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Straight-Wall Rifle Cartridges: Deer Hunting Advantages

Straight-Wall Rifle Cartridges: Deer Hunting Advantages
Straight-wall rifle cartridges, such as .444 Marlin, offer plenty of knock-down power and accuracy for deer hunting. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Several Midwestern states—Iowa, Indiana and Ohio to name a few—now permit hunters to use centerfire, straight-wall cartridges during deer seasons that were previously limited to muzzleloaders and shotguns. Some of these cartridges like the .45-70 Govt. have been around for generations and are enjoying renewed popularity among hunters because of these regulations, while others like the .450 Bushmaster and .350 Legend are modern designs that speak to the straight-wall trend. Even some cartridges primarily associated with handguns—the .44 Rem. Mag. and .460 S&W Mag., for example—provide additional straight-wall options when chambered in rifles and carbines. (Regulations vary by state and are largely based on case length.)

What’s driving the switch from smokepoles and slug guns to straight-walls? In a word, performance. Of course, a centerfire firearm is easier and faster to reload than a muzzleloader, but straight-wall cartridges also offer other advantages.

straight-wall-rifle-ammo-for-deer-hunting
Vince DeNiro, Firearms News editor, test fires a modern – and very popular – straight-wall rifle cartridge, the .350 Legend. (Jeff Phillips photo)

ACCURACY: In most factory-produced guns, straight-wall cartridges deliver tighter, more consistent groups than shotgun slug loads. Even accurate slug guns throw unexplainable fliers more often than we like to admit. Straight-wall rifles, being rifles, typically do not. Cartridges like the .450 Bushmaster, .45-70 Govt. and .444 Marlin provide enough accuracy (and their bullets retain enough energy) to confidently reach out across a cut cornfield and make a 200-yard shot.

BALLISTICS: Some straight-wall loads produce muzzle velocities of 2,200 to 2,400 fps, a few hundred feet per second faster than most slug loads. Some are loaded with bullets offering better ballistic coefficients than slugs, too. A straight-wall load offering both—such as Hornady’s 265-grain FTX LeverEvolution for the .444 Marlin—makes correcting for bullet drop and drift more manageable than when shooting a slug. With a 100-yard zero, the .444 Marlin FTX bullet drops 7.5 inches at 200 yards and drifts 8.6 inches in a 10 mph wind. Hornady’s 300-grain FTX SST 12-gauge slug zeroed at 100 yards drops and drifts about a foot at 200 yards.

RECOIL: With lighter bullets, the .450 Bushmaster, .350 Legend and other straight-wall cartridges generate less recoil than a 12-gauge slug (especially a rifled version) in a standard hunting load. Some are easier on the shoulder than 20-gauge slug loads. The .350 Legend, in fact, produces about 8.5 pounds of felt recoil in a 7-pound rifle—less than a .243 Win. Pretty easy for most hunters, including younger ones and those new to firearms, to handle.

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