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Best Whitetail Deer Hunting Rifle

Updated on October 21, 2011

What's the best whitetail deer rifle? Is it the .308? The .270? Maybe the 30/30, 30/06. 35 Remington, 7mm-08, and on and on and on.

What about action? Are bolt actions truly superior? Lever-actions faster? Single-shots more accurate? Semi-auto's and pumps too problematic?

Got news for you. The best rifle for whitetail hunting is the one you can shoot accurately, handle easily and you just plain like. Nothing else really matters.

Oh of course the caliber needs to be adequate, and legal. And the gun needs to be well-built and reliable. But when it comes to specifics, pick what you want to spend your money on.

For a few decades there's been a tradition in my family that for a first deer hunt a certain rifle is used. It's a single-shot built on a modest shotgun frame that a family friend made a barrel for. It's chambered in .357 Magnum, has a 3 power scope on it and is not the prettiest thing in the world. But, it has been used to kill at least 50 deer, and probably a lot more.

And yet there are those who are going to tell you that you just can't do that. You have to have the latest and greatest, or the time proven and true, or so and so's favorite or whatever. Nonsense. The reason so many deer have fallen before this simple little gun is because before a new hunter is allowed to hit the woods with it, they have shot it hundreds of times. It's why it was chambered for .357, because we reload. And since the .38 Special is probably the cheapest and easiest round to reload and works just fine in .357, it's possible to practice with hundreds of rounds for next to nothing.

And practice is what really matters. Understanding what the rifle you carry is capable of, and even moreso, what you are capable of, is what will lead to your success in the woods.  Worry more about scent control and stand placement than the gun if you want to put meat in the freezer and antlers on the wall.

Pick a rifle that fits your comfort level first. A rifle that you can afford, that suits your personal taste, and that fits your body. If you're recoil sensitive, take that into account, if you have a limited ammunition budget, consider that cost. Consider what else you may want to use this rifle for. If you maybe want to use it for the occasional coyote hunt or you'll also be hunting pigs, or maybe want to go after something like elk or bear and this will have to be the rifle you use. Then examine the different loadings commercially available or the prospect of loading your own. Then start looking at different guns and calibers and find the one that fits your personal needs.

There are a number of different calibers that will fill any criteria you set. My personal favorites are the 30-06, the .308, the 35 Remington and the .45-70. You might not even consider one of these, and yet, oddly enough, you will still be able to kill a deer. You might even decide that you want to use a muzzleloader, or a shotgun and slugs or even a bow. And you will still be able to kill deer, even though the article in your favorite magazine or that guy on the message board said you "Have" to use this rifle in this caliber or you're doomed to fail.

But really, what these people are telling you about is collecting guns, not hunting. Not that there's anything wrong with collecting guns, not in my house at least. But when it comes to putting meat in the freezer, go ahead and satisfy your personal tastes, then worry about what some other guy thinks you should be using.


Submit a Comment

  • PK Jones profile imageAUTHOR

    PK Jones 

    6 years ago

    Next time I see that gun I'll try and get a couple pictures. Last I heard it was in the hands of a 12 year old cousin getting ready for his first deer season.

    I just bought me a new favorite hunting gun. A Ruger Bisley framed Hunter in .44 Magnum. Love the thing and will be doing a review on it soon.

  • jimmar profile image


    6 years ago from Michigan

    I live in one of those areas where center fire rifles are prohibited. Modern slug guns are accurate. I have two, both with scopes. Some modern slugs are designed to be effective and accurate at 200 yards if the sights are zeroed at 150. I have never taken a shot over 150 yards because I don't hunt deer in the plains or mountains. I hunt in the wooded farmlands and don't need the range so like you I use a rifled shotgun or muzzle-loader, or archery equipment. - too bad you didn't include a photo of your .357 rifle

  • PK Jones profile imageAUTHOR

    PK Jones 

    6 years ago

    Some states, and even more localities, you are limited to a shotgun. Centerfire rifles aren't legal for hunting everywhere. And plenty of us are successful with archery equipment. The gun I most commonly carry hunting is either a .50 caliber muzzleloader or a Model 29 Smith and Wesson. My primary hunting land is in a county where centerfire rifles are illegal for deer hunting. It's nice to be able to reach out 400 yards with a rifle, but you don't have to. Bowhunters can attest to that.

    But it really doesn't matter, it's not the weapon, it's the person behind it. People put too much worry into what they don't have and start to think that what they do have isn't good enough. If all you have is your Grandad's old single shot 20 gauge and that's all you can afford, don't let that keep you out of the woods. Spend some time learning that gun and how it performs with different slugs and you'll be fully capable of taking deer.

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Well u see a shotgun with a scope Doesn't cut it for most


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