There is often a dispute on what hunting method yields better results; bow hunting or rifle hunting? As long as you have the basic knowledge on how to hunt with either, you will likely succeed. But, if we zero in on rifle hunting for deer, the decades-old (and often heated) debate is, which caliber is best? Well, just like bow hunting vs. rifle hunting… if you know your calibers well, there are many that can be effective.
Best Deer Hunting Caliber?
There is probably no single best cartridge
for deer hunting that can be agreed upon by all hunters. However, there are
many great deer hunting calibers out there. Many hunters also expand their
variety of calibers over the years.
In choosing the best hunting rifle caliber for you, it is important to find a balance between something that is easy on both the shoulder and the wallet. Below are a few of the best.
The .30-06 Springfield cartridge is one of the most commonly used calibers for deer hunting. Dr J.Y. Jones had successfully taken all the North American game species with a Remington rifle in .30-06! This alone is a huge testament to the cartridge. The .30-06 is not only popular in taking big game in North America, but it is also one of the most popular cartridges worldwide.
The reliability of this cartridge has remained for many years. It was introduced to the United States Army in 1906 and served the United States in both World Wars as well as the Korean war. The .30-06 was introduced after the .30-03. The case was shortened from the ‘03 case of 2.540” to 2.494” and topped up with a 150-grain flat base bullet at 2,700 feet per second. Rifle hunters often compare other cartridges to the .30-06 because of how famous it still is even after all these years.
The muzzle velocity is 2700 feet per second with muzzle energy of 2719 ft. lbs. It works efficiently within a range of approximately 575 yards. Hence, it is good if you plan to hunt deer from long range. This cartridge has been used in famous rifles like the bolt-action M1903 Springfield rifle, the semi-automatic M1 Garand and many machine guns. The .30-06 is one of the most versatile cartridges as well. Its power and versatility make it a popular choice for rifle hunting in North America, especially for larger game like deer.
The .243 cartridge has faithfully served its role in hunting game since 1955. It is popular among many new deer hunters today. The .243 Winchester is one of the better calibers that yields excellent results. It has a muzzle velocity of 2960 feet per second with an energy level of 1945 ft. lbs. The most efficient range is within 350 yards.
Since the 1960s, the .243 Winchester has been by far the most widely used caliber for shooting small and woodland deer in the UK.
One of the advantages offered is that it has mild recoil compared to the other cartridges. This is especially good for beginners who are still getting the hang of hunting and is also a good caliber for the experienced hunter, as it helps avoids bruising of the shoulder or cheek.
Since it has gained substantial popularity
among hunters internationally, the ammunition and components are universally
available which makes it easy to buy. They can be found in almost any gun shop
and they are also not high in cost.
The only setback is probably that the maximum hunting bullet weight is up to 100 grains in most factory ammunition. This cartridge produces a velocity of 2960 feet per second with a 100 grain projectile from a 24 inch barrel.
The .270 Winchester is one of the world’s best deer hunting cartridges. It is likely the leading rifle for harvesting whitetail deer and has got the job done for over 90 years with few complaints. It is a classic caliber that can take down deer quickly. The cartridge is based upon the .30-06 Springfield but the case is slightly longer by 0.050.”
To learn about the basic knowledge you need when hunting with a firearm, you can check out this guide.
The .270 Winchester shoots small diameter bullets at a high velocity with a manageable amount of recoil. The recoil of the cartridge can also be mitigated with the addition of using a reliable recoil pad. The 130 and 150 grain slugs are the most popular choices of projectiles.
Although the .270 does not have as much power as the .30-06, it is still powerful enough for deer hunting at all reasonable hunting ranges. It also has a very flat trajectory and offers great accuracy in good bolt action rifles. Furthermore, the caliber is available in many different rifles and its affordability and abundance for high-quality bullets are great.
Among calibers larger than 6mm, the .308 Winchester is the most popular short-action big-game hunting cartridge among hunters worldwide. Its relatively short case makes it especially suitable for short action rifles.
Short action rifles chambered for the .308 Winchester tend to be lighter in weight than long action rifles. This makes it easier on the shoulder.
The .308 was introduced when Winchester released it in 1952 in their Model 70 bolt-action rifle and Model 88 lever gun. There was instant success following their release. This is because of the accuracy delivered by this shorter rifle with a compact receiver.
Some still feel that the .30-06 is more superior for deer hunting because of the larger case and slight velocity advantages, but others appreciate the lighter weight of a short-action rifle. The accuracy and squat powder column also make up for the slightly slower velocity.
The .308 Winchester has great ballistics. With the right factory load or hand load, this round can reach out 350 to 400 yards in hunting an Eastern or Midwestern whitetail. Within 200 yards, it can deliver a swift and humane deer kill. It is also a versatile caliber with bullets from 110 grains up to 200 grains, depending on the game. For whitetails or mule deer, 150 to 168 grain projectiles are suggested, while 180 to 200 grain projectiles are good for larger game such as elk.
The .25-06 was designed as a “dual-purpose” cartridge and is suitable for hunting all game whether small or big. The one rifle/cartridge combination is designed to cover a variety of hunting and shooting situations. The .25-06 benefits from the newest premium bullet designs such as the Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded, Barnes-X and the Swift A-frame. With these bullets, it becomes adequate for hunting larger animals like elk.
It has a remarkable big game shooting potential with any number of bullets from 100 to 120 grains. This caliber also offers mild recoil. It is hence said to be suitable for women and kids for hunting.
Being a .25 caliber, it also has an effective bullet weight range between 85 and 120 grains. This makes it a perfect rifle for double duty on game.
Having been considered a good cartridge back in the 1920s, the .25-06 is more so a good cartridge today thanks to modern slow-burning powders and premium projectiles. Stiffer projectiles can handle the biggest deer and some rifle hunters use it for hunting elk.
The .35 is another valuable caliber used in deer hunting. It can be used to hunt deer at approximately 135 yards so it is ideal for taking a mid-range shot. Its muzzle velocity is 2080 feet per second and energy of 1921 ft. lbs. It is good for hunting in the woods and is a pleasure to carry around because it is light.
Remington marketed this cartridge as a
superior alternative to the .30-30 Winchester. Though it only produces slightly
more muzzle energy, the bullet sported is 18% heavier and has 35% more frontal
surface area. This contributes to the difference in power of the
Although it is a powerful cartridge when used under the right circumstances, the .35 Remington is one of the most underrated cartridges in the United States. The sad part is that the ammunition has started to fade away. It seems that there are fewer choices each year, which is bad news for those who love hunting with it.
.30-30 was the very first smokeless powder cartridge for sport produced by
Winchester. In the modern era of hunting rifles, you would think that a
cartridge with the performance level of a .30-30 would have already faded into obscurity
because of how long ago it was produced. However, there is a reason why the
.30-30 still appears in the top ten of the sales list of many ammunition
The reason is that the .30-30 still works well today. In fact, it still remains the favorite of many deer hunters. It still yields good performance with cast lead bullets and generates low recoil, which is suitable for young hunters to hunt with. Some hunters may also continue using it for nostalgia sake. Getting in touch with the hunting rifle heritage and using a lever-gun from our great grandfathers’ era has a special appeal to it.
Though it may be outperformed by other calibers in muzzle energy, the .30-30 Winchester has a high shooting ability. The downside is that it is lacking when it comes to longer range and open field settings. It only has an effective range of 180 yards. But if you hunt in the woods or forests, there is no reason not to shoot .30-30 if you are inclined to do so.
Overall, there is no single best caliber for hunting deer, but there may be one that is best suited to your preference. In choosing the best deer hunting caliber for yourself, make sure to look out for minimal recoil, maximum accuracy, aerodynamics and perfect striking energy. (The standard striking energy is 1000 ft. lbs which will be sufficient to kill a deer.) When these are all in place, you are good to go!
It happens every deer season. Someone walks down the hunting aisle of a local sporting goods store, sees the deer scents and attractants section and begins to wonder how they can tip the odds in their favor during their next hunt.
When it comes to using scents and attractants, success comes from knowing the right scent to use at the right time. For example, you might not want to use an estrous scent in October, but it might be the best thing to use in Mid-November.
Let me give you an example…
A Lesson In Scent Usage
It was the third week of October in Indiana, the pre-rut was on, and the deer were fired up. I had just climbed into my ladder stand, hung up my backpack, and pulled up my bow. As I prepared for this afternoon hunt, I had no idea what was about to happen.
I had just pulled an SD card from one of my trail cameras on my way to the stand. I had gotten to the stand a little earlier than normal, so I figured I’d have time to go through some of the pictures and check activity from the previous couple of days.
Mock Scrape Magic
I had hung a dispenser of a new scrape blend scent that we were trying out and the results were extremely positive. I had bucks coming to this mock scrape nightly, but a new buck had shown himself that I had not seen before.
As I was going through the pictures, I randomly picked my head up and scanned the woods I was hunting, as well as a nearby cornfield.
Then, I saw movement.
I got ready and then a deer came into full view. It was a spike, and he was on the move. So, with the opportunity of some interaction, I let out a few soft grunts. He stopped and looked, but that was all.
I decided to see what he would do if he heard a bleat, so I did. He turned and came in on a string.
Now, on my way to the stand, I had broadcasted some Battle Ballz in front of me. When the spike hit the scent; he walked in figure 8’s trying to pinpoint the source.
Success using scents and attractants comes from knowing the right scent to use at the right time.
Bleat, Grunt, Broadside
That’s when the hunt changed even more. While watching this young buck walk around in circles, I looked to my left and saw a second deer. It was him, the 9-point buck I had seen on my SD card just saw on my SD card just moments earlier!
I grunted at the buck and he put on the brakes. He didn’t look like he was going to commit, until I bleated once again. This bigger buck wasn’t about to let a little spike be near a willing doe, so he turned and walked in.
Thanks to the scent I had spread on the ground earlier, those bucks were able to keep their minds and their focus on other things. The grunt call, coupled with the scent, allowed me to take this nice 9-pointer.
As you can see, each “tool” we haul into the woods can make or break our success and overall hunting experience. In this case, the scent was the difference maker. But it’s not just the fact that there was a scent involved. It’s that it was the right scent at the right time.
You see, this was mid-October, and my scent selections were a scrape blend, and Pay Dirt, a fresh earth scent, (I also used a dabble of another scent we were also testing for the next season.) As scrapes were popping up daily, one of our buck tarsal scents could have been another good choice.
On this hunt, the cover scents proved extremely effective, as a slight breeze was blowing straight toward those two bucks that afternoon.
Please note that it’s very important to follow your state’s laws when using scents and attractants. For example, Indiana’s game laws dictate that you can’t pour scent on the ground, but you can use in a scent dispenser which, makes the scent non-edible.
What Scents To Use… And When
When hunting with scents, I recommend the following guidelines, to ensure the best hunt possible.
Beginning Of The Deer Season
When deer season starts, regardless the month, use food scents!
Food scents are what separate a scent company from a urine company. What do I mean? Well we all know that urines have a time and place, but urines (deer, fox, skunk etc.) are used mostly during hunting season. A food attractant, however, can be used any time of the year.
Now, why would you want to attract deer any time of the year? The answer is simple, scouting.
Food Scents + Minerals
Scouting cameras are used more than ever before, and having a way to attract deer to those cameras are just as important as the camera itself. Lots of people say they use mineral or salt licks. Yes, using those is a great idea. Food scents however, can last for such a long time – even longer than mineral – because when used in a scent dispenser, the scent is protected from weather, such as rain or snow.
Now, using scent with mineral is a deadly combo. We’ve found that using scent at your mineral site attracts game to that location faster, and from a further distance. This is helpful when taking deer inventory, promoting antler growth, and scouting for sheds. As I like to say, “the scent brings them in, but the mineral keeps them there.”
In mid-to-late October, as bucks are starting to rub and scrape, and pre-rut action is in full-swing, use scrape and tarsal scents.
During this time of year (pre-rut), scrapes are one of the best locations to use scent that you could ever ask for. The reason? Well, because scrapes are spots that you can predict bucks will visit.
I’ve kept a scrape active for months by changing my scents up through the various stages of the rut, drawing in countless big bucks. Use multiple scents together to simulate buck and doe activity. For example, when using a scrape blend or buck with tarsal, try adding some fresh dirt as well. By doing so, you will give the impression that thebuck was just there, and you might just be able to get that dominant buck to shrink his home range and visit that scrape more often.
During The Rut
The beginning of November is a great time to use this estrus doe scent. However, because all does don’t come into estrus time, Buck Nuggets and Battle Ballz are also a great choice through first of December, or what is sometimes referred to as the secondary rut.
Post rut, in my opinion, is one of the hardest time of the year to hunt. Temps are dropping, deer are tired, and food is scarce. During this time of year, I switch gears and go back to the food scents, using them like I did in the early season. Remember, tree foliage is bare during this time of year, and anything you can do to draw the eyes and nose of a whitetail is critical.
Hide Yourself… With Food
Food scents are a good cover scent as well. So what if you walked into the woods smelling like apples, sweet corn, or acorns? That doesn’t sound too bad at all!
One tactic is to hang a dispenser of food scent where I would want to attract the animals, and hang the same scent in the stand or ground blind with me. Now I’ve doubled the attractant and doubled the cover scent at the same time.
A comment I heara lot is… “How will apple scent work if you don’t have apple trees on your property? No way Jose!”
Well, let me ask you a question. Do you know what a steak smells like? If all of a sudden you smell a steak, what’s the first thing you think? Probably something like, “Man that smells good… where’s that coming from.” You don’t think “nope, that couldn’t be a steak… there’s no butchered cows around her.”
Use food scents as an attractant as well as a cover scent.
Use cover scents all year long
While using scent in or around a scrapes, use multiple scents. Try using a buck and doe combo in your scrapes. Another trick is use a buck scent and dirt scent at the same time.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different scents, even in the off-season. Scent sites are very effective ways to scout shed heads after the season ends.
Hunting scents surely have a time and place. Keep in mind that your camo, tree stand, bow, and hunting scents are all tools we as hunters can use to have more success in the field and possibly create opportunities you’ve never had before.
Every hunting season, many land managers, owners and hunters debate whether or not they should harvest yearling spike bucks. It is an age old debate in deer camps across the country.
To Shoot Or Not To Shoot A Spike
So what is the answer? The answer is yes, and no. The truth of the matter is that there are times when the harvest of spikes is beneficial to a deer herd, and times when it is damaging. Each tract of land has its own management needs and determining factors of when and why to harvest spike bucks.
I may be speaking for myself here, but when many hunters go to the stand, they are looking for a “wall hanger” type of buck, not a spike. However, more times than not, it’s a spike that shows itself first and the hunter gets disappointed.
Then comes the internal debate: “should I shoot the spike and take his genetics out of the herd?”
Steve Nelle, a Natural Resource Specialist and Wildlife Biologist, once analyzed 15 years of records from a central Texas ranch that was practicing “see spike, shoot spike.” They were harvesting every spike they saw. After analyzing these records, he determined that the buck size was not increasing because they were reducing the number of bucks moving into older age classes.
There are a lot of factors that determine whether a buck will be a spike, 4, 6 or 8 pointer as a yearling, and older in life. These factors include rainfall, habitat, nutrition, carrying capacity, and competition.
Let’s dive into these factors to determine whether or not you should shoot the next spike you see next deer season.
Rain Is A Good Thing
To me, the most influential ingredient in spike development (or lack thereof) is rainfall. Rainfall ties every other factor together. If your land is experiencing a drought, it would be a poor decision to take a spike.
Depending on the severity of the drought, the deer herd population could decrease naturally and throw your age structure and sex ratio into shambles. You’re going to want the spikes to mature into older age classes to see what they become.
If you have an encouraging amount of rainfall, shooting spikes could be beneficial. The high rainfall creates a domino effect of good habitat and nutrition, which will lead to buck growth and less population attrition.
Habitat And Nutrition Are Key
Habitat and nutrition fall into the same category for me. If your deer herd doesn’t have good habitat and nutrition, survival is going to be difficult, as will antler growth.
Poor habitat and/or nutrition is going to lead to poor antler growth and more spikes. It would be a poor decision to harvest a spike during this time.
There is no way to tell what the potential of a spike is when the property he is living on will not let him get to his full size each year. When your property does have good habitat and nutrition, there is going to be less die off, and bucks are going to be able to reach their potential for that year. You will then be able to determine if you should take spikes or not. Improving the habitat and nutrition on the land is critical.
Carrying Capacity: Herd Numbers And Ratios
Carrying capacity is the next important factor in determining whether or not to shoot a yearling spike. Here are some questions for you to answer.
Do you have too many young bucks in your herd or do you have a shortage?
Can your property handle the amount of deer you have?
Do you have a poor sex ratio?
If you have a surplus of young bucks, I encourage the harvest of spikes. The spikes will take up essential food for the other young bucks. Let the young bucks have that food; they may have a greater potential of becoming your dream buck.
FYI, a deer eats around 2 tons of food per year. If you have a shortage of bucks, do not shoot spikes — or at least not every spike! Again, it is crucial for these bucks to graduate into older age classes to see what they will become.
The last factor to cover is competition. When I say competition, I mean the deer having to compete with livestock and other wild game for food, not to mention just finding a way to stay alive! In the end, the goal of all wild animals is to reproduce and live to see tomorrow.
Most ranches in Texas have cattle that will compete with whitetail for food. Some even have sheep, goats, axis deer or exotic animals. All of those other animals take away important food and nutrients from deer. The less nutrients a yearling buck is getting, the greater chance he has to be a spike.
Predation is a factor as well. The more predators on the property – such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions – the higher the predation rate on fawns will be. With a higher predation rate, there is a greater need for each spike buck to mature into the next age class.
Did I Mention Rain?
Do you see how rainfall is the catalyst to it all? Once again, I believe rain is the most important factor when it comes to spike management and deer management as a whole. Unfortunately, we cannot control mother nature but the more rain a property gets, the better.
Higher rainfall totals throughout the year provide growth of vegetation, which equates to thicker habitat for living, survival and higher nutritional values.
Nutrition is a yearlong need for a whitetail deer, but the more nutritional value a yearling receives from February to September, the better.
With that said, what is almost always overlooked by hunters is the fact that a buck’s antler potential also comes from the mother’s gene pool. If the mother doe is stressed and has poor nutrition throughout her pregnancy, the buck offspring she produces will have smaller antlers than if she had great nutrition throughout the pregnancy.
Maybe you don’t have time to manage your hunting property. Maybe you’re just hunting for meat and antler size doesn’t matter to you. That’s great! That’s the beauty of hunting.
You can manage how you want to manage, and hunt how you want to hunt (as long as you follow laws). However, if you do manage your herd, the next time you see a spike and have the mental debate on whether to shoot it or not, think about the the variety of factors that effect that deer and your herd.