Too often the image of deer hunting is the long-range, miracle shot across a deep mountain ravine in excess of 800 yards. The truth is that more deer are taken at distances less than 200 yards than at any other range.
With that in mind, you don’t need high end optics, a long range cartridge, and special support for shots that close.
What you do need is an effective caliber regardless of the platform you’re shooting from.
What is the Best Deer Caliber Under 300 Yards?
The 7 best calibers under 300 yards:
- 6 mm creedmoor
We’ll look at some statistical information on trajectory, speed, and power in various calibers, but this question is one that fills the night in deer camp, or the hunting lodge with experienced, and novice alike throwing in their opinions on which caliber is best.
In the reviews of popular calibers given below, we’ll try to mix scientific fact with personal choice and provide a good idea of what works best when taking deer at ranges under 300 yards.
What Does it Take to Humanly Harvest a Deer?
The first consideration is power, the standard for ethically taking any big game is 1,000 pounds of energy on target.
That doesn’t mean at the muzzle, but where the deer is in reference to where you are shooting. In this review, we’ll only consider calibers that deliver the 1,000-pound minimum at 300-yards.
This excludes the very popular .223 from our list. The .223 is the most popular cartridge in AR style platforms, and is fine at shorter distances, but doesn’t have the punch.
The .308 Does the Job
My deer rifle since 1980 has been a Remington Model 788 in .308 caliber. I’ve taken 40 mule deer and a single whitetail buck with this rifle over the last four decades.
The longest shot was 560 yards, but almost every other buck was taken from 100 to 300 yards away.
The .308 shoots flat at 200 yards, and has just an eight inch drop at 300, it is a power round, commonly available in boxed ammunition in 150 or 180-grain bullets. The 150 grain does the job on deer.
The .25-06 Compact Power
When Remington necked down a .30-06 shell casing to create the .25-06 they created an instant favorite among deer hunters.
The .25-06 is fast, shoots flat at 200 yards, and has just a 6.5-inch drop at 300 yards. The round is on the cusp of energy at 300 yards, but it is a favorite among short to mid-distance deer hunters.
The muzzle velocity is a plus in windy conditions, with the bullet arriving on target with minimal drift.
This is a handy pocket guide you can bring with you to the field. It will take you step by step on how to field dress big game animals
The .243 Light Recoil with a Powerful Punch
Firing the smallest bullet in our review at 80 grains, it compensates with a muzzle velocity of 3325 feet per second. The energy at 300 yards is 1012 pounds, and the bullet drop is the smallest at 300 yards along with the 6mm Creedmoor at just 6.1 inches.
Conventional wisdom among deer hunters is that the .243 has taken more mule deer and whitetails over the last few decades than any other cartridge.
The 6mm Creedmoor the New Kid on the Block
The 6mm Creedmoor steps out of the limited range category into a truly effective long-distance caliber, but it is deadly effective under 300 yards as well.
Competitive shoots report three-shot patterns smaller than a dime consistently on paper at 200 yards. The 95-grain bullet drops just 6.1 inches at 300 yards and delivers an impressive 1261 pounds of energy at that distance.
A relatively new cartridge, that is more expensive to buy than the more traditional calibers examined here, the 6mm Creedmoor is considered the most effective round in windy conditions, expressing only three degrees of drift in a 30 mile per hour crosswind at 300 yards.
The Venerable “Brush Gun” the .30-30
This cartridge arrives with a caveat, it is the only one reviewed here that doesn’t have the power at 300 yards to humanly harvest a deer.
The 831 foot pounds of energy at 300 falls below our threshold, but we mention this caliber since it has a longer lifespan as a deer cartridge than any of the others.
The .30-30 is great when firing a 140-grain bullet through brush and has little deflection, but it acts like there is a parachute attached once it flies beyond 250 yards.
The energy, and velocity drop quickly, and the bullet drop at 300 yards is the largest in this review at 12.8 inches.
Arguably the Best Cartridge Ever Designed for Deer, the .270
The only complaint deer hunters have with the .270 is the bullet drop at 300 yards and beyond. It is substantial but adjustable at 9.1 inches at 300 yards.
Beyond that adjustment, a 120-grain bullet in .270 caliber brings power, high muzzle velocity, the ability to work through shrubs and sagebrush, and minimal drift thanks to its relatively fast 2675 feet per second muzzle velocity.
It retains power on target at 300 yards and was an instant hit among hunters when it hit the market.
Back to World War I, the Venerable .30-06
Loud, obnoxious with its substantial recoil, and delivering the most power of any cartridge in this review, the .30-06 is the go to standard for many deer hunters.
Firing the largest bullet at 150 grains along with the .308, the .30-06 is faster at the barrel and has an on target velocity at 300 yards comparable to the 6mm Creedmoor.
The 1948 pounds of energy at 300 yards outdistances the second place .308 by almost 300 pounds. Add in an excellent bullet drop at 300 yards of only 6.4 inches and you have a great cartridge for close to mid-range deer hunting.
Velocity (Feet Per Second)
Energy (Ft. Pounds)
Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)
|Cartridge||Grain||200 yds||300 yds|
There are a lot of choices in finding the perfect short to mid-range cartridge for deer hunting. From the versatility, and light recoil of the .243 to the artillery style power of the .30-06 there is a cartridge that fits the needs of every hunter.
Some are well established like the .30-30 and .30-06 dating back over a century to the old west and the battlefields of Europe in the Great War.
Others represent huge jumps in technology like the 6mm Creedmoor, while still others expanded existing technology into unique applications as the .25-06, and .308 have.
Which cartridge you choose depends on the type of hunting you plan. There are cartridges that work better in the wind, ones that have lighter recoil, and others that deliver a large piece of lead at high energy on target.
Pick the one that fits your needs and go with it.