Picking the right hunting ammo
Dr. John Woods 09.17.13
Many a deer camp debate has raged well into the night over the subject of the best ammo for deer hunting. You might as well try to pick the best ever issue of Playboy magazine (for the articles of course).
Some arguments are based on factual knowledge. Others are just woodland legends about how Ole Grampa Jed shot 200 bucks using nothing but Ream-M Good ammunition. Of course, there is some validity in developing an allegiance for a brand or type of deer hunting ammo that has a proven track record of reliable performance.
I’ve found my own magic gun-and-ammo combo in my Browning 300 WSM A-bolt with 150-grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip and a Leupold scope. For whatever reason of mechanical chemistry, that rifle, scope, and ammo combination cooks up every time the trigger is pulled. I seriously do not know why this works so well. I do know that this particular set up has thus far taken ten bucks and four does in fifteen shots. Yes, I missed one buck year before last. The sun must have been in my eyes.
Conduct a little research first, then buy ammo. Today, ten thousand foot pounds of information can be found on the internet about ammunition performance, how to select the best bullet types and weights for different species of big game, and everything else one might ever want to read on the subject. Reading is good. You might learn something.
If you happen to be stuck on both a caliber choice and picking ammo, then start with this maxim. For deer hunting, the rule of thumb for minimum cartridge power to be effective is 2000 feet per second velocity at the muzzle and 1000 foot pounds of energy delivered at 100 yards.
This puts the 30-30 Winchester at the bottom of the scale, but remember this “lowly” round has collectively killed more deer than any other cartridge ever invented so far. However, it does not mean it is particularly smart to shoot at a whitetail at 200 yards with a 30-30.
Whether you have a new, unfired deer rifle or one you want to shoot tighter groups after missing a deer or two, you’ll probably want to sort out what type of ammo to feed your rifle. Where to start? First, I tend to rely on name-brand ammunition that has a well established, long standing reputation for product quality, consistent accuracy, and well constructed bullets.
Deer are soft skinned animals without a huge, bulky bone structure like an elk or moose. Through and through penetration is not needed. I recommend starting on the lower end of bullet weight and go with a pointed soft point type bullet that will have good expansion along with adequate penetration. For a 30-06 class rifle, opt for the 150 grain loads first for deer. Buy a box each of 2-3 brands.
Some hunters think there is some magic to ammo shooting accurately in their deer rifle without actually having to fire some of it. Range time on the practice bench is the only way to determine how ammo shoots in your rifle. Most deer rifles are sighted into the classic standard of 3-inches high at 100 yards. Ballistic charts and computer ballistics programs can help you fine tune the ideal sight-in range for the ammo you selected.
Shoot several strings of three shots to sight in the rifle. Work to get a grouping as tight as possible on the bullseye or at 3-inches high. Let the barrel cool between strings. For stainless barrels, more cool-down is needed. When you’re satisfied that you’ve achieved the best group possible with one brand of ammo, repeat the process using the other brands. Determine which ammo is consistently printing the best groups of all. That is most likely the best ammo for your particular rifle.
Some shooters like to clean their rifle barrels between strings or at the end of a shooting session and then try again. If the results repeat themselves, then you are set for a real trial come the next hunting season. The clean harvest of a deer is the ultimate ammo test. Remember too, that bullet placement is the key, not just a big gun shooting big bullets.