straight-wall rifle cartridges

Many states, particularly in the Midwest, that previously didn’t permit the use of centerfire rifles during hunting season have begun allowing straight-wall rifle cartridges as a compromise. Offering far better ballistics than any shotgun slugs, the straight-wall provision has taken the hunting community by storm, sending countless deer hunters to their local gun stores in search of an undeniable upgrade prior to opening day. After years of hunting within wildly limiting restrictions, settling for only close-range shots with slugs or pushing deer to another hunter waiting with buckshot, straight-wall rifles have simply created a sense of optimism. Any centerfire alternative delivers range and stopping power that’s superior enough to prompt any shooter to leave that old pump-action 12-gauge in the safe until it’s time to break out the waterfowl gear. Slug guns and muzzleloaders are still legal in every state that has legalized straight-wall cartridges in the last five years–Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana–so Midwest traditionalists still have the option to stay the course if they so choose. For the majority of hunters, however, we’ve compiled our six favorite offerings based on ballistics, affordability, and availability in the aforementioned states.

1. .45-70 Government

The .45-70 Government cartridge is a hard-hitter suitable for all large game at short-to-medium ranges. With ample practice, a well-sighted-in rifle can drop a deer from 200 yards out with ease. This particular caliber presents an edge over the field with its robust selection of loads, as hot or moderate offerings suit different hunters needs, namely addressing the distinction between long-range and dense, short-range hunting environments. The .45-70 is a favorite among many old-school hunters, however, for its ability to scratch the nostalgia itch that’s so hard to reach in today’s hunting landscape. There are a number of rifles you could pick from, but Henry offers perhaps the best variety of models, ranging from affordable to higher-end, and simple to eccentric.

2. .450 Bushmaster

The .450 Bushmaster is essentially the new kid on the block, as Tim LeGendre of LeMag Firearms LLC designed the round in 2007. Several states only recently legalized the cartridge, but hunters’ affinity for its hard-hitting ballistics have led to the production of more single-shot and bolt-action rifles to meet demand. It’s great for deer hunting with the right setup, as a 225-grain FTX bullet will clock 2,310 fps, enough to drop any buck in its tracks. Its recent surge has only captured the attention of states desperate for legal centerfire options, but expect to see the .450 Bushmaster chambered in the rifles of hunters who have always had the freedom to hunt with rifles in the not-so-distant future.

3. .444 Marlin

Few rifle calibers carry as much tradition as the .444 Marlin, which originally hit the scene as a way to give lever-action rifles more of a punch around the ammunition manufacturers stopped commercially producing .45-70-caliber rifles in the 1960s. Since its inception in 1964, however, many hunters have remained attached to the cartridge that closely resembles a longer .44 Magnum with more velocity. The .444 Marlin can sent a 240-grain bullet at a velocity of 2,400 fps, while generating 3,070 foot-pounds of energy. In short, if you’re looking for a traditional lever-action cartridge with a whole lot of pop, this timeless option still hasn’t lost its touch.

4. .38-55 Winchester

The .38-55 Winchester is one of the older straight-wall cartridges out there, but one that has dropped more than its fair share of whitetail deer since Ballard first introduced it in 1876. The soft-shooting cartridge isn’t easy to find, though, as Winchester stopped using it around 1940, aside from a handful of commemorative-edition rifles here and there. The .375 Winchester, a modernized version, did debut in 1978, featuring higher pressures only suitable for modern rifles, but it’s been quite a while since any firearms manufacturer chambered a rifle in the original caliber. So, if you’re lucky enough to find one–and ammo to fire through it–you can at least take some pride in the rarity of your hunting method.

5. .44 Magnum

When most people think of the .44 Magnum, they immediately attach it to a revolver, but it’s actually quite a popular rifle choice, maintaining consistent popularity among lever-action enthusiasts. When chambered in an accurate rifle–again, we recommend any of Henry’s offerings–this hard-hitting cartridge as much more power than it has coming out of any handgun-length barrel. It also produces minimal recoil in a rifle, making it a great choice for hunters who steer clear of rifles with a lot of kick but would still like to throw a large bullet downrange. Many .44 Magnum rifles are also capable of firing .44 Special ammunition, too, which produces even less recoil.

6. .357 Magnum

Unquestionably the most popular revolver cartridge of all time, the .357 Magnum is certainly an adequate hunting cartridge for deer. And, not only are there a lot of rifles that use it, there’s also an unbelievable amount of available ammunition. Rarely will you go to any gun store and not find a box of .357, and the addition of a rifle-length barrel gives the cartridge some serious teeth. There are quite a few great rifles to choose from–perhaps none more popular than the Henry Big Boy–and its light recoil makes it ideal for youth hunters who need something for deer season. The cherry on top, however, is the fact you can shoot .38 Special through the same rifle, giving you an affordable practice round that will give you an almost identical shot when you’re ready to take your shot at a deer with premium ammo.

Do you like articles about the outdoors? Click here to view more articles by Eric Nestor. You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram.  You can view more Nestor Photography photos at Nestor Photography.  


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