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The Best Deer Rifle Part 1


What hasn’t been written about deer rifles? Exactly, everything that could be written, has been written. Most by people far more intelligent than I on the subject. It is true that I write a lot of gun stories, but I am by no means a ‘gun guy’. That being said, I do have some practical experience and some opinions.

Without question, those who read this will disagree with my assessments and my opinions. That is fine. I am sure that I do not have the market cornered on the opinion of the deer rifle. There are so many factors that play into this discussion.

For clarity, I am looking at a few qualifying characteristics in order to be included. These include the following; Availability of ammunition, choice of actions, ballistics inside normal hunting distances (under 200 yards), variety of ammunition available, and lastly, felt recoil.

In doing this study, I wanted to find guns that the average hunter could purchase, and then go out and shoot it accurately with factory ammunition. I wanted to find some guns/calibers that were readily available in many actions to suit the preference of the hunter and some that could be used for other game beside deer if the opportunity arose. Lastly, I wanted one that was fun to shoot and didn’t punish you every time you pulled the trigger.

Let’s start with the smaller bullets and work up to the bigger ones. First off is the .243 Winchester. This diminutive little bullet is devastating on whitetail deer. Its small 90 grain and 100 grain bullets are able to anchor deer of every size. With a 90 grain bullet the muzzle velocity of 3,203 fps and a down range energy of just slightly over two thousand pounds the .243 is a great gun for small framed hunters, females and youth getting into the game. It’s very low felt recoil makes it a great choice. The .243 bullets are readily available, although I find this more so in different parts of the country. The further west you go, and the more north, the less available this round is. But in the Carolina’s and the rest of the southeast, the .243 is a very popular cartridge. Available in most actions, the bolt action dominates, but quite a few single shots, and some semi-auto versions are available.

Jack O’Conner is noted for writing several hundred articles on his affinity of the .270 Winchester it is still one of the most popular whitetail deer calibers. And for good reason, everything the .243 Winchester can do the .270 Winchester can do better. This round with its 7mm bullet is available in every action currently being manufactured. The bolt action dominates, but so too are the semi-auto and slide action popular in certain areas. The ballistics of the .270 in its popular 130 grain bullet carry a muzzle velocity of 3,060 fps and 2702 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Where the .270 Winchester excels is down range. Here it out performs the .243 significantly. The .270 retains 2000 ft./lbs. of energy at 200 yards well within the normal killing range of most whitetail deer. The .270 Winchester comes in bullet weights from 100 grains to 150 grains making it suitable for not only whitetail, but also for larger game. It has become one of the more popular calibers for hunting plains game in Africa.

Next is the hybrid but one growing in popularity is the 7MM-08 Remington. This is basically a 7mm bullet slid into the brass of a .308 cartridge. The cartridge is necked down one millimeter to get a good fit. There is the energy of the larger thirty caliber cartridge pushing the smaller seven millimeter bullet. If there was anything to compete as top whitetail deer cartridge this is it. It will do everything a .270 can do only a lot better. It can do everything the .308 can do, but slightly better. I liken the 7mm-08 to the 16 gauge shotgun. It is better in every category of its neighbors within its parameters. The .7mm-08 can and does kill a lot of deer very effectively. It is flat shooting at normal ranges, but has the ability to reach out to 400+ yards if needed. It carry’s its energy to the last degree and the bullets are starting to get a tad easier to find. The only downfall I have noted is that there are not a lot of choices in bullet types or sizes. The 140 grain is the dominate size, in fact while there are some 120 grain bullets on the charts, the 140 grain is the only size I have personally seen being sold in stores.

These smaller deer calibers are very popular in the southeast particularly. And while I acknowledge there are a lot of other calibers available that are very effective at killing deer, these meet most of the requirements stated above. Next time we will begin looking at the thirty caliber options and see what choices we have for those who like bigger guns.