Deer, ammunition, guns and dogs (2023)

Studie des South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Answers questions about deer, ammo, guns and dogs

Von Chuck Hawks

Charles Ruth, wildlife biologist and director of the Deer/Turkey Project for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR - what we in the West would call the Fish and Game Department) has published an article on the SCDNR website detailing the findings A recent study explains Interesting for all deer hunters. The URL of the article ( was sent to me byGuns and ShootingOnlineReader Paul Tofolo, who suggested that I write an article to draw attention to the important information emerging from the SCDNR study. This study should be of interest to all red deer (and CXP2 deer of similar size) hunters.

In his article, Mr. Ruth explained the purpose of the study as follows:

“We sought to determine the importance of a trained dog in locating dead and wounded deer, the distance a deer will travel when firing, the effects of shot placement, and differences in the effectiveness of different firearms and ammunition. Statistical significance was based on a probability level of P=0.05."

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The SCDNR study was conducted in collaboration with and with the support of a 4,500-acre private hunting club on South Carolina's coastal plain. The site is mostly wooded and intensively farmed for deer hunting. Management practices include burning, mowing, planting, fertilizing and direct feeding. Hunted/shot from permanently elevated stocks. The stands have seats and trays for shooting, a luxury rarely found in the far west but a great asset for accurate shot placement. A total of 603 shots were fired and 493 deer, including both buck and roe deer, were killed over the course of the study. All deer were shot with scoped centerfire rifles. I cannot quote here the entire article by Mr. Ruth explaining the study in detail, so I urge you to go to the above URL and read it for yourself. I'll just try to hit the highlights.

Trained hunting dogs

Before reading this study, I had never heard of a dog that was trained to track down wounded deer. In the Pacific Northwest, where I primarily hunt, they are almost unknown because of our hunting conditions and circumstances (no private club, no fixed stock, public woodland not managed for hunting, no forage plots, and hunting by vehicle, horse or walking) are very different from those described in the study. However, where circumstances permit, a trained dog has proved very useful.

The study showed that a dog trained to track wounded deer is generally unnecessary when a mortally wounded deer remains within sight of the hunter or travels less than 150 feet. This was the case for the majority of the deer killed in the study, a total of 408 recovered animals.

On the other hand, a trained dog is of great advantage when a mortally wounded deer travels a significantly longer distance and leaves little or no clear tracks, especially when the animal gets into close cover. 85 deer were in this category and were recovered with the help of a trained dog. Another deer, wounded in a manner that was not immediately fatal, was recovered through the use of a trained dog. In Ruth's words, "These deer sustained wounds on various parts of the body, including the legs, lower jaw, abdomen, etc." 15 other deer were superficially injured (judging by the dog's behavior) and not recovered. These deer have been pursued by a dog an average distance of around 300 meters without being found and with little chance of being caught. Overall, a trained dog assisted in retrieving between 15% and 20% of the deer in the study. It is clear that trained hunting dogs should be used wherever and whenever possible.

shot placement

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It certainly won't come as a surpriseGuns and shooting onlineReaders that shot placement was found critical in the SCDNR study. Shots to the shoulder, heart, and lung almost always resulted in recovered deer running 50 yards or less after the hit. The study found that a broadside shoulder shot stag only covered three yards on average. This shot proved to be essentially as effective as a direct hit to the central nervous system!

Charles Ruth also noted in his article that habitat affects recovery and deer are often shot in poor light, reducing the chance of recovery. He wrote: "It can be difficult for hunters to determine where the deer was standing and in which direction it was traveling.


Range was definitely important in terms of clean kills and recovered deer. The mean distance at which the deer in the study were shot was 132 yards. It was found that deer shot at 125 yards or less were usually recovered, while those shot at 150 yards or more were much more likely to miss or hurt. This only reinforces our belief hereGunsand shooting onlinethat 150 yards is a long shot and even the most extraordinary shooters should never shoot at wildlife beyond the maximum range of their rifle and cartridge.

Bullet Types and Performance

The SCDNR has classified bullets into two basic groups. The first included all bullets of the caliber suitable for hunting (e.g. .30/150 grain) designed for rapid expansion. These were traditional soft point, ballistic tip, bronze point, etc. The second group included heavy forcaliber bullets for big game (e.g. .30 caliber / 200 grain) and premium bullets for deep penetration: Barnes TSX and all other solid copper bullets, Partition, Grand Slam, etc.

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The study showed that deer shot with Group 1 bullets, which could be described as explosive on impact, only covered 27 meters on average. Deer shot with Group 2 bullets, hard or heavy projectiles, covered an average distance of 43 yards.

58% of the deer shot with Group 1 bullets fell in their tracks while only 40% were knocked down by Group 2 bullets. Of the deer that were able to run after being hit, only about 12% shot with Group 1 bullets left little or bad marks and were difficult to track, while over 21% shot with Group 2 bullets left bad marks.

All of these differences are statistically significant and show that premium and heavy-for-caliber bullets are not only unnecessary for game hunting, but are significantly inferior to conventional softpoint or tipped softpoint bullets. This is consistent with what I have written in several bullet hunting articles.


Over 20 different cartridges were used to harvest the deer in the study. These included .24 (6mm), .25, .270, .284 (7mm) and .30 calibers. To quote Mr Ruth's article directly:

"We found no significant difference in the performance of these caliber groups when we compared how deer responded. The mean distances deer traveled varied between 14 and 40 yards, but there was no apparent association with increasing or decreasing caliber size, or the inherent differences in speed or energy associated with different caliber groups."

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This conclusion corresponds to the experience ofGuns and shooting onlinePersonnel hunting CXP2 class game. We've found that a .30-30 or7x57 kills just as safely and quickly with a double lung shot as a .338 Magnum. Bullet placement is what matters, provided an appropriate caliber (.24 or larger) and bullet is used.

Factory vs Custom Rifles

Super-precision specialty rifles showed no advantage in the SCDNR study. Deer shot with common hunting rifles and super-precision rifles all covered about 30 yards before decaying. Extreme accuracy is unnecessary in the field. This is a point I have tried to make in several articles.


After the raw data was collected and analyzed, author Charles Ruth drew the following conclusions in his article:

  • Intake percentages about 82%.
  • The longer the shot, the lower the chance of catching the deer.
  • Deer ran about 62 yards on average.
  • Shot placement is a crucial factor. Overall, the broadside shoulder shot worked the best compared to others.
  • About 50:50, Deerrun vs. Deer don't run.
  • Trained dog accelerated recovery of all running deer.
  • Dog critical in the recovery of 61 deer that left bad/no signs, 24 deer judged unsavable and 19 live/wounded deer.
  • Dogs accounted for about 15-20% of the total harvest on the hunting ground, i.e. H. 75 100 deer.
  • No difference ineffectiveness of different calibers.
  • No difference between factory and custom firearms.
  • Significant difference between bullet types. This study shows that rapidly expanding bullets cause deer to run less often and less far, and when they run they leave better marks.


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