Whether next week or next year, if you want to start a lively discussion in deer camp, just toss out your thoughts on what the best deer caliber is.
Such topics are sure to spawn a spirited debate among anyone who hunts America’s favorite game animal and to be sure, for anyone who has more than a few years of hunting time under their belt, you can bet they have made some choices as to what their favorite load and caliber are.
Here are six calibers that are sure to crop up in the discussion:
.30-30 – In an age of spire point bullet designs and long-range-capable calibers, the hard-hitting, lever-action friendly .30-30 has been credited with taking more whitetail deer than any other caliber in history. Accurate or not, the claim is largely due to the caliber’s role as the undisputed choice of deer hunters in the early part of the 20th century. In the Northeast, where shots are often a 100 yards or less, this hard hitting cartridge remains a fave and continues to add to the caliber’s legacy. For intermediate- and short-range shots at deer, the ballistics of this caliber remain hard to beat.
.30-06 – This round has been around for more than 100 years, and was proven in service during both World Wars. For that reason, it was only natural that when the boys returned home, they took the cartridge they were familiar with into the deer woods.
While it is honestly an unnecessarily large round for whitetails, its widespread use and availability (walk into any ammo shop and you will find boxes of .30-06 loads) and ability to pull double duty on larger game make this versatile rifle still a deer hunter’s favorite.
.308 Win. – Renowned for its long-range, flat-shooting capability in the hands of skilled military snipers and even many civilian competitors and hunters, this short-action round is mild on recoil but deadly on deer and deer-sized game. It is quite possibly the most popular hunting cartridge in the world finding use in Europe, Africa and certainly the United States where it was developed in 1952. Like the .30-06, the ammunition for the caliber can be found anywhere and few hunting rifle models are designed that don’t have a chambering for .308.
.243 Win. – While some experienced hunters claim the .243 to be suitable even for elk with a well-placed shot, the emphasis has to be on well-placed as this round really sits at the end of the spectrum for acceptable ballistic performance for deer. That said, it is a popular choice for recoil-sensitive shooters, such as women and children, and in fact is often the first choice of hunters when choosing a “first” deer rifle for a young hunter. It also seems to enjoy more popularity among older hunters in states like Texas where the deer tend to be smaller than the genetic brutes that roam more northern climates.
.270 Win. – No better salesmen ever existed for a caliber for hunting than the famed Outdoor Life writer Jack O’Connor was. O’Connor wrote extensively on the merits of the .270 Win. and indeed, it can be argued that the balance of muzzle velocity (just over 3,000 fps) and size (130-grain bullet) delivers the optimum ballistic performance on deer and other mid-sized game. The flat-shooting round definitely makes for an ideal choice in open areas such as Southern bean fields or Midwestern plains.
.300 Win. Mag. – Ok, some of you will scratch your heads on this one, asserting that the .300 Win. Mag. is unnecessarily powerful for taking our nation’s mostly medium-sized white-tailed deer. In that assessment alone, you would be right. But for the hunter looking for a true all-around hunting rifle capable of traveling the country—nay, the world—taking whitetails, larger mule deer, bear, caribou, elk and even moose and a host of African plains game, there may well be no better cartridge. Loaded with a 150-grain Deer Season XP cartridge (3,260 fps) or a 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip (2,950 fps) the .300 Win. Mag. Will take the largest of whitetail bucks with efficiency and power. Throw the same gun in a gun case and fly West and you can use it to take the largest of elk, too.
Naturally, all of these calibers in deer-suitable loadings can be found in the Winchester ammunition most sought after by deer hunters including Big Red’s new Deer Season XP, the first-ever load dedicated exclusively to hunting deer, as well as Ballistic Silvertip and Power Max Bonded ammunition.