What’s the best all-around rifle caliber for hunting Maine’s whitetail deer? A good question, and one that is often debated at gun shops, deer camps, and rod and gun clubs.

When I started hunting deer with my dad as a young man in the late 1950s, you just had to have a Winchester 30-30. It was the deer gun of choice in those days. My first deer was taken with Dad’s old 30-30. He soon upgraded to a bolt-action .270 after losing wounded deer with the smaller caliber Winchester.

For many years, I hunted deer successfully with a Marlin .35 Remington. A few years ago, my wife took up deer hunting and through eminent domain took over my Marlin. I felt a sense of loss and sought solace by upgrading to a more flatshooting, expensive gun, a Ruger 7mm .08 with a checkered stock and top-of-the-line scope.

Of course, all of the aforementioned guns with properly placed shots will stop deer in their tracks. And for me – not a true gun connoisseur – my guns are not my most precious possessions. They are simply tools for harvesting food, not unlike my garden hoe or Mantis culivator. But we have all learned that whether gardening, woodworking or hunting big animals, the tools can make a difference: some are better than others.

The question of which is the best deer gun must by its nature lead into a discussion of ballastics, a subject that has long confused and intimidated me. Then I ran into David Walker from Buckfield. Walker, a Rumford millworker, is one of those likable, unpretentious souls who eats and sleeps guns and hunting. Walker hunts big game in Africa when he’s not working a mill shift in Rumford. A guest on my Sunday night radio program “Maine Outdoors,” Walker showed himself to be a humble but knowledgeable guy eager to share his insights and enviable hunting experiences. His 10-page, handprinted letters to me about hunting rifles and ballastics have convinced me that Walker has missed his calling; he should be teaching at the FBI Academy. In short, David Walker knows his stuff. Some excerpts:

“Selecting a deer rifle? Remember the Four Ps: Performance, Practicality, Popularity and Pleasing.

1. “Performance: Power, trajectory, penetration and accuracy.

2. “Practicality: Gun weight, barrel length, action type and recoil level.

3. “Popularity: Available ammo, cost of ammo, stylish.

4. “Pleasing: Attractive rifle, functional with form, historical value.”

Here are Walker’s choices

of best Maine deer guns

starting with his top pick, the legendary 30-06:

1) 30-06

2) .308 Win

3) .270 Win

4) .280 Rem.

5) 7X57

6) 7mm .08

In what he calls “brush gun calibers,” his top four choices are, in order: 45-70, 44 Mag., 30-30 Win, and .35 Rem. He considers the following calibers as “marginal but acceptable deer calibers: .243 Win., 250 Savage, 6mm Rem., and 257 Roberts. Additionally, Walker is dead set against a Maine hunting regulation that permits the hunting of deer with some .22 rimfires, including the .22 Hornet, as well as the “low end centerfires.”

If you really want to get technical, Walker offers this simple guideline when selecting a deer rifle. “Multiply bullet weight X velocity. If it doesn’t equal at least 250,000, it is too small for deer.

Finally, Walker stresses the same point made by the Northwoods Sporting Journal gun columnist Peter Anderson. After all is said and done, no deer gun, however good, can make up for poor marksmanship or lack of competency in the field.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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