Mule deer are the quintessential western big game animal. Many hunter’s first big game hunts are spent chasing the “deer of the open country”. As a result, mule deer have probably been taken with every cartridge you can think of, and some you can’t think of. However, over the years, a collection of cartridges seem to just get the job done over and over again. That’s what this article is all about. Below we will list some of the best mule deer cartridges in use today, and hopefully, give you a good jumping-off point for your next rifle.

Mule deer tend to spend their time in country that will require longer shots on average. As a result, most mule deer cartridges need to be somewhat flat-shooting and hit with enough energy to effectively dispatch a big muley buck.

Be sure to stick around until the end of the list, down there I’ll be discussing some of the best mule deer cartridges for youth and female hunters.

Now let’s get into the list.

The Cartridge List

.300 Win Mag: The heavyweight of this list starts us off. The .300 Win was released back in 1963. Since that time it’s done nothing but be extremely effective on big game. During normal years, ammo and reloading supplies are endless, giving .300 owners a wide variety of options to choose from. Likewise, in today’s long-range shooting world the Win Mag carries mule deer killing energy out to 1000 yards (with the proper bullet and shooter of course). Below I will leave a few specs on factory ammunition for you.

Factory Ammo: Barnes VOR-TX 180 Grain TTSX BT

-Muzzle Velocity: 2960 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 3501

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient: .484

.30-06 Sprg: What can I say about the ol’ 06 that hasn’t already been said. Its been around for over a hundred years. During that time frame, it has been used by the U.S. military and probably taken more big game animals than any other rifle. In today’s modern world there are many who look down on it as an old, worn-out cartridge as they rush to buy newer and more impressive cartridges. However, much like its old buddy the .270 Win, the results of the .30-06 speak for themselves. While the .30-06 is not the flattest shooting cartridge out there it still carries its energy well. With the popularity of the .30-06, you can pretty much find ammo almost anywhere, even gas stations usually stock it.

Factory Ammo: Federal Premium 165 Grain Trophy Bonded Tip

-Muzzle Velocity: 2800 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 2872

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient: .450

Ehuntr writer Logan Bullough with his first buck. The buck was taken with a .30-06.

.270 Win: Much like the .30-06, the .270 Win has been around the block and then some since it was released back in 1925. The popularity of the cartridge spread like wildfire due in no small part to the writings of Jack O’Connor. Over nearly the next century the .270 Win went on to help hunters take hundreds of thousands of deer and elk. Much like the .30-06 above, the .270 Win has begun to receive some complaints about its effectiveness. However, the results are hard to simply dismiss away. Every single year hunters across the country depend on their .270 Win’s to take mule deer.

Factory Ammo: Hornady 140 Grain SST Superformance

-Muzzle Velocity: 3090 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 2968

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient: .495

Braden Larsen took this buck with his Ruger .270, it’s topped with Vortex scope as well.

7mm Rem Mag: Now we settle on the 7mm Rem Mag. The 7mm is the personal favorite of two members of the Ehuntr staff. Likewise, I myself have been witness to several bucks being taken by my old man with the 7mm. The cartridge provides flat-shooting and quality energy transfer to the target. The 7mm was released back in 1962 and since then has planted its self on many top cartridge lists for the reasons stated above. There is not much more to say than the 7mm is a great mule deer cartridge.

Factory Ammo: Federal Premium 155 Grain Terminal Ascent

-Muzzle Velocity: 3000 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 3097

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient: .586

Terron Hunt took this great buck with his 7mm Rem Mag.

6.5 PRC: The promising 6.5 PRC improved on the velocity and energy of the 6.5 Creedmoor. More and more hunters and target shooters are switching to the 6.5 PRC as it falls into the sweet spot of accuracy, velocity, and high B.C. bullets. The 6.5 PRC packs a solid punch for most western game animals and the mule deer is no exception. While ammunition is not as widely available as some of the other cartridges on this list it is becoming more and more available (all ammo in 2021 is limited). With the growing popularity of the 6.5 caliber in general it sure seems like the 6.5 PRC will be a mainstay for years to come.

Factory Ammo: Hornady 143 Grain ELD-X Precision Hunter

-Muzzle Velocity: 2960 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 2782

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient: .625

A Beauty of a 6.5 PRC. Photo Credit: Curtis Larsen

Recoil Friendly Options

With more women and youth hunters in the field, this list would be sorely lacking if we didn’t at least discuss a few recoil-friendly cartridges. Before we jump into the list I’d like to take a brief moment to discuss a few rifles that would work well for youth and female hunters. Both the Savage 11/111 Lady Hunter and the Weatherby Camilla rifles are designed with the female hunter in mind. Both rifles feature shorter lengths of pull and both rifles stocks are better suited for lady hunters.

As for youth rifles, the Mossberg Patriot Youth Super Bantam and the Savage Axis XP both come with adjustable length of pull spacers and are designed for smaller shooters. Either of these rifles is a great choice for youth hunters.

Now let’s get into a few recoil-friendly mule deer cartridges.

A great mule deer buck on the Wyoming winter range.

.243 Win: The lightweight of this list was developed in 1955. The .243 has taken all shapes and sizes of American game over the last 60 years and it’s done so while providing very manageable recoil. On average the .243 Win produces 56% less felt recoil than the average .30-06, for hunters worried about recoil that’s a huge relief. The .243 carries mule deer killing energy out to around 550 yards, and that’s a pretty long shot for most hunters. The beauty of the .243 is it can easily work as a great rifle for pronghorn and coyotes as well as mule deer.

Factory Ammo: Remington Premiere 90 Grain Swift Scirocco

-Muzzle Velocity: 3120 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 1945

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient .390

7mm-08: The 7mm-08 was a wildcat cartridge based on the .308. However, this wildcat was legitimized by Remington in the 1980s. The 7mm-08 makes a great rifle for youth hunters to grown into. Bullet weight options provide hunters with the ability to “beef the cartridge up” if they want. The 7mm-08 delivers on average 39% less felt recoil than the .30-06 and even produces 23% less than its parent case the .308. The 7mm-08 has the energy to take many of North America’s game animals and it does it with very manageable recoil.

Factory Ammo: Barnes VOR-TX 120 Grain TTSX BT

-Muzzle Velocity: 3005 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 2406

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient .373

6.5 Creedmoor: Yes, the 6.5 Creedmoor makes the list. Much to the dismay of several of the Ehuntr staff. The 6.5 Creedmoor along with the PRC have stormed onto the hunting scene over the last several years. The extreme hype and “trendiness” of the 6.5 has led to many hunters speaking out against it (I myself am guilty of this). However, as a low-recoiling mule deer game-sized cartridge it performs very well. Its popularity with new and young shooters can not be understated. Due to that popularity ammunition is typically easy to find (not in 2021). Its velocity and high B.C’s are more than respectable for mule deer and should be able to get the job done in most mule deer situations. The 6.5 Creedmoor puts out around 35% less felt recoil than the .30-06 making it a great choice for a light recoiling deer rifle cartridge.

Factory Ammo: Hornady 143 Grain ELD-X Precision Hunter

-Muzzle Velocity: 2700 FPS

-Muzzle Energy: 2315

-G1 Ballistic Coefficient .625

As stated at the beginning of this article, mule deer have been taken by almost every cartridge and caliber imaginable and this is not the only bunch you can use. However, we hope this list of some of the best mule deer cartridges helps you decide which rifle cartridge you’re going to get next. Good luck in whatever hunting you are doing this year, and stay safe out there!

Readers can also read more about our cartridge suggestions by checking out our pronghorn cartridge list by clicking here.

We also discussed the best rifles for western hunters in a podcast last year. If you haven’t heard that, you should give it a listen by clicking here, or by searching Ehuntr on any of the podcast streaming services.

So, what do you think of our list? Did your favorite mule deer cartridge make the list? Let us know in the comments!

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