Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 2 - Individual winners

This is part 2 of 3 videos to determine the best cartridge for deer hunting.

In this part you'll get the scores for each of the six performance metrics.

Here's a link to part one if you haven't watched it and want to know more.

I'll link to part three when it's ready if you want to skip straight to the overall results.

However, I suggest you watch the series from start to finish to get all the nuances.

So I'll also link to part 3 at the end of this video.

This is part two of finding the best cartridge for deer hunting.

Where we'll review the individual winners for each of the performance metrics.

Let's get started.

Recoil Energy

Metric number one is recoil energy.

The .243 Win is the clear winner here.

I ran these numbers based on a rifle and scope combination weighing 8 pounds.

Based on my experience with a 120-grain bullet, a cartridge like the 6.5 Creedmoor doesn't have a lot of felt recoil. 

So even if it's number two, it's a good candidate for a low-recoiling cartridge.

It's worth mentioning that using the 6.5 Creedmoor in a 10-pound rifle gives you the same recoil energy as the .243 Win in an 8-pound rifle.

And that could be a more versatile option if you want light recoil and don't have to lug your rifle around too much.

Post in the comments if you'd like me to do a more in-depth review of a set-up for light recoil.

Expanded cross-sectional area 

No surprise, the 30 caliber cartridges take the prize here.

Which means the .308 and the 30-06 in this test.

There's a lot of hype about cartridges and bullets that cause instant kills.

Drop in their tracks dead deer.

And there's also a lot of talk about sleek high BC bullets that buck the wind and retain energy at long range.

The 308 is not a candidate for those categories.

And the dependability and reliability of a large wound channel might not make the headlines.

You can call me old school, but I think it's a factor that's worth considering if you hunt the larger deer species.

A bigger hole means a greater surface for bleeding and a bigger pipe for draining blood.

In part 3, we'll put that more into context.

Drop maximum point blank range

Next is maximum point blank range for drop.


I want to call out one thing before we look at the scores.

In my book, you can categorize a shot into three scenarios.

1. A split-second point-blank range shot

2. A shot where you just need to adjust for bullet drop

3. A shot where you need to adjust for both bullet drop and wind drift

I'll create a more in-depth video on that topic.

For now, I'll just say that scenario 1 is the bread and butter of deer hunting.

And doesn't require any advanced equipment or skills.

Scenario 2 is straight forward for anyone with a range finder, a ballistics app, and a scope with adjustable turrets.

You just need to be absolutely sure you know the limits set by wind conditions.

Unless you shoot down a fire belt or on a very calm day in open terrain, this is not an option you can always count on.

Scenario 3 doesn't require more equipment than scenario 2.

But it requires in-depth knowledge of wind and conditions and how they are impacted by terrain.

As well as significant practice.

Anyway, more on that another time.

Just to be clear.

I've based this series on scenario 1.

When you need to be fast and don't have time to make any adjustments.

So you work within your point-blank range.

Or use hold-over at the most.

It didn't surprise me that the 270 Win wins on point-blank range.

It's been known to be a flat shooting cartridge since Jack O'Connor started singing its praise.

But as mentioned in part 1, this is not a metric you should use on its own.

As we will see when we get to windage point blank range.

It's worth mentioning two things.

The actual drop point-blank range for the 270 Win, as per the specs of this test, is 300 yards.

And it's 264 yards for the .308, the worst performer in this category.

I think an extra reach of 37 yards is material.

If you shoot in open terrain.

But I don't think the difference is material compared to the other cartridges in the test.

But as you can see from this graph, the difference is limited for most of the other cartridges.

And it's worth mentioning that at a 2.5 mph crosswind, which is not much, the wind becomes the limiting factor.

Not your bullet drop.And what does that mean for the scores?

Let's look at windage maximum point blank range.

Windage maximum point blank range

 Windage maximum point blank range Here, the 280 Remington is, theoretically speaking, the winner.

And by the way, the ranking is the same for all the wind speeds I checked.

How material is the difference.

The worst performer in this group is the 243 Win.

You get about 20 yards less reach at all wind speeds checked.

And the .308 doesn't fare much better.

Which I'd say is material if you shoot in open country towards the limits of what you can do without dialling for wind.

But the race is pretty close, practically speaking, when you compare it with the other cartridges.

I made the comparison based on a 6" vital zone and 1 MOA accuracy.

I'll do an in-depth video on windage point-blank range and how you can use it to shoot faster.

Let's see what happens to maximum point blank range when you decrease accuracy.


For the 280 Remington, with a 1 MOA group.

Which, by the way, requires a fair bit of practice when shooting from the ground infield positions.

The windage maximum point-blank range for a 5 mph crosswind is 235 yards.

If the group size is 2 MOA, which is not unusual, judging from what I see at the shooting range.

The windage point-blank range is 185 yards.

And at 3 MOA and a 5 miles per hour crosswind, the point-blank range is 150 yards.

Remember, this is based on a 6" vital zone and accounting for the maximum group size at each given range.

That's a material difference.

This emphasizes that, as hunters, we can't buy performance.

We need to practice.

And we need to know the limitations of our skills and equipment.

Let's move to the next category.


The winner of this group is the 270 Winchester.

No real surprise here, as it's the cartridge with the biggest ratio between powder and bullet weight.

As mentioned in part 1, velocity will give us a good idea of how fast and how much a bullet will expand.

Among other things. 

Which is particularly important when we're hunting the smaller deer species.

All things being equal.

I'm saying all things equal.

Because, of course, you can manage expansion through bullet choice.

But here we're comparing cartridges like for like using the same bullet.

Let's set that discussion aside for another day.

So is the 308, the slowest expanding cartridge, bad for deer?

No, definitely not.

Firstly you need to consider that the 308 has a greater frontal area, which will probably increase the expansion speed.

And secondly, it's all about context.

Slower expansion is better for larger animals.

So the lower velocity doesn't mean good or bad.

It just means potentially better for specific scenarios.

More on that in part 3

Kinetic Energy

The final category is kinetic energy.


The winner in this category is unsurprisingly the 30-06, as it has the heaviest bullet and the most powder.

And by the way, the ranking is the same all the way out to 300 yards.

One interesting observation is that, energy wise, the 308 almost manages to catchup with the 270 Win at 300 yards.

Based on the specs of this test.

As mentioned in part 1, kinetic energy indicates the bullet's ability to perform work.

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 see how adequate a cartridge is.

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

But what we can use to create an adequate margin of error for ourselves.

It's worth mentioning that all cartridges, based on these metrics, are adequate for deer out to and beyond their point-blank ranges.

But the 243 is starting to run close.

And if you're shooting big mature male deer, at longer ranges and oblique angles, I would be careful with the 243 and regular softnose bullets.

Conversely, if you're shooting smaller deer up close, the 30-06 might be more stickthan you need.

So, that concludes the individual scores.

Let's consider the practical applications.

In relation to the practical distances we've seen the cartridges are capable of.

And a relative size of deer.

With crossover capability for smaller and larger animals.

Watch part 3 if you want to see all that.

I'll post a link here as soon as it's ready.

And post it in the Best cartridge for deer hunting playlist.