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All deer hunters are passionate about their cartridges. Some won’t hunt deer with the man bun cartridge—the 6.5 Creedmoor—because it’s overhyped. Others claim small calibers, like the 223 Remington, aren’t big enough. I’ve heard western outfitters demand nothing less than a 270 Winchester, because they’re convinced mule deer are tougher than whitetails. And then there are those who’ll never hunt with a cartridge again because they failed to recover a deer—when bad shooting was what was really to blame.
When it comes to naming the worst deer hunting cartridges, it’s more personal preference than absolute fact. I have my own prejudices. There are some cartridges I like and some I don’t. Some of my reasons are practical, and others are irrational. I’ve nothing against the man bun cartridge or its bigger brother, the man bun magnum (6.5 PRC), but there are some cartridges I’ll never deer hunt with. Here are five of them and the reasons why.
Table of Contents
- 6mm Remington
- 6.8 SPC
- 300 Blackout
- 444 Marlin
- 30/06 Springfield
In 1955 Remington necked down the 257 Roberts to 6mm and sharpened the shoulder angle from 20° to 26°. They called it the 244 Remington but foolishly gave it a twist rate too slow to stabilize 100-grain bullets. They corrected this in 1963 and renamed it the 6mm Remington.
It was too late, the 243 Winchester had already won, and the 243 is why I’ll never deer hunt with a 6mm Remington. Fireside ballisticians are probably gritting their teeth because the 6mm Remington can squeeze out a bit more velocity. But a few extra feet per second means little, and the 243’s shorter case works better in short actions and with longer, higher BC bullets. It also works splendidly on deer out to 400 yards, and like most hunters, I got no business shooting at deer past that distance. The free market has also spoken. There are 14 times as many factory loads for the 243 Winchester as the 6mm Remington.
Though it can be found in some bolt action rifles, the 6.8 SPC is an AR15 cartridge. Shortly after the turn of the century, it gained notoriety because many thought it would replace the 5.56 NATO for the U.S. Army. It was based on a cartridge case from 1906 called the 30 Remington, and for a time it was the next big thing. But when the military passed on it, its luster faded. There was an attempt to revive it with a modified version called the 6.8 SPC II, but it was never adopted by SAAMI, likely because no manufacturer thought anyone would buy it anyway.
I was never enthralled by the 6.8 SPC. Out of an AR15, the 223 Remington has worked exceptionally well for me on deer for more than half my life. I know the 223 is not legal for deer in a few states—thank God I don’t live in one—but today AR15 aficionados now have the 6mm ARC and 6.5 Grendel to choose from. Both are markedly better than any version of the 6.8 SPC. So, like they say on Shark Tank, for those reasons I’m out. I’ll never deer hunt with the 6.8 SPC. In fact, like most hunters, I’m trying to forget it ever existed.
I’ve never believed the hype around the 300 Blackout. I didn’t like it when it was introduced in 2009, and like it less now. Developed by Remington and Advanced Armament Corporation, it’s mostly a SAAMI-approved version of J.D. Jones’ 300 Whisper. Its case is made from a 223 Remington, which partly explains how a 300 Blackout round can find its way into the chamber of a 223 and blow the gun up. Its claim to fame is its ability to deliver accurate subsonic fire, however, subsonic Blackout loads—even those designed to upset/expand—deliver marginal terminal performance.
The main reason I’ll never deer hunt with the 300 Blackout is the 300 HAMR. The AR15-compatible HAMR way outperforms the Blackout—it duplicates the 30-30 Winchester. Yeah, I know, some gun writers claimed the Blackout was the AR equivalent of the 30-30, but they were lying or sensationalizing, which is largely the same thing. If you want to play like a secret agent, or if you can’t afford hearing protection, deer hunt with the Blackout. It’s “whisper” quite with subsonic loads and the deer might pretend along with you and act like they’ve not even been shot. Otherwise, get a HAMR.
In the mid-60s Marlin decided to create a big bore lever gun cartridge to fill the niche vacated by the 45/70. They called it the 444 Marlin and it was essentially a 44 Magnum on steroids that fired a 0.429-caliber bullet. The 444 was well received, and some still swear by it. However, it’s true contribution was reintroducing the world to the 45/70, which Marlin offered in their Model 1895 lever gun in 1972. The 1895’s strong action prompted enterprising ammunition manufacturers to create a versatile mix of 45/70 ammunition, which continues to expand. There are seven times as many factory loads for the 45/70 as for the 444 Marlin.
It’s not that the 444 Marlin won’t kill a deer; it hits hard, meets straight wall cartridge requirements, and lives in great Marlin lever action rifles. A 240-grain bullet at 2350 fps will make deer doornail dead. But this is all about me and what I like, and I have a 45/70. It’ll work just as well on deer, it’ll work a lot better on the bigger stuff, and it’s why I’ll never deer hunt with a 444.
In anticipation of the protesting mob, I’ve turned my Rhodesian Ridgeback into the yard, and she does not like strangers. I’m sure insurgents will show, because when I say I’ll never hunt deer with a 30/06, feelings will be hurt, and tears will trickle down rosy, red cheeks. The 30/06 is very powerful, will kill any deer, and with the right bullet, everything else. I’ve just never been that mad at a deer. In fact, my lighter recoiling, and flatter shooting 2Fity-Hillbilly wildcat cartridge is just as deadly on deer as the 30/06.
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But the main reason I despise the old ought-six is because I had an uncle—by marriage—who was loathsomely repugnant. He had no redeeming qualities and would lounge around deer camp bragging about his damned old 30/06. I wonder why no one ever slapped him. (Did I mention he was a politician?) On occasion, the fool would kill a deer by shooting it full of holes, and I’ll forever associate the 30/06 with that man. Is that stupid? Probably, but maybe not. There are so many other great deer cartridges, it doesn’t matter, and my reasons for disliking the 30/06 are as justifiable as some of the reasons others dislike the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Mostly, the many rifle cartridges we can choose from allow us to personalize our deer hunts. They’re like chrome wheels or loud exhaust on a pickup truck, and their perceived advantages in effectiveness are more imagined than real. Deer hunt with whichever cartridge you want, and do it for whatever silly or sensible reasons you might have. Just be prepared to defend those reasons around the campfire. After all, deer cartridge differences matter more there than anywhere else.