If you want to know the best caliber for deer hunting, then good luck sorting through and reading the almost endless supply of articles, blog posts, and videos that Google will throw at you.
Knowing the worst deer hunting calibers is not only great information to have, but it will inadvertently provide you with the answer to the best deer hunting calibers.
Just because it is a rifle, doesn’t make it worthy of hunting deer. So, let’s take a look at those calibers that fall short and end up in the category as the worst deer hunting calibers.
Parameters for Failure
Ok, we need to set out the parameters for a caliber to be deemed unsuitable for deer hunting, in this case, we will stick with the whitetail as our reference for deer.
Now it is important to mention that when talking about deer hunting, we mean the ethical and efficient killing of the animal with the least number of shots. The ability to recover as much meat as possible and having minimal damage to the cape or skin.
At the same time, we are excluding shot placement, because that is not in direct relation to the rifle itself. Yes, it does matter but there are many variables when it comes to shot placement. We need to focus on the rifle caliber itself.
This will be directly associated with calibers that produce low energy readings and lack the power to effectively penetrate and hit the deer’s vital organs
There is a right and a wrong caliber when it comes to deer hunting. A large caliber may be too excessive causing unnecessary damage and alternatively a caliber that is too small and does not provide sufficient energy or velocity performance.
Excessive bullet drop
Trajectory is an important aspect when it comes to deer hunting, not only over long distances but within 200-yards too. Most calibers that are excellent deer hunting rifles all have tight and flat shooting trajectories.
A deer hunting rifle has a certain feel about it. Hunting is a personal experience, everyone hunts differently and gets out of it something unique in their own way, so a rifle needs to match that.
A poorly made rifle that offers no customization, attention to detail, or unique designs that are meant to improve your chances of a successful hunt should also be seen as unsuitable for deer hunting.
You can’t kill it if you can’t hit it. There are rifles out there that have reputations for just being terribly inaccurate.
This may tie in closely to the factor of shot placement but in our opinion, a caliber that does not consistently shoot on target is considered a bad deer hunting caliber.
Weight and comfort
That’s right, there is more to hunting than simply pulling the trigger. Carrying a heavy rifle through the woods or over hilltops can have a negative effect on the way one shoots.
Your heart will already be racing when you see that deer through the scope, so it doesn’t help being out of breath or having fatigued arms from lugging around a heavy rifle.
.222 Remington and less
The first caliber of the list is always going to raise a few eyebrows. Now we know at some point either yourself, an uncle, or someone at hunting camp has a story of taking down deer with a .222 Remington or any of the lower calibers.
Remember, we are looking at the detailed specifications of each caliber and putting together an informative piece that is aimed at educating new hunters, not feeding the egos of those who don’t mind spending 2-days tracking wounded deer.
A rule of thumb is that a minimum energy of 1,000 ft-lbs is needed to effectively kill a whitetail deer. The .222 Rem on average produces 1,091 ft-lbs at the muzzle, so unless you are close enough where you can scratch the deer behind its shoulder with the barrel of your rifle, it already fails in producing sufficient energy for an ethical kill shot.
I can almost hear you muttering about shot placement and distance under your breath while reading this, but we need to stick within the parameters set out.
There is no denying that commercially produced .222 Remington rifles are in most cases very well designed, highly accurate, and lightweight, but the low energy reading would lead to insufficient penetration and that alone makes it a bad choice for deer hunting.
.44 Magnum Rifle
While we would all secretly love to hunt non-stop with a .44 Magnum and whisper lines from the movie Dirty Harry, before pulling the trigger, sadly the .44 Magnum rifle falls well short in a few parameters when it comes to hunting deer.
Having a quick look over at a few of the ballistics readings, while the bullet exits the muzzle with a solid 1,214 ft-lbs. of energy, it quickly loses a large portion of that over 75-yards to read an energy of 964 ft-lbs.
The trajectory is also fairly steep with a drop of 24.6” at 200-yards when zeroed at 100-yards. Those figures are understandable considering the bullet is a hefty 300-grains.
These figures slightly improve however, when the .44 is loaded with 225-grain Hornady FTX bullet. The energy somewhat increases to 1,002 ft-lbs. at 100-yards and the 200-yard is almost halved to 13.4”, so does that then mean the .44 Magnum rifle is sufficient for deer hunting? Not quite.
In terms of caliber, some have felt comfortable targeting elk or even bear with the .44 Magnum rifle, but when you are looking at a caliber that likes to hang around in the company of the .416 Rigby, .425 Westley Richards, and .450 Bushmaster, then a .44 Magnum is an excessive caliber for simply hunting deer.
.7mm Remington Ultra Mag
Ok, so we may be nit picking a little here with the .7mm Ultra Mag, but this decision is based purely on noise and recoil. With an almost deafening 166.5 dB reading and recoil energy of 29.4 ft-lbs. this caliber barks and bites at the same time.
Yes, all the ballistics align just fine for it to successfully kill a deer, but there needs to be a degree of comfort when firing a deer rifle, and such an ambush to your senses can lead to developing bad habits and trigger snapping.
If using a .7mm is firmly set in your mind, then simply go with the .7mm Rem. A reduction in recoil and longer barrel life will ultimately benefit you in the long term, unless your intention is to pick off deer at over 700-yards then by all means use the RUM.
Now before you start throwing out the standard response of “This cartridge has killed more deer than any other” against anyone that dare question the .30-30, let me reiterate a few things.
Firstly, any caliber that has been around since the late 1800s is going to rack up quite the kill list. But if we have a look at the cartridge itself, specifically the .30-30 Winchester, I will have to ask the following question.
If it were invented today, against all the similar calibers and cartridges that we have available to us now, would it be so popular amongst deer hunters?
Looking at the actual shape of the bullet, the flat-nosed tip is standard on the rimmed .30-30 Winchester cartridge this is due to the tubular magazines common to .30-30 lever-action rifles.
It is this very shape, which leads to the downfall in performance. The rounded shape or flat nose means they waste much of their energy in flight due to air resistance and drag.
An insightful article by Ron Spomer highlights the somewhat weak performance of the .30-30 Winchester with some poor ballistic readings. A muzzle energy of 1,686 ft-lbs. quickly diminishes to 727 ft-lbs at 200-yards. Throw in a drop of -12” at 250-yards and any deer hunter would question adding the .30-30 to their arsenal.
A military designed rifle caliber that has somehow snuck onto the hunting fields of the US. Sadly, this rifle is hopelessly outclassed by most rifle rounds, it is however more powerful than many pistol rounds turned deer hunting cartridges such as .357 Magnum and .45 colt.
Distance of shots are generally restricted to around 100-yards, for optimal performance keep it at 50-yards, for those that hunt strictly from the blind and have no intention of venturing out past 100-yards and enjoy the nostalgia of hunting with a military based caliber then, by all means, the .30 Carbine is for you.
For everyone else, why place the restriction on yourself and place doubt in your mind if you see a nice deer standing broadside at 200-yards.
Talking of restrictive, the .30 Carbine is not welcome in many states, and be sure to check if there are magazine restrictions in your state if you are hunting with the M1 Carbine.
Ok, not so much a caliber per se, but still a hunting rifle. The Blaser R93 has had some issues, and we did mention previously in the article that even a poorly designed rifle is enough to deem it not worthy for deer hunting.
The Blaser R93’s issue centers around the pull bolt that allows for quick reloading by simply pulling it back in a straight movement.
The straight pull locking mechanism can and has malfunctioned, causing the bolt to fly back and hit the shooter in the face. One counter argument to this is that it only really happens with hand loads and over pressured ammunition. But why take the risk?
Blaser being the standup and excellent company they are, would have addressed this issue but their lack of confidence is obvious with them forever pushing and marketing the Blaser R8.
This one’s for hunters looking to take down deer in Idaho. State laws restrict the hunting of deer with any firearm that weighs in excess of 16 lbs. With the 50 BMG coming in around a hefty 30 lbs chances are the warden won’t be too pleased with you.
For everyone else hunting outside the boundaries of Idaho, do we really need to go into detail as to why a .50 BMG is a bad choice for deer hunting? A 750-grain bullet on an animal weighing around 150-pounds may be a little excessive.
It begs the question of ethics but also practicality and logic. For the majority, hunting is a means to provide food for their family and friends. Hitting a deer with a round from a .50 BMG is not going to leave much meat behind to feed a family, let alone share some spoils with your friends.
.404 Jeffrey and higher
We mentioned the .50 BMG which obviously falls within this category also, that was a bit of a fun mention and tongue-in-cheek but with regards to the .404 Jeffrey and up, they really are not ideal for deer hunting.
Could one argue the range of .375’s may also be a bit excessive and fall within this category? Well possibly, but there is a very good place for the .375 within deer hunting and that is a talk for another day.
Don’t get us wrong, there is almost nothing truly negative with these calibers and associated rifles, in fact some of the finest quality rifles with mind blowing price tags, fall into this category, but we need to stay true to the context of this article.
Calibers with hard hitting recoils, notoriously sharp dropping trajectories and bullet weights producing the type of muzzle energy that are not only enough to produce ample penetration on a deer but at the same time can drop a bull elephant literally in its tracks, can be considered a touch excessive.
Humor aside, you get the point we are trying to make. These calibers are certainly overkill and all things considered such as price, ammo availability and ethics, they can be classified as the worst deer hunting calibers.
So often in hunting, the phrase of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” comes up. We as hunters are spoiled with the quality hunting calibers and rifles that lay before us. We have grandfathers and their fathers to thank for that.
Yes, every caliber and rifle mentioned above has at some point killed a deer, but we need to encourage new hunters into this wonderful lifestyle of ours and these types of articles can only serve as a means of assistance in helping them make an informed decision.
Just because we have included them under the word, “Worst” doesn’t prevent anyone from using any of those calibers and adapting them to their preferred hunting style.
Ok, fine I will add it in for those who disagreed with each caliber mentioned. Shot placement is more important than the choice in caliber. Happy now?