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Light Calibers for Whitetails


          The old adage penned from Robert Ruark, “use enough gun. . .” is a relative statement. It inherently poses the question; “how much is ‘enough’”? The purpoe of this story is to address the low side of ‘enough’. Sure some will disagree, others will see these as above the minimum. Either way, it opens the discussion.

Let me say first and clearly that I am no ballistic expert. I do not claim to be, and frankly do not want to be. I will leave that for those whose desire to measure these things is greater than I. Having said that, I have read in detail many works of those who have supported what I have long believed. In general for hunting whitetail deer in the Carolina’s and Georgia, hunters use more than enough gun.

Still the most popular rifle calibers in the Carolina’s and Georgia are the .270, .30-06, and the 7MM Mag. All of these are big caliber guns with a lot of knockdown power and energy. The .270 being on the lower end of the spectrum still with its 140 gr bullets it is a lot of gun for our small whitetail deer. Other more popular calibers include the .308 Rem, .30-.30 Win, .35 Rem. But I would argue that all of these are on the large size for the small frame and relatively small bodies of our deer. That being said, what are the calibers I would recommend for whitetail deer?

Let’s start with the smaller ones and move up to the large light calibers. First there is the .22-.250, .223, .243, and the 7mm-08. Some would add the .25-06, since it is a smaller bullet, but its ballistics are so close to the .30 caliber offerings, I do not include it here.  Many hunters will say the tiny .22-250 is far too small to effectively kill whitetail deer. However, I have seen far too often the devastation this little .55 grain bullet can reap on unsuspecting deer. The low recoil, extremely accurate rifles are excellent choices for hunters who need to reach out there and touch something or who just like the lighter recoil.

Next is the .223, almost exactly the same as the .22-250 but the bullets are easier to find, cheaper and come in more variety of sizes. Still a flat shooting, deadly accurate caliber that also comes in a variety of rifle combinations, with the emergence of popularity of the modern sporting rifles or AR’s, the .223 has gotten a resurgence in the field as a very capable cartridge.  Next is the .243. Which is a great caliber for whitetail. The .243 is perhaps the most popular of the light calibers. Its availability, bullet performance and the availability of different bullet offerings make this a very popular caliber. From the diminutive .45 grain, all the way to 130 grain bullets the .243 is a great caliber for southern whitetail.

Having said all of this, the one remaining is what is my personal favorite caliber for whitetail deer of the Carolina’s and beyond. The 7mm-08 is such an outstanding caliber for whitetail and similar sized game that it is the best of the best of the sub 30 caliber offerings. Basically the 7mm-08 is a 7mm bullet loaded into the casing of a .308, the neck of the .308 is necked down to hold the smaller bullet. So we have at 7mm bullet traveling ahead of the powder of a .308 for a devastating combination.

I personally purchased one of the savage offerings for my wife years ago. While she has never taken to hunting, this rifle in this caliber has been the perfect introduction for all of my children into hunting. The caliber is outstanding in performance. It is flat shooting, very low recoil, and affordable to shoot. The 140 grain bullets are standard offerings for the 7mm-08 and I have not seen any reason to experiment with this. I have seen or killed myself, dozens of whitetail, feral hogs, and coyotes with the same gun and with the same result. None of my children have ever had to offer a follow up shot at any of the animals they have killed with this rifle.

If you are considering a light caliber for yourself, spouse or children, I would recommend the 7mm-08, or the .243 as the better choices of these smaller calibers for whitetails. I my personal estimation the other smaller calibers, while more than enough to humanly kill whitetails, their tiny bullet weights are better suited for a more skilled marksman. The .22-.250 and .223 are more of an experts round. I like to compare it like this; many parents give their children a .410 shotgun for starters because of the low recoil. But anyone who has hunted with a .410 know it is very difficult to kill anything with this gun because of its many limitations. The same can be said of the .22-250 and the .223. While great calibers, they need to be used in the right hands. Having said that, I believe that when introducing someone into the sport, opt for the .243 or the 7mm-08 for the best of the best of the light calibers.