Can You Kill a Deer With a 22?

Many new hunters ask the question, “can a 22 kill a deer in most states?” A .22 is a specific caliber of rifle used in certain varieties of hunting and target shooting at normal hunting ranges.

Honestly, it is possible to kill a deer with a .22. However, it’s not recommended for the average marksman, and it’s certainly not an easy task to accomplish when you’re hunting deer. Even killing pint sized whitetails can be difficult for a hunter with a .22.

Shot Placement

It should be noted that attempting to hunt deer with a .22 could result in an inhumane kill or serious injury for the deer. The deer may bleed out very slowly or seriously injure itself to the point of immobility, where it most likely will end up starving.


A .22 belongs to a class of firearms known as a rimfire guns. Generally, rimfires are used to kill animals of smaller stature, such as squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and anything usually not bigger than a coyote in most states. You’ll have a hard time killing a deer-sized animal if you’re doing anything besides small game hunting.

However, with the proper placement, a .22 rifle can easily take down a mule deer or a large hog. There were even reports in 2013 of a long-range .22 taking down an elephant with a head shot.

The History Deer Hunting With the .22

In reality, .22 cartridges have been in circulation since 1884. Normally, this cartridge and rifle are popular with beginning shooters. However, over the years, many expert marksmen have gravitated towards this variation because of the challenge it presents.

These rifles are considered great for new shooters because of their lack of recoil. When you pull the trigger to fire a .22 cartridge, hardly any kickback is felt on the shoulder of the marksmen.

Presently, a wide range of different .22’s exists besides just standard rifles. There are now several different types of handguns and pistols available in this caliber as well.

Different .22 Calibers

Several different calibers of .22 cartridges exist, and their use depends on what you plan on shooting. There are .22 shorts, .22 longs, .22LR, and .22WMR.

In the following section, we’ll examine each different caliber and what makes them unique.

.22 Shorts

The .22 short is the original caliber of .22 cartridges. This was developed in 1857 as the very first rimfire metallic cartridge America had ever seen. In the beginning, the cartridge was marketed primarily for self-defense for a survival situation.

The cartridge that followed the .22 short would be the .22 long.

.22 Longs

This was supposed to be an improved version of the .22 short and was unveiled in 1871. It contained a 5 grain added to the 29-grain bullet the original cartridge had. The goal for this cartridge originally was for it to be used in a revolver. Because of the way it was crafted, this cartridge became popular among small game hunters.

.22 Long Rifle

Today, the .22LR is the most popular among all rifle cartridges. A 40-grain bullet was combined with the .22 long casing to craft this amazing cartridge. The main highlights of this particular cartridge are the fact that it has minimal noise and is cheap to manufacture.

The weight of these cartridges ranges from 20 to 60 grams, and the velocity is between 575 and 1750 feet per second. Presently, this is one of the least expensive of all firearm rounds.

To engage in a kill shot with a .22, you should arm yourself with a .22 long rifle cartridge. The most vital part of the entire process is where you strike the animal after you fire. Typically, the most optimal targets are the lungs, brain, or heart of the deer. This will ensure a quick death and humane kill when you hunt deer.

.22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire)

In 1959, Winchester unveiled the .22 WMR. When it first hit the market, this cartridge had a 40-grain round that traveled at 2,000 feet per second. Now, these bullets can be loaded with up to a 50-grain round, and as light as a 30-grain. These travel at 2,200 and 1,530 feet per second, respectively.

Normally, the .22 WMR is known as the .22 Magnum or the .22 MRF. These are better suited for long range shooting. However, in big game cases, you’ll still need to be up close to kill large animals.

What’s the Difference Between Centerfire and Rimfire?

Most rimfires don’t have the properties it takes to efficiently kill a deer. The average deer hunting round is between 6mm and 30 calibers. This round carries the expansion needed to efficiently drop a deer humanely. Proper bullet expansion is critical in terms of obtaining a good shot on a deer anatomy.

A larger round primed for lower expansion has enough velocity to provide a clean kill shot. When you hunt deer, this will lead to a very quick death and avoid unnecessary suffering.

Normally, a bullet traveling at 1,500 FPS shot from 50 yards only creates a small hole in ballistic gel. This gel compares very closely to the anatomy of a live animal and a situation you would encounter when you hunt deer.

Higher Velocities

Typically, this would mean that this type of shot, even hitting a vital organ, would not be enough to mortally wound the deer. Most rimfire ammo doesn’t produce enough firepower to accomplish the humane killing when you hunt deer. The only possibility for a hunt in this case are head shots or kills on smaller species.

Fragmenting ammo may provide the solution you are looking for. The fastest type available travels at 1,600 FPS. Regardless of the velocity, these bullets shatter into three fragmented pieces upon impact. This fragmentation ensures the full energy of the bullet and provides a substantial enough wound to potentially kill the target.

However, it’s important to note that even shots with these types of cartridges may require an up-close shot to accomplish a fatal wound. Even still, this would most likely have to be targeted at the head or heart. It’s also important to understand that fragmented ammo is different from a hollow point.

Why is Centerfire Better?

Centrefire cartridges possess a middle primer in the center of the bullet. This means that the primer is contained separately and is replaceable.

Additionally, these types of cartridges can also withstand a fair amount of pressure. They are labeled as suitable for military use. This means that these cartridges obtain minimal damage when high-pressure situations arise.

High-pressure situations would most likely favor the shooter because this leads to more velocity and maximum energy. The casings of centerfire cartridges are also reusable if you obtain new powder.

Negative Aspects of a Centerfire Cartridge

Centerfire cartridges cost a substantially higher amount than the rimfire variety. Many hunters may not be able to afford to use these cartridges regularly.

These types of cartridges also weigh a lot more. Carrying around large amounts of them during a hunting excursion may weigh you down and provide a disadvantage when you’re in the field.

Can You Hunt Deer with a .22 Legally?

The legality of hunting a deer with a .22 is different depending on the state you’re hunting in. In a great majority of states, it is legal to kill deer with a .22 using rimfire cartridges.

However, hunting deer in a state where it’s illegal to use a .22 will carry hefty fines and a possible jail sentence if you are caught.

When it comes to hunting deer with a .22, there are better options for cartridges.

Better Options for Hunting with a .22

When it comes to .22 caliber bullets, the options are between a 37-grain pure lead bullet to 80-grain jacketed bullets. The difference in velocity of these is 900 FPS and 3,500 FPS, respectively.

Your options for a rifle to fire these cartridges include a .224 TTH and a .220 SWIFT. Using a 37-grain lead bullet, you probably will only have luck hunting small game. When you use an 80-grain option, your chances are increased for killing species of smaller white-tailed deer and antelope.

In summary, to obtain the best odds for killing a deer with a .22, you need between a 62 and 80-grain bullet with the capacity to travel at least 3,200 FPS. It’s important to note that even using cartridges of this power, you still need a well-placed shot.

Importance of Being an Experienced Hunter

One well-targeted shot to the brain or a quick double-lung shot should do the trick. Alternatively, one well-placed heart shot should drop the animal as well.

Pay close attention to the size of the animal you are targeting; you want to keep the weight at a cap of about 120 pounds. Anything bigger, and you are risking an inhumane shot.

Regardless of the types of cartridges you are using with a .22 rifle; one important thing should be noted. You should never take a shot with a .22 if you don’t believe it’s well-placed. If it’s not a clean shot it is better not taken at all. You must be in optimum range to take double lung shots, or a head or heart shot.

One of the worst things you can do is injure a deer in an inhumane way and lead to a slow skill. By obtaining the proper cartridges with efficient power and taking the most well-placed shot you can muster, it’s reasonable to assume you can kill a deer with a .22.

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