What are your thoughts on the .223 for deer hunting?
The question of the day: Is the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO cartridge an adequate deer cartridge? I had some pre-conceived notions regarding this but no first-hand experience, so I checked with someone who did. Richard Mann is a gun writer out of West Virginia, and he has shot somewhere around a dozen whitetails with a .223 and seen a similar number shot by others. “Given a good bullet like a 63-grain Nosler Partition or Barnes TSX, the .223 is a fine deer cartridge.” I pressed him regarding the range these deer he has taken or seen taken were shot. All were less than 200 yards. Richard does a lot of research using ballistic gelatin and claims the wound cavities from a .223 with a strong bullet are better than a typical 150-grain .30-30 bullet.
“It’s because of the velocity difference,” he said. “A .30-30 bullet is going to hit a deer at 2,200 fps or less. In the .223 the bullet can be as much as 900 fps faster, depending on the range. The wound cavities I have seen in ballistic gelatin are much bigger than those from a .30-30.”
He said that when the .223 bullet gets down to 2,400 fps or less, however, that it will lose much of its authority.
That velocity threshold occurs at some point just this side of 200 yards. Since the vast majority of his whitetail hunting occurs in the east where he says a long shot is 150 yards, it would seem from that perspective that the .223 Remington is an adequate deer cartridge. Too, the deer in the east—while a buck can occasionally weigh 200 pounds—tend to be much smaller. Out here in the west where I live, the deer average a bit heavier—perhaps 150 pounds would be a reasonable average, and there are plenty of bucks weighing more than 200 pounds. Ranges tend to be longer as well, especially on the wide-open plains and in the Rocky Mountains. We also have to contend with more wind, and wind affects lighter bullets far more substantially than heavier .27- to .33-caliber bullets.