Will a 22 lr rifle kill a deer

Deer are not difficult to kill. I have seen many taken with a .22 rimfire long rifle. That doesn’t mean that it makes sense to do so. To accomplish this task a perfect shot to the brain or through the lungs, heart, or the spinal column in the neck is required to dispatch the animal quickly and humanely.

Even with a good shot through the lungs, the animal could run for quite some distance before expiring creating one heck of a tracking job. It is an ethical hunter’s responsibility to make every kill shot instantaneous if possible.

Yes, a 22 lr will kill a deer if the shot is placed into a vital area and the bullet used has good expansion qualities, otherwise the shot will probably result in the deer dying a slow painful death after running for a long distance. It’s not worth the gamble unless absolutely necessary.

When I say a perfect shot, I mean “PERFECT”. Being off more than a fraction of an inch from your intended point of impact, such as an intended head shot that misses and removes the lower jaw, could result in a wounded animal that suffers for a week or more before it dies.

I have seen this happen even with larger centerfire rounds that would do a great job of taking the deer down with a good lung shot. Nobody wants this. I do not recommend head shots in a hunting situation if they are at all possible to avoid.

There are also other reasons that make taking a deer with a 22 rimfire a bad idea.

22 rimfire round properties

Most rimfire rounds lack the energy or expansion properties to adequately and quickly dispatch an animal the size of a deer. Normal deer hunting rounds from 30 caliber down to 6mm will expand greatly upon impact due to the velocity of the cartridge and properties of the bullet.

Even larger bullets designed for minimum expansion usually carry enough energy at normal hunting ranges to do enough damage to take the animal out quickly.

A rim fire round moving at 1200 fps at 50 yards will only punch a small hole through ballistic gel that simulates body mass of an animal. If that bullet, hollow or soft point, with a small wound channel doesn’t hit anything critical to sustaining life, a wound is the result.

The moral of this story is that most rim fire ammo doesn’t yield the velocities necessary for proper bullet expansion. One option is what is called fragmenting ammo. These rounds can be purchased in several different ranges of velocity, the fastest being CCI’s fragmented offering with a rated muzzle velocity above 1600 fps.

No matter what the velocity, the bullets are designed to break into three segments upon impact. See performance in ballistic gel below. This simulates the explosion of high caliber bullets at much higher velocities.

The intention is twofold – to dump all energy inside the animal and to create a much larger permanent wound channel which in turn increases killing power.

If I had to take a deer sized animal with a 22 caliber rimfire because of a survival or SHTF situation, this would be the round I would use with only a close up head shot. No long range shooting in this situation. Too much room for error.

Legality of hunting deer with a 22 rimfire rifle

It is illegal in most states to hunt deer with a 22 or other rimfire. 22 centerfires are usually legal but not rimfires. There is a huge power difference causing this rule to make sense. If caught by the game warden in a state where it is illegal, you could easily end up being issued a ticket with a pretty large fine attached or arrested and taken to jail. It’s not worth it.

Will a centerfire 22 caliber cartridge work well on deer

I have personally used the old .222, .22-250, and .223 cartridges to take deer with great success. Typically these cartridges shoot slightly heavier bullets in the 55 – 80 grain range where 22 lr bullets weigh 35 to 40 grains.

The centerfire 22’s also shoot well over 3000 fps with the rimfires staying in the 1000 to 1600 fps.

The additional speed especially with a good bullet design, like a hollow point or soft game point, will do a very good job with a neck or lung shot which both allow plenty of room for error.

A 150 – 200 lb deer is no challenge for the centerfires. If you are hunting management program deer that could reach 300 lbs or more live weight, the .22 centerfire calibers begin to quickly reach their limit and recommend moving up in power to the 7mm caliber range.

Before using these calibers verify their legality with your state game and fish organization.


22 rimfire rifles have been designated by many as the best survival weapons you could have in your arsenal for many reasons.

  • ammo is inexpensive so you can store a ton of the stuff easily
  • storage takes very little space
  • you can easily carry many rounds of 22 lr
  • it is quietly relatively speaking, especially at subsonic speeds with a suppressor
  • you can use it to harvest food

It will serve all of these purposes well but realize, unless you are in a survival situation, it is illegal to hunt deer with a 22lr. Stick with the animals that are within the optimum range the cartridge is designed for.

Raccoons, rabbitts, squirrels, and at the top of the range, fox. I would say even a coyote, especially at long range should be passed up if all you have is a 22 lr rimfire.