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What is the Best Caliber Rifle for Deer Hunting?


Hundreds of thousands of gun enthusiasts around the world also hunt whitetail deer. An age old question I continue to receive year after year is what is the best caliber whitetail deer rifle to purchase. Of course I have my personal favorites which include the 300 Win Mag, and the Weatherby 7 MM Mag, but then again Im a big gun type of guy. My thought is the bigger the gun the harder the deer fall, and the more room for error I have when shooting at trophy whitetail deer. However opinions vary throughout the hunt industry, therefore after doing a vast amount of research here are some calibers to consider and some ballistic information to bring you up to speed on the opinions of experts.


Probably the most used caliber for deer hunting is the 30.06. The .30-06 Springfield cartridge (pronounced thirty-aught-six or "thirty-oh-six") or 7.62 x 63 mm in metric notation, was introduced to the United States Army in 1906 (hence 06) and standardized, used until the 1960s and early 1970s. It replaced the .30-03, 6 mm Lee Navy and .30 US Army (also called .30-40 Krag). The .30-06 remained the US Army's main cartridge for nearly 50 years before it was finally replaced by the 7.62 x 51 mm (7.62mm NATO, commercial .308 Winchester). It remains the most popular big-game cartridge in North America, and among the most popular worldwide. It was used in the bolt-action M1903 Springfield rifle, the bolt-action M1917 Enfield rifle, the semi-automatic M1 Garand, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and numerous machine guns, including the M1919 series. It served the United States in both World Wars and in the Korean War, its last major use being in Vietnam. Large volumes of surplus brass made it the basis for dozens of commercial and wildcat cartridges, as well as being extensively used for reloading. The .30-06's power, combined with the ready availability of surplus firearms chambered for it, and so demand for commercial ammunition, has made it a popular hunting round. It is suitable for large mammals such as deer, elk, and moose.

The United States has a large number of wildcatters, or handloaders who experiment with cartridges and bullets as a hobby. Sometimes these wildcat cartridges become popular enough to be adopted by a large commercial rifle maker and/or ammunition manufacturer. The .30-06 has been the basis of several mainstream and wildcat cartridges which are widely used for hunting and other special applications:

25-06 Remington, necked down to accept 6.53 mm (.257") diameter bullets
6.5-06, necked down to use (.264") diameter bullets
270 Winchester, necked down to accept 7.04 mm (.277") bullets
280 Remington, necked down to accept 7.21 mm (.284") bullets with the shoulder moved up slightly
8mm-06, necked up to accept a 8.20 mm (.323") bullet. This is a common modification performed in the USA to German Mauser rifles to facilitate use of a more commonly available cartridge case with improved performance compared to the standard German 8x57mm.
338-06, necked up to accept 8.59 mm (.338") diameter bullets
35 Whelen, necked up to accept 9.09 mm (.385) bullets

As a hunter you should be concerned with 3 things when thinking of ballistics. Velocity or Speed, Energy or Knockdown of pounds delivered to the animal when the bullet hits the target, and Trajectory which is how much the bullet rises or drops at different yardages. Personally I like guns that deliver all 3 of the categories. Many whitetail hunters love the .30-06 and it does have its place in the hunt industry. However, look at the huge decrease in all three categories once this gun gets outside of 300 yards. While I respect the .30-06, Id hate to be caught with it in my hands in the event I get a shot at that buck of a lifetime at more than 300 yards. Of course, some would argue and say a hunter would never have to make that shot. In most situations that would be true, however I can think of several animals in my trophy room that would not be handing there if I would have been shooting a .30-06 caliber. It is a great gun to have in the gun cabinet and may be the gun for the average or starter whitetail hunter, but at some time hunters have to look at stronger caliber guns without a doubt.


The .270 Winchester was developed by Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1923 and unveiled in 1925 as a chambering for their bolt action Model 54[2]. The cartridge is based upon the .30-06 Springfield, and the case is slightly longer due to the necking down process.

Driving a 130-grain (8.4 g) bullet at approximately 3140 ft/s (957 m/s), (later reduced to 3060 ft/s (933 m/s)) the cartridge demonstrated high performance at the time of its introduction and was marketed as being suitable for long range shooting on most big game. Two additional bullet weights were soon introduced: a 100-grain (6.5 g) hollow point bullet for Varmint shooting, and a 150-grain (9.7 g) bullet for larger deer, elk and moose in Big-game hunting. While not an immediate success, over the succeeding decades and especially in the post WW2 period, the .270 Winchester has attained great popularity among gun owners and hunters, ranking it among the most popular and widely used cartridges worldwide.

Internationally, firearms manufacturers now offer this chambering in all firearm varieties: bolt actions, single-shots, lever-actions (such as Browning BLR), Pump-actions (such as Remington 7600), autoloaders (such as Remington 7400) and even a few double rifles
The .270 Winchester offers superb accuracy in good bolt action rifles, an extremely flat trajectory, and good long range punch, all at a level of recoil tolerable to most shooters. The .270 has been used at one point or another to take all North American large game, but is probably not a good choice of caliber for large dangerous game such as brown or polar bears. Although some argue that a 110-grain (7.1 g) bullet should only be used on smaller game, the velocity achieved when using a 110-grain (7.1 g) bullet will take a white tail. Jack O'Connor, writer for and then Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life magazine from 1939 to 1972, strongly promoted the .270 Winchester for many hunting applications in North America and Africa undoubtedly increasing its appeal to hunters and gun enthusiasts. O'Connor remains the most passionate and influential single advocate in the cartridge's long history. The .270 is the leading rifle for Whitetail deer.

Many non-American riflemen, and ballisticians in general, have been mildly surprised by the massive success of the .270 with its "oddball" .277in bullet, and feel that the .280 Remington/7mm Express Remington, firing a "true" 7mm/.284in bullet from what is effectively a similarly necked-down .30-'06 case, could have cornered a similarly large market, had it been released in time. But the US market may have perceived the 7 mm diameter bullet as essentially European in origin and pedigree, and thus "not made here", while the .270 was aggressively and most successfully marketed as a new, all-American caliber. The more likely reason is that the .280 Remington was introduced in a semi-automatic rifle and the cartridge was not loaded to the same pressure and velocity levels as the .270 Winchester (with a velocity of 200-300 ft/s less). It should be pointed out that the 7mm Remington Magnum introduced just 4 years after the .280 has been wildly popular with American shooters. The .270 Winchester has never made much headway as an African plains game caliber, with hunters preferring the parent (and even more internationally successful) .30-06 cartridge with its wider choice of bullets, especially in the heavier weights. United Kingdom red deer stalkers have been sharply divided over the .270. Some swear by it for its flat trajectory and long-range punch, while others swear at it for its noise and harsh recoil.Peter Carne -"Woodland Stalking"1999. It is undoubtedly an abrupt-shooting cartridge by comparison with the UK's long-time benchmarks, the 7x57 Mauser/.275 Rigby and 6.5 mm 54 Mannlicher-Schnauer, or the newer 7mm-08 Remington, although it has less recoil than the .30-06. UK market interest in the .270 has, however, revived somewhat since the 1990s with the widespread police approval of sound moderators (a.k.a. suppressors) for civilian-owned centerfire rifles, since a moderator noticeably attenuates the .270's loud report. The relatively strong recoil of this cartridge can be mitigated with the addition of a reliable recoil pad on the rifle buttstock.

The .270 has never been a military caliber. This is a useful fact which means it can be and is used as a "substitute" for the 30-06 in countries where military calibre rifles are prohibited such as France. Additionally, while Sierra Bullets does manufacture a 135-grain (8.7 g) MatchKing bullet for target applications, it is rarely found in benchrest or other target competitions. Even so, today the .270 is one of the 5 most popular rifle calibers in the world, following closely behind the .30-06 Springfield in terms of firearms and ammunition sold.


The .243 is a great starter gun for young people or smaller framed hunters. The .243 Winchester is a very popular sporting rifle round. It is ideal on game such as Whitetail deer, Mule deer, Pronghorn antelope, Black bear and wild boar. In the USA it is very effective for long range varmint shooting. It uses what is basically a .308 cartridge case necked-down to accept a .244 in/6 mm bullet. The .243 is well known for its accuracy, very flat trajectory, and relatively mild recoil compared to other cartridges. In Southern Africa the .243 was voted as the most popular hunting cartridge in South Africa, Namibia and south-western Botswana, because of its long range capabilities and effect on game in the Springbok/Blesbuck category where ranges can reach in excess of 300m.

This cartridge was first introduced in 1955 for Winchester's Model 70 bolt-action sporting rifle, and it quickly gained popularity among sportsmen worldwide. Even Winchester's chief competitor, Remington, was quick to chamber rifles for the .243 round, and all mass-market riflemakers have followed suit. Many companies offer a selection of rifle models chambered in .243 Win.

Since the enactment of the 1963 Deer Act in Great Britain, which stipulated a minimum bullet diameter of .240 in together with minimum levels of muzzle velocity and bullet energy, the .243 Win. has been perceived by UK sportsmen as the "entry level" calibre for legal deer-stalking; and since the 1960s the .243 has been by far the most widely used calibre for shooting small and woodland deer in the UK.

Firearms that would normally be chambered for the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO caliber are distributed chambered for the .243 cartridge in Countries whose regulations restrict or forbid civilian ownership of "military calibers"; examples of countries with such legislations are France and Spain.

In a non-sporting, non-civilian context, bolt-action rifles chambered for the .243 Win. were utilized by the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) unit during its early years.
P. O. Ackley created an Improved version of this cartridge called the .243 Winchester Improved (Ackley). Like other Improved cartridges, this created a steeper shoulder and blew the sides out, plus slightly lengthens the case, giving about 10% more powder capacity, and some small improvement in velocity. Both versions of the .243 cartridge are good for hunting deer.

The .243 Winchester produces a velocity of 2960 feet (902.21 m) per second with a 100 grain (6.8 gram) projectile from a 24-inch (610 mm) barrel. Commercially loaded .243 ammunition is available with bullet weight ranging from 55 grains (3.6 g) up to 105 grains (6.8 g), typical use being with bullets of c. 7590 grains (6 g).

The .243 has gained very substantial popularity in the international hunting world, and commercially loaded ammunition is easy to find in almost any gunshop. Along with the .270 Winchester, the .308 Winchester, .223 Remington, and .30-'06, it is amongst the most popular and widely available of all centrefire cartridges. The .243 is a popular and successful choice for all but the very largest deer, small to medium sized antelope, and for varmint hunting.
In the United States, the cartridge is used extensively in varmint hunting as well as larger deer-sized game. It is also used with good effect in competitions out to 1,000 yards (914 m).


The .308 Winchester is a rifle round and is the commercial version of the military 7.62x51mm NATO centerfire cartridge. The .308 Winchester was introduced in 1952, two years prior to the NATO adoption of the 7.62x51mm NATO T65, Winchester (a subsidiary of Olin Corporation) branded the cartridge and introduced it to the commercial hunting market as the .308 Winchester. Winchester's Model 70 and Model 88 rifles were subsequently chambered for the new cartridge. Since then, the .308 Winchester has become the most popular short-action big-game hunting cartridge worldwide. It is also commonly used for civilian target shooting, military sniping, and police sharpshooting. The relatively short case makes the .308 Winchester especially well adapted for short action rifles.

Among calibers larger than 6mm, the .308 is by far the most popular short-action big-game cartridge among hunters worldwide
.308 Winchester maximum C.I.P. cartridge dimensions. All sizes in millimeters (mm).

Americans would define the shoulder angle at alpha/2 = 20 degrees. The common rifling twist rate for this cartridge is 305 mm (1 in 12 in), 4 grooves, lands = 7.62 mm, grooves = 7.82 mm, land width = 4.47 mm and the primer type is large rifle.

According to the official C.I.P. (Commission Internationale Permanente pour l'Epreuve des Armes Feu Portatives) guidelines the .308 Winchester case can handle up to 415 MPa (60,190 psi) piezo pressure. In C.I.P. regulated countries every rifle cartridge combo has to be proofed at 125% of this maximum C.I.P. pressure to certify for sale to consumers.
The .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm cartridges are not identical and there are minor differences in their inner case dimensions, though SAAMI does not list either cartridge as unsafe in a firearm designed for use with the other.

The .308 Winchester as a parent case
Several more cartridges have been developed using the .308 Winchester as a parent case, some becoming very popular for hunting, particularly in North America. These are the .243 Winchester, the .260 Remington (aka 6.5-08 A-Square), the 7mm-08 Remington, the .338 Federal, and the .358 Winchester (aka 8.8x51mm). In 1980, two rimmed cartridges based on the .308 Winchester were introduced for use in the Winchester Model 94 XTR Angle Eject rifle; the .307 Winchester and the .356 Winchester.

The 7 mm Remington Magnum rifle cartridge was introduced as a commercially available round in 1962,[2] along with the new Remington Model 700 bolt action rifle. It is a member of the belted magnum family that is directly derived from the venerable .375 H&H Magnum.[3] Roy Weatherby modified the H&H cases with a double-rounded "venturi" shoulder and straighter body. The original purpose of the belted magnum concept taken from the .300 H&H and .375 H&H to provide precise control of the head-space, since the sloping shoulders, while easing cartridge extraction, provided poor head-spacing. Improved cartridge extraction reliability is desirable while hunting dangerous game, which would be of concern when needing a fast followup shot. The 7mm Rem is based on the commercial Winchester .264 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag, and .458 Win Mag, which were based on the same belted .300 H&H and .375 H&H cases, trimmed to nearly the same length as the .270 Wby Mag.[4]

The 7 mm Remington Magnum offers ballistics superior to the .30-06 Springfield with all equivalent bullet weights, the most popular load being a 160 grain spitzer loaded to 3000 ft/s. This cartridge is capable of taking any game in North America, although one may do well to select a larger caliber for big bears. The 7 mm Remington Magnum also generates the heaviest recoil that many shooters can shoot well, having recoil comparable to the .30-06 Springfield, in contrast to the heavier recoil generated from more powerful magnum rounds such as the .338 Lapua Magnum. Because of this, the 7 mm Remington Magnum is especially popular for Western plains use in the United States, as well as for use on the African plains on non-dangerous game, where longer reach than commonly achieved with the .30-06 are most often needed. The US Secret Service counter-sniper team has also deployed this cartridge in urban areas, in specially modified rifles, and its use out to 1,000 yards has been commonly demonstrated in competition.

The choice of bullet made when reloading is critical, as the velocity of bullets at unintentionally close ranges may result in a less tough bullet disintegrating without providing significant penetration on especially tough game. The choice of barrel length is also critical, as a 26 or 27 inch barrel is commonly needed to achieve the full velocity potential of the cartridge. In shorter, i.e., sporter, barrels, of approximately 22 inches, the cartridge ballistics deteriorate to much the same as achieved in a .270 Winchester, while having the apparent muzzle blast increased relative to that seen even with a 7 mm Remington Magnum fired from a longer barrel, and while generating much the same heavy recoil as experienced in shooting a 7mm Remington Magnum from a longer barrel. Used with a 26 or 27 inch barrel, though, the true benefit of the cartridge over the .30-06 and .270 Winchester becomes apparent.

On its introduction, the 7mm Rem. Mag. substantially usurped the market share held by the .264 Winchester Magnum, which went into sharp decline in popularity and sales after 1962. Maximum pressure is set by SAAMI at 61,000 PSI.

Remington has recently offered Managed Recoil ammunition for achieving reduced recoil when shooting and for generating less meat damage when hunting smaller game.

300 Win Mag
.300 Winchester Magnum (known as .300 Win Mag or in metric countries as 7.62 67 mm) is a popular magnum rifle cartridge that was introduced by Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1963 as a member of the family of Winchester Magnum cartridges. It is an accurate, long-range round with a relatively flat trajectory.

The .300 Win Mag is a cartridge for large game hunting and long-range shooting. It sees use in long-range benchrest competition and has been adopted by Law Enforcement Marksman and by a few specific branches of the US Military for use by their snipers. Maximum effective range is generally accepted to be 1210 yards (1097 m) with ammunition incorporating low-drag projectiles. Sub 1 minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy out to 1000 yards (914 m) is not unusual in precision-built rifles firing match-grade ammunition. Velocity with a 180-grain projectile at max powder charge and 24" barrel is 2975 ft/s 25 ft/s (907m/s 7.6m/s).

Recoil from the .300 Win Mag is high, much higher than the .30-06 Springfield. Remington has made low-recoil rounds called "Managed-Recoil" available, that kick less and provide performance similar to the .300 Savage.

Like the other members of Winchester Magnum family, the cartridge is based on a shortened version of the H&H casing.

The .300 Win Mag remains the most popular .30 caliber magnum with American hunters, despite being eclipsed in performance by the more powerful .300 Weatherby Magnum and newer .300 Remington Ultra Magnum.[2] It is a popular selection for hunting Elk, because it delivers better longer range performance than non-magnum .30 caliber cartridges.
The .300 Winchester Magnum is fired by an uncommon sniper rifle manufactured by Walther, the WA 2000.

7 MM Weatherby Magnum
The 7mm Weatherby Magnum is a powerful 7 mm rifle cartridge offered by the Weatherby firearms company in their Mark V rifles. The cartridge was one of the first cartridges offered by the Weatherby company.

It was developed in the 1940s by Roy Weatherby. The 7mm Weatherby Magnum did not get a lot of exposure until the early part of the 1950s when the Weatherby rifles became more avaliable. It is a great cartridge for a one-rifle hunter that shoots long distances. The 7mm Weatherby is the premier 7 mm rifle. It has taken game of all sizes around the world. The 7 mm Weatherby Magnum is lacking in knockdown power for dangerous bears.

.340 Weatherby Magnum

The .340 Weatherby Magnum rifle cartridge created by Roy Weatherby in response to the .338 Winchester Magnum. The .340 Weatherby Magnum uses the same .338 in. diameter bullets as the .338 Winchester Magnum but it does so at greater velocity than its Winchester competition. Reloaders may have trouble matching the published Weatherby velocities as Weatherby factory ammunition is loaded to maximum specifications.

This cartridge is powerful enough for even the largest North American game and is suitable for most African game as well.

.338 Winchester Magnum

The .338 Winchester Magnum was introduced in 1958 by Winchester. It is based on the .458 Winchester Magnum and is suited for all kinds of large game in North America. It is also a useful round for thin-skinned African game.

This cartridge is able to push a 225 grain (14.58g) bullet to velocities of 2,800 ft/s (853.44 m/s), generating 3,918 ftlbf (5258J), providing energy values at 100 yards that are roughly equivalent to the .30-06 Springfield's energy values at muzzle. Bullets are available in a very wide range of designs and weights ranging from 180 to 250 grains. SAAMI pressure level is 64,000 p.s.i.

The recoil of this caliber is quite heavy, with about 31 ftlbf (4.16 m*kg) of force in a 9 lb (4.08 kg) rifle. This is about twice as much as the recoil from an average .308 Winchester. Strong recoil like this can be mitigated with the use of properly designed stocks and recoil pads. By comparison, this cartridge has less recoil than other more powerful .338-caliber rifles such as the .338 RUM, .340 Weatherby and .338 Lapua. Use of a muzzle brake such as the highly efficient JP Howitzer brake can reduce or virtually eliminate recoil from these rifles. Use of brakes will, however, increase greatly the blast noise through the diversion of muzzle gases to the sides.


In practice this cartridge is frequently used for hunting the larger North American members of the deer family, namely moose, elk, and caribou. It is sufficient for stopping polar bear and grizzly bear, both of which are often encountered while hunting in Canada and Alaska, though some think that a slightly more powerful cartridge such as the .375 H&H provides a better margin of error for taking this dangerous North American game. Comfort with a particular rifle is probably more important.

The .338 Win Mag is one of the most popular cartridges with big game hunters in Alaska.


The .30-30 Winchester/.30 Winchester Center Fire/7.62x51Rmm cartridge was first marketed in early 1895 for the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle. The .30-30, as it is most commonly known, was America's first small-bore, sporting rifle cartridge designed for smokeless powder. The .30-30 is one of the most common deer cartridges in North America.

The .30-30 is considered by many to be the "entry-class" for modern deer cartridges. While it will take deer- and black bear-sized game, it is limited in effective range to approximately 200 yards (183 m) for that purpose. It is common to define the characteristics of similar cartridges as being in ".30-30 class" when describing their effectiveness. The .30-30 is typically loaded with bullets weighing between 150 and 170 grains (9.711.0 g), but lighter loads are possible. Bullets of up to 180 grains (11.7 g) can be used but the overall length restrictions of the lever action rifles used for this round limit their usefulness.

One of the primary reasons for the .30-30's popularity amongst deer hunters is its light recoil. Average recoil from a typical 150-grain (9.7 g) load at 2,390 feet per second (730 m/s) in a 7.5-pound (3.4 kg) rifle is 10.6 pounds-force (47 N) of felt recoil at the shooter's shoulder. This, combined with the cartridge's ability to take the majority of large game in North America, as long as the game is within 200 yards (180 m) of the shooter, results in a highly effective hunting round.

Because the majority of rifles chambered in .30-30 are lever-action rifles with tubular magazines, most .30-30 cartridges are loaded with round-nose or flat-nose bullets. This is to prevent a spitzer-point bullet (the shape seen on the .30-06 Springfield) from setting off the primer of the cartridge ahead of it in the magazine during recoil. Were that to happen, the gun would probably be damaged or destroyed and the shooter seriously injured. The Savage Model 99 was introduced in 1899 with a rotary magazine, in part to avoid that issue. When used in single-shot rifles or handguns, such as the Thompson Center Arms Contender or Encore series, it is common for shooters to handload the cartridge with spire-point bullets for improved ballistics.

A notable exception to the "no-spire point" guidelines for tubular magazines is the new Hornady LEVERevolution line of flexible memory elastomer tipped ammunition. By allowing a more efficient bullet shape, it allows a lighter bullet, higher muzzle velocity, and flatter trajectory. Given the popularity of the .30-30 cartridge and the lever action rifle, the potential market for the new ammunition is huge. Early reports indicate substantially improved accuracy with the round and at good terminal ballistic performance.

The .30-30 is one of the relatively few popular surviving centerfire rifle cartridges that have a rimmed case. The .30-30, like most other rimmed case examples, such as the 7.62x54R, the .303 British, the 9.3x74R, the .45-70 Government, and the Nitro Express cartridges, are all old cartridge designs that became popular before rimless designs became popular for bolt action rifles. The .307 Winchester, .308 Marlin Express, and the .444 Marlin are exceptions; all of these are modern cartridges designed specifically for lever action rifles.

The .30-30 is by far the most common chambering in lever action rifles such as the Winchester Model 1894 and the Marlin Model 336. The cartridge's rimmed design, medium length, and moderate pressure work well for the typical lever action design. The rimmed design is also well suited for various single-shot actions, so it is commonly found there as well. Rimmed cartridges are chambered in bolt action rifles, but .30-30 bolt actions are uncommon today, despite being quite effective in the field. At one time Winchester turned out the Model 54 bolt-action repeater in this caliber [.30 WCF], but it was a decided failure, chiefly because the man desiring a bolt action preferred to take one of the better and more powerful cartridges. However, in this particular caliber, the .30 WCF cartridge proved to be decidedly accurate. In addition, rimmed cartridges typically don't feed well with the box magazines normally found on bolt-action rifles. Other examples of bolt action rifles offered in .30-30 Winchester are the Savage 340 and the Remington 788.

In the sport of handgun metallic silhouette shooting, the .30-30 has had some success. The Thompson Center Arms Contender pistol, with its compact frame and break-open action, is ideally suited for cartridges of the .30-30's size. With proper loading, the .30-30 will produce velocities of nearly 2000 f/s (610 m/s) out of the short 10 inch (25 cm) Contender barrel, though recoil and muzzle blast are strong from the short barrel. The longer 14-inch (36 cm) barrel results in significant reductions in felt recoil (due to increased weight) and muzzle blast, with higher velocities, especially if factory loaded rifle ammunition is used. Magnum Research offers their five-shot BFR revolver in .30-30.

Thus after checking the ballistic charts my personal opinion is the 300 Win Mag, or the .300 Win. Mag7 MM Weatherby Magnum. You can have too little of a gun and lose long range shots but your safe with the larger deer rifles equipped with big scopes for many reasons. You want to kill the animal even if you make a bad shot. A big gun will do this most often. Also you don't want to compromise the distance you can shoot. I wouldn't get caught dead with a 30-30 in the woods. As soon as I did a deer of a lifetime would present a 300 yard shot I couldn't make. Big guns for big deer is what I say.


Darrin Bradley

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