Consumer Information

How to Minimize Meat Loss When Hunting Big Game

man pulling ammo out of pouch

One of the best parts of going on a hunting trip is bringing home a freezer full of meat that you’ll get to enjoy for the next six months.

That is, until you misplace your shot or opt for buckshot and end up either losing meat or having to spend a long time picking shot out of your kill.

So, what’s the best hunting caliber to minimize meat loss?

More Than Just Caliber

Finding the best bullet for your next hunt is about more than picking a caliber and calling it a day.

There are a lot of variables that you need to consider to help you choose the best bullet for dropping your target without damaging too much of the meat.

Shot Placement

As simple as it sounds, your shot placement will play a massive role in how much meat ends up in your scrap bucket at the end of the day.

One good rule of thumb is to avoid placing your shot anywhere that you’re going to want to eat.

On a deer, for example, the best place to aim for is the heart, just behind the crease of the shoulder.

Ideally, if you choose the right type of bullet and place your shot perfectly, you’ll only damage a little bit of the shoulder and flank and avoid excessive meat loss.

Impact Velocity

Opting for bullets with the fastest muzzle speed isn’t always going to be the best option.

The faster a bullet moves after it leaves the barrel, the more damage it does to the meat.

The best example is using an old-school muzzleloader that fires a lead ball at 1,200 feet per second (fps).

These do less damage than a modern bullet that can travel at upwards of 3,000 fps, especially at close range.

While no one wants to use a black-powder muzzleloader for hunting, the lower the fps of your bullet, the less damage it will do.

Bullet Construction

For self-defense, a bullet that breaks up or fragments on impact is effective.

For hunting, all that’s going to do is damage the meat. Opt for bonded or monolithic bullets that won’t disintegrate when they hit their target.

Monolithic bullets will keep their structural integrity even if they strike bone, so you don’t need to worry about digging bullet fragments out of your venison.

rifle on soft case

Common Hunting Calibers

With those variables in mind, what sort of calibers are popular for hunting?

We’re going to focus on the larger game, so you won’t see any small calibers like what you might use for hunting fowl or smaller mammals.

If you ask a seasoned hunter what their favorite caliber is, they’ll probably mention one of the following:

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and not all of these calibers — such as the .223 Remington — are legal to hunt with in every state.

It’s also essential to take a look at the manufacturer’s recommendations for bullet-game pairings to help you choose the best bullet for your rifle and the quarry you’re stalking.

man pointing hunting shotgun

Make the Most of Your Quarry

Once your trip is over, and hopefully you have a freezer full of venison to work with, how can you make the most of your quarry and avoid meat loss?

Here are some recipe ideas to get you started.

1. Stew

If you’re new to cooking venison, a stew is a flavorful way to make the most of your game meat without the risk of overcooking your hard-earned game and turning it into shoe leather.

Cook it low and slow, and serve it with some fresh bread.

2. Grilled Cheese

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? Why not spice things up with some seasoned ground venison and your favorite cheese?

If you’re in the mood for some surf and turf, why not whip up some lobster grilled cheese as well?

We don’t recommend using the same caliber for lobster, though!

3. Slow Cooker Roast

Venison can be tough and gamey if you’re not careful.

Cooking a venison roast in the slow cooker makes sure it will be perfectly fork-tender and ready to enjoy.

Plus, you get to set it up in the morning and leave it cooking all day so you have dinner ready when you get home from work.

4. Chili

Anywhere you use ground beef or turkey, you can usually swap it out for some ground venison, and chili is no exception.

5. Steak

Once you’re confident in your venison cooking skills, it’s time to graduate to something a little trickier, like a grilled venison steak.

Cook it right, and it will be the tastiest thing you’ve ever eaten!

With all of this said, what are your favorite wild game recipes?

man pulling ammo out of pouch meat loss

What’s Your Favorite Hunting Caliber?

There’s a lot more to picking the best caliber for hunting than choosing a bullet that fits your rifle.

Do your research before you settle on a model to make sure you’re working with a bullet that provides a clean kill without damaging too much of the meat.

Lower fps options and solid bullets that don’t fragment as much will help you preserve as much meat as possible.

What’s your favorite caliber to hunt with? How do you minimize meat loss? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded where he writes about gear, the outdoors, survivalism and more. Whether you're interested in ice fishing, building a rooftop tent or the best hiking trails, Oscar has you covered. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. Decades ago while I was still a casual righthander[always have been lefthanded] and right eyed,I should have gotten a Remington 600 carbine in 308.Now left eyed with a re-attached retina[as well as being a southpaw],I MUST be selective.Other than for fur or varmints,I never saw the point of the 243.A 25/06 or 250 Savage will do a better job;ditto the 6.5×55 Swede or 7mm/08.
    IF I resume large game hunting,if it is LEGAL,I will bone out the deer in the field.Average boneless meat of a deer is 25-30 lbs,plus the hide.Yes I like the tongue and kidneys[and liver for wurst or pate] but not the heart.

  2. Used the Winchester Mod 94 in .30-30 for years… works perfectly fine for the South Central region of North Carolina.
    Private land with hardly any shot over 100yds.
    However, IF I didn’t already have my .30-30 or was in the market for a new/additional/replacement deer rifle the .243 Win would be at the top of my short list. Great ballistics, virtually no recoil.
    Cartridges like the .270 and .30-06 are a bit overkill for the areas I hunt and the recoil is a bit more than I care to deal with having had surgery and screws installed on my right shoulder.

  3. The 30/30 Winchester Mod. 94 has always been my deer rifle.
    No optics, just the irons… no need for anything over 100yds or so.

    However I have done some shooting with the .243 and if I didn’t already have a 30/30 and was looking for a first or new deer gun… the .243 would be it.

  4. I typically hunt deer in small farm fields so distance is not an issue. I use a 206 grain subsonic Three Hundred BLK surpressed. Typical shot’s inside three hundred yards in the head are the way to go. If I happen to be hunting a power line where longer shot’s may be needed, I take a 6.5 Creedmor. I’ve seen hollow tips blow the head almost completely off deer at 500 yds with the Creedmor.

  5. My preferred round is .308 Win, essentially a short action .30-06. No less than 168 gr., I prefer 180 gr when I can find it, at velocities ranging from 2570 fps to 2700 fps. Where I hunt has an average distance to target of 50 yards or less because of the overgrown woods (public hunting land.) When the .308 became available, it was used by Marines in sniper training. A .308 Win will bring down a 200 pound target at 600 yards (between 500 and 600 yards is where most .308 rounds drop below 1000 foot-pounds of energy) and the average then and now for military snipers is 800 yards or less, on average. So, that should work fine for a 140 buck at such distances, though where I hunt is less than 100 yards.

    It is an all around round for such a wide range and I go could for mule deer and even an elk, especially if using 180 gr.

    And like the great comment above, I can and will process my own harvest, mostly because I do not have the time to take it a processor. My schedule works better with me doing it. Plus, I know it will not be mixed with someone else’s. And yes, I could cuts I care about, such as the flat iron stake.

  6. For years my preferred weapon was a .40 caliber flintlock with patched round ball. Range no more than 50 yards until it was deemed to small to kill deer by under informed bureaucrats. Now that I’m in my 70’s and have the need for 150 to 200 yard shots I use a Ruger American in .243 with 90 grain soft point.

    As far as good venison meat goes I believe one of the most important things you need to do is get the animal field dressed and cooled out as soon as possible. This includes getting the hide off if at all possible if processing yourself and hanging for a week at temperatures below 40 degrees

  7. Surprised that .308 Win didn’t make the list. A 150 gr right behind the shoulder will do the trick every time. The only meat loss is possibly from the opposite shoulder but if you want a lung/heart shot it’s sometimes tough to avoid.

  8. I am what many call a senior hunter. I am 70 and have been hunting a variety of game since my age was in single digits. I have no idea how many deer, or other critters I have taken and brought home to eat, but it is a lot.

    As far as taking deer with a firearm, I prefer neck or head shots for deer if the range is good. You don’t ruin any meat with those shots. I dropped an elk cow with one head shot at about 40 yards. I was using a Remington 721 chambered in .270 with a 4-12x scope that can hold to just under ¾” at 100 yards with a good rest. I also have taken a number of deer with an old SKS chambered in .30 Caliber Russian (7.62 x39) and probably other calibers but those are the ones that come to mind at this moment.

    That being said, I will use chest shots if the range is suspect or I don’t have a good head or neck shot. I have taken deer at ranges greater than 400 yards with that .270. Those shots are almost always chest shots. Years ago, I had a co-worker who was a hunter who disputed anyone taking shots at greater than 300 yards until I informed him that in the Army, we shot M-16’s with iron sights at targets out to 300 meters (328 yards.) I scored in the top 5% of my BCT platoon and was one of the few who scored as Expert Marksman in my unit back in ’71. Using a 4-12x scope makes shots like that a cinch compared to iron sights.

    I also process my own deer because I have never found a processor who will do what I have asked to be done. One of those things that they will not do, at least not for me, is cut out the flat-iron steaks, too much work, they say. If you hit the shoulder blade, you have unfortunately, probably destroyed the best tasting (IMO) cut of meat on the deer. I have just about cried when I shot a deer in the shoulder and could not salvage the flat iron. Did the same when I hit a buck mid-thoracic spine and lost most of both backstraps.

    The flat-iron is actually the infraspinatus muscle and lies below the spine on lateral aspect of the scapula or shoulder blade. It does take some work to get it off the bone but it is SO worth it. This muscle has a layer of sinew that runs though it almost parallel to the bone the muscle is attached to. That can be filleted out with a little care, leaving you with two rather small steaks. Small, but oh, so tasty.

    I have known people who got the flat iron off the bone and then ruined it by cooking it to well done. It becomes almost tough as shoe leather if it is cooked too much. If I am using a rub, I apply salt and then the rub, (if it doesn’t have salt in it, not all of my rubs do) and stick it in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight. If I am not using a rub and plan to eat it pretty soon, I sprinkle it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and let it rest for about an hour or so. I take it out of the fridge about an hour before I will cook it so it comes to room temp. That is important.

    My preferred method of cooking a deer flat iron is putting a cast iron skillet into a cold oven and setting the oven at 400°F. After 25-30 minutes, I take the skillet out of the oven and set it on a burner turned on high. Add a bit of oil and just as the oil starts smoking, I put in two flat irons. (Remember to turn your oven off, you’re done with it.) Give them one minute per side and turn them over with tongs. When the second side of your steaks have been on the heat for their minute, pull them off and put them on a warmed plate and tent loosely with foil. Loosely is key, seal it up and your crust on the meat will get soggy. If you are cooking four flat irons, put the next two on and repeat. No more than a minute per side. Pull off and put on the plate with the others and give it about 5 minutes to rest. You are about to enjoy the tastiest chunk of meat found on a deer. If backstrap is good, flat iron is sublime.

  9. I have 3 favorite calibers:
    7mm Rem Magnum and
    338 Win Mag if I’m after Elk, bear ,or Moose
    These are great up to around 500 yards if you practice and at comfortable at longer ranges.
    I try to keep my game inside 100 yards when possible

  10. Note that 30/30 is at the top of the list. For most deer hunting, a 150 grain/.308″/2500 fps load is the “sweet spot”. For an alternate, 100 grain/.244″/2900 fps works for recoil sensitive shooters. Point is – If you use a major “whizz bang” round, then expect meat damage. (Bow Hunters always say how they can “eat up to the arrow”.) Bonus of using a cartridge that you can shoot and hit a 4″ target at XXX distance, and know where to shoot, meat damage is minimal. As example, with a 6mm that will hold 3 shots into less than 1″ at 100 yards, (and a decent scope), a neck/spinal shot was possible. Breaking the spine would be quick, (no tracking), with minimal meat loss. If you can’t hold 4″ or less, then either change cartridges, or practice until you can! P.S. – How many “hunters” have used a “whizz bang” magnum, and were not able to hit a 4″ target at distances measured in feet, not yards???

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