Choose a rifle caliber that shoots a 130- to 165-grain bullet accurately out to 300 yards and you’ll be in great shape for deer anywhere in North America.
Five time-tested standbys–.270, .308, .30-06, 7mm-08 and 7mm Rem. Mag.–fit that criteria and, all things considered, are my top choices for straight up mule deer hunting and whitetail hunting.
Quick note about the .270: I have shot a bunch of bucks with this cartridge, and I prefer the added weight and anchoring power of the 150-grain bullet over the 130-grainer.
Quick note about the 7mm-08: This is the most overlooked cartridge on my list, but it’s top-notch for whitetails in Texas and elsewhere where bucks tip the scales around 150 pounds. Love the 140-grain bullet. I grew up hunting with the .243, but experience has taught me that the 7mm-08, with its light pushing recoil, is a better choice for young hunters, and it’s about perfect for today’s growing number of lady deer hunters.
Quick note if you hunt out West: For those of you that hunt elk and muleys, the .270 with the 150-bullet will do the job, though it is minimum. I suggest you power up to the 7mm Rem. Mag. or the .30-06, both of which typically shoot 150- to 180-grain bullets accurately.
Quick note about the rifle you’ve seen me use to drop a bunch of deer on TV: I’ve shot as many big whitetails with a Remington Model 700 chambered for 7mm Rem. Ultra Mag. (RUM) as anybody, with both 140- and 150-grain loads. This overlooked cartridge is fast and powerful, and delivers devastating performance on deer and elk.
Action: I prefer a bolt-action rifle plain and simple. I am a Remington man, but any modern bolt gun will prove rugged and dependable and probably last you a lifetime. While some individual rifles will shoot a little better than others out of the box, all bolts, save for the odd lemon, will give you all the hunting accuracy you need, provided you test several brands/weights of ammunition and then sight-in with the load and bullet weight the rifle likes best.
Using most any new factory bolt-action with a factory 130- to 165-grain load, you will be able to fire 3-shot groups at 3 inches all day long at 100 yards. That won’t win you any bench-rest shooting matches, but it will enable you to kill a lot of deer. With a bit of load tweaking and more shooting time at the range, you can cut those groups to 2 inches and under. That’s plenty of deer-hunting accuracy.
Stock: A synthetic stock is lighter than wood, and it comes in a gray, black, green or camouflage finish. Synthetic is impervious to rain and snow, and for that reason alone many of my stocks are composite.
But there is no denying the romance of wood. Every once in while I pull out my old .30-06 or 7 RUM and run my hands over the walnut stock’s dents, gouges, scrapes, and scars. Twenty-five years of memories come flooding back—the stunning vistas of Alaska, the exciting stalks in rough terrain, the big racks coming through the woods, the spot-on shots, the misses… You don’t get that with a composite stock.
Synthetic or wood? Both are good, the choice is up to you.
Trigger: Hunting rifles generally come from the factory with trigger pulls of five or six pounds. Over the years I have taught myself to shoot heavy triggers pretty well, both through shooting a lot and dry-firing more. But you’ll shoot better with a crisp-breaking four-pound trigger, which I have found to be about ideal for a hunting rifle.
Soon as you purchase a rifle, test the trigger with a pull scale (guy at the gun shop can do this) and lighten the load to 4 pounds or so if needed. These days many modern rifles come from the factory with triggers you can adjust yourself, but I recommend you have a gunsmith you trust do the job.
What rifle, caliber and bullet do you use for deer?