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What Do You Hunt Deer With: Firearms & Calibers

Dakota Potts | Updated February 25, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
What do you hunt deer with cover photo showing a deer with a hunting rifle resting on top

Did you know that in the 2020-21 deer hunting season, deer hunters harvested over 6.3 million deer? That’s just how popular deer hunting is. 

If you’ve been considering this sport, you’ll need the right firearms and calibers. Before embarking on a hunt, read on to find out what weapons to use for deer hunting.

For more reading see our article on the best deer rifle.

What Can I Hunt Deer With?

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a huge change in firearms used to hunt deer. New looks, new calibers, and technologies have all given hunters a plethora of choices. With that said, here’s what you can hunt a deer with.


When picking a rifle, you have four options to consider. Let’s take a look at each.

Bolt-Action Rifle 

A bolt action rifle is probably the most popular among deer hunters. It offers better accuracy on the hunting field, giving you better chances to hit your game.

Semi-Automatic Rifle

A semi-automatic rifle is another popular choice among deer hunters. Because you don’t need to manually operate the bolt between each shot, you’ll fire quickly.

However, I have to mention that a semi-automatic rifle isn’t as accurate as a bolt-action rifle. If accuracy is your biggest concern, I suggest picking a bolt-action rifle.

Lever-Action Rifle

Lever action rifles are also a good choice for deer hunting. They’re light and chambered in different cartridges that offer adequate energy to kill a deer.

With that said, this wouldn’t be at the top of my list when choosing a deer hunting rifle. Why is that? Well, it’s not consistently accurate.

Single-Shot Action 

Just like the name suggests, these rifles hold only one shot. They’re not the most popular choice among hunters.

Today, you can find sophisticated and highly accurate single-shot rifles that a deer hunter can use. They weigh less than semi or bolt-action rifles, making them ideal for someone who is trekking miles to hunt.

Still, the fact that they only offer one shot is a disadvantage to hunters because, by the time you reload, your deer might have disappeared.

Can You Hunt Deer With a Shotgun?

A person aiming a shotgun with a red dot

You can hunt a deer with a shotgun. However, there are a few limitations. No doubt, hunting with a rifle is much better because you can achieve long-distance shots.

With a shotgun, it’s a different story. This is a short-range gun. In fact, the chances of hitting beyond 160 yards are pretty slim, and that’s with slugs. That means if your target is far, this weapon won’t suit you.

Still, shotguns are king when hunting deer in an area with vegetation cover because the bullets will stomp through whatever is in the way and hit the target. This is unlike a rifle, where the bullet speeds and is likely to be affected by obstacles on the way, losing energy by the time it hits a target.

So, if your target is close and you’re surrounded by vegetation, a shotgun will do.


In certain areas, you can hunt with a handgun. However, it must be chambered in the right caliber to ensure it has enough energy to take down a deer.

What Caliber Do You Hunt Deer With?

The list of calibers used to hunt deer has grown in the last few decades. The most common include:

  • .243 Winchester
  • .204 Ruger
  • .223 Remington
  • .30/06 Springfield
  • 7mm Remington Magnum
  • .308 Winchester
  • .30/30 Winchester

Here you can learn more about the best calibers for deer hunting:

My Personal Notes and Findings

In my experience, a rifle is the best firearm to hunt a deer with, particularly a bolt or semi-automatic action, because of its accuracy and precision.

While you can use a shotgun, I find it too limiting in terms of distance hence choose to avoid it. Handguns, on the other hand, are limited to short distances and aren’t exactly accurate.

For similar reading see: what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting?

Frequently Asked Questions

What do hunters use to shoot deer? 

Hunters use rifles, shotguns, and handguns to shoot deer.

Is a rifle or shotgun better for deer hunting?

A rifle is better for deer hunting because of its accuracy and its ability to shoot longer distances.

Can you use a 12 gauge shotgun to hunt deer? 

Yes, you can use a 12 gauge shotgun to hunt deer. In fact, this gun is actually suitable for hunting many things, including rabbits and squirrels.

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