The world of hunting ammunition sees interesting additions every year, and 2006 is no exception. Riflemen will find a new cartridge from Federal, some exciting hightech loads for lever guns from Hornady and an increased selection of premium bullet loads for existing calibers.
Handgun hunters have a new cartridge, too, as well as a wider bullet selection for established rounds. The “heavy-metal revolution” continues for waterfowlers and turkey hunters, while deer hunters who opt for shotguns (whether by choice or regulation) will see a number of high-performance 20-gauge slugs making an appearance. Here’s a look at the cream of this year’s new loads.
CENTERFIRE RIFLE AMMO
.338 FEDERAL Introduced in 1958, the .338 Winchester Magnum bridged the gap between the .30-caliber magnums and the .375 H&H. With 200-grain loads, it provided a flat-shooting round for plains game, while bullets with 225- and 250-grain weights gave it the punch and penetration needed on larger animals. Some considered it the perfect all-around big-game caliber, but the drawback was its magnum recoil.
That prompted wildcatters to neck up the .30/06 case to handle .338-caliber bullets. Field performance suffered little and recoil was noticeably reduced. But the round never caught the attention of ammo makers and languished in obscurity as a wildcat.
Federal hopes to change that this year with the introduction of the new .338 Federal. This is the first proprietary cartridge to carry the Federal name. It’s a .308 case necked up to accept .338-caliber bullets. Although it has less powder capacity than a .30/06 case, modern propellants allow it to virtually duplicate the velocities of the .338/06, and from a short-action case that is a perfect match for today’s lighter, more compact, rifles.
Federal will introduce three loads for the new cartridge in 2006 that should cover a significant portion of its potential. The 180-grain Nosler AccuBond (2,830 fps) provides a flat-shooting open-country load for deer-size game. The 185-grain Barnes Triple-Shock (2,750 fps) should be a good general-purpose load for animals in the mule deer/elk/caribou range, while the 210-grain Nosler Partition offering provides increased penetration.
The cartridge was developed in conjunction with Sako, but many other gunmakers will assuredly follow. And with a major ammo maker behind it–combined with SAAMI specs and a selection of premium bullets–the .338 Federal has great potential for success.
TERMINAL PERFORMANCE While new cartridges are interesting, it’s the bullet that does the job. The rifle-cartridge combo is only the vehicle that launches it. If the bullet is too frangible to penetrate to the vitals or too stoutly constructed to expand, it will perform poorly, irrespective of gun and cartridge. A quality bullet in a .243 Win. can bring home a lot of game. A poor bullet in a .300 Magnum is just that: poor.
This hasn’t been lost on savvy hunters or ammo makers, and the biggest trend in hunting ammunition in recent years has been the incorporation of independently manufactured, premium-grade bullets–previously available only to reloaders–into the product lines of the major ammo makers. Nosler was one of the first to offer them, and this year two Barnes bullets enter the lineup.
The Barnes Triple-Shock X (TSX), a 100 percent copper bullet, has been around long enough to earn an impressive reputation in the field for its ability to penetrate and expand on both thinskinned and heavy game. Typically, it expands to double the caliber diameter and retains virtually all of its weight.
Federal, which only recently introduced the TSX in select calibers within its Premium Vital-Shok line, is now expanding its TSX offerings, with an 85-grain bullet in .243 Win., a 165-grain bullet in .308 Win., .30/06, .300 Win. Mag. and 300 WSM and a 180-grain bullet in .300 Wby., 300 H&H and 300 RUM. Big-bore fans get the TSX under the Premium Cape-Shok label with the addition of a 300-grain bullet in .375 H&H, a 400-grain bullet in .416 Rigby and .416 Rem. and a 500-grain slug in .458 Win. Mag.
Cor-Bon will introduce the TSX in its new DPX Hunter line of rifle ammunition, too. The calibers, followed by grain weights, are .243 Win. (85 gr.), .25/06 (100 gr.), .270 Win., .270 WSM and .270 Wby. (130 gr.), .280 Rem. (140 gr.), 7mm RUM and 7mm Rem. Mag. (160 gr.), .30 Carbine (100 gr.), .308 Win. (130 and 168 gr.), .30/06 (168 gr.), .300 Win. Mag., 300 WSM and .300 RUM (180 gr.) and .480 Ruger (275 gr.).
The Barnes Maximum Range X-Bullet (MRX) is a new design and a departure from Barnes’s traditional all-copper construction. The boattail slug features a Delrin tip and a rear core made from a nontoxic tungsten-based material called Silvex, creating a high ballistic coefficient for a flat trajectory and maximum retained energy at longer ranges. It’s also built to expand up to double the caliber diameter and retain virtually 100 percent of its weight. Federal will offer the MRX in its Premium Vital-Shok line, with 180-grain loads in .30/06, .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag. and .300 WSM.
Winchester engineers have also been busy. They designed the company’s new XP3 bullet to expand quickly on thin-skinned game yet maintain bullet integrity and weight to assure penetration on tougher game, such as elk, moose, bear and African animals.
The new bullet has a copper jacket and copper front half and is topped by a polymer tip to give it a high ballistic coefficient and uniform expansion. The rear portion is a bonded lead core that is locked to the jacket to produce virtually 100 percent weight retention. The bullet is coated with Winchester’s proprietary Lubalox coating.
The XP3 will be available in the equally new Winchester Supreme Elite brand. Winchester is loading a 150-grain bullet in .308 Win., 150- and 180-grain bullets in .30/06, .300 WSM and .300 Win. Mag., a 160-grain bullet in 7mm Rem. Mag. and 7mm WSM, and a 150-grain XP3 in .270 Win. and 270 WSM. (For more about the XP3, see “As Good as It Gets” on page 68.)
LOADS FOR LEVER GUNS Lever-action rifles with tubular magazines are popular hunting tools, but the loads they require suffer from a major ballistic ill–the bullet must have a flat or blunt point so it doesn’t set off the primer of the round ahead of it in the magazine. Blunt-tipped bullets have a poor ballistic coefficient that robs them of downrange velocity, power and accuracy. Hornady’s new Lever Evolution loads change that.
The new Evolution bullet achieves a ballistically efficient profile with an elastomer tip that is too soft to ignite a primer yet delivers the performance of a polymer-tipped bullet. New powders also allow these bullets to achieve a modest velocity increase over traditional lever-gun loads. The Lever Evolution will be available in .30-30 Win., .35 Rem., .444 Marlin, .45-70 Govt. and .450 Marlin. Hornady says its testing has proven the bullets are safe to use in all tubular magazine guns. These bullets’ improved ballistics will also make them a top choice in single-shot rifles and pistols that use these rounds.
Remington is also expanding its Managed-Recoil line with a new load in .30-30 Win. Remington is hoping its 125-grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet, which it says delivers half the recoil of a standard .30-30 Win. round, will appeal to youngsters and first-time shooters.
A NEW .500 The 2004 introduction of the .500 S&W in the massive X-Frame double-action revolver met with more success than even Smith &Wesson had anticipated. It clearly showed that handgun hunters appreciate big bullets. Freedom Arms is betting that hunters will also appreciate bullets that come in a more compact package.
The new .500 Wyoming Express (.500 WE) uses the same bullet as the .500 S&W, but in a smaller, belted case that allows it to fit Freedom Arms’ existing Model 83 single-action revolver. From a 7.5-inch barrel, the .500 WE can launch a 440-grain hard-cast .50-caliber slug at 1,400 fps, 370- to 400-grain lead loads at 1,550 fps and the Hornady 350-grain XTP at 1,600 fps. That’s about 85 percent of the power produced by the .500 S&W–more than enough for virtually any game suitable for handguns. And it’s available in a trim single-action design.
Brass, loading dies and load data are available from Freedom Arms, and loaded rounds are marketed by the Grizzly Cartridge Co. (503-556-3006; grizzlycartridge.com).
Hornady is adding to the stable of .500 S&W loads with its 300-grain Evolution bullet, which uses the same soft elastomer-tipped bullet technology as its new line of Lever Evolution rifle offerings. Its jacketed bullet exits the muzzle at 2,050 fps, making it one of the fastest loads on the market for the caliber and an excellent choice for deersize game.
UPGRADES FOR OLD FAVORITES The all-copper Barnes X-Bullet works as well in handguns as it does in rifles, and after taking close to a dozen deer and wild hogs with the slug in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and the .460 S&W, I’ve really been impressed with its penetration and expansion. In 2006, Federal is adding the X-Bullet to its premium Vital-Shok handgun line. Offerings will include 140 grains in .357 Mag., 180 grains in .41 Mag., 225 grains in .44 Mag., 250 grains in .454 Casull and 275 grains in .480 Ruger and .500 S&W.
Those looking for a softer-shooting .44 Magnum load will find it in Buffalo Bore’s new Low Recoil .44 Mag, an almost perfect re-creation of the heavy .44 Special load that Elmer Keith developed over a half century ago. It launches a 255-grain hard-cast Keith-style semiwadcutter at 1,300 fps. Pressures are well below those of full-power .44 Magnum loads, and recoil is reduced. Yet, as Keith proved, that hard-cast bullet is quite capable of busting the brain or spine of an attacking animal or punching through both shoulders of a deer.
NEW NONTOXICS Remington has revamped its high-density offerings with a replacement for Hevi-Shot called Wingmaster HD. Also gone are the odd-looking lumps that characterized Hevi-Shot–this new tungsten/brass shot features uniform pellets. The benefit is that its shot charge will fly with more consistent velocity, producing better downrange patterns. Wingmaster HD will be available in 10-, 12- and 20-gauge shells in shot sizes from No. 6 to BBs.
Federal’s Ultra-Shok High Density waterfowl load was well received upon its introduction in 2005. This year the company will expand its offerings: A new 10-gauge, 3½-inch shell throws a 1 5/8-ounce load of BBs or No. 2s at 1,400 fps. Two 12-gauge offerings loaded with No. 4s–a 3½-inch shell with a 1 5/8-ounce load and a 3-inch shell with a 1 3/8-ounce load–propel their shot at 1,450 fps. And a new 20-gauge, 3-inch shell with No. 2s or No. 4s hits 1,350 fps.
Winchester’s heavy-metal offering is the Hi-Density pellet, first introduced as a turkey load and now approved by the USFWS for waterfowl. The denser-than-lead shot, loaded in the Xtended Range Turkey line, will appear in both 3- and 3½-inch 12-gauge versions this year with No. 4s.
For waterfowl, Winchester is introducing Xtended Range Hi-Density 3-inch shells for 20-gauge and 2¾- and 3-inch shells for 12-gauge. All will be offered with No. 4 and No. 2 shot; the 12-gauge will also come with B shot.
Turkey hunters might want to check out the new Federal Mag-Shok Heavyweight Flitecontrol No. 7 loads. Federal claims the Heavyweight No. 7 shot has the same impact energy at 40 yards as No. 5 lead shot (a favorite of savvy hunters). Plus, the increased pellet count produces tighter patterns and puts more pellets on target.
DOWNSIZED SHOTGUN SLUGS These days, shotguns are required for deer hunting in many locations, and hunters have learned that you don’t always need a 10- or 12-gauge to harvest a deer. A ¾-ounce 20-gauge Foster slug at 1,800 fps produces over 2,300 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, almost equaling a 300-grain .45-70 load and beating virtually all .30-30 loads. And no one sneers at those as 100-yard deer loads.
Add sabot loads with high-tech bullets, and the 20-gauge gets even better. Not only is a 20-gauge gun lighter and faster than a 10- or 12-gauge, but it produces noticeably less recoil.
This year, Winchester will introduce a Supreme 3-inch sabot load that launches a 260-grain Partition Gold slug for rifled barrel guns at 2,000 fps.
Federal introduces a 2¾-inch load with a 5/8-ounce (275 grains) Barnes Expander sabot slug that reaches 1,600 fps, for use in rifled barrels.
Hornady is bringing out a 20-gauge version of its popular SST slug, also for rifled barrels. It uses a sabot-loaded, .45-caliber, 250-grain polymer-tipped SST-ML bullet that achieves 1,850 fps.
For those who find a 20-gauge’s recoil objectionable, Remington is adding a 20-gauge Managed-Recoil version to its Buckhammer line. Recommended for rifled barrels, the 7/8-ounce (385 grain) slug leaves the barrel at 1,275 fps and will provide deer-dropping power to the 100-yard mark.
BARNES MRX: This bullet (left) is a new design for Barnes. A polymer tip and boattail profile should make it a flat shooter, while the nontoxic tungsten-based core gives it knockdown oomph.
WINCHESTER XP3: If there is a one-bullet-does-it-all projectile out there, the XP3 (center) may be it. The bonded XP3 expands easily on deer-size game, yet it will penetrate and hold together on larger animals.
.338 FEDERAL: This cartridge (right), the first to carry the Federal name, is a .308 necked up to take a .338 bullet. It promises to be very accurate.
BUFFALO BORE: With a 225 gr. hard-cast bullet, this low-recoil .44 Mag. (left) duplicates the specs of Elmer Keith’s original .44 Special.
GRIZZLY CARTRIDGE CO.: The .500 WE (center) is the newest half-inch cartridge on the market.
HORNADY: Using a 300-grain Evolution bullet, this new load (right) expands Hornady’s .500 S&W line.
NEW FOR LEVER GUNS
REMINGTON MANAGED-RECOIL: The latest addition to Remington’s stable of reduced-recoil cartridges is a 125-grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet in .30-30 Win.
HORNADY LEVER EVOLUTION: These cartridges with their Spitzer-style bullets add another 50 yards (or more) to the range of your lever gun. Available in .30-30 Win., .35 Rem., .444 Marlin, .45-70 and .450 Marlin.
HORNADY 20-GAUGE SST: Deer hunters are learning that 20-gauge slugs provide more than enough killing power for deer at 100 yards. These slugs from Hornady use 250-grain .45-caliber sabotencased bullets.
FEDERAL MAG-SHOK: Loaded with heavier-than-lead No. 7 shot, this shell is designed for turkey hunters.
WINCHESTER: Waterfowlers will have the choice of No. 4, 2 or B shot with the new 12-gauge Xtended Range shells from Winchester.