Choosing the Best Deer Loads

Best loads for deer hunting.

In the course of deer hunting over fifty years, Walt Hampton has seen a few deer get shot. Here are his favorite deer loads.

Any centerfire rifle caliber will kill a deer with the right shot placement but the vast majority of deer hunters use calibers between .243 and .30/06, inclusive, for deer hunting.

The exceptions, notably the cast bullet crowd, seem to like the diameters that start at .30” and go on up, over the smaller diameters.

Once I settle on a caliber for deer hunting I turn next to the bullet; style, weight, construction and so forth for the circumstances I expect to encounter on the hunt, such as anticipated maximum range or the deer themselves.

If I am to be sitting in a tree stand over a bean field in coastal North Carolina where the deer are small in body size, the 6mm Remington with 85-grain bullets may get the nod, as opposed to sneaking through the beech and rhododendron thickets on the north side of Buck Mountain where the range is short and the deer heavy, where the .30/30 170-grain or 240-grain .44 Magnum may be what the doctor ordered.

Of course the deer have a way of throwing a monkey wrench into the works; last year while sitting where I could watch a deep canyon on top of Buck Mountain, armed with my .300 Winchester Magnum and 165-grain Partitions expecting a long shot, a doe ran in on me and stopped at the ridiculous distance of 10 yards. With a snap shot I killed the deer but it was like swatting a fly with a cinder block.

Best caliber for deer.I currently handload for 16 rifle cartridges and there is not enough room in one column to list my favorite loads for all of them, and there are just as many good deer loads as there are hunters, guns or calibers, all dependent on what shoots best in the gun in question.

The handloader/deer hunter must find the combination of components that provides acceptable accuracy in his gun, with the bullet weight and construction that will get the job done at the maximum range he may encounter.  The market is fat with “deer” bullets of various weights in most calibers; it takes experimentation with your chosen rifle to narrow the possibilities. Once you have settled on a caliber and bullet weight start your load experimentation with accuracy in mind; you can’t kill a deer if you don’t hit it.

Last year I carried my .300 Winchester Magnum for most of my hunting during regular firearms season, since I anticipated sitting on top of Buck Mountain where the range can be long and since my knee was giving me trouble.

This year the knee is better and it is my intention to get into the rough, thick, big-timber hollows for some sneak and peek hunting, where the maximum range will be around 150 yards; I’ve been tuning up the bolt action 6mm Remington, the .30/30 combination gun and the .45/70 single shot with this in mind.

The 6mm will do the job beyond this distance, but with 85 or 87-grain hollow points it is so accurate and shoots so flat that with a good rest it makes putting a bullet through little holes in the brush and into does a good possibility.

I’m a meat hunter (if God wants me to kill a big buck, he’ll trot one by) so I want to put venison in the freezer as efficiently and humanely as possible; the only way I know to do that is to put together a gun and load combination that fits my individual needs and hunting circumstances.

Use common sense when putting together your deer loads; common sense may be the most lethal weapon a deer hunter can possess.

This article is excerpted from the 2013 Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide.


Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles Recommended: To learn more about rifles and rifle hunting, check out the Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Rifles.

You’ll learn about:

- Rifle history
- American and European Rifles
- Rifle Ammunition and Ballistics
- Rifle Sights and Zero
- How to shoot rifles well

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