Best Deer Hunting Caliber

Best Deer Hunting Caliber

Written By: Ian @ World Deer

If you’re getting started as a deer hunter, you need to understand weapons and calibers. In fact, caliber is one of the most important considerations when it comes to effectively and humanely hunting deer. Let’s learn about deer hunting caliber.

Each state has its own rules and regulations on the caliber you must use for deer hunting. Make sure you find out what your state has to say on this score.

Here is what you’ll learn about in this guide to the best deer hunting caliber:

  • What is rifle caliber?
  • Why the caliber you choose for deer hunting matters
  • How to decide what caliber to use for deer hunting
  • Placement is much more important than caliber
  • Best all-around hunting caliber for deer
  • Worst deer hunting calibers (what to avoid)
  • Best deer caliber by distance

What is Rifle Caliber?

A rifle’s caliber is the size of its bore, as well as the cartridge size. When the bore is measured to determine caliber, experts generally measure its diameter.

When we talk about caliber, we indicate it to a hundredth of one inch, or even thousandths of one inch. We generally use millimeters for caliber measurements.

Rifle Caliber Deer Hunting

This is where things get a bit confusing.

As there is no agreed-upon standard for caliber measurement, some people use the word “caliber” to mean the bullet’s diameter.

To measure the diameter of a bullet, we measure between its grooves, finding out the distance. In some cases, a gun’s caliber designation will also feature another number unrelated to diameter.

When you use a rifle, you must ensure that you use a cartridge fitted for your specific firearm. Check your rifle’s barrel stamp.

This should show you what you need to match.

Interestingly, however, two rifles may have an identical bore size but be unable to use the same cartridges.

Why the Caliber You Choose for Deer Hunting Matters?

If you’re deer hunting, you want to use a rifle with an appropriate caliber. You’re less likely to make an accurate shot if the caliber is too large.

Accuracy is extremely important when it comes to shooting deer.

What Caliber to Choose for Deer Hunting

Large calibers have lower accuracy because they create more shot volume and something called recoil impulse.

These factors can cause the shooter to move in slight but significant ways. For example, you might twitch or flinch, and this can throw off your shot.

You want to avoid both overkill and underkill. Overkill often results from using a larger than necessary caliber, while underkill happens when you use an inadequate caliber.

How to Decide What Caliber to Use for Deer Hunting?

First of all, find out your state’s rules and regulations regarding the calibers used in deer hunting.

If you’re getting started as a deer hunter, stay especially aware of factors such as velocity, recoil, kinetic energy, accuracy, and the weight and size of the bullet.

What Caliber to Use for Deer Hunting?

Remember what we discussed earlier about overkill and underkill.

You need a caliber that will kill the deer quickly (ideally, instantaneously) and humanely. There is no need for the deer to suffer with modern weapons.

Your distance from the deer and the bullets you’re using are factors you must think about when choosing a caliber.

Distance from the Deer

The closer you are to the deer, the more power the shot will intrinsically have. You don’t want to end up with overkill.

If the bullet shatters or creates extraneous damage to the animal (not necessary for killing), you will end up with wasted meat.

100 yards is the average distance for successful whitetail hunting.

The Bullets You’re Using

It’s especially important to avoid large calibers if you’re using bullets made of a metal that may fragment. You don’t want a larger than necessary exit wound.

The larger your caliber, the more you want to ensure that your bullets won’t fragment. The best bullets in this area are all-copper.

Bullets for Deer Hunting

All-copper bullets are able to kill the deer while avoiding exploding and fragmenting.

Why is fragmentation so bad? It’s because when a bullet explodes, it can ruin large amounts of meat with all the metal fragments.

Placement is Much More Important Than Caliber

Some hunters, especially beginners, think that caliber is the deciding factor in killing a deer. In other words, they imagine that when it comes to caliber, bigger is better.

As we’ve already explained, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Deer Hunting Placement

Shot placement, not caliber, is the most important factor when shooting a deer. As long as you use a caliber that is neither too large nor too small, if you have good placement, you should have success.

Of course, becoming a successful hunter takes plenty of practice. Find opportunities to practice your aim and targeting, as well as the mechanics of shooting.

Aiming for the deer’s shoulder is considered among the best shots you can take. One of the most effective is taken behind the deer’s shoulder.

You’re aiming for the deer’s lungs with this shot.

One of the best things about aiming for the lungs is their size. They’re an extremely large target, especially when compared to other organs.

A rifle shot will be able to break through the deer’s shoulder bone to reach the lungs.

You can also target the high shoulder. An accurate shot of the high shoulder should also be able to reach the lungs.

Some experienced hunters have also done chest shots face-on with the deer. This means that they shot the center of the deer’s chest from the front.

This targets the heart and the lungs, so it’s extremely effective.

When a bullet penetrates one of these organs, or even better, both, the animal will not be able to survive. It will probably die immediately.

One area of the deer’s body that you should absolutely never target, no matter what the circumstances, is the head. The brain is far too small a target, regardless of distance.

You will probably miss, causing a terrible but non-lethal injury to the deer. For example, you could break the deer’s jaws, rendering it unable to eat.

If you cannot find the animal to end its suffering, it’s condemned to horrendous pain and starving to death. Obviously, this is extremely inhumane.

Best All-Around Hunting Rifle Caliber for Deer

Many experienced hunters find 6.5 mm and 7 mm bullets to be the ideal caliber for hunting deer. They’re versatile enough to do well in a variety of circumstances and with differently sized deer.

Best Hunting Rifle Caliber for Deer

An example of a bullet deer hunters often use is the 7mm-08 Remington (Winchester Ballistic Silvertip). This bullet has a .284 diameter.

Another bullet well-known for being effective in many different deer hunting scenarios is the 6.5 Creedmoor (Federal Premium Barnes TSX). Over the past while, more bullet producers have begun making this type of bullet.

Worst Deer Hunting Calibers (What to Avoid)

The worst deer hunting calibers are ones that lead to either overkill or underkill. There are other reasons why a caliber may be terrible for deer hunting, too.

An example may be if hunters have found in practice that the bullets just won’t be effective to kill deer in an effective and humane way.

Worst Deer Hunting Calibers

An example of a caliber hunters agree should always be avoided for deer hunting is the .32 Winchester Special & Self-Loading & .351 Winchester. Using a .22 is also illegal (and unethical) in most US states.

Experts have found that this caliber never has sufficient energy for successful deer hunting. This is especially true if you’re more than a certain distance from the animal.

This is an especially bad caliber if you’re further away than 75 yards.

Best Deer Caliber by Distance

Remember, the best caliber for your hunting expedition will depend not only on your distance from the deer, but also on your experience and skill (especially with regard to targeting).

However, there are certainly general guidelines that may help you decide on the best deer caliber by distance.

Best Deer Caliber by Distance

In most cases, a maximum of 100 yards is the most effective distance for shooting a whitetail deer. You have the best chance of quickly and humanely killing the deer at that distance.

If you are too far away, you won’t have a good enough chance of hitting the deer’s vital organs.

When it comes to mule deer, however, 200 yards or fewer is the best distance. Keep these guidelines in mind as you plan your shots.

You need to strive to hit the vital zone of the deer in the first shot. In other words, you want to target the vital organs of the heart and lungs.

Of course, the closer you are to the deer, the more power the bullet will have. Keep this in mind when choosing your bullet, taking a look at what we talked about earlier regarding appropriate calibers.

Pay Attention to Local Laws Governing Deer Hunting Calibers

As caliber is such an important factor in deer hunting, many states have rules and regulations in this area. They know that using the wrong caliber can end up in unnecessary and inhumane suffering for the animal.

Final Thoughts On Best Deer Hunting Caliber

As we’ve seen here, you have to understand caliber and the right kinds of caliber for deer hunting. You must do this to follow relevant local regulations, as well as ensure that you’re hunting in an effective and humane way.

Take time to practice shooting before you go hunting, and ensure you understand your weapon and its requirements. 

Picture of By: Ian from World Deer

By: Ian from World Deer

A passionate writer for WorldDeer using the most recent data on all animals with a keen focus on deer species.

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