Can You Kill Deer With a .22?

For most outdoorsmen, the .22 is a fun round, one they learn to shoot with and might now use to plink cans or for target practice.

Some might enjoy using their favorite .22 to take some small game or vermin. But, at some point, many will wonder “can a .22 take down a deer?”.

The short answer is – yes, you can kill a deer with a .22. Of course, the same could be said about a large rock, spear, or even a knife. The real question becomes whether killing a deer with a .22 is ethical or effective.

What is a .22 Capable of?

The .22 has long been a favorite caliber for taking small game, dispatching larger animals after wounded or trapped, and even reported to have been used in countless murders of humans. But does this make it viable for the taking of a deer?

Let’s compare the .22 to some of the more commonly used deer hunting rounds:

CaliberMuzzle Velocity (fps)Muzzle Energy (ft.lbs)
.270 WIN34502907
.308 WIN28202648

Although a muzzle velocity of 1435 fps is nothing to sneeze at it is the muzzle energy that is of concern. Even at close range, this is a minimal amount of energy.

At less than 50 yards it is enough to provide an accurate shot, perfect for target shooting. It is also enough to accurately target and kill small game.


But a deer?  No, it is unlikely that a .22 would provide the energy necessary to penetrate and kill a deer. A bone, thick area of muscle or fat, even a heavy coat would potentially stop the round from penetrating enough to produce a kill shot.


Aside from difficulty penetrating the deer itself, there would be other factors likely to limit the effectiveness of a .22 Long Range of course would be a concern.

As range increased both velocity and energy would decrease, further limiting its effectiveness. But something as simple as a stiff breeze or a small branch could cause your bullet to deflect and fail to hit your target or cause it to lose so much energy that it would be no more lethal than a bee sting.

How to Kill a Deer With a .22

Killing a deer with a .22 is not impossible but at other than extremely close range it would be difficult. A successful kill shot would require excellent shot placement, near-perfect conditions, and superior knowledge of deer anatomy.

Your shot would need to be from close range, preferably under 50 yards. You would need almost perfect conditions with little or no wind, an unobstructed shooting lane, and a stationary target. The round would also need to strike a vital organ without first hitting bone or muscle. There would be almost no room for error.

If you were to miss your intended target quick follow-up shots are likely, but how effective would they be on a moving target?

Would you be able to hit a vital area on the move and effect a quick kill? Or would you make multiple less-than-lethal hits resulting in a wounded deer that would suffer or perhaps succumb long after it has been lost?

Is it Legal to Kill a Deer With a .22?

Most states have legal limitations concerning the calibers that can be used to take big game, including deer.


Although it may be legal to use a .22 for small game, to dispatch animals when trapped, or maybe even dispatching big game when injured they do not allow this round as a primary hunting round for the big game. 


After reviewing the information above it is easy to understand why officials would be hesitant to allow hunting with smaller caliber rounds, such as the .22.

Although fish and game officials are in the business of providing additional hunting opportunities to as many sportsmen as possible, it is also their responsibility to ensure such opportunities are in keeping with the ethics of hunting.

Due to the severe limitations of the .22, it is unlikely that it would provide for an ethical, clean kill. Most hunters lack the skills needed to use the round for big game and although they may shoot many deer they would not succeed in harvesting the animals.

The result would be wounded deer or those that would suffer for hours, or even days, before succumbing to their injuries. The animal would likely never be found before the meat being rendered uneatable.

The best chance for success would be a headshot. At close range, most .22 rounds would be capable of penetrating the skull of a deer and the lack of penetration would work to your advantage.

Because the round is unlikely to exit the skull the most probable result would be massive brain trauma from both the initial shot and ricocheting within the skull. 

At other than extreme close range you would need to target the brain stem area. While this provides a very small target, only a few square inches, it does provide the best opportunity for a clean, quick kill.

Before selecting any weapon platform or cartridge for hunting, whether it be deer or any other species, be sure to check your local regulations.

Selecting a round that is legal for the taking of big game will not only protect you from unnecessary legal trouble but also help ensure you have a firearm capable of completing the task at hand.

Why Would You Want to Kill a Deer With a .22 ?

Despite its limitations, there are times when the .22 may be your only available option for harvesting deer. Survival situations are probably the most likely of these scenarios.

An outdoorsman trapped or lost in the wilderness, or living off the grid, may have access to a .22 and a need to harvest food. Deer, due to their size and abundance, would be a likely target.

A .22 rifle is a favorite among survivalists. It is a lightweight, cost-effective firearm that is readily available. With little or no recoil, it can also be used by a wide range of shooters with varying levels of experience.

Furthermore, .22 ammunition is cheap. This means a person could outfit themselves with a reliable firearm and countless rounds of ammunition that could be easily transported or stored at a low cost.

If faced with a survival situation, armed with a .22, and facing the opportunity to take a deer you would want to maximize your advantages.

Set up a hunting location that allows you to get as close as possible to the target. Make sure this location is protected from strong winds and offers an obstruction-free shooting lane.

Finally, is you have access to bait or attractant, create a feeding location. Not only will this attract deer but also potentially cause them to stop, stand motionless, and provide the best opportunity for lethal shot placement.


Yes, it is possible to kill a deer with a .22. Although most states do not allow it to be used legally, and that is unlikely to change, it is nonetheless possible.

If you find yourself in a survival situation, one that requires you to harvest meat to live and removes any legal concerns, you could use a .22 to do so.

The round itself is easy to obtain, lightweight enough to carry large supplies long distances, and capable of being mastered by almost any shooter. However, its limitations are equal to its advantages and, as a hunting round, is best left to small game or vermin.

A kill shot on a deer is possible with a .22 if you possess the skills needed to make such a shot and all the conditions are in your favor.

With the increased options available in more capable yet still lightweight rounds and firearms it would be to your advantage to only use a .22 as a last-ditch option when hunting deer.

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