Gun Digest

Favorite Handloads for Deer

Deer season means it’s time to load a few favorite cartridges. What will this year’s lethal load be for you?

Today we’re going to hit some of my favorite loads for deer rifles. Please, assume the loads listed are MAXIMUM and remember to start your experimentation below the loads listed on the following page, they were safe in my rifles but since we have no control over your loading technique we can assume no liability for your handloading.

I have not listed loads for several calibers that I have used for deer, simply because they are “specialty” loads, that is, loads for calibers I carry in guns that are capable of double duty for small game and deer if the shooter is up to it, meaning the loads/rifles must be used only in exceptional circumstances when certain shots at certain ranges present themselves. I am not going to recommend that the average shooter use the .38 Special as a deer round, but I know that if I’m using my low-wall during deer season trying to get a few squirrels for the pot and a deer gives me the right shot at the right range, I have no qualms about using the caliber on it. I’ve seen me do it.

Likewise, the load listed for the .45/70 will work in most any replica or original gun, it is very mild pressure-wise, and will prove to any reasonable shooter that it is adequate for any deer up to 100 yards with the right placement of the shot. Adequate, indeed, for just about anything that walks the earth if the shooter is cool and takes the proper shot; no, it would not be my first choice for grizzly, but if pressed I believe it would kill the biggest one on earth at close range with the bullet in the right spot.

There are other .45/70 loads for more modern rifles at more than twice the pressure of the one listed but I know that this load will kill any deer with a reasonable hit under 100 yards every time. If you don’t think it powerful enough, try shooting it at a target on a six-inch by six-inch treated wood post or the telephone pole of your choice; I don’t think there walks a deer that can stop it!

We can argue all day about what is the best deer caliber and my feelings have always been that the best deer caliber is the one you can shoot with confidence, loaded with a bullet made for deer at the velocity of your round at the range of your shot.

High-velocity, rapid or controlled expansion, pointed, flat, round nose, big diameter or small, none of it matters a bit if the bullet does not go into the right spot. Our choice of caliber and bullet should be circumstance-driven; for the youngster, under 100 yards (remember that over 90 percent of all deer are killed under 100 yards) a shootable round like the .30/30, .357 or .44 Magnums, .243, 6mm, 7×57, .260 Remington or 7-08 will do fine, if the kid can place the bullet with confidence.

For the adult that most often has the opportunity to shoot longer range most of these will be inadequate to his or her needs, although the .243, 6mm, 7X57 and the 7-08 can easily do it to 300 yards. It is common sense, really; the argument of one over another without the consideration of circumstances is a waste of breath.

It used to sicken me, when working at a check station during the deer season, to listen to a nimrod that wounded and lost a deer because he armed himself with a caliber that he thought would make up for his ineptitude in shooting, something that because of the speed it spat out the bullet or the size and weight of the projectile he believed would kill like the stroke of Thor with any kind of a hit.

Unfortunately those folks are still with us, those that still take to the deer woods with a rifle they have fired only a few times, and I see it regularly even now, especially with muzzleloaders. There is no substitute for practice, no matter what you heard or saw on TV from the latest “Pro-Team” hunter.

In handloading and hunting, as with all shooting, start sensibly, act reasonably and practice, and you will be successful.

There are some great resources on the internet for the handloader. Stay with the established and well-known sources, such as the powder and bullet manufacturers, and you will find that “one load” that makes your firearm the king of the deer-getters. Always keep it safe first, approach your handloading in a meticulous and careful manner, and check everything twice. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things; you just may surprise yourself.

This article appeared in the November 22, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. To subscribe, Click Here.

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