Times have changed for the better if you are a deer hunter in many former shotgun slug only states.

Historically in Ohio deer gun season along with many mid-western states most deer hunters were required to use shotguns loaded with slugs.

Many lawmakers and even some hunters of the time thought for public safety the quickly dropping fat chunks of lead were the best bet for the flatter country and more inhabited areas while hunting with a long gun. There has to be a better alternative right? There is and they are called straight walled cartridges.

Straight walled cartridges are just a collection of different deer hunting capable calibers that all have a straight or almost straight cartridge case. The straight cases do not allow as much pressures to build, along with velocity that allow for flat shooting cartridges as do the bottleneck cartridges such as the forever popular classic .30-06 load. This means the straight walled cartridges also drop projectiles quicker and are safe in areas where shotgun slug only and muzzleloaders were the rules of the land. 

The straight walled cartridges are a much better choice than the previous old school foster style slugs from a smooth bore shotgun. Is it even better than saboted slugs from a rifled barrel? How can this be since it is a departure from the time tested means of deer procurement? Times change and the difference is a better chance of a deer harvest. Shotgun slugs have never been known for low recoil. Many times a whole one ounce chunk of lead out of a generally less than ergonomic shotgun. Even with a heavy weight shotgun the slug ammunition packs a wallop on both ends. This leads some shooters to develop flinches while sighting in and very short practice attempts after that initial shoulder beat down. Many of those hunters smacked by the hard kicking shotgun slugs have returned home with bruised shoulders from an hour at the gun range. That kind of abuse does not lend well to good marksmanship. That type of flinching causes missed deer when the hunt is on. Something had to be done to address these major issues.

Years back rumors began milling around about Ohio adopting the use of “straight walled cartridges” for whitetail deer hunting. Many other states were doing the exact same thing. Could this be true for my resident state? What calibers would be allowed? When the list came out many hunters were excited while others stated their favorite straight walled cartridges were overlooked. Here is what the ODNR 2014 Hunting Manual had to say:

“These specific straight-walled cartridge rifles are legal for deer hunting: .357 Magnum, .357 Maximum, .38 Special, .375 Super Magnum, .375 Winchester, .38-55, .41 Long Colt, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .45 Long Colt, .45 Winchester Magnum, .45 Smith & Wesson, .454 Casull, .460 Smith & Wesson, .45-70, .45-90, .45-110, .475 Linebaugh, .50-70, .50-90, .50-100, .50-110 and .500 Smith & Wesson. Shotguns and straight-walled cartridge rifles may have no more than three shells in the magazine and chamber combined while deer hunting.”

It would be a few more years before the “ All straight-walled cartridge calibers from a minimum of .357 to a maximum of .50. Shotguns and straight-walled cartridge rifles can be loaded with no more than three shells in the chamber and magazine combined.” became the rule now approved. This streamlined cartridge selection a bit and certainly avoided the problems of the earlier list. 

The new ruling on what straight walled cartridges in rifles can be used for deer hunting in Ohio has brought the sport into the modern age. Now a deer hunter can choose a rifle that he or she can shoot accurately quite a bit farther than a shotgun slug would achieve. Recoil levels can now be managed with wise choice of calibers and the modern hunting rifle projectiles are more efficient than ever. Let’s look at just some of the most popular selections that hunters in Ohio and also in many other states can now use for deer in straight walled cartridge legal locations.  

.357 Magnum

The .357 Magnum is no stranger to deer hunting. Deer have fallen to this capable cartridge with precise targeting for decades. Stress has to be put on marksmanship. Now with its use in rifles and carbines the cartridge’s lethality has increased immensely. The longer barrels increase velocity and long guns certainly can be fired much more accurately do to the aid of a stock and more mass. A scope mounted puts a .357 Magnum caliber rifle into a low recoiling but precise deer harvesting machine. Recoil sensitive or small hunters can use a .357 Magnum carbine to great use. I enjoy toting a Henry Arms Big Boy All Weather .357 Magnum caliber lever action rifle for hunting deer in inclement weather loaded with Hornady FTX Lever Evolution loads. That combination is perfect for deer hunting for those with a keen eye for accuracy with modern hot loaded ammunition.

.41 Magnum

Widely known as the “Goldilocks Cartridge” this revolver cartridge is still hanging on and avoiding obsolete status. With more power than the .357 Magnum and less recoil than the larger .44 magnum this in-between cartridge was a good bridge between two very different power level hunting cartridges. This was especially useful when chambered in revolvers. Henry Arms chambers their Big Boy lever action rifles for this useful cartridge. Loaded in a rifle this cartridge is a very suitable straight walled deer dropping machine. 

.44 Magnum 

The .44 Magnum cartridge has been a hard hitting hunting cartridge since the day good ole Elmer Keith dreamed it up. With much more power than the original .44 Special cartridge this very useful big bore cartridge is at home in revolvers, single shot and semi-automatic handguns and rifles. The little Ruger .44 Carbine, discontinued for many years now, was one of the most popular quick shooting little big game hunters around. Lever action rifles are a great pick for hunters to have quick shots ready of this powerhouse. It’s just not a revolver cartridge anymore but also a great long gun caliber perfect for whitetails and other big game. Ammunition for this great straight walled cartridge has come a long way thanks to technology and there are plenty of loads perfect for big game on the market. Henry Arms Big Boy Rifles and also Carbines do great jobs at harnessing that power in very accurate fast shooting lever guns. 

.350 Legend

Winchester’s new kid on the block is the .350 Legend. Chambered for modern hunting rifles like the AR platform weapons among other rifles models this new player has a tall mountain to face in opposition to the more traditional straight walled cartridges. Touted as having almost magical properties many traditional caliber enthusiasts are quite skeptical that it can do better than their old favorite time tested calibers do. Other hunters who want to stay on the cutting edge of technology have had the exact opposite reaction. The .350 Legend cartridge is slowly catching on to many hunters but time will tell how well it actually does against the titans of straight walled cartridges. 

.400 Legend

This new player to the hunt promises to be a great addition. Only time will tell if it hangs on or eventually goes obsolete like so many other good cartridges introduced and dropped by manufacturers quickly.

.360 Buckhammer

Here is another new hard hitting cartridge introduced for lever action rifles. Stay tuned to user feedback from hunters that are fielding it already.

.38-55 Winchester

The .38-55 cartridge is a grand old cartridge that began its life in the black powder era back in 1884. There are still plenty family heirloom rifles that are now dusted off every deer season and pressed into service. A 255 grain projectile humming along at between 1300 and 1600 fps. Is plenty of power for deer at reasonable distances. If it worked good for your great, great grandfather why reinvent the wheel?

.375 Winchester

The .375 Winchester makes the list in honor of my hunting buddy who owns such a beautiful vintage weapon made by Marlin. It was heralded to be a modernized version of the old .38-55 Winchester cartridge in a more powerful loading but just never hit it big in the hunting cartridge market. It is now thought of as mostly obsolete. Some specialty load makers like Buffalo Bore do still offer this load but be prepared to pay a steeper cost for loaded ammunition and even reloadable brass. This is where the need to handload the cartridge is necessary for cost effectiveness.  The .375 Winchester load is still a straight walled big game dropper of proper lineage ready for the hunt even today. With a jacketed flat point projectile of 200-250 grains this game getter will move along at a faster 1950-2419 fps. depending on the load (well handload now). The numbers don’t lie and the .375 Winchester whether chambered in the Winchester 94 Big Bore lever action rifle or the Marlin version will anchor any deer or large game encountered. 

.444 Marlin

The .444 Marlin has been knocking large quadrupeds flat since it’s invention in 1964. When a big game cartridge was needed in the Marlin lever action rifle platform Remington Arms came up with a doozy. The reasoning behind this cartridge is when the classic .45/70 cartridge was no longer chambered in new production lever action rifles. A void was present that needed to be filled for the hunting community. Launching the 240 grain projectiles at 2350 fps. the beefy bullets have been a favorite of big game hunters at close to medium distances since introduction. It also was the biggest at that time current production lever action hunting rifle until the .45-70 in a modern form came back out to the market. 

.450 Bushmaster

When hunters wanted a cartridge that had the power of a .45/70 cartridge in a modern style hunting rifle such as the AR rifle platforms the .450 Bushmaster was born. This great cartridge allows hunters the use of their favorite AR platform rifle or pistol a quick change of the upper to hunt big game. It also is available naturally in other style rifles such as single shots and bolt action varieties. It has become very popular in straight walled cartridge states like Ohio for deer hunting even though the newer .350 Legend is trying to de-throne it with promises of less recoil. That great cartridge is certainly around for the long haul. 

.50 Beowulf

Who can argue with a .50 caliber projectile for deer hunting? This big thumper allows a huge 400 grain projectile launch at 1800 fps. from an AR style platform. Lighter projectiles are also available but that heavy round would be a great pick for big game in the thickets. 

.45-70 Government

The grand ole .45-70 cartridge is by far my favorite straight walled cartridges. In reality the case has a light taper but is still regarded as straight walled in name only. When Marlin reintroduced their Model 1895 lever action rifle for the mighty modern smokeless powder loaded .45-70 Government cartridge in 1972 the hunting world took notice. This was not an old holdover rifle such as the trapdoor Springfield rifles that were not safe with hot modern smokeless loads. This was a serious big bore hunting rifle. Newer manufacturers have picked up their own .45-70 caliber rifle models such as the Henry Arms Single Shot Rifle and also their Lever Action .45-70 Rifle. Both of these are my favorites for chasing the big corn field fed whitetail bucks of Ohio. The power is massive no matter what cartridge load you choose in that great old caliber that has been kicking around since 1873. I personally have found the accuracy and power of the Hornady FTX loads and the Buffalo Cartridge Company Deer Dropper 300 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point Cartridges. Yes this old cartridge certainly has proven it has what it takes as a big game hunting cartridge anywhere on the North American continent and beyond. It also is one of the most sought after deer hunting calibers in my section of straight walled cartridge territory. 

The allowance of straight walled cartridges has been a great plus for hunters along with ammunition and gun manufacturers. Hurling rifled slugs into a pie plate size target at 100 yards on a good day has now been replaced with precision accuracy at longer ranges with less recoil for many loads mentioned above. If you still like hunting with your trusty slug gun no worries because nothing has changed generally in those rules. You might want to however take a look at how straight walled cartridges now allowed in many areas can improve your deer hunting game plan. You just might never go back to that old slug gun again.

Do you like articles about the outdoors? You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram, and The Classic Woodsman YouTube Channel