Sure Shots

Getting loaded for the fall.

Stroll down the ammo aisle of any major sporting-goods store and one word should come to mind: abundance. While we’re blessed with more caliber options, bullet types, and specific loads than ever before, we’re now burdened with the conundrum of what to buy. Fret not. If you follow these basic steps and spend proper time at the range, a freezer full of quality nutrition is a simple trigger-squeeze away.

You’ll notice this rundown is devoid of specific caliber considerations. Volumes have been written and friendships have been lost arguing the merits of a given caliber over another; here, we’ll stick to some under-covered ammo considerations. For rifle calibers and shotgun gauges, consult your local gun shop or favorite hunting website. (Or search the web for “best elk-hunting round” until you’re more confused than when you started.)

At the risk of sounding overly commercial, I recommend that you shoot the ammo loaded and developed by the company that made your rifle. Several of the major hunting-rifle companies also manufacture shells tailor-made for their specific guns, as they have a serious financial stake in the performance of their rifles. Steer clear of bargain or discount bulk ammo for hunting. These rounds may be fine for the range, but when it comes to game-dropping capabilities, stick with trusted name-brands. 

Hand-Loaded vs. Manufactured
Unless you’ve spent several years and hundreds of rounds on perfecting the ideal hand-load for your rifle, don’t assume a few hours in the workshop will produce the best hunting round. If a buddy or neighbor has loaded up what they consider to be an ideal round for your gun, be skeptical. Take the rounds to the range and see if they punch through the pages of the thickest phonebook you can find. Also, be cautious of “hot” loads; if hand-loading directions are not followed to the letter, some of these rounds cannot only damage a rifle, they can be deadly. 

Foreign vs. Domestic
It isn’t hard to find ammo at a bargain price. However, these rounds are used mainly for range purposes, or as practice. Most, if not all, of these “bargain” loads are mass-produced; the brass can be weak and the primers less than reliable. When it comes to down-range, game-dropping performance, stick with U.S. manufacturers. 

Everybody is looking to save a hard-earned buck. When it comes to hunting rounds, it’s more than acceptable to spend the few extra dollars on a proven round—which, when placed correctly, will drop one’s intended game. A five-dollar hike in ammo price could be the difference between a full freezer and a day spent tracking a wounded critter over rough country. You’ve likely spent over budget on other gear; don’t skimp when it comes to the kill shot. Again, if any doubt or questions arise, don’t hesitate to consult a gunsmithing professional.

Copper Kings

Lead-bullet fragments left behind in harvested game are killing bald and golden eagles and are poisonous to hunters and their families. Lead bullets shed as much as 30% of their mass as they pass through wild game. There is no “cutting around it” by trimming the visible wound channel or picking it out shard by shard. These pepper-flake-sized fragments can end up as far as 20 inches from the wound channel. Fragments that I sure don’t want to risk feeding to my family and you probably don’t either.

Thankfully, copper bullets eliminate this risk. They come in a wide variety of calibers suitable for harvesting everything from varmints to bison and maintain more than 95% of their mass. Copper ammo is safe and affordable and is no longer a small niche in the commercial ammunition market. I find that the performance of copper is indistinguishable from my old lead ammo. It may even be better.

Buying a new rifle? Look at the online ballistics charts and find three or four copper-ammo choices that pair nicely with your rifle and intended quarry. Every gun will perform differently, be it with copper or lead spiraling out of the barrel, so expect a little trial-and-error before you settle on the tack-driving rifle/ammo combo that will fill your freezer. 

Don’t see the copper ammo you seek on local sporting goods store shelves? Let the manager know. If enough people ask, we’ll see a steady progression of non-toxic alternatives into the mainstream over the next five years. In the meantime, order online. 

For more info on lead-free hunting visit—John Cataldo