Hunters don’t need shoulder-bruising powder burners to kill big whitetails. Image by Will Brantley
Many experienced shooters and longtime hunters describe the 6.5 Creedmoor as having mild recoil. I agree. I grew up hunting with a .30-06, which, when loaded with 180-grain bullets in the average bolt-action deer rifle, kicks about twice as hard as the Creed. But my soon-to-be-9-year-old son, Anse, who’s been deer hunting for three seasons and has several whitetails to his credit, isn’t buying it when I tell him the 6.5 Creedmoor doesn’t kick. He’s shot his mama’s gun, and he knows better. Though he’s never had a bad recoil experience — never been scoped or anything like that — he weighs just 55 pounds, and he’s like most little children in that he doesn’t care to shoot anything that kicks.
So what “kicks,” according to him? His benchmark is the CVA Scout .410 that he uses for squirrels and turkeys. It’s scoped out and heavy enough to absorb recoil, and it has a good pad. He practices with ½-ounce, 2 ½-inch loads, which probably produce about 4 pounds of recoil energy (about like a .223). He knows the 3-inch hunting loads kick more (maybe 6 or 7 pounds) and is OK with that in the field, but doesn’t care to shoot them on the range.
Anse understands that practice is necessary, and he does most of it with a .22 rifle, which he loves to shoot. But when we sit down with a deer gun, even if it’s one he’s fired plenty of times, the first thing he asks is, “Does this kick more than my .410?”
I always give him a straight answer because I want him to trust me when he’s ready to graduate to something more powerful. In the meantime, I’ve tried to find rifles that really don’t kick any more (or as much) than his .410 but that are capable deer rounds. I have several .223s, and I’ve shot some whitetails with them . What that’s taught is that at ranges within 100 yards, which is as far as I’ll let Anse shoot, I’d rather him be using a big bullet, even if it’s moving much slower. Those will break bone, punch two holes through even a big buck, and put him down fast. Here are my four favorites.
Anse’s go-to deer rifle at the moment is a Mossberg MVP Patrol chambered in .300 Blackout (BLK). The gun is short and handy, and it has a good trigger. Range ammunition is easy to find, including subsonic stuff, which has even lower recoil (though it doesn’t hit to zero). Good hunting bullets are a little more difficult to find, but they’re out there. The best we’ve tried has been the Barnes 110-grain TAC-TX, which is an all-copper bullet with a polymer tip. Anse has used that on several whitetails and pigs, including a giant Texas boar this past spring.
This past fall, he shot a nice 8-point with a 110-grain Hornady V-MAX, and though the buck didn’t go far, that bullet is too frangible for my liking on whitetails. The .300 BLK generates about 5 pounds of recoil energy, and is easily suppressed (his gun will be wearing an Osprey Suppressor from SilencerCo this fall).
Anse Brantley poses with a big doe he downed with a low-recoil lever gun. Image by Will Brantley
Anse shot his first two whitetails, including a big 10-pointer, with my Henry Big Boy lever-action .357 Magnum rifle loaded with Federal Premium 180-grain HammerDown bullets. The classic revolver cartridge is a powerhouse from a carbine, and underrated as a close-range hunting tool. I used the same setup a few years ago on a big pronghorn buck in Colorado. I drilled him through both shoulders at 91 yards, dropping him in his tracks.
On paper, a .357 Magnum rifle kicks about the same as the .300 BLK, but I think felt recoil is actually a bit less. New shooters can practice with light .38 Special ammunition, too, which is inexpensive and doesn’t kick much more than a .22.
I’ve been a fan of this straight-wall Winchester cartridge since it hit the market a few years ago, and have used it to take several whitetails. Unlike the previous two cartridges, the Legend was designed from the ground up for deer hunting, and it’s available in several rifles. In addition, it’s factory loaded with several good bullets, such as the Winchester 150-grain Deer Season XP and Federal Non-Typical 180-grain soft point. The .350 Legend generates about 9 pounds of recoil energy, which is more than the .357 Magnum, but still less than the 6.5 Creedmoor. In fact, the Legend recoils even less than the .243 Winchester, which is arguably the classic whitetail caliber of choice for recoil-sensitive shooters. I’ve shot a lot of deer with a .243, and within 150 yards, the .350 Legend is the better deer killer.
.50-Caliber Muzzleloader (Downloaded)
My first gun was a muzzleloader that I got when I was 9 years old, and I had a blast — pun intended — learning to load and shoot it with 50-grain charges of black powder and patched round balls. Muzzleloader seasons provide extra opportunity, and Anse has killed does the past two seasons with an inline rifle loaded with 60 grains of loose Triple 7 powder behind a 245-grain CVA Powerbelt copper hollowpoint bullet. Though I haven’t chronographed it, I’d guess the velocity to be around 900 to 1,000 fps, but that bullet expands well at low velocity. We keep our shots within 50 yards, where it does just fine. Recoil is perhaps the mildest of this lineup, and Anse gets a kick out of the ramrods and smoke on the range.
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