What Rifle Should I Use For Deer Hunting?

Hunting deer is something humans have done for thousands of years, and whitetail deer hunting has cultural traditions. It’s essential to North American heritage. It predates the creation of several states. All hunters have their preferences, including how, where, and when they want to hunt. So it’s no surprise that there are various opinions about which deer hunting rifle to choose. 

What makes the best deer rifle?

To go big game hunting, you’ll need a great rifle. But it can be hard to know what you’re looking for. A considerable variety of rifles are effective for whitetail hunting, so we’ll start by looking at the things that make an excellent deer rifle. There are hundreds of rifles across these categories, from traditional bolt actions to semi-autos, pump guns, rolling blocks, and lever actions. With so many rifles, you could probably hunt with a different gun every day of hunting season and not run out. 

Deer rifle action

 The action refers to the way the rifle works – each rifle has parts like the bolt, barrel, chamber, and firing pin. It’s the way these operate that determines the rifle action. Selecting the best type for your deer rifle is a matter of preference, but there are some general things to consider. 

Traditional bolt action rifle

The trusty single-shot bolt action is one of the most common traditional deer rifles. The bolt action has few moving parts and is inherently simple; generally, bolt actions are reliable and accurate. Depending on barrel length/size, stock materials, and preference, they can be built heavy or light. They can offer quick follow-up shots with practice, but magazine capacity is restricted to 3-5 rounds. With the right rifle in the right hands, you can take a deer down at 400+ yards. 

Some notable mentions in this category are the Remington 700, Winchester Model 70, Remington Model 7, and Remington Model 783. All are excellent, powerful, and designed for precision. 

Lever action rifles for deer hunting

 Lever guns are easy to handle and usually sport a short barrel (compared to bolt guns), making them quick to the shoulder. Since they are traditionally chambered in lower velocity rounds with heavier bullets, lever-action rifles are usually used at shorter ranges (<200 yards). Browning, Savage, Remington, Springfield, and Henry offer lever-action rifles. 

Semi-automatic rifle for deer hunting

 Semi-auto rifles are pretty new to deer hunting; the AR15 prototype design wasn’t available until the 1960s (around a century after Pennsylvania had its first deer season). There’s no doubt that hunters have used SKS rifles, Brownings, and Remington Woodmasters, but AR rifles are more popular. Semi-auto rifles come with various chamberings, with high magazine capacity and the  accuracy of a bolt gun at most distances. Chamberings like the .300 blackout are versatile and practical. 

Bullet design

 The design of your bullet is crucial for lethal effectiveness and accuracy. Your bullet is the only part of your equipment that directly connects with the deer and can make or break your experience. Choose a bullet that is compatible with your rifle caliber and designed for your hunting style. 

The Hornady Precision Hunter factory-loaded ammunition is excellent for accuracy and terminal performance.  Hornady engineers develop match-accurate hunting loads that allow the ELD-X bullet to express its maximum potential. 

  • Heavy bullets aren’t as accurate at long ranges, but they pack quite a punch at shorter distances. 
  • Lighter hunting bullets can be affected by light winds and carry less kinetic energy. 
  • You can experiment with various weights and bullet designs to see what your rifle’s sweet spot is. Experimenting with barrel length, twist rate, and bullet velocity will help you see what shoots best from your rifle.

For decades, the  Hornady Interlock bullets have been a favorite of hunters, in addition to the 270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum, and American Whitetail ammo combines modern components and technology with traditional ballistics knowhow. 

Deer rifle optics

All seasoned deer hunters know one of the most crucial parts of this discussion is optics. Deer rifle optics can make or break your hunting experience – choosing the proper scope is key. When deciding on a scope, several factors include lens aperture, variable power, weight, and size.  

Deer rifle scope magnification

The correct magnification is paramount; too much zoom can make finding the target hard, and too little on a long shot can make it hard to aim correctly. The classic scope is 3X9, but a fixed four-power (on a close-range 30-30) can work too. A 4X12 on a .300 win mag can also work.

  • Consider the shot distance and base magnification on long-distance shots and near shots. 
  •  Higher magnification usually translates to greater optic weight. Ensure you consider the extra weight of the high-powered scope. 

If you’re looking for a high-power optic that is variable and works with centerfire rifles, you can’t go  Prime 4-12X40. Featuring the Multi-X Reticle, it offers a classic sight picture. 

Rifle caliber

The two primary considerations are the size/shape of the bullet  and the size of the cartridge. A heavier bullet hits harder than a light bullet does, but the heavier bullet will need a larger cartridge with higher recoil. A lighter bullet may also be more accurate at longer ranges, though they will be more vulnerable to wind changes.  A heavier bullet won’t always reach the long distances you need for deer hunting. 

Deer rifle scope lens aperture

 The lens aperture is the size of the scope lens nearest to the muzzle. The lens gathers light. The larger the lens is, the brighter the image in the scope will be. A larger lens offers you a clear view in low light conditions(such as dawn and dusk). Generally, scope lenses vary from 30mm, 40mm to 50mm. If you’re looking for a new configuration at a mid-range price, the  Engage 3-9×40 riflescope is a classic that you can’t go wrong with. 

Wrapping up 

The choice of deer rifle is ultimately yours, it’s great if you have a gun passed down in the family, but if not, you can buy an excellent weapon. It would be best if you considered distance, rifle accuracy, and the effectiveness of your cartridge. Getting to know what your rifle can do can be done with some practice at the range. With time, trial and error, you can build a deer rifle that is personal to you, your hunting area, circumstances, and preferences. Regardless of the type of rifle you settle on, I hope it serves you well!  

Learn more about deer hunting with our top tips!


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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