The Best Deer Rifle?
Ask a group of deer hunters around the campfire what the best deer rifle is, and you will hear things like this:
“My ole trusty 30-30 has been knockin’ em down since I was a little kid”
“You just can’t beat the tried and true, old faithful .270”
“My grandad’s old 7 Mag he passed down… drops ‘em in their tracks almost every time”
“I tell ya what, my son’s .243 is a real killer. I like that it uses all it’s energy inside the deer”
So, which one of those is the best deer hunting rifle? Well, that’s a difficult one to answer and every hunter seems to have a different opinion. If your shot placement is true, any legal rifle will ethically take down a whitetail deer.
If you’d asked me 1.5 years ago, I would’ve told you the best rifle for a kid was a 7mm-08 with reduced recoil rounds. Why? It has more knockdown power than a .243 and is similar in recoil. I’ve personally seen 15+ deer shot with it and only a few made it out of sight. Plus, the rifle can move up with your kid as they age. The only downside I’ve seen is that the deer that do run, leave a very sparse blood trail (similar to a .243 Winchester).
However, I think I have discovered the best deer rifle… at least for those who dislike recoil and noise but still like knockdown power (kids, women, or just guys like me). It’s the 350 Legend… a straight wall cartridge that is similar to .223 in length and diameter but with basically a .357 round of lead at the tip.
Why the 350 Legend? Well, my good buddy Matt Pullin bought one the first year it came out and he ranted and raved about it. I did a minimum amount of research and made my own uneducated opinion that it was a gimmick load from Winchester to make money. But as season got closer, I knew my son Ridge was embarking on his first deer season. He is very timid to recoil, noises, and anything that could possibly harm him. He is quite the smart boy.
I decided to give the 350 Legend another look, as I knew he would hate the recoil from my 7mm-08 or .243 and I certainly didn’t want to ruin his first experience and make him gun shy. I purchased one at a local outdoors store on a whim. Let’s be honest though, I’ve already made it clear, and we have all agreed that you can’t have too many guns.
Now let’s look at a few of the features of the 350 Legend:
First of all, this rifle is basically a 200-yard max gun. It is a rather large chunk of lead (170 grains) from a small cartridge. For youth (or myself) this is a non-issue because I don’t like shooting past 200 yards personally and don’t let my kids shoot past 150 yards.
Recoil: 7 lbs. of recoil, approximately 30% less than a .243
Penetration: 11.7 inches at 200 yards; about 25% more penetration than a .243
Noise: I have no concrete data but can say it sounds similar to a .22 magnum. Even without ear protection, it is very mild and won’t ring your ears.
Ballistics: On the Hornady loads we shoot, if you’re sighted in at +4 inches at 100, you will be dead on at 200. After that, it falls off pretty quickly. I’ve got mine sighted in around 2 inches high at 100 yards to be dead on at 150 yards (my kids’ max range).
Cost of ammunition: Just over $1 per cartridge, which is pretty dang cheap these days.
Extended hunting season: If you get a single shot (aka crack barrel) it qualifies as a weapon legal to shoot in our primitive gun season.
After one year with the 350 Legend, I’m sold. So much so, that I’ve begun taking it on the rare chance I get to go alone. Also, after one shot with my oldest son, he ditched his trusty 7mm–08 due to all the reasons listed above. Collectively, we killed 8 deer last year with “Ridge’s rifle.” All were near perfect shots (behind the shoulder). Only 2 deer ran, and we had great blood trails (50 yards or less) to follow.
Is this the greatest rifle of all time? I’m not certain, but it definitely has more pros than cons. As far as a rifle for a kid, I can confidently say it’s the best I have seen.
Dusty McGehee is a native of Downsville and a 2006 graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a bachelors in wildlife conservation. He is currently employed by WestRock and serves as an environmental engineer at the Hodge Mill. Dusty is an avid hunter and crappie fisherman, fishing crappie tournaments with his son when he is not in the woods. He and his wife Rachel have three young outdoorsmen/women: Anders, Ridge, and Mae. If you have a story idea or question about the great outdoors, you can reach Dusty at email@example.com.