Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 – Overall scores

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In this blog ill share the caliber or cartridge best for deer hunting.

Based on six key performance metrics.

This is the overall result.

caliber matrix 0 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Where we plot the cartridges to find the best performer.

Check out part 1 for more detail on the performance metrics.

And part 2 to see how the cartridges scored for each metric.

Coming up after the intro.

The best cartridge for deer hunting

In this blog, you’ll learn what cartridge is best for deer hunting.

In case you haven’t watched parts 1 and part 2, the seven cartridges are:

• 243 Winchester

• 6.5 Creedmoor

• 7mm08 Remington

• 308 Winchester

• 270 Winchester

• 280 Remington,

and- 30-06 Springfield.

Before we start, let me stress this is a difficult review for two reasons.

1. All are proven cartridges, and it’s a close race on some metrics.

2. And on some level, I want each cartridge to win.

When I pick X over Y, I’m not saying that Y is bad.

Just that X is better under the conditions of this review.

But don’t let that get in the way of factoring in whatever appeal a cartridge may have.

Or cross-over potential.

Maybe you want a 270 Win because Jack O’Connor used it for hunting sheep.

Maybe you want a 6.5 Creedmoor because it will double as a long-range plinking rifle.

Maybe you want to exchange the 7mm-08 with a 275 Rigby because Jim Corbett used it to shoot man-eating tigers.

I’ve spent much time figuring out how to condense the scores from part 2.

Into a practical and meaningful result.

Let’s look at the framework I’ve used.

The framework

I’ve created a matrix to help visualize the results.

1. I’ll list the cartridges killing power comparison score on one axis.

2. I’m plotting values for two maximum point-blank range scenarios on the other axis.

caliber matrix 0 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Maximum point blank range

Maximum Point Blank Range is pretty old-school.

Especially considering that many of us use rangefinder binoculars, have a ballistics calculator on our phone, and dial turrets on our scopes.

But as explained in part 2, it is a foundational concept that all deer hunters should know.

Because it means you can react faster.

And increase your opportunities to shoot.

I’m plotting two scenarios.

1. Adjusted maximum point-blank range.

2. The maximum range in a 10 mph cross-wind.

I say adjusted maximum point-blank range because I’ve chosen the worst performer of traditional MPBR and reach in a 2.5 mph cross-wind.

Both scenarios are based on a 6″ vital zone and 1 MOA accuracy.

medium deer hunting target vitals Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Killing Power Comparison

I’m not a big fan of killing power formulas.

But I’ve used the Killing Power Score score because it includes the three metrics we’ve used in the test.

It’s a concept that, to the best of my knowledge, was developed by Chuck Hawks.

We’ll score the cartridges this way.

And consider the underlying data before picking a winner.

To put the KPS scores into context, I’m showing them in relation to the values required for CXP 2 and CXP 3 size animals.

The formula, by the way, is kinetic energy multiplied by sectional density multiplied by the cross-sectional area of the bullet.

In this review, we use roughly the same sectional density.

One that’s appropriate for the upper end of CXP2-size animals.

So these scores are driven by kinetic energy and cross-sectional area.

What about the 1000-foot-pound limit I mentioned in part 2?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these numbers.

And my experience with different size deer and similar animals.

And I concluded the killing power number gives us a better relative comparison.

Especially as we consider the larger deer species.

And cross over to CXP3.

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Because the cross-sectional area is an essential factor.

Of course, a large deer will die when shot through both lungs with a 243.

search Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

But it might run a fair bit.

And chances are you’ll get less blood trail from the smaller diameter hole or holes.

This means more work in the follow-up phase to secure the animal.

Factoring in kinetic energy and the cross-sectional area will give you a more practical perspective.

Ok, let’s start plotting the scores one by one.

243 Winchester

Here’s the 243 Winchester

caliber matrix Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

As you can see, the 243 Winchester, according to the KPS scale, is best suited for medium size deer out to just under 100 yards.

Further than that, you’re looking at the smaller deer species.

The adjusted maximum point-blank range is 275 yards.

And the 10 mph maximum range is 155 yards.

As you can see, killing power-wise, the 243 is at the bottom of the scale.

I have shot many fallow deer with my 6 XC.

And most of them female or young male animals.

In woodland inside this range.

And it works well for that purpose.

You can, of course, stretch this type of 6 mm cartridge beyond that range.

And use it for larger animals.

But it’s starting to run out of steam.

As discussed earlier.

6.5 Creedmoor

I have a great affinity with the 6.5 cartridges.

I’ve owned two 6.5 rifles.6.5×55.

A Kongsberg and a Roedale Precision semi-custom.

And used them to take animals ranging from roe deer up to red deer hinds.

Using Lapua Mega, Hornady SST, Nosler Accubond and Berger VLD bullets.

I’m intrigued by the 6.5 Creedmoor.

And have been itching to add a 6.5 back into my inventory.

So let’s look at how it performs.

caliber matrix Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

The 6.5 Creedmoor carries more energy, has a greater cross-sectional area, and a higher BC bullet than the 243.

So unsurprisingly, it has a higher killing power score.

Wind-wise, the 6.5 doesn’t shoot as flat as the 243, but it still has a better adjusted maximum point-blank range at 285 yards.

And the same goes for the 10 mph reach, where the 6.5 CM will hit the vital zone op to 170 yards.

The 6.5 Creedmoor has taken the world by storm.

It was developed to beat the 308 for long-range target shooting.

Which it definitely does.

My concern with the cartridge is that some folks might look exclusively at the ballistic performance and push the 6.5 Creedmoor further than intended.

I often hear it referenced that the 6.5×55 is used for moose in Scandinavia.

So it must work well on CXP3-size animals.But here are four points to consider.

One, the 6.5×55 is at the minimum end of the scale for moose in Sweden.

Two, most moose are shot in dense woodland at very close range.

Three, the popularity probably has something to do with the wide availability of cheap surplus Swedish Mausers.

And not what was the best or most optimal choice.

And finally, four, it’s the norm to use heavy bullets with high sectional density appropriate for bigger animals.

I’m not saying this to diss the 6.5 Creedmoor or any of the similar 6.5 cartridges.

I like them all.

I just want to call out that they have limitations, like any other cartridge.

High BC bullets can’t change the fact that the bullet diameter is small.

Or magic more powder into the case.

You can definitely be used on bigger deer.

I’ve done that with good results.

Especially with appropriate bullet selection.

But as the data suggests, other cartridges might be better suited.

There’s probably a reason that Hornady also developed the 6.5 PRC.

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Which I should really have included here.

What about the 7mm-08 Remington?

7mm-08 Remington

It should have a higher KPS score, but what about the reach.

caliber matrix 3 7mm Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

As you can see from the graph, the 7mm-08 does have a higher KPS score.

Due to higher energy and a greater cross-sectional area.

It might surprise some that it’s a close race with the 7mm-08 when it comes to maximum reach.

For our adjusted maximum point-blank range, it’s only five yards behind the 6.5Creedmoor.

But it’s five yards better at a 10 mph cross-wind.

With a bullet of similar sectional density.

Suited for deer-sized animals.

Overall it matches the KPS requirements for CXP 2 sized animals well.

Within the adjusted point-blank range.

Is this a winner?

Or is one of the other candidates better?

308 Winchester

Let’s look at the 308 Winchester.

Based on the data from part 2, it should have a higher KPS score.

But not perform that well in the wind or for drop.

But how much?

caliber matrix 4 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

KPS-wise, the 308 is a significant step up from the 7mm-08.

The bore is bigger.

Plus, it requires a heavier bullet to match the sectional density.

Which means greater kinetic energy.

Same situation as the 6.5 Creedmoor vs. 7mm-08 comparison.

The 308 has gotten a lot of flak for poor wind performance and a poor maximum point-blank range.

And it is indeed performing worse than the two previous cartridges.

Not by a country mile, but enough to consider when looking for the best all-rounddeer cartridge.

Especially when compared with the 7mm-08.

As an all-round deer cartridge, the 7mm-08 stands pretty strong at this point.

coverage 7mm Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

But what about the three cartridges with greater powder capacity?

Do they have more to offer?

270 Winchester

The 270 Winchester gave me one of the big surprises of this test.

Probably even more than the difference between the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 7mm-08 in terms of Killing Power.

Here’s why.

caliber matrix 5 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

It’s got pretty much the same KPS scores as the 7mm-08.

The 270 gets there with kinetic energy.

And the 7mm-08 gets there with a cross-sectional area.

What’s best?I don’t have data that says one way or the other.

Based on pure affinity, I want the 270 to win.

But here’s my view on the situation.

For these cartridges, at their level of kinetic energy, I think you benefit from that extra energy when it comes to small and medium-sized animals.

When it comes to the upper end of the CXP 2 territory, I think the animals are big enough that the extra energy doesn’t make a huge difference.

Their body size absorbs it better.

But you might get a couple of extra margin of error points by using a bullet with a greater cross-sectional area.

As long as you drill a hole through both lungs.

As I said, I don’t have data.

This is based on my experience hunting animals ranging from CXP2 to CXP4 allover the world.

I’d love to hear if your experience has led you to a different perspective.

Moving on, if the 7mm-08 was our best candidate so far.

Does the 270 Win take the lead?

The 270 does have 10 yards extra adjusted maximum point blank range.

But they’re on par in a 10 mph cross-wind.

And the 270 burns more powder and recoils more.

And as much as I think all the candidates are shootable cartridges, there is an accuracy and follow-up benefit to less recoil.

As much as I’m a 270 fan, I’d say the 7mm-08 is still in the lead for the most versatile deer cartridge.

I never thought I’d say that

More on that when we get to the summary.

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What about the 280?

280 Remington

The 280 Remington should have a higher KPS score.

And better maximum point-blank ranges.

caliber matrix 6 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

And indeed, it does.

The KPS isn’t a whole lot higher than the 7mm-08.

Because the difference is exclusively driven by the added kinetic energy, you get from about 10 grains of powder.

It also gives it 15 yards extra adjusted maximum point blank range.

But only five yards better performance at a 10 mph cross-wind.

Again, it’s the same bullet, and there’s only so much 10 grains of smokeless powder will buy you.

I’m not sure if it’s enough to take the lead.

We still have one candidate left.

Let’s have a look at it before making a decision.

30-06 Springfield

The 30-06 will have the highest KPS.

But how does it fare in the wind?

caliber matrix 7 Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

For the adjusted maximum point blank range, the 30-06 is on par with the 6.5 Creedmoor.

And it’s in a shared second place when dealing with a 10 mph cross-wind.

It does indeed have a greater KPS.

But way more than we need for deer-sized animals in the CXP 2 category.

In my view, this is more of a CXP3-type cartridge.

So what can we say about the results?

Winners

I started out saying, this is a close race.

Based on this data, I’ll say the 7mm-08 takes the prize as the best cartridge for deer hunting.

coverage 7mm 08 85f3e88b 859e 4ffb 92cf Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Of the candidates, it covers most of the CXP 2 range with the least effort.

And you have a wide selection of heavier 7mm bullets if you occasionally want to venture into the CXP 3 category.

If you’re only hunting small to medium size deer, I’d say the 6.5 Creedmoor is the winner.

coverage Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

It covers that group with less effort and a fraction further reach than the 7mm-08.

In my book, the 280 Remington is the winner if you hunt open country.

coverage Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Of the cartridge evaluated here.

It will give you a little further reach.

But if this is your game, you should look at the Ackley Improved version.

If you only hunt in the woods and want to anchor deer fast, you should look at the 308.

coverage Best caliber for deer hunting pt. 3 - Overall scores

Because it gives you the best combination of oomph and effort.

Remember.

These scores are for CXP 2 size animals and double lung shots.

At point-blank ranges.

In other scenarios, like advanced shots and when you dial, the results would have looked different.

Which means use cases for the 243 Win and the 30-06.

More on them in other videos.

Reflection

I’ve got many reflections on the results.

And I might have missed things that I hope you’ll call out.

Once I have feedback, I’ll link to part 4 with all those points of view.

As well as a kind of Q&A.

So please also ask questions if you have them.

For now, I have one overall observation.

Well, two.

First, the case of KPS for 7mm-08 Remington vs. 270 Winchester.

And it almost takes us back to the Elmer Keith vs. Jack O’Connor conflict.

Here’s my take on it.

Marginal changes will only give you marginal gains.

And if you want substantial gains, you will have to pay the price in another metric.

Usually, recoil when you want more performance.

So if we’re talking long-range performance, I think you need to look elsewhere than the cartridges we’ve discussed here.

And, of course, different bullet types.

More on that in another video.

Secondly, regardless of what cartridge you use, spend enough time practicing with it.

So you know your limitations and can put the cartridge to good use

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>