View Full Version : Minimum caliber for mule deer

September 3, 1999, 09:46 AM
I would appreciate any opinions about the minimum practical caliber for large mule deer, at moderate ranges, say 75 to 150 yards offhand, 200 at the absolute max.
.243 too small?

[This message has been edited by raver (edited September 03, 1999).]

Art Eatman
September 3, 1999, 12:37 PM
I shoot both .243 & '06. I hunt mule deer with my '06. If I could hunt from a stand, and went only for neck shots, I wouldn't mind using my .243.

It's not that the .243 won't work. It is that the '06 has more punch in the event of a less than perfect hit.

Lots of mule deer have been killed with everything from .30-30 on up. .270 is fine. .25-'06 oughta work. The thing is, for a really worthwhile mulie, you want to make sure you get him cleanly and "for sure". Nothing makes you feel worse than hitting something and having it get away, to die a day or three later...

The last mule deer I got was offhand at 30 yards. I shot him in the neck with the '06, using my 150-gr Sierra load. The bullet did not exit. He was paralyzed, not going anywhere, but definitely not dead! He only field-dressed at 150 pounds...

So, unless you can regularly hit the end of a beer can at 100 yards, and have satisfied yourself on an occasional running rabbit, I'd recommend against the .243 as your primary selection.


cornered rat
September 3, 1999, 03:06 PM
I have often wondered why milsurplus rifles are not more popular for deer hunting. An Enfield would seems perfect at $100 for the gun and cheap practice ammo...

Long Path
September 4, 1999, 05:54 AM
With the 100 grain bullets, you can take almost any deer that walks, Raver. I respect Art's opinions, but I disagree that you need to hold off only for neck shots with the .243. That's more of a .223 statement, to me!

Remember that the .243 is basically a .308 necked down to 6mm, and consider the resulting power. Not bad. DON'T use the piddlin' 85 grain loadings-- they're varminter bullets, not well enough constructed. Although the .243 is what I would call the MINIMUM for a deer cartridge, I would say it is certainly adequate for all mule deer, at reasonable ranges.

We often inflate the size of mule deer in our heads to the size of monsters. In fact, the average mulie weight is only a very few pounds (10?) more than the average white tailed deer. Would you be so concerned about the power of the .243 for white tail?

September 4, 1999, 09:06 AM
Thanks guys. That's exactly the kind of information I was looking for. I'm a newbie, so I'm always eager to learn.

Art Eatman
September 4, 1999, 05:54 PM
Longpath: I agree that the .243 will work. My objection to it has to do with what happens with a bad hit. As I said, there is a lot of difference between sitting in a blind, and walking-up a deer out in the wide open.

Most of my hunting is chousing a deer out of bed, and then dealing with all that bouncing at 100-200 yards from offhand. I guess I've been lucky at neck and frontal-chest hits.

I just really hate trailing a deer, particularly after I've already walked five miles or more...Damned ol' deer climb mountains better than I do...

In comparing mulies and whitetails of roughly equal weight, it seems that the mulies are tougher, somehow. They seem less affected by a body-hit than a whitetail. Damfino. So, I tote that dang heavy thing with me, instead of my featherweight little .243... :)

Now, if all I had was a .243, I wouldn't run out and buy a 7Mag or .338 or even an '06. Well, not unless I just needed an excuse to keep the Bosslady off my back...

Whee! :), Art

[This message has been edited by Art Eatman (edited September 04, 1999).]

Long Path
September 4, 1999, 08:02 PM
Considered, noted, and agreed, Art. With off-hand shots at moving (or running) deer, a little margin for error is called for. I tend to hunt a bit lazily, in that I set up at the edge of some drainage and ambush 'em in the mornings and evenings as they go to water or feed. Thus, I'm looking at steadier, more placed shots, at slower or still targets. I could have killed my last 5 deer with a .222, to tell the truth.

Of the two times I've shot running deer, I was much more confident the second time I did so, because I was shooting an '06. The first time was a foolish stunt that had to be corrected with a .257 (though it all worked out, I did retrieve the bullet. Shudder.), and I felt some justified apprehension that the round wouldn't make up for less-then-optimal placement.

All right, lemme re-phrase my answer: For ambush shots under 300 yards, the .243 is fine for all but the hugest deer, or deer at non-optimal positions. Otherwise, go on up to .257 Roberts, or .250 Savage (good luck finding one), or .25-06, etc. These are IDEAL, as they have virtually no kick, but have everything you need to kill any deer that ever walked, assuming you do your part. I've grown up killing deer with the .257 Rbts, myself, and thus am biased toward it. But, having made and seen clean kills on larger specimens at over 300 yards with this round, I'd say I've some reason to justify my affection for Ned Roberts' brainchild (7mm necked down to .257).

Now, if short action is your bag, try the .250 Savage. Perhaps 7mm-08, and you've settled all your problems! (Leeeetle bit more kick and blast, but not much, and you're a big boy, right? :) )

[This message has been edited by Long Path (edited September 04, 1999).]

Paul B.
September 4, 1999, 10:59 PM
Well I think I would be more in line with Art's comments, but I think it all boils down to the terrain, and other conditions you hunt. For me, the minimum would be something on the order of a 7x57, or maybe a .308 Win. For years I hunted in northwestern california. I used an 18 inch barreled springfield 1903 and 180 gr round nosed bullets. A big brass front sight and a wide open peep. I sighted in at 100 yards. Where I hunted, 25 yards was a long shot. A .243 would have been totally useless there. Later on, I inherited a 6.5 Mannlicher-Schonnauer from a friend who passed on. The 160 gr. bullets were perfect for my hunting situation. Some lowlife stole that rifle. I now use a Ruger International in .308 Win. for most of my deer hunting. My wife liked mine so well, that I had to buy her one. Same caliber.
My thoughts on the .243 for deer? Well. If you are an experiences hunter who is willing to either pass up dicey shots, or can wait for the proper opening to shoot, then I would say OK. If you are the kind who gets excited and cannot wait for a shot, then get something with more clout.
I just flamed a guy in another forum because he was bragging about using a .243 with the 85 gr. Sierra hollow point on elk. On elk! He was flaming me because I prefer heavier bullets that pass on through leaving two holes in my game. Oh well. To each his own.
Paul B.

Long Path
September 5, 1999, 01:04 AM
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>I just flamed a guy in another forum because he was bragging about using a .243 with the 85 gr. Sierra hollow point on elk. On elk! He was flaming me because I prefer heavier bullets that pass on through leaving two holes in my game. Oh well. To each his own.

Good Lord. [sigh.] This is not just a "To each his own" kind of issue. It's an issue of humanely putting down the animal reliably. Could I do it with a .243? Sure. I'd wait and wait for perfect neck shot, and never shoot at a distance greater than that in which I could hit a 2" target from field positions. But it ain't fitin'.

You were right to flame him.

Just because it's been done, and done again, doesn't make it right.

Will you, too, be one who stands in the gap?

[This message has been edited by Long Path (edited September 05, 1999).]

Art Eatman
September 6, 1999, 01:20 PM
I guess these last several posts are really tied in more to Hunter's Ethics than "Which gun"? I guess it's reasonable to consider that being "over-gunned" is merely a form of insurance against being mad at yourself because of a bad hit...

Lord knows, I love my .243. That little 85-grain Sierra BTHP has taken maybe 15-20 deer. Mostly neck or under-the-ear hits. I was surprised that it would exit after a chest hit, but on a few small whitetails...

Overall, though, my favorite hit with the .243 was on a housecat which I spotted from a deer stand. He was tracking a covey of quail. He was crouched, looking away from me and ready to pounce, when he got a rather rugged goosing. :) One of my better shots in the field, thank you...

But a .243 on elk? Go back and flame him again!

Later, Art

September 6, 1999, 10:25 PM
Just goes to show ya that everyone has their own opinion. I have a 250 Savage Ackley Improved and it shoots about like a .257 Roberts. You asked about "big mule deer" and I personally would not want to shoot a huge 34 inch mule deer at 300 yards with a .250 or .257 Roberts. Not that they won't kill a deer, they will. I just like something that shoots a bit flatter.

I have killed truck loads of deer and antelope with shots to the head and neck. In of elk lost because of failed head or neck fact, neck shots used to be my favorite. Now I only shoot behind the front shoulder. I don't even consider shooting for the head or neck. I have seen several deer and a couple shots. Too many animals get hit in the face, jaws blown off, etc.

September 6, 1999, 11:48 PM
hey Long Path, I've often read recently that .257 Rbts is inaccurate. in fact, somewhere I read a comment that .257 Rbts is inherently inaccurate while .25-06 is accurate. doesn't make much sense to me.

I believe most accuracy comes from the barrel and the bullet, with other things secondary. I suppose its possible that the .257 Rbts brass may be poorly made compared to say .25-06 brass, but given the same bullet, the same effort in finding a good load, and a good rifle, how can there be a big change in accuracy?

Rocky Road
September 7, 1999, 12:20 AM

Rocky Road
September 7, 1999, 12:56 AM

I was three paragraphs into a masterful reply to Ivanhoe's comments on accuracy of the .257 Robts and it all went away!

In brief---.257 REMINGTON Roberts (the current version--there were others, varying mainly in shoulder angle) is the 7x57 Mauser service cartridge necked down to take the same bullets as the .250-3000 Savage. There were a LOT of 1893 and 1895 Mauser rifles sold cheap after The Great War, many chambered for 7x57. Bolt face was right, magazine was right. Never mind that the steel in some of those rifles didn't take top-end wildcat pressures very well. Not that they'd blow up, but it was not unusual for them to elongate just a bit.

Ned Roberts was one of the great wildcatters and ballistic experimenters of the 1930s, and he did wonderful stuff with the cartridge. Lotsa people wanted one. As ever, a lot of furearms enthusiasts /"gun nuts"/ didn't have a lot of money. There is a bit more to a successful conversion than screwing in a new barrel, but short cuts DO happen.

Also, even up into the 1950s, there were a lot of corrosive primers being loaded.

Now, figure, a poorly done conversion, improper headspace, rough barrel, perhaps chambered for an earlier version of the .257 ctg, maybe shot with hot loads to the point of stretching out, and it is QUITE possible to see some poor accuracy in a given rifle.

But, with a professional grade conversion of a Mauser '98, with ammo matched to the chamber, or, better still, a Remington Express or 1917 Enfield, Remington 721 or 700, an old style Winchester Model 70 or a Ruger 77, and you have quite a different story.

The only really inaccurate .257 I've seen in recent years--like, the last 25 years--has been a Ruger 77 lightweight with short barrel. It is at Southport, CT, right now, being refurbished.

Sometime back--over 20 years ago, Ruger did a short run of the 77S with open sights, round receiver, and a medium-heavy sporter (or was it a light varmint) barrel.

I was crowded into trading for one of these, as a favor to a friend, who REALLY wanted a pistol I had and couldn't aford to buy it outright. I wasn't really interested, but made the deal. I am tempted to kiss that man every time I see him now. In short, I had to WORK to make it shoot much over an inch, even when VERY dirty. After I realized the treasure I had, I have carefully loaded for it and cherished it properly.

I have loaded sub-MOA ammo in old brass and new, R-P, REM-UMC, Winchester, Super Speed, Super-X, and W-W headstamp, and I'm probably missing some. All I have to do is trim cases occasionally, and I like to match them up by head stamp and keep all in a lot within a half-grain in weight of each other. I do NOT believe that any manufacturer puts any less quality control into .257 brass than .25-06, .30-06, or any other standard sporting cartridge.

My rifle likes IMR 4350 powder and 100 grain Sierra Spitzer, flat base bullets. On a calm day, I will shoot 3/4 inch groups for you on demand. My eyes are just not good enough to do better. I THINK the rifle will, because my elder son and I have both shot half-inch groups with it. I just can't do that on demand. I imagine that if I changed out the old Weaver steel-tube 3-9X scope, it would do better, too.

I'd hate to have to load a truck with all the game, deer, hogs and assorted varmints, that's fallen to that rifle since I've had it. Both my sons, my daughter-in-law, and at least one ex-neighbor all took their first deer with it. I used to loan it out to people who were recoil shy but wanted to shoot a deer. No more. I'll let others shoot it now, but ONLY when my eldest son or I am along on the hunt.

I disdain those who anthromorphosize firearms. It is only a step from there to granting the anti-gunners the stupid thought that there's something inherently EVIL about (certain) firearms. They are just tools, some more finely wrought than others. And, that said, my .257 is a fine, FINE tool.

Enough of this. Best regards to all.


---The Second Amendment ensures the rest of the Bill of Rights---

September 7, 1999, 11:23 AM

You posed an interesting question regarding cartridge shape and inherit accuracy. The fact is, case shape does play a role in accuracy potential, but only at the benchrest level. Faster powders and shorter burn paths increase inherit accuracy, i.e. a benchrest rifle chembered in .22 PPC may be capable of 0.10 MOA at 100 yards whereas the same rifle in .223 might only be capable of 0.12 MOA. There have been some really well done tests to confirm this, but as you can see, it doesn't make for squat difference in a hunting rifle. So don't worry about it :) A .257 Roberts or 7x57 Mauser is as good as it gets for deer at reasonable ranges. Although I prefer the way that the .257 Ackly Improved Roberts looks---I'm a sucker for sharp shoulders :)

September 7, 1999, 05:19 PM
thanx for the responses; obviously the .257 is not quite the mangy dog that some folks think!

funny that RR mentioned the Ruger model 77; that particular rifle was mentioned in one of the slams against the Roberts. I am beginning to suspect that the barrel quality of the big firms varies year-to-year. right now, the consistent buzz is that Savage is making truly excellent barrels right now.

based on my reading, the Roberts seems like an excellent "starter centerfire". I was considering getting one, but due to the factory support issue I will probably go with the .260 Rem. pretty close performance between the two.

David; point well taken about the relative importance of things. all sorts of people rave about the Remington model 700, who are 3 MOA shooters.

Long Path
September 7, 1999, 10:01 PM
I would definitely say stay away from any new model Ruger M-77 (Mk II?)! The quality is highly variable on the barrels, and while the fit and finish looks good, the only way to improve the bad triggers on them is to buy a new adjustable, like the Timney trigger group, for $70+. I've two friends with new ones that, while they feel good and the action is nice and the fit and finish is good, they just won't hold under 2 MOA. This is okay hunting accuracy; I'm not disputing that. But when you plunk down $400+ for a rifle, then a scope, mounts, sling, and the whole shebang, and STILL can't guarantee better than 2" at 100 yards, I think this is a bit disappointing.

Old M-77's (10 yrs or better) are a whole 'nother story.

[This message has been edited by Long Path (edited September 07, 1999).]

Art Eatman
September 8, 1999, 05:47 PM
A couple of years back, I traded into an old Model 70 in .257 Roberts. It was kinda rough, so during the cleaning-up process I meddled with the stock-fit a tad...

Loaded up some mild-ish loads; shot inside of an inch. Basically, there ain't no flies on the .257...

I guess this whole thing comes around to fair chase and clean kill, right? If you know you're a good shot, and you're selective about when you take what sort of shot, you can do quite well with smaller cartridges on larger game than other hunters. Like I've said, I've killed a bunch of deer with a .243.

But, picture this. If I had put one of those lighter bullets "just a leetle far back", he might just disappear behind a bush and I'd have a serious tracking job or a lost deer. I believe that the same shot with the '06, 50% more bullet at the same velocity, he'd go down and then as he struggled to get back up, I'd wallop him again. I dunno. Just me, I guess...Hell, I'll spend a dang hour looking for a downed dove or quail-bird...

For instance, if you know pretty well that you're gonna ambush a mule deer or an elk from a tree stand; and the range will be less than some 10 to 20 yards: Wouldn't a .22 rimfire between the eyes do quite well?

It used to be not-uncommon on some south Texas hunting ranches for a wetback or maybe one of the ranch hands to sit out all night by a stock tank, with a .22 rifle. When Ol' Bucky came ambling along to get a drink, Plink! The buck was then offered to a camp of hunters for $5 per point...

But that ain't hunting.

Later, Art

Paul B.
September 8, 1999, 06:23 PM
I once had a friend, who has passed on to the great game preserve in the sky, who used nothing but a custom Mauser in .257 Roberts that he built himself. It was Mannlicher stocked with the European double set triggers. He had a "tender" shoulder, and anything that was harder kicking was painful to him. That man could shoot. He always got his deer and elk every year. Usually one shot each. I never saw him shoot more than once at any animal. His favorite bullet was, if memory serves, the 117 gr. Nosler semi-spitzer. He even took it on a moose hunt in Alaska. One shot, one moose.
Someone mentioned the older 93 and 95 Mausers. I had one once in 7x57. I never shot anything but factory, or factory equivilent reloads in the gun. It was very light, well balanced and quite accurate. It had been put together by some German outfit, probably before the war. (WW-2) I traded it off to a guy for a semi-custon Enfield 06 I wanted to convert to .300 Win. Mag. About a week after the trade, he comes in saying that the rifle I sold him blew up. I had told him about the ammo limitations, but the jerk knew better. He made up some hot loads and that pretty little rifle couldn't take it. I gave him back his rifle. it was an Eddystone 1917 Enfield. Some of those developed cracks in the receiver ring and were unsafe. His, it turned out was one of those.
Boy has this stuff gotten off-thread, or what?
Paul B.