View Full Version : .243 for whitetail

Rob Pincus
January 25, 1999, 02:22 AM
I know, I know ....

(imagine southern or backwoods drawl)
".243's the best whitetail rifle ever made."
"You don't need a cannon, you need to know how to shoot."
"If you want the most meat, use the least gun.."


Over the weekend a friend of mine who owns a gun shop and is a pretty avid shooter lost two deer that were solid hits with his .243. Both shots were videoed and they were solid killzone hits. We walked around in the rain Friday night looking for one for about two hours, which he had hit right where the heart should've been. It ran out of a field about 150 yards from where it was hit.
It was found on Saturday after the morning hunt, about 300 yards from where it had originally been shot. Sure enough, the heart had been knicked by the bullet. The meat had been ruined by sitting overnight and half the day in the hot sun of Saturday. The rack was also broken, which could've happened while the deer was running.

On Saturday, the same individual hit another, even bigger deer, in the kill zone, on video, but it was lost. The blood trail dissappeared after a couple hundred yards. There were several experienced guides who knew the property trying to find it. As far as I know, the deer hadn't been found yet. That deer would've won a contest, from the look of it on the video.. and, of course, more lost meat.

Both shots were under 200 yards, the first one, at about 75.

So, my question, if you own a gun shop.. why do you go into the woods with a .243, especially for an "important" hunt ??

(I must admit that I lost a doe Friday, which I had hit with the RT Glock at about 50 yards. The blood trail was lost in the storm which started about 15 minutes after I had shot, just before dark. As warm as it got Saturday, we never looked for it, figuring the meat was already tainted and the coyotes might as well eat in the woods, instead of having to come the the lodge's dump.
BUT, If I'd've been shooting at a trophy buck, the 10mm pistol never would've come out of the holster at that range....)

January 31, 1999, 10:19 PM
Rob, I have heard similar stories with the .243. Here in the Northeast, if you don't put a deer down and out quick, you are guaranteed to either have it peppered by a few other hunters or have the animal run onto other property where you can't trespass.

I try to get as close as possible and use something with some horsepower to get the job done. In rifle, I'll use a 444 Marlin, 308Win, 280 Rem, 7mm08. Handgun out of a treestand, 445 Supermag, 44 Mag, 35Rem

Although a whitetail rarely drops in it's tracks when hit with anything, my experience with these calibers has proved them very reliable for me.

There are many others as well.

February 1, 1999, 08:42 PM
My cousin hunts with .243 for whitetail. He got a fork this year with it. I believe he hit it twice. IMHO bigger is better. I wouldn't hunt with a .243 unless that's all I had. I use a 7mm-.08, so its not like I've got a cannon, but I think .243 is too small. Just my opinion. At the risk of getting flamed big time I'll also say that I would never hunt with a handgun either. Most of my family doesn't consider a handgun a "real" gun, including an uncle who is an LEO. He hates the things with a passion. He tells stories about emptying the magazine of his Glock into a deer while on duty and not killing it. He goes for the shotgun anytime it looks like he might have to shoot.


February 2, 1999, 10:47 AM
Andy, While a handgun is no "rifle", they are perfectly adaquate for taking big game. Every weapon has it's limitations. To compare a Glock 9mm to a 44 Magnum loaded with a hard cast bullet when both are pointed at a deer is an apple to oranges debate.

I've hunted with handguns almost exclusively(where it is legal)for 12 years now and have never felt under gunned in the woods.The right handgun/caliber combination will harvest big game with regularity if used properly. One must accept any limitations beforehand and hunt accordingly. Whether it be a handgun,bow, muzzleloader, shotgun or rifle.

No matter what weapon I am using, I always try to get as close as possible to the game being hunted.

Lastly, don't dismiss a form of hunting or weapon until you have studied it, used it or have actually done it. There are reams of actual field experience with big game taken with a handgun, check it out.

There, that wasn't so bad, just a little singe around the eyebrows.

February 2, 1999, 06:01 PM
Maybe I should put my turnout gear on :)

February 3, 1999, 09:15 AM

Rob Pincus
February 3, 1999, 06:39 PM
Horror stories aside....
Boar has got to be one of the perfect game animals for a handgun hunt. You are generally close to the target and they make a good thick target. Even when they move, their bodies tend to follow an even plane.. they don't flex or bound as they move, like many game animals.

Mountain lion (using Dogs) is another good handgun target, from what I'm told.. I'm trying to set up a cat hunt early this spring.

February 3, 1999, 10:50 PM
Rob, When you book a cat hunt for handgun, ask the guide what calibers and bullet types they recommend.

For boar,see if you can get some of the hard cast LBT bullets to load up and try. There is a gent in Ohio who casts them for retail sale plus a few others out there. Or get yourself a mold. They are great hunting bullets. I'm currently using a 280gr.OWC in the 44 Magnum.

Rob Pincus
February 4, 1999, 12:13 AM
I am not very into Handloads, but thanks for the info. I honestly haven't reloaded a single round in over a year. I don't have the time for it. As they say, shooter's who don't reload must have more money than time.. I've got almost NO time, so it ain't hard ;).

We are shooting the cats with a .44 mag.

Ray VanderLinden
February 6, 1999, 04:54 AM
Okay I'll do it. I'll stand up for the .243! While I agree that the .243 is marginal, so is about any handgun you can use. As to the distance a deer will go. First I have found that shooting for the heart on a deer is a mistake. A heart shot deer will run up to a quarter mile. I have shot deer with a .243, and several other Rifle Calibers, but mostly with 12 Ga. slugs. I tracked a heart shot whitetail over 350 yards. That my friends was a 12 gauge. Of the .243 shots I've taken and those I've seen with that Caliber only one required tracking, about 150 yard in heavy brush. Not a hard track as there was a good blood trail.

As with a hand gun, you have to pick your shots and be patient. Also Don't shoot for the heart try to take both lungs, either just behind or below the heart. I've found that although the deer may stay on it's feet longer it will not travel as far. Somehow heart shots panic the deer into a blind race.

February 6, 1999, 06:33 PM
Excellent points, Ray. You've no argument from me. This is precisely why I believe in getting as close as possible and if need be passing up a shot.

I have virtually abandoned jacketed bullets in my larger caliber handguns and use cast bullets almost exclusively for hunting purposes. While a deer doesn't offer alot of resistance to a bullet, I subscribe to the "two holes are better than one" school. IMO there is nothing like a nice flat faced hunk of lead to do maximum boiler room damage and then leave through the back door.

I've pretty much settled on the OWC design from LBT.

Take Care

Jeff Thomas
February 8, 1999, 02:29 AM
Contender, and our other handgun hunters - I've never hunted with a handgun, but most of the magazine articles I see show the use of a scope. Do most handgun hunters use a scope? What reticles do you like? Choose a handgun scope like you'd choose a rifle scope? Thanks.

February 8, 1999, 09:16 AM
Jeff, Most of my hunting handguns do carry scopes. However, nothing above 2X. I have a 10" barrel Contender with a 1X Burris LER on it. Use it as primarily a treestand gun. The rest have 2X6 variables which are always on the 2X setting. I do use a 5 1/2" bbl. Super Blackhawk with open sites. I replaced the front blade with a C-More Hot Pink colored blade.

The main reason that I choose to scope a handgun is, to have a single sighting plane.
You loose field of view with the higher magnifications. For myself the 2x is about as high as I'd go for Big game. I'd go higher naturally for varmint hunting because of the physical size of the quarry. I use the plex reticle. I site in point blank out to the range I've limited myself to. That way there is no holdover guessing.

I always try to use a rest with a scoped handgun or any gun for that matter. However, I have taken offhand shots. I hunt in pretty dense woods most of the time so, I also try to get as close as possible.

I've never hunted with dogs for say, bear or boar but, the use of a handgun with open sites and multiple shot capability would be pretty much standard fair for the handgunner going after game in these situations.

Now, I know a competitive shooter that gets his deer every year with a Colt 45ACP from a treestand with a head shot. I don't even pretend to be that good.

Take Care ;)

Rob Pincus
February 8, 1999, 05:42 PM
Tell your competitive shooter that there are a lot of hunters who would really be irate if they came across a deer with an ear and half a rack OR a muzzle shot off by an errant show-off with a fancy .45acp.

That may be harsh, but it really burns me that someone would hunt that way and not just call himself a poacher.


I would encourage you to start a new thread about handgun scopes for hunting.


February 9, 1999, 12:18 AM
I understand your feelings Rob, I'd never even try to hunt that way no matter how good I was. However,compared to some of the absolute "winners" I meet up with in the woods being 55 miles north of New York City, this guy's "method" is pretty tame.

Take Care

Rob Pincus
February 9, 1999, 12:29 AM
ROTFLMAO! I understand completely. I grew up hunting in South Jersey.

Anyway, Headshots are for poachers, and even they use rifles.

There are a number of "meat hunters" I have met that prefer an upper neck shot when they can get it. But "no one" goes out looking for a head shot, certainly not with a handgun. Bravado on a target is one thing, but the risk of tragically maiming and animal seems to far outwiegh any personal satisfaction that such a feat could generate.

(okay, for those of you wondering if some PETA freak has taken over my membership..... I have seen some pretty badly maimed animals that have survived headshots (and several bad shots that hit legs) long enough for them to heal. I'm sure that those of you who have friends at the DNR can see some pictures of deer missing their upper jaws, snouts or an eye.)


Gregg Machacek
February 9, 1999, 11:43 PM
Rob I have been hunting deer here in N TX for 20 yrs. My 14 yr old son killed his first buck when he was 7. We have taken 20+ deer between the two of us. All were taken with a .243. Most fell dead in their tracks. One ran about 20 yds. In my opinion the .243 is a good deer gun. Gregg Machacek

Rob Pincus
February 9, 1999, 11:47 PM
Hey Greg,

I knew I wasn't imagining all the support and success the .243 enjoys.....

I guess my buddy was having a bad weekend.

Jeff Thomas
February 10, 1999, 02:48 AM
Contender, thanks for the info.

Rob, you're right - just thought I'd ask a quick one while he was on the subject. I do get a bit carried away with the questions sometimes. ;) Thanks.

[This message has been edited by Jeff Thomas (edited 02-10-99).]

February 13, 1999, 09:26 PM
I have seen numerous deer here in Florida (125 lbs avg} shot with a .243 and most were either 1 shot kills or only required 1 followup. I have used a 6mm Remington and was very happy with it until I switched to a .270 Win. Also if you like an exciting hunt you should try deer hunting with dogs and using an iron sighted handgun. I use a S&W 610 10mm and it works great on our small deer. Most shots you get will be within 20 yards and the deer are usually just trotting or they will stop before crossing open areas and give you a split second shot. You have to be willing to pass up a lot of oppurtunites that you wouldn't if you had a shotgun or rifle.
P.S. if you don't like dog hunting don't knock it till you've tried it, and it is perfectly legal in Florida. I love all types of legal hunting

February 14, 1999, 08:38 PM
The recurring theme is that of lost game. I have been fortunate enough to have harvested over 100 big game animals with everything from handgun to large bore rifle to archery. I have only lost one animal, and that was the first year I hunted with a bow. I have had to shoot animals more than once, but I always managed to recover them. Perhaps luck and open terrain have contributed to my success.

I have seen four animals crippled and lost due to over confident hunters trying for a head or neck shot. Two of those animals were deer that ran off with broken jaws dangling in the wind. One was a nice 6x6 bull elk that disappeared into black timber with blood running down his neck. The last was an elk that was shot and dropped like the proverbial sack of cement. He got up and ran off as we approached. The shooter said he was aiming for the head. We all know that most game is lost due to lousy shot placement, period.

We also see some elk lost to cartridges of inadequate bore diameter and/or bullets of poor construction. It is legal to hunt an elk with a .243 loaded with varmint ammunition, and some folks do just that. Kind of dumb isn’t it. We also have people who shoot hollow point or hollow cavity handgun ammunition manufactured for self-defense at elk. When a hot 180-grain hollow point out of a .44 magnum strikes a large bull on a big bone like the front shoulder, the results can be very disappointing. Previous advice about cast bullets is worth heeding.

I guess I rambled. To answer your question, there are thousands of animals taken annually with the .243 Winchester. With proper weight bullets, correctly placed, it performs just fine on deer sized animals.

February 14, 1999, 11:18 PM
I sometimes get over sensitive when people bad mouth me for using a handgun on big game.(not on this forum but,locally) Yet, I turn around and disparage the .243.

Ankeny, you're 100% right. It's proper bullet placement, proper bullet type, Hunting technique. All of these things, done within reason, account for a properly taken game animal. Use the weapon that you feel the most confidence in to get the job done. This does not excuse poor judgement however, and there is plenty of that out in the woods as I'm sure alot of us have seen.

I am humbled.

4V50 Gary
February 15, 1999, 12:01 AM
Last season, my politically incorrect brother harvested his deer using his .223 bolt action Remington with a Barnes X bullet.

It was rather small but the shot was perfect for him to test the bullet (frontal chest shot). Well, the bullet went in, mushroomed like advertised and wound up in the hind quarter. One petal of the bullet was not found and the deer stood there looking stunned, then dropped.

He recommends the Barnes X or the Nosler Partition for small calibers.

Byron Quick
March 4, 1999, 10:46 AM
Well, a lot depends on the deer. Several years ago I was hunting with a Marlin lever action chambered in .35 Remington. I shot a doe at 75 yards about 9am. My rifle jammed and I couldn't clear it. I sat in the stand for about 15 minutes and the doe did not twitch. I climbed down and approached the deer. She jumped up and ran off. There was a patch of hair and blood where she was laying that was as big as a dinner plate. I was in a frozen beaver swamp. Never found that deer.

A few weeks later I purchased a Browning BAR Safari II chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum. Put a Redfield 3X9X40 on it. I've dropped deer with it from 25 yards to 275 yards. The only deer that have not dropped in their tracks were shot at 50 to 75 yards and were hit just behind the heart through both lungs. One made it 100 yards and was not found until the next morning but it was cold-the meat was okay. The other made it about 50 yards. I now prefer diagonal shots where the bullet enters the front shoulder goes through both lungs and exits around the short ribs on the opposite side. I haven't had a deer take a step when hit in this manner with this rifle. Lots of people think it is overkill but I don't like looking for wounded animals.

Ray VanderLinden
March 4, 1999, 12:19 PM
The Fact is you can NOT over kill something. How do you get more than dead? All the calibers from .243 up will work reliably on whitetail, The main thing is to pick a good shot and don't over extend your personal, or the rifle's (or handgun for that matter)range.

Byron Quick
March 4, 1999, 10:01 PM

Perhaps saying that many people feel that .300 Winchester Magnum is too powerful for whitetail would have been more precise than "overkill."

Keith Rogan
March 12, 1999, 10:16 AM

You leave out the most important element of these failures with a .243, namely, what type of bullet/load was used?
I've killed dozens of deer with a .243 and never experienced a problem. I used Federal Premiums with 100 grain Nosler Partitions or handloaded 70 grain Barnes X's. The standard hunting rounds will often fail miserably, but that problem is not limited to .243 caliber.
If you want good results (in any caliber) buy good bullets.


March 24, 1999, 02:11 AM
In the early 1970s a young Army troop in Germany and I became pretty good friends. He did not re-up. He came back to the States and fell on very, very hard times.
When I met him again in the late 1980s, he was taking care of a ranch for an elderly widow lady in return for (really sub-standard) housing.
In the course of our visit, he showed me his rifle - a rather beat-up .22 magnum with a low-power scope (I forget exactly what power). He asked what a box of shells cost - I didn't know. He said he only had (I believe he said) eight shells left out of a box of 50. He then floored me by telling me the 42(more or less) shells used had accounted for practice, sighting in the scope, and thirty (30!) deer.
Yep, he was a poacher. But he used everything on each deer, now I mean everything! The meat they ate or bartered for food they couldn't grow in their garden. The hides they tanned and sold to folks who said they were going to make buckskin garments or whatever. He even sold the HOOVES to craftsmen to make hat/coat racks. The antlers he sold to yuppies so they could mount them and tell great (but totally fictitious) hunting tales. Nothing went to waste.
Illegal? Sure! Immoral? Well, he fed his family the only way he knew how.

My point is, if he could take thirty deer with a .22 magnum, with mostly one-shot kills, why do we have trouble with the .243? Gee whiz, guys! Do you think hunting skills and shot placement might be factors? He took only head shots, always under thirty yards. (It is brush country where he lived and hunted.)
I realize topography differs, but with his results you can no longer call it luck. He had skill.

By the way, the venison he cooked was delicious. (I brought the beer.)

Rob Pincus
March 24, 1999, 08:59 AM
I would think that guy was using head shots, dennis.. most poachers I know or have known do. THey also use spotlights and often are not great shots, but shoot from the greatest positions of advantage. Besides that, the fact that he was a paocher makes m ethink he could also have been a liar. ;)

AS for the bullets used, I really don;t know what type he was using. I agree that some bullets are better than others, but I don;t hink handloading has anything to do with it. You can buy a standarad softpoint and hope for the best, but there are certainly some outstanding factory rounds out there (Ballistic Silvertip, Failsafe, Partition Gold).

Art Eatman
March 24, 1999, 04:34 PM
I have a buddy who deer hunts in the Apalachicoa River swamps near Blountstown, Florida. I was a bit upset the first time we went out hunting, as he was using a .22 Mag!

Granted that most of the deer are rather smallish, but he was regularly successful with heart shots. Damfino. Not my style...

I've used the 85-grain Sierr HPBT exclusively in my .243 and have never lost a deer. I dunno, maybe killed 20 or so with it...If they're looking at you, shoot the white spot, and they fall dead. I also agree about hitting the lungs near the heart, rather than the heart itself.

I won't use the .243 on West Texas mule deer. Just not enough gun, for a body shot.

I shot one muley with a .30-'06 at maybe 30 yards, right through the neck. I was truly astounded that the bullet did not exit! On CenTex whitetail, there was always an exit hole of significant size...

Count me in with those who believe bullet selection and shot placement are the prime factors.

Regards, Art

March 26, 1999, 03:38 AM
I gotta agree that the X-bullet, or another premium bullet is the way to go. The lung shot, taking both lungs, is way better than a heart shot in terms of getting a quick kill; anything you want to kill quick shoot through the shoulder, not behind it on a broadside shot. That generates more fragments of bone that do amazing things to lungs and heart, and generally takes the top off the heart as well as both lungs. As far as not ruining meat, the behind the shoulder shot works well, but placement is much more critical. It's easy to go too far back and get liver or , worse, paunch.

I've never seen a center of the shoulder shot not work on any type of game when using good bullets and adequate calibers.

Art, I gotta ask, what bullet were you using in that '06 for the muley neck shot? I've gotten over 3 feet of penetration with my '06 180gr X-bullet loads.

Keith Rogan
March 27, 1999, 01:33 PM
Here in Alaska, the natives almost exclusively use .223's for all their hunting. The Ruger mini 14 being the favored rifle.
They take caribou which go up into the 600 pound range and moose which go...1800 pounds?
My elderly neighbor, a Koniag, took many brown bears with his fathers .25/35 Winchester and countless deer, seals and sea lions.
These bears here in Kodiak are massive. 2000 pound boars have been weighed in and 1500 pounders are taken every year.
I asked him how in hell he killed Brown Bears with a .25/35.
He told me you had to sneak up close (30 yards) and then circle till he got your wind. A browny will normally stand on his hind legs when he smells a man and growl or "woof", He would wait for the mouth to open and then shoot into the roof of the bears mouth.
He was absolutely serious about this and I was amazed. I said something like "Christ Hank, what if you miss?" and he replied "Oh, you DON'T want to miss!".
Another neighbor, also a native has hunted deer here on Kodiak with a .22 mag pistol since the late 60's. He never misses. He goes out at mid-day and stalks them to their bed and shoots them between the eyes.
Its about skill, not calibers.

The Bears and Bear Maulings Page: members.xoom.com/keithrogan (http://members.xoom.com/keithrogan)

March 28, 1999, 01:29 PM
I’ve been pondering for days how to say all this and still I’m unhappy with
my attempt.

With my scant knowledge of poaching or poachers or (unfortunately) of
much true hunting, I am aware of only two types of poachers:

1) Shoot-it-if-it-moves poachers.
-- “Big shots” (pun intended) who feel they are above the law, beyond
safety rules, etc. because of their money, position, or “contacts”.
-- Drunks with guns and other “wannabe big shots”.
-- I put these scumbags in the same category as the “legitimate” hunter
who kills game and lets it lie - wasted - killed only for the “hunter’s” personal

2) Necessity poachers. They take an occasional deer, illegally but out of
necessity, to feed their families. Personally, in this case, I don’t care if they
use flashlights, lure ‘em with corn, or put salt on their tail. :) This is
“subsistence” hunting - not a sport. Most of the game wardens hereabouts
can tell the difference and, in view of the glut of deer, typically “don’t catch”
these folks.

In any case, poaching is against the law. But we have agreed that the law is
often more about “control” than morality or common sense:
-- Giving you a hi-cap magazine makes you a “savior of society”; if I try to
purchase one, I’m a “threat to society”.
-- Killing a deer out of season may hurt the size of the deer herd; without
regard to overpopulation starving many of them to death.

Given my post, I understand you saying my friend could be a liar, but:
- There are many more facts here than I’m aware of.
- I’m aware of more facts that I would air on this forum, and
- my friends aren’t liars - or they don’t stay my friends.

In some twenty years, I my friend gave his word sparingly and
stood by it. By his own admission, his count may have been off by a
“couple”. But, if he said he took “around” thirty deer - he took ‘em. If he
said he took ‘em with a .22 magnum rifle, he did. I’ll have to stand by my
friend and disagree with you in this (and only in this one) case. Apparently
my friend, the poacher, is an exception to your experience - which (I hasten
to repeat) is much greater than mine.

Maybe I should add this. Your hunting stories, photos, and reputation show
you to be a true sportsman. I would bet that if we each had the same facts
we usually would come to the same conclusion. With the possible exception
of stabbing tuskers to death! (Jeez!)

On the other hand, if you believe that taking game for food outside the
calendar days dictated by the government makes a man a liar, then let’s just
agree to disagree.

Art Eatman
March 29, 1999, 01:50 AM
Ipecac: Through the years, I've used 150-grain bullets from Hornady, Remington (Bronze Point) and Sierra.

The mule deer neck-shot which did not exit was a Sierra. I think most likely that at the close range--30 yards--the bullet might have blown up...It was a first-time experience.

All these bullets have exited body shots on whitetail up to 135-lb field-dressed weight, and out to 350 yards.

I've gotta start from scratch to work up a load with some of the new bullet designs. I have read that the jackets are a bit harder, and if one uses an old "pet" load, pressures can be higher--possibly too much higher. If and when I get a "round tuit", I'll post my findings in the handloading section...

G'night, Art