The Best Deer Rifle for Young & Old

Ask 100 deer hunters what is the best rifle/caliber combination for deer hunting and you will likely get 100 different answers. Ask the same 100 deer hunters what is the best “youth rifle” for that up and coming hunter in the family and you’ll likely start World War II! So is there one rifle/caliber combination that works well for youth hunters, but is still something they can use well into future? Here are some thoughts on The Best Deer Rifle for Young and Old!

The truth is, most shots at whitetails will be well under 200 yards and the deer will likely weigh less than 250 lbs. For this type of hunting even a .22 Caliber center-fire rifle is perfectly adequate. With good shot placement and a premium hunting bullet, the .223 Remington or 22-250 is capable of cleanly taking average sized whitetails out to 200 yards. However, for states that have caliber restrictions, heavier deer, or the potential for shots out past 200 yards, the .243 Winchester is a better choice.

My personal favorite is the 7mm-08 Remington. While many consider the 7mm08 a “youth round” the 7mm-08 is far more capable than many give it credit for. With full power loads, it may even be too much gun for young hunters. Read these excerpts from the Alaska Fish & Game website about selecting the right gear for hunting in Alaska!

How accurately you shoot is far more important than the type of rifle, cartridge, and bullet you choose. Alaska has some very large game animals, including 1600- pound mature bull moose and 1500-pound coastal brown bears. Moose or brown bear hit in the gut with a large caliber magnum rifle such as the popular .338 Winchester® Magnum is wounded and just as likely to escape as if it had been hit with a small caliber rifle such as the .243 Winchester®. The bore size, bullet weight, and velocity are of secondary importance to precise bullet placement in the vital heart-lung area.

If you presently own a rifle chambered for the .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester or .30-06 and can place all of your shots in an 8-inch circle out to 200 yards from a sitting or kneeling position you can be a successful Alaska hunter.

The rifle you bring hunting should be one with which you are comfortable. Because of the presence of brown and grizzly bears, many hunters have been convinced that a .300, .338, .375, or .416 magnum is needed for personal protection and to take large Alaska game. This is simply not true. The recoil and noise of these large cartridges is unpleasant at best and plainly painful to many shooters. It is very difficult to concentrate on shot placement when your brain and body remembers the unpleasant recoil and noise which occurs when you pull the trigger on one of the big magnums.”

“For most hunters, the upper limit of recoil is the .30-06 or 7mm Remington Magnum®. A majority of hunters are more comfortable with a .308 or .270.

If the 7mm-08 is capable of taking moose in Alaska, it is certainly more than adequate for whitetails. The 7mm-08 is simply the .308 Winchester necked down to .28 Caliber. The difference between a 140 grain 7mm08 and a 150 grain .308 bullet is .022 ounces and .024 inches in diameter. No whiteail on earth will be able to tell the difference between the two! However, the advantage of the 7mm-08 is that you can regularly find 120 grain bullets and reduced recoil rounds that put the felt recoil at or below 12 lbs. Comparably the 150 grain .308 is 15.8 lbs and the standard bullet weights for the .270 and 30-06 are all over 17 lbs of felt recoil.

My favorite all around rifle is a Ruger M77 Compact in 7mm-08. The shorter barrel and length of pull (LOP) stock make it ideal for moving around in box blinds, tree stands or carrying it through the woods. The shorter length of pull also comes in handy when you have on an extra 5 layers of camo clothing. However, lightweight, compact rifles with standard 7mm-08 loads can pack quite the punch for young hunters. These youth rifle modifications reduce the weight of the rifle, which increases felt recoil, so it may not be the best option for kids under 12 unless paired with some reduced recoil rounds.

Comparing Family Trees .308 Vs 30-06
To often we get caught up in the debate of which caliber is better, but truth be told, most of the popular calibers are just variations of the 30-06 or .308 cartridge. Below is a table of both the .308 and 30-06 family trees.

The .308 Family Tree includes

  • 243 Winchester
  • 260 Remington
  • 7mm-08 Remington
  • 308 Winchester
  • 338 Federal
  • 358 Winchester

The 30-06 Family Tree includes

  • 25-06 Remington
  • 270 Winchester
  • 280 Remington
  • 30-06
  • 338-06
  • 35 Whelen

The bottom line is don’t get so caught up on caliber selection because knock down power is a myth. Find a rifle that fits you and that you can shoot well. Select a good premium hunting bullet, and practice! A light recoiling rifle in a short handy platform will make shooting and hunting more enjoyable, and that is what it is all about.