Sitka Deer Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks with Rick Kaufman

Sitka deer
Sitka buck. Photo by Gary Lackey. Courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

This "exotic" is actually a North American deer named for Sitka, Alaska. Their range is the northwest coast of British Columbia and the coastal panhandle of Alaska and the associated islands. They are a sub-species of the Columbian blacktail deer.

Bucks can weigh as much as 200 pounds on the hoof, but typically weigh around 125 pounds, while does average about 80 pounds. Their fur is reddish brown in summer and gray-brown in winter with a light or white underbelly. Only the males grow antlers, which are shed and re-grown annually. Sitka have small antlers compared to other blacktail deer, but they are configured similarly. The tines branch (as with mule deer) rather than grow up from the main beam (as in whitetail deer). A mature buck will have 4 points per antler (western count).

Sitka deer are strong swimmers and they have populated the numerous offshore islands of Alaska and British Columbia by swimming across the channels between them. The Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife has stocked Sitka deer on Kodiak Island and islands in Prince William Sound, where they have established stable populations that are hunted.

They have also been transported to private game reserves and ranches in the "lower 48" United States, where this native North American deer is considered an exotic. Like blacktail and Eastern whitetail, Sitka deer prefer heavily wooded areas that offer plenty of cover.

Being as Sitka deer are a sub-species of Columbian blacktail, any deer cartridge suitable for the latter will also be suitable for the former. Ditto traditional eastern whitetail deer cartridges. Long range, flat shooting cartridges on the order of the .270 Winchester are fine Sitka deer medicine, but so are traditional woods cartridges like the .30-30. Most shots will be less than 100 yards and 200 yards would ordinarily be a very long shot. In general terms, figure on using a bullet of at least .243 caliber with a sectional density of at least .200, carrying at least 800 ft. lbs. of remaining energy at whatever maximum range you are willing to shoot.

The best way to insure a clean, one shot kill on a Sitka buck is to put your bullet into the animal's heart/lung area. Standard soft point or plastic tipped bullets such as the Hornady InterLock, Nosler Ballistic Tip, Remington Core-Lokt, Winchester Power Point and Sierra Pro Hunter will usually kill faster than slower expanding premium bullets.

I am getting tired of writing this paragraph and if you have read a number of my "Cartridges and Game" articles you are probably getting tired of reading it. However, the fact remains that it would be impossible for me to list every possible Sitka deer cartridge and I would be certain to inadvertently leave out someone's favorite. The cartridges mentioned below are thus just examples of typical Sitka cartridges. If a cartridge is not listed it does not mean that it is inappropriate. Look for a cartridge with similar ballistics. If you find one, then the cartridge in question is also probably satisfactory.

Examples of cartridges suitable for hunting Sitka deer when used within their trajectory and killing power limitations include:

.243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, 6x62 Freres, .240 Weatherby Mag., .257 Roberts, .25-06, .257 Weatherby Mag., .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 6.5mm-284, 6.5mm Rem. Magnum, 6.5x68S, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7x57mm, 7x64mm Brenneke, .280 Remington, .30-30, .300 Savage, .307 Winchester, .308 Marlin, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British, .32 Winchester Special, 8x57JS and .35 Remington.

Let me reiterate that bullet placement is the most significant factor in killing power. A good shot with a .257 is a far deadlier Sitka deer hunter than a man shooting a .300 Magnum that causes him to flinch. Choose a rifle of appropriate weight chambered for a reasonably adequate caliber that you can shoot well. Use an appropriate bullet within its energy and trajectory limits. Most of all, get that bullet into a vital spot if you want to bring home a trophy.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Guns & Shooting Online member Rick Kaufman (who lives in coastal Alaska) wrote to me to advise that a substantial bear population inhabits much of the Sitka deer's range. He wrote: "Although your recommendations for calibers represents solid advice, a real concern in coastal Alaska is encountering a bear who also thinks that deer is good to eat and will take it from you. That's why most of us carry much heavier rifles than we would otherwise. I use a 350 Rem. Mag." A valid point that a hunter visiting coastal Alaska would do well to consider, where applicable. In such circumstances, the .338-06, .35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Mag., 9.3x62mm, .45-70 and .450 Marlin would seem appropriate calibers for protection against marauding bears; of course, they will also kill deer!

For more on North American deer cartridges, please see the articles "Deer Cartridges" and "Blacktail Deer Cartridges." Good and safe hunting to all!

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Copyright 2006, 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.