Smaller Caliber Rifles for Aging Deer Hunters

Posted by  Wednesday, July 31 2013 7:00 am
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SmallCaliberRifles1Experienced deer hunters enjoy nothing more than recalling grand adventures into their favorite haunts for big whitetails. Hunters with decades of experience spin yarns about deer camps, the characters they've met, the food — good and bad — that has burned memories on their stomach lining, the rigorous conditions they've endured, the big bucks that have fallen to their mature skills, and of course, the ghost that no one could ever kill. Tops among the yarns, however, are the guns that graying deer hunters have carried afield, lovingly, to help culminate all the anticipation, preparation, travel, scouting and hunting for the big one. It's the guns that these respected hunters carry that are the tools that jell all the memorable components of any deer hunt into a life-long memory to be told and retold to upcoming generations of new deer hunters around campfires everywhere.

An aging deer hunter is like a well worn encyclopedia: he is full of knowledge, carries a leathered, weather-worn cover and is revered by those who have studied the pages of the past. He is a proud and accomplished man, with a pride that runs deep and possesses a burning desire to continue — to hunt and to pass on the legacy.

The doctor's words rang my ears almost as badly as the exploding hand grenade that landed all too close almost forty years previously. "Bill, I know you enjoy hunting, but it is time to give up the big guns." I had just undergone surgery on my right arm for extensive nerve damage and faced weeks of painful therapy sessions.

Not wanting to damage my ego too heavily nor alter my lifestyle too drastically, the doctor made a closing suggestion. "At least drop the .30-06 for a lighter caliber, Bill, or you are going to suffer lasting and painful consequences."

Stunned, I considered getting out of deer hunting all together. My pride had been a bit battered. I even tried the .30-06 for the upcoming deer season and completely regretted not having listened to the doctor. My right arm ached much more than my pride.

The following year, my hunting buddies changed my gloomy outlook on the future of my deer hunting possibilities. A deer drive materialized instantaneously while we were sighting in rifles. A family member drove up and reported seeing a big buck cross the farm road and enter a 2-acre brushy draw. We all piled into trucks and headed that direction. Ordered to post 125 yards off the east end of the draw in a soybean stubble field, I protested since I had left my rifle in camp. One of the guys handed me a .25-06 Winchester. At the time, I foolishly considered it a mere toy for deer hunters.

Two minutes later I glared down the scope of that sleek little rifle at the biggest buck I had ever seen in the wild. It raced across the stubble 125 yards away. I dropped to one knee, took a deep breath, settled the crosshairs on the front edge of the magnificent buck's shoulder and slowly squeezed the trigger. I saw the buck hump up. Thirty yards later it piled up in a cloud of dust. The 100-grain bullet had entered behind the shoulder and exited at the base of the neck on the opposite side.

Not only did I feel jubilation at the terrific buck I had just harvested with a good shot, I fell in love with a sweet little .25-06 and knew that my deer hunting career had been secured for the foreseeable future. For a 60-year-old deer hunter, I walked as tall as I ever had after downing a trophy buck, even though they were all harvested with much larger caliber deer rifles.

Discussions and dissertations around campfires and in glossy magazines have consumed uncountable volumes of words about the merits of the best caliber for whitetails. The bottom line, however, is that the best caliber is the one that you shoot best. The issue is undeniably one of personal choice. And as I learned the hard way, personal choices change with age.

Other calibers which aging deer hunters should consider include the .243 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester, .270 Remington, the 7x57 and the .308. An aging hunter's major concern is recoil. The chart below clearly defines the advantages of smaller calibers for older deer hunters.

Caliber Recoil (Foot Pounds)
.243 8.4
.30-30 11.4
7x57 12.2
.25-06 12.4
.308 14.8
.270 15.7
.280 16.2
.30-06 20.0
7mm Rem Mag 24.3
.300 Win Mag 27.2

Most mature (being respectful to my own kind) deer hunters would do well to plan for a little more research before selecting a smaller caliber rifle than I exhibited. I would say my success lay in the stars and I have not regretted my choice of the .25-06. I purchased my own gun in the Remington 700 with black synthetic stock.

The first five calibers in the above list all have recoils coming in less than 15 foot pounds. The relief to aching shoulders and joints is immediately recognizable for aging deer hunters when downsizing from the 25 foot pound recoil rifles to those with half the kick.

Given the fact that deer hunters (especially the old guys) like to argue the merits of any given caliber, arguing the finer points of the short list still beats not arguing at all. Also, I have found that by the time I present my exhortations of the grandest values of the smaller calibers around the evening campfire, I am ready for the sleeping bag. The younger guys argue into the wee hours of the morning, while I rest and prepare for the next early morning to crawl out of the sack long before them and confiscate some important piece of their equipment.

The final satisfaction of deer hunting in my last quarter century of life has evolved into the grand oratorical praises of those silver haired sexagenarians who have, over six decades, sharpened their shooting skills and gained absolute control of their nerves to the point that they no longer need the heavy duty, kick-like-a-mule big bore calibers of the less experienced deer hunter.

On my 80th birthday I plan to add a recoil pad to the butt end of my Remington 700 .25-06. That addition should carry me well towards a century of deer hunting adventure.

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Last modified on Wednesday, August 14 2013 11:37 am
Bill Cooper
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Bill Cooper is a 40-year veteran outdoor writer from Missouri. He is a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Missouri where he earned a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education. He is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and a past president of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators. Bill received the Conservation Educator of the Year Award from the Conservation Federation of Missouri in 2000 and the Conservation Communicator Award in 2008.

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  • Guest

    Guest (Kevin Anderson)

    I would add that you could also consider Reduced Recoil loads. This will allow you to keep your favorite gun, but cut the kick in half. Range is still 200 yards at least, which generally is plenty.<br /><br />Reduced Recoil isn't ideal for moose or elk, but for deer, it works spectacular.<br /><br />Kev.