Let me preface my response with the following: there is nothing wrong with wanting a rifle in a given chambering just because you want it. "Just cuz it sounds cool!" is fine in my book. Let me also say that I have no direct experience with either cartridge. The Hawkeye is a great rifle. The cartridges are well thought out.
With that out of the way, let me give you some advice. Over the past few years, I've been polling hunters-- here and elsewhere. The question is usually some version of the following: Inside what distance have you been able to comfortably shoot 80% of your deer? The answers are usually about 50-80 yards, depending on the crowd and the way I phrase the question.
You will find a lot of people who think they need to be worried about 300 yard shots. Some folks come on here asking about even further distances. The fact of the matter is most deer do not cooperate. They have a nasty habit of showing up much closer than we anticipate.
The 300 RCM and 338 RCM are meant to give 300 Win Mag and 338 Win Mag performance out of a short-action, short-barreled rifle, and to do so without shoulder-busting recoil. If you're out after elk at 500 yards or barren-ground caribou I suppose you might need that kind of artillery, but the 300 RCM and 338 RCM are serious overkill for the average whitetail deer hunt.
Is overkill a bad thing? It depends. Overkill will not make the deer any deader. It will not turn a bad shot into a good shot, and just because a rifle is capable of killing at 500 yards does not mean it will do so without you doing a lot more practice, without a steady rest, and without intervening cover. Mind you, 30-06 is overkill on whitetail under most conditions. I've spent 28 seasons lobbing moderate 30-something and 35-something loads at deer and never recovered a bullet.
I hunt frequently with a 35 Whelen. "The Whelenizer" does a great job on deer, but it only makes them fall down dead. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I guess I figured more was better. The trap we get into is that we try something like the 35 Whelen and the deer falls over dead, and we think we needed that kind of horsepower to kill deer. I've known guys who shoot 375 H&H at whitetails, and don't think it's too much.
So you want a new deer rifle?
This is a link to a thread I started last year on the general topic. I made the case that the 300 Savage is the optimal whitetail deer cartridge. Somebody else could do just as good a job on the 7mm-08. It really doesn't make that much difference. The point is that somewhere down in that range, you get about enough bang for the buck to put a whitetail down in the ranges they are normally encountered. There is enough headroom there that hitting a shoulder blade won't screw things up.
If you're up to another suggestion, look carefully at the 358 WIN. Ruger is now putting out rifles in this chambering. It is in the same ballpark as the 35 Whelen, but it will fit in a short action. I base my 35 Whelen loads on this cartridge; it dramatically reduces recoil without seriously impinging on velocity. It's overkill, but not overly so. Here is a cartridge with a modern moral-- it had faded from view and nearly went extinct. It had an underground following and finally a couple of gun makers have resurrected it. Similarly, for as much as I like 300 Savage, I don't owe one. I was too scared of it becoming extinct, that in 2003 I bought a 308 WIN and deliberately downloaded it to 300 Savage specs. Lo and behold it wasn't more than a year before the 300 Savage was resurrected and rifles in this chambering were being produced again.
Will the 300 and 338 RCM survive? I don't know. We saw an explosion of new cartridges in the late-90's until about 5 years ago. It was the largest expansion of this type since the 1960's. Only a few survived 10 years. A lot of good cartridges have gone to oblivion over the years, so just because a cartridge is great at what it does is no guarantee it will survive. My overall advice is to go into this with your eyes open. New chamberings have a habit of fading. I would have no problem buying a 30 WSM, but woe to he who bought the 300 Rem SAUM in 2001.
Now I'm even thinking of a fairly popular gun, the Browning BLR 81' in .358 Win. A light, handy gun that is versatile and can be used for deer in heavy brush, and on elk with the correct bullet and load. The cartridge has survived a while and is more readily available than the RCMs.
If I were choosing between the two for Elk I'd go with the 338 just because it's not a 30 cal. I think most of us have guns in and around 30 cal (-06, 308, 270, etc) so if I got a different gun I would try to get someting that is different from what I already have. For me, the 338 would accomplish this.
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