Coues Deer Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.25-06 Remington
.25-06 Remington. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The Coues deer ("Grey Ghost") of the southwestern mountain region was first described in the 19th Century by Elliott Coues, a US Army quartermaster, for whom the species is named. Coues thought that he had identified a new species of deer. Later, biologists confirmed that the Coues deer is actually a subspecies of whitetail deer. However, the small, grey or gray-brown Coues looks different from eastern and midwestern whitetails and lives in quite different country, primarily the arid mountains of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico.

Coues deer are thin-skinned (CXP2) game. Bucks average about 80-90 pounds and does are smaller, probably more like 65 pounds. Mature bucks average around 30" tall at the shoulder. Coues deer are easily taken by a well placed bullet from a .24 to .30 caliber rifle, so larger calibers are simply unnecessary. However, like most deer, they can go a long way if wounded and Coues deer inhabit some very rough country where following-up a wounded animal is not easy.

The late Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, did more than anyone else to popularize the Coues deer. He lived in Arizona for many years and avidly hunted these little whitetails, which he considered the most difficult of all deer to bag. O'Connor probably shot more Coues deer with .270 Winchester rifles than anything else, but also found the .257 Roberts, 7x57 and .30-06 to be good calibers. He usually recommended 120-130 grain bullets for the .270 and 150 grain bullets for the .30-06. I would add that 90-100 grain 6mm, 100-115 grain .25 caliber, 120-130 grain 6.5mm and 130-140 grain 7mm bullets are also appropriate.

Coues are not big deer and the ranges often stretch out, so a flat shooting spitzer bullet is the way to go. Soft point or plastic tipped bullets that expand well against light resistance, such as the Hornady Interlock, Nosler Ballistic Tip, Remington Core-Lokt, Sierra Pro-Hunter and GameKing, Speer Hot-Cor and Winchester Power-Point, are usually the most effective types.

Please bear in mind that when recommending cartridges I am assuming that the hunter uses a bullet of adequate weight, sectional density, expansion characteristics and gets it into a vital spot (usually the heart/lung area of the deer). It doesn't have to be a perfect shot, but I am assuming a good shot with an adequate bullet. One of the real problems with recommending hunting cartridges, even for a small species like the Coues deer, is that the vitality and state of mind of the individual animal has a lot to do with how hard it is to bring down. Most hunters have noticed how relatively easy it is to kill a relaxed animal and how difficult it can be to stop an animal fleeing for its life. Bullet placement is always the most important factor in killing power.

It would be too cumbersome to list every possible Coues deer cartridge in an article of this type and I would undoubtedly leave out someone's favorite if I tried. Therefore, the cartridges mentioned below are examples of satisfactory Coues deer cartridges. If a cartridge is not listed, it does not mean that it is no good. Look for a cartridge with similar ballistics. If you find one the cartridge in question is also probably adequate. Here are some recommended Coues deer cartridges:

  • 6mm/.24 caliber: .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .243 WSSM, 6x62 Freres, .240 Weatherby Mag.
  • .25 caliber: .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .25 WSSM, .25-06 Remington, .257 Weatherby Mag.
  • 6.5mm/.26 caliber: .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 6.5mm-284, 6.5mm Rem. Mag., 6.5x68S, .264 Win. Mag.
  • .27/.28 caliber: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, 7x57 Mauser, 7x64 Brenneke, .280 Remington
  • .30 caliber:.308 Marlin Express, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield.

I can see no point to calibers more powerful than the 6.5mm Magnums for hunting Coues deer and those are of questionable value. Even less appropriate are the .270, 7mm and .300 Magnums, which is why they are not listed. Flat shooting calibers such as the .240 Weatherby or .25-06, which are based on .30-06 size cases, are the epitome of ideal Coues deer cartridges.

In closing, let me reiterate that Coues deer are not particularly difficult to kill and bullet placement is the most significant factor in killing power. A good shot with a .243 is a far deadlier hunter than a man shooting a .270 Magnum that causes him to flinch. Choose any reasonably adequate caliber that you can shoot well. Use an appropriate bullet within its energy and trajectory limits. Most of all, get the first bullet into a vital spot!

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.