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America's Best Deer Cartridge

Want to fire up your deer camp? Start a discussion about religion, politics—or deer cartridges. Bob Robb gives you the criterion for making your case this fall.

7/22/2010—AHI Exclusive If you want to fire up the team in deer camp this fall, start a discussion about religion, politics—or deer cartridges. In all three, everyone has an opinion, and none of them are wrong. For the sake of discussion, assume you are just starting out and need to select that first deer rifle. The first question you have to ask is, what caliber should it be chambered in? Before we can answer that question, it must be determined what it is you expect that cartridge to do for you.
Naturally, the key when making your final choice will revolve around where you live and hunt most. Those who hunt mostly in thick forested areas have different needs from those who hunt the wide open spaces of the West. Before we move into a discussion of which cartridge is the very best all-around choice, let’s talk about unrealistic expectations and debunk a couple of old wive’s tales. When I was growing up we all heard a lot about “brush busters,” those cartridges and bullets that had a reputation of being able to fly though thick brush and still reach the target and get the job done. “Brush-buster” cartridges were generally large-caliber, short-range rounds like the .30-30 Win., .358 Win., and .444 Marlin. In truth, there is no such thing as a deer bullet that will “bust brush.” If you hit twigs and limbs and the like, any bullet will veer off course and/or deform badly. On the other end of the spectrum are the guys who have a bad case of “Magnumitis,” that dreaded disease that makes them believe that unless they are shooting a magnum cartridge that pushes the bullet at the speed of light, they will never be able to either hit a deer that might be out there a little ways or have enough power to knock it off its feet. In truth, deer are relatively soft animals, not all that hard to kill cleanly with cartridges of average power. Also, unless you are hunting in a specialized situation—out West, on a huge southern bean field, along a Texas sendero and so on—odds are extremely high that you will not shoot a deer more than two football fields away, making the need for magnum speed unnecessary. In an effort to simplify what can be a rather complex question, here are the four things your deer hunting cartridge must offer you, in order of importance: *Adequate Power: At first blush this may seem a moot point, but in reality if, when the bullet reaches the animal, it does not have enough power to cleanly kill the deer, it shouldn’t be in the field with you. For many years the accepted minimum kinetic energy, measured in ft./lbs., deemed acceptable for hunting deer-sized game has been 1,000 ft/lbs. at the target. Fortunately for America’s deer hunters, the list of commercially available cartridges that meet this challenge at reasonable ranges is long. Another factor here is bullet construction. Today, you can choose between a wide array of “premium” bullets featuring things like polycarbonate tips, bonded0core construction or homogenous construction like today’s solid copper bullets. Many old timers, like the Remington Core-Lokt, have been improved tremendously—this one is now called the Core-Lokt Ultra. When it comes to deer bullets, hunters have never had it so good. *Accuracy: All that power does you no good if you cannot place the bullet precisely where you want it. Admittedly, the accuracy equation is influenced as much, if not more, by the rifle as it is by the cartridge, but there are rifle cartridges that have proven over time to be inherently more accurate than others. *Felt Recoil: Recoil can influence how well one shoots a particular cartridge. Let’s face it, if a cartridge kicks like a mule, the odds are there will be a bit of flinching involved—never a good thing. And with deer cartridges, there really is no need to shoot a cannon that hits equally as hard on the back end as it does on the front end. *Availability and Cost: Most deer hunters only hit the woods a few days each year, and spend very little time on the range. Thus, they are best served by a cartridge they can find every time they head down to the local Wal-Mart, that’s loaded with the bullet they prefer, at a reasonable cost. This is also true for those of us who travel a lot to hunt and who have experienced the joys of airlines losing the duffel that contains our ammunition. The list of cartridges that meets all the above criteria is as long as your leg. For the sake of discussion, the seven top-selling deer hunting cartridges in America (listed smallest to largest) are, .243, .270, 7 mm Rem. Mag., .30-30, .308, .30-06, and .300 Win. Mag. Personally, I have used a pretty wide array of cartridges on deer. The smallest being the .223, in Texas. When hunting Kodiak Island in Alaska for Sitka blacktail, I often carried a .375 H&H Mag., as much for brown bear protection as a deer rifle. Admittedly, both of those cartridges are on the fringes of what most hunters would consider the best choice for deer hunting. In the next edition AHI will reveal Robb's final decision on what cartridge he thinks is America's best deer slayer. For now, what’s your favorite deer hunting cartridge?

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74 Responses to America's Best Deer Cartridge

James Barnett wrote:
November 12, 2014

.257 Roberts

Dave Zimmerman wrote:
October 28, 2014

I was just letting my mind wander to my youth and remembered when we lived in the mountains of Penna. that my Dad killed many deer with a .22 LR from his bedroom window at a distance of no more than 20 feet that were eating the tender shoots off his apple trees in the winter. The moral of this story is any caliber will kill a deer if the bullet is placed right and how is that achieved- - -PRATICE,PRATICE,PRATICE .

mike wrote:
September 24, 2014

The 30-06 gets my vote.I've killed more deer with it than any.but this year I'll be trying its little bother the 25-06.

Redbull wrote:
September 13, 2014

I have a .223, 270, 270WSM, 7 mm Mauser, 7 Mag, 7mm-08, 30-30, 308, 308ME, 7.62 x 54, 35 Rem, 35 Whelen, 30-06, 9.3x62, 444Marlin, 460 mag, 300 Wby Mag, 50 cal muzzle, and 12 guage. Some calibers I have more than one. It all boils down to where you hit them. No one caliber is better or worse than another. My only regret is that at 65 years old I won't be able to shoot at least one more deer with each of them. I am damn sure going to give it a try. Keep hunting, hunt safe, shoot straight, take a kid along.

Dave Zimmerman wrote:
September 11, 2014

Through out the years I've seen a lot of folks take deer and various other game with a multitude of different calibers ,but it all boils down to using what you feel comfortable with ,if you feel like a 300 Win. is what you need to get the job done then by all means use a 300 Win. and the same goes for the guy who is confident with a .243 and can get the job done , remember that a clean one shot kill is not only the ethical way to take a beautiful animal but is also a lot easier on the hunter and it give's him a sense of pride that he can pass on to future generations. Now how is this all achieved - -Practice ,pratice ,pratice shoot often and you will shoot well .

David Zimmerman wrote:
August 26, 2014

I've taken deer with 30-06, 8mm mauser,7x57 mauser,.243, and 30-30 and they have all hit the dirt at the crack of the gun with just one shot needed. So no matter what you hunt with good bullet placemant is the key, with all that said I still like a good .243 with an 8 twist barrel and 90 gr. bullets .

John from Mississippi wrote:
April 25, 2014

I've hunted deer here in Mississippi and all over NA for almost 30 years now. I started off with a 30-06 and have always loved it. As my collection of rifles in different calibers has grown over the years, I've been able to 'test' all of the most popular and many of the not so popular calibers. I've found that with my lighter ones, .243 up to 270, Barnes TTSX are devastating on whitetails. As for my rifles that prefer heavier bullets 150grs or more, 30-30, 308,06,etc, I prefer Hornady SSTs or the likes as they are equally as impressive at sometimes lower velocities. Fact is, as far as caliber is concerned, they all do a fine job, provided the hunter does a fine job of putting the bullet where it counts. I would like to say that I feel that a 300wm is perhaps overkill for deer size game. I'd recommend to those who enjoy woods hunting, a 358 win. Very impressive on deer and a few hogs last year! Thanks

Bryan wrote:
February 24, 2014

My gun of choice. Lee Enfield in 303 Britsh. More deer in the Canadian prairies have been taken by this old relick than all of the others combined. Not pretty but a living history. My friend.

Ray Novak wrote:
December 30, 2013

My vote is for the 30-06, just because of the versatility. Great power and speed for all ranges, without going overboard like the .300 WIN and 7mm Rem. With that said, I've taken more deer with my Model 94 .30-30 than any other. Easy to carry & reliable.

scott kingsbury wrote:
December 10, 2013

I just shot a monster deer with my 308, 30 30 good but not for me. 243 is nice for deer but not for elk.

G.W.Jones wrote:
November 25, 2013

Been deer hunting for 40 years. Like many others, I tried the macho route with heavy 30 caliber bullets. Then I met a grizzled ol' wise man who steered me to a .243. To paraphrase the old Miller Lite beer commercial, less recoil, great accuracy. I haven't missed yet with the .243. They all go down rather quickly and the meat damage is almost non-existent. If you think the .243 is for women and kids only then you're dead wrong.

tom wrote:
November 18, 2013

i shoot at ranges up to 400 yards,for me there are 2 favorites the 270 and 30-06

Ruston wrote:
July 20, 2013

7x57 mauser.

dmalsbury wrote:
February 24, 2013

Comments....243/30-30/.270 in that order depending on distance and terrain.

Tony wrote:
February 05, 2013

7mm Remington Magnum. Hands down better than them all. 30-06 and 308 are close, but the big 7 has em both beat.

GOAT wrote:
January 03, 2013

The 30-06 is undeniable the all time winner here the other cartridges are not < all > bad. The 30-30 is a joke deer shot with this trash run like they were stung by a bee.The 7 mag is a sweet heart on paper velocity is good but in the deer wood's the 7 mag is very dissapointing.

I am Good wrote:
December 07, 2012

Depends on where I go that day or that week; open field over 100 yr; 270 WSM. In the wood under 100 yr; AR-15 556 Barnes 70gr would be fine with me. I strongly believe that shot placement is the key.

Mike wrote:
October 30, 2012

I don't like to carry a heavy rifle. I really like my Deerfield 44mag and my Mini-14. I suppose I am also partial to Ruger's stuff. 223 with a 60gr soft point kills big deer very dead with a good shot. In my opinion, a good shot within your rifle's range will kill cleanly regardless of caliber. For bigger stuff I bring my Marlin 338MX. That thing blows the heck out of a deer or pig.

Mark Leonardich wrote:
October 02, 2012

I live on the coast in central California. Just last night 3 deer were walking across my front yard. We have just about every type of cover in the state. Thick brush, open hills, heavy forest you name it we have it. I've taken deer with a 30/30, 30-06, 270, 25/284, 12 gauge, 357 magnum, bow & arrow and 257 Roberts Ackley Improved. My favorite gun/cartridge is the 257 improved. I have a Ruger Ultra Light in 257 improved and it is a pleasure to hunt with. It works well in the thick stuff but also can reach out for a long shot if necessary. Every deer I've hit either dropped in their tracks or just went a few yards. Every shot had an entrance and exit hole.

vincen stauffer wrote:
September 03, 2012

While my favorite is the 30-06, it very well could be the 30-30. Seems like years ago almost every body used one! I live in central PA. and the 30-30 is still used but if u were to hang out at the local sheetz store on the opening morning of deer season and ask each hunter who stopped what caliber he hunts with....ill bet 9 out of 10 say the good old 30-06.

Mark Ceynowa wrote:
August 31, 2012

My Dad had a 30-06 and I followed with one myself. I did start out with a Model 94 ,30-30 but grew towards the Winchester Model 70 in 30-06. My Dad always used Remington Core Lokt ammo and so have I.

Roger Gaston wrote:
August 29, 2012

I have used the .30-30 for the past 24 years. My wife and I carry Marlin 336s loaded with 170 grain Remington core-lokts. We average 2 per year (Missouri), and have never lost a deer that we've hit. They are super nice to carry, and have never malfunctioned. I started hunting with a 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser carbine. still have it and wouldn't part with it. That is one fine cartridge too, but we prefer the lever actions.

Eric S wrote:
August 28, 2012

Have had kills with .243,.260,.308,.444 and 7x57mm. By far my favorite is my 7x57 Ruger Mark II. It seems like a rug is pulled out from under them. They just drop where they are standing.

Ken Dunn Sr. wrote:
August 26, 2012

Live in KY. Have 30 acres of mostly thick wooded hills and have 2ea 30-30's. One for the wife, one for me. Have taken 2-3 deer each year of the 12 years we've been here. Longest shot through a man-made clearing was 125 yds. The 30-30 is ideal for this type of hunting.also love my crossbow.

Dave Ingram wrote:
August 24, 2012

A 'favorite' would have to depend on conditions such as region and actual size of the deer.Deer in the hill country of Texas compared to Canada=100 lbs compared to 300 lbs!There have probably been more deer taken with the 30.06 since its intro than any other modern cartridge simply for the availability of surplus guns and ammo,also for the WWI and WWII veterans who either brought their rifles home from the war or bought surplus. Here in Texas I shoot the 22-250 and 257 Roberts but in Colorado the 270 and 257 Weatherby.

clifton pigg wrote:
August 23, 2012

the best deer caliber/gun is the one you know and trust-i have had my 7mm Mag for 33 years-load my own ammo,guns topped with variable X3-from 50 t0 600 yards i feel comfortable-basically any caliber is correct-but you HAVE TO KNOW ITS/YOUR limit

Duane Olmsted wrote:
August 21, 2012

I live in Vermont and am 71 years young...the best cartridge the downed more deer back in the day was the 30-30..Back then alot of rifles were in that calibar including the 32 special...32-40 and even the ole 38-55..Of course then we had a larger herd than today so more plentiful deer kill, but all these did the job and well..I have use my model 99L 300 Savage and shot many deer but now have graduated to the 35 Marlin carbine with a 200 grain bullet that is quite that is my input from up in the Northeast...

big jim wrote:
August 14, 2012

I started in my early years hunting at 12 with a 30 30 than latter on purchased a 243 than 270 I have killed over a hundred whitetails and by far the 243 takes them off there hoof faster than the rest however if you doint hit the animal were it deserves to b taken clean and ethical it dosnt matter what we use

Outdoorsman wrote:
June 21, 2012

I've killed deer with a .270, 30-30, 30-06 and a .35 Rem. I've also added a .32 Win Spl that I'm looking forward to using. I have a 45-70, but man that thing kicks. Saving that for an elk hunt some day. Anyway, I'd have to vote for the 30-06 being the best all-around caliber.

Don wrote:
April 27, 2012

Well said, Swede Johnson. Icut my teeth on a 32 Win. Special, but i've experimented with 30-30's, 270, and 308 also; all good but shot placement is king.

jonboy wrote:
April 02, 2012

I feel the new 6.8 cartridge introduced by the militaries special force and reproduced by ruger may be the latest and greatest

Ray W wrote:
March 10, 2012

Lets hope that there is not a single caliber that reigns BEST! ( We wouldn't be able to justify filling that safe completely full) lol. However balistically speaking, the 257 weatherby is supreme. Just check the charts!

james gilpin wrote:
November 20, 2011

I have hunted In pa all my life and have taken deer with my 280,25-06 and 243. Hands down the 25-06 is my all time favorite.

scott kelly wrote:
November 16, 2011

30.06 is a good round for deer .but i prefer the 270 because i can set my scope for 75 yards and shoot at a deer a 150 yards away without raising my aim and still drop that deer the 270 is ultimately the best straight shooter the 30.06 will drop on you if you dont adjust

Ed wrote:
October 29, 2011

I am 64 yrs old and have been hunting whitetail here in s.c. since the age of 16. I used a ruger 30-06 with 150gr core lokefor years but now I prefer my ruger .308 with 150 gr both do avery good job

swede johnson wrote:
October 29, 2011

Boy, I guess an extreme biological change has occured in the Deer family since I started hunting 55 yrs. ago. They are SO much tiugher now than back in the day that we now need super magnums to kill 150lb deer! My favorite deer cartridge? .32 win. spl. with 170gr. bullet. My hunting has been in the N.W woods where 100yd. shots are the exception. EVERY deer I`ve shot has never gone more than 10-15ft. ALL one shot kills and were are talking 50+ deer ranging in size from western black tails at 120-150lbs and Cascade Mule deer at 200-225lbs. Penetration is generally complete or just short of complete and meat damage is not too bad. Will continue to use that cartridge and my 1941 vintage Model 94 Winchester. Never fails to perform. Perhaps if people actually learned to use there rifles and place the bullet properly there would be less wounded/lost game. Accuracy beats powed every time!

Ken wrote:
May 26, 2011

Sorry I got in a hurry the next to last line of my post was suppose to read: I'am not saying that everyone should hunt with a 6BR.

Ken wrote:
May 26, 2011

I'am sure this one will get some criticism. I've hunted the past 2 years some with a single shot Cooper M-22 chambered in 6BR. Norma with handloads and various bullets. AS far as big game, I've taken, 4 Antelope,3 Mule Deer,1 Cow Elk, and 1 Mt.Lion, so far all with 1 shot each. It's all about shot placement.The shortest shot was the cow elk at about 70-75 yards. The longest was one of the antelope at a lazered 365 yards. The Mt.Lion was not in a tree. The shot was a lazered 210 yards, the cat weight 175lbs.. I'am 57 years old and have been hunting all my life. When I was young I can remember old timers talk about taking big game with alot smaller calibers than a 6BR. I'am saying that everyone ahould hunt with a 6BR. But it will get the job done if your a calm shot and can place the bullet.

sarge22853 wrote:
April 02, 2011

30 06 ... bolt action Remington or 742 Remington, 160 to 180 grain bullet, <100 meters to >300 meters. Hunting deer and elk since I was 13 with them, oh yeah I'm 65 now ............

Mike wrote:
March 09, 2011

Many good calibers to choose from. You want to be able to shoot whatever rifel you carry with confidence. there are several factors in choosing a good deer round. Terrain, Distance, and what type of deer your hunting. But It is hard to argue the 30.06 just because of the versatility of the round. Many different bullet weights! This subject will be debated till the end of time. Choose a gun you shoot well and that gets the job done and use it!

michael sharpe wrote:
March 08, 2011

I have taken many deer with two .243 rifles. Over the past 6-8 yrs my constant is a .308 ruger w/illuminated retical for pigs year round.Never tracked a deer hit with .243.

Old Hamilton wrote:
March 08, 2011

Since left handed guns are hard to find, I have only one bolt action and chose .300 winchester magnum as an all around gun.

Sean P wrote:
January 16, 2011

30-30 for the early season in the thickets 30.06 for the 2nd half when the leaves are gone here in wet Western WA.

afish wrote:
January 06, 2011

At Pa. deer camp most hunters using the 270 and 3006. My favorite is 4570 and 356 Win.I'm a big bullet fan and they do work.

Hipshot wrote:
December 20, 2010

Man of the Woods commented that flintlocks have killed more game... Consider the 22 short; it's the model T of guns. Millions of game animals have fallen to this 'little' cartridge, including the whitetail

Bret S wrote:
December 14, 2010

I voted for the 30-06 since it has a wide range of bullets. I have killed deer with 125 gr bullets up to 180 gr bullets. The .308 has the same range although slightly less velocity. The reality is though that shot placement is more important than the gun being used.

Pete L wrote:
December 11, 2010

While I think the 06 is the best all around round, I have used and love my 308 for 20+ years. For eastern woods its plenty of gun. I use a Win M70 short action carbine - nice and small.

Sterling Proffitt wrote:
December 01, 2010

I have the following calibers: .270; .280; 7 mag; .30-30; .300 mag. I believe I now prefer the .280. Its recoil is less than the magnums, and about the same as the .270, but with a bit more knock down power. It shoots flat and has a fast bullet. More and more of the hunting shows on TV have a .280 being used. Little recognized but very worthwhile cartridge.

Bob K. wrote:
November 24, 2010

I own 5 of the seven top deer calibers. The 270 win. is the most used round in our antelope/deer/elk camps. It's performance both on the shooter and towards the game is hard to beat even with a magnum.

Warren M. wrote:
November 11, 2010

No question, 30-06 is by far the most common in our camps. I load mine just a bit light for deer, and really stoke them up for elk.

Tony wrote:
November 09, 2010

Every cartridge talked about here is a fine cartridge. This may be off subject some, but what cartridge would you choose if you could have only one gun for hunting in North America? I would choose a Ruger #1 in 300 Win Mag.

Tom. J wrote:
November 01, 2010

You see at least one in every deer camp. 30-06 reigns king!

man of the woods wrote:
October 23, 2010

a .54 round ball and a flint lock is the best deer "cartride" of all time. Flint locks have killed more game over time than all other cartridge guns combined

Steve E. wrote:
October 21, 2010

I cut my teeth on a .308 since soph. in HS. I still have that 700ADL. My son uses it now. I graduated to a .280 now that I'm 56. Love all 3 of'm

sheriff 49 wrote:
October 21, 2010

i love my .243 and have never lost a deer with it but i dont think i have ever had an exit wound with it and causes a scarce blood trail if he doesnt fall right there.

Lynn McMillen wrote:
October 03, 2010

While managing a reloading dept. for a rod and gun store in Pa., I observed many of the popular deer loads had bullets with sectional densities near .250 and muzzle velocities near 3000 fps. Check it out - pretty good rules of thumb.

jsd277 wrote:
September 30, 2010

The .270. Plenty of power, very flat shooting, mild recoil and muzzle blast, widely available ammo and chamberings. 7mm Mauser if you can find it in a Mauser length action, or also the .260 Rem. .30-06 is king if you also want the best elk rifle on the planet.

cemIII wrote:
September 30, 2010

Although ammo is spendy, the .257 Weatherby Mag is hands down the best deer and antelope cartridge ever made. Just read the ballistics.

Brandon Courtney wrote:
September 27, 2010

IN AZ hunting desert muleys often shots are 300 or more yards so I like a .270 because ofless recoil; but most guides recommend a 7mm mag

One Shot One Kill wrote:
September 24, 2010

If you're hunting Elk, sure...take your 338 or 300 mag, but for best all-around deer ammo, hands down a 180 Grain .30-06 Core-Lokt. I've hit deer in thick forest with this, and deer in open at 400-500 yards with this. What else is needed?

Dog Buster 1 wrote:
September 23, 2010

I have not shot a lot of deer perhaps 60-70 but I have used a lot of different cartriges from 223 to 375 H&H. I can't tell much of a difference between any of them but I really like my 7x57 or 280 Rem. They don't kick that hard and are more than enough out past 400 yards if I do my part.

Frank wrote:
September 23, 2010

I currently use a .308, but I have to say I have killed more deer with a .243 than any other. The .308 is a great deer killer too.

Paul S. wrote:
September 22, 2010

Why carry more than you need? Check out the ballistics of the 7mm-08 Remington. Low recoil, lighter gun, and plenty of punch out beyond ranges 95% of whitetails are shot at. A side benefit is the meat isn't all busted up and bloody.

JR wrote:
September 22, 2010

What is all the conversation above for??? All this mumbo-jumbo! We all know deep down in side that the best deer round hands down is the .30-06 round. You can all stop posting now o.k.

Jack wrote:
September 22, 2010

The 30-30 is supreme. This caliber has killed more deer than all the others combined. Plus it is by far the most fun to shoot.

Dead Eye Pete wrote:
September 20, 2010

Without a doubt....30-06 It is without equal in versatility. It has more than enough oomph to drop old whitey like a stone and is not too had on the shoulder either. I prefer it in my BAR for deer. On the other hand, I have scored quite a few times with an old Swedish Mauser in 6.5x55.

KC wrote:
September 06, 2010

I use a .35 in the cedar swamps, and my tricked out 03A3 Springfield in .3006 in open fields.They are both great on Moose/Bear and Caribou.

Mike wrote:
September 06, 2010

Currently using a .270 Win in west TX but have also used a 7x57 Mauser in WA and CO and a .338 Win Mag in WA (extended buck in conjunction with elk season). If I had to pick between the two (the .338 is just too much for deer in my opinion) I would chose the 7 x 57. For the "long shots" all three of these rifles will reach out to 400 yards with plenty of punch however the average range I have needed to go is about 100.

Padri wrote:
September 05, 2010

I have used a 300 WM, 270 Win, 308 Win, 30-30 Win, and 44 Rem Mag for deer in varying situations. My favorite is still the 243 Win. It will do the job and do it very well.

Terry wrote:
September 05, 2010

.32 Winchester Special

seedman wrote:
September 02, 2010

I like a 300 Winchester Mag. because I hunt in an area where long shots across a farm field or a pasture are the rule rather than the exception. I much prefer that my deer hunt end when I pull the trigger, not begin.

Charles Bilquist wrote:
August 31, 2010

Back in the 60's,and 70's at every gun store or show when it came to deer hunting all you heard was 30-06,and people bought what they heard some one else say.hearsay made the 30-06 popular it killed more trees then deer

Tony wrote:
August 30, 2010

A more lively debate might be: If you have only one gun to hunt in America, what would it be?

Jay wrote:
August 29, 2010

My favorite deer cartridge is the Remington Core-Llokt.