Nothing has caused more arguments and lively debate between hunting friends than arguing for the “best deer hunting caliber”. The reason this is in quotations is because there are so many effective deer cartridges that can be used. Some are more suited to certain styles of hunting than others, but there are so many good ones. Continue reading this list for the 10 best deer hunting calibers. It needs to be stated that these are in no order, as each has its benefits and disadvantages. All of these cartridges’ energies are measured at the muzzle with a 24” standard barrel, which most hunters do not use. Keep in mind that the energy that hunters experience will be slightly lower. WIth that, what is the best caliber rifle for deer hunting?
There have, arguably, been more deer taken with this cartridge than any other on the market. Think about how many years good old boys used a Winchester 94 to hunt deer with. This is still one of the best deer hunting calibers on the market, as lever-action ammunition technology has improved greatly. If you use a Winchester 150-grain load, you are getting 2050 ft/lbs. of force.. Figure that deer require roughly 1,000 ft./lbs. to take humanely. This is still a very effective cartridge for whitetails today. A good friend of the 1st Rut family affectionately named his 30-30 “Trusty Rusty.
This stellar cartridge is excellent for any kind of deer at almost any practical range and hunting condition. It is basically a necked-down 308 Winchester, giving you the 308’s performance in a short-action case. It launches a 140-grain hunk of lead at around 2,550 ft./lbs., while giving the hunter great long-range capabilities. The 7mm-08 should always be considered when purchasing a new deer rifle.
One of the most-popular and trendy cartridges in the rifle world today, the 6.5 Creedmoor is an excellent deer caliber. This light-kicking cartridge is great for long-range hunters, as well as short-range targets. It can push a 130-grain pill at roughly 2,500 ft./lbs., which is a great show of its long-range capabilities. This cartridge has really taken the world by storm, so why not get in on it and experience it for yourself? We reviewed this cartridge for elk hunting and compared it to the 270 Winchester here.
There are many American deer hunters who love their 243 Winchester’s and would never even consider trying something else. What could bring this kind of devotion to a rifle cartridge other than being an excellent performer? The 243 is light-recoiling, while still having more than enough power to put deer down. You can get 100-grain loads that will put out roughly 2100 ft./lbs. of force, giving hunters a powerful rifle that keeps deer down.
Another of the newer long-range whiz-kids, the 6.5 Grendel simply puts deer down. It is optimized for the AR platform, giving big-time deer performance to the hunters who choose to use MSR’s. Firing a 123-grain bullet, it can deliver right around 1,900 ft./lbs., and it also gives deer hunters excellent long-range performance. If you want a light recoil, but high effectiveness on deer, this is your cartridge.
Possessing one of the most loyal fan bases in the world, myself included, the 30-06 is an excellent deer round. It has killed countless deer with both speed and effectiveness. There are a wide range of bullet sizes for the ‘06, but the one that is most commonly used by deer hunters is the 150-grain. The ‘06 throws the 150 gr. bullet with roughly 3100 ft./lbs. of force. For anyone who loves their classic military cartridges, this is one of the best deer hunting calibers.
Using a 270 to hunt deer is a no-brainer, as these rounds drop deer very quickly. These long-cased rounds come in a wide range of bullet weight, but one of the best for deer is the 130-grain variety. Figure right around 2875 ft./lbs. of energy for the 270. As can be seen from that number, it is more than deadly on deer. Many hunters stand by their 270’s and always will, as it is excellent for longer range shots as well.
There are many hunters and gun enthusiasts who revel in using a non-mainstream cartridge, and this is one of the greatest for deer. The 257 Roberts is perfect for any medium-sized game out to medium distances and drops deer like nobody’s business. Pushing a 117-grain bullet to 2,000 ft./lbs. is no problem for this caliber. If a deer hunter is looking for a light-kicking deer dropper, this is their gun.
If you enjoy using what the military uses for cartridges, you surely own or want to own a 308 rifle. Between the cheaper ammunition and the stopping power of this cartridge, it is simply a must-have for deer hunters. There are a wide variety of bullet weights, but we will go with the 150 grain sample. The .308 Winchester pushes a 150-grain slug at roughly 2,800 ft./lbs., which is more than enough for a whitetail. This gun is also frequently found in the AR-10 form, for those hunters who like to use Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR’s).
One of the best 25 caliber cartridges in the medium-sized game hunting world today, the 25-06 is a can’t miss for deer hunters. This is a fairly-light recoiling cartridge, and is quite effective at longer ranges. If you hunt in open-country, you might want to give this one a try. Using a 115-grain bullet, it will give you about 2,300 ft./lbs. of force, which is far better than needed to effectively put deer down.
The chart below shows a graphical depiction of the comparison of muzzle energy between all of the cartridges mentioned in this article fired from a 24 inch test barrel (for ease of comparison). As you can see, the .30-06 is the most energy at the muzzle of them all, but that does not necessarily mean it is the “best” deer cartridge, as there are many excellent options. Your results may vary depending on barrel length and bullet weight.
All of the cartridges in this article, and many more that were not mentioned, are perfectly capable of ethically putting down deer. So, what is the best caliber rifle for deer hunting? At the end of the day, a deer hunter should make their opinion based on personal experiences and what they want out of their deer rifle. These are among the 10 best deer hunting calibers. Picking a best rifle cartridge is subjective to the owner or shooter. The good news is we can try them all out and make our own opinions. If you are looking for deer hunting content, we have a section dedicated to whitetail deer hunting. Send us a note and let us know what is the best deer rifle for deer hunting in your eyes.