.22 centerfires for deer: The unending debate

Posted May 2, 2014 by muzzlevelocity in Ammunition

If you spend way too much time on gun and hunting forums like we do, you’ll notice that one of the most common, hotly debated, topics is whether or not .22 centerfire rounds are ethical for deer hunting.

On one side are the traditionalists who assert that rounds such as the .223 Remington and .22-250 are strictly for varmints and that no ethical hunter would dream of firing such tiny pills at anything larger than a coyote. On the other side of the debate are hunters who point out that bullet technology has come a long way in the last few decades and that modern bonded core and all copper bullets have enabled .22 centerfires to effectively fill more niches than ever, including that of medium game hunting.

The pros and cons of using .22 centerfire rounds for deer (where legal) essentially boils down to the following:


  • Modern bullet technology (think Barnes Triple Shock) has increased the amount of tissue damage a high velocity .22 round will inflict. While a 1970’s era cup and core bullet may have essentially exploded upon impact with a deer, resulting in a shallow wound and lost animal, modern bullets will often penetrate completely through a deer, ruining a large amount of vital tissue in the process.
  • Rounds such as the .223 are pleasant to shoot due to their low ammo cost and recoil energy. A gun that is fun and cheap to shoot will result in more practice and hence a more accurate shooter. An accurate shooter is more likely to hit his or her mark, and when hunting, shot placement trumps kinetic energy numbers.


  • Light .22 cal bullets lose energy faster than their larger, heavier, brethren. A light, small, bullet that leaves a devastating wound channel at 100-yards or less may only wound an animal at 250 yards. This means an ethical hunter with a .223 would have to pass on a shot that could easily be made by a hunter with a .270.
  • .22 centerfires require perfect shot placement leaving little margin of error. While a .30-06 will probably pulverize any heavy bone it hits, a .223 may not.
  • The smaller the bullet, the smaller the blood trail.

The above debate will likely never be resolved and will undoubtedly make for entertain forum threads for years to come. That said, the hunters in the following videos didn’t seem to have any trouble taking deer with their .22 centerfires.




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