Five Best New Cartridges for Deer Hunting
Derrek Sigler 09.22.20
Each and every year, the ammo and rifle manufacturers get together and at least one of them will release a hot, new deer cartridge that will revolutionize the deer hunting world – or so they say. As one reader put it before, it’s an answer to a question that no one was really asking. However, new calibers are fun because let’s face it, we all like guns and pouring over ballistics data is cool. And without a new caliber once and awhile, wouldn’t things get a little boring? There have been a few new calibers released in recent years. Some of them are not even really new, we’ve just taken a new shine to them for one reason or another. For the sake of argument, we’ll say that to make this list, the caliber has to be from the past few decades. Sound good to you? Let’s take a look at five best new calibers for deer hunting.
The “tree-fiddy” is one of the newer kids on the block. It was released commercially by Winchester for 2019. Winchester always knows how to make a splash, and they went all-in for SHOT Show to make sure that the media and public were all hyped up on this new cartridge. The big deal with the Legend is that it is a straight-wall cartridge. For those of us who live out in the middle of nowhere with not many neighbors, straight-walled cartridges are interesting, but not really a concern. That doesn’t mean we won’t buy them or use them, but most of us don’t “have to.” That is the key thing here. Many states have a restriction on rifle calibers around population centers, and with good reason – to reduce the chances of a bullet going past its target and into something, or someone more important. Most limit deer hunters to shotguns with slugs, blackpowder rifles, or straight-wall cartridges. A-ha! This is a section of the market that is key.
Not everyone wants to use a pistol cartridge, like a .44 mag, to deer hunt with. That’s where the .350 Legend comes in. The design is rather simple. Winchester took a .357 diameter bullet and stuffed it into a 1.71 inch-long .223 case. With a 180-grain bullet, they got a muzzle velocity of 2,199fps and 1,762 ft. lbs of energy. Speed drops off to 1,466fps at 200 yards, so the bullet is still moving along well, giving the .350 Legend some decent oomph. This is one new deer hunting cartridge that was developed for the deer hunter, although I just had a buddy use a T/C Contender in .350 Legend to fill his bear tag. Judging by how well it’s going right now, the 350 will stick around. There are a lot of rifles being chambered in .350 Legend and you may just want to pick one up. This one is a lot of people’s pick for the best new deer hunting cartridge.
Shop 350 Legend
Man, it seems like it was just a year or two ago that we were all trying to get our hands on a 6.5 Creedmoor-chambered rifle, wasn’t it? Oh wait, we still are. The 6.5 was released commercially by Hornady in 2007. It was around well before that as a wildcat round, used by competition shooters. The cartridge was initially designed as a precision target shooting competition round in conjunction between Creedmoor Sports and Hornady. The goal was a magazine-length round with low recoil and great accuracy from the bullets with a high ballistic coefficient. Hornady blended in powders from across their line, including the LeverRevolution and Ruger short mag lines.
Initially, this was a match cartridge, so hunting wasn’t a priority. But hey, we’re gun people, right? We hunt. The notion of a flat-shooting, accurate round with low recoil sounded like a winner, and soon, hunting bullets were being used by hand loaders. This led to Hornady and other ammo companies following suit, and soon, if you wanted to have decent sales for your rifles, you’d better have at least one chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. How well does it perform? A lot of friends of mine who are big names in the media really like the 6.5 for deer because it is highly versatile. You can effectively use it for longer-range hunting, but if a buck walks out at closer ranges, the 6.5 won’t blow them up. I’ve shot both target and hunting bullets through one at the range and like what I have seen. I can understand why this is a hot, new deer hunting cartridge.
Shop 6.5 Creedmoor
The 450 Bushmaster has ties to Col. Jeff Cooper and is an interesting cartridge. The original concept was to make a big-bullet cartridge that could be used in the AR-15 platform to make it a legit big-game rifle. Cooper had publically decried the .223/5.56 as a big-game cartridge, but liked the idea of the AR-platform as a hunting rifle. Enter Tim LeGendre of LeMag Firearms. LeGendre set out to develop a cartridge, using a .45-caliber bullet. His cartridge, the .45 Professional flat worked. It was the “thumper” cartridge Cooper envisioned. Bushmaster Firearms licensed the design and went to Hornady for a commercial cartridge. Hornady, hot on the heels of the LeverRevolution ammo with SST-Flex-Tip bullets, shortened the original cartridge and it became, with LeGendre’s approval, the 450 Bushmaster.
Back in 2007, I had the pleasure of getting my hands on one of the early 450 Bushmaster AR-15s to come off the line. It was fun to shoot, much like having a semi-automatic .45/70. Sadly, I let one of my coworkers buy the rifle instead of keeping it for myself. I honestly didn’t think it would truly make it in the competitive world of deer rifles, but then someone realized that it was, in fact, a straight-walled cartridge. Remember how hot those are right now? Here you had a big-bullet coming out with lower recoil. I started seeing bolt-action rifles and even single-shots chambered in 450 Bushmaster. Of the straight-walled cartridges, this truly is the thumper. It has serious knock-down power for deer hunting, and yes, you can still find AR-15s (not AR-10s, mind you) chambered in it.
Shop 450 Bushmaster
The little brother to the 6.5, the 6mm Creedmoor is, in my opinion, another of the answers to questions that not many of us had. However, there is no denying this cartridge’s growing popularity. It came about from gun writer John Snow asking Hornady to neck down a 6.5 for him to use in Precision Rifle Series competition. It’s fast, accurate and with low recoil, as you would expect. Popularity wise, the 6mm Creedmoor is riding the coattails of the 6.5 to an extent.
For deer hunters, it’s basically a .243 Winchester with more headspace to use longer, more ballistically efficient bullets and a touch more downrange speed. It’s cool and you’ll see more and more rifles chambered in it. Do I want one? Sure, but then again, I want a lot of guns. Do I need one? Probably not. It’s getting so much attention now, that I felt it should make this list. There will be deer that fall to the 6mm this autumn, so if you want one, get one. Personally, I think Hornady’s newer 6mm ARC is going to run right past the Creedmoor in longevity. We’ll see.
Shop 6mm Creedmoor
I struggled over the last cartridge to include in this list, I’m not going to lie. There are a lot of interesting cartridges, including the Nosler numbered series. To include the 6.5 PRC, which is a little bit on the obscure side right now, it seemed like a stretch, but bear with me on this because it’s a cool option for deer hunters. The 6.5 PRC, or Precision Rifle Cartridge from Hornady is basically a magnum version of the 6.5 Creedmoor. Why make it? Because they can, I guess, but there’s some interesting data behind it. If you take the Precision Hunter load from Hornady in a 143-grain ELD-X bullet, you’re looking at a muzzle velocity of 2,960fps. That’s fast. The cool factor comes when you look at the 500-yrd velocity, which is cooking along at 2,248fps. That mid-range speed beats out my personal favorite, the 7mm Rem Mag. This makes the 6.5 PRC a cool option for hunting deer in the open reaches of the Midwest and western states.
Shop 6.5 PRC
What other new cartridges are you fond of? Or, better, yet, what are your favorite deer cartridges in general? Debating what is the best deer hunting cartridge is a deer camp tradition, like debating trucks. You have your Ford, Chevy and Ram guys, as well as the Toyota and Nissan crowds. Everyone has an opinion and no one is really wrong.
Lead image: Shutterstock/Tom Reichner