When it comes to your success as a hunter, what you’re shooting plays a major role. Ammo comes in quite a few calibers and grains, and each of those factors can make a big difference in shooting accurately and taking down the game you’re hunting in one shot.
In recent years, the trend has been for bigger bullets. Although there are valid arguments for using bigger bullets when you hunt, that doesn’t mean those are always the best choice. Here’s what you need to know about the latest bullets on the market and how you can choose the right ammo to fit your needs.
Big Bullets Have Become a Big Deal
2017 has seen the release of quite a few new hunting rounds, and several of them are on the large side. In 2016, Norma released a 6.5 Creedmoor hunting round weighing 130 grain and clocking in at 2,789 feet per second (FPS). It outdid itself this year with a match-grade round that also weighs 130 grain while traveling at 2,851 FPS. The 6.5 Creedmoor is intended for long-range accuracy and stopping power, as it remains effective past 1,200 yards.
Federal Premium introduced its Edge TLR, and it’s available in several calibers, including .300 Win Mag, which weighs 200 grain. The .300 Win Mag rounds can be effective at up to 1,500 yards, depending on conditions, and are able to take down medium to large game at that range.
Winchester also has different calibers available in its aptly named Big Game Long Range ammo, including the 6.5 Creedmoor weighing 142 grain and .300 Win Mag weighing 190 grain.
The fascination with these larger rounds is interesting when you look at how military preferences have changed over the years. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the U.S. military always wanted the biggest, baddest cartridges. There was the .30/40 used by the Army, and then the enormous .45/70.
The Spanish-American War changed how the U.S. military saw ammunition. During the war, Spanish troops had success with their lighter, faster rounds. This resulted in the creation of the .30/06, which used smaller bullets and shot them much faster. It became popular with the military, and later on, it became one of the most popular choices for hunters.
Now, the pendulum has swung back towards those larger rounds, especially as long-range shooting and hunting has become more popular. The massive online ammo industry doesn’t hurt, either. Online ammo sales are big business, as you can find the best prices on just about any round you want when you shop online. Some of those rounds still get expensive, but you have a huge selection and you can at least take advantage of all the deals available.
The million-dollar question is whether those larger rounds will do a better job for hunters.
The Reasoning in Favor of Larger Rounds for Hunting
For those who swear by bigger bullets when hunting game, the two most popular reasons are because the round will penetrate deeper into what it hits and because it won’t ruin nearly as much meat when it hits the target. Both are especially important when you’re going after big game.
The argument on penetration is that a lighter bullet traveling over 3,000 FPS could fragment just about the moment it hits the target. A round that’s a bit heavier and travels a couple hundred FPS slower will often stay intact better, allowing it to go deeper. Another factor that causes deeper penetration is the greater momentum that a heavier round can build compared to a lighter bullet. Since you need penetration and bullet expansion to take out game in one shot, a bigger bullet may be more likely to kill what you shoot.
You also need to consider what that fragmentation of lighter bullets will do to the game you kill. As a lighter bullet fragments, it leads to substantial bloodshot meat, whereas a heavier bullet typically punches a small hole at the point of impact. This is less of a concern if you’re hunting strictly for trophies, but if you plan to eat what you kill, you obviously want as little of it ruined as possible. In that regard, a heavier round is a much better choice.
It’s Not All About Getting a Bigger Bullet
So, bigger bullets definitely have their merits. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go big with your next rifle.
If you’re planning to shoot anything that’s more than about 300 to 400 yards away, you’ll need to consider the muzzle velocity of the round. A super-speed cartridge will make it easier to shoot accurately at those long ranges. However, if the cartridge is too light, wind drift could become more of a factor, and it may not sustain its velocity. For that reason, you may want to consider ammunition in your desired caliber that’s a bit heavier.
The design of the bullet also determines how effective it is. If it doesn’t have an aerodynamic design, it won’t work well at long range. When a bullet is streamlined, it’s able to maintain its velocity better.
Don’t forget about the recoil, either. Even though you can manage this, it’s still a factor when you’re picking a round. Those heavier rounds typically have far more recoil, which can make it more difficult to shoot accurately and leave you with a sore shoulder halfway into your hunting trip. It’s exciting to shoot those large rounds from time to time, but it’s not so exciting when you get home and can barely move your arm.
One final item to consider with bullet weights is that it’s better to stick to one grain instead of switching it up depending on the situation. When you have a rifle sighted-in with, for example, 142-grain bullets, switching to 160-grain bullets can lead to accuracy issues. It obviously won’t be a massive difference, but from hundreds of yards away, you could end up with your shot being a few inches off, and that may be the difference between a clean kill and missing your target.
Finding the Right Bullets
If you already have your hunting rifle of choice, you’ll probably want to stick with that caliber, making your ammo choices more limited. Let’s say you’re starting from scratch, though, and you’re trying to decide on the best ammo before you commit to anything.
It’s good to take your time when choosing a rifle caliber and consider what you really need. Many new hunters want a bigger bullet because they think it will be deadlier, but in the real world, it’s much more complicated than that.
A .300 Win Mag round would be great if you want to take down an elk or even a deer at 300 yards or farther away, but it would be far more than you need if you’re mainly hunting at short range or going after smaller game. You may end up with a ton of bloodshot meat and a higher ammo bill than necessary. On the other hand, even the best shot placement probably wouldn’t be enough if you were going after a bear with a small round, such as .223 Remington.
There are times when bigger bullets are the way to go, and they can be a lot of fun to shoot. Just make sure that you’re not only going for a bigger bullet because you’ve bought into the hype surrounding them, as bullet size isn’t the only thing that matters for hunting.