Top cartridges & bullets for white-tailed deer



Jack O’Connor, the late outdoor writer and long-time proponent of the .270, would be tickled pink: according to the survey, his pet round is still considered tops for hunting whitetails, Canada’s most popular big-game animal. Of the 45 outfitters who hunt whitetails, 10 selected the .270 Win. as their cartridge of choice. And it didn’t matter what type of habitat they hunt—the supporters of the .270 were scattered across the country.

In all, the guides chose 10 different cartridges as best for whitetails; along with the top picks in the chart to the right, the .30-30, .300 WSM, .280 Rem. and .25-06 were nominated by at least one outfitter.


I was somewhat surprised to see such strong support for the .300 Win. Mag., a fairly powerful calibre, though almost everyone who selected it was from the West, where deer tend to be larger-bodied and shots are more likely to come at extended ranges.

Also of interest was the popularity of the .308; it’s truly a fine cartridge, but it’s been overshadowed in recent years by the growing interest in higher-velocity and magnum cartridges. As might be expected, the .308 received the most support from Ontario and eastward, where the history of its capabilities is longest and strongest.


When looking at bullets, most outfitters recommended medium- to heavy-weight-for-calibre slugs. With the .270 Win., for example, the 150-grain load garnered four nods, compared to just one for the 130-grain load, which has long been thought to be the better bet for deer-sized game. In the various .30-cal cartridges, 180-grain bullets were almost universally recommended.


With respect to the naming of specific bullets, or manufacturers, Nosler stood head and shoulders above the rest. This was repeated with almost every big-game animal listed in the survey. I suspect this reflects Nosler’s storied history in the premium bullet business, coupled with the length of time it’s been offered in factory-loaded ammunition.


To help the rest of us become better whitetail hunters, the guides focused on the fundamentals:

  1. Do lots of pre-season scouting
  2. Move slowly and quietly
  3. Be patient
  4. Manage your scent
  5. Get out in the field as much as possible

A couple of guides said to hunt all day, suggesting the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. can be some of the most productive for mature bucks, particularly during the rut.

One outfitter also suggested you can’t afford to wait for the perfect shot with white-tailed bucks. Instead, you should know the anatomy of a deer, practise shooting quickly and offhand, and be prepared to take shots at less than optimal angles.

From our 2009 survey of guides across the country, asking them to share their insights on the best cartridges, bullets, optics and more for hunting Canada’s big-game animals.