Best Rifle, Caliber, and Setup for Deer?
Whitetail deer hunting is steeped in tradition, culture, and heritage. Deer hunters have favorite stands, lucky thermoses, and strong opinions on everything concerning the deer we hunt. We all have our preference on how we like to hunt, where we like to hunt, and when we like to hunt. The history of deer seasons and deer hunting runs deep, Pennsylvania for example, has had a regulated whitetail deer season on the books since 1869. To put things into perspective, the civil war ended in 1865, and World War I didn’t start until 1914. Deer seasons and deer hunting tradition was well underway before Nebraska and Oklahoma had even become states. It is no wonder then that there are so many varying ideas, opinions, and factors to consider when it comes to deer hunting rifles.
What Makes The Best Deer Rifle?
There are so many rifle calibers, actions, and various configurations out there that it will make your head spin. From traditional bolt action rifles to semi autos, pump guns, lever actions, and rolling blocks; there are enough rifle designs that you could probably hunt each day of rifle season with a rifle unique from all the rest. Don’t even try to start listing calibers, deer have been successfully taken with a wide variety of calibers, ask most any rifle hunter and they will have a favorite whitetail caliber, ask two hunters and there’s a good chance you will get two different answers.
The truth is, a wide variety of rifle actions and calibers can be effective for hunting whitetails. There are lots of good options for today’s hunters, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to tried and true, proven equipment. Let’s consider some of the things that make a rifle a deer rifle, and also acknowledge some reasons why one rifle might fit better than another.
Deer Rifle Action
A rifle’s action refers to the mechanic way the rifle operates. Every rifle has certain parts like a chamber, bolt, barrel, and firing pin, but it’s the way these mechanisms operate that determines the rifle action type. Choosing the right action type for your deer rifle is really a matter of preference, but there are some factors to consider.
Traditional Bolt Action Deer Rifle
By far the most common, and traditional action for a deer rifle is the bolt action. Bolt action rifles have a deep trusted tradition in the deer woods. The bolt action design is inherently simple, with few moving parts. As a general rule, bolt action rifles can be made to be very accurate and reliable. Bolt action rifles can be built either light or heavy depending on stock materials, barrel length, and barrel size. With a little practice, bolt actions rifles offer quick follow up shots, but as a general rule magazine capacity is limited to somewhere between 3 and 5 rounds. The simple design makes bolt action rifles versatile enough to be chambered in a vast variety of calibers. Some modern manufacturers claim to produce MOA rifles new from the box. With the right bolt action rifle chambered in an appropriate caliber, and in the right hands; you’ve got a rifle to take a deer out past 400 yards.
These are some of our favorite and most popular Remington rifles.
The Remington Model 700® is a legend in every way. Its superior performance is testament to firearm ingenuity – from varmint and big game hunting, to competitive shooting, to the most elite military and tactical applications.
For game-dropping power in a fast-handling platform, the Remington Model Seven™ delivers like no other. It’s ideal for blinds and tree stands, or on the move when swift shot placement is essential.
It’s not dressed to impress, it’s dressed for work. The Remington Model 783™ was made to hunt, born to get it done. It holds a number of precision-enhancing features unheard of for a bolt-action rifle in its class.
Lever Action Rifles for Deer Hunting
Many a deer has fallen to lever action rifles. Traditionally chambered in lower velocity rounds and heavier bullets, lever action rifles tend to most effective inside of 200 yards. Iconic firearms companies like Winchester, Marlin, Savage, Browning, Remington, and Henry have all made lever action rifles to suit the needs of deer hunters.
Lever guns are at home in the deer woods, quick to point and easy to handle, most lever actions sport shorter barrels than bolt guns, making them lighter and quick to the shoulder. The traditional tubular magazine creates a few issues when it comes to chambering ballistic tip ammunition, but at the same time it allows for more rifle capacity of ammo.
Semi-Automatic Rifle for Deer Hunting
Semi-automatic centerfire rifles are a relatively new development in the grand scheme of deer hunting. Consider that the now common AR15 & AR10 platform prototype design was produced by Armalite Company in 1956 and wasn’t made available to the public until 1964, not quite 100 years after Pennsylvania had their first regulated deer season.
There is no doubt that deer hunters have taken into the woods semi-automatic rifles like SKS rifles, Remington Woodmasters, and Browning’s BAR; but the truth is the rise in popularity in AR rifles has sent them into the deer woods. Semi-automatic rifles can be had in a variety of chamberings, with detachable magazines, and accuracy can rival that of a bolt gun, at least at most deer hunting distances. Chamberings like .308 and .300 blackout for deer in an AR are both effective and practical.
Best Rifle Caliber for Deer?
The great caliber debate is a debate that will likely never end. Deciding on the right caliber for your deer rifle is really a matter of preference, experience, and hunting situation. While a few states specify a minimum caliber size, other states simply allow deer hunting with any centerfire rifle. Some of the critical factors to consider for your deer rifle caliber are: bullet size and weight, velocity, accuracy, kinetic energy, and recoil. Let’s take a closer look.
Calibers in the Twenties
Starting from small and working up, deer rifle calibers on the smallest end begin in the .22 calibers. Hunting with a .223 for deer in states where it’s legal is an option, but that is the very bottom end of calibers that might be right for a deer hunt. Smaller calibers like the 6mm and .243 are larger than the .223 but still offer light recoil and high velocities. These calibers are probably better choices for deer hunting considering the larger casing, offering greater velocity, and more kinetic energy at longer ranges with heavier bullet offerings.
There is a wide variety of rifle calibers in their twenties that are perfect whitetail deer cartridges, and are terrific considerations:
- The .243 Winchester is a souped up, flat shooting little cartridge with plenty of velocity. With light recoil, this caliber is a good consideration for new or young shooters.
- The .25-06 Remington is an amazing flat shooting cartridge with a wide selection of available bullets and its other .25 caliber cousin the 6.5 creedmoor is growing in popularity as a deer cartridge.
- Moving up to the .270 it’s hard to go wrong with a time tested caliber that has proven itself as a deer cartridge for generations. Built on a necked down 30-06 casing, the .270 is a classic American deer cartridge.
- 7mm cartridges fall into the twenty calibers coming in just over .27, and the 7mm is proven deer medicine, whether you choose the 7mm mag or the 7mm-08 it’s hard to argue either.
- Right on the verge of being a .30 caliber, the Remington .280 may not be the most popular cartridge available, but it’s been in production since 1957 and has proven itself as an effective deer cartridge.
Calibers in the Thirties
You can’t have a discussion about deer rifle calibers without the thirty calibers. It can be argued that more deer have fallen to a thirty caliber bullet than any other caliber. With ever popular, and longtime favorites like the 30-06 and 30-30, both of which have been hunting deer for over 100 years; it’s easy to understand why thirty calibers are so popular.
- Starting in 1895, Winchester got the ball rolling with the first small bore sporting rifle designed for smokeless powder with the 30-30. This little cartridge has light recoil, even with 160 grain bullets, but it is considered a close range gun.
- It wasn’t too many years after the 30-30 until the 30-06 came on the scene in 1906. Designed for military service, the 30-06 has taken all big game all across North America and beyond. The 30-06 is called by some America’s hunting rifle.
- Add in the .308 and those three calibers could easily encompass a rich history of deer hunting from 1900 to present, but the thirty calibers have much more to offer.
The Magnum Rifles for Deer
Roy Weatherby is considered by many the father of the modern magnum cartridge, and for good reason. Of course there were magnum cartridges developed by Holland & Holland of London years before Weatherby’s work, but his advances made the switch from dangerous game and high end custom rifles to North American sporting rifles and production line guns.
- With Weatherby’s offering in the .300 Weatherby Magnum came an industry wave of magnum calibers that changed deer hunting forever. The .300 Weatherby is a high performance round pushing heavy bullets to 3000 fps, and it packs a punch, on both the target and the shooters shoulder.
- .300 Remington Ultra Magnum is a new kid on the block, first offered in 1999. The .300 Remington Ultra Mag was the perfect fit for Remington’s flagship Model 700 deer rifle.
- The .300 Winchester Magnum, or Win Mag has taken its place as a classic American deer rifle. This flat shooting chambering offers a terrific balance between shootability, accuracy, and knock down power.
- .338 Winchester Magnum is the top end of light sporting rifles, and often considered the bottom end of medium bore cartridges. The .338 isn’t the most popular rifle in the woods, but as an all-around rifle that’s big enough for moose and bear, but not to much for deer and antelope, it could be just the ticket.
- Short magnum cartridges were developed in recent years, based around popular magnum rifle offerings. These calibers are designed to shorten bullet chambers and bolts for lighter weight rifles that have less bolt travel, but still have magnum performance. Although magnum ammunition can be a little pricey, and the added weight of a magnum sized bolt and chamber increase the burden of a long walk in, many hunters would argue that their effectiveness and extended range is worth the tradeoff.
Bullet Design is critical, not only for accuracy, but also in lethal effectiveness. Your bullet is the only part of all your hunting equipment that acts directly on the deer, proper bullet selection can make or break your hunt. Choose a bullet in the caliber your rifle is chambered for that is designed for your style of hunting.
Accuracy and terminal performance are the cornerstones of Hornady® Precision Hunter® factory loaded ammunition. Great care has been given by Hornady engineers to develop superior, match-accurate hunting loads that allow the ELD-X® bullet to achieve its maximum ballistic potential.
- Lighter deer hunting bullets at high velocities can be extremely flat shooting to extended ranges, but can be affected by light winds and carry less kinetic energy.
- Heavy bullets pack quite a punch, but accuracy at longer ranges can be tricky as bullet drop curves off quickly.
- Be sure to try a variety of bullet designs and weights in your rifle to find your deer rifles’ sweet load. Factors like bullet velocity, barrel length, and twist rate will all act on the bullet, and one load will shoot different than another. Take the time to find the round that shoots best from your rifle.
Loaded with the legendary Hornady® InterLock® bullets in weights that have been deer hunting favorites for decades, American Whitetail™ ammunition combines generations of ballistics know-how with modern components and the technology you need to take the buck of a lifetime!
Deer Rifle Optics
No discussion concerning deer rifles can be complete without the topic of deer rifle optics. Choosing the right scope to best match the deer caliber and rifle action you choose is a critical part of making your rifle a deer rifle. There are many options to consider when you are deciding on a deer rifle scope, including: magnification, lens aperture, variable power, size and weight.
Deer Rifle Scope Magnification
Choosing the right magnification for a deer rifle scope is paramount. Too much zoom on a close target and finding the target can be tricky, too little zoom on a long shot and it’s hard to pull it off. The classic deer rifle scope is a 3X9, but fixed 4 power on a close range 30-30 is perfectly acceptable; the same can be said for a 4X12 on a .300 Win Mag.
- Consider the likely shot distance and base magnification on both near end and long distance shot opportunities.
- Higher magnification generally translates to a heavier optic. Be sure to consider the added weight of a high power scope to your deer rifle.
Deer Rifle Scope Lens Aperture
Lens aperture refers to the size of the scope lens that is nearest the muzzle. The lens is responsible for gathering light. The larger the lens the more light, and the brighter the image in the scope. Deer rifle scope lens apertures generally vary from 30mm, 40mm, and 50mm lenses. In the low light conditions of early dawn and dusk, especially at longer distances, a larger lens can make the difference between a clear view of the target and not.
The Choice is Up to You
At the end of the day, or maybe the beginning of the hunting season, the choice of your deer rifle is ultimately up to you. There is something to be said about hunting with grandpa’s deer rifle and a deer hunt steeped in rich tradition. There is also the consideration of the likely shot distance, the accuracy or your rifle, and the effectiveness of your cartridge. Nothing can take the place of practice at the range, and knowing you and your rifles limitations. It is possible to build a deer rifle that is custom to you, your hunting area and your hunting circumstances. The selection of action type, caliber, and scope are all critical decisions that go into choosing a deer rifle that is perfect for the job. Whatever rifle you choose to carry in the deer woods this season, hopefully it will serve you well.