America's Best Deer Cartridge: Power

posted on July 20, 2010

The purpose of shooting a deer is not just to kill it, but kill it as quickly and humanely as possible. Doing so requires using a cartridge with enough power to get the job done when it reaches the target.

Because deer are relatively lightly muscled animals with thin hides and body weights that rarely exceed 300 pounds—and often weigh half that—the list of cartridges that supply adequate power is long. 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. Using this baseline, some short-action .22 caliber cartridges would qualify at shorter ranges. For example, the .223 Rem. loaded with a 50-grain bullet almost makes the grade, delivering about 940 ft./lbs. at 100 yards, while the .22-250 Rem. loaded with 50 grain bullets yields around 1250 ft./lbs. at the same yardage.

Realistically, for most of us the minimum should be some type of 6 mm (.243) cartridge like the 6 mm Rem. or .243 Win., both of which deliver 1,200 ft./lbs., more or less, at 300 yards. At the top end, the .300 magnums are a bit of overkill—if there is such a thing— loaded with 150-grain bullets producing nearly 2,900 ft./lbs. at 100 yards and almost 1,100 ft./lbs. at 500 yards. In between is a huge array of cartridges that meet the power criteria.

Just as important a factor is bullet construction. Today you can choose from old-style controlled expansion deer bullets like the Remington Core-Lokt and Winchester Power Point, to some of the “improved” old-style bullets like the Core-Lokt Ultra, to one of today’s wide array of “premium” bullets that feature polycarbonate tips, bonded core construction or homogenous solid copper construction.

Here’s something to think about when choosing a bullet: Some of today’s bullets are designed to penetrate extremely deep before expanding and are best suited for larger, heavier game. When used on deer, they may zip right through the chest cavity before completely expanding, and while this will certainly kill a deer, animals struck with such projectiles often run quite a ways before tipping over. I personally prefer “softer” bullets designed to penetrate the on-side hide and muscle—and even crack a big bone if need be —and open up while still well inside the deer.

When it comes to power cartridges loaded with bullets that can get the job done, even when shot angles are less than ideal, hunters have never had it so good.


Review Stevens 334 Safety
Review Stevens 334 Safety

Review: Stevens 334

The Stevens 334 is a robust, all-purpose hunting rifle built to get the job done without subjecting folks to the expense associated with features they can do without, and it does so while being much more than a bare-bones build.

A One-and-Done Black Bear Hunt

A dog hunt for an Arizona black bear with a magnum wheelgun proves you can’t pack too big a punch.

Lessons Learned from a Grizzly Bear Attack on the Kenai

In November 2012, Blake Gettys was tending his trap line in Alaska when a grizzly attacked him. Now, the victim and his storyteller examine the event in detail to determine what, if anything, could have gone better.

Effective Hand Calls for Predator Hunting

Hand calls shouldn’t be relegated to the dust bin just yet. Unlike an electronic call, a couple of calls around your neck provide an inexpensive, lightweight and simple-to-master orchestra of sounds on a predator hunt.

Nebraska: A Mountain Lion on the Eighth Green

The appearance of a cougar on a Nebraska golf course during a high school tournament focuses attention on activists who have prevented earnest hunting seasons for the big cats as their numbers grow.

#SundayGunday: Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum

Get a closer look at the Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.