Looking for advice on the best deer cartridge? How about your best choice for smaller calibers, or dedicated long-range hunting? Read on for insights on these and more.
Big game hunting is all about the shot. Planning for the shot, practicing for the shot, searching for the shot, taking the shot, and making the shot. As users well know the HuntStand app can be a huge help in both planning for your shot and searching for that right opportunity, but making your shot is another matter altogether. When it comes time to make the shot, it is all about the bullet.
Of all the gear a hunter carries to the field, the success or failure of his hunt comes down to one thing—the bullet. If that bullet is not placed properly and if it does not work properly, all that planning, stalking, and suffering of the elements will be for naught. Here are five of the best big game bullets for getting the job done.
Remington’s Core Lokt bullet has been around for more than three quarters of a century. That doesn’t mean the Core Lokt has not undergone some changes. In fact, another way of looking at it is that the bullet engineers at Remington have had 75 years to perfect one of their most-famous products. Core Lokt bullets are used by more hunters worldwide than any other. Some suggest this is because they are affordable, but hunters are a demanding lot and would not continue to use a bullet that did not work.
The Remington Core Lokt is a bullet made of the common “cup and core” process but its unique design keeps the lead alloy core locked to the gilding metal jacket, while the bullet deforms during expansion. This means Core Lokt bullets expand widely, and this wide expansion helps the Core Lokt transfer energy rapidly. Tests have shown that within the first eight inches of penetration a Core Lokt bullet will transfer as much as 80 percent of its kinetic energy. The result is that when hit properly, animals fall down. Just like this big Saskatchewan whitetail did when a Core Lokt found his shoulder.
Another old but very good bullet design is the Nosler Partition. The Partition bullet has been around since 1948 and for good reason. This bullet was specifically engineered to deliver dynamic upset but still penetrate deep. For many, this is the Holy Grail of terminal performance. With the Partition, the bullet is divided into two parts by a web of gilding metal that separates a front and rear lead alloy core. On impact, the front core expands and sometimes even erodes away but the jacket and rear core drive on.
When my wife was planning her first African safari I outfitted her with a Mossberg bolt-action in .243 Winchester. Some of her hairy-chested co-workers proclaimed me a fool, and her one too for listening to me. They said a .243 was not enough gun for African animals. What they did not realize was that my wife’s .243 would be loaded with Nosler Partitions. Using the diminutive 85-grain Nosler Partition, she took a gemsbok at 120 yards and a wildebeest at 180. Both with one shot, and both went less than 50 yards after the hit.
Lead has been the primary element of bullet construction since the dawn of the gun but Barnes Bullets has changed the way many hunters look at bullets. Their original X-Bullet and more modern Triple Shock are made of nothing but copper. The benefit is that these bullets usually retain all their weight and expand to double diameter. This means they penetrate deep and have a reputation of exiting big game animals, which is why Remington loads them in their Hog Hammer line of ammo.
These all-copper bullets have developed a legion of followers who worship at the altar of weight retention. And, for those who like to hunt with smaller calibers, the Triple Shock has increased their effectiveness by guaranteeing more penetration. But the Triple Shock is not perfect; everything with bullets is a trade-off and the better a bullet penetrates, the less-violent its wound cavity will be. Triple Shock bullets will only transfer about 50 percent of their energy during the early stages of penetration, and they need to impact at about 2,000 fps or more to deliver ideal expansion. When they do, even black wildebeest won’t stop them.
Being the bullet geek I am, I’ve spent most of my hunting career looking for that perfect bullet that delivers a perfect balance of expansion and penetration. Several years ago I settled on the Nosler AccuBond, and I’ve killed more big game, in more places with the Nosler AccuBond, than any other bullet. To be more precise, I’ve killed more big game with the 165-grain Nosler AccuBond fired from a .308 Winchester than anything else.
By bonding the lead alloy core of the AccuBond to a tapered gilding metal jacket, Nosler created one of the most-deadly big-game bullets of all time. With AccuBonds, elk with a .308 at more than 300 yards are not a problem. AccuBonds will penetrate slightly less than Nosler Partitions but they deliver voluminous wound cavities. However, if there was ever a complaint about the Partition it was that sometimes they are not the most-accurate bullets. That cannot be said about the AccuBond. In almost any rifle, of almost any caliber, you can expect AccuBonds to be one of the most-accurate bullets you’ll shoot.
Last year Hornady challenged everything I thought I knew about big game bullets with their new ELD-X. Hornady’s goal with the ELD-X was to create a “distance-blind” bullet. In other words, they wanted a bullet that worked as well near the muzzle as it did at 800 yards or more down range. By uniquely tapering the gilding metal jacket around a lead alloy core, and by installing a polymer tip that would not degrade during high-velocity flight, Hornady might just have created the best big game bullet of all time.
Doppler radar testing has proven Hornady’s ELD-X provides more-consistent flight, especially at extreme distance, than any other big game bullet. Extensive terminal performance testing in ordnance gelatin and in big game animals taken with the ELD-X, like this Wyoming whitetail taken at more than 300 yards, has proven Hornady did its homework. Marketed as a long-range hunting bullet, the ELD-X is actually much more. For rifles with shorter barrels that generate less velocity, it is an ideal choice because with the low velocity expansion characteristics of the ELD-X you will not experience reduced terminal performance.
So, with all these good bullets of varying performance characteristics, how’s a hunter to know which one to choose? Granted, looking for the right bullet can seem complicated. Without an intricate chart that breaks down every big game animal, every shooting situation, and every cartridge, generalities are the best we can offer. The good news is that all of these bullets, if placed in the right spot, should put meat in your freezer and horns on your wall. With that said, here’s a simple guide.
For deer hunters using non-magnum cartridges at common shooting distances, the Remington Core Lokt is never a bad idea. If your caliber is small or if penetration is paramount, go with the Triple Shock. For magnum rifles or when using common cartridges on the big beasties out to moderate range, Triple Shocks or AccuBonds will deliver the game. If you need to shoot near and far, and if you need extremely precise shot placement at distance, Hornady’s ELD-X cannot be outdone. And finally, like custom rifle builder Charlie Sisk says, “When in doubt, load Partitions, shut up and go hunting.”