Bullets for Deer Hunting with the Savage 10ML-II

By Randy Wakeman

October 2004 brought us to 10,000 acres of whitetail hunting in coastal Carolina, near Pinetown, North Carolina--an area that Henry Ball lovingly refers to as his ballistic laboratory. With the huge number of deer taken over the last fourteen years, it is easy to understand why.

Some fifty deer were taken by our group and local friends, including harvests from such outstanding hunters and marksmen as Kyle Schearer, Shorty Sizemore, Staton Harddinson, Kevin Moore, and Bill Ball. The Savage 10ML-II was originally designed around the 300 grain Hornady XTP, which has given good field performance in this area for over the last decade. In fact, the longest muzzleloading kill in this area belongs to Shorty Sizemore, bagging his animal at an amazing 327 yards.

The .452 Hornady XTP bullets with short MMP black sabots shined in the field again this year, with kills at ranges from 3 to 225 yards. The 250 grainers generally stayed in the animal, retaining weight from approximately 220 to 235 grains, no core separation, and exhibiting excellent expansion. The 300 grain XTP bullets also gave large entrance and huge exit wounds, blowing through the animals in all cases.

The .40/50 260 grain PR Bullet Dead Centers showed excellent game-dropping ability, and rarely exited. In fact, the bullets have not exited from five of the last six animals that I've taken with Dead Centers.

Also pure lead are the 325 and 375 grain .45/50 Buffalo SSBs. These come with MMP's current formulation sabots and have been terrific muzzleloading game getters.

As far as I'm concerned, all of the bullets mentioned above are great choices for whitetail in the 10ML-II. The powder used by our group was Accurate Arms 5744, without exception, and it performed consistently and beautifully.

Always looking for something better, the Hornady SST 300 grain bullets were given a good test, and performed dismally. When a Hornady XTP bullet impacted, deer ran from zero to thirty-five yards. Animals hit with 300 grain SST bullets ran 80, 90, up to 125 yards. Sadly, some became buzzard bait.

Of the recovered deer, even those hit with well placed double shoulder shots, the 300 grain SST bullets showed no significant expansion in or out of the animals. One remained inside the animal, and Staton Harddinson, in the resulting autopsy, thoroughly covered his animal from the nose to the toes. Only a thin sliver of jacket material was recovered.

Not enough field testing was done with the 250 SST's to pinpoint any trend, but the consensus was clearly that the 300 grain SST projectiles are a poor choice on these eighty to one hundred ninety pound whitetails.

The pines are so thick in this area that the notion of "throw a bullet into a pie plate" on a deer is the recipe for disaster. The high shoulder anchoring shot is the bullet placement of choice, and whacking them into this ashtray-sized area proved to be the ideal shot.

With briars too thick to walk through that will tear the vest off your back, and thickets full of ticks, chiggers, snakes, and quicksand in some areas, a quick drop is essential. Given the lousy performance of the Hornady SSTs, it was only the sterling performance of Kyle's wonder dog, Trip, who made recovery possible for deer that managed to run 40 yards or so into the thick stuff. Trip is a talented Feist, who loves finding deer. His sole personality flaw is the peculiar delight he takes in ruthlessly removing the naughty bits from every buck he finds.

In the waning minutes of the muzzleloading season, my seventy-six years young father shot a doe at a laser verified 225 yards with 45 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 pushing a 250 grain, .452 Hornady XTP. My father had never so much as shot an inline muzzleloader before this week, though he has been hunting for over sixty-five years. The doe high-tailed about twenty yards into the line of pines, then suddenly slowed to the speed of a tortoise with rigor mortis, dropping dead on the spot. A storybook finale to a terrific week of muzzleloading, with some of the finest gentlemen I've ever had the privilege of hunting with.

As a whitetail harvesting tool under these long-range, instant drop muzzleloading conditions, I can't think of a better combination than a Savage 10ML-II, 5744 powder, and an XTP or Dead Center bullet with an MMP black sabot.

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Copyright 2004, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.