Updated: Feb 8, 2021
One of the most common questions I see women ask on hunting-focused social media pages is "What's the best deer rifle for a woman?". The truth is, there are many great options, and every one has its pros and cons. I asked the Huntress View team members what their deer rifle of choice was, and the responses were varied.
A Tikka T3 .243 is my hunting rifle of choice. I received this rifle as a birthday gift from my boyfriend, who has many years of experience hunting and shooting. We were primarily hunting whitetails, and this gun has plenty of power to kill a deer but doesn't have the kick that a larger caliber would have. In the 11 years I've been hunting with this rifle, I've taken quite a few whitetails (bucks and does), a large black bear and a mountain lion all at less than 100 yards, a mule deer buck at 230 yards, multiple pronghorn between 200 and 350 yards. I have a Quigley Ford scope that is sighted in at 100 yards with hash marks out past 600 yards, although I would not feel comfortable shooting any of these animals more than 400. This gun has had plenty of power to kill each animal quickly, dropping most in their tracks, has very little kick making it comfortable to shoot, and is relatively lightweight, so it's easy to carry through the woods. With some of the lightest recoil of all hunting rifle options, it allows the shooter to quickly re-center and aim if they have to take a second shot.
Team members Courtney Schnitzler and Emily Worthy Edwards also shoot a .243 rifle. Courtney sites flat trajectory, minimal recoil, size, weight, and cost to shoot as her primary reasons for choosing this caliber. "The entrance hole is small, so it doesn't ruin the pelt, but it does a lot of damage inside the animal, so they don't go far." Emily adds that it's lighter than her husband's .270 or .30-06 (which is beneficial to her small size!), and she's never had any issues recovering an animal; and also stated, "I love that it doesn't ruin meat by blowing out the exit."
The 6.5 Creedmore has become a popular choice for hunters in the last few years. The cartridge looks similar to the .243 cartridge but is slightly bigger and has a larger bullet. This rifle is plenty big enough to use for big game, including deer, pronghorn, and elk. In 2016, I used a Montana Rifle Company custom 6.5 Creedmore to shoot a bull elk at 420 yards. A double lung hit, and he immediately dropped. The amount of recoil is higher than a .243 but still relatively light compared to larger rounds. One of the most significant advantages of the 6.5 Creedmore is its long-range efficiency. High ballistic coefficients mean they can slip through the air more efficiently and minimize gravity and wind effects. Elk hunters are divided on this round, with many thinking it's too small, especially at farther distances, but this is where ammo choice comes into play.
Several of the Huntress View team members have a .270 as their preferred rifle of choice. Compared to a .243 cartridge, the .270 is longer, meaning that it holds more powder, which is needed to bring the heavier bullets up to a proper speed for shooting purposes. It does have a bit more recoil than a .243, but how this feels depends on the individual shooter.
Huntress View founder Andrea Rothove uses a .270 for deer hunting. She states, "It has great knockdown power and doesn't kick me so hard that I don't like shooting it. Plus, if I ever want to hunt bigger game, such as elk, it would be suitable for that as well."
Team member Lauren Martin Cole says that her Browning X-Bolt .270 is her favorite. "I feel like a lot of women are afraid of this round if they haven't shot a lot, but there's no reason to be! It doesn't kick as much as most people think but has excellent knockdown power." She primarily hunts whitetail but has also killed a pronghorn at 473 yards with her rifle.
Next on our list is the 7mm-08 Remington. This cartridge has the same case size as a .243 but shoots a heavier bullet, meaning it packs more punch. Ballistics studies have shown this caliber to be most effective at closer ranges, out to 150 yards. Beyond that, velocity decreases, possibly resulting in a slower kill and the animal going further after the shot.
Team member Cajun Bradley shoots a Thompson Center 7mm-08 because of its versatility. Although she primarily hunts whitetails today and has used this rifle to shoot several does in Arkansas and Kansas, a buck in Arkansas, and her 2020 Missouri buck, Cajun plans to pursue larger species in the future and wanted a rifle that could do both.
The .308 Winchester has a very similar cartridge as the 7mm-08 but consistently produces more recoil energy, which may or may not be felt depending on the individual. Team member Kelly Cohen regularly uses a Browning .308 for both deer and elk and says, "It gets the job done." Team member Jesse Harding Campbell shoots a Remington model 783 in .308 and likes that hers is a compact gun with plenty of knockdown power for deer, elk, moose, and bear out to 300 yards. Cara Thompson recently made the switch from a .243 to a .308 to have more knock-down power.
One downfall of the .308 is that the accuracy, trajectory, and resistance against the wind have come into question at longer distances. If you plan on shooting long-range, there are better and more-efficient rounds.
While none of our team members personally shoot a .30-06, it's an extremely popular cartridge due to its velocity, power, and flat trajectory to take down big game cleanly beyond 500 yards. Ammo is easy to find, and a wide range of weights make it an excellent option for various hunting situations. Regarding recoil, it's significantly higher than the 7mm-08 but only slightly higher than a .308, based on data from SniperCountry.com. For hunters, the .30-06 has the stopping power needed for both medium and big game and is efficient for shooting at distances seen by most hunters. For smaller deer, the .30-06 might be a bit much and end up ruining more meat than planned.
So, what's the best?
Any of these rifles would be sufficient for deer and other big-game hunting at a wide range of distances. Larger bullets don't mean it's more deadly; shot placement is essential no matter what caliber you choose.
Narrowing down the options to make your actual purchase may come down to several factors, including:
Brand awareness and reputation
Overall size and weight
Price and availability of ammo
Recommendations from friends and family
Once you've selected your rifle, selecting ammo is crucial to hunting success. There is a wide range of options for each caliber, so trying a few different ones to see what shoots best in your rifle is one key to shooting consistently. And once your rifle is sighted in, stick with the same ammo and buy in bulk if possible. All ammo is not created equal, and switching to something new means you need to head back to the range and sight it in again.
The other thing to consider is your riflescope. Just like ammo, there are a lot of options to chose from. With optics, I'm a firm believer in "you get what you pay for." Selecting a quality brand means better glass, more durability, better light transmission, and better warranties. If you have the budget to splurge, put it here.
When it's time to select your next hunting rifle, head to the gun store and shoulder a few to see what fits you best. Consider your budget, potential hunting situations, and future hunting goals. Remember, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' women's gun.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey, pronghorn, and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras, and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app and BaseMap app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.