Best 223 for Deer Hunting: Taking Down Whitetails with 22-Caliber Bullets

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Video is 5.56 a good deer hunting round

Best 223 for Deer Hunting

First Shots

The use of 223 Remington/5.56 NATO ammo for deer hunting is a hotly contested issue in the whitetail community. And honestly, I’m not a fan of using 223 Rem for deer when there are so many other low recoil rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor or 243 Winchester that are more than capable of taking down a deer ethically.

Many states across America prohibit the use of 223 ammo for deer hunting as the round really doesn’t have the kinetic energy needed to cleanly harvest a whitetail deer. However, there are some states that allow the 223 Rem for deer hunting, and ammo manufacturers have taken upon the challenge of creating 0.224” caliber bullets capable of taking down Bambi.

Below you’ll find our top 5 choices for the best 223 Remington/5.56 NATO deer hunting ammo on the market today. These rounds give you the best chance to ethically harvest a deer with America’s most popular centerfire rifle cartridge.

If you simply can’t wait and need to get some of the best 5.56 deer hunting ammo available, go ahead and pick up a box or two of Barnes VOR-TX 62 gr TSX ammo.

If you’re new to the 223 Remington and aren’t sure what to look for in a hunting bullet, check out this Buyer’s Guide HERE. Otherwise, scroll down just a little more for the list…

The Best 5.56 For Deer Hunting

  1. Barnes VOR-TX 62 gr TSX
  2. Black Hills 62 grain Dual Performance
  3. Federal Fusion MSR 62 Gr Bonded Soft Point
  4. Winchester Deer Season XP 64 gr Extreme Point
  5. Federal Premium 60 gr Nosler Partition

223 vs 5.56: A Note on Nomenclature

Please note that within this article we will refer to the 223 Remington (223 Rem) and the 5.56x45mm NATO round interchangeably. There are differences between the two and you can read about them in this article: .223 vs 5.56.

In short, a 223 Rem can safely be fired from a rifle or handgun chambered in 5.56, however the opposite is not true.

Best 5.56 For Deer Hunting Overall

Barnes VOR-TX 62 gr TSX

Specs

  • Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: Barnes TSX
  • Bullet Weight: 62 grains
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,850 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,118 ft-lbs

Pros

  • Extremely accurate
  • All-Copper design (lead free)
  • Reliable and predictable expansion

Cons

  • Availability

Why We Chose It

If you’re looking for a round that simply checks all the deer hunting boxes, then the Barnes VOR-TX 62 gr TSX is it. In our AR-15 rifles, the 62 grain Barnes TSX bullet was incredibly accurate and offered the terminal ballistics needed to take down big game.

Although this ammo can sometimes be a little tricky to find, you’ll be happy you have it in your hunting rifle this deer season as Barnes VOR-TX is well-known in the industry as a proven hunting round.

The magic comes from the Barnes TSX (Tripple Shock-X) solid copper bullet. Not only is this bullet perfect for regions that require lead-free hunting ammo, but it is an expanding bullet that offers hunters the deep penetration and terminal ballistics needed to take on whitetail, mule deer, and hogs.

If you find yourself in the woods this deer season with your AR-15 and that trophy buck you’ve been stalking gives you a perfect broadside shot, you’ll be happy you’ve got Barnes VOR-TX 62 gr TSX hunting ammo loaded in your magazines.

Best 5.56 For Deer Hunting Runner-Up

Black Hills 62 Grain Dual Purpose

Specs

  • Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: Dual Purpose
  • Bullet Weight: 62 grains
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,000 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,239 ft-lbs

Pros

  • Individually machined all-copper bullet
  • Higher muzzle energy
  • Exceptional terminal ballistics

Cons

  • Pricey compared to other 5.56 NATO ammo

Why We Chose It

Rounding out our top 5.56 hunting ammo options is the Black Hills Special Purpose 62 grain cartridge.

This bullet was specifically designed to initiate expansion immediately upon impact and to maximize the temporary wound cavity by hitting a whitetail or mule deer with the highest muzzle velocity possible. A large temporary wound cavity means that the expanding bullet has less resistance and can achieve deeper penetration to reach the internal organs of big game animals.

Now, if you’ve been shooting AR-15’s or 5.56 ammo for some time, you’re probably aware of the high regard most shooters hold Black Hills to. There’s no doubt that Black Hills ammo is some of the most consistent and accurate ammo on the market, and it commands a higher price point than your run of the mill 5.56 bulk ammo.

However, if you plan to hunt deer with an AR-15, then Black Hills Dual Purpose 62 gr copper bullets will get the job done so long as your shot placement is on point.

Best 223 For Deer Hunting Overall

Federal Fusion MSR 62 Gr Bonded Soft Point

Specs

  • Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: Fusion Soft Point
  • Bullet Weight: 62 grains
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,750 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,041 ft-lbs

Pros

  • Fusion line specifically designed for deer hunting
  • Excellent weight retention
  • Designed for use in AR-15 platform

Cons

  • Lower muzzle energy

Why We Chose It

Today’s modern sporting rifles (MSR) are more modular than your grandpa’s old hunting rifle. Federal Fusion MSR Soft Point ammo is specifically designed to be compatible with a wide variety of AR-15 barrel lengths and twist rates to offer the modern deer hunter a rifle cartridge they can count on in any situation.

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The Federal Fusion hunting bullet is well known in the deer hunting community as being an incredibly reliable and deadly round against whitetail deer and hogs. Federal Fusion ammo uses what is known as a bonded bullet, this means that the copper jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core.

Bonded bullets typically retain more of their weight, which means deeper penetration, more stopping power, and a better chance for a clean kill. This combination leads to more venison in your freezer and bigger trophies on your wall!

Although the Federal Fusion MSR was developed for deer hunting and the AR-15 platform, it has a bit less muzzle energy than we’d like to see in a deer cartridge. However, the results speak for themselves as Federal Fusion ammo keeps filling deer tags quickly and humanely every fall.

Best 223 For Deer Hunting Runner-Up

Winchester Deer Season XP 64 gr Extreme Point

Specs

  • Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: Winchester Extreme Point
  • Bullet Weight: 64 grains
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,020 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,296 ft-lbs

Pros

  • Wide polymer tip aids expansion
  • Flat trajectory for long-range shots
  • High muzzle energy

Cons

  • Sometimes hard to find

Why We Chose It

If you’re looking for a proven round to take on your next deer hunt, you can never go wrong by picking up the tried-and-true white box of Winchester Deer Season XP. Specifically developed to meet the needs of deer hunters, Winchester has produced a round that has proven itself time and time again in the backcountry.

The heart of this deer-slaying round is the Winchester Extreme Point bullet. Designed using an extremely wide hollow point, the Extreme Point uses a polymer tip to initiate expansion immediately when the round hits soft tissue. This creates a massive wound channel that puts down hogs and all species of deer quickly and humanely.

One thing to note about the Deer Season XP is that even though it fires a heavier bullet, it has a higher muzzle velocity than our previous selections. This means the round will have a flatter trajectory, higher muzzle energy, and give you the capability to make long-range hunting shots.

The only downside to Winchester Dear Season XP is that it is so good at what it does, sometimes it can be hard to find. So, if you do get your hands on some of these exceptional deer cartridges you will not regret it.

Best 223 For Deer Hunting Terminal Performance

Federal Premium 60 grain Nosler Partition

Specs

  • Casing: Nickel-plated Brass
  • Bullet Type: Nosler Partition
  • Bullet Weight: 60 grains
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,160 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,330 ft-lbs

Pros

  • Proven bullet design for big game hunting
  • Extremely accurate
  • High muzzle energy

Cons

  • Hard to find

Why We Chose It

If there’s one bullet that has proven itself time and time again when taking on big game, it’s has to be the Nosler Partition. Loaded by the professionals at Federal Premium, this 60 grain Nosler Partition is nothing short of an accuracy machine.

The Nosler Partition bullet is a dual lead core bullet separated by a chemically bonded jacket. In this way, the front portion of the bullet will expand on impact and create a wide wound channel, while the rear section of the bullet remains intact to achieve deep penetration.

As part of the Federal Premium Centerfire Rifle line of ammunition, the combination of the high ballistic coefficient, boat tail Nosler Partition and the care in loading from Federal is nothing short of a match made in deer hunting heaven.

Although the 60 grain Nosler Partition is a lighter bullet than the other options on our top 5 list, it has the highest muzzle velocity and muzzle energy out of all of them. The only reason this ammo is not on the top of our list is that it can be very tricky to find it in stock anywhere. However, if you can get your hands on it, this ammo is nothing short of a deer harvesting machine for your 223 Rem rifle.

Honorable Mention

Hornady Superformance 50 gr CX – Hornady makes some amazingly accurate and consistent ammunition, but their 223 ammo is typically geared towards varmint and coyote hunting with bullets like the V-MAX. One exception to this is the Hornady Superformance 50 gr CX hunting load. CX stands for Copper-alloy eXpanding, as each bullet is a monolithic copper design, and is therefore lead-free. Like the Winchester Extreme Point, the Hornady CX utilizes a polymer tip to initiate expansion to create a devastating wound channel.

Although the technology behind the CX bullet is excellent, the 50-grain bullet leaves a little bit to be desired as we would prefer a heavier bullet for taking on whitetail deer. However, the Hornady CX is an excellent option for deer hunting if our other top choices are not available.

Parting Shots

The simple truth is that the 223 Rem/5.56 NATO are not the best deer cartridges on the market. However, if you select the proper bullet type and focus on excellent shot placement, the 223 Remington can take down a whitetail rather effectively.

Although 223 ammo wouldn’t be my first choice for a deer hunting rifle, it is a cartridge that has incredibly low recoil and is easy to learn how to shoot accurately. If you plan on using a 223 Rem for your next deer hunt, make sure you pick one of the factory loads on our top 5 list and you shouldn’t have any problem putting venison in your freezer this fall.

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The only real problem you might have to deal with is where to mount the trophy!

If you’d like to read more about how to select the perfect deer hunting ammo for the 223 Rem, keep scrolling and check out our Buyer’s Guide. However, if you’re ready to load up your deer rifle with some of the best 223 Rem/5.56 ammo available, then make sure to Click HERE to go back to our Top 5 list!

A Buyer’s Guide to Using 223 Rem/5.56 NATO for Deer Hunting

There’s no denying how awesome the 223 Remington/5.56×45 NATO round is in the AR-15 or even a bolt-action rifle. It’s amazing for target practice, varmint hunting, coyote popping, plinking, and is an excellent centerfire round to train new shooters on since it has such low recoil.

However, some aspiring deer hunters want to try and press the 223 Rem into deer hunting use, and honestly it isn’t well suited for this role. Yes, it can get the job done, but you’re going to need some specialized hunting ammo to get the job done as opposed to your average off the shelf full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo.

In this Buyer’s Guide we will take you through the steps of how we selected our top 5 list and give you a brief history of the 223/5.56 so that you can learn more about America’s most popular centerfire cartridge.

Bullet Type Matters

When considering deer hunting with a 0.224” caliber bullet, you really need to focus on the bullet type you plan on using. There are a lot of different types of bullets for 223 ammo so let’s talk about some and what they are good for.

Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)

Full metal jacket bullets are the most common, least expensive, and simplest to produce. They have a soft lead core surround by a metal jacket, typically copper. These are the types of bullets used by the military and you can pick up inexpensive surplus 5.56 FMJ bulk ammo for a really good price.

Although these rounds are incredibly cheap, they are not appropriate for deer hunting in the slightest. These bullets are designed to not expand when they encounter soft tissue. This means that when they encounter a large animal like a mule deer or hog, they will punch right through and not deform at all.

This is a major problem because the wound channel will be tiny and it will prolong the suffering of the animal if it dies at all. FMJ ammo is great for target practice and plinking but should NEVER be used for hunting anything larger than a raccoon.

Jacketed Soft Point (JSP or SP)

Jacketed soft point bullets are a type of expanding bullet that is designed to mushroom when it encounters soft tissue. They are similar to the FMJ bullet, expect that the nose of the bullet is exposed lead instead of being fully encapsulated.

This exposed nose allows the bullet to expand and creates a larger wound channel. These bullets are well-suited for big game hunting and can be used on your next deer hunt provided you use a heavy enough bullet (more on this later).

Varmint Bullets

If there’s one thing the 223 Rem/5.56 excels at, it’s varmint hunting. It has an incredibly flat trajectory, low recoil, and more than enough power to put down raccoons, woodchucks, prairie dogs, and coyotes with relative ease.

Companies like Hornady, Nosler, and Sierra all have their own special brands of varmint bullets for taking on these pesky critters. Typically these bullets have a polymer tip that is designed to fracture the bullet on impact, creating an incredibly devastating affect against thin skinned animals.

Rounds like the Hornady V-MAX or Sierra BlitzKing are incredibly popular with varmint hunters as these rounds put down small game like a hot knife through butter.

However, this fragmentation effect is extremely counterproductive when we are looking to put down a deer. Although these rounds do great against varmints who are relatively light and don’t have much tissue between the skin and internal organs, deer are considerably larger, and a bullet needs to have enough penetration to punch through thicker bones and connective tissue.

The bullet fragmentation limits the amount of penetration rounds like the V-MAX can achieve and are therefore unacceptable to use against large game animals. Using a varmint bullet on a deer will either wound the animal or prolong its suffering.

Most varmint rounds utilize lighter bullets. These are great for high muzzle velocity and a flat trajectory, but lack the kinetic energy needed for deer.

Match Bullets

These bullets are designed for long range accuracy and precision. Typically machined with an extremely sleek profile to increase their ballistic coefficient, match bullets like the Sierra MatchKing or Hornady ELD-M are spectacular if you want to punch tight groups in paper at long-range.

Although these bullets are typically either hollow point or polymer tip, they are not designed to be expanding bullets. These features are designed primarily to protect the tip of the bullet from deforming during chambering, which helps keep accuracy and consistency high.

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Although having an accurate hunting rifle is important, it is NEVER ethical to shoot a big game animal with a match bullet since they will not expand and will prolong the suffering of the poor beast.

Big Game Hunting Bullets

Now these are the bullets we need and want for deer hunting. These projectiles are specifically designed to take on big game animals. They are built for deep penetration, expansion, and create devastating wound channels.

These rounds typically have higher bullet weight and can be either a solid copper monolithic or lead core with a bonded or partitioned jacket. These hunting bullets are designed to remain intact to maximize the kinetic energy transfer to the target and penetrate deep.

Some classic big game hunting bullets are the Barnes TSX or TTSX, Nosler Partition or Accubond, Hornady ELD-X, Winchester Power Point, Federal Terminal Ascent, and Swift Scirocco. Although not an inclusive list, that should be enough to get you started.

If you plan to hunt deer with a 223, you want either a big game hunting bullet or a soft point to maximize your chances of humanely harvesting the animal.

Bullet Weight

The 223 Remington is an amazing cartridge that can accommodate bullets ranging from 35 grains all the way up to 77 grain bullets.

In general, most big game hunting cartridges will have heavier bullets as these will pack on more kinetic energy and penetrate deeper. Typically, these bullets weigh 60 grains or higher. Be aware that you’ll need a faster barrel twist rate to effectively stabilize bullets over 62 grains in an AR-15. A 1:7 twist barrel is preferred for these rounds if you’re shooting from a 16-inch barrel.

Full metal jacket bullets for the 223 Rem are typically 55 grains. These are the most common bullet you’ll find on the market and they are incredibly inexpensive and great for target shooting and plinking. The 62 grain bullet is also extremely popular for the AR-15 as surplus M855 ammo is pretty easy to find.

Lightweight bullets below 50 grains are typically regulated to varmint hunting. These bullets have higher muzzle velocity and are great for popping prairie dogs as they have a flatter trajectory than the heavier bullets.

Rifle Selection

If you’re looking for a hunting rifle that shoots 5.56 NATO or 223 Remington, you’re in luck because the most popular rifle in America is chambered in that round. The AR-15 carbine is unquestionably America’s favorite rifle and is available in a myriad of different configurations, barrel lengths, and has enough accessories to make your head spin.

If you want a semi-automatic rifle in 5.56 but don’t want an AR-15, there are many other options available. The Ruger Mini-14, Kel-Tec RDB, IWI Tavor, and even AK’s chambered in 5.56 are all viable semi-auto options.

However, if you want a bolt-action rifle there are plenty of 223 Remington offerings from every major manufacturer. Bolt-action rifles chambered in 5.56 NATO are a bit harder to find, however the Ruger American Ranch, the Ruger GUNSITE Scout, and Mossberg MVP Patrol are a few options.

A Brief History of the 223 Remington and 5.56 NATO

After the Korean War, the U.S. Military started designing a new rifle cartridge for its frontline service rifles. And in 1954 the 308 Winchester (7.62x51mm NATO) was adopted to fill this role.

However, after early engagements in Vietnam, the U.S. Army wanted a new rifle that fired a lighter, intermediate cartridge like the AK-47. This would allow their soldiers to carry more ammo into battle while maintaining powerful terminal ballistics to remain combat effective.

This was the beginning of the 223 Remington.

Development of the 223 Rem rifle round began in 1957 and the final design was submitted by Remington Arms to the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) in 1962.

The development of the 223 Remington cartridge was a joint operation organized by the U.S. Continental Army Command between Fairchild Industries, Remington Arms, and Eugene Stoner of Armalite, using the 222 Remington as a parent cartridge.

The original 223 Rem mil-spec ammo that the U.S. Military adopted was named M193, which fired a 55 gr full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3260 FPS with a muzzle energy of 1294 foot-pounds.

The M193 cartridge served the U.S. Army all the way through Vietnam, however, FN Herstal changed the game in the several years later.

In 1980, the Belgian firearms and cartridge manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal submitted their designs for the SS109 5.56x45mm cartridge to NATO for approval. The SS109 fires a 62-grain FMJ bullet with a mild steel penetrator tip at 3,110 fps and has a muzzle energy of 1,325 ft-lbs.

The U.S. Military designation for the 5.56mm NATO SS109 is the M855.

The new 5.56mm NATO cartridge had identical external dimensions to the 223 Remington, however the NATO cartridge can handle a higher maximum pressure.

Back to the Best 223 For Deer Hunting

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what 223 Remington has to offer, let’s get back to our top 5 list by clicking HERE!

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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 >>