According to Greg, one of the main reasons for using premium bullets is their
extremely predictable performance. He used the Barnes 180-grain TSX, which he puts in the super-premium category, to drop this heavy-bodied bull elk.
A blizzard had driven the elk down off the mountains to the ranch lands around Craig, Colorado. Finding a shooter bull among the thousands of elk seeking refuge on the high plains ranch we were hunting wasn't difficult, but getting within shooting range of a wall-hanger was.
We'd been dogging a herd of some 80 animals up and down the hills for the better part of the morning. We got as close as 50 yards several times, but I never got a clear shot. They were headed towards more open country, and they weren't spooked, so we took cover on a brushy hillside and watched. Shortly, they strung out and began to feed on the opposite face. Travis, my guide, spotted a nice 5x6 working its way towards an opening and talked me on to it. "Do you see him, Greg?" he asked.
I found the bull, settled my Browning A-Bolt onto the shooting sticks, and tracked the 5x6 through my scope. Travis called the range at 390 yards, so I held the 400-yard bar of the Swarovski's TDS reticle on the bull's shoulder and followed its progress. When it stepped into the opening, Travis cow called. The bull stopped and looked up for just a second, but it was long enough. I heard the solid smack of the bullet striking bone and saw the wapiti wobble for a second then stumble two or three steps before it collapsed in a cloud of snow.
As we walked across the draw to tag my bull, Travis admitted that he wasn't pleased when he found out I'd brought a plain old .270 Winchester. According to him, previous .270-toting hunters had not done so well on their bulls. But when we discussed those incidents, Travis conceded that their shot placement was lacking, and perhaps most importantly, none used premium bullets. That's too bad because as Travis saw firsthand, the .270 Win. is a very capable elk round when stoked with a premium, controlled-expansion bullet.
Double-diameter expansion, bone-crushing penetration, and 93- to 97-percent weight retention are why so many hunters swear by tough, premium bullets such as the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and the all-copper Barnes TSX.
Why You Should Go Premium
Not all premium bullets are designed to deliver deep penetration and controlled expansion. In fact, premium bullets are designed to fill a number of roles.
Hornady's A-Max and Sierra's MatchKing, for example, were designed to punch tiny groups in paper at long range, while fast-expanding bullets, like Nosler's Ballistic Tip and Hornady's SST, deliver explosive expansion on varmints and deer-sized game. For bigger, tougher game, such as elk, moose, and eland, stouter designs like the Barnes TSX or Nosler Partition are designed to bust brawny shoulders and drive deep on even the steepest quartering shots.
Whether we're talking about target bullets or hunting bullets, "premium" denotes predictability. Regardless of type, premium bullets can be expected to deliver a certain amount of expansion and penetration within a given velocity range the overwhelming majority of the time. That predictability is why so many hunters are willing to pay a little extra to go the premium bullet route.
Bullets For Deer
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. That being said, premium designs, such as Nosler's Ballistic Tip and Hornady's SST, tend to be darn accurate and absolutely devastating on deer- and pronghorn-sized game. Some hunters complain about excessive meat damage, but a recovered deer yields way more meat than one that's wounded and lost.
Greg took this fine Namibian kudu with a 180-grain AccuBond from a .300 WSM. The AccuBond is a fine choice for elk- and kudu-sized game.
Because Ballistic Tips often drop deer as if they were struck by the hand of God, I use them quite often when hunting on TV. But I am very careful with my shot selection, and I limit their use to deer-sized animals because I know that driving that same bullet into the thick, broad shoulder of an elk or into a pot-bellied buck at a steep quartering angle will likely have very unsatisfactory results.
Problems occur when shooters try to shoot bigger-bodied game or take shots they shouldn't. Not surprisingly, wounded and lost animals are the result, and all too often, the bullet gets the blame. That's too bad because it's hardly fair to fault the bullet when it performed exactly as its designers intended.
Bullets For Medium-Size Game
If elk and similar-sized game are on the menu, you need more penetration than any rapid-expanding bullet can offer. Here, I am very fond of Nosler's AccuBond and Swift's Scirocco II. The front of both bullets expands rapidly to create big wound channels while the back stays intact to drive through elk-sized animals. Both are also very accurate bullets and have sleek, sexy profiles that help them buck the wind and stay on target at long range.
Their mix of long-range accuracy, deer-dropping expansion, and excellent penetration makes them excellent all-around bullets, especially for those who hunt pronghorns, mule deer, and elk in the wide-open West. Though I've dropped game as big as eland with AccuBonds, they wouldn't be my first choice for moose, brown bears, or eland. They'll get the job done if you do everything right, but in my opinion, a tougher bullet is apropos for bigger game.
For stout, hardy critters, including moose, grizzly, or eland, a tough, controlled-expansion bullet that will drive through thick shoulders on broadside shots or reach the vitals on a steep angle is a must. I've had great success with Nosler's Partition and E-Tip bullets, Norma's Oryx, Swift's A-Frame, and Winchester's XP3, but I have the most experience with Barnes' TSX and Federal's Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.
I've used the TSX to take everything from elk to eland. It has, with
out fail, delivered incredible penetration. It also expands quite well on big animals. However, it doesn't always deliver the wide wound channels and dramatic on-game performance I'd like to see on smaller, thin-skinned game, especially when driven at the slower velocities encountered on long shots.
Greg dropped this cattle-killing lioness with a single 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw from a .375 H&H. The shot raked through the 400-plus-pound cat from stem to stern, dropping her in her tracks.
I have dropped everything from whitetails to lions and Cape buffalos with Federal's Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and the new Tipped Trophy Bonded bullets. The old-school Bear Claw isn't the sexiest design on the market, but its double-diameter expansion, deep penetration, and 96- to 97-percent weight retention were everything I was looking for in a bullet back when I started my international hunting career.
The new Tipped Trophy Bonded delivers that same double-diameter expansion and bone-crushing penetration in a sleeker, more aerodynamic design. The tipped bullet is more accurate and has much better long-range flight characteristics than the old design. Federal gave up a bit of weight retention, but the latest iteration's 93- to 94-percent weight retention has been more than enough to drive the new bullet right through most of the many kudu, gemsbok, and elk I've taken with it.
Their combination of accuracy, deep penetration, and controlled expansion are why super-premium bullets, such as the TSX and the Tipped Trophy Bonded, are my first choice for the majority of my big-game hunts.
Whether you seek match-winning accuracy, explosive expansion, deep penetration, or some combination of the above, you can count on predictable, premium bullets to deliver the goods.