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How to Select a Good Deer Cartridge

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September 09, 2013
How to Select a Good Deer Cartridge - 7

I have written about whitetail rifles and whitetail cartridges numerous times in the past—in part, because it is such fertile ground for speculation and discussion. But I’ll come out and say right here that talking about whitetail cartridges is a bit of a fool’s errand because “whitetails” is too broad a category.

With whitetail rifles, cartridges and bullets, context is everything. Picking the right equipment depends on where you’re hunting, how you’re hunting and which type of whitetail you’re going for. There’s a world of difference between hunting the barrel-chested whitetails in Canada’s deep timber and sitting in a raised blind overlooking a Sendaro in Texas while waiting for a buck with more antler than meat to jump out of the mesquite.

There are as many types of whitetail rifles and cartridges on the market as there are ways to hunt our most popular deer. Here are some guides to getting started.

Cartridge Selection
Comfort is key. Go with a cartridge that you can shoot without the recoil or muzzle blast negatively impacting your marksmanship. Even the .223 Remington, with proper bullet selection, makes for a good whitetail round. In many states, the legal minimum is a 6mm/.243 bullet and that’s a fine place to start. Avoid the urge to “upgrade” to a magnum round, unless you’re hell bent on mastering it. I shoot most of my deer (and elk, for that matter) with the .280 Remington, though I’ve taken quite a shine in recent years to the killing ability of the 6.5 Creedmoor when using premium bullets. The .280, which has the .30-06 as its parent case, is a great all-around cartridge (the same goes for the .270 and the ’06) and won’t beat you up the way the WSMs and other heavy-hitters can. The 6.5 is even milder and easier to shoot and it kills deer just fine.

When I hunt timber, I love toting a lever gun and cartridge I use is the venerable .35 Remington. It is easy to shoot as well and those .35-caliber bullets do a great job on even the largest deer at ranges under 200 yards.

There’s nothing magical about the cartridges I’ve mentioned here. Take a look at a ballistics table and you can find plenty of cartridges that match up well with what I’ve suggested. Any will do the job.

Bullet Selection
We have an embarrassment of excellent bullets to choose from for big game. Premium bullets offer a level of consistency and terminal ballistics that are hard to beat. They often have an edge in accuracy over lower-priced projectiles, but not always. Some mid- and even lower-level bullets will perform just as well as the top-shelf bullets for a fraction of the price. How do you know which to go with?

As a rule of thumb, if you’re going to go with a light cartridge for deer—something along the lines of the .243 or even the 6.5mm calibers—it is smart to go with a monolithic premium bullet. I’m thinking here of bullets like the Hornady GMX, the Barnes Triple Shock, Federal’s Trophy Tip. They all penetrate deeply and reliably, which is vital for smaller-caliber cartridges. Another bullet that I have tremendous faith in is Nosler’s Accubond. It isn’t a monolithic design, but it is the equal of any bullet out there.

If you venture into the 7mm and .30-caliber realm (and up), you can broaden your criteria. Traditional spire pointed bullets with exposed lead tips will knock over any whitetail hit in the vitals.

Making the Final Choice
The cheapest way to improve the accuracy of your rifle is to purchase several boxes of ammo in different bullet weights and styles. Over a couple of sessions at the range, shoot at least two five-shot groups with each. Take the top two loads and shoot another pair of groups with them to see which is shooting best. Buy a few boxes of the ammo that wins and use your ammo leftovers for fouling shots and practice.

CC image from Wikipedia

Comments (7)

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from 25-06 guy wrote 45 weeks 1 day ago

My 25-06 shooting 110 gr Accubonds or my 308 Shooting 150 SST works for me..

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from horsethief wrote 45 weeks 2 days ago

John Snow: you nailed it. I fully agree with your comment that context is everything. Where I hunt, the long-range .28 and .30 cal rifles do the job, but a few guys still love and use their trusty 30-06 because they are confident in what they can do with it. A white tail doesn't need a premium bullet to bring it down, but those bullets are consistent in expansion each time and a bit more forgiving on less-than-well placed shots. One hunter will use various .243 Win rifles, and maybe a .308 Win if he feels like it since he has brought home many deer with the 243 Win. Got it. It all comes down to how close you can get to the game and your accuracy under the recoil of your preferred Remchesterby or Loudenboomer magnum.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 45 weeks 2 days ago

I've found that 140 gr Hornady SST's do great on whitetail and mule deer in my 264 Win Mag. Granted monolithic bullets are great but I don't see the need for deer. JMO

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from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Never mind, the file title filled me in. (9.3X62-30-06-8X57-6.5X55-308)

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from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Creedmoor, sorry.

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from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Creedmoor, sorry.

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from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

35 Wel, 270 Win, 8mm mauser, 6.5 Creedmore, and a 308???
Just curious.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 45 weeks 2 days ago

I've found that 140 gr Hornady SST's do great on whitetail and mule deer in my 264 Win Mag. Granted monolithic bullets are great but I don't see the need for deer. JMO

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from horsethief wrote 45 weeks 2 days ago

John Snow: you nailed it. I fully agree with your comment that context is everything. Where I hunt, the long-range .28 and .30 cal rifles do the job, but a few guys still love and use their trusty 30-06 because they are confident in what they can do with it. A white tail doesn't need a premium bullet to bring it down, but those bullets are consistent in expansion each time and a bit more forgiving on less-than-well placed shots. One hunter will use various .243 Win rifles, and maybe a .308 Win if he feels like it since he has brought home many deer with the 243 Win. Got it. It all comes down to how close you can get to the game and your accuracy under the recoil of your preferred Remchesterby or Loudenboomer magnum.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 25-06 guy wrote 45 weeks 1 day ago

My 25-06 shooting 110 gr Accubonds or my 308 Shooting 150 SST works for me..

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

35 Wel, 270 Win, 8mm mauser, 6.5 Creedmore, and a 308???
Just curious.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Creedmoor, sorry.

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from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Creedmoor, sorry.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from BAM wrote 45 weeks 3 days ago

Never mind, the file title filled me in. (9.3X62-30-06-8X57-6.5X55-308)

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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