So, you’re wondering, can you hunt deer with a .22?
This is a common question we hear from inexperienced hunters.
Well, this may not be what you want to hear, but our answer is:
No, you should not hunt deer with a .22. Not only is it unethical, it is also illegal is most states in the U.S.
There are far better calibers to choose from that are much more effective at producing clean kills.
Can a 22 Kill a Deer?
Before we talk about why you shouldn’t hunt deer with a 22, let’s address whether or not a 22 can kill a deer.
Yes, a .22 caliber rifle can kill a deer, but this doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
A .22 is too small and lacks the energy to deliver a quick and humane kill.
It is one of the worst deer hunting calibers.
As hunters, we should always prioritize hunting practices that result in swift kills.
Using a .22 is likely to wound or injure the deer and allow it to escape.
The deer will now be crippled or suffer a long, agonizing death.
The way to ensure a clean kill on a deer with a .22 is a close range headshot.
Can You Hunt Deer with a 22?
Sure, you can kill a deer with a well placed shot from a 22 but just because it’s possible doesn’t mean you should.
Many deer have been killed by a 22.
But how many have been shot and weren’t recovered?
Look at the picture above and consider the huge size difference in those two cartridges.
The one on the left is a .22lr.
The bullet on the right is a .270, a very commonly used caliber for deer.
From this picture it should become obvious why hunting deer with a .22 is a bad idea.
As a result, many states have banned the use of the 22 caliber for deer hunting.
Why is it Illegal to Hunt Deer with a 22?
Just like hunting deer at night, it is illegal to hunt deer with a .22 is almost all states.
Even the states that allow hunting deer with a .22 require it to be a centerfire cartridge, not a rimfire .22lr.
This includes smaller calibers like the .17 HMR as well.
The only state we are aware of that allows using a caliber this small is North Carolina.
Hunting deer with an illegal caliber likely carriers a hefty punishment, and for good reason.
Most states require that hunters use a minimum centerfire caliber of .243.
Using a .22 for deer significantly increases the chances that you wound a deer that you will be unable to recover. Countless deer have been crippled by hunters using a .22.
The worst possible outcome for any hunter is to shoot, wound, and not recover their game. Not only do you not recover the deer but you cause the deer unnecessary suffering in the process.
We don’t even recommend hunting smaller game like turkeys with a .22.
Much like shooting a deer in the head, there are much more humane ways to hunt.
If you are going to hunt deer, do so responsibly in a way that will produce clean, ethical kills.
Smallest Caliber for Deer – .243 Winchester
The smallest caliber for deer is the .243 Winchester.
Even with a .243, shot placement is very important.
If the deer is within range of your gun you shouldn’t have much issue making a clean shot behind the front shoulder.
For comparison sake, let’s compare the difference between a typical .22lr and a .243 bullet designed for deer.
A common, high velocity .22lr bullet weighs around 40 grains and leaves the barrel at around 1310 ft/s. It leaves the barrel with an energy of around 150 ft-lbs.
At 100 yards, the amount of energy the bullet is carrying has dropped to 85 ft-lbs.
In comparison, a .243 bullet meant for hunting deer weighs anywhere from 65 grains to 95 grains. Let’s assume 95 gr with a barrel velocity of 3100 ft/s.
This gives us a muzzle energy of approximately 2070 ft-lbs. At 100 yards, this has dropped to 1723 ft-lbs.
As you can see, this is 19x more energy than the .22lr.
Many hunters will give the rule of thumb that the minimum energy recommended for producing clean kills on deer is somewhere between 1000 ft-lbs. and 1300 ft-lbs. While we don’t disagree that clean kills can result from a well place shot with less energy, this is a decent performance ballpark to shoot for.
There are better calibers worth considering than the .243 for deer such as a .270, .30-06, .308, or 6.5 Creedmoor.
We see no reason to hunt deer with a .22 when a good hunting rifle can be purchased for under $400.
Will a 22 kill a deer?
Technically, yes a 22 will kill a deer.
But as we have discussed, using a 22 for deer hunting may leaded to injured game, something that is unethical and illegal in many areas.
Is it legal to hunt deer with a 22?
In most states, no, it is illegal to use a 22 rifle to hunt deer.
If you are considering doing so, make sure to check your states regulations.
But we strongly urge you to reconsider regardless of legality.
Why is rimfire illegal for hunting?
Rimfire ammunition is usually must less powerful that centerfire ammo.
It has much less ballistic energy and a shorter effective range.
To make sure hunting is as ethical as possible, many states have outlawed the use of rimfire ammo for large game like deer.
What can you hunt with a 22?
Fortunately, if you want to hunt with a 22, there are animals you can legally hunt.
The most common game hunted with a 22 are squirrels, rabbits, and small stationary birds like quail.
For animals this size, the .22 is more than adequate and an ideal caliber in many cases.
It is an accurate round, the ammo is cheap, and it has minimal recoil.
We don’t think you should hunt deer with a .22.
And most states don’t think you should either which is why it is illegal.
The only way we would consider using a .22 to kill a deer is if we were lost in the woods, starving, and a .22 was all we had.
There are many better options out there nowadays. Do yourself a favor and get something more suitable for large game.