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Hunting Big Deer with Small Bullets

Updated on May 20, 2012

For a while now, it has been no secret that .22 centerfires can kill deer.  However, until recently, most states have prohibited in most states.

Why?  Because the .22s - from .222 Remington up through .220 Swift - required a near perfect shot.  Unless a deer was shot at a relatively close range, and unless you hit the animal in a perfect location, and unless the bullets held together long enough to penetrate the skin and create fatal damage, the animal would just receive a horrible would that would indeed kill it, but not until it has already ran away.  No responsible hunter wants this.

Nowadays, we have .22 centerfire bullets that are made for big game and can hold together on large animals.  Some examples of these bullets are the 60-grain Nosler Partition, the 55-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, and the 50-grain Barnes TSX solid copper slugs.  These provide some room for error since they don't blow apart upon impact.  They also have the ability to penetrate.  Some factory cartridges include Norma .222 62-grain Soft Point, .223 Black Hills 60-grain Soft Point, .223 Cor-Bon DPX Hunter 62-grain, .223 Remington Premium 62-grain Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded, and a handful of others.


Hunting deer with a .22 centerfire is roughly the same as hunting birds with a .410 shotgun. There are two kinds of hunters that ethically do it. The first kind is a person who can not tolerate the recoil of a larger firearm, and those marksmen hunters who pick their shots and accept the limitations of the small bullets.

Don't even consider long range. The .220 Swift that tags prairie dogs at 400 yards loses steam so quickly that it is not much of a deer load beyond 200 yards or so. It's the same story with the .222, .223, and .22/250. They simply do not have the power beyond the two football field mark.

And there's only two shots you have as options. You can hit them on the broadside in the ribs, or directly in the chest if the animal is headed at you. If you can't get the angles for either of these shots, either wait it out, or start tracking another deer. Don't risk the shot of wounding an animal. Either drop it in it's tracks, or don't take the shot.

Big-game bullets and varmint bullets in .224 are not interchangeable. The former are built far more solidly than the latter. They will go straight through a prairie dog and into the wind to possibly create all kinds of problems. Varmint bullets will just explode on big game and not do you any good.

Special attention should be paid to .223 ammo. If it's military ball, don't use it. These bullets are meant to penetrate body armor and are capable of bouncing off the ground and into someone's home or camp. Nor will the bullet expand, which basically rules it out for deer hunting. Some .223 ammo is loaded with match bullets; though they're full-metal-jackets like the military ball stuff, they're too expensive for varmints and way too fragile for deer. Use them for shooting paper targets only.

Long story short, hunting big game with a .22 centerfire is a precision game. Choose your shots wisely.


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