In our opinion, the best rifle calibers for deer hunting are the .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .243 Winchester.

Deer are the most popular big game animals pursued by hunters in North America. And what rifle caliber to use is one of the most popular subjects discussed among those hunters. Today, there are so many options from which to choose. With the introduction of A/R platforms into the hunting world you see a lot of kids and some adults hunting deer with a round as small as the .223 (5.56). On the other end of the spectrum, you may have a friend that prefers the .300 Remington Ultra Mag.

Best Rifle Calibers for Deer Hunting

You could say we’re somewhere in the middle. From the .243 Winchester to the 7mm Remington Magnum, we’ll talk about some of the factors that, for us, make the best rifle calibers for deer hunting. Those include long-range accuracy, knock-down power, versatility, light to moderate recoil, and accessibility. This last point is important because when you start getting into some of the more obscure rifle calibers, say a quarter-bore like the .257 Roberts, ammunition can be harder to find. We also mentioned versatility because all of these calibers for the most part can also be used to hunt other big game animals like antelope and elk. The result of using one maybe two rifles for hunting deer is more confidence, comfort, and consistency as a shooter.

  In our opinion, the best rifle calibers for deer hunting are the .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .243 Winchester.

.270 Winchester

The famous gun writer Jack O’Connor glorified the .270 Winchester in his stories for nearly 40 years, helping it to become one of the most popular rifle calibers in the post-World War II era. It has very little recoil and is known for its long-range accuracy, especially with modern-day riflescopes. It’s also a very versatile round that’s used by both eastern whitetail hunters and western mule deer hunters. Ammunition is always readily accessible, allowing hunters to practice consistently without breaking the bank.

7mm Remington Magnum

In comparison, the 7mm Remington Magnum is very similar to the .270 Winchester. It’s about 40 years younger than the .270, having debuted in 1962 to serve as a big-game cartridge for the Remington Model 700. And thanks to the popularity of the 700, the 7mm Remington Mag. didn’t take long to find a home among deer hunters on both sides of the Mississippi River. It’s a bit more powerful thus adding to its recoil, and ammo is a little more expensive. But all in all, the 7mm mag is a very versatile, accessible cartridge that we can definitely categorize as one of the best rifle calibers for deer hunting.

.30-06 Springfield

“If a hunter can afford just one gun for all game, the old .30-06 is most often recommended,” wrote Vin T. Sparano in his book Complete Outdoors Encyclopedia. And popular it is. You’ll hardly talk to a deer hunter who hasn’t at some point in his or her life owned an “aught six.” Flat-shooting and extremely accurate, the .30-06 reaches the upper levels of velocity and pounds of force yet maintains reasonable recoil. Plus, there are nearly 100 varieties of ammunition on the market, making the .30-06 extremely accessible.

.308 Winchester

The .308 remains one of the most versatile short action cartridges known today. While many feel it is a ballistic equal to the .30-06, the numbers do not support that, but I doubt there are any deer that would know the difference. The shorter cartridge length and lighter weight make it a better choice then the .30-06 when trying to keep the size and weight of the rifle down. Available in rifles made by virtually every manufacturer, the .308 Win is a great all around cartridge that is equally at home in a lever-action brush rifle as it is in a custom bolt gun.

Like the ‘06, the .308 Win is offered by every major ammunition manufacturer and the bullet weight and design options are endless. Take into account that the .308 Win is one of the most inherently accurate cartridges, there is no wonder why it finds its way into the deer woods every year. Up until a few short years ago the .308 Win was the choice of most military and LE snipers due to its accuracy and availability. While it might not have the velocity of some of the other rounds in this list, the knockdown power of quality 150 to 180 grain bullets means bad medicine for any big buck that crosses its path.

6.5 Creedmoor

All hail the new kid on the block! Ironically the 6.5 CM has been around for a lot longer than folks may think. It was actually introduced in 2007. It’s hard to think of another rifle caliber that has seen a more meteoric rise than the 6.5 Creedmoor in the past few years. Mind you, the spread of information in today’s age is much faster. But you can look at the sheer amount of hunters who have pulled out their wallets for a 6.5 and realize pretty quickly how sought after it is.

  Jon LaCorte discusses what makes the best rifle scope for a 6.5 Creedmoor.

Originally developed for long-range target shooting, it is a medium-sized round that is extremely accurate, has ample knock-down power, little recoil, and is getting more accessible by the year. It’s also gaining major credibility with elk hunters, killing large bulls with well-placed shots as well as any .30 caliber. In fact, at 1,000 yards, it outpaces both the .308 and .30-06 - more bullet speed means less gravity interference, thus less drop. The 6.5 Creedmoor’s versatility derives from the fact that it can be used across multiple big-game animals and is suitable for a kid or a seasoned hunter.

.243 Winchester

The .243 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor are practically cousins, only the latter is more likely to be voted most popular and probably most likely to succeed into today’s market. However, the .243 Winchester holds its place as best calibers for deer hunting because it’s a round that kids can shoot and produces the lighter recoil we’ve come to appreciate as adults. Oftentimes, as a smaller caliber you’ll find .243 rifles with shorter barrels, a huge benefit when climbing in and out of deer stands. Don’t discount it’s knock-down power either. Despite the fact that the .243 was originally introduced as a varmint round, the introduction of heavier-grained bullets make it an almost perfect caliber for deer hunting. As an added bonus, the .243 is much more fun to shoot than say a big .300 RUM, increasing the willingness to put in more range time.

Few tools are more coveted than the deer hunter’s rifle. It’s a unique relationship. One that has peaks and valleys and plateaus as comfort, confidence, and consistency, the three Cs, ebb and flow. Sure, you could argue that we left out some calibers that deserve their place on this list. And we’d probably agree. It’s just our humble opinion that when it comes to the best rifle calibers for deer hunting, these are at the top of our short list.

  Best Rifle Calibers for Deer Hunting  

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