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Best Straight Wall Cartridges For Deer Hunting [2023]



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STRAIGHT LIKE AN ARROW

In the not-so-distant past, all cartridges were thick and boxy. The super-sexy, curvy cartridges we know and love today didn’t enter the ammo scene until at least the 1860s. 

Straight wall cartridges were the norm before faster bottleneck cartridges like the .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and .223 Remington became American sweethearts. And while some straight wall standbys like the .45-70 Government made it out of the cowboy era, they mostly survived as novelty acts, with few seeing action in the deer woods. 

However, as many rifle-restrictive states have added straight wall cartridges to their list of acceptable whitetail harvest methods, the beefy cartridge design is seeing a major resurgence. With new straight walls hitting the market almost every deer season, it can be challenging to know which are worth their salt and which are just a flash in the pan. 

If you are considering trading in your trusty slug gun, here are what we consider the best straight wall cartridges for deer hunting. Each one packs enough punch to humanely bring down bucks out to 200 yards, even though it comes in a bulky package without any of those seductive curves. 

Best Straight Wall Cartridges for Deer Hunting

.45-70 Government

It makes sense to start with the granddaddy of straight wall cartridges – the .45-70 Government. Although this legendary cartridge busted onto the ammo scene way back in 1873 for the black powder Springfield Trapdoor, it remains the king of all brush guns. 

In its prime, it was a favorite cartridge of Wild West buffalo hunters. Today, with modern metallurgy, smokeless powder, and ballistic design on its side, there isn’t a deer alive this old man can’t handle, especially within practical whitetail ranges. 

Barnes 300gr 45-70, left, is a flying tank compared to other popular lever gun cartridges, such as 30-30 and 44 Magnum. The bullet expands to 3/4 of an inch in ordnance gelatin.

Hornady has definitely done its part to bring lever-action cowboy guns like the .45-70 into the 21st century with its LEVERevolution line. Featuring the company’s patented FTX and Monoflex projectiles, LEVERevolution ammo is safe to use in tubular magazines. The sleeker design has a higher BC than traditional blunt, soft points, increasing velocity by up to 250 fps. 

Unfortunately, .45-70 factory loads have to safely function in older vintage rifles, which weren’t built to withstand the high pressures that a well-packed case of modern propellant would create. You probably won’t see the .45-70 Government’s full potential unless you're handloading and shooting a custom rifle. 

Speaking of custom rifles, it’s worth mentioning there are some fine modern iterations of this Old West throwback, including the Marlin 1895 SBL, the Henry All-Weather Picatinny Rail .45/70 Side Gate, and the single-shot CVA Scout V2

Lever actions can be modern!

If you want to shoot .45-70 out of something with a modern vibe, Mad Pig Customs can turn a John Wayne-esque lever action into a tricked-out, totally tactified deer thumper. And their tacti-cool beauty is more than skin deep. The guys at Mad Pig use their genius gunsmithing skills to soup up the gun’s internals, too, so it runs like butter. 

.350 Legend

Introduced by Winchester in 2019, the .350 Legend is relatively new to the cartridge world. It’s also growing in popularity faster than female interest in the NFL after a Taylor Swift sighting. 

Though Winchester claims the .350 Legend has no parent case, the cartridge shares a lot of dimensional similarities with the .223 Remington. 

Other popular straight-walled cartridges may boast more power at close ranges. Still, their stumpy, heavyweight projectiles shed velocity faster than your golden retriever sheds hair on the living room rug. Meanwhile, the .350 Legend shoves a 160-grain bullet to 2325 fps out of the muzzle, and it continues to cruise at 1647 fps at 200 yards. 

The .350 Legend has another thing over other straight-wall heavy hitters: manageable recoil. Producing a scant 8.52 ft-lbs of recoil in a seven-pound rifle, the .350 Legend is a veritable kitten compared to the .45-70, which hits your shoulder with a mule-kicking 23.9 ft-lbs of recoil energy out of the same size rifle. Heck, the .350 Legend is even softer shooting than Grandpa’s .30-30, yet delivers more terminal energy.

Winchester Deer Season XP is the OG of .350 Legend loads. Since this is a Winchester creation, it makes sense that Winchester would be a major player here, and these loads set the bar pretty high. The proprietary Extreme Point bullets create an oversized impact diameter, which results in a massive wound, extreme internal trauma, and easier-to-follow blood trails. 

Franklin Armory 350 Legend AR-15

The .350 Legend is available in a wide range of rifles, including everything from single shots to bolt actions. It’s also AR-15 compatible and sub-sonic capable. What’s not to love? 

.360 Buckhammer

In the world of cartridges, the .360 Buckhammer is still a newborn. Unveiled at the 2023 SHOT Show, this stout contender is Remington’s stab at straight-wall dominance. While it’s hard to predict which newbie cartridges will stick around and which will be relegated to the trash pile of designs that never caught on, we hope this one sticks around.

A straight-walled case, adherent to some specific game laws in the Midwest, the .360 Buckhammer meets certain criteria to bring usable performance to hunters in need. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Designed to please lawmakers in Midwestern states with strict cartridge rules, the .360 Buckhammer has a 1.8-inch case and a cartridge length of 2.5 inches, yet shoots the same .358-inch bullets that fans of the .35 Remington seem to fancy.

It shoots faster than the .350 Legend and almost as flat as the venerable deer-dropping .30-30., although with a smidge more recoil. 

While a polymer-stocked lever gun may be strange to see at first, the Henry Model X is a sound design and performed wonderfully. Photo: Massaro Media Group.

Despite its newness, Remington is somehow managing to keep loads relatively affordable (at least by today’s standards), and we should see that price come down as the cartridge catches on. Right now, deer hunters can get .360 Buckhammer with 180- and 200-grain Core-Lokt soft points

.44 Remington Magnum

Although the .44 Magnum is often associated with big revolvers and Dirty Harry, it’s also quite a capable whitetail load. Perhaps the biggest perk of .44 Rem Mag is the number of quality factory loads available, from solid copper to traditional cup and core bullets. Not only is ammo easily accessible, but it’s also downright affordable. Plus, it’s far more accurate than the average shotgun slug. 

44 magnum ammunition winchester model 1892
44 Mag isn’t regarded for low BCs, so keep range expectations realistic. But there’s a wide range of ammo to run in the Bush Pilot, including 44 Special.

Don’t think you have to tote a huge, big bore wheelgun into the deer woods, either. Plenty of rifles are chambered for this classic straight-wall cartridge, including the Henry Big Boy X Model and the Ruger 77/44.  

.444 Marlin

Basically a stretched-out .44 Magnum, the .444 Marlin was developed in the 1960s to fill the void of the .45-70, which seemed to be fading into obscurity at the time. 

Although this cartridge is experiencing a resurgence, I’m honestly surprised it isn’t more popular, especially among deer hunters.

Even though the .444 Marlin cartridge is similar in size to the .45-70, the .444 works in the smaller, svelter Model 336 action.

Thanks to the extra case space, it zips along at 500 fps faster than the .44 Magnum. In fact, this is one of the fastest straight-wall cartridges on the market today. Hornady’s 265-grain FTX delivers a muzzle velocity of 2325 fps with 3180 ft-lbs of energy. And with a heftier weight and frontal diameter than .350 Legend, this one really should be a no-brainer. 

Marlin’s new-for-2020 150th Anniversary rifle is chambered for the .444 Marlin. It features a high-grade wood stock, checking, engraving, gold inlays and a long-range tangent sight.

While it isn’t a long-range rockstar, it performs like one when the shots are within 200 yards, making it well-suited for hunting big bucks in big woods. 

Unfortunately, fresh-from-the-factory rifles chambered in .444 Marlin are hard to come by. Even Marlin isn’t making them these days, so if you find a used one in good condition, you should probably snatch that baby up. 

.450 Bushmaster

The .450 Bushmaster hit the cartridge scene in 2007. It was a super-hip, straight-wall celebrity right out of the gate, at least until the .350 Legend came along and shoved it out of the spotlight. That’s not to say it isn’t still a superstar as far as straight wall options go, especially if you sometimes encounter critters larger than the average whitetail. This chunky thumper is actually quite a popular cartridge for hog hunting. 

Bullet weight runs the gamut from ultra-light 185-grain options to over 300 grains. Loads on the heavier end of the spectrum work best for hunting. 

If you want a big bore cartridge that will run in an AR-15, the .450 Bushmaster is your guy. It also comes in an excellent array of bolt guns, including the Mossberg Patriot and the Bergara B-14 HMR

It isn’t difficult to find .450 Bushmaster factory loads, but if you’re looking for something whitetail-worthy, Hornady’s American Whitetail features a 245-grain InterLock bullet, which has excellent weight retention for deep-diving penetration. 

If you want to keep things quiet, Hornady also offers a subsonic .450 Bushmaster load that pairs nicely with a suppressor. 

.38-55 Winchester

Since we started the list with a cowboy cartridge initially designed for black powder, it seems fitting that we should close the list with another. The .38-55 Winchester has been around since 1876, making it just barely younger than the .45-70. This soft shooting cartridge has put plenty of venison on family dinner tables over almost a century and a half.

The .38-55 is an old warhorse. Although its original ballistics were rather uninspiring, this load from Buffalo Bore is a stomper. And, it can be fired in .375 Winchester rifles in good working order.

Winchester released a modernized version of this cartridge in 1978. The updated edition handles the pressures of modern smokeless powder and can push heftier 250-grain projectiles downrange with fairly impressive mid-range accuracy. 

Deer hunters should steer clear of .38-55 cowboy action ammo and instead look for loads with jacketed soft points like Winchester Power Point

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