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What kind of bullet performance does it take to kill a deer? Good question! This article was inspired by someone in the forum asking me a similar question, so I dug out some books and put on the ol' thinking cap and got to work. I call this an essay on hunting cartridge performance - a look at foot-pounds of energy, Taylor knock-out values, and the real world.

What Does it Take to Kill a Deer?

Comments

December 2, 2006 at 3:11 pm
(1) Andrew Brown says:

Your opinions of the minimum deer cartridge seem to have been pulled out of thin air, rather than developed from any real evidence. The idea that a gun such as a .243 is inadequate is idiotic, just as the idea that all children should be given 30-06 is. I hunt in Indiana where rifles are illegal, so I hunt with a single shot pistol(an encore), after shooting several deer, one over 200 pounds dressed, with a .243 win (a 100gr bullet @ 2430 ft/s at the muzzle) without having one of them make it further than fifty yards before expiring. Iíve also killed a deer, 230 pound dressed, with a squib load from a 7 tcu (145gr bullet @1400 ft/s at the muzzle). I was squirrel hunting (during deer season obviously) with my deer gun for practice, and a 10 point with 26 inch spread walked by at 90 yards. I shot him in the spine and he never moved.

Trying to explain killing power in purely terms of physics is a mistake. The effectiveness of a shot is actually a question of anatomy. Simple put, what a bullet destroys, and how important to the animal is that. Inuit shoot swimming polar bears in the head with .22s and kill them, because even though a .22lr does not do much tissue damage, one does not have to scramble much grey matter to kill something. Similarly, every year thousands of gut shot deer hit with 12 gauge shots run away and die of infection. The only deer I have ever shot at that made it further than fifty yards was with a Savage smokeless powder muzzleloader (300gr bullet @ 2200 ft/s at the muzzle). I flinched because that thing kicks like a mule. I hit the deer in the neck and it ran 300 yards before dying. There is such thing as overkill, not to the deer, but to the hunter. For every bit of momentum, that hits the deer a least as much hit the hunter in the form of recoil. If a gun kicks so hard that a hunter never practices with it then it is not an effective deer cartridge. An skilled shooter hunting with .22 hornet is more ethical than the hunter who shoots 3 shots a year with a 30-06. A .243 win out of a 15 in barrel or a .357 mag out of 6 in barrel is more than sufficient to cleanly kill a whitetail deer

Andrew Brown

December 2, 2006 at 9:59 pm
(2) hunting says:

Oh, please. Not another one who blindly loves his pea-shooter.

Yes, deer can be killed with small bore rifles. They can even be killed with 22s. The question is not CAN they be used to kill deer, but SHOULD they.

Humans – that is, those of us who sometimes make mistakes because we don’t hit perfect every time – really do need a margin of error built into any deer hunting cartridge we use. If we don’t hit the perfect spot every time, we need to ensure that the deer still goes down – and stays down.

And blaming your poor bullet placement on a gun’s recoil? Shame on you. I have never felt recoil when shooting at game anyhow, so why be afraid of a little kick? It’s not going to hurt you.

Happy hunting,

- Russ Chastain

June 8, 2007 at 12:57 pm
(3) Johnny says:

So, You have never flinched. Is that what you are saying? Then I say that you haven’t practiced with a rifle that kicks. If it kicks you during practice, you’re going to expect it to kick you during a real world hunting shot. I can appreciate that an adrenaline surge lessens the felt kick, but your problem seems to be the inability see things from other people’s standpoints. Fortunately, your inabilities do not govern the laws of physics nor the power of any sized piece of lead to end the life of any animal. In my 59 years of life I’ve taken 47 deer with rifles from .22wmr (never have tried with a .22lr) to .30/06. Also with .410 slugs and 20 and 12 ga. buckshot. Hunter skills and marksmanship are as important as any other factor in the final analysis.

June 8, 2007 at 6:38 pm
(4) Russ says:

What’s this about flinching? Flinching is something that any good shooter strives to overcome, especially with a gun he (or she) will use for hunting.

You are talking nonsense when you say I haven’t ever practiced with a rifle that kicks. I’ve hunted and taken game with 30-06, 270 Win, 308 Win, 45-70, 44 Mag, and 338 Win Mag, among others. All of them kick, some more than others. I have put quite a number of rounds through them all, at the range and in the field.

Flinching is entirely mental. If you fear a gun’s recoil and try to anticipate it and thus compensate, you will flinch. This usually means you won’t hit where you are aiming.

So, don’t be afraid of a gun’s kick. It’s not going to hurt you if you take the right measures. Get a proper recoil pad if the gun bruises you up at the range, or simply use some kind of a pad on your shoulder. Or, take a little pain at the range and ignore it. Don’t let it get a hold on your mind. It is not going to hurt you.

You say, “If it kicks you during practice, you’re going to expect it to kick you during a real world hunting shot.” That’s true – but it shouldn’t matter, because the kick comes after the shot. Concentrate on making the shot, aiming aiming aiming, and let the shot surprise you. That’s how you should always fire a gun.

If you flinch because you’re afraid of the kick, you have screwed up. Ask anyone with experience and good sense, and they will tell you that flinching is nobody’s fault but the shooter’s, and that flinching is a very bad habit that should be avoided and un-learned ASAP.

Now, I never said I hadn’t ever screwed up. I have missed deer and other critters before. Maybe I flinched, I don’t really know why I missed each time, but I have certainly done it. Was it the gun’s (or the cartridge’s) fault? Never. Like it or not, my missing was always my fault.

Your use of teeny cartridges to take deer isn’t something to be proud of in my opinion, no matter who you are, or how old. As I said before, the question isn’t whether a small cartridge can be used, but whether it should be used.

One thing on which you and I agree is this: “Hunter skills and marksmanship are as important as any other factor in the final analysis.” And hunter skills and marksmanship are just exactly what I’ve been talking about in this reply to your comment.

Russ

July 19, 2008 at 3:54 pm
(5) grant says:

a .243 is a high powered rifle and i feel bad that u have not and maybe never have a experince a .243. we do not exspect 2 much, u uderestimate it. u go hunt with it and hit (right) and u not find then u can judge this great rifle

July 19, 2008 at 9:43 pm
(6) Russ Chastain says:

I won’t hunt big game with a puny rifle. I have been around enough hunters who use 243s. Good hunters, too. And they kill deer. They also lose deer.

Deer can be lost with larger cartridges, too, but not as often, simply because they do more damage. When you make a marginal shot (and we all do that from time to time), more damage can make a huge difference in whether you recover your game or not.

Use what you want. I happen to think it’s not enough gun for responsible hunting.

Happy hunting,

Russ

July 29, 2008 at 9:06 pm
(7) 243 lover says:

i shot a 200 lbs + deer at 223 yards with my .243 and dropped it with a shot to the heart. id rather be more accurate then just blowing the deer away. more ethical and alot less work to clean!

July 29, 2008 at 9:07 pm
(8) mac says:

The 243 win is a good deer rifle for anyone who likes to shoot.I’ve hunted with a 30-30,270,and 30-06. I can say that the 30-30 and 270 are not among my favorite because I had deer heart shots get away. 243win and 30-06 1 shot 1 kill 243 I use 95 grain sst’s and the 30-06 150 grains btsp sierras.

August 1, 2008 at 9:40 pm
(9) TJ says:

Sorry Mac, but the joke is on you or at least on your lack of aiming. No game animal can live through a heart shot. Either you missed or are a very poor tracker, either way you look at it it is’nt the 30-30 or the 270s fault.

August 2, 2008 at 2:05 am
(10) Russ says:

243 Lover, good for you on that long shot. Accuracy is a wonderful thing.

How many deer have you shucked that were “blown away,” as you put it? How many in total? In my experience, any cartridge has the potential to make a big mess.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d rather have the extra oomph and not need it than to need it and not have it. If I lose a few ounces of meat then that’s okay by me.

When the shot isn’t perfect, when the deer is tougher than expected, it just won’t bleed, or whatever, I’d much rather hit him harder and take him home than mess up because the deer moved just as I shot or whatever, make marginal shot with a light bullet and lose the whole deer.

Mac, TJ got it right. The 30-30 and 270 were not at fault. Sounds like a case of either poor aiming or poor tracking, or all of the above.

And there’s definitely some BS involved. You can’t tell me that you know a deer was hit in the heart unless you opened that critter up and saw a hole in the heart. Otherwise you’re only guessing. And we know you didn’t open them up, because you said you never recovered them.

Happy hunting,

Russ

October 19, 2008 at 8:19 pm
(11) hunter guy says:

russ, really, hush your mouth. There arent as many hunters as we would like out there and guess what, you bashing a guy because of his gun choice is completely idiotic! As long as these people are hunting LEGALLY then heck, if they want to shoot em with their pellet rifle if they want. Shut up with your know it all attitude and respect these other guys, honestly.

October 19, 2008 at 9:38 pm
(12) Russ says:

LOL! So I shouldn’t have an opinion, just because there are fewer hunters than there were a while back? Give me a break.

And then you top it off by telling me that I’m idiotic, but you think it’s right and proper to hunt deer with a pellet gun.

Sigh.

Russ

April 10, 2009 at 11:52 pm
(13) David says:

I just bought a 243 to get my son used to shooting a higher caliber rifle but the gun is mine. I will use it this deer season before I use my 308 kimber because I trust the cabiler. It has more energy than a 30-30 which I shot my first deer, has a flatter trajectory with a light recoil. I know my rifles and in having gained this knowledge I respect the lives of the deer I harvest. Those who want to complain, stay out of the woods. Your negative attitude shouldn’t be around these animals we harvest to feed our families. Feeding our families is the tradition of hunting not going out to shoot animals for sport or trophy.

April 11, 2009 at 12:06 am
(14) hunting says:

Average Taylor Knock-Out Value (TKO) for 30-30 Win with 150-grain bullet is around 16.0. With 170-grain bullets, it climbs as high as 18.5.

The highest TKO offered by factory ammo for a 243 Win is around 10.4. Less than 2/3 the effectiveness of the 30-30 with 150-grain slugs.

(TKO takes into account bullet weight and diameter, as well as velocity. Energy ain’t everything.)

Place your shots with extra care, because your 308 Win is a much more effective deer cartridge than the 243 Win, hands down.

Good luck, and happy hunting. I hope you have a successful season.

May 20, 2009 at 9:56 pm
(15) Westy says:

Dang-it, I feel bad now about my “puny” gun habits.
I started hunting varmits,rabbits, deer, pigs for food, yeah we actually really needed the meat to eat in 1961 using a “puny” single shot J. Stevens 22LR, actually it was a s/l/lr rifle. After exposure to 5.56 in a hot humid enviroment in a land far far away I started using R223′s for deer and piggies (except domestic piggies, still used 22lr for them).
Only lost 1 deer and only becuase it tumbled off a ledge and into a raging river below that led to steep walled gorge and was unable to retrieve it without drowning myself. Been using 223 for bucks ever since 1973. Also have .270, 30-30,’06, 300winnie and a few shotguns and I don’t “field” any of them cuz they’re just too purty. I really don’t understand the bigger is better concept people have, is it becuase most people this day and age don’t know how to shoot? or get the fever when something live is running around the in front? I’ve seen “buck fever” many times both hunting and during contacts and still makes me laugh like hell, is that the problem here?

June 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm
(16) Nashoba says:

I think it’s just a matter of how you like to hunt & how accurate a shot you are.If you lose a lot of game with a small calibre,I suspect you’ll go larger.

July 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(17) jason says:

it all come down to what a hunter is confident with, if a hunter is scared of the kick of a high powered rife then he or she should use a smaller caliber, if they like the power then use a bigger caliber its that simple, the only thing you have to worry about needing power to get through on a deer is the hide and the bone wich i have been able to get through both with my bow so i dont think the even a lower powered rife should have any trouble there, and that leaves what? the organs and wich is soft tissue thats you can easly put a dull bladed butter knife through, so like i said confidents in your firearm of choice and a well placed shot and you should be good to go

August 17, 2009 at 12:55 am
(18) CaliDeerStalker says:

I have used 30-06, with a 125 grain extensively to hunt black-tailed deer in California’s Zone A. The rifle was passed down to me by my grandfather and is the only rifle I own. The 30-06 essentially ruins quite a bit of the meat when hit in the vitals. Essentially the shoulder and upper leg usually turn out useless. -sure maybe a neck shot might save more meat, but in heavy brush and forest, one doesn’t always have that luxury as being lightning-quick is key to success in this area. I borrowed a friend’s .243 for the ’09 season and the same shot placement where I usually hit left much more usable meat two weeks into the season! -so guess what I am saving up for next? …maybe not a .243, but maybe a 257 roberts or something around there. Heck, I might even resort to using a spear just so that I can get more meat!

August 17, 2009 at 7:28 pm
(19) hunting says:

You’d be much better off with something like a 7mm-08, IMO. And if you want less “bullet meat,” then you ought to take up bowhunting – but then you run a much higher risk of losing your animal.

I’d always rather lose a pound or two of meat than to lose the entire animal and have it suffer and die slowly. That’s why I try to use guns that give me an edge.

August 22, 2009 at 5:11 pm
(20) Playnoutdoors says:

I love the 7mm-08, I wanted to hunt with a lighter weight rifle than my laminated Ruger .270 so I looked at ballistics and the availability of guns in a short action caliber. I found the 708 to be a ballistic twin to the .270 in a light weight gun, with a lot less recoil. I own 2 now (Tikka and Weatherby) and both my boys were killing deer at age 9 with this caliber, still Killing’em at ages 13 and 18. If you want to get a kid started in deer hunting get him a 708, it will be a gun that he can continue to kill many deer with EFFECTIVELY as an adult, here in NC we see lots of deer shot with 243s that are never recovered, sorry, can’t recommend that caliber.

September 21, 2009 at 3:13 pm
(21) paul says:

arrow deflected. hit button buck high 3 inches or so from spine and trhu some of the front hip meat. it dies in 30-40 minutes _looks like bleed out . look like it may have hit a part that hold pieces of gfresh grass. where is first stomach and could it have just been a major artery bleed out?

November 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm
(22) Mike says:

I like my sholder right where it’s at. I to, thought a 243 was a girly girly gun until I used one. SWEAT!!! No kick, accurate shooter, ethical harvest. It is my gun of choice on fields. My other gun in thickets, my Taurus model 66 357 magnum. Never lost a deer shot with it ( my shots are never longer than 80 yards in the bush) .

December 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm
(23) HPR68 says:

If you like to shot long, you have to know exactly what youíre doing ((THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE)). If you don’t care that what you hit dies or not you can shot high .cal and hit 300 meter targets all day long.. So what… good thing to know is “the faster an object moves the more mass it creates” hit a hard target (bone) you shock every thing attached. Soft target (tissue) bullet composition results can range from disintegration to clean pass through. (The right round for the right range). I grew up in the 70′s MI upper pen, it was a lot different then, and you could drive for 100 miles see 10 cars and 3 or 4 Hundred deer. When I started hunting the guns where taller than I was and could not hit anything unless I had something to help hold the gun…more often than not one of my older brothers would kneel for me and i would shoot from their shoulder, if we had a long shot with nothing to lean on one of us would hit the ground like a human sandbag… That’s just the way it was… I guess I got lucky having been taught very young how to track, shoot, how to be (((quiet))), how to be quiet and shoot so you don’t have to track… the way you have to think is important, are you hunting trophy or sustenance…do you want no waste a handful of waste or you don’t care cuz your looking at the rack. For me it’s a handful or none Iím a fan of the head shot, close range out to 150 yrds max, the closer the better. Inside 100 yrds I prefer a shotgun…10-50 yrds for head shots… if you can’t hit the end of a soup can with a shot gun slug from 10-50 yrds Go back to the bench and figure out whats wrong, it might just be no practice judging short range distances as compared to MOA in relation to what .GA shotgun you prefer. (You might just have a crappy inconsistent sight picture) Rifles Iíve found the slower the bullet is the less damage it will do to surrounding tissue, combine that with a heavier grain. learn how to shot and you can lob slow heavy projectile with a greater degree of accuracy that will knock a large deer flat and only produce a handful of waste (throw away the spitzer rounds except for particular apps.) they like to tumble or explode on entry.. Light and fast on average will produce a lot of waste tissue. Saw the damage and was amazed .22 mag hit, passed through a rib both lungs notched another rib on exit did not mushroom the bullet it caught in the hide…Shocked the entire frame… Everything in front of the hind quarters was waste, moving that fast the round was pushing a wall of mass (Semi-Tractor Trailer) Quality wall of mass. In a case like that it was poor shot placement for a .cal of that velocity… compare that to poor shot placement with a .cal of the proper velocity, same distance 16ga slug, spine 6-inches in front of the hindquarters (loin shot) tissue loss the size of your fist… Do not outreach the cal of your rifle or shot gun … go heavy grain if it doesnít reach buy a bigger gun and go heavy there to. If you can’t lob a bullet accurately then you don’t have enough trigger time… I suggest saving the light fast moving rounds for targets and varmints an head shots… all the rifles that have been mentioned on this site are great rifles, sometimes the caliber, bullet type, application and its effects at distance are unexplored by the average person, I myself own .303Brit, 2-30-30win’s, sportsman 48 20ga, 2-410ga’s, 17hmr, 2-22lr’s, 22mag, lil’Henry22lr(old), 12ga, 16ga pump, .270, or if I need something special I can borrow from my father, what I take hunting depends on the game, the weather, how far I can see and or how much brush I might have to shoot through .303Brit-174 grainers don’t mind a little Tag Alder here an there.. Heavier the better.

March 8, 2010 at 8:00 pm
(24) Le says:

I’m new to hunting and I was looking to buy my first hunting & target shooting rifle. After Googling for several weeks I zeroed in on the HOWA 1500 243 Winchester. However, I wasn’t sure if 243 was the right caliber for deer hunting. But then I came across this article and read all of your comments. BTW, thank you all for sharing your thoughts. I’ve learned a lot from reading your comments and I’m sure I will need to spend a lot of time at the shooting range before I can go hunting deer.

Anyway, initially I thought I’ve made the wrong choice of caliber for deer hunting until I read of what Westy said. My impression is that he is a very experienced and good hunter and definitely wise. Therfore, I’m going to stick with my HOWA 1500 243 Winchester rifle decision. I will practice and practice and practice to shoot only if I’m sure I can hit the target.

Thank you Westy.

March 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm
(25) Russ says:

I hope you’ll reconsider. Smaller calibers are best for very experienced hunters – not beginners.

- Russ

March 9, 2010 at 11:21 pm
(26) Le says:

You’re right Russ and I understood your point of view and it’s a very good point. The probability of me killing the deer now is very slim let a lone killing it quickly and humanely. My goal is to become a good marksman first and if I succeed then I will try to become a good hunter. I’m very patient.

July 28, 2010 at 2:39 pm
(27) New Hunter says:

I was looking for tips on how to get started hunting deer, but after reading these comments I’m not going to bother reading the article. Lol.

July 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm
(28) Russ says:

New Hunter, why do you say that?

October 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm
(29) AMar says:

Just because a guy got published and has written a few articles doesn’t mean he understands killing. .243s work fine as well as .22 hornets, .223s and on up. The only real mistake you can make when selecting the lighter calibers is picking up a box of bullets designed to rapidly expand on varmints and shooting larger animals with them. Other than that, as long as a bullet has enough penetration to reach through one side and destroy vitals, none of these theories matter.

I would completely prefer shooting a deer with a .243 and good controlled expansion bullets than blasting deer with the .300 win mag. The idea of, “Well if I mess up the shot than I have extra power to make it count” is idiotic. You get guys who just pull the trigger on deer rather than paying attention to what they are doing because all the extra will do it for them. Plus those same idiots think it’s macho to blow off the back side of a deer rather than calmly and precisely placing their shots and waiting for either unconciousness through blood loss and eventual brain death or a central nervous system hit to stop the show. All else is crap.

Take shots you know you can make. That is being ethical.

November 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm
(30) nathan says:

.30-30 won the west, americas deer rifle for over the past 100 years… period

December 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm
(31) Willie says:

All of calibers mentioned will work well on deer sized game, with proper bullets and bullets weights. For example a 125gr. out of a 06 is ok but 150 to 180 grains work better for deer sized game. The heaver the bullet and bullet design matter and shot placement is the key. 243 6mm bullet will work very well with shot placement and the right bullets for your hunting conditions. Some bullets are designed to expand more rapidly for example Nosler Balistic Tip. will not perform like Nosler Partition first will be more explosive and second will go through more meat due to bullet design. Everything matters flat shooting or brush hunting, shot placement, bullets and bullet weights. I hear hunters say the gun caliber is no good, I can say for sure it is the hunter and his skill and knowledge of modern hunting and bullets and equipment. Not knocking anybody here, but the right load, gun and shot placement for the game hunted. Oh and 270 win. kicks tail with good hand-loads.

December 15, 2010 at 12:05 pm
(32) Old Cajun says:

Wow,….what a bunch of internet dorks.

243. is plenty of gun for white tail deer.

I suspect there’s a lot of children posting in here.

February 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm
(33) Griff says:

Great comments, educational on many levels. Deer in Oklahoma ar about the size of a man on average. .223′s out of an M-16 sent about a million of them to the promise land during Viet-Nam. (enemy not deer}. All of your comments are valid and deserve consideration. Great thread. Stay Low, Griff

February 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm
(34) hunting says:

Thanks Griff.

Your post reminded me of something. I remember talking with Dad about guns when I was a teen. He had told me how the 30 carbine was too wimpy for deer hunting. I already knew that it had been a military round.

I observed that it was strange that a round that was so under-powered for deer hunting would be used in combat for shooting people. I will never forget his reply:

“Son, people are easy to kill.”

And he’s right, comparatively speaking. Deer can do incredible things after being shot with a powerful rifle, while a human in the same situation would probably just lie down and be done.

March 19, 2012 at 5:26 am
(35) none says:

you are a jackass saying a .270 is too small for a deer
pull your head out of there

March 19, 2012 at 11:26 am
(36) hunting says:

Who’s the jackass here? I never said that.

I said that the “130-grain bullet.. is too light for my tastes.” And that was after I said I had successfully used the 270 on deer. I further said that I personally consider .27 (a.k.a. .270) to be minimum caliber for deer.

“Minimum” doesn’t mean it’s too small, just that I don’t want to use anything smaller.

November 12, 2012 at 11:52 am
(37) Gary says:

I’m 57 years old: started deer hunting in 1972, before most of you were born. Served in the military and saw “flinchers” for the first time. I began deer hunting with a 30/30 Marlin lever. Killed a lot of deer, wounded and lost a few. As I got older (and smarter) I realized it wasn’t the caliber but shot placement that did the trick and so I began using a .243. I have killed so many deer with this gun I have lost count. None of them ever ran more than 75 yds.. I never wounded and lost one. Know why? The gun produces little recoil and no flinch. I shoot from a tree stand in odd positions so I need a light and light recoil gun and the .243 is absoultely the perfect gun for these circumstances.

January 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm
(38) Russ says:

I have had 2 neck surgeries. I used to shoot a 30.06 180gr and think it’s great. Can’t now. What would you recomend, a 243 100gr or a 30.06 125gr which would be easier on my neck.

February 12, 2013 at 8:27 am
(39) mike says:

Get a big boar pellet gun I took a brown bear at 200 yards with a 400 grain 50 cal I only saw an entrens hole but it hit hard enough that it didn’t even move it reared up on hind legs and droped at 50 yards it will shatter solid cinder bloxs so a pellet gun has enugh power to shater ribs and the heart at 200 yards

April 9, 2013 at 10:03 am
(40) hunting says:

I’d recommend a 30-06 with 150 grain bullets. I have a 243, and it kicks more than you might expect, even with 100 grain bullets. A 30-06 with 150s will do better on game and you should be able to handle it.

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