Editor’s Note: This week I’m trying to answer the question everyone asks at this time of year, “What’s the best deer rifle and bullet for me?” I’ll tell you about some of my favorite deer rifles and why. I’ve also included information from the readers of numerous deer-hunting Facebook groups who’ve answered this question for me. Someone may mention your favorite rifle, as well as others you don’t like. However, remember, this is a look at the various rifles preferred by hunters across the country, who hunt different kinds of terrain. You may be surprised at some of the exotic guns mentioned, but also will find interesting the outdoorsmen who have hunted with the same guns their entire lives. Let me know if this column helps you to decide what deer rifle is best for you or gives you new ideas on a deer-hunting rifle. Comment at email@example.com.
With my son, John, more or less laying claim to my Browning .243, I decided to try a Remington 6mm. I had learned from my friend, John Lanier at Bent Creek Lodge (See Day 2) that, “It’s not the size of the bullet, or the speed of the bullet that brings down the deer. It’s where you place that bullet that determines whether you bag the buck or not.” Of course, the day Lanier gave me those words of wisdom, I was shooting a .243. I took a buck, and he fell in the same tracks where he’d been standing.
In the South, most of the shots we get will be less than 100 yards. Well, let me clarify that a little bit. When I first started hunting with my Remington 6mm, I believed, if I saw a buck, I could take him with that gun. It would reach out and touch a deer at much longer ranges than the shotgun I’d been shooting. With that new telescopic sight, I could see quickly and clearly where to aim. So, I made the brag, “If I see a buck with this gun, I can take him.” However, after completely missing five consecutive bucks with my 6mm, I decided that I needed to hunt with that Remington 6mm like I hunted with my 2-3/4 inch 12 gauge. I wasn’t going to take a shot at more than 50 or 60 yards and would take my time before I squeezed the trigger. In most woods that I was hunting in at that time, I couldn’t see more than 60 yards, perhaps because in those days clear-cutting timber wasn’t the standard timbering practice.
After sighting-in my Remington 6mm, it became my new favorite gun. I took the biggest Montana whitetail that I’ve ever taken with that little rifle, and the buck weighed just a smidge over 300 pounds. Again bullet placement is more important than the caliber of the rifle or the size and the speed of the bullet – at least it is to me.
We asked Facebook’s deer-hunting groups this question, “In your opinion, what is the best hunting rifle – caliber and make – for taking deer and why?” Here are some of the answers from these Facebook groups.
* Dustin Warnke – Well, I use a .270. Wish I had it in a short mag, but I have used a .243, a .22- .250, and a .308. I would like to get a .25-06 that I feel would be best, small, fast caliber flat shooting.
* Pat Pierce – Depending on the area – brush country (125 yards or less) a .30-30. For more open country (150 to 400 yards), a .25-06. But I really like head or neck shots, and yes, I have head shot some large bucks (27+ spread). I still have not found a good recipe for eating antlers
* Chad Crumpton – Definitely depends on the terrain you’re hurting. But if I just had one choice, it would be a .243.
* Dale Steinecke – Love my TC Encore .50 Cal. Muzzleloader.
* Corey Crenshaw – Depends on law. In Ohio, we can’t use regular rifles, but we can use straight wall cartridge rifles, so then it would hard to beat a .444 Marlin round, a CVA Scout V2 in .444 Marlin, but I would say a good all-around caliber is a .243. You can shoot 55 grain for coyotes and shoot over 100 grain for deer, wide range weapon.
* Ryan Hamm – A .308 – since it’s a short action. Browning X-bolt since it’s a short bolt throw.
* Edd Willingham – I love my .30-06 model 700 Remington. Simple, reliable and affordable. You can kill any large game in North America with it, and you can find quality ammo at most any sporting-goods store.
* Jeff May – It all depends on the application. I like my .270 WBY Magnum for hunting in expansive food plots in Alabama and the Midwest. In thick cover, I prefer my Ruger .44 Magnum Carbine. But I would much rather be hunting with my Mathews Chill-X. Good hunting, gentlemen!
* Erick Rayfield – .25-06 – has less recoil and is flat shooting, in Thompson Center Pro Hunter.
* Jeff Waddell – I love my .308. Awesome knockdown power.
* Dale Martin – Shot more deer with a Remington 742 auto in .30-06. Used it for 25 years. Like my 700 in .320-06 now.
* Jason E Elam – Caliber for me is .308. I love it. I have 3 different guns in .308 that I will take, depending on the farm.
* Michael Caudill – Me too. Old Winchester bolt action weighs about 9 pounds. Tack driver. It’s between that and the .45 caliber Hawken. Love my patch and ball too.
* Jacob Corbitt – .30-30 Winchester lever action with iron sights, cause nothing is better.
* Zach Wilmoth – I use a 12 gauge slug. Still it’s hard for me to change. The slug doesn’t go far, and it easily goes through the brush to take a deer.
* Andrew Purcell – The .300 WSM – short bolt throw, easy to find ammo, hits like a thunderbolt, doubles as an elk gun.
* Brian Carnahan – I love my .270. Shoots flat from close to far and leaves a good hole in the deer with a 130 grain Hornady SST.
* Nate Zimmerman – Used same .308 since I was 15. I can’t count how many deer it has taken (15 last 4years alone). I love it. Hardly ever have to track, even when hunting in thick brush.
* Jeff Fields – I’m really starting to like my 6.5 Creedmoor.
* Justin Lowe – I never went hunting with anything but my .300 Win Mag until I fell in love with the 6.5 Grendel 5.56 recoil with .308 ballistics. Can’t beat it.
Hunting 4 Connections:
* Greg Davis: .30-06. Plenty of power and big enough to hunt any game in North America.
* RichCecelia Rowley: I personally prefer the 7mm-.08 in a lightweight bolt action. Works well for me.
* Michael Coleman – The best hunting rifle is the one you feel most comfortable with and have practiced. Personally I prefer a .30-06 left-handed, bolt-action rifle.
* Jim Sconyers – : You said deer. Not one on the planet needs to be shot with anything larger than a .270 caliber. Of course, it has to held by a shooter and have a good placement !!!
* Blake Collins – .30-30 kills more deer than any rifle will ever see.
* Ron Lingford – A .270. Good knockdown power and excellent range. Can take most large North American game any day of the week. Let’s not forget to put a good Leupold scope on it. The better the optics – the better the shooter.
* Randy Seay – .308 Savage Stainless. Best gun I’ve had. Don’t track many. Plenty of knock- down and accurate little gun.
* Wayne Graves – .308 Winchester model 88. I’ve been killing whitetail bucks since 1965 with this rifle. You don’t need anything bigger. If you use anything larger, you’re wasting money and meat !!!
* Harry Leonard Sourwine – .243! Low recoil, plenty of knock-down power for whitetails. Very flat shooting round.
* Wesley Watring – 7mm rem. Mag. Winchester model 70 using Winchester ballistic silver tips. Drops deer in their tracks, no blood trails, and no losing the deer. I can shoot up to 1,000 yards with it. Longest range shot I’ve actually taken on a live deer though was a little over 600. That gun has never let me down. However, got to be a real man to handle the kick. Gotta be able to hit stuff at 100 yards before trying to go for 500-yard shots.
* Buck Buchanan – When my dad was a kid, he quit school in the fifth grade, grabbed a few supplies and lived off the land. His nick name was Tarpaulin, because his bedroll was rolled into a tarp and carried with a rope slung across his shoulder. He had a single shot .22 that he had to pull spent hulls out of with a knife. He killed lots of game to feed himself, including deer with well-placed shots. I’ve used everything from a .223 to a .45-70 and laid deer down with one shot. If I had to choose one big game rifle, it would be in .30-06. If I had to choose one long gun, it would be a 12 gauge shotgun that has sights for firing rifled slugs, buckshot and bird shot like my Winchester Marine pump.
* Kenny Dale Pardee – .308. No tracking dog needed. In 38 years hunting with one, never lost but one deer. Haven’t had one move in about 4 years.
I want to thank all of you who responded to my question. I’m sorry that space didn’t allow me to use everyone’s comments. Thanks again for your help.
To learn more about deer hunting, go to for John E. Phillips’ Kindle, Create Space and Audible books at johninthewild.com/books/#deer and to www.barnesandnoble.com for Nook books. For a free download on how to make jerky, visit johninthewild.com/free-books.