One of the most-commonly asked questions about deer rifles regards the amount of recoil. Nobody – who is being honest, at least – enjoys getting pummeled. Generally speaking, larger rounds have more knockdown power on game, but they also pack more foot-pounds of recoil energy into the shooter’s shoulder. On bigger game, that’s a necessary trade-off, but on thinner-skinned deer, low-recoiling choices are plentiful. 

Whether the hunter is young, of smaller frame, has shoulder/neck/back issues, or simply doesn’t like getting pushed around, the reasons for softer-shooting chamberings – and rifles – are many. We’ve included a rough measurement of recoil in foot-pounds, but you should be aware that the weight of the firearm, stock type, and ammunition play a major role in that number as well. Here are our top six selections for low-recoiling chamberings and just a few of our favored guns that fire them. 

.243 Winchester


243 Ammo
.243 can bring a punch even if it rings in at a few pounds less. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Some big game hunters write off the .243 Win as being too anemic for deer, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While it certainly lacks magnum knockdown power, choosing the proper projectile and making decent shots has bagged this round nearly as many deer as any other on this list. 

Ammo and bullet selections abound, making it easy to tailor the .243 for varmints, predators, deer, and other medium-sized game. What’s more, the .243 Win will reach out to 300 yards for clean kills with correct shot placement, though closer-range shots offer greater certainty. Almost every manufacturer builds a rifle for this round, including plenty of compact, bantam, or otherwise smaller-framed stocked variants. 

.350 Legend

Federal .350 Legend
.350 Legend is nothing to shake your head at either. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The newest round on our list is also one of the softest shooting. The straight-walled cased round was developed with those states in mind where traditional centerfires aren’t allowed, but its blend of low-recoil appeal have endeared it quickly to all types of deer hunters. 

The .350 Legend has an effective whitetail range of 200 yards or less, but many deer hunters find themselves in much closer quarters. For them, the .350 Legend has the knockdown power to sweep deer off their feet with aplomb. And the .350 is an incredibly light-kicking gun. In fact, in a heavier-weight rifle, there’s almost none at all. The .350 is ideal in semi-automatic sporting rifles, but it also does well with bolts and single shots. 

7mm-08 Remington

7mm-08 Ammo
7mm offers power and distance. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Some rounds are simply underrated for no good reason, and the 7mm-08 falls squarely into that category. Pound for pound, it offers lesser recoil with greater terminal performance than most others on this list. The details are a bit more involved, but at its root, the 7mm-08 Rem is a necked-down .308 Win casing accepting 7mm bullets. The extremely wide range of bullet weights and types offer hunters ample options. 

The 7mm-08 has some of the greatest effective range on this list, while remaining capable not only on deer but larger game as well, including mule deer, elk, and beyond. In fact, we know several hunters with replaced shoulder joints shooting heavier 7mm-08 Rem chambered rifles in pursuit of big bucks and more. 

.25-06 Remington

Choosing just one of the “.257s” is tough. The .257 Roberts is a real classic, while the .257 Weatherby is one of our all-around faves, though limited by ammo availability and its greater recoil than the other two. The .25-06 wins out for its blend of lower recoil and greater variety for guns still chambering the round. Fans of the .30-06 Springfield will recognize the casing on the .25-06 Rem. It’s essentially a .30-06 casing that has been necked down to accept the smaller, lighter bullets. 

The round bridges the gap between big varmints, predators, antelope, and deer with a variety of bullet weights and types. There are lighter-recoiling rounds, but this one is something a bit more distinctive and still easy shooting. Though it’s lesser known, plenty of major manufacturers still chamber rifles for the .25-06 – and for good reason. 

6.5 Creedmoor


6.5 Creedmoor
6.5 Creedmoor isn't going anywhere either. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Love it or hate it, this Creedmoor is here to stay. Though initially designed for long-range shooting, the 6.5 Creedmoor has become a hunting darling. And one of its merits is relatively low recoil in return for capable performance on deer and even larger game. Couple that with stacks of different types of hunting ammunition and guns from every major builder, and the 6.5 interjects itself into every hunting conversation. 

It stretches the effective ranges of several other rounds on this list, offering potential for beanfield and western hunters. Whether seeking a bolt, lever, single-shot, semi-auto, or straight-pull rifle, there is a gun ready to fire the 6.5 Creedmoor. 

.30-30 Winchester

And there is just no getting past the classic .30-30, right? (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

No rounds listed herein have the rich deer-hunting history of the buck-bustin’ thirty-thirty. Though not the fastest or flattest, it is practical and traditional. Originally known as the .30 WCF – for Winchester Center Fire – the .30-30 Win is an American classic and has been since its inception in 1895. The round is a capable, lightly recoiling round built around steel and walnut lever actions. 

Though many of the guns once chambering the round are now out of production, the used racks are open. Further, Henry Repeating Arms builds enough different models to keep new buyers well supplied. Besides, it’s not just lever guns for the .30-30 Win. In the past, several companies built bolt guns, while the round is still currently chambered on multiple break-action single shots. Whether for new hunters or the most proficient, shooting the .30-30 Win is a necessary American deer hunting experience. 

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