by Wayne van Zwoll
When you aim a rifle at an elk, you want to be able to trust the ammo you send toward the vitals. Here are some loads that will give you the edge you need to bring your animal home.
Wayne van Zwoll has written the Rifles and Cartridges column in every edition of Bugle since 1986, and he’s considered one of the foremost experts on elk cartridges. Here he’s picked bullets and loads that excel in the field.
Bullet failure on a moose prompted John Nosler to design his own hunting bullet in 1948, with an expanding nose partitioned from the shank to ensure penetration. I’ve shot more elk with Nosler Partitions than with any other bullet. While retained weight doesn’t match that of bonded or all-copper bullets, the shank typically reaches far-side hide, even on quartering game. If the nose loses weight during upset, it’s typically in the vitals, where fragmentation increases tissue damage! Nosler first produced Partitions on screw machines; now they’re formed on presses that boost concentricity. They come in popular weights; but you can also get beefier bullets for higher sectional density, notably 160-grain .270 and 220-grain .308. (Sales of .270, 7mm, .308, 8mm and .338 Partitions & select Trophy Grade & E-Tip Ammo directly benefit RMEF.) Other bullet designs have followed, including lead-free E-Tips and brass-alloy Solids. The AccuBond impresses me on game like elk. It has the sleek form and fine accuracy of Nosler’s Ballistic Tip, with a bonded core that upsets reliably, drives deep and routinely retains almost all its weight. AB Long Range bullets boast very high ballistic coefficients but may require deep seating. Best accuracy can come from steeper-than-standard rifling. Nosler offers its bullets as components and in Trophy Grade ammunition. The company followed its Model 48 bolt-action rifle series with its own high-velocity cartridges. Recently the 27 Nosler joined the 22, 26, 28, 30 and 33 Nosler. The top-selling 28 and 30 launch 160- and 180-grain AccuBonds at 3,300 and 3,100 fps! Visit Nosler.com.
First produced in Italy 145 years ago, Fiocchi ammunition arrived stateside as shotgun loads and rimfire cartridges for rifle and pistol competition. Centerfire rifle ammo defined a Classic series featuring popular hunting and military rounds. The Hyperformance Hunt boasts Swift bonded Scirocco and Hornady SST bullets in useful weights for 10 top-selling big game cartridges, .243 to .300 Winchester Magnum. I’m sweet on the Scirocco for elk. It’s a strong, deep-driving bullet that routinely retains 90 percent of its weight. Pointed softpoints distinguish Fiocchi Field Dynamics ammo (though the .204, .223 and .22-250 feature V-Max bullets, the .30-30 uses flatnose softpoints and a frisky .45-70 load hurls 300-grain HPFNs at 1,900 fps). Fiocchi offers Cowboy Action shooters using vintage rifles a 405-grain .45-70 load that travels at 1,185 fps – and lead bullets at sedate speeds for revolvers firing the likes of the .32 S&W Long and .38 Short, the .44 Russian and .45 Colt. Six lines of handgun cartridges include the Defense Dynamics series sending JHP bullets. They’re suitable for hunting in .357 and .44 Magnum, and in 10mm Auto. The Heritage category serves vintage handguns, .30 Luger and 7.63 Mauser to .455 Webley. Fiocchi lists eight shotshell lines, with waterfowl, upland and various competition loads, slugs, buckshot, even rubber pellets! At its Ozark, Missouri, plant, Fiocchi manufactures 300 million cartridges annually, including .22 LR and .22 WMR rimfire rounds. It ships world-wide. A new .308 load recently blessed me with a fine whitetail buck. Visit FiocchiUSA.com.
Fine elk cartridges abound, but in my view, none is more versatile than the .308 Norma Magnum. With 180- or 200-grain bonded Oryx bullets at 2,950 fps, it’s a well-balanced option for distant elk and quartering bulls up close. It fits .30-06-length actions; recoil is tolerable. Norma’s roster has other fine elk loads for cartridges popular stateside, also for European champs like the 9.3×62. The company has split its recent offerings into categories by bullet type. All but the Whitetail and African PH are poly tipped. The BondStrike clan, 6.5×55 to .300 RUM, is my pick for elk, albeit Norma has 17 lead-free EcoStrike loads with nickel-plated copper bullets, to .375 H&H. EvoStrike ammo is listed for “small and medium” game but serves nine big-game cartridges to .300 Winchester Magnum. Its two-part bullet has a perforated nose that splinters on impact. The TipStrike stable in 24 chamberings features flat-base jacketed bullets, while the Whitetail line, a third as comprehensive, sends traditional softpoints. In the African PH series, Norma lists its own copper-alloy solids and steel-jacketed Woodleighs. Norma loads have done exceedingly well by me on elk and on Africa’s heaviest game. Handloaders covet Norma brass. Founded over 120 years ago, Norma Projecktilfabrik A/S moved from Oslo, Norway, to Amotfors, Sweden, early on, and now ships more than 30 million cartridges annually. It has produced Weatherby-branded ammo since the ‘50s. In 2002, RUAG of Switzerland acquired Norma. It has pursued line extensions since 2013. In Scandinavia, Norma owns 70 percent of the hunting-ammo market. See more at NormaUSA.com.
Manufactured by Winchester in East Alton, Illinois, Browning ammunition features three bullet types for rifle cartridges. The most useful for elk are eight loads in the BXC series, with bonded poly-tip boat-tail bullets, 135 grains in weight for the 6.5 Creedmoor to 185 for the .30-06 and .30 magnums. I like the peppy 168-grain .308 load at a listed 2,820 fps. It’s just 30 fps behind a 129-grain 6.5 Creedmoor load in Browning BXR ammo. That clan of 11 cartridges, designed for deer hunting, hurls poly-tip bullets that aren’t bonded. A quartet of BXV loads, .22 Hornet to .243, features frangible bullets for lighter game. Big news at Browning is still its 175-grain load for the 6.8 Western, with a 175-grain Sierra Pro-Hunter that loses only 700 fps over 500 yards! As no Browning or Winchester rifles in 6.8 were available to me even months after introduction, I tapped John Krieger to install one of his superb barrels on a Model 70 action. That rifle sends Browning’s 175 Sierras into tiny knots! See more at Browningammo.com.
It’s Federal’s centennial! New HST loads in the .30 Super Carry, designed in-house, treated me well at the range during a recent tour of Federal’s 700,000-square-foot plant in Anoka, Minnesota. Ammo demand keeps 1,400 employees busy on three shifts. In 1964 the company had 10 Hi-Shok rifle loads to .35 Remington. Now it offers myriad loads to .500 Nitro Express! Trophy Bonded Tip and Trophy Copper bullets followed Jack Carter’s TB Bear Claw. Terminal Ascent, a bonded, poly-tip bullet, was one of 130 new products shared at the 2020 SHOT Show. Remington’s bankruptcy that year put Remington ammo under Vista’s umbrella with Speer/CCI – which had developed Federal’s Fusion bullet. A 200-grain Fusion from a rifle in .338 Federal killed an elk for me. This year the 6.5 PRC comes in a Fusion load (and two others). The HammerDown series adds the .444 Marlin. Visit Federalpremium.com.
Bruce Hodgdon kept handloaders supplied with WWII surplus powder he stored in a rail car. To move it fast, he sold 150 pounds of 4831 and 15,000 primers for $49.95. The Hodgdon family grew the business. It doesn’t make powders but helps develop them and is the country’s biggest source of powders for civilian shooters, who account for 80 percent of sales. It added the IMR (Improved Military Rifle) line to its “H” numbers and now sells Winchester, Accurate, Ramshot and Hornady Superformance powders —96 propellants across those brands! Vihtavuori has appeared on the roster too. Hodgdon’s CFE (Copper Fouling Eraser) and Extreme (temperature-insensitive) powders are recent, with IMR’s Enduron stable. Short Cut forms of slow-burning “stick” propellants like IMR 7828 aid metering. Enduron 4955 excels in the .270, Varget, an Extreme powder, in the .30-06. But my aging H4831 still works fine in short belted 7mms and .30s, IMR 4350 in the .338 Winchester Magnum. H380 and BL-C(2) ably boot bullets from the .308; IMR 4064 likes the 9.3×62. Fine elk cartridges, all! Hodgdon.com.
Last week my .45-70 Marlin drilled a 3/4-inch group. Exceptional accuracy from a lever rifle, it’s what I’ve come to expect from LeverEvolution loads! Hornady is growing that line, now with 18 entries. In new cartridges, Hornady’s 6mm ARC is a top pick for AR-15s, with 108-grain ELD Match bullets that reach 500 yards at 1,971 fps! It’s the latest on a long roster of fine Hornady-inspired cartridges, from the .450 Marlin, .308 and .338 Marlin Express, to the .300 and .338 RCM, 6mm and 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 and .300 PRC. I’ve found the lead-free GMX deadly on elk. Hornady’s new CX all-copper bullet has a Heat Shield Tip that resists deformation in fast flight. Expect double-diameter upset and 95 percent weight retention down to 2,400 fps. Component diameters: .243, .257, .264, .277, .284, .308, .338, .375. Hornady loads the CX in its Outfitter, Superformance and Custom ammo to .375 H&H. See more at Hornady.com.
Winchester recently rolled out three new loads with AccuBond Long Range bullets: 142-grain in 6.5 PRC, 165-grain in 6.8 Western, 168-grain in .308. Also for hunters: Copper Extreme Point bullets in .270 WSM (130-grain) and .300 WSM (150-grain). There’s a new 115-grain Copper Extreme Point for the 6.8 SPC, a fine deer cartridge. Winchester’s 160 bonded HP in .350 Legend adds reach where straight rifle cases are recently legal. For shotgun-only country, there’s the Deer Season XP Copper Impact sabot slug. Here in the West, Winchester 170-grain Ballistic Silvertip loads in 6.8 Western print tight knots from my Krieger-barreled Model 70. But you needn’t build a rifle; Winchester barrels a suite of M70s and XPRs to this round. Essentially a short .270 WSM, it uses longer bullets, with G1 ballistic coefficients to .620. At 500 yards they pass a WSM’s 150-grain missiles launched 150 fps faster! Elk hunting, you can’t carry better than Winchester’s Expedition Big Game loads with AccuBond CT bullets: 160-grain in 7mm, 180 in .308, 200 in .323 and 225 in .338. Visit Winchester.com.
The flat-flying Triple-Shock, or TSX bullet is first to mind in lead-free bullets for elk. Four petals blossom on impact, then stay with the shank as it plows a deep, broad channel with little if any weight loss. Accuracy matches that of top-shelf lead-core bullets. Barnes followed with the poly-tipped TTSX in 2007. The long-range LRX, most comfortable with steep rifling twist, came four years later on the heels of Barnes Vor-TX ammunition. In 2017 Vor-TX LR loads appeared, with a wide range of chamberings. Other ammo companies also use Barnes TSX bullets – more than 60, from 45-grain .224 to 750-grain for the .577 NE! Visit Barnesbullets.com.
In 1954, ace shooter Walt Berger made his own match bullets. Thirty years later he was peddling them commercially. Bullet concentricity held to .0003 yielded a 10-shot, 1,000-yard group under 2.66 inches, a Benchrest record! VLD Hunter bullets feature a secant ogive to minimize drag and drift. Classic Hunters, 95-grain .243 to 185-grain .308, have a “Hybrid” ogive for less critical seating depth. All Berger bullets have high ballistic coefficients and excel at long range. They’re built to open quickly, penetrate about 15 inches in game. Some Berger bullets beg fast-twist rifling. Visit Bergerbullets.com.
The 2020 dissolution of Remington split firearms groups from its ammo business, which sold to Vista Outdoor, Inc. (Federal, CCI, Speer). That was the biggest slice of $155 million in debt service. Now 1,000-odd workers at the Lonoke, Arkansas, ammunition plant labor around the clock making centerfire, rimfire and shotshell loads. My biggest elk fell to a Core-Lokt bullet (designed in 1939!). While the C-L is still the mainstay for big game, pointed versions rule, with C-L Ultra Bondeds in Hypersonic Bonded loads. Barnes TSX bullets appear in Hog Hammer and HTP (High Terminal Performance) ammo. Premier loads feature Remington AccuTips, Swift Sciroccos. See more at Remington.com.
Shortly after its genesis in 1919, Suojeluskuntain yliesikunnan asepaja became, mercifully, Sako (pronounced Socko). Its first notable rifle, the Vixen, followed WWII. The ammunition story is shorter. Twinhead II and Arrowhead II categories in the Controlled Expansion Series feature Swift A-Frame and Scirocco bullets for elk-size game. A Rapid Expansion Series boasts Sierra softpoints, 6.5mm Deerhead bonded bullets, also bonded Hammerhead and Super Hammerheads for bigger bores. One Hammerhead from my 9.3×62 broke the shoulder of a Cape buffalo and drove through its chest. Two Sako solids felled him. A Lead-Free Series has Barnes TSX and Sako Powerhead Blade bullets, also brass solids. Learn more at Sako.fi.
Long ago, after Swiss wagon-maker Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft became SIG, it built firearms with Suhl gunmaker J.P. Sauer & Son. In the 1980s SIGARMS shipped pistols stateside. A New Hampshire factory followed. In 2014 a Jacksonville, Arkansas plant began producing ammo. Pistol loads, .380 to .44 Magnum, include a Carry line with V-Crown JHP bullets. Cannelures and internal belts resist bullet creep and core-jacket separation. SIG’s first rifle ammo, for AR-15s, led to a Hunting series with solid-copper hollowpoints and tipped JHPs for big game cartridges, .243 to .300 Winchester Magnum. SIG also loads for small-bore “Varmint” cartridges and its new .277 Fury. Sigsauer.com.
My first elk fell to a handloaded Speer Mag-Tip bullet from a ‘98 Mauser barreled to .300 H&H. In my view, it and the Speer Grand Slam are deadly game bullets. New poly-tip Impact bullets add boat-tail form and a bonded core. Speer’s roster of component bullets, .204 to .458, includes a 370-grain Hot-Cor just right for the 9.3×62, also heavy .308, .338 and .358 bullets. Speer’s ammo focus is self-defense. But some Gold Dot and Duty loads, .223 to 6.5 Grendel, .308 to .300 Norma Magnum, have field-worthy bullets. Speer Gold Dot and Lawman pistol loads remain top choices among law officers. Read more at Speer.com.
As Roy Weatherby developed his proprietary magnums in the 1940s, his search for a company to make ammo led him to Norma in Sweden. Norma has produced Weatherby-branded ammo, noted for its high velocity, since the ‘50s. Of 15 Weatherby Magnums, only the new 6.5 RPM is loaded by Weatherby in Wyoming. I’m sweet on the .270 and 7mm (early .30-06-length entries) and the RPM. The .300, .340 and 6.5-300 are on full-length belted brass, Weatherby’s biggest magnums on the .378 hull Roy designed in 1953. Weatherby-boxed Norma loads are beautifully finished and loaded with the industry’s top game bullets. See more at Weatherby.com.
A family-run business, MTM makes must-haves for hunters and shooters, from powder funnels to primer flippers, loading blocks to cleaning cradles and gun vises. It lists jag and choke-tube boxes, target stands, patch-catchers, magazine loaders and EZ-Throw clay target tossers. Lockable, foam-padded cases of molded polymer protect firearms from weather and baggage handlers. Cans, crates, and compartmented range boxes keep ammo, tools and “possibles” secure and organized. MTM’s adjustable rifle rest follows me to the range. Its archery cases carry my arrows to Africa. New to their lineup: an ammo box with switchable dividers, and a double scoped rifle case. MTM accessories quickly become necessities! Explore more at MTMcas-gard.com.