Ask bullet manufacturers if match-grade ammo is suitable for hunting and some will say their match-grade bullets aren’t recommended for hunting. But others will say they’re reliable and offer superior accuracy for hunters. Who are we suppose to believe?
If you ask a few shooters at your local gun shop or rifle range about hunting with match bullets, you’ll probably hear stories of extremely good or extremely terrible bullet performance. Unfortunately, many hunters base their opinions on a single kill, and statistically a one-kill sample means nothing. Five kills starts to indicate what a bullet can do, while 10 or more kills will probably tell the true story.
Terminal performance is an inexact science because there are so many variables involved when a bullet hits a critter. Shot placement is the key to making clean kills, but the bullet must function properly and destroy vital organs. In doing so, the bullet is expected to break bones and tear through soft tissue with equal ability. It amazes me that bullet manufacturers have done such a great job of meeting that challenge.
Choosing The Best Bullets
A hunter should always select the most appropriate bullet for the particular animal and the shooting conditions. Obviously, you shouldn’t shoot heavy, round-nose bullets at long ranges. In the old days, buffalo hunters did just that, but they would’ve appreciated the flatter trajectory of modern spitzers. Also, you shouldn’t shoot frangible bullets at large animals, nor full-metal jacketed bullets that won’t expand. That only makes sense, but the last statement is what hunting with match bullets is all about.
Let’s get something straight: Bullet manufacturers invest tremendous amounts of time and money into developing bullets for killing critters, and they also have significant investments in their match-grade ammo because to win in competition you must shoot the smallest groups. If I was the boss of Sierra Bullets, I doubt I’d jeopardize Game King sales by saying Match Kings are superior hunting bullets. Match Kings are designed for punching paper, while Game Kings have controlled expansion for dumping energy into body cavities.
Hornady offers a similar situation. I’ve hunted with SST bullets successfully for years, but I recently determined that Hornady’s A-Max match bullet in .30 caliber does a better job for my deer hunting shooting situations. Thirty caliber 155- or 168-grain A-Max bullets are deadly on deer. I base that statement on more than a dozen one-shot kills.
I use match bullets for some of my hunts because I believe they do a better job than most hunting bullets. Could I use a hunting bullet successfully? Absolutely, but I want the accuracy edge and long-range ballistic performance I get with match bullets.
My hunting buddies and I spend a lot of time practicing at long ranges so we can hunt to the potential of our rifles. We have extremely accurate rifles that will place first shots with lethal accuracy at very long distances. I understand most readers might not have such equipment, nor the knowledge and shooting ability to reach out this far. But my friends and I developed this ability and we use it when required during our hunts in Saskatchewan’s wide-open country. In recent years we’ve been participating in a CWD deer cull that allows us to kill a lot of animals. We try for close shots, but most of our opportunities are quite long because of the prairie habitat and the spookiness of the deer. Here’s an example of match bullets being used successfully.
“There’s something across the valley. We better have a look.” The truck stopped as I focused my binoculars. Instantly the face of a bedded mule deer came into view. Then I picked up the backline of a second and a third. The deer were virtually hidden beside a patch of buck-brush “way out there.” We were heading out of the area and not really hunting, but because we were in a CWD herd reduction area, these deer were just too enticing.
“They aren’t spooky so let’s set up for a shot,” I said as I grabbed my Swarovski laser rangefinder. My partners slipped out of the truck and found a good spot to lie down for prone shooting. As they loaded their heavy-barreled Winchester and Remington rifles, they waited for my instructions. The Swarovski indicated the deer were 685 yards away. A long shot to be sure, but not impossible for the guys I was spotting for. I gave them elevation and windage adjustments as they got comfortable and found the deer in their scopes. They both were shooting the same ammo, and their rifles had identical trajectories.
I put my Nikon ED Fieldscope on the window and quickly found the deer. “Glen, you’re the primary shooter. You take the bedded one to the right. Wayne, you back Glen up, if he kills cleanly you take another deer.” The guys acknowledged this plan, then each said, “Shooter ready!” I double-checked the wind and said, “Glen, send it!”
Glen’s rifle barked, and his 175-grain bullet traveled in a 101/2-foot arc toward the deer. It simultaneously drifted more than 3 feet to the right before penetrating the chest of the bedded doe. Her head dropped and she was still. The other two deer jumped to their feet. “Take the buck on the far right!” I yelled to Wayne. “You back him up, Glen.” Wayne said, “Shooter ready!” and I told him to take the shot. Another factory loaded 175-grain Sierra Match King sailed across the valley on its deadly mission. The buck dropped with a broken spine.
The last deer, a big doe, ran a short distance and looked back. “I’m on the doe, Ian.” “Same hold, send it, Glen.” Again a Match King loaded by Black Hills Ammo flew across the valley. The third deer dropped after a short dash.
The details of this CWD hunt provide some answers to the question: “Why hunt with match bullets?” First, match bullets are superbly accurate for long-range applications. Second, terminal performance can be spectacular—animals die cleanly with one shot. Third, the downrange performance of most match bullets has been documented, tabulated and even printed on laminated drop-charts. My hunting partners were completely confident in their ability to make lethal hits with the match bullet loads at long range, and equally important, I was confident the elevation and wind adjustments I gave were accurate.
There are definitely situations where match bullets aren’t the proper bullet for hunting. Some match bullets are too frangible at close range—they blow up. And others have a reputation for “penciling through” or failing to mushroom.
I’ve shot most available .30 caliber match bullets into test media at a wide variety of distances, and my field tests indicate the Hornady A-Max and Berger bullets hold together very well. Nosler’s match bullet also penetrates deeply without significant weight loss. Sierra Match Kings aren’t great performers at close ranges, but they’re superb beyond 300 yards in my .308 Win. and .300 Win. Mags.
I’ve found that caliber determines how well some brands of match bullets perform. For example, I believe Match Kings in the smaller calibers are more frangible. I must admit the only deer I’ve shot so far with other than a .30 caliber died very quickly. I was shooting my 6.5-284 Cooper Phoenix rifle, the deer were slightly more than 500 yards away and the 140-grain Hornady A-Max bullets did an excellent job.
I believe most hunters should stick to hunting bullets—simple as that. Choose heavily constructed bullets for big critters like moose and elk, and use a bonded bullet if you want reliable performance over a wide range of impact velocities. Shoot deer at less than 200 yards with Winchester Power Points, Remington CoreLokts or Federal Fusions, and they’ll die very quickly, assuming you place the bullet properly.
Match bullets are an option for long-range hunts where flat trajectory and wind-bucking performance is needed. I mix and match my bullet selection according to the critter, habitat and rifle being used. Match bullets work for me, but so do hunting bullets such as Sciroccos, Accubonds, Interbonds, XP3s, Game Kings, Trophy Bonded, Barnes, Fusions—and the list goes on and on.