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Bullets For Bucks

Why whitetail-size game doesn't need premium bullets.

You don't always need premium bullets to get the job done. For deer-size game, tried-and-true designs like the Sierra GameKing that the author's son Cole used on this buck perform perfectly.

I titled my column in the July 2009 issue of this publication "Predictability Is A Premium," and I wrote about why I prefer premium bullets for many applications. In it, I wrote that their predictable penetration and expansion make premium bullets ideal for big game. I also wrote that you don't really need premium bullets for deer.

In fact, the following is the beginning of the first of three paragraphs I devoted to the subject: "First of all, you don't need premium bullets for deer. Hornady's Spirepoint, Remington's Core-Lokt, Winchester's Power-Point, and Federal's Power-Shok bullets have been dropping deer quite handily for a long time and will continue to do so for as long as those fine folks will crank them out."

Evidently, a lot of readers missed those paragraphs, because I got a fair bit of reader mail from folks who were upset that my column appeared to suggest that they needed premium projectiles for deer. Though that is clearly not what I was saying, those letters and some interesting new bullets that deliver near-premium performance at a plain-Jane price inspired me to take a look back at some of my favorite, classic deer bullets and some of those newer projectiles.

Federal's Power-Shok & Fusion Bullets
Federal's Power-Shok is a classic copper-jacketed bullet with an exposed-lead tip. It is completely devoid of driving bands, polymer tips, and curb feelers, yet the inexpensive bullet has a proven reputation for shooting great and hammering deer.

I must confess that I haven't hunted much with Federal's Power-Shok loads. In fact, though many hunters I know swear by them, I had never tried them until I was forced to buy some to test a new lightweight sheep rig Mark Bansner built for me a couple of years ago. I was dying to test my new rifle, but the shooting range's selection of .280 ammo was limited to a single, blue box of the 150-grain Power-Shok load. I was shocked when the first three of those plain old softpoints went into the same hole.

In the field, the Power-Shok has performed just as well for me, making short work of three solid South Texas bucks and a half-dozen hogs. That's not a lot of critters, but I have guided enough Power-Shok-toting hunters over the years to know the bullet's popularity is well deserved.


Even when hunting big, heavy-bodied deer, a premium bullet built for maximum penetration is not necessary. Standard "deer" bullets are very effective.

Federal's Fusion is one of the newer bullets designed to give near-premium performance at a standard-bullet price. The Fusion employs a copper jacket that is electrochemically bonded to the core, one molecule at a time. The jacket is precisely skived at the nose to deliver a predictable amount of expansion and penetration. The result is a tough bullet that opens quickly with dramatic results yet stays together to deliver deep, bone-crushing penetration.

I was the first person outside of Federal to hunt with the Fusion bullet when, back in 2004, I took preproduction bullets on a cull hunt in South Africa. I shot 37 animals, including 30 kudu cows, with those first 180-grain, .308 projectiles. I shot them at every conceivable angle at ranges that varied from 40 to 185 yards. Only one bullet failed to exit. The recovered bullet retained 87.5 percent of its weight and looked pretty as a picture.

Since that first cull hunt, I've shot several dozen more whitetails, hogs, impala, and kudu with Fusion bullets from my .270, .308, .30-06, and .338 Federal rifles. Like those preproduction bullets, current-production Fusions expand quickly to more than double their diameter, hold together, and drive deep. And they are darned affordable. It's no wonder the Fusion line has become so popular so fast.

Hornady's Boattail Spirepoint
Hornady offers several great projectiles, but the firm's classic Boattail Spirepoint is one of my all-time favorite deer bullets. The BTSP isn't as sleek and sexy as some newer designs, but the old-school bullet tends to shoot really well and expand immediately, dropping deer quickly.

The BTSP has a tapered copper jacket over a lead core with an exposed-lead tip. Hornady's InterLock ring keeps the jacket and core together to ensure deep penetration, while the exposed-lead tip gets expansion started quickly and leaves devastating wound channels in its wake. Its boattail design and secant ogive contribute to increased accuracy and a flatter trajectory.

I've used the BTSP a great deal over the years, but the gun I use them in most is a slick, little .257 Roberts built on a Model 70 action by Hillbilly Custom. My "Bob" shoots the 117-grain InterLock BTSP really well, and it is absolutely deadly on deer and hogs. In fact, I've never had to trail any of the dozen animals I've taken with this combination more than 25 yards from where they stood at the shot.

Remington's Core-Lokt & Core-Lokt Ultra
Like millions of Americans, I took my first deer with one of Remington's Core-Lokt bullets. I'll never forget that Hill Country doe picking its way out of the brush on that chilly Texas morning. Nor will I forget the pride I felt when I found her piled up, just inside the tree line, with a neat little hole in her shoulder where the 6mm Core-Lokt entered. Since then, I've used the Core-Lokt many times in several calibers with similar results.

The classic Core-Lokt bullet employs a copper jacket, lead core, and exposed-lead tip. The jacket is thicker through the middle, which mechanically locks the jacket to its core for improved weight retention and penetration, and the exposed-lead tip initiates expansion. The Core-Lokt performs as well today as it did when it first hit the market in 1939. The new Ultra Bonded version is more of a good thing.

Hornady's Spirepoint shoots great and is downright deadly on deer. Its exposed-lead tip initiates expansion, while its InterLock ring ensures adequate weight retention and penetration.

The new Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded is one of the new breed of deer bullets that is designed to deliver affordable, premium-bullet performance. Its progressively tapered jacket design initiates double-diameter expansion, and a bonded-lead core helps it deliver deep penetration and, according to Remington, up to 95 percent weight retention.

I've included the Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded in several of my rifle evaluations, and it has always shot very well, but I have only hunted with it once. On that British Columbia hunt, I used a single 180-grain Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded from my .300 Win. Mag. to drop a 300-pound Boone and Crockett black bear in its tracks. A whitetail buck wouldn't stand a chance.

Sierra's GameKing & Pro-Hunter
My first experience with Sierra's GameKing was with the 130-grain, .270 bullet in Federal's Premium line. I didn't know much about guns or hunting back then, but the sleek boattail bullet won me over with its accuracy. It was downright deadly on deer, too. Over three seasons, I used that load to drop 13 consecutive deer, hogs, and exotics in dramatic fashion. Since then, I've used GameKings in everything from my old 6mm to a 7mm Rem. Mag. with great success.

Like many of my favorite deer bullets, the GameKing has a relatively thin copper jacket and a lead core. It wouldn't be my first choice for bigger game, but it delivers just the right balance of penetration and shock for deer. Thanks to its boattail design and Sierra's precision manufacturing techniques, the GameKing is darned aerodynamic and accurate, too.

Speer's Hot-Cor opens up quickly. It doesn't retain as much weight as some of the tougher bullets, but it penetrates enough to get the job done, and that violent expansion drops them hard.

The Pro-Hunter is a flat-base design with a tapered copper jacket, lead core, and exposed-lead tip. I must admit that I have not used them much over the years, but a client of mine has had great results with the 117-grain, .257-diameter Pro-Hunter in his old .25-06.

His rifle is very accurate with his Pro-Hunter handloads, but the performance of those bullets on big-bodied South Texas whitetails is what has always impressed me. I've seen him drop several monster hogs and half a dozen big bucks over the years at ranges that varied from 80 to 250 yards. None made it more than a few steps from where they stood when he shot them.

Speer's Hot-Cor
Speer's Hot-Cor is another classic cup-and-core design. There is nothing fancy about it, but it's a dandy deer bullet.

I've shot a lot of Hot-Cors over the years, most of them through my old .270 A-Bolt. Though Federal's 130-grain Game-King load shot very well out of my old Browning, my uncle's 130-grain Hot-Cor handloads shot almost as well and were a better fit for my meager, student budget. At first, I reserved them for practice, but later in my cash-strapped college career, I used those Hot-Cor loads for hunting, too. They never let me down.

Winchester's Super-X Power Max Bonded Bullets
I've guided many hunters over the years that shot one Winchester bullet or another. The Silvertip, in particular, was a very popular bullet that stands out in my mind as an excellent performer on deer-sized game. Last year Winchester came out with a new bullet, the Super-X Power Max Bonded, and it has proven to be excellent on deer.

The key to the Power Max's performance is a proprietary bonding process that basically welds the jacket and core together for maximum penetration and weight retention. The protected hollowpoint (PHP) design promotes bullet upset at a rate that is ideal for deer-sized game. The Power Max opens quickly to more than double its original diameter for maximum energy transfer, but thanks to its bonded core, it holds together and drives deep. It's also priced to compete with the rest of the new breed of affordable, deer-specific, premium bullets.

I have yet to use the Power Max on whitetails, but I did get to take it to Africa last season where I tested it on several animals that approximated the size and build of whitetail or mule deer bucks.

The first animal was a whitetail-sized bontebok. We spotted it across a plain that offered just enough cover to permit a stalk to within 75 yards. When we ran out of bushes, I dropped to a knee, rested my little Blaser on a convenient anthill, and sent a 150-grain Power Max on its way. The ram took the shot right on the point of the shoulder. It rocked back, stumbled for a few yards, and tipped over.

The author took this mule deer-sized lechwe with a 150-grain Power Max bullet from his .308 Blaser.
Its bonded construction makes Winchester's Power Max bullet hold together for deep penetration. The protected hollowpoint (PHP) design initiates the kind of expansion that drops deer in their tracks.

The next few days, I used that Power Max load to take an oribi across a canyon at a little over 220 yards as well as a nice impala ram. The last day of the hunt, I used it to shoot a beautiful lechwe, which is roughly the size of a smallish mule deer buck. The ram was quartering, so I shot it in the middle of the ribcage, angling towards the off shoulder. It bolted at the shot, but another one through both shoulders dropped it in a cloud of dust.

In my limited experience, the new Power Max performed as advertised. It shot great, left a devastating wound channel, and exited every time. As far as deer bullets go, it's a tough one to beat.

The Perfect Deer Bullet
Super-tough premium bullets are nice for the tough stuff, but any of the easier-on-the-wallet projectiles mentioned here will drop deer with authority. If one of these bullets has performed well for you, stick with it. If you're new to deer hunting, try a few of them. The one your rifle shoots best is the perfect deer bullet for you.

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