The 10 Best Rifle Cartridges

What caliber are you shooting?

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What cartridge are you using to kill deer with?  Have you ever questioned whether it is up to handling the task at hand?  Outdoor Life has put together the 10 best deer cartridges.  Are you using one of them?

The whitetail deer is the most popular big game animal to hunt in the United States so it stands to reason that a huge number of rifle cartridges are well suited for the job.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, I never met a cartridge I didn’t like and as a gun guy with a hard core interest in cartridges and bullets I have tried to use as many different cartridges to hunt deer as possible. Somebody pointed out that to use them all would require a lifespan longer than Noah, who is reported in the Bible to be 950 years old when he passed. Still, I am no quitter. I could tell you about the performance of obscure cartridges like the .25 Remington or the .309 JDJ, but instead here are my top ten picks of cartridges you have probably heard of.

My guess this is the new king of the whitetail cartridges and has likely accounted for more deer today than any cartridge. Opinions are like armpits, everybody has them and they all stink except mine. When it comes to whitetail cartridges, those opinions are all over the map. But one thing that any serious gun guy will agree with is that you can never go wrong with the .30-06. From the thick woods of the Northeast, to the Senderos of South Texas or the cold prairies of western Canada, this cartridge gets it done.

It’s on the lower end of the bell curve of whitetail cartridges, but a lot of hunters use it. It’s the preferred cartridge for new hunters who might be a bit recoil shy and a huge number of experienced hunters use it because it performs.

I remember one crusty old hunter stopping at our deer camp after shooting a black bear and a huge whitetail with a .243. He was bragging about how much he liked it. My uncle said, “It’s got a lot of velocity.” The old guy responded, “I don’t know nothin’ about all that, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s faster’n hell.”

I was the first person outside of Federal to see this cartridge after I picked one up off an engineer’s desk during a plant visit. The engineer turned ghostly white and said he would be fired if management knew I saw it, so I kept the secret.

They fired him a couple of weeks later for something else, so I guess his destiny was already written.

Over the years I have used the .338 Federal on a bunch of game and seen it used a bunch more by my hunting companions. I shot one of my best black bears with it, as well as a lot of deer and hogs. The last thing I shot was an axis deer. I can’t recall anything that was not a one shot kill. It works for deer as well as bears, moose, elk, hogs and just about anything else you might hunt in America.

As a huge fan of the .358 Winchester it pains me to say this, but… the .338 Federal might well be the best short action deer cartridge on the market.

I wouldn’t use it for years because it was just too common. Too bland. Then I corrected that mistake. It’s pleasant to shoot, very competent in killing deer and available in a wide range of rifle platforms. If you like hunting with an AR style rifle, this cartridge is the obvious choice. [Continued]

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Jason Houser
Jason Houser is an avid traditional bowhunter from Central Illinois who killed his first deer when he was nine years old. A full-time freelance writer since 2008, he has written for numerous national hunting magazines. Jason has hunted big game in 12 states with his bow, but his love will always be white-tailed deer and turkeys. He considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and a family who shares his passion for the outdoors. Jason writes full time and is on the pro staff of two archery companies; in his free time, he fishes and traps as much as possible.

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