It’s not like deer hunting needs to be any harder than it already is. It often seems like the hours and energy the average hunter devotes in the off-season to those few special weeks increases exponentially each year. You get educated, get into shape, go to the range, and try, sometimes in vain, to get into the heads of animals that are as cunning as they can be illogical. There’s stuff to buy, bags to set up, blinds to tend to—work to do.
Once afield, you split your days between waiting in the cold, the heat or the “buggy” with Zen-like patience and then hoofing it over crooked miles, laden down with heavy gear. And when your moment finally arrives and you get that unobstructed, broadside glance at your well-earned trophy, the wind shifts, your prey catches your scent and in the blink of an eye that buck that was standing right in front of you is somewhere in the next county.
So, why make it any harder? If you’re a serious hunter, taking a big animal with a lower caliber rifle can be a highly prized feather in your cap and raising the stakes by lowering the ballistics can recharge your enthusiasm for the hunt especially if the thunder of your .308 is starting to sound a little duller. This article will look at some smaller caliber firearms you may consider experimenting with in your grand whitetail strategy. Stay tuned for a follow up article on hunting with smaller calibers.
Depending on who you are and how you shoot, it may be in your best interest for that first step you take out of your caliber comfort zone to be a baby step. Sometimes touted as the perfect synthesis of low recoil, flat trajectory and higher caliber firing power, the “Bob” is considered to be an appropriate deer caliber throughout the United States. Much of this is due to the fact that no 6mm load can equal the .257 Roberts for big game hunting especially when loaded with 120-grain Spitzer Boat Tails (Federal Fusion Premium). Though not a heartily endorsed shot to take, this round is capable of tagging deer from up to 200 yards away and still brings a considerable amount of energy to the target for the size of the round. And you’ll be a real trendsetter too because nobody seems to be shooting .257s these days. If you’re still nervous about the sedate ballistics and you’ve got deeper pockets, consider the.257 Weatherby.
It has been said that of the menagerie of cartridges introduced since World War II, the .243 Winchester, introduced in 1955, has gained quicker and wider acceptance by hunters worldwide than any other cartridge. A necked down Winchester .308 in design, a .243 Winchester offers a near identical firing experience to a .257 Roberts—flat and fast—with less recoil and less power if you care about numbers. All things considered they are relatively interchangeable. The Winchester may win out though because .243 cartridges are falling from the sky, while, depending on where you live, .257 cartridges may take some finagling to get your hands on.
Hitting the production lines back in 1895, the .25-20 Winchester was once the acme of varmint arms and today remains popular as a speedy point and shoot small game rifle. Simply a necked-down cousin of the .32-20, the light bullets and cartridge construction may look on paper a little too dainty for deer. It’s not noted for its accuracy, 86-grain flat points are the heaviest loads you can get off the shelf and it is almost universally not considered a deer round.
So why recommend it? Because the history books tell a different story. Easy to shoot and economical to reload, it’s well documented that the .25-20 Winchester has played a leading role in the death of innumerable deer. As a versatile firearm, the .25-20 quickly became the Midwestern farmer and rancher’s gun of choice following its introduction and was undoubtedly used to cull pesky deer for decades until recoil became less of an issue in larger calibers. In fact, the James Jordan buck, which was shot in 1914 and held the Boone & Crockett world typical whitetail record from 1971 to 1993, was taken with the aide of his .25-20 Winchester (there is a story fit for the silver screen surrounding the loss and reacquisition of this legendary trophy which you can read about here).
Admittedly the .25-20 may be a tad maniacal and for this writer it definitively marks the bottom boundary for deer hunting with small calibers. Be warned: some states may not permit you to hunt with a caliber this small, so check your local listings before loading up your .25-20 this deer season.