The 12 Top Deer Cartridges
There are scores out there, but none of them will do a better job than this dandy dozen.
** .250 Savage. **Introduced in 1915 as the .250/3000 Savage, this was the first commercial cartridge to achieve 3000 fps. It did so with an 87-grain bullet, but the better .250 projectiles for deer weigh 120 grains. Despite its low velocity compared to the .243 or 6mm, it is more reliable because of its heavier bullets. The .250 has almost no recoil, and is the number-one choice for a young shooter or someone who is highly recoil sensitive.
** .257 Roberts. ** An old cartridge, and one of the greats. Considerably more powerful than the .250 Savage, but its recoil is still negligible. It comes in 100- and 120-grain loadings, and the latter is the one to use. Velocities are modest, but a competent handloader can boost them substantially.
** .25/06. ** It’s also got some gray in its beard. Handles the same bullets as the Roberts, but gets them going much faster. Up to 300 yards, it’s a super beanfield round. Very accurate in most rifles, and a mild kicker. Factory loadings come in 100- and 120-grain weights, and you should go with the heavier slugs.
** .270. ** Don’t be fooled by the modest bullet weights and (by today’s standards) less than screaming velocity; there is very little the .270 can’t handle with dispatch. Along with the .280, it’s probably the best combination of light recoil and major power that we have. It comes in 130-, 140-, and 150-grain loadings, and the type of bullet is much more important than the bullet weight. Given the right slugs, it will flatten any deer that ever walked and much bigger game as well.
** 7mm/08. ** A relatively new cartridge, the 7mm/08 is a .308 necked down to .284. It kicks very little, speaks in a quiet voice, and knocks stuff flat. The ones I’ve shot have been superaccurate. Although it will handle a wide variety of bullet weights, the best one for deer is 140 grains. Velocities are moderate, so it’s at its best inside 250 yards. Works very efficiently with a 20-inch barrel if you like carbines.
** 7x57mm. ** The Spanish troops who made San Juan Hill hot for the Rough Riders in 1898 did so with 7×57 Mausers. One of the all-time-great game cartridges, it is a bit more powerful than the 7mm/08 but still very pleasant to shoot. It comes in a variety of bullet weights, and any one is fine for deer except the 175-grain, which is for bigger stuff. Like the 7mm/08, it works well with a 20-inch barrel.
** .280. ** Along with the .270, it combines more killing power with less recoil than anything else I can think of. There is a huge variety of bullets available, but for deer, the top one is the 140-grain. For some reason, the .280s I’ve used have been fussier about what they ate than the .270s. For the one-gun hunter, the .280 is a top choice.
** 7mm Weatherby. **If you really, truly, want to shoot deer at long range and don’t want to lug around a 28-inch-barreled rifle, this is your baby. With a 24-inch barrel, I’ve gotten 140-grain bullets moving at 3400 fps and 160-grainers traveling at 3160. This, friends, will reach out a long way. Unlike its more famous cousin the .300 Weatherby, it will not rearrange your thought processes every time you pull the trigger. The 7mm may just be the best of the Weatherby cartridges.
** .308. ** Originally a military cartridge (7.62mm NATO), the .308 is so accurate that it was once used in benchrest competition and is a favorite with military and police snipers. If you’re interested in gilt-edged accuracy, this is the one. It comes in a wide variety of loadings, but for deer, stick with 150-grain bullets. Not much noise or recoil, and works well in short barrels.
** .30/06. ** After 93 years, still the single most useful cartridge for all North American hunting, not to mention whitetails. Today’s ’06 is a far cry from the same round a generation ago. New powders and better bullets have brought it very close to .300 Winchester Magnum levels of performance. It comes in loadings from 110 grains to 220, but the most useful are the 150 and 165. An experienced handloader can really make the ’06 sizzle.
** .35 Remington. **As glamorous as a slab of fatback. Been around since 1906. Not much good past 100 yards. All it does is kill deer. Hoo boy, has it taken a lot of deer, and it continues to do so. Very mild kick, not much noise, and works well in short barrels. There are two loadings, a 150-grain and a 200. Stick with the 200.
** .338. ** The true province of the .338 is elk and bear, but it’s a wonderful deer cartridge as well. The .338 is loaded with bullets ranging from 200 to 250 grains, and I prefer the ones on the heavier end of the scale because they destroy so little meat. The .338 kicks, and it will tear your head off if you use it in a rifle under 81Â¿Â¿2 pounds. But it puts deer down right now.