October 08, 2015
Years ago, famed outdoors writer Robert Ruark helped to further open up the longstanding can of worms regarding best gun caliber/cartridge choices when he penned the classic hunting book Use Enough Gun.
And while Ruark's tome was hardly the first time that a discussion of the best gun calibers for various big species had ever been held, it certainly did little to answer the long standing question that hunters have debated endlessly around many a campfire down through the years.
Especially when it comes to the preferred calibers for hunting white-tailed deer, the most widely distributed and popular big game animal on the North American continent.
For some, the conversation on the best deer hunting caliber starts and ends with the .30-30 lever action rifle, a firearm that not only helped to tame the West, but has also accounted for untold numbers of deer harvests down through the years.
For others, it's centers upon the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, perhaps the most popular rifle caliber of all-time. Since its debut in 1906, the .30-06 has been responsible for a lion's share of deer and other big game harvests all across North America.
Those two choices above notwithstanding, for some hunters, the best choice is the .270 Winchester, a versatile cartridge that will take down game animals from a whitetail on up to a moose and even on to African plains game.
The late Jack O'Connor, the longtime arms and ammunition editor for Outdoor Life magazine, championed the .270 for his many years as a gun writer after the cartridge was developed in the 1920s. Along the way, he took a number of Coues whitetail with it in Arizona and eventually, a northern whitetail near his Idaho home.
Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing pro Kelly Jordon is another fan of the .270 caliber line of guns, especially when the caliber is tweaked a bit to up the payload delivery on a big Texas whitetail, the likes of which he hunts in the South Texas brush country and the Piney Woods of East Texas.
"My favorite caliber is the .270 Weatherby Mag," said Jordon. "The .270 is probably the best all-around whitetail caliber, it's just right. It's not too small, it's not too big.
"But the .270 Weatherby Mag is the extra strong dose of this excellent caliber."
Pat Reeves, co-host of Driven TV with Pat & Nicole, is another fan of the .270 caliber line.
"Probably our favorite caliber is the .270," said Pat, literally as he was walking out the door to go on another early autumn hunt. "We shoot a .270 Thompson Center Venture and in fact, it's about all we shoot."
Why is that?
"The reason we like shooting it so much is because it works well for both men and women," said Pat. "It's big enough (for deer) but it's not too big.
"And it's relatively easy to find ammunition for it, which is an important consideration when you travel around the country like we do. If we happen to be out in a sparsely populated part of northern Saskatchewan and we find ourselves running low on ammo, we can almost always find and get ammo for a .270."
Interested in what other Outdoor Channel television personalities thought, I found some interesting and even entertaining answers.
Editor's Note: We didn't even bother asking the Heartland Bowhunter crew of Michael Hunsucker and Shawn Luchtel or the Raised Hunting crew of David, Karin, Warren and Easton Holder what their favorite rifle cartridge/caliber for deer hunting might happen to be. Why is that? We’re pretty sure they would all say something like a carbon arrow tipped with a 100-grain broadhead!
One of those answers came from Lee Lakosky, husband to Tiffany, father to Cameron, and co-host of the Crush with Lee & Tiffany television show.
"We don't even own a rifle!," laughed Lee. "We basically only deer hunt with our bows but during our gun season, you can only use shotguns or muzzleloaders (in Iowa), so we just use our .50-caliber Traditions muzzleloaders."
When asked if there was any particular reason why the .50 caliber was the choice for Team Lakosky – instead of the .45 or .54 calibers – Lee shrugged his shoulders a bit.
"Not really," he said. "We've shot them both and they were both equally accurate, so we figured we might as well throw the biggest chunk of lead possible in the easiest to find caliber."
For the Whitetail Freaks couple of Don and Kandi Kisky, the preferred centerfire rifle cartridge – when and where they are legally able to utilize it, that is – is on the lower end of the scale.
"The .243 (Winchester) caliber is just light enough that it doesn't kick like a mule," said Kandi, noting that the cartridge is not only her preferred choice but also the favorite of her husband and show co-host Don.
"But it's just heavy enough to get the job done for whitetails."
Like the Lakoskys, the Iowa-based Kisky was quick to point out that in their region of North America, it's often either shotguns or muzzleloaders only when gun seasons roll around in the Midwest.
And when it is, both Kandi and Don Kisky opt for a .50 caliber CVA muzzleloader when they are gun hunting in chilly late season conditions.
In other places where a centerfire rifle is legal, the .243 Winchester continued to be a popular choice.
For Mark Drury, co-host of the show THIRTEEN on Outdoor Channel, there is plenty of muzzleloader usage in the Midwestern states that he hunts along with brother Terry, daughter Taylor and nephew Matt.
That's especially true when winter weather conditions are putting bucks back on the post-rut feed bag while late season gun hunting seasons are open.
But when the Drury crew is hunting in Missouri – or perhaps in a state like Texas – there are modern firearm and cartridge options with some advantages.
And when such options are available, Drury says the THIRTEEN crew likes to use a cartridge with good accuracy and light recoil.
"I like the .243 (Winchester)," said Drury. "It's got less kick and that equates to greater accuracy among our guests. And when it's coupled with the new Deer Season XP bullet from Winchester, that makes it devastating!"
Drury pointed to several big buck kills on their shows in recent years that have come by way of the .243 Winchester.
"Taylor's buck taken last November was at 135 yards and she dropped it with the Deer Season XP (bullet)," said Drury.
Taylor Drury poses with a nice 10-point buck she harvested with a Winchester Deer Season XP cartridge in November 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Drurys)
Down south in the Lone Star State, Jordan Shipley, co-host of The Bucks of Tecomate show, has his own caliber preference.
To some degree, his choice is based on the hunting conditions that exist in South and West Texas where the former high school, college and NFL football wide receiver has done much of his deer hunting over the years. But as Shipley's hunting horizons expand with his new career, his preferred cartridge remains a solid choice for deer.
"I shoot a .280 Remington (7mm-06, 7mm Express) most of the time," said Shipley, a Hoyt bow pro-staffer who does much of his gun hunting later on in the year when the rut is on in deep South Texas.
"On the .280, I like the ballistic coefficient of the caliber," he added. "It's a big enough gun, but it's not a cannon that is over the top. It's a really accurate and flat shooting caliber and I really like that, especially in Texas."
Lest you think the caliber is only for a South Texas deer hunt, think again since in days gone by, it has been described in print by none other than Realtree Outdoors' Bill Jordan as one of his own favorite rifle calibers/cartridges for deer.
For Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing pro Kevin VanDam, who hunts in the Upper Midwest, Kansas and in Texas depending on the year, his favorite cartridge is similar to what's noted above.
"Right now, I'm shooting a 7mm Ultra Mag," said VanDam. "But to be honest, my favorite caliber (cartridge) is a .280 (Remington). I have two of them and I gave them both to my boys, it's what they shoot now."
When I pressed for why KVD loves the .280 Remington, his answer was familiar.
"It doesn't have too much recoil, it's really flat shooting, especially with a 140-grain bullet out to 300 yards or so," said VanDam. "And it doesn't have an extra long action, so you don't have to have a big heavy rifle to carry around.
"It's pretty hard to beat for the type of hunting that we do where you're looking at short- to mid-range shots."
So what's the bottom line – and what you, the reader, should take away – from all of this gun talk as the preferred calibers/cartridges of Outdoor Channel show hosts?
Simply this: Whatever a hunter's preferred caliber/cartridge is and whatever the reasons for such a choice happen to be, the hunter (celebrity or not) has to be deadly proficient with it, turning a bullet tucked into the chamber into a one-shot kill resulting in a whitetail quickly and humanely dispatched downrange.
And that's something that should be the goal of each and every deer hunter setting foot afield for Deer Season 2015, whether or not there are any TV cameras recording the action.