Maybe you have been using the same rifle for years, maybe you have a youngster who is getting ready for a first hunt.  Maybe you have a significant other who is going to join the hunting tradition this year.  Whatever the reason, you need a new Deer Rifle.  Liberty Tree is here to help.  In this Two part series we will try to give some guidance on cartridge selection and in the second part a brief run down of the best rifles in each price category.

First up, cartridge selection:

There are old standby and newfangled cartridges in all sizes.  Which one is right for your purpose and which one “speaks” to you?   Read below as we can give some thoughts.  We have purposefully not included any “magnum” rounds in this list as any of them is more than a whitetail, hog, or black bear need.  Any magnum round chosen will be more than enough for the hunting we see in the Ozarks, and will come with an extra hit to the pocketbook as well as the shoulder.  That being said, the 7mm Remington mag is a fine cartridge. 

The first three cartridges on this list are listed first because they are the cartridges that almost all compact or youth firearms are chambered in, but all are serious hunting calibers and are all popular in full size rifles as well.  Any would be an excellent choice.  

.243 Winchester introduced in 1955, and based on a necked down .308 cartridge, the .243 Winchester is what most would consider the entry level deer cartridge.  Do not read that as meaning in any way that it is incapable of humanely taking anything that lives on the Ozarks.  It is not exactly a blistering fast round, but it is a lively stepper, and combined with a quality bullet they are very effective. Commercially loaded .243 ammunition is available everywhere guns are sold. In its lighter loadings it is a good varmint round, and is probably the top round for coyotes and such. When loaded up with a proper hunting 90-100gr. bullet it is good medicine for deer, hogs, and even black bear, provided the shooter does his/her job. Rifles for this round can be short and lightweight but still have very low recoil.  In the early days the LAPD SWAT teams used the .243 for the marksman duties and it is still a very popular round for long distance shooting due its’ accuracy and mild manners.  Some of the best shooters in the world stand by it.  It is a very flat shooting cartridge, affected perhaps slightly more by wind than a few others in the list. It is a good choice for a first rifle, and one of the most pleasant shooting rounds with great long distance accuracy.

.7mm-08 RemingtonThird in popularity in the .308 family behind the parent .308 and the .243 is the 7mm-08, which is simply a .308 cartridge necked down for a 7mm bullet.   It is very popular for shooters looking for a short action rifle with good power and not punishing recoil.  Because of its’ popularity there is no difficulty finding guns or ammunition for this round.  A factory loading with a 130-150gr. bullet will do any job set before it in the Ozarks, and even excel at long range metallic silhouette shooting.  It is very ballistically similar to .308, possibly besting it in some ways.  No game in the midwest is going to notice the difference between a .308 and a 7mm-08; but the shooters shoulder might prefer the 7mm-08’s approximate 3lbs less recoil. There are even several companies making AR style rifles in 7mm-08 which would be a potent yet soft shooting combination indeed.

.308 WinchesterThe .308 Winchester is a near ballistic twin to the .30-06, but coming in a shorter package means that it can be had in a shorter rifle.  After the .30-06 was retired from the military, the .308 briefly took its’ place.  In all but the most extreme cases nothing on the receiving end would know any difference between the two rounds.  Especially when dealing in factory loadings.  Every mainstream rifle manufacturer chambers for this round and there will be almost as many boxes of ammo available of it come deer season as there will .30-06. You can make argument of one over the other, but you have to be pretty nitpicky to do so.  One clear advantage that the .308 has over the .30-06 is that it is MUCH easier to own a high capacity semi-auto rifle and a bolt action rifle that share the same cartridge.

The next two cartridges are the two that most people mean when they ask someone for a deer rifle.  If Grandpa asks you to get his fetchin’ iron, this is what he is after.    If you aren’t sure which caliber in this list to go with, or if you like tried and true things, pick a rifle chambered in one of these and rest easy at night.  

.30-06 SpringfieldHail to the King, baby.  For over 100 years the .30-06 has been the top of the heap.  Other rounds shoot faster, some shoot farther, many shoot flatter; some kick less, and some kick more.  But they have all been measured against the .30-06.  Too stout for varmints, really, but just right for nearly everything else.  It is hard to go wrong buying a rifle in .30-06.  Its recoil is about the limit of what the average shooter will enjoy shooting, but it is not beyond the ability of most.  It would not necessarily be the first choice for a first rifle, (or a perfect rifle for the smaller framed), but it  also wouldn’t be the worst choice, and if the shooter did not feel overwhelmed by it then there certainly wouldn’t be any urgent need for another rifle down the road.  Go anywhere blaze orange hats and slim jims are sold during deer season and they will have some ‘aught six’.  Walmart probably delivers whole truckloads of the stuff to its’ stores during deer season, and every other retailer that has anything to do with hunting will have hunting ammo available for it. Much like Bill Munney it has killed everything that walks or crawls at one time or another.

.30-30 Winchester The ol’ Grandad of the bunch.  Marketed first in 1895.  Typically fired from a quick handling lightweight lever action rifle.  This round has killed more deer than probably all others combined, and a lot of other stuff too.  It has very pleasant recoil, and the guns it is typically chambered in fit small shooters extremely well.  Its’ biggest drawback is that it is somewhat range limited.  Inside about 125 yards it is more than any whitetail or hog can handle, and satisfactory for any bear we are likely to encounter in the Ozarks .  It has killed its’ fair share of elk and moose out West and up North, but again, the shooter isn’t going to be making any Quigley-esque shots.  It did gain some range when Hornady brought its’ leverevolution cartridges to market, bumping up its’ effective distance another 25 yards or so.  It doesn’t have the longest legs of the bunch by far, and it doesn’t pack the biggest whallop; but let’s be honest deer aren’t noticeably bigger than they were 50 years ago, they haven’t started wearing body armor either.  Most good opportunities in the woods and pastures we hunt in are probably going to be 150 yds or less, and the average among us is stretching his confidence and ability for a good shot much beyond that if not shooting from a stable surface with a rest.  As far as ammo is concerned, ask you dad, or grandad, he probably has some rattling around behind the seat of his truck.  If not, or if he won’t share, go to the local gettin’ place and find the .30-06 ammo, now look to the left or right.  There it is.  Most places will have the really great LeveRevolution stuff from Hornady.

The next two are both extremely superb cartridges.  If you are pretty sure you might need a longer range weapon, or think you may hunt out west where the average shot is longer they will serve you very very well.  Also, both are a little softer recoil wise than a .30-06.

.25-06 RemingtonStandardized by Remington in 1969.  The .25-06 is a necked down .30-06 with a .257 caliber bullet.  Perhaps second tier in popularity or name recognition to some other excellent medium game rounds, it is in no way second tier in performance. It is a truly long range weapon for deer.  Those who are in “the know” appreciate its’ characteristics.  Ammo is not difficult to come by.  It is a very flat shooting cartridge with a little more punch than the less powerful .243 class of rounds; however it has noticeably less recoil than its’ .30-06 parent, its .270 brother, or cousin .308  in a rifle of the same weight.  Rifles chambered for the .25-06 ( as well as other cases in its’ family tree) will be longer than those based off of a .308 (such as the .243) because the case itself is longer.  However, if you think Elk hunting is a definite maybe, long distance hunting is your thing, and especially if the shooter does not enjoy the heavier recoil of .270,  a .25-06 is a superb choice.

.270 Winchester – Debuting in 1925 the .270 is probably the second most famous and 1st most fervently marketed North American hunting round.  It is the .30-06’s younger brother and the darling of many a gun writer and rocky mountain hunter, especially its’ chief prophet Jack O’Connor.  It is perfectly capable of killing anything in North America including bears and moose as long as the shooter does their job.  That job is made slightly easier because it has slightly less recoil than its larger brethren.  It has been revered for its’ flat shooting ways, and is still a favored out West for elk and sheep. Every hunting rifle manufacturer chambers rifles for it and ammo will be on every gun store, bait shop, and gas station shelf come opening day here in Missouri.

The last two are sort of in the wildcard slot.  They are both effective rounds with a lot of promise, but they are not as popular yet as the others in this list.  However, they do present some interesting choices that not everyone at deer camp will be using.

6.5 Creedmoor- the newest belle to the ball here, although she has been around about 10 years now, many are still not familiar with her.  Another cartridge originally chambered in the AR platform, it has now progressed to being offered in many bolt action rifles.  Ballistically hitting the sweet spot between a .243 and a .308 a .243 might shoot slightly flatter, and a .308 will hit  slightly harder.  But the Creedmoor is a darling at long distance, and nothing seems to buck wind like she does.  The main drawback for hunting with this round at this time is that, while pretty plentiful, ammo is not quite as readily available, as diverse, nor as cheap as the other three.  However, it is available in many different rifles including the AR10 style rifles that are very popular today.

.300blk Another round perceived as new.  There are many interesting things to say about .300 Blackout.  It was designed to be shot suppressed & subsonic with heavy bullets,  or with standard powered ammo.. The supersonic ammo is more powerful than the .223, at the expense of distance.  It fits into a standard AR with only a barrel change.    The long and short of it is this, it is a nifty cartridge and it is probably going to be around a long time.  It was designed for and functions as AK Style power level in an AR15 rifle.  That is to say it is roughly .30-30 class.  In fact, ballistically the AK round, the .30-30 and the .300 blk are pretty similar.  So, inside 125 yards with the proper bullet it should be all is needed for deer or hogs.  It was designed for the AR but it is being chambered in several bolt guns these days.  The attractiveness of this chambering in an AR platform is the recoil reducing effect of the AR design and the ease at which the guns are adjusted to fit small shooters.

Continue to Part Two