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The .223: one of the most versatile, and popular, rounds of ammunition around. It is widely used in various models of guns, such as the AR-15 or a Mini-14, and for various activities, such as varmint hunting, target practice, self-defense, and competition shooting. And despite the claims of some hunter enthusiasts, it can also be used in deer hunting: in certain states, which we’ll discuss later on.

So, now you know you can use a .223 to hunt deer. But is it legal to use a .223 to hunt deer in the state of California, who does have some very weird gun control laws? As a matter of fact, yes. California has no restrictions on the caliber used. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, they care more about the type of cartridge. Hunters can only use centerfire cartridges that are soft nose, or expanding, projectiles. The use of frangible bullets is not allowed.

Just in case some of you aren’t that experienced yet, allow me to elaborate. Centerfire is when the primer is in the middle of the cartridge head (cartridge being what most people call a bullet). Meaning if you look at the flat side of the ammo, you’ll see a notch right in the middle, which is where the firing pin hits when the trigger is pulled, which causes a reaction that propels the round from the weapon and on towards its intended target. As for a soft nose, or expanding projectile, the ammo is designed to expand and stay intact upon impact, rather than break apart. A frangible bullet is ammo that shatters when it encounters its target.

If you’re a gun enthusiast or an avid hunter, chances are you’ve already shot or own a firearm that shoots .223. They’re so much fun to play with! Great accuracy, low recoil. It’s great for those just learning to shoot. And the ammunition is relatively cheap. When you can find it in stock, which can sometimes be a challenge ever since the ammo shortage back in 2013. Such a wild time to be a gun enthusiast! New laws are being banned and passed all the time and it’s so hard to keep up.

Use Of .223 For Deer Hunting:

Unfortunately, it was quite impossible to find a complete and updated list of which states allow .223 to be used in deer hunting. I scoured over a hundred websites and only found two that seemed to be even close to informative. Please use this information as a guide to help you do further research, and not as a guaranteed get out of jail free card. As mentioned above, laws change all the time regarding firearms. But from what I have read on numerous forums, it seems like the majority of states do allow .223 use. According to one source I found, there are at least 38 states that say “Yes”. However, those states were not listed so I was unable to verify which ones.

Now, these states are not a part of this group. Here the use of .223 caliber for deer hunting is prohibited:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Virginia
  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Deer Down: Code .223

Now let’s say you happen to be in one of the states where you do get to use .223 ammo. Can a deer be killed by a .223 round? Well, this is a source of debate. Some people think that a .223 is not powerful enough to drop such a large animal, while others refuse to hunt with anything else. Personally, my dad started me out with .223 Remington and I did the same with all four of my children. Low recoil, good accuracy, remember? I’ve gotten five using .223 rounds and my boys one each. So yes a deer can be killed by a .223 round.

Now, here’s the tricky part. In order to be able to successfully bag a deer, you have to remember that although powerful and accurate, a .223 round is lighter than traditional hunting ammo. Therefore, if you’re aiming at a large muscular target a long distance away, chances are that round is going to be too light to be effective. It is recommended that you stay within 150 yards for a successful kill shot. This is because the round loses velocity and speed as it travels, meaning less energy to put into penetration. This could lead to just a flesh wound rather than a quick kill. It is also not recommended to use .223 when there is a strong wind, as the trajectory of the bullet could be affected due to the light weight.

What’s My Range?

The .223 is known for its accuracy and versatility but not as much for its range. It just depends on what your intended target is as to how accurate your range will be. If you are doing a competition or target practice, or just blasting off some rounds to let off steam, you would be good between 300 and 350 yards. However, if you are intending to hit a large mass target, such as a deer, it is recommended to stay within that 150 to 200-yard range, since the bullet loses power the further away it travels.

Related questions:

What Else Can I Hunt With My .223?

.223 are pretty well known for being a great varmint rifle. This means a gun with a small caliber and high accuracy. The various wildlife that would be considered varmint depends on the location. It is less likely for a person in Ohio to see a nutria than it would be for someone in Louisiana. For those of you not familiar with this annoying varmint, think a cross between a beaver and a guinea pig, that can grow to weigh over 20 pounds and that wrecks havoc on local ecosystems and can overpopulate very quickly. Varmints are often nuisances that create havoc, especially with crops. They can also pose a danger to livestock or pets and they can spread diseases.

There are three types of pest that are often hunted with a .223 as a means to end their destructive behavior. These are non-game, non-native feral/invasive, and nuisance vermin. The coyote, which is similar to a dog but feral, dangerous, and often infected with diseases, is one of the most popular varmints and would fall into the nuisance vermin category. In the list below, you will see a number from one to three next to each species. This refers to the three types just mentioned. This is not a complete list but that can be found .here.

  • Wild pigs – 2
  • Crows – 1
  • Rabbits – 1
  • Opossums – 1
  • Skunks – 1
  • Cats – 2
  • Dogs – 2
  • Donkeys – 2
  • Gophers – 3

Do You Need Different Grain Loads For Different Types Of Shooting?

It’s not always necessary, but you certainly don’t want to waste your expensive ammo on something like target practice. And along those same lines, if you need to use your weapon for self-defense, you probably aren’t going to want to rely on a low grain load that is meant to eliminate small animals. There are a variety of options out there. You can pick based on weight, ranging from 35 grain, which is the lowest you can go, which is good for varmints, to 85 grain, the highest, which could be used for self-defense or large game hunting. 55 grain seems to be the most popular choice, regardless of what kind of shooting will be done. You can also decide whether you would want: full metal jackets, soft tip, or frangible tips.

Each of these factors serves a different purpose. For example, the higher the grain count, the more powerful the shot will be. Often times, this does also mean more expensive. The type of tip you get is also a huge factor to pay attention to. You want to do some research ahead of time or talk to a knowledgeable employee about which kind of tip you might need, depending on your planned use. For example, if you’re wanting to use your AR-15, loaded with .223 Remington for self-defense, you’re probably going to want around a 65 grain with a full metal jacket or a hollow point. This means the projectile will inflict a greater amount of damage should you have to fire. Full metal jackets and hollow points are not recommended for hunting and is actually not allowed in some states.

How Is The .223 Used Within The Military?

In 1957, the .223 was created to be used in a new gun called the Armalite AR-15, which was later named the M16. By 1964, it was the official weapon of the Army and continues to be to this day. The .223 received a makeover in 1980, where it became a 62 grain rather than the previous 55. It got dressed out in a full metal jacket, with a 7-grain steel core. These specs allow for penetration of armor, such as helmets or vehicles. It was named the 5.56x45mm NATO.