Whitetail Buck Slider Image 1 9-14

Best Deer Cartridge

Deer hunters are always wondering what the best caliber is. What they really mean is “what’s the best cartridge?”

Caliber refers to the diameter of the bullet. Cartridge means the shape AND caliber.

Ron Spomer

A .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and .300 Weatherby Magnum are all the same caliber, but vastly different cartridges. They can and often do shoot the same bullets, but at different speeds. The .30-30 can drive a 150-grain flat nose 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?

There are a lot of cartridges that fire the 7mm (.284-inch) bullets, but the third from the left, the 7mm-08 Rem., is considered by many to be the perfect one for whitetails.

 

None. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t an ideal deer cartridge out there.

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.


Headstamp on bottom of a 7mm-08 cartridge. This could be the gravestone epitaph for many a whitetail — maybe one in your future?

 

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Common and 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.

6. 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?

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.

Compared to the 7mm Rem. Mag. beside it, the 7mm-08 Rem. (right) doesn’t look too strong, but nearly anyone can shoot it without flinching.

 

The ultimate bullet in a 7mm-08 is the 140-grain spitzer boattail. Driven 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, 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.

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Rifle Ammunition!

 

Leave a Reply

Each time you share - be it a comment, photo, video or suggested local resource on our Guide Outdoors website - you'll be entered in a drawing to win a $100 gift card for that calendar month. Click here for Official Giveaway Rules.
Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.

28 Responses to “Best Deer Cartridge”

  1. DONALD bOUSCHOR

    I live in MI whitetail country. Am 82 years old – Korean War vet and have fired everything the Army had from take cannons to all the weapons that were hand carried.

    I own about 14 deer and bird guns – my favorite is the Ruger single shot in 375 Winchester for deer. Great ballistics. Had the stock redone by a master wood man. A beautiful gun that should be published in Gun Digest. Only problem is the high cost of ammo. Going to solve that by reloading.

    Reply
  2. Larry Pohovich

    I use a .308, but for very obvious reasons. Very common and lots of options. Especially when reloading. I can nearly duplicate the same performance of the 7mm08 or get close to the 30-06. I shoot a Tikka T3 Light that is easy to carry and handle. Very accurate rifle. I’m sure I would like a 7mm08 but never saw the advantage sense I reload and have all the options available for the .308 cartridge. Last winter I decided to go with a lighter rifle and lighten up on the loads. It did not affect the accuracy once I got the scope sighted in. After using a .308 for years, I can’t see why it isn’t much more popular. I guess it doesn’t have the magnum glamour or the hype associated with the 30-06. When it comes to reloading, it uses less powder and the barrel isn’t as likely to burn out. Shelf ammo is very common and less expensive too.

    Reply
  3. James L Storey

    what is the lowest cartridge with a kick that i can use for a 243,308,30-30 and for a m1a1 Gerand 308. Brand &Caliber. for Deer.What about a 223 cal,for deer hunting?

    Reply
    • Tom Kacheroski

      Tom Kacheroski

      James: If I understand your question correctly, I think you’re asking “what is the lightest recoiling centerfire cartridge I can use for deer hunting?” Each state regulates this, so check local regulations. The 223 Rem. will take deer if you hit them in the boiler room or neck/brain, but a better option is the 243 Winchester. It will shoot flat enough for a dead-on hold out to 300 yards with a 95 grain Winchester Ballistic Sivertip bullet. Recoil is less than 14 foot pounds energy. A 30-06 Springfield has more like 25 foot pounds recoil energy.

      To my knowledge the Garand autoloading service rifle shoots a 30-06 Springfield, which shoots a .308-inch diameter bullet. The 308 Winchester cartridge is a shortened version of the 30-06 that can only be fired in a rifle chambered for 308 Winchester. It also shoots a .308-inch diameter bullet.

      Hope this helps.

      Ron

      Reply
    • HAWKEYE

      Minimum for some states on deer is 6.0

      Reply
  4. David Morris

    Excellent article that I will forward to the net person that asks me this common question. I use a 30-06 simply because that was my first rifle as a teenager and it has never failed me. However, I agree with the author. If I were to go out and buy a new bolt gun for deer I would get it in 7mm-08 for all the reasons stated above.

    Reply
    • Charles Grissom

      I have a Model 70- 270- Win I bought the rifle from a old man whom bought it new 1953 I have taken bear, elk, Deer, and won many comps and have shot with just about every rifle up to a 1000 yd I just done a shoot at 700 yd no one in the party that was there beat me i got the rifle 1963 and i have shot many rounds i reload my own I hit the target 10in-W 24in Tall 8 times out of 10 we had two crosswinds one to the left at 400 and one to right at 700 so i guess i will stay with my 270 and i have a 700 mag also and 30-06 30-30 and many more But i love this old 270 hard to beat

      Reply
  5. Charles Grissom

    I would like to add that i have used 4831 powder for years back in the days i would buy the powder by the keg and i used 59 grain of powder and a 150 grain bullett it seem to be the best for this model 70-270 Win, I shot a big brown bear at 350yd he droped and layed for 45 min, then got up but i had blew out the neck bones and i had to shoot again to finish him off he dressed out at 580 lb that was in 1968 sept 8 at 8:am I have pictures of this bear

    Reply
  6. David Vaughn

    Just got my first rifle that wasn’t a 22. It appears that Indiana will have it’s first ever rifle season next year and so I wanted to be ready. After looking around and after talking to common folks like most of us are, I settled on the Remington 783 in 270 and here is why: (1 )this gun shoots outrageous groups right out of the box; (2)bullets are relatively inexpensive and (3) available just about anywhere; (4) I intend to go to Colorado where my son lives and try antelope, mule deer and hopefully, elk hunting. This gun should be sufficient for all of these species. We will see.

    Reply
    • Mike Madden

      Always enjoy articles like this. I think the author is probably dead on with the 7-08. My only concern is availability in remote areas. I use a Win. Mod 70 in 270. I’m not sure it is any better but I have never found an ammunition stocking store that didn’t have it on hand. It does have a little longer bolt travel but that only matters if you need a quick second shot. When I think I’ll be in that situation, like hog hunting, I take a Remington pump carbine in 308. Both rifles are very sweet to shoot . The 270 has given 3 young adults one shot kills with their first shot ever from a centerfire rifle. I enjoyed watching that as much as shooting one myself, maybe more.

      Reply
      • Dave Homlotis

        I think we all should take a good look at the 260 Remington. Less recoil than a 7-08 with better bullets and downrange ballistics. also, REMARKABLE PERFORMANCE ON GAME ANIMALS.

        Reply
        • Mike Warrak

          .260 is certainly a great round. But so is the 6mm Remington. The problem with those rounds is cartridge availability (and price). .243, .270, 7.08mm are all reasonably priced and available.

          Reply
          • Glen

            I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Unless your a handloader the .260 and 6mm are not viable options IMO. Shame too, because both are excellent deer cartridges. Sadly too, is the higher price of 243 and 7mm08 ammunition in comparison to the 308. Guess it’s the law of supply and demand at play here. I think if your a handloader the 7mm08 is just as good as if not better than the 308, but for those who use factory ammunition alone the 308 may be a better all-around choice in terms of ammunition availability, selection and price.

  7. Mike Warrak

    .243 and .270 are my choice for deer. Both are plenty big, but not too big. But like you said, bullet placement is more important than bullet diameter and speed.

    Reply
  8. Wilton Adriano

    Ron deserves allways thumbs up very nice article!!!!! No abracadabra ideas.

    Reply
  9. David Groves

    My 7mm rifle is the 7X57 Mauser. It has a longer case than the 7-08 (57mm vs. 51mm) and therefore can be handloaded to about 100 fps MV more than the 7-08, but only when used in a modern, strong action. Don’t try that in a sporterized M93, M95, or any other pre M98 Mauser military action. Factory ammo is downloaded to 2660 fps MV in 140 grain, and 2440 fps MV in 175 grain loads for use in old military actions.

    Not going to find 7X57 ammo in too many rural areas, but when I do, the prices are 2 or 3 years out of date – cheap. Found 2 boxes of Federal Premium (Gold Box) 140 grain Nosler Partition for $24.50 a box! In a little rural “Farm supply” store about 50 miles south of Abilene, TX.

    Reply
  10. GERALD COFFEY

    I HAVE A VERY OLD RIFLE MADE IN 1893 BOLT ACTION AND IT HAS A LONG STEEL BAR UNDER BARRLE HOW DO I FIND OUT THE CALIBER AND THE MAKE.

    Reply
    • Matt Dybedahl

      Matt Dybedahl

      Hi Gerald,

      I recently did some research on an old Remington 12A that I received and might be able to help. Do you have any pictures of the rifle? Is there any engraving on the barrel, receiver or anywhere else on the firearm? If I have that information, I think I can find at least some general info for you.

      Reply
  11. Josh

    I like the 6.8 mm SPC. It is basically a .270 round, shoots extremely flat, and the recoil is so light I would let my 7 year old daughter shoot it (if the wife would allow it).

    Reply
  12. james rice

    I agree with the idea there is no “perfect” caliber of rifle to hunt deer. I also believe one must consider the area one hunts in to arrive at the best weapon, caliber to hunt with. The Michigan deer woods can be quite thick, making a longer barrel rifle harder to move around to get a shot off, quietly.
    Personally, I hunt with a Remington pump action, 30-06. A few years ago I harvested a beautiful 12 point, scoring in the 170 range. I shot it in the deer woods, public land, at approximately 165 yards.
    Using a Barska scope purchased from S/G, he was in clear viewing for about 100 yards going left to right through the woods before getting an opening to shoot him.
    I’ve shot many a deer, one shot kills with this weapon and they dropped on the spot.
    Several moved sideways, from the bullet. One, from a neck shot flipped, end over end.
    So for me, 30-06 works fine, out west with distance more in mind, a 300 win. mag may be better.
    No matter what, the more you practice with a weapon, the better you will be in accuracy. Which is THE most important thing about hunting. Being able to hit where you want the bullet to impact.
    As always, safety first, and good hunting!

    Reply
  13. james rice

    By the way, the 30-06 cartridge is also available just about anywhere, is common enough to find relatively reasonably priced. Reloading accessories are reasonably had as well.

    Reply
  14. greg williams

    I have the 7mm08 in a Thompson center encore . My daughters favorite gun for shooting deer ,since she only weights 90 pounds . I to also love this rd, last buck I shot with this rd only went 20 yards

    Reply
  15. TrailMixNC

    7.62x54r makes for a surprisingly effective – and affordable – deer round.

    Reply
  16. Albert Nygren

    Thank you for this information, it was very interesting. For recoil sensitive deer hunters your pick of 7mm-08 with the cartridge you mention should be an excellent deer cartridge. I became disabled and can’t hunt any more but could hunt up to 58 y/o. I checked ballistic charts and decided on the Remington 165 grain boat tail ammo. At 500 yards it had over 1000 foot pounds of energy and was as flat shooting as your 7mm-08. I tried different rifles and found that the one I liked the best was the Remington semi auto. Yes if you fire more than 2o rounds at the range your shoulder will get a little sore but because of the semi auto’s reduction in felt recoil, when I was hunting I never felt a thing when I shot at a deer. The big advantage of the 30-06 is it’s versatility. Change the ammo to a 180 grain soft nose and you can hunt elk or moose with it. Drop down to a 130 grain cartridge and you can hunt varmints. For someone who can afford to have a different rifle for all of the different game he hunts or likes to hunt, I agree that the 7mm-08 is perfect for most deer hunting but for someone on a budget that still wants to hunt a variety of game, I think the 30-06 is the rifle for him or her.

    Reply
  17. HAWKEYE

    Personally my favorite, due to my handicap, is shooting the 6.8 SPC through the AR15 Stag Arms platform. It gives me the most comfortable and more importantly that last second steadiness that I require right before I squeeze that trigger.

    Reply
  18. Scott

    Still debating on getting a 7mm-08, a 7mm Rem Mag, or a 7mm Rem Ult Mag. Going to use it for deer hunting and I’m willing to pay up to $1,000 on the gun itself without a scope and add one after i get it. Any advise or opinions are welcome, thanks.

    Reply
    • Tom Kacheroski

      Tom Kacheroski

      Here’s a reply from Ron Spomer:

      Hi Scott,
      You can’t go wrong with any of these 7mms. It comes down to gun weight, barrel length and recoil tolerance. I don’t find any of these too harsh to shoot well, but the RUM requires a magnum length action and minimum of 26-inch barrel and ideally a 30-inch to get full potential from all that powder. Ammo will also be the most expensive of the three. The 7mm Rem Mag. is the compromise in the middle and does well in a 24-inch barrel, fits a standard length action (.30-06 length.) Ammo is more readily available in more bullet types and weights, too.
      The 7mm-08 Rem. is the efficiency king. It shoots farther, drops less, drifts less in the wind, and carries more energy far downrange than the 308 Win., which everyone thinks of as the long range sniping “king.” While this 7 doesn’t have the potential reach of the other two, how often do you shoot deer beyond 400 yards anyway? And if you do want to shoot long, bullet drop doesn’t matter much if you have an accurate range measurement. Just dial or use the correct reticle line and you can hit to 1,000 yards with the 7-08. As for sufficient energy, fret not. No deer is going to walk away from a solid hit in the vital zone with any of these. Just use the right bullet.
      Bottom line: do you want a lighter, shorter, and easier to handle rifle or heavier, longer, slower handling rifle? More recoil or less? Have fun.

      Ron Spomer

      P.S. The new 28 Nosler delivers the same velocity as the RUM with about 15 grains less powder in a standard length action and 26-inch barrel. Something to consider.

      Reply
      • Glen

        Great reply… Concerning the 400yd question… I couldn’t agree more. Most hunters will never even get close to, let alone beyond 300yds. And for that matter, don’t possess the required skills to even have any business doing so. A lot of variables come into play at a much MUCH greater degree once that 300yd threshold is crossed.

        Reply