Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 1 - performance metrics


This is part one of three videos to help you select the best cartridge for deer hunting.

Not long-range hunting.

Not backcountry hunting.

Not the most advanced specs.

This is for regular deer hunting.

Where you want a cartridge that's practical and delivers adequate value.

If you want to skip straight to the results, I'll link to part 3 when it's ready.

However, I recommend you watch all three parts.

Especially if you're new to hunting.

Because you'll get lots of essential information.

Stuff that will help you make more informed decisions.

Beyond this specific cartridge choice.

I'll introduce the candidates, explain why they are relevant to you, and, importantly, share the metrics we'll use for the evaluation.

Today it's all about the best caliber for deer hunting

Well, to be correct, the best cartridge.

The caliber is the diameter, like 6.5 millimeters or .264".

The cartridge is the whole unit, like 6.5 Creedmoor.

I don't know about you, but I love hunting gear.

And I love all the ways I can optimize.

There's a practical reason.I want to do all I can to set myself up for success.

And there's also the fact that I just enjoy making these evaluations.

Word of warning if you're new to hunting.

Selecting the best cartridge, and bullet for that matter requires pre-work.

And a great deal of practice afterward.

If you want your choice to matter.

First, ensure you know the situation, plan how you hunt, and then pick the optimal gear and equipment.

And don't forget to put in the work required to ensure you can use your gear effortlessly.

I've created a framework with five questions to help you do just that.

Check out this playlist for structure and tips.

Before we even get started, let's define "best".

Best, in this case, means adequate killing power.

Ideally, with a healthy margin of error.

The use case is deer hunting, which means CXP 2 size animals that weigh in the range of 50 to 300 pounds.

And I'm basing the evaluation on a double-lung / top-of-heart shot.

Where your objective is to cause bleeding and stop lung function.

On top of that, you can consider reach to give yourself more opportunities to shoot.

But that's not always relevant.Just to be clear, this is a practical approach to deer hunting.

I'll look at more advanced situations in the future.

The Candidates

For this evaluation, I've selected seven cartridges based on two parameters.

Availability and suitability.

 •243 Winchester

 •6.5 Creedmoor






Someone once said the best camera is the one you have with you when you want to take a picture.

That also applies to cartridges.

Picking a cartridge with easy access to components and factory ammunition will make your life much easier.

And ensure you can practice.

And these cartridges are all proven deer cartridges.

This review will show you where they shine.

And if there are areas where some of them might be unnecessary.

I have based the evaluation on six metrics.

There's a lot to unpack, so I might make separate videos on some of them.

One metric I don't hear many folks talk about.

Another can be misleading.

Without the tweak, I'll share.

And a third seems to be controversial in some circles.

Recoil energy.

None of these cartridges is hard recoiling, in the bigger scheme of things.

And unless you have a medical condition, a slight frame, or are a young shooter,they are perfectly manageable.

I include recoil energy for three reasons.

If you need or want a light recoiling rifle for the previously mentioned reasons.

Because low recoiling cartridges make it easier to the impact of your shot.

And because they're easier to shoot accurately.

You don't necessarily need that accuracy for lung shots, but consistent accuracy fosters confidence as your ability as a hunter.

Which is a good thing.It's not a deal breaker for most, but it's worth considering.

Expanded cross-sectional area

Expanded cross-sectional area tells you how big a hole the bullet of a particular caliber can make.

And I don't hear many hunters talk about this one.

Which is strange.

A bigger hole means a bigger primary wound channel.

Which means faster blood loss.

And, in turn, more reliable killing.

I don't have a hard measure, but I think these are three good pointers.

1. For the calibers we're looking at here, expanded cross-sectional area doesn't matter for the smaller deer

2. It starts to matter when you shoot medium deer

3. And it's something you should consider when you hunt the bigger deer will add that it's important to evaluate based on the expanded area, not just the caliber.

Because as the bullet expands, the cross-sectional area increases exponentially.

Now that I have mentioned reliable killing, I want to call out a foundational fact.

You obviously need to put the bullet in the right spot for any of this to matter.

Maximum point blank range

Maximum point blank range MPBR is the furthest distance you can take a shotwithout adjustments.

And still hit a given size vital zone.


Maximum point blank range

With the introduction of laser range finders, it kind of dropped off the radar.

But, I think there is still great merit in the concept.

When done right.Because it allows you to shoot faster and more confidently.

Even if you have to range the animal, adjusting will slow you down.

In some cases, you can avoid that.Efficient hunting is about creating flow.

Removing unnecessary steps.

And this is an excellent example of that approach in action.

I once missed an opportunity to shoot a red stag in Scotland.

Because I ranged him when I didn't need to.

With good MPBR routines, I would have shot him straight away.

Traditionally, you calculated the maximum point-blank range for bullet drop inrelation to a given vital zone.But that's misleading at best.

Dangerous at worst.

For two reasons.

 • The traditional version doesn't consider the increase in group size.

 • The traditional version doesn't take wind drift into account.

Have a look at this chart.

 And as you can see from this chart, bullet drop MPBR is only relevant when the weather is perfectly calm.

And there is a big difference in wind drift MPBR when you factor in accuracy.

By the way, I'm creating a separate video on this type of go/no-go chart.

It will help you determine how far you can shoot in a given wind condition.

That way, you remove a great deal of decision-making.

 I'll link to it here when it's ready

For this test, I've assumed accuracy of 1 inch at 100 yards, 2 inches at 200, and so forth.

That's about 1 minute of angle.Shooting from the ground.

Under field conditions.

And when you're in a hurry, that level of accuracy takes a fair bit of practice.

Despite what you hear on internet forums. 

I've used a 6" vital zone.


That's based on an adequate shot on a medium size deer using the vital zone targets from Berger Bullets.


velocity tells you how fast the bullet can go to work.

All things being equal.It's relevant for two reasons.

 • A bullet has a minimum and maximum expansion range.

 • And you need the bullet to expand fast on a small animal like a deer.

Especially the smaller species.

All of these cartridges are within the manufacturer's velocity specs.

You can, of course, control expansion with bullet selection.

But that's outside the scope of this video.Here we're comparing cartridges like for like.

Kinetic energy

Kinetic energy get's a lot of flak.

And I think that might be a reaction to overrating it in the past.

But unless you think the earth is flat, I suggest you don't discount this metric. It's based on proven concepts from physics.

Where velocity gives you an idea of how fast the bullet can go to work.

Kinetic energy gives you an idea of how much work it can do.

Assuming adequate expansion.


A full metal jacket bullet doesn't expand and won't use much of its energy.

A soft-nose bullet that expands will damage vital tissue.

That said, it's not the end-all and be-all factor to consider. You must consider these metrics in tandem.

Some folks, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, refer to kinetic energy thresholds for different size animals.

1000 foot-pounds force for a deer.

And 1500 for an elk.

I don't think anyone ever asked deer or elk about these limits.

Still, in my experience with these sizes of animals, they're good pointers to help judge how adequate a cartridge is.

And remember, the objective here is not how little we can get away with.

But ensuring an adequate margin of error.

We want to create as fast bleeding as possible so the deer runs as short a distance as possible.

All of the cartridges in this review have adequate kinetic energy for deer.

However, in part 2, I'll comment on some limitations.And potential ways to mitigate those limitations.

By the way, kinetic energy is a factor of half mass and velocity squared.

It means you get much more kinetic energy by increasing the velocity than by increasing the mass.

If you do that, you must balance out other aspects, like bullet construction, to ensure adequate penetration.

Like-for-like comparison

Finally, to compare like for like as much as possible, I've used bullets with as close asectional density as possible.

And one that's adequate for medium size deer.

More on sectional density in another video.

I've also based the numbers on Nosler Ballistic Tip Hunting factory ammunition with two tweaks.

I don't have any affiliation with Nosler.

Using data from a single manufacturer with the same bullet profile makes a better comparison.