Is your rifle/pistol/shotgun! Even though the actual hunt is more important than the kill in most cases – or properly should be. Whitetail deer are not heavily constructed animals, and are much easier to kill than a big feral hog, yet still deserve to be hunted with a weapon capable of clean and quick kills, carried by a hunter who knows his firearm and ammunition, and has practiced enough to be confident of making good shot placement – and wise enough to avoid taking unwarranted shots due to range, moving targets, or brush and other obstacles between the muzzle and the target.
This South Texas “meat doe” was killed with a 130gr Barnes TTSX fired from a .300 Winchester Magnum. It DID penetrate!
AR-type rifles and the .223 are very popular among hunters as well as target shooters these days. In reality, only a very good and careful shot should deer hunt with a centerfire .22 in any type of weapon, and those who think rapid fire and a large capacity magazine might make up for marginal power give hunters a bad name. An AR type chambered for 6.8 SPC, .300 Blackout or Whisper, or .308 is a much better choice. In reality, though, more deer escape wounded to hunters shooting larger magnums who cannot handle the recoil and muzzle blast, and therefore have not fired enough rounds at targets to be able to shoot comfortably and accurately with their rifles. Having said this, “some of my best friends” shoot magnums, and I carry my own .300 Winchester Magnum deer hunting when I feel the need for a “power trip”!
Looking at newspaper ads for the “big box” outdoor stores, in traditional bolt-action rifles, the time-honored .270 and .30-06 are still among the best selling of all “deer rifles”. Either is an excellent choice, and what one does the other does also, largely because the .270 is the offspring of the ’06, with a little more velocity compensating for a little less bullet weight. Either the .270 with 130 gr bullets or the .30-06 with 150’s will do a hunter proud on deer from close range shots to as far as you are comfortable in shooting. In this same category, the 7mm-08 and .308 are also good choices. The deer I have killed with a .270 have been very impressive one-shot kills. Recoil is manageable, although the muzzle blast can be loud, and this is a cartridge capable of very good accuracy. I have two rifles in .30-06, both Winchester Model 70 bolt actions, and neither has yet killed a deer for me, so both will get a chance to be in position for shots again this season.
The Winchester 94 lever action .30-30 was once the most popular “deer rifle” in America, and still gets the job done, but other lever actions handle better choices in cartridges. One of my favorites is the old Savage 99 in .300 Savage. With 150 gr bullets I have killed several deer and a bunch of hogs with mine, and always find time to take it to the woods each season.
I will be using my suppressed .44 magnum “rifle” in deer stands this season – partly in case a shot at a good hog comes up, but also since suppressors are now legal for Texas deer hunting. Another firearm that will probably be out “in the field” is a Thompson Contender pistol with a scoped, 14″ .30-30 barrel. I have enough rifles waiting for their turn that I probably will not use my Mossberg pump 12 gauge slug gun, but I have been investigating getting a muzzle loading barrel for it, to try for a late season doe after the regular rifle season is over.
If I only had one rifle, I could still be a very happy deer hunter, but getting the chance – after a fairly firearms-deprived childhood – to choose between several of my all-time favorite rifles and cartridges on different days as the mood strikes me adds a little more to what is already a memorable experience – just being in the deer woods. Truth be known, I’d be just about as happy sitting in a stand with “only” a camera.