Hunting Cartridges for New Deer Hunters


Photo from Wikipedia Rifle Cartridges

“Various Cartridges Left to Right:

1) .17 HM2; 2) .17 HMR; 3) .22LR; 4) .22 WMR; 5) .17 SMc; 6) 5mm/35 SM4; 7) .22 Hornet; 8) .223 Remington; 9) .223 WSSM; 10) .243 Winchester; 11) .243 Winchester Improved (Ackley); 12) .25-06; 13) .270 Winchester; 14) .308 Winchester; 15) .30-06 Springfield; 16) .45-70 Govt; 17) .50-90 Sharps”

This list is missing many cartridges but an example nonetheless.

I grew up as a youth in a household that made summer shooting in the back yard a priority mostly with a .22 caliber rifle, a single shot with open sights. We grew up fast and jumped to the 30-30 Marlin which has moderate recoil and also to the old lever action 38-55 with a metal buttplate. These are not in the list above but we learned to shoot them well at 50 yards or less.

These rifles were a significant jump from the .22 caliber but a given because that was what was in Dad’s gun cabinet.  These were not bad choices at all as recoil was not overwhelming and accuracy was just fine with open sights out to 50 yards. Better accuracy if we had a tree nearby to brace the rifle. The key here for the dad finding a new or existing rifle for a son, daughter or wife for that matter to shoot where:

  1. The rifle is light enough to carry in the deer woods and fits the shooter. The length of pull for youth is around 12 inches and adults a bit over 13 inches on average.
  2. The recoil is manageable to prevent flinching
  3. The cartridge and bullet have enough energy with a well structured bullet to cleanly kill a northern whitetail deer.

The ubiquitous 30-30 Winchester in a lever action is one of the best northern deer cartridges as its recoil is low and good for close hunting to 150 yards but is not a varmint rifle for long range. It will put out the lights of a Coyote in a hurry though. A fine choice.

The .308 Winchester has similar recoil and has much more versatility in a bolt action rifle and when hand loaded it has the versatility that makes this cartridge shine. An excellent choice for a 12 year old with state of the art recoil pad. I would also strongly consider the 7mm-08 which is a necked down .308 Winchester to shoot 7mm bullets and if hand loaded can be shot with  bullets and less recoil but later can be pushed up to 175 grain bullets and hunt Elk as the .308 can do. Hornady makes a Customlite™ Cartridge with a 120 grain SST® for a reduced load

I have written here about the .243 Winchester recently in NH Rifleman in particular because it’s recoil is very low.  In fact, recoil is lower than the above cartridges. When coupled with a 90 to 100 grain bullet the .243 Winchester can kill a deer or antelope out to 300 yards with a 90 to 100 grain bullet.

See this 10 yr old drop a nice buck with the .243 Winchester. 

The .243 Winchester is a 6mm bullet and is also a great target cartridge, great for varmint and predator and deer alike.  And when the twist rate of the barrel is equal to or faster than 1:10 twist where the heavier 90 to 100 grain bullets are used, it is deadly on deer The 243 Winchester or the similar shooting 6mm Remington is a great all around cartridge for any shooter young or old.

A good bullet for deer in .243 Winchester is a bullet and jacket that has been bonded together, or a partition type bullet such as the Nosler or the newer all gilding copper bullets that I have tested here such as the Nosler E-Tip. I think the E-Tip is an ideal bullet because  it flares, and stays together maintaining most of its original weight.

For larger calibers such as 30 caliber and higher, the Partition and AccuBond made by Nosler are fantastic as they expand and stay together driving the bullet in and through the vitals.

Next above the .243 is the 257 Roberts, a fine light recoiling cartridge that make the jump to big game easily like the .308 Winchester but not as popular today. Today there are reduced loads that can be purchased for youth hunting too.

Other bullet manufacturers abound such as Hornady, Sierra,Speer, Barnes and more. What about the 30-06 and .270 Winchester for youth?

There is no set rule here you see. The problem becomes complicated when the shooter dislikes the recoil and fears the kick. Once that has happened you have a shooter with a flinch and it takes time to get the flinch to go away with proper training. It takes away from  the hunt too.

It is best, with say a 10 to 12 year old to be a keen observer of recoil issues and alway train them with a state of the art recoil pads such as the Pachmayr Decelerator or the Sim’s Limbsaver. They come in slip on varieties too. You may have to shorten the stock to fit the younger shooter too. Bottom line is to train with ample recoil protection. Out in the field the shooter that pulls the trigger often did not feel the recoil when a deer is in their sights as adrenaline is pumping into their body.

Good Hunting! ©

This entry was posted in Bullet Tests and Reviews. by Ed Hale. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ed Hale

I am an avid hunter with rifle and Bow and have been hunting for more than 50 years. I have taken big game such as whitetail deer, red deer, elk, Moose and African Plains game
such as Kudu, Gemsbok, Springbok, Blesbok, and Impala and wrote an ebook entitled African Safari -Rifle and Bow and Arrow on how to prepare for a first safari. Ed is a serious cartridge reloader and ballistics student. He has earned two degrees in science and has written hundreds of outdoor article on hunting with both bow and rifle.