How to Select a Deer Rifle
By James Altiere, South Alabama Hunter Education Coordinator, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
In Alabama, the most popular game species hunted is the whitetail deer. Deer are classified as big game in Alabama and by regulation can be hunted with spear, bow and arrow, crossbow, muzzleloading firearms, shotgun and high-powered rifle.
If you choose to hunt with a high-powered rifle, selecting the right one is important to be most successful in your hunt. If hunting deer in the state of Alabama, the only restriction on rifle type is that it must be chambered in a caliber that shoots a centerfire cartridge. The bullet must also be the type that mushrooms on impact--not a full metal jacket type bullet. The particular caliber of the rifle does not matter as long as it shoots a centerfire cartridge. This opens up a wide variety of rifles that can legally be used to hunt deer in Alabama. Choosing the caliber and action type depends on a variety of factors and personal preference.
When choosing a deer rifle, one of the things to consider is the size and age of the hunter. Younger hunters or those of small physical stature may need a rifle that is lighter and chambered in a smaller caliber. These would range from a .22 caliber through a .25 caliber. The more popular calibers include the .223, .22-250, .243, 6 mm, .257 Roberts and the .25-06. Smaller caliber rifle bullets are lighter and typically travel at very high velocities. The advantage of the lighter bullet is less recoil, but the disadvantage is that they can also be easily affected by brush or the wind. In addition, shot placement is critical with the lighter bullet. To make an ethical, one-shot kill, the hunter needs to become a superior marksman, so practice, practice, practice.
Experienced hunters of medium to large physical stature can also choose the smaller caliber rifles, but may be able to handle the larger caliber rifles as well. The larger caliber rifles range from .27 caliber up to .50 caliber. These also include the magnum calibers. Some of the more common large calibers used for deer hunting are .270, .270 magnum, .280, .7 mm-08, 7 mm magnum, .30-06, 30-30, .300 magnum 8 mm magnum and 45-70. Any caliber larger than those mentioned here are usually used for larger species of game animal, not the whitetail deer. These large calibers also offer a variety of bullet weights.
Typically, the light- to medium-weight bullets are used in open type hunting areas that offer clear shots both long and short range. The heavier bullets are used for brushy type hunting areas where clear shots are limited. They travel at a slower velocity but may be a little more resistant to deflection by light brush. Always identify the target before even thinking about taking a shot.
For an enjoyable hunting experience a rifle should feel good and should be of a weight that is comfortable for the hunter. It should also come to your shoulder easily and be in position for a good sight picture of the target.
In conclusion, when choosing a rifle to hunt whitetail deer in Alabama, the following should be taken into consideration:
• What type of habitat is going to be hunted?
• How experienced is the hunter?
• What type of hunting is going to be done?
• What are the personal preferences of the hunter when it comes to the different action types?
Be sure to study the both the characteristics and ballistics of the different rifle and caliber types before you go afield to help ensure a more enjoyable and successful hunt. More importantly, practice until you are proficient with your rifle of choice.