With deer season quickly approaching, the decision of what caliber of rifle to hunt with is worth considering and depends on several criteria.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself: Where will you be hunting? What do you think is the average distance you will be shooting? Will there be young hunters with you? How much recoil can you tolerate without flinching? Are you comfortable with smaller calibers? Do you prefer at least a .30-caliber with a little heavier bullet?
My opinion may be irrelevant to many, but I will express it anyway. If you are only planning to hunt deer, I don’t think your rifle needs to recoil with more than 20 ft.-lbs. As a matter of fact, most authorities agree that recoil of more than 20 ft.-lbs. will cause most shooters to develop a serious flinch, which is ruinous to bullet placement.
While recoil energy determines how hard the blow to the shoulder feels, recoil velocity determines how abrupt the blow to the shoulder feels.
My own observation is that 15 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy and 10 feet per second of recoil velocity is the upper level of comfort for most shooters. Above that, recoil becomes increasingly uncomfortable for most people.
Fortunately, there are a number of rifle calibers that fit within the 15 ft.-lbs. of recoil and 10 feet per second velocity that are ideal for deer hunting.
One of my friends always hunts deer with a 6mm Remington. When we were younger, a couple of us used to kid him about the pipsqueak rifle he was using. That didn’t last long after he started putting deer down every year with that rifle, usually with one shot.
What we forgot was that he was a superb marksman. He knew where to place the shot, and the 6mm Remington was a very accurate caliber out to about 300 yards. His 6mm Remington weighs about 8 pounds, shoots a 100-grain bullet, and recoils with 10 ft.-lbs. with a recoil velocity of 8.7 feet per second.
The .243 Winchester is another 6mm that is ideal for deer hunting. Its recoil energy and recoil velocity are about the same as the 6mm Remington.
The .25-06 Remington with a 120-grain bullet exits the muzzle at 3,000 feet per second and produces 12.5 ft.-lbs. of recoil and 10 feet per second recoil velocity from an 8-pound rifle. My nephew hunts elk with his .25-06, but he hasn’t gotten one yet, so I’m not sure if I would recommend it for elk.
The .270 Winchester is a very popular caliber for both deer and elk. A 150-grain bullet exits the muzzle of an 8-pound rifle at 2,900 feet per second and recoils with 17 ft.-lbs. and a recoil velocity of 11.7.
The .30-30 Winchester is older than my Aunt Doris and it is still taking deer as well as it did in the early 1900s. A 170-grain bullet exits the muzzle at 2,200 feet per second from a 7.5 pound rifle, with 11 ft.-lbs. of recoil and 9.7 feet per second of recoil velocity.
My son hunts deer with a .308 Winchester. He shoots a 150-grain bullet out of the muzzle of an 8-pound rifle at 2,800 feet per second, which recoils with 15.8 ft.-lbs. with a 11.7 feet per second recoil velocity.
I personally carry a .30-06 when I’m deer hunting. My .30-06 weighs about 8 pounds, shoots a 180-grain bullet at 2,700 feet per second and develops 20.3 ft.-lbs. of recoil with 12.7 feet per second recoil velocity.
I realize that there are other rifle calibers being used for deer hunting. The above calibers are the ones I feel most comfortable discussing.
Any of the calibers mentioned in this column are ideal for deer hunting. Some should not be used at more than 300 yards and two or three are perfectly adequate for elk hunting as well. Just make sure everyone in your hunting group is comfortable and has practiced with the rife and caliber they are using.
Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.