gnat’s eye at 100 yards…. they were indeed the epitome of cool. 

So like many of my generation, new FAC in hand, I rushed to my local gun shop and got one, a new Parker Hale, fitted with a Japanese 4 power telescopic sight, I was cool to.

It accompanied me through my formative stalking years, till a smarter BSA CF2 in .243 usurped it. That saw me through the 1990’s till barrel shot out it became as accurate as a dummy launcher, so it went for scrap and along came a Sauer 90, in the same calibre.

Now like most stalkers my head has been turned from time to time. My only real dalliance was with a .223. Living in Scotland this sufficed for the pursuit of roe. It worked certainly, maybe not always as fatally as I had anticipated, mind it did though help improve my field craft and follow up skills and those of my then canine companion, and for those reasons I remember it fondly. But it had to go.

A second Sauer 90 replaced it, this time in .308.  My decision to scale up came after an encounter with my .243 and some monstrous East Anglian Red hinds. Confidently I had waited as a large group of hinds and calves drifted towards me. With two magazines at the ready, I fired at seven animals; in turn, each returned a solid strike. Yet when the dust settled and the group dashed away, there was not a corpse to be seen. They were dead all right but all had run a considerable distance. It appeared that the .243 and me had reached the limit of its load!

Sauer 90

(Above: "A second Sauer 90 replaced it, this time in .308 Calibre") 

So it was a new dawn, the .308 joined my battery of two. I set it up with the same model of scope as the .243, and was meticulous in keeping the ammunition separate. Day to day I operated on the basis of using the best calibre for the job, but gradually I found that more and more I picked up the .308 in preference. For me it became clear that it offered maximum flexibility for my blend of stalking. Through its wide choice of bullet weights, it will and has handled anything that has been asked of it from the smallest to the largest and then some. It has proved easy to source ammunition, even if you are far away from home. Moderated like most full bore rifles it is pleasant to handle, and when used with slightly anxious guests it provides them with a reassurance that the killing, rather than the stopping, power is there and that all will be well.

In the decades I have been stalking, I’ve watched pals become slaves to calibre fashions and shaken my head as the latest wonder round has gone through their gun cabinets often hurting their credit card. It will ever be thus. Some calibres it has to be said last longer than others and a few have established themselves as popular permanent fixtures of the UK stalking scene.

But certain staples stay around and both the .243 and the .308 can count themselves in the select group

As to my favourite, well I have been fortunate in my stalking career to have been given the opportunity to ply my trade in a wide variety of settings, and to successfully hunt all six species of deer the UK has to offer. I’m not a huge fan of changing rifles, but my first .308 went to be replaced by .308 Blaser R93, my faithful Sauer 90 in .243 has however stayed with me. It’s gone through various scopes, two moderators, and had a replacement stock. When I look back on my records I see that with it I have grassed all six species in England and all four in Scotland and when I stalk for my own sport, rather than stalk professionally it is still the one I choose. Old habits and loyalties die-hard.

("My faithful Sauer 90 in .243 has stayed with me...Old habits and loyalties die-hard")

So back to dogs. I often think of some rifle calibres as being analogous to breeds of sporting dogs. The .308 like the Labrador. Steady, dependable, predictable and comes in a range of shapes sizes and colours. The .243 more like a spaniel. Lighter with a bit of dash more of a free spirit. Other calibres like some of our other sporting dogs, more specialist in nature and there to do a specific job. An acquaintance was banging on recently of his determination to obtain an example of the latest wonder breed of tracking dog to come out of Slovakia or Slovenia or somewhere east of wherever. “Really” I said, “want one he asked”? “No thanks” said I. Which brought him to the inevitable question of what kind of dog do I use, for following up deer? Easy one that, a border collie, you should try one!

Iain Watson CICIain Watson is a CIC Senior International Trophy Judge and Expert to the UK Delegation of the CIC. He has been involved in trophy measuring since the mid-1980's . He can be contacted for advice on trophies by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more from Iain follow this link: trophy-measurement

Alternatively to read more about the .243 follow this link: 243-winchester

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