photo of deer on snowfield

.223 vs. .243 For Deer Hunting

When I was younger I always remember asking my dad if certain calibers were big enough to hunt deer or elk. It always interested me to see what size of caliber could get the job done on certain medium and big sized game. If you’re a deer hunter you may often times have the same question. Many times the calibers that get thrown around are the .223 and the .243. These are the two guns I compared when I was looking for a new deer rifle for one of my little cousins. So, naturally, I did a little research to find out if the .223 or .243 were better for deer hunting. Here’s what I found out!

Although there are many similarities between the two calibers when it comes to deer hunting the .243 is the better overall gun. It packs more punch and stopping power. Our goal as hunters is to always make sure that we are as humane as possible when shooting an animal and the .243 gives you that advantage over the .223. However, does that mean that the .223 is a bad deer hunting gun? What are some other things to think about when comparing the two calibers? Read on to find out!

Is a .223 bad for deer hunting?

When you ask if a certain tool is bad for a job you’re probably asking if the tool is the most efficient thing you can use to get the job done. I can build a house with a hammer but a nail gun will make it much quicker and easier! That bodes well for this comparison too. Can the .223 get the job done while you’re deer hunting? Definitely. Is it the best option? Probably not. The bullets for a .223 are smaller than those you can purchase for a .243. The smaller bullets are great for smaller game such as coyotes and varmints. However, once you start getting larger than a coyote the .223 will start to show its weaknesses.

If you already own a .223 and want to start deer hunting with it don’t feel like you need to go buy a new gun to do so! You can still hunt deer with a .223 and there are some things you can do to make it more effective as well. The first thing you want to do is find the heaviest grain bullet you can. Typical .223 bullets are in the 30-55 grain range. This grain weight is perfect for varmint hunting. It doesn’t quite pack enough punch for deer though. The heavier grain bullets provide more impact and a mushroom effect when it hits the target. Thus creating a bigger entry and/or exit wound and killing the animal faster. The second thing you can do is hit the range. If you’re using a .223 to hunt deer your shot placement has to be great! You don’t want to have bad shot placement on a deer and only injure it. Shot placement with any rifle is of vital importance but especially when you’re on the edge of using an undersized gun.

223 vs 243 for deer

What makes a .243 better than a .223 at deer hunting?

So what makes a .243 better for deer hunting when compared to a .223? The .243 is a larger caliber rifle that holds larger bullets. These larger bullets offer more foot-pounds of energy upon impact. As mentioned earlier, the .243 offers you more of a chance of a humane kill. There is nothing worse than hitting an animal and having to track it for several hundred yards before finding it. That’s IF you ever find it too! You have to check your local laws in regards to hunting with a .223 as well. Some states do not allow you to hunt with a .223.

With a .243 you can also shoot at longer ranges and feel comfortable doing so. As a general rule, you need around 1000 foot-pounds of energy to kill a deer. A .223 can reach that amount of energy but only out to about 100 yards. A .243 can sustain that energy until around 300 yards. Depending on the type of hunting you do this can be a major factor to take into consideration. If it’s difficult for you to find shots within 100 yards then a .243 is going to be the way to go.


Many people consider a .243 to be their favorite gun for hunting deer and for good reason! Our goal as a sportsman is to be responsible for how we take game and how humanely we can do it. The .243 gives you a much better chance of doing so. With larger bullet size and the ability to shoot at greater ranges, the .243 is a no brainer when compared to a .223 for deer hunting. If your state allows it and you do decide to hunt deer with a .223 it can still help you fill your deer tag. It will take more responsibility on your part though. You will have to know the distances you feel comfortable shooting at, a heavier grained bullet and proper shot placement. You will also have to have confidence that in the heat of the moment you will have the willpower to pass on a shot that makes you question if your .223 will get the job done.