Santa Hog approves!
You know, for all this politicized discussion of the lead ammo issue, I almost missed another (and entirely relevant at this time of year) aspect of the discussion. Every hunter can use a little more ammo, and this could be the perfect opportunity to get a little lead-free stuff and try it out. Stuff a box of bullets in that stocking, or wrap it up and set it under the tree, and someone will have a big smile on Christmas morning.
“But,” you may ask, “which ammo should I give?”
The first answer I would offer is, “which ammo is the hunter using now?”
With centerfire rifles, it’s important to understand that all ammo doesn’t perform the same. Even when you’re shooting the same bullet weight, different brands and bullet materials can have a significant effect on your accuracy. To make it even more confusing, ammo that shoots great in one rifle may not shoot well at all in another rifle. So if your hunter is already really happy with a particular cartridge, then it’s usually best not to change things up.
But say your hunter is shooting lead ammo and wants to try non-lead… or if you’d like your hunter to switch… what do you do? The ideal solution is to buy a selection of different brands and bullet weights so that the hunter can try them out to see what shoots best. This can be a pricey proposition, but heck… it’s Christmas! Besides, this is what it takes to make the best decision about a new cartridge.
So what are the options?
If you’ve followed the Hog Blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been partial to the Winchester/Nosler ETip for my 30-06. This is my go-to, hunt everything rifle and I’ve found the 180gr bullet works like a charm on everything from ground squirrels (OK, it’s a little much for ground squirrels, but it’s accurate enough to whack them neatly) to big boars. For the deer hunter, I’ve shot axis deer, blackbuck, and blacktail deer and found the bullet performs nicely every time. It delivers good terminal performance, and in my opinion (based purely on my own experience), it has an edge over the Barnes TSX on the thin-skinned game.
I’ve also recommended the ETip to several people who have asked for suggestions, and the concensus is quite positive. It’s a really good option for hunters whose rifles don’t seem to like the Barnes bullets (for example, Kat’s Browning A-bolt .270 simply won’t shoot them well at all… something I hear a lot from .270 owners).
That’s not all to knock the Barnes, by the way. Barnes has made a premium copper bullet for more than two decades now, and they keep finding ways to make it better. These are the only non-lead option currently available for my .325wsm, and I have shot a bunch of hogs with them, as well as a pretty hefty oryx. They work as advertised, and my handloaded rounds for the .325 are about as accurate as anything you could ask for. There are factory-loaded options from several manufacturers, including Federal, Black Hills, Cor-Bon, and now directly from Barnes in their new Vor-TX loads.
The thing about the Barnes is that they probably offer the widest selection of calibers and bullet weights of any non-lead bullet manufacturer. While the rest of the industry is still catching up, Barnes has covered the market from centerfire rifles to handguns to muzzleloader bullets. If your hunter shoots something that is a little less common, this is probably the option you’ll have to look at. Fortunately, they’re great bullets and they do perform very well in most implementations.
I’ve used the ETips and Barnes TSX bullets pretty extensively, and my recommendations are informed by my own experience, as well as the experiences of hunters I’ve accompanied in the field (both as a guide and as a companion). I’ve also receieved a fair body of feedback from other hunters in regards to their own experiences, positive and a few negative. There are a couple of other quality options that you might look at as well.
I’ve had a little pile of the Hornady GMX bullets loaded up for that finicky .270, but I haven’t had the opportunity to hunt with them, or to shoot them much. They do seem to be fairly accurate, but the rifle I was testing them in, a Remington 710, simply isn’t up to the challenge. I need to load them in Kat’s Browning at some point and get a better idea of how they perform. I also need to hunt with them a bit, and see how they perform on game. I’ve heard a lot of good and a little bad about this bullet, but as always, I prefer to base my recommendations (or vice versa) on my own, first-hand experience. Hornady also offers the NTX bullet for varmint hunters who need more significant expansion.
A bullet I’ve had some experience with, but still want to experience on game, is the new Winchester Power-Core 95/5. I had a chance to experiment a bit with this cartridge earlier in the summer, but I had several complications, including a bad batch of ammo that had to be returned to Winchester. They sent several new boxes, but I simply haven’t had the chance to get out and hunt with them. The Power Core is Winchester’s effort to provide a more economical lead-free alternative. One of the biggest complaints about lead-free ammo is the high cost, with some magnum or non-standard calibers running as high as $65 to $80 a box. Even the common calibers, such as 30-06 and .270 can cost $45 or more for a box of 20. The Power Core ammo runs from about $25 to $40 a box.
Finally, for hunters using the .308, Winchester’s new Razorback is the first round specifically designed for hog hunting. I got to experience this round first hand down in Georgia back in October, and it definitely appeared to work as advertised. I’d prefer to have a little more experience with this round before I give it any sort of glowing recommendation, but my biggest concern was less to do with the bullet performance, and more to do with the choice of caliber and bullet size. However, what I did see convinced me that the bullet design is sound, and I think it would serve well for most big game animals… not just hogs. For example, in a heftier caliber (30-06 or .300) this bullet should perform very well on elk.
As you can see, there are a lot of options. If your hunter has never tried lead-free ammo, and you have the wherewithal, load that stocking up with a little of everything. After it’s all gone, and a favorite is selected, make sure and drop us a note here at the blog to let us know what worked, and what didn’t. It’ll give me something to write about next Christmas.