Recommended Hunting Bullets
By Chuck Hawks
Having written several articles about hunting bullets in the past, perhaps this could be considered the most basic in a series on the subject. In this case, I am simply going to list proven bullets that are available in factory loads and to reloaders. These bullets are established game getters. Note that some bullets, such as the Nosler Partition, are offered in many brands of factory loaded ammunition, as well as to reloaders by their manufacturer. For the sake of brevity, such bullets are listed under their manufacturer's name only (Nosler in the case of this example) and not under each brand of ammunition that uses them.
Naturally, any bullet must be in a caliber and weight appropriate to the game hunted. Take, for example, the popular Remington Core-Lokt bullet, which is available in numerous calibers and bullet weights for a wide variety of game animals. A 100 grain .243 Core-Lokt would be an appropriate choice for hunting whitetail deer, but not for hunting Roosevelt elk. For elk, the 180 grain .30 caliber Core-Lokt would be a much more appropriate choice. Similarly, the versatile Nosler Partition bullet is a perfectly reasonable choice for CXP2 deer in .257 Roberts, for CXP3 elk in 7mm Magnum and for CXP4 bison in .416 Rigby.
Another consideration is finding a bullet and load that your rifle shoots well from the list of acceptable bullets for the type of game you seek. This requires testing the likely candidates at the rifle range from a bench rest at a distance of 100 yards or longer. Use sandbags or a commercial rifle rest like a Lead Sled to eliminate as much shooter error as possible and the results should tell you what bullet your rifle prefers. Once you determine the preferred bullet and load for your rifle, stick with it. After your rifle/scope is zeroed, other bullets, even of the same weight, are unlikely to shoot to the same point of impact.
Finally, there are many bullets offered to hunters that are not listed below. If a bullet is not listed here, follow the manufacturer's recommendations, as I do not have adequate experience with it. The bullets listed below are the ones I would choose to hunt animals in the specified categories that follow.
Bullets for Varmints (CXP1)
Varmints are small pests and include such species as gophers, rats, groundhogs, rock chucks, ground squirrels, jack rabbits and other rodents that devour crops and even gardens. They are best hunted with frangible bullets that are not prone to ricochet and are safe for use in semi-populated areas, where varmints are often hunted. Frangible bullets also provide the quickest kills on small animals. The Sierra BlitzKing and Hornady V-Max are popular examples of such bullets. The same bullets recommended for varmints are also recommended for the small predators, especially coyotes, which prey on them.
Bullets for Medium Game (CXP2 )
CXP2 game includes such species as deer, antelope, goats, sheep, cougar, caribou, feral hogs, black bear and other thin-skinned game ranging from about 50-350 pounds live weight. Frangible varmint bullets should never be used on CXP2 game. In most cases, a conventional soft point bullet is the best medicine and will out perform more expensive premium bullets. Bullets that expand rapidly and destroy a lot of heart/lung tissue usually deliver the quickest kills on deer size game, particularly at longer ranges.
Penetration must be sufficient for the bullet to get into the vitals, of course, but from there on a wide wound cavity is the ticket. A bullet that spews fragments in the middle of the chest and stops under the skin on the far side has delivered what I consider ideal performance for achieving the quickest kills of medium size animals. The Winchester Power Point, Sierra Pro-Hunter and Speer Hot-Cor are classic soft point bullets. Plastic tipped, lead core bullets, such as the Nosler Ballistic Tip, Remington AccuTip and Hornady SST have also proven very effective on CXP2 game.
All-around Bullets for CXP2 and CXP3 game
Combination hunts, such as for mule deer, black bear and Rocky Mountain elk or general African plains game, place multiple demands on bullets. "Hard" bullets intended for CP3 game may not achieve quick kills on CXP2 animals and "soft" bullets intended for medium size game are iffy on raking shots at CXP3 animals. (Raking shots are best avoided in any case!) These bullets that follow expand rapidly enough to be reliable on CXP2 game and yet typically retain a substantial percentage of core for deep penetration after expansion. Some of them therefore appear on both the CXP2 and CXP3 lists. The Nosler Partition, Hornady InterLock and Remington Core-Lokt are classic examples of proven, all-around bullets.
Bullets for Large Game (CXP3)
CXP3 game includes such species as red stag, elk, moose, kudu, eland, oryx and other large, thin-skinned game weighing in excess of 350 pounds live weight. The bullets listed in the CXP2 category can be deadly if driven directly into the heart/lung area of game like red stag and elk, but may not remain intact if they hit heavy bones. Greater penetration is generally preferred for large animals and premium bullets, often constructed with lead cores bonded to gilding metal jackets or partitioned cores, are quite popular. The Nosler Partition is the original American premium bullet and it remains a favorite of experienced hunters around the world.
Bullets for Dangerous Predators
Many of the bullets listed for CXP3 game would also be among my choices for hunting large, potentially dangerous predators, such as wild boar, leopard, jaguar, lion, grizzly bear, brown bear and polar bear. The following bullets are well regarded for this demanding hunting in calibers from .30-06 on up. The polar and Alaskan brown bears are the world's largest predators. Medium bore rifles (.338-.375 caliber) and heavy bullets of high sectional density are preferred. I have been using the Swift A-Frame in .338 Mag. and .458 Mag., the Nosler Partition in .350 Mag., the Hornady SP-RP InterLock in 9.3x62 and the A-Square Dead Tough in 9.3x74R. All are good bullets.
The A-Square Lion Load is designed to penetrate and then fragment for maximum stopping power on charging big cats. It is a specialized bullet whose performance is quite different from the partitioned core and bonded core bullets (including the A-Square Dead Tough) that compose the bulk of this class and are more versatile.
Bullets for Thick-skinned, Dangerous Game (CXP4)
CXP4 animals are heavy, thick-skinned game and the 9.3mm or .375" calibers are considered the practical minimum, while the over .40 caliber big bores really come into their own. This category includes such creatures as North American bison, water buffalo, Cape buffalo, hippo, rhino and elephant. Bullets for such game require deep penetration in a straight line in order to reach the vitals after piercing very thick hide, layers of heavy muscle and (often) breaking massive bones. Expansion must be subordinated to penetration in such bullets.
CXP4 species can be quite dangerous and are the only category of game for which "solid" (non-expanding) round nose bullets are sometimes recommended, particularly for brain shots on hippo and elephant or to immobilize dangerous CXP4 animals by breaking both shoulders. Tough expanding bullets, such as the Dead Tough and Weldcore, are usually recommended for heart/lung shots. A homogenous bullet with limited expansion may be the best all-around choice for CXP4 game and the Barnes TSX has an excellent reputation in appropriate calibers.
Copyright 2010, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.