In the last issue, I reported on the performance of a custom .270 Winchester rifle, with three different handloaded bullets. They were the 130-grain Sierra GameKing, Nosler Partition, and Swift Scirocco II. Of the three, the Sierra performed best at the range, so that’s what I took hunting.
The first trip was to Kansas, to hunt whitetails; the second was a visit to the FTW Ranch in Texas, to hunt Persian red sheep. While in camp in Kansas, another hunter wanted to talk about “premium” game bullets, and whether they were worth the extra money. He uses a 7mm Remington Magnum, with factory Core-Lokt bullets, and has never found them wanting. Why pay more, he asked?
In talking with him, I realized that he didn’t really understand what a “premium” bullet was supposed to do. Simply put, a premium bullet is one that expands dependably, but holds together and penetrates to the vitals, even when it hits an animal at high velocity. It does not over-expand and fail to penetrate. And that’s it.
Premium bullets are not more accurate, and if accuracy is the only consideration, there are countless accurate hunting bullets around. The trick is combining accuracy with proper terminal performance, and premium-bullet makers have worked hard to improve their accuracy.
In my friend’s case, shooting a 7mm Remington Magnum on Kansas whitetails, almost any bullet between 120 and 150 grains would be fine as long as it hit the animal in the right place. The trick is using a bullet that is not too stout; if it is, it may behave like a military solid and zip on through, causing minimal tissue damage.
On the same trip, another friend took a 7mm Remington UltraMag with factory 160-grain Partitions. That is a load intended for moose, brown bears, and the like, but it was all he could find at the last minute. He made a heck of a running shot on a buck at 100 yards, and smacked it dead, but the exit hole looked just like the entry wound. There was apparently no expansion at all. Fortunately, he hit it well forward. A couple of inches back, and that buck could have kept going, apparently unhit, probably never to be found.
In my .270, I had the aforementioned 130-gr. Sierra GameKings at a muzzle velocity of 3140 feet per second. I shot two whitetails — a buck at 145 yards and a doe at 103. The buck dashed 50 yards and died, the doe went down where she stood. Both were almost instantly dead, and in both cases, the GameKing went in one side and out the other, obviously doing substantial damage along the way. It is not billed as a premium bullet, but no one could possibly criticize the penetration. Those whitetails are not big animals — 180 to 190 pounds, maybe — and not heavily constructed. For them, a conventional game bullet like the GameKing is ideal.
At the FTW Ranch two months later, I did some of their shooting courses, at distances out to 400 yards, and the .270 held its own nicely. I then went hunting and killed a Persian red ram at 328 yards. I doubt if the old boy weighed 125 pounds. The bullet angled in just behind the shoulder, out behind the ribs on the other side, the ram did its last dash, and that was it. Again, no possible argument with penetration.
The only reason to pay premium prices for premium game bullets, in smaller calibers at least, is to get better terminal performance with lighter, faster bullets on bigger, more stoutly constructed animals. You are not paying for better accuracy; there are many fine, accurate bullets. Nor are you paying for explosive expansion; there are lots of those, too, and that’s exactly the trait premium bullets are intended to prevent.
Since 1990, many “premium” game bullets have been introduced, some of which are no better than anything else. If anything, the concept of “premium” has been over-sold, and I plead guilty to being party to that. It now seems that a hunter who shows up in camp with anything except premium bullets is looked on as under-gunned.
For most of us, shooting most game with standard rifles like the .270, .30-06, or .308, conventional bullets like the Sierra GameKing, the Remington Core-Lokt, or a host of others, are more than adequate. In fact, for some uses, they are much better than a tough premium bullet. If your rifle shoots them well, you should make sure you have a good reason for taking something “premium” instead. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending more and, for your particular purpose, getting less.