.257 Roberts
Nick dropped this stag on the spot with one well-placed shot with his favourite cartridge, the .257 Roberts

More kill, less kick: milder cartridges to take deer-sized game


The red stag, a decent double-six, was grazing quietly, working his way toward me. There was no need to use my laser rangefinder; he was between 160 and 200m away. With my .257 Roberts sighted in for the calculated maximum point-blank range, I could hold dead-centre on his chest and be certain of scoring an instant kill.

When he turned broadside, I was ready. The crosswires settled on the reddy-brown hair behind his shoulder and I pressed the trigger. I heard the bullet hit with a solid thump and the deer dropped on the spot. The .257 Roberts, pushing the 100gn Barnes TSX out of the muzzle at 3236fps, had done its job.

6.5 Creedmoor
The mild 6.5 Creedmoor could be called overrated against other 6.5s but it can still take deer out to 300m

One argument I often hear when I praise the merits of smaller-bore rifle cartridges like the 6mm and .25s for deer at long range is that they don’t have the bullet weight required for quick, clean kills. This is nonsense. As long as these bullets perform — penetrate and expand — they’ll do immediate mortal damage to a deer’s lungs and heart, putting it down quickly.

Which of the milder cartridges, then, are adequate for deer-size game at longer range — beyond 200m? The list begins with the 6mm and ends with the .30 calibre. Since the smaller cartridges do the job well, I see no reason to use the bigger cartridges and put up with their heavier recoil.

Two of my favourite cartridges are modest and ancient creations that have been kicking around since the 1920s. The good old .257 Roberts and the .25-06 are just two of the cartridges that work well for taking deer-size game at ranges beyond 100 metres. 

They are modest rifle cartridges that shoot ballistically efficient spitzer-style bullets at velocities high enough to afford flat trajectories, thus taking the guesswork out of precise bullet placement at long range — or at least over the normal distances at which deer are usually taken by stalking.

.25-06
Nick rates the .25-06 as one of the best smaller-bore cartridges you can get, and it’s brilliant on deer

As long as a bullet is chosen that’s designed to penetrate and expand at the remaining downrange velocities, these mild cartridges are deadly medicine for deer-size game at long range. 

In the category of ‘mild’ cartridges we can include the .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington, and the hottest of the factory 6s, the .240 Weatherby, which is just a bit more of a good thing. Driving a 100gn bullet at 3395fps, the .240 is a pleasant cartridge to shoot. The report is sharp but recoil is light and the bullet seems to get out there the instant the trigger is pressed.

The now widely popular 6.5mm class has several mild-kicking cartridges to suit deer, including the faithful 6.5×55, the overrated 6.5 Creedmoor and the .280 Ackley Improved.

There has been a steady sale of 7mm cartridges in this country and there is still something of a 7mm boost with the recent introduction by Hornady of the 7mm PRC. 

Various reasons have contributed to the 7mm-08’s falling off in popularity including the rash of 6.5mm rounds that have saturated the market. The 7mm-08’s ballistics are ample but not sensational, and competition with the 6.5 Creedmoor and .280 Ackley Improved did it no good.

7mm-08
The 7mm-08’s popularity may be fading but it is a strong, flat-shooting, mild-kicking option that is worth considering

Nonetheless, the 7mm-08 still a favourite with experienced and sophisticated shooters who know game is killed by exact placement of shots and not by a loud report and a big kick.

The Speer 130gn bullet can be accelerated very nicely in the 7mm-08. A compressed charge of 50gn of AR2209 gives the Speer 130gn bullet just under 3000fps and pressure which seems moderate. This is a very flat-shooting load and accuracy is good.

Now the question that arises is, if you’re equipped with a mild cartridge capable of downing deer-size game at 200m, should you really be shooting at long-range game? I see no reason why not, providing you have equipped your rifle with a good scope and have done enough hunting to be sure of placing your bullet in the vital area of a deer at that range.

The .308 Winchester is popular and justifiably so. The best shot I ever made on a deer was with a scope-sighted .308 at 320 paces. I could only see the top of the deer’s back, took a rest over a log, held what looked like 10 inches over the top of the spine and broke it.

In the past my preference was always for a good 150gn bullet in the .308 driven at just over 2800fps by 48gn of W-748. Nowadays W-748 is no longer available, but I’m getting about the same velocity with 47gn of AR2208.

fallow deer
Even at longer ranges, fallow deer will fall easily to a well-placed shot from the right kind 6mm bullet

IT’S WHERE YOU HIT THAT COUNTS

A good deal of deer hunting has convinced this old hunter that deer are easy to kill if the bullet hits in the right place and performs properly. But I’m also convinced that if the bullet doesn’t hit in the right place deer are very hard to kill.

Almost always, you should try to place the bullet through the lungs behind the foreleg. If the deer is not broadside, angle your shot to drive the bullet into this area. The lung shot is a good one because it is a large target, easy to hit, and if the bullet behaves properly the deer seldom goes far and generally drops in its tracks or a few metres from where it was hit. 

In addition, the bullet that goes through the deer’s rib cage from side to side destroys no edible meat.

WHAT IS LONG RANGE IN THIS CONTEXT?

Is there a maximum range — a distance beyond which no hunter should try for a deer? In my humble opinion, yes.

I’ve hunted big game professionally and for fun for most of my life, and in that time I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a lot of game with a wide variety of rifles. As far as I am concerned, the mild cartridges are effective on deer-size game up to 300m, but only when the shot is well placed. Marksmanship is just as important as the cartridge used.

Still, the wise hunter will set 250m as their maximum with any cartridge — and then only when a solid rest is used. 

Depending upon the circumstances in the field, there are many times when even the most experienced hunter will find that 150-200m is maximum. Even then, if you are smart, you’ll always try to sneak closer.

The thing to keep in mind is that you owe it to the game you’re hunting to despatch it with a single, well-placed shot. If there is any doubt as to whether this can be done, even if the bullet is perfectly placed, then the only solution is to get closer.

 

 

 


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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.

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