Smaller-caliber Rifles for Aging Deer Hunters


… The doctor’s words rang my ears almost as badly as the exploding hand grenade, which landed all too close almost 40 years previously.

“ … Bill, I know you enjoy hunting, but it is time to give up the big guns,” he said.

I had just undergone surgery on my right arm for extensive nerve damage and faced weeks of painful therapy sessions. Not wanting to damage my ego too heavily, nor alter my lifestyle, the doctor made a closing suggestion.

“At least drop the .30-06 for a lighter caliber Bill, or you are going to suffer lasting and painful consequences.”

The following year, my hunting buddies changed my gloomy outlook on the future. A deer drive materialized instantaneously while we were sighting in rifles. A family member drove up and reported seeing a big buck cross the farm road and enter a 2-acre brushy draw. We all piled into trucks and headed that direction.

Ordered to post 125 yards off the east end of the draw in a soybean stubble field, I had protested because I had left my rifle in camp. Then, one of the guys handed me a .25-06 Winchester.

Two minutes later, I glared down the scope of that sleek little rifle at the biggest buck I had ever seen in the wild. It raced across the stubble 125 yards away. I dropped to one knee, took a deep breath, settled the crosshairs on the front edge of the magnificent buck’s shoulder and slowly squeezed the trigger.

I saw the buck hump up. Thirty yards later, it had piled up in a cloud of dust.

Not only did I feel jubilation at the terrific buck I had just harvested with a good shot, I had fallen in love with a sweet little .25-06 and knew that my deer-hunting career had been secured for the foreseeable future.

Discussions and dissertations around campfires have consumed a lot of time on the merits of the best caliber for whitetails. The bottom line is, the best caliber is the one that you shoot best.

Other calibers that aging deer hunters should consider include the .243 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester, .270 Remington, the 7×57 and the .308.

But an aging hunter’s major concern is recoil. The chart below clearly defines the advantages of smaller calibers for older deer hunters:

Caliber       Recoil (foot pounds)

.243            8.4

.30-30        11.4

7×57            12.2

.25-06        12.4

.308            14.8

.270            15.7

.280            16.2

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.30-06        20.0

7mm Rem Mag          24.3

.300 Win Mag            27.2

The first five calibers above all have recoils coming in less than 15-foot pounds. The relief to aching shoulders and joints is immediately recognizable for aging deer hunters when downsizing from the 25-foot-pound recoil rifles to those with half the kick.

Given the fact that deer hunters, especially the old guys, like to argue the merits of any given caliber, arguing the finer points of the short list still beats not arguing at all. I have found that by the time I present my exhortations of the grandest values of the smaller calibers around the evening campfire, I am more than ready for the sleeping bag. The younger guys argue into the wee hours of the morning, while I rest and prepare for the next early morning to crawl out of the sack long before them and confiscate “some” important piece of equipment of theirs.

Experienced deer hunters enjoy nothing more than recalling grand adventures into their favorite haunts for big whitetails. Hunters with decades of experience spin yarns about deer camps, the characters they’ve met, the food—the good and bad—the rigorous conditions they’ve endured, the big bucks that have fallen to their mature skills, and the one “ghost” that no one could ever kill. Tops among the yarns are the guns that graying deer hunters have carried afield, lovingly, to help culminate all the anticipation, preparation, travel, scouting and hunting.

These are the guns which these respected hunters carry to make life-long memories to later be retold to upcoming generations of deer hunters around campfires everywhere. An aging deer hunter is like a well-worn encyclopedia; he is full of knowledge, carries a leathered, weather worn cover and is revered by scholars. There’s a pride that runs deep and possesses a burning desire to continue to hunt and to pass on the legacy.

The final satisfaction of deer hunting in my last quarter century of life has evolved into the grand oratorical praises of those silver-haired sexagenarians who have, for over six decades, sharpened their shooting skills and gained absolute control of their nerves to the point that they no longer need the heavy- duty, kick-like-a-mule big-bore calibers of the less experienced deer hunter.

Caliber     Recoil (foot pounds)

.243              8.4

.30-30          11.4

7×57              12.2

.25-06          12.4

.308              14.8

.270             15.7

.280             16.2

.30-06         20.0

7mm Rem Mag         24.3

.300 Win Mag           27.2