Favorite Deer Rifles
I killed my first deer in 1970, I think. I shot it at about 125 yards with my father’s custom Model 98 Mauser in 7x57mm caliber. I don’t remember the load I used, but it was probably a Federal factory load firing a139-grain bullet at about 2,800 feet per second. One shot did the trick.
Since that day I have shot far more than my fair share of deer. Many of these were shot on ranches trying to control the deer population and did not count on my license. Over the years I have used an immense number of different cartridges. I have always been an experimenter and generally have a couple of new rifles or cartridge that I need to test on game. Luckily I have had many friends with property who would gladly allow me to follow my star. In addition to deer, hogs have also been a wonderful testing ground for my rifles.
Over the years that I have been a professional outdoor writer, I have written very little about the .270 Winchester. That is because no one likes to follow on the heels of the late, great, Professor Jack O’Connor, whose totem was the .270 and about which he wrote many thousands of words. What he said about this magnificent cartridge cannot be improved upon by me or any other modern writer. However, this does not lessen its quality. If there is a better cartridge purely for deer hunting, I don’t know what it would be.
The .270, firing a 130-grain bullet at up to 3,200 feet per second, is second to none. It is probably the one cartridge that I would bet on for instantaneous one-shot kills on deer, and that includes many cartridges that have more power on paper. When I am serious about killing a deer, I will have a .270 in my hands most of the time.
My pet load for many years has been the same load that O’Connor shot most—a 130-grain Speer soft point over 62 grains of Hodgdon’s H4831 in Winchester cases with CCI 200 primers. In most of my guns this load has given a velocity of about 3,150 feet per second. (This is a maximum load. If you intend to use it, start with 56 or 57 grains and work up a half-grain at a time. Some guns will not take this load, so be very careful.)
I consider the .270 Winchester the perfect pure deer cartridge for Texas, and for most of the United States.
The first entry in my first reloading journal is from October 1971. It says: .25-06, 100-grain Sierra Spitzer, 51 grains IMR 4350, MV-3,129. Now, I don’t know how I knew the velocity, since this was long before the days of personal chronographs, but it is pretty close. The new Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading says that load should be between 3,100 and 3,150 feet per second.
I have been a fan of the .25-06 for most of my life. One of the more colorful characters who shaped my life was an old ne’er-do-well in Benjamin, Texas, named Tick Moorehouse. When I was a kid in Benjamin, Tick was mostly unemployed, but I guess he worked enough at odd jobs to keep him in powder, primers, and bullets.
He had a nice .25-06, a Mauser, I think, and with it he shot hundreds of coyotes, some at truly incredible ranges. I knew that when I grew up I wanted to have a .25-06, just like Tick’s, and the first rifle I bought with my own money was a .25-06 Remington Model 700 ADL. I bought it in a Gibson’s Discount Center in Uvalde for, if memory serves, $117.
I mounted a 4X scope on it, bought a cheap reloading outfit, and started learning to reload. I hunted deer, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes with that one rifle, and it performed admirably on all of them. I shot it so much that in a period of less than eight years, I wore out the barrel. Since that time I have almost always had a .25-06 in my modest collection of guns.
Today I have two .25-06s. One is a Savage that I was given when I retired from the Border Patrol, and one is a full custom rifle built on a post-64 Model 70 action, with a Lothar-Walther barrel and McMillan stock. Both will shoot three shots into less than an inch at 100 yards, push a 100-grain bullet to 3,300 feet per second, and kill deer like bolts of lightning.
The .25-06 is my idea of the perfect combination coyote/deer rifle for Texas. For deer I currently shoot 110-grain Nosler AccuBonds, and for coyotes I shoot either 87-grain Sierras or 85-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips.
So now you know. My favorite deer calibers are the .270 Winchester and the .25-06. With the right loads they are dynamite on deer and neither kicks so much that it is hard to shoot well. In the .270 the customary 130-grain bullets are best, and in the .25-06 either 100- or 110-grain bullets work best. Stay away from the varmint- weight bullets and either will do you proud.
Note: The reloading information contained in this article is safe only in the rifles of the author. Neither the author nor Texas Fish & Game magazine is responsible for the use of this data.
Email Greg Berlocher at ContactUs@fishgame.com