Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

Q: What’s the minimum recommended kinetic energy for hunting whitetails?–B.

A: That’s a good question, but in my experience irrelevant.

An awful lot of “authorities” recommend 1300 foot-pounds (at the deer, not muzzle velocity) though I doubt most know why. After some research I traced this recommendation to Jack O’Connor, the shooting guy at OUTDOOR LIFE until 1972. It seems 1300 was his recommendation after shooting many deer. Since then many other writers have copied his 1300, and other writers have copied them.

It turns out that 1300 foot-pounds is about what a factory 150-grain .30-06 load retains at 400 yards, given a very sharp-tipped bullet. An average 100-grain .243 Winchester load retains 1300 out to about 200 yards, and the 170-grain .30-30 load retains 1330 to 100 yards.

The trouble with any minimum energy suggestion is that deer don’t read ballistics tables. I’ve cleanly killed deer out to 300 yards with the .243, and out to 200 with the .30-30–and also with a bow, the “muzzle energy” of its arrow running about 65 foot-pounds.

In my experience, any .25 to .30 caliber cartridge using at least a 120 grain bullet will kill any deer out to any range where the bullet expands reliably. Most spitzer (pointed) bullets will expand down to about 2000 fps. Forget foot-pounds, Look up downrange velocity in any factory ballistics table, and you’ll have a much better idea of the minimum zip needed to cleanly take deer.

** Q:** This fall, for the first time in 30 years of bowhunting, I was unable to find an arrowed deer. I’m looking to purchase a Thermal Heat Sensor (Game Finder), but I can’t find any recommendations for this product.–T.J.

** A:**You can’t find recommendations for this product because any hand-held unit is unable to detect the heat from a dead deer at anything beyond very close range. Like a lot of “revolutionary” bowhunting gadgets, they¿¿re pretty useless.

If you’ve only lost one arrowed deer in 30 years, you’re an extremely skilled and conscientious bowhunter. Most rifle hunters will lose a couple wounded deer over 3 decades. That’s the risk we take when entering the woods, and I don’t know anybody who’s hunted a long time that hasn’t lost at least one deer. That’s the way the world works, even for the best of hunters.

Believe me, “your” deer was not wasted. If it didn’t survive (and many arrowed deer do), Nature used it completely, just as it recycles deer that die from starvation and disease. All we can do is hunt as conscientiously as our skills allow, and look as long and hard as we can. But even then we never forget the lost ones.