Shooting a Deer with a .22 Rifle?!

Matt Johnson
Matt JohnsonPublished: January 18, 2023
Shooting a Deer with a .22 Rifle?!

The .22LR round is one of the most popular calibers among hunters, target shooters and recreational shooters alike. It's a small-caliber cartridge that packs a punch without much recoil or noise. But is shooting a deer with a 22 rifle feasible?

We get the question all the time — can a 22 kill a deer?

The answer is yes, but with some caveats. You'll need a well-placed shot if you take the deer down immediately.

However, if you absolutely must harvest a deer with a .22LR, these are some of the best cartridges on the market. They offer the muzzle velocity that can pierce through deer.

Bullet TypeGrain WeightMuzzle Velocity (FPS)Manufacturer
Standard Velocity 22 LR401070CCI
22 LR Supermaximum301700Aguila
Precision Solid Point .22 LR401135Armscor
22 LR High Velocity401255Aguila
22 Golden Bullet 22 LR361280Remington
Our favorite .22LR bullet types for hunting deer and other medium-sized game. These are the best ones in the hunting industry.

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Is the .22LR lethal?

Of course, the .22LR is a lethal round, but to what extent.

If you send enough rounds into a deer, they will eventually succumb to the trauma and die. The .22LR round is not highly recommended for hunting large game as it is more likely to cause injury than a clean kill.

That doesn't mean all hope is lost.

It just means if you're going to take a lethal shot with a .22LR then you're going to need some extremely careful shot placement.

Deer Shot Placement Chart
This shot placement chart shows where the key areas are to target a deer when using most larger-caliber rounds.

The best shot for hunting deer.

Preferably, if you're going to shoot a doe or buck with a .22 then you're going to want to be close range (no more than 50 meters), and you're going to want to get a head shot.

  • Close range. Shoot from no more than 50 meters for better accuracy.
  • Head shot. Aim for the head, but be aware that the skull can deflect the round, so a brain or spinal cord shot is more humane.
  • Brain stem target. Unlike larger calibers that aim for vital organs, .22LR requires targeting the brain stem for adult deer due to limited kinetic energy.

Even then, there's no guarantee that it will kill a deer because the skull can deflect the round. There's simply insufficient bullet weight, muzzle energy, or knock-down power to kill a deer.

But let's say you have the deer in your sight, and you can pull off a brain shot. Hitting the brain or spinal cord would affect the central nervous system, leading to a much more humane death.

This is a bit different than other calibers where you go for body shots to get the lung shot or to hit vital organs. For these smaller bullets on larger game you have to go for the brain stem on adult deer.

There's simply not enough kinetic energy from the .22 to pierce through the body of the buck or doe to get to the vital organs.

Ideally, it’s best to use a larger caliber rifle with a heavier bullet weight and greater knock-down power when hunting deer. However, if you decide to try shooting a deer with a .22LR, then make sure your shot placement is as accurate as possible for the best results.

Why you might want to use a .22LR for deer hunting.

So why would you use a small round like the .22LR to kill a deer?

There are a few reasons why you might choose to use a .22LR for deer hunting.

The .22 is quiet.

First, it’s much quieter than other larger calibers and can be used without alerting nearby game. If you're trying to kill a deer without spooking other big game, then a .22LR might be the best choice.

The .22 is easy and accurate.

Another reason some deer hunters use the .22LR is that the recoil is minimal which makes for an easier shot and more accurate shooting over longer distances.

As we mentioned, you'll want to be as close as possible to the buck to get a clean shot, but you get the point.

The .22 is cheap.

It’s also much cheaper than traditional hunting cartridges. Most .22LR rounds are a fraction of the cost of larger calibers which is great if you're on a budget.

In fact, a .22 cartridge is around $0.04 per round compared to the .30-06 sitting at around $0.87 per round.

Smallest deer hunting caliber.

Maybe you don't have the accuracy or the will to use a .22LR for deer hunting. In this case, there are other options like 6.5 Grendel, .223 Remington, or .308 Winchester which can be used for deer hunting as long as you're comfortable with their recoil and the sound they produce.

Side by Side Comparison of 22LR to a 308 Cartridge
This picture shows a side by side comparison of a .22LR to a .308 Winchester. The images of these cartridges is to scale.

We wouldn't go much smaller than that, but if you do then remember that a well-placed shot will do wonders on large game.

.22 is best used for small game hunting.

Aside from target shooting, many hunters will use their .22LR for hunting small game.

This is because the .22LR has low recoil, is relatively quiet and produces minimal damage to the animal. This makes it ideal for hunting small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents.

If you have a coyote problem on your land, then you might also consider using the .22LR for hunting them. Coyotes are a bit tougher than small game, so you'll need to make sure your shots are as accurate as possible.

Another reason many hunters use the .22 for small game is that it produces very little meat spoilage.

It's a small round that can hit a small target, and for small critters, it has enough power to do the trick without meat damage.

Deer hunting with a .22 FAQ.

Whether you're getting ready for hunting season or looking for a cheaper way to hunt deer, there are some important questions you should ask yourself before deciding to use a .22LR for deer hunting.

Why can't you shoot deer with a .22?

Yes you can shoot deer with a .22.

It's not that you can't because the possibility definitely exists, but in most states, it's illegal to use a .22LR for deer hunting.

This is because the .22LR has too low of impact energy to kill a deer humanely and quickly. Almost all states have caliber restrictions when it comes to deer season.

What happens if you shoot a deer with a .22?

If you don't get a ticket from the game warden, then you're probably going to just maim the animal.

Generally, to kill deer, you need a round that has high velocity and a fair amount of weight to fully penetrate the heavy bone of a deer.

Where is the best place to shoot a deer with a .22 rifle?

The best place to kill a deer with a single shot .22 round is in the head. There is simply too much tissue and bone for the .22LR to pierce through on the body of a deer.

Can you hunt with a .22 rifle?

Absolutely! The .22LR rifle is a fun and effective choice for hunting small game.

Can you shoot a deer with a .22 in Texas?

Yes, it is possible to shoot a deer with a .22 in Texas.

The .22 is the smallest rifle cartridge allowed by law, yet a well-placed shot can still kill a deer.

The .22LR shouldn't be used to hunt deer.

The .22LR is a great round for small game hunting and target shooting.

However, you should avoid shooting a deer with a .22 rifle. It does not have the power or impact energy needed to kill them humanely, especially over long distances.

Sure, it's great for self-defense or even a survival situation.

However, many deer will run off and simply be injured from the shot. We want to avoid unnecessary suffering if at all possible.

If you're looking for an affordable way to go deer hunting, then consider using larger caliber rounds. Rounds like 6.5 Grendel or .30-30 Winchester are great for larger game.

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Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.