Do you need a thumping magnum to hunt mule deer? Certainly not. Any of the classic general-purpose big game cartridges will work just fine on mulies. Standbys such as the .30-06, the .270 Win., and the .308 Win. are more than capable for this work.

While the classic perception of mule deer hunting envisions the hunter taking long-range shots, most of the time it is possible to close the gap on mulies. Even open prairie that at first glance looks as featureless as a pool table will have enough relief to provide stalking opportunities to get within the point-blank zero of most cartridges.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, point-blank zero describes the effective range of a cartridge for a given size vital zone that allows you to hold dead on the animal and not have to worry about holdover.

With mule deer, you have a good 10-inch vital zone in the chest, so in this instance we would be looking at the trajectory that goes no more than five inches above the point of aim or five inches below. Think of it as shooting down a 10-inch pipe that extends from the muzzle to the animal. As long as the bullet is traveling within the confines of the pipe, we have a vital zone hit on the target.

What does this mean in practical terms? Let’s look at a relative low-performance round: a 180-grain round nose bullet from a .30-06. With a muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps and a very modest .248 BC, if we were to zero the rifle 4 inches high at 100 yards it would be within our 10-inch vital zone out to 300 yards. This case is a bit extreme but it demonstrates that with even a slow-moving and bulky bullet, one can make long shots on mule deer without needing to worry about holdover.

We get better results when looking at a higher performance cartridge, even when applying more conservative parameters. Consider a .270 Win. shooting a 140-grain bullet at 2,950 fps while using an 8-inch vital zone. Sighted 3.25 inches high at 100 yards, this bullet will be just under 4 inches high at 160 yards and will be four inches low at 330 yards. So, with an 8-inch vital zone we get a 330-yard point blank range, which will work for nearly any mule deer you might encounter.

So that’s the little secret for hunting mule deer. Your favorite whitetail rifle will work just fine.

More on Mule Deer Cartridges…
– Mule Deer Cartridges: The .30 Magnums
– .257 Weatherby: The Quintessential Mule Deer Cartridge