Why Less is More for Whitetail Cartridges

Why Less is More for Whitetail Cartridges

Tortured into an honest answer, most experts would admit it's been ages since the world truly needed a new whitetail cartridge. But then, need doesn't always have that much to do with it. We seek fun just as much as venison or antlers, and part of the fun of hunting lies in telling friends why our gear is better than their gear. We enjoy feeling smart for using what we use.

Browning's X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed is representative of the new breed of bolt-action rifles available in 6.5 Creedmoor. With its slim A-TACS AU composite stock and weatherproof burnt bronze Cerakote finish, the tack-driving Speed blends into assorted whitetail habitats and shrugs off bad weather. Scope: 4-12x40 Bushnell Elite 3500. Ammunition: 129-grain SST Hornady Superformance. Shooting rest: Caldwell Matrix


In rifle hunting whitetails in over two dozen states and provinces, I've toted centerfires from the puny .32-20 Win. up to the husky .300 Win. Mag. My list hasn't come close to including all options, and I still like to try new ones. (Here's looking at you, .26 and .28 Nosler.)



But no matter the cartridge or time zone, I've found that deer hit in the vitals die in a hurry. Likewise, those hit marginally rarely do — again, irrespective of cartridge.

So the proverbial "loose nut behind the trigger" is often the key variable in the killing equation. At reasonable whitetail ranges, most legal cartridges can get it done just fine. Problem is, many shooters can't.


Blame the gun if you like, but poor results more often are due to practice: either too little or too much. We know lack of time on the range doesn't help — but then, neither does absorbing abuse while there.


Extra-loud, mule-kicking rifles encourage poor shooting. Your memory of that punishment might be all but subconscious, but it can cause flinching at the worst time. In the woods, any urge to look up quickly to see the shot's result will further jeopardize accuracy.

If you're a sniper with a .338 Lapua, great. That extra punch might help you add some sag to the game pole. But we don't hunt in Jurassic Park. Even the thickest whitetail is near the lower end of the weight range for big game, with thin hide and light bones. Slam a decent chunk of mushrooming metal into the vitals and a deer dies quickly.

Today I mostly hang out in the shoulder-friendly part of the deer-cartridge spectrum. I want a gun that's easy to shoot and puts at least 120 grains of bullet where it needs to go. While this weight minimum excludes anything lighter than the heaviest .257 bullets, I feel it's a safer threshold than 100 grains, which drops us into .243 (6mm) territory.

This isn't to knock a well-made 100-grain bullet. I've killed many deer with them. Jerry Froma's 267 7/8-inch Alberta non-typical — one of Canada's best ever — was downed at 300 yards with a .243 Win., and giants have been taken with even lighter loads.

Still, being eager to recover what I shoot, I'd rather not be limited to 100 grains of payload. I prefer to use something along the lines of 6.5 Creedmoor.

Maybe it's ironic, given how I've scoffed at the lack of need for new cartridges, that this one didn't even exist until 2009. That's when Hornady engineers tweaked the .30 TC (itself then a newcomer, based on the .307 Win.) and stuck a .264 bullet into the short case.

Thus was born a superb target cartridge that also is low-recoil whitetail poison. It fills a niche the .260 Rem. should have but never quite did.

Most .264 hunting bullets run 120-140 grains, with a high ballistic coefficient that helps them buck stiff crosswinds. I'veĀ  had great results on every deer or antelope shot with this cartridge; some guys even love it for elk.

While all of my hunts have been with a Thompson/Center Icon or Ruger M77 Hawkeye and Hornady rounds, more gun and ammunition makers are boarding this train every year. So are many of their customers.

Should you join them? That's your call. My advice is simply to use the deer-class cartridge you shoot best. In the woods, skill under pressure often matters at least as much as what's stamped on the barrel.

Recommended for You

Guns

Choose the Right Load for Your Muzzleloader

Gordon Whittington - March 05, 2019

In blackpowder hunting, details always matter. Don't learn the hard way.

Scouting

Will Wireless Trail Cameras Make You a Better Hunter?

Tony J. Peterson

We break down the truth on these cellular-enabled scouters.

Scouting

Scouting Deer Bedding Areas: Locating, Creating and Observing

Bernie Barringer - June 28, 2016

Many people have the mistaken notion that mature bucks have one area where they spend their...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Deer Dog: Puppy Pitfalls

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore explores the pitfalls of puppy training.

Wyoming Whitetail Crossbow Hunt

Imported video NAW14-WyomingWhitDr. James Kroll and Gordon Whittington are in Eastern Wyoming hunting whitetails with their crossbows.etailCrossbowHunt.mp4

On Target: Tips for Handgun Hunting Accuracy

Dr. James Kroll provides tips for hunting whitetails with a handgun.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Scouting

The Best Summer Trail Camera Strategy

Tony J. Peterson

Good location is just part of the equation.

United States

Best Spots for Bowhunting Kentucky Trophy Bucks

Gordon Whittington - July 21, 2016

To hear many serious trophy bowhunters tell it, Kentucky must be a figment of someone's...

Trophy Bucks

BREAKING NEWS: Brewster's 320-5/8-Inch Non-Typical Buck Pending World Record Announced

Lynn Burkhead - January 10, 2019

After weeks of speculation, the official 60-day entry score for Luke Brewster's epic Illinois...

See More Stories

More Ammo

Ammo

On Target: 6.5 Creedmoor for Whitetail Hunting

NAW TV - May 03, 2018

Gordon Whittington talks about the use of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo for whitetail hunting.

Ammo

Why Less is More for Whitetail Cartridges

Gordon Whittington - November 23, 2016

Tortured into an honest answer, most experts would admit it's been ages since the world truly

Ammo

On Target: Choosing Muzzleloader Ammo

NAW TV - March 15, 2015

Pat Hogan visits te Hornady headquarters to explore the benefits of using sabots for your

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×