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There are plenty of debates in the hunting world, with some hunters arguing their side or point of view with others. But none is as widely spread as the hunting caliber debate.
There are many different hunting calibers for deer, and each person has their personal favorites. But which ones are the best? And which one should you choose for your next hunt?
Let’s break down some of the most popular and efficient deer hunting calibers and lay out some pros and cons of today’s various deer hunting calibers.
Before we jump right into the different calibers, let’s take a quick minute to talk about what makes a good deer caliber. After all, you don’t want to shoot a rifle that is too over or underpowered. By choosing a good caliber, you can rest assured that your next shot will quickly and successfully make the kill.
For deer hunting specifically, it is generally recommended to stick to calibers of .223 Rem and larger - meaning that's about the smallest caliber for deer hunting. This will ensure your bullet will have enough power and speed to kill a deer and avoid a higher risk of wounding it. On the flip side, you don’t want anything too powerful, as it can be more difficult to shoot accurately and can destroy the meat. There’s really no widely accepted caliber that is deemed “too powerful”, but needless to say you don’t want to be shooting a 50 BMG on your next deer hunt!
Now let’s jump into the good stuff. The most popular calibers will often change through the years as trends come and go and as technology changes the shooting landscape. That being said, there are plenty of calibers that have cemented their spot as some of the most popular calibers for deer hunting so let’s talk about them.
No list of deer hunting calibers is complete without first mentioning the 270 Winchester. This caliber was made legendary by the outdoor writer Jack O’Connor and is capable of taking down any big game animal in North America. I killed my first deer with a 270 and loved it ever since. It’s the perfect all-around caliber for hunters who don’t want a rifle that will have massive amounts of recoil.
Ammo is widely available for this caliber, and you can choose from a wide range of bullet sizes to accommodate the species and distances you will be shooting. While some hunters may complain that this caliber is “outdated”, there’s something to be said about the 270 and the legacy it has left.
If you want something a little more trendy and new, take a look at the 6.5 Creedmoor. This is one of the most popular calibers at the moment, although it’s proven itself to not just be the current trend and is extremely accurate. I have used my Creedmoor to take multiple deer and antelope, and the mild recoil and excellent accuracy make it my go-to choice these days for long-range deer hunting.
Another reason I’m a huge fan of the Creedmoor is the ability to have women and small kids shoot it. From the widespread popularity to the ease of shooting, this is not just a hot trend that will fall away into the void. The 6.5 Creedmoor is here to stay for decades to come!
Ask about the most popular deer hunting calibers of all time, and most hunters would throw the 30-06 Springfield somewhere on that list. This caliber has been around since 1906, and in 100+ years it has the history to prove itself as a capable, dependable deer rifle. One of the best aspects of the 30-06 is the ability to load up bullet sizes of various sizes, with options of 100 grains up to 220.
This means no matter what you are hunting, whether it be small-bodied antelope or giant moose in Alaska, your 30-06 can be set up to harvest anything you need it to. Not to mention ammo is easy to find and plentiful.
The 243 Winchester was long held to be the “smallest” deer hunting caliber that you should use, although the rise in technology has afforded even smaller calibers to step up and successfully harvest deer. Still, the 243 Winchester remains super popular and a popular option for hunters who are sensitive to recoil or for those with kids that are just getting into hunting.
But the 243 is not just for women or kids and is more than capable of taking down any whitetail, mule deer, or blacktail deer that you are after. With a history similar to the 270 or 30-06, it’s easy to see why this caliber is still around and doing well today.
Need something with a little more power or long-range capabilities? Look no further than the 300 Winchester Magnum. This rifle is the biggest here on our list and is a flat shooting, heavy caliber that can reach out to incredible distances to take down deer, elk, or really anything in the world that you want to hunt.
While it does have a lot more recoil than other rifles, there’s no debating its place as a long-range leader of hunting calibers. I’ve personally taken deer with a 300 Win Mag at ranges over 500 yards, and know people that regularly practice out to 1000. This might be overkill for many places, but out West where 400 to 600-yard shots are normal it can be very handy.
The 223 Remington is somewhat of an underdog when it comes to deer hunting calibers.
It's pretty versatile and a very capable firearm that can be a solid option for deer hunting in the right circumstances. However, it is important to understand the capabilities of the cartridge and to select the right rifle and ammunition.
The biggest thing with this caliber is shot placement. Since this is a relatively smaller caliber you need to be nearly perfect at where you choose to fire, so keep this in mind before moving forward.
The best deer hunting caliber is the 270 Winchester because of these reasons...
1. It's a very popular choice amongst hunters.
2. Recoil is somewhat minimal.
3. It's a great gun to use as a child or experienced hunter.
4. Ammo is widely available.
5. It's powerful enough to afford some missed shot placements.
Take a look at this awesome chart by the Texas Parks & Wildlife!
If you don’t see your favorite deer rifle here on the list, don’t fret. These are just 5 popular deer hunting calibers, but there are plenty more out there that you can use to kill a deer. No matter what caliber you are using, the most important thing is to use something of the right size and get plenty of practice in before the hunt!
Here’s some of the sources I used to get some of the historical data and info, everything else I pretty much came up with myself (I’ve owned/used every single one of these calibers at one point or another).
Also, check out the Best Deer Hunting States while you're at it!