The 5 Best Calibers for Hunting Whitetail Deer

deer rifle ammo caliber in magazine

A great thing about rifle hunting during deer season is the myriad of options you have in front of you. Archery presents its own challenges and is arguably the more difficult task, but a rifle gives you a higher likelihood of getting meat in your freezer.

Depending on where you are, you’ll find different regulations for the calibers of shells you’re allowed to hunt with. But no matter where you are, there are a few that stand above the crowd.

Now please, please keep in mind that the distance at which you’re shooting matters significantly when we’re talking about the velocity of these bullets. Personally, I rarely hunt fields. I’m usually in the woods, so I don’t need a caliber that will shoot three hundred yards—sixty to seventy does me just fine.

This is one reason you won’t find the 30-06 listed below: I believe it’s too much bullet for a whitetail. There are plenty of other rounds that do just fine, and maybe perform even better.

.25-06 Remington

25-06 caliber rifle round for deer hutning
Photo from Gander Outdoors

The .25-06 round is a classic among hunters—it was introduced specifically with deer in mind. It’s a long-range caliber that’s very popular in open country states, but does fine in the woods, too. It packs a little less of a kick, which is always appreciated when you aren’t shooting year-round. You’re looking at roughly 3,220 feet per second.

.35 Remington

.350 caliber remington deer rifle hunting round
Photo from Gander Outdoors

This is personally my round of choice. A .35 Remington round is perfect for mid-range (which I mentioned is about my distance anyway). You’re looking at a muzzle velocity of around 2,080 feet per second, and it’s golden up to about 150 yards.

.270 Winchester

270 caliber Winchester deer rifle round
Photo from Gander Outdoors

Known well for its deer-downing prowess, a .270 Winchester offers 3,060 feet per second. It’s used for game much larger than deer as well, so a big buck has nothing on it. The only downside is if you’re hunting a stand or someplace where a larger rifle (which is pretty much required with the longer round) isn’t viable, it’s difficult to make work. A lot of hunters choose it, though.

.308 Winchester

.308 caliber Winchester deer rifle hunting round
Photo from Gander Outdoors

Probably one of the most famous of deer rounds, the .308 Winchester is usually considered the best round available. It’s beautiful for longer distance shots of over 350 yards. You’ll find a muzzle velocity of 2,820 feet per second, and it’s common and easy to find. Plus, it’s easy on the arm and still packs plenty of impact power. It’s a win/win.

30-30 Winchester

30-30 caliber deer rifle hunting round
Photo from Gander Outdoors

Because—like I mentioned above—not everyone is hunting fields, the 30-30 is a beautiful bullet for stand shots in the woods. While it shoots true up to about 150 yards, it’s ideal below that with shots between 30 and 50 yards. You’re getting 2,465 feet per second, which seems weak compared to some of the other rounds listed here, but trust: a deer hit true with a 30-30 usually isn’t walking away.

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The 5 best calibers for hunting whitetail deer



  1. I don’t disagree with most calibers on the list, but how about 30.06, 7mm-08, 6.5 Creedmoor, 300 Win Mag, etc?

    I would disagree that .270 Win is unviable in a stand. I and many hunters I know use a .270 exclusively in stands.

    1. Hey Todd, there are plenty more rounds out there that can easily take a deer. These are just the top picks for the author. The .270 definitely can be shot from a stand, but some folks prefer not to use it that way. It comes down the personal preference. My advice is always to try a variety of ammunition and then choose the one that works for you. If .270 Win is your choice in the stand, then go for it.

  2. I like my 7.62 X 54 hunting round, it’s about halfway between a 30odd six and a 30,30 round. I use a russian WW2 Tokerive SVU

    1. Nice, Joel. What do you like about it specifically?

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