Updated: Feb 14
There is no “Best” Firearm when it comes to hunting whitetail deer. Not one caliber or gauge that will cover all needs, circumstances, or variables while a field. One advantage we all have in this day and age is the wide variety of options we have to chose from. Development in technology and states laws have helped to compound and expand these options. The weapon for hunting white tail deer is an individual and personal thing, as such the choice should be made off of each hunter’s particular needs. These needs can change based on region, terrain, and habitat. For example hunting a thick forested area in northern Michigan is going to differ from hunting wide open ranges out west. The hunter in the first example is apt to make very close range shots as opposed to the latter who may find themselves shooting hundreds of yards.
In recent years changes in some states laws have made straight wall rifle cartridges very popular. These changes turned “shotgun only zones” into “Limited firearm zones” legalizing the use of straight walled cartridges in these areas. Among the most popular would be the 450 bushmaster. The 450 bushmaster makes use of .452” bullets. Ballistically, the .450 Bushmaster has a rather flat trajectory out to 200 yards; if the firearm is zeroed at 150 yards, the user can expect to see a rise of 1.8 inches at 100 yards, zero at 150 yards, and a drop of 4.9 inches at 200 yards. It seems to be a very versatile round giving a hunter range advantage when compared to a shotgun in these “limited firearm zones”. The 350 legend round is another notable straight walled cartage. With similar ballistics as the 450 but using a smaller diameter bullet, hunters choosing this caliber will experience reduced recoil and higher velocities when compared to the 450 bushmaster. A rifle cambered in this would be a great choice for young hunters or hunters looking to give their shoulder a break from their old reliable 12-gauge slugs.
When it comes to rifle cartridges the sportsman has no shortage of options. The time honored .30/30 has been a popular round for decades and in the hands of a fairly competent shooter is more than adequate for hunting whitetail. Though it wouldn’t be considered a long-range rifle round its stayed popular, It performs best within 150 yards and is able to shoot through brush without the bullet being deflected off target. The 308 is probably one of the most popular calibers and for good reason. Accuracy, sufficient knockdown power, and long-range shooting capabilities have given plenty of reasons to make this round a hunter’s favorite. These widened capabilities make the 308 a great choice when hunting more open terrain or habitats maximizing your effectiveness in these areas. From a trajectory standpoint if we are looking at a 8 inch vital zone the cartridge should allow the shooter to hold on center of this zone and still hit it out to 300 yards, even in a reasonable cross wind. These reasons make the 308 a great round for hunting Deer from the wide open farm fields in the Midwest to mountainous regions in western North America. There are many suitable calibers that give you the long-range advantages 30/06 and 300 Winchester Magnum are some other great choices to research.
When hunting heavy brush and dense timber the shotgun is generally a logical choice. The most popular in this category would be the 12ga. A 12ga slug provides a large amount of knock down power and when hunting these thick habitats the heavy slug provided enough brush busting power to carry through foliage and vegetation to its intended target. The shotgun is one of the most efficient firearms for hunting deer at close range. Using the shotgun armed with solid-slug shot shells and a fully rifled barrel a hunter can expect almost rifle like precision out to 75 yards. Some experienced sportsman see success out to 100 yards with these loads. Another aspect to look at when talking about shotgun hunting is the ability to use buckshot (where legal). Now this is not my personal preferred round however I can point out some advantages. If you are hunting at close range where the deer will probably be running buckshot is a good choice. It gives you the ability to swing and aim at the deer instinctively while on the run. It may be wise to use slugs for your second or third shot since at this point, they would be farther away. The “scatter gun” is limited in deer hunting. No. 0 is effective out to 50 yards where No. 00 is effective out to about 60. Another good potion to look at when shotgun hunting is a 20ga. The 20ga provides reduced recoil for the shooter allowing you to stay on target easier if a follow up shot is needed. A great choice for and older or young hunter as the reduced recoil will be easier on the shoulder as well. When comparing the two you are giving up more power for less recoil.
There is no end all be all. I would encourage everyone to do some research investigate your personal needs such as where you will be typically using the firearm and try to make an educated decision on your own. Hopefully this article has given you a starting point and some suggestions for items to start considering. As stated before, the weapon for hunting white tail deer is a very individual and personal thing only you can find what will work best for you.