Coke or Pepsi? Nature or nurture? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Some debates over what is better rage on forever because there are no easy or widely accepted resolutions. And though we understand we’ll never get everybody to agree with our opinions, we love to engage in the discussions. Within the hunting community, one of those long-standing debates revolves around the best cartridge for hunting deer.
What makes a good deer-hunting round? To begin with, it must be accurate. Accuracy means different things to different people, but if you can put three shots inside a two-inch circle at 100 metres, that’s plenty of accuracy for most deer-hunting scenarios.
An effective deer cartridge should also have a reasonably flat trajectory. The faster a bullet leaves the barrel, and the more aerodynamic it is, the farther it will go before succumbing to gravity’s pull. But higher velocities usually mean increased recoil, and that trade-off can’t be ignored—if you flinch when pulling the trigger, you lose accuracy. That’s why the best deer rounds have manageable recoil—hitting the target where you want to trumps bullet velocity every time.
Your deer cartridge must also have sufficient energy to complete its task. A common opinion is that a terminal energy of 1,000 foot-pounds is sufficient to cleanly kill a deer. That threshold is most often a product of the distance to your deer; at some point, every cartridge and bullet combination will fall below it.
Considering all that criteria, here—in no particular order—are what I believe to be 10 of the very best cartridges for hunting deer. And as a bonus, I’ve married each round to a suitable rifle, making for 10 deer-hunting dream combos. Let the campfire debates begin…