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What's the Best Deer Hunting Rifle Cartridge?

Looking for the best deer hunting cartridge? This article provides an in-depth look at the best deer hunting cartridges, including 7mm-08 Rem.

May 02, 2024
 
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What's the Best Deer Hunting Rifle Cartridge?

Deer hunters are always wondering what the best caliber is for deer hunting. What they really should be asking is, "What's the best cartridge?". Here's why;


Caliber vs Cartridge


First up, caliber. When we talk about the caliber of a firearm, we're referring to the diameter of the gun's barrel and consequently, the diameter of the bullet that it fires. Caliber is typically measured in either millimeters (mm) or inches. For instance, a .45 caliber gun fires bullets that are approximately 0.45 inches in diameter. Pretty straightforward, right?


Now, onto cartridge. This is where things get a bit more complex. A cartridge is the whole package: it includes the bullet (what you think of as the actual projectile), the casing (which holds everything together), the powder (the propellant that helps the bullet fly), and the primer (which ignites the powder when struck by the firing pin). So, when you're talking about a cartridge, you're discussing the complete unit of ammunition as it's loaded into the firearm.


Here's an example:


A .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Weatherby Magnum are all of the same caliber but vastly different cartridges. They can and often shoot the same bullets but at different speeds. The .30-30 can drive a 150-grain flat nose at about 2,400 feet per second (fps). A .308 Win. will push a 150-grain spire point 3,000 fps, a .30-06 will move it 3,100 fps and the .300 Weatherby will send it screaming at 3,400 fps.


They'll all kill deer. So which is best? This is where a hunter's preference comes into play.

best deer hunting rifle cartridge

Things to Consider When Selecting a Cartridge


The thing is, one man's ideal is another man's garbage. For argument, let's outline what a good, all-round whitetail cartridge should have/be:


  • Accurate: Of course, but how accurate? Despite everyone's preoccupation with sub-MOA (Minute of Angle), target-grade performance, any rifle that clusters three shots inside of a 2-inch circle is going to hit every broadside deer out to 300 yards. But most factory rifles shoot closer to MOA right out of the box, so no worries.


  • Minimal recoil: Experienced shooters can teach themselves to endure the kick of .375 H&H magnums, but the average deer hunter doesn't shoot enough to resist flinching when he fires a .30-06. Accuracy (hitting what you shoot at) is way more important than a few hundred more fps or foot pounds.


  • Reasonably flat trajectory: The sleeker and more aerodynamically efficient a bullet, the farther it flies before being pulled to the ground. The faster it leaves the rifle, the farther and flatter it flies. But too much velocity means increased recoil, so there's a limit here. A good rule of thumb: the bullet should strike the deer somewhere in the chest if aimed center chest. Any cartridge/bullet combination that can do that out to 300 yards is more than ready for prime time.


  • Good striking energy: Terminal bullet energy is often stated as 1,000 foot pounds to cleanly kill deer. This doesn't mean that one landing with 500 f.p. is going to bounce off. Energy alone doesn't kill, but 1,000 f.p. is a reasonable standard.


  • Available ammunition: You don't want to have to buy ammo from a specialty shop at $80 a box. Ammo for a deer rifle should be widely available.


  • Comfortable rifle size, weight: Who wants to drag a 10-pound rifle where a 7-pounder will suffice? Who wants to fight a 24-inch barrel through the brush when 22- or even 20-inches will suffice?


Our Recommendation


Just a few cartridges that fulfill most of these demands include: .243 Win., .25-06 Rem.6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win., .280 Rem., 7mm Rem. Mag., and .308 Win.


But the one I'm going to recommend is 7mm-08 Remington. This is the .308 Winchester case necked down to take a .284-inch bullet.


The ultimate bullet in 7mm-08 is the 140-grain spitzer boattail. Driven at 2,900 fps, it will carry more than 1,260 f.p. energy at 500 yards! Zero it 2.5 inches high at 100 yards and it will be dead-on at 230 yards and just 5 inches low at 300 yards. Aim at the center of a deer's 16-inch vital chest and you score a killing blow to the heart/lungs every time. A 10 mph right-angle wind will deflect that bullet just 3 inches at 200 yards and 6 inches at 300 yards. You're still in the chest with a center hold. What could be easier?


In a 7-pound rifle, felt recoil will be 15 f.p. A 150-grain load in a .30-06 of the same weight will be 21 f.p. Virtually every bolt-action repeater comes in 7mm-08 Rem. Look for one. You won't be sorry.


Conclusion

Just because we recommend the 7mm-08 Remington doesn't mean it is the perfect cartridge for you. By considering factors such as the terrain, typical shooting distances, and the size of the deer, you can select a cartridge that matches your hunting style and ensures a humane harvest. Remember, the best deer hunting cartridge is the one that suits your specific needs and enhances your overall hunting experience. The best way to find out which you like best is to buy a few different cartridges and test them out at a range for feel and accuracy.


The article was written by writer, photographer, hunter, and conservationist - Ron Spomer from ronspomeroutdoors.com


Sportsman's Guide has a huge selection of rifle ammo for deer hunting, including .243 WIn ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win., 7mm-08 Rem. ammo and more

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