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Popular Calibers for Hunting Deer

William W (Bill) Gabbard

popular calibers

“Well,” I said to myself, “here we go again.” 

What are the most popular calibers for whitetail deer, not the best caliber, not my favorites, but just popular? That should be easy. Just call all the ammunition manufacturers and ask them to list their top ten. It turns out it isn’t quite that simple. Seems like those guys sort of want to keep their numbers secret. Can’t say that I blame them. I love to get other people opinions so, I started asking a few friends their opinions. 

Paul Johnson from a little deeper in the mountains than I am said, “It depends on what part of the country you are in.” Hank Patton, who lives a little farther down in the flatlands, quickly answered 6.5 Creedmoor and 30-06. Really, both were good answers. I quickly learned that most people have a favorite and theirs will be on the list. I talked to a couple of local retailers. Beth Roberts, manager of Levi Gun and Pawn, answered 243 and 30-06. Kenny Childers of Spencer’s Pawn Shop replied 6.5 Creedmoor, 243, 30-06 and 30-30. David Gabbard Jr. of Lawrenceburg quickly said 243 and 30-30. 

boxes of bullets

I looked at most of the ammo manufacturers websites to see how many offerings each one had for different calibers. I thinned the list by dropping a few calibers that some readers feel should be on the list - the 204 Ruger, 223 and other similar rounds that I felt are primarily varmint rounds. Yes, I know that these have and will continue to take whitetail successfully. However, they are not considered by most as deer hunting calibers. I started with the 243 Winchester and topped out at the 300 Winchester Magnum. Then I counted only the loadings that the manufactures recommended for “deer-sized” game. 

I found some interesting, but not surprising numbers. Of the manufacturers that I looked at 7 of the 8 produce hunting ammo for the 30-06 Springfield. Hornady, Winchester and Federal Premium each offered 13 suitable for deer-sized game. Remington had 10, Nosler 8, Black Hills 4 and Sierra had 1. That was a total of 62 different loads suitable for whitetail deer! In good times, that would be a lot of options to choose from.

Nosler bullet

Surprisingly not far behind was the 308 Winchester with 54 different loads. The 270 Winchester was third with 45 offerings. Fourth place was a tie with the 243 Winchester and the 300 Win Mag at 36 each. Next was the 6.5 Creedmoor with 33 choices available. 

In some ways, this is a wakeup call to ammunition designers. There are new calibers introduced every year, but every caliber ranked higher on this list has been around for many years. The 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced in 2007, so for a newcomer to have climbed this fast in the sales chart is quite a feat. Nosler, known for high quality hunting bullets and Semi-Custom rifles, is now making ammunition. They offer 7 different loads for the Creedmoor. Berger, which is primarily a premium bullet manufacturer new to the ammunition business, even offers 2 choices for the 6.5 Creedmoor. The next cartridge on the list was the 7mm Remington Magnum. The 7mm Rem Mag has 32 options in deer-sized loads. Rounding out the top-10 were the 30-30 Winchester, the 25-06, and another relative newcomer, the 7mm-08. This list is fluid, of course, with certain offerings being dropped and new ones added all the time. It is, however, a good look into what people are buying, since that is what the ammunition companies are making. 

different calibers of bullets

Next, I looked at the rifle manufacturers. The long and short of it is simple. Basically, if a company makes a short action bolt gun it is available in 6.5 Creedmoor.  If they make long action rifles, it is available in 30-06 except for Nosler.

A few notable mentions would include the 6.5 Grendel, which is extremely popular in the AR/MSR platform. The 260 Remington has a small but loyal following. The 280 AI seems to be gaining ground, and the Nosler line of hot-rods, especially the 28 Nosler, are developing quite a fan base. 

When shooting at the local sportsman’s club range, I always pick up spent brass and take note. The afternoon that I was finishing this article - the week before deer season - I went down to the local range to zero in a scope on a 7mm 08, and picked up brass and checked the headstamps. I found 30-06, 25-06, 270, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 243. The manufacturers probably know what people are buying!

Gamekeeper podcast hunting calibers
This week on the Gamekeepers podcast, the guys discuss their thoughts on the best caliber and bullet choice for whitetails. Two guests join us, Pat Mundy of Nosler and Carsie Young, who just so happens to have been the third employee ever hired at Mossy Oak, and who also knows a whole lot about rifles. Calibers, bullet choices, sighting in techniques and understanding barrels and triggers are all discussed. 

Mossy Oak Store deer hunting

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