It’s ammo time! In this part of this series, I’m going to discuss some of the options out there for hunting pistol ammo. I’m also going to cover my handloads, both past and future. The truth be told, if you’re using any of the handgun calibers I had mentioned in my first part of this series, Setting Up a Pistol for Big Game Hunting – Part I, if you have a well placed shot (which is key), and if you’re not beyond the effective range of the ammo, you’re going to drop your game. I, however, tend to be anal when it comes to selecting my ammo. I look for a bullet that has good flight characteristics, controlled expansion, good mass retention through expansion, and one that will carry enough energy at
the maximum range I intend to shoot, for the game I’m targeting. After I find something that meets those requirements, it’s on to figuring out what my gun likes best, and what proves to be the most accurate.
Almost always, you’ll find that hunting ammo, especially the premium varities, costs a whole lot more than the stuff you plink with or the lower priced hallow point stuff. When I get my hunting weapons set on whatever ammo I’m using, I keep them adjusted to that ammo. What I mean is that I’m not readjusting my scope for my target loads. I really only fire my hunting ammo a few times per year to make sure everything stays the way I expect it should. There’s nothing like a scope that’s been bumped and thrown off zero to rain on your hunting parade. I still shoot my hunting weapons through the year. I just mostly use different ammo. While your gun generally won’t be zeroed with different types of ammo, especially at distance, you can still benefit from using you hunting weapons regularly just to keep you in touch.
I think this is a good time to be clear that I’m not doing an ammo “bake off”. While that would be fun, I’ll save that for another time. Nor am I going through the intricacies of reloading. I’m just scratching the surface of reloading in the video below. My real intent is to walk through some of my thinking and to acquaint you with some of the options that are out there, especially in .44 mag. So let’s start with the general options. For handguns, you’ve traditionally had a few; led semi-wadcutters and such, jacked hallow and flat points, copper and full metal jackets. More recently, you have an option traditionally reserved for rifles, which is the Hornady FTX; a lead core, copper jacketed bullet with a flex tip. This is basically a ballistic tipped bullet for pistols.
Full Metal Jacket
Full metal jackets should be reserved for the military and target shooting as they won’t provide any real expansion in flesh and bone. An exception may be if you’re carrying you sidearm as backup for dangerous game i.e. safari, grizzles etc. You will get more penetration with a FMJ. I’ve read stories of people running into bears and dumping a revolver into a standing bear from around 10 feet away, just to have the dang thing walk off. Also know that not all FMJ’s are created equal. If you looking for something to stand with near zero deformation, do your research. In any case, our primary target is dear. You’re not likely to have one stand there 10 feet in front of you, and if you should, you’ll be covered with any of the appropriate choices below. If it rears and attacks you, take a picture and send it to me…that would be a first, and I want to hunt dear where ever the heck that happened.
Let’s talk lead next. Here’s my thought on lead….move into the new millennium! I’m being harsh, but I am a fan of technology and progress. I like lead for target shooting and shooting sports, but there’s better choices out there that provide better expansion and accuracy at distance. If you like to play Daniel Boone and trounce around in a fringed leather jacket, by all means have at it.
Jacket Hollow and Flat Point
This has been the go-to option for hunting and self
defense for quite some time. The copper jacket helps to prevent the lead from fragmenting and helps to control expansion. Generally, jacketed bullets will retain more weight than lead, but not as much as copper, or the FTX. Additionally, exposed lead, which is the case with some jacked bullets, can get deformed which can negatively effect accuracy. All this being said, flat or hallow point jacketed bullets offer a good deal of variety in bullet weight and optionand are good for the field. I had started, and had bagged my first doe with a pistol using 240 grain Remington hollow points in my Super Redhawk. They shot well and performed well. I can’t really complain all that much. More recently, yet several years ago, I had switched to 300 grain Sierra sports masters. I found these to perform better on accuracy, however due to their heavy weight, their energy starts to drop below more optimal levels as you go out past 100 yards. Not much of a problem on the east coast as most of what you’ll be shooting at will usually be inside 100 yards. Let me jump back to my statement on variety here; you have the largest number of choices with jacketed bullets. Here’s a few I’ll mention that make good choices:
- Hornady XTP
- Winchester Silvertip
- Speer DeepCurl
- Speer Gold Dot
I specifically selected these bullets as their jackets cover the top of the lead rim around the hollow point. I like this because it prevents the lead from being deformed during reloading, storage and transportation. For those of you that don’t build your own ammo, check out these ammo options:
- Hornady Custom Ammunition 44 Remington Magnum 240 Grain XTP Jacketed Hollow Point
- Muzzle Velocity: 1350 fps Muzzle Energy: 971 ft. lbs.
- Winchester Super-X Ammunition 44 Remington Magnum 210 Grain Silvertip Hollow Point
- Muzzle Velocity: 1250 fps Muzzle Energy: 729 ft. lbs.
- Speer Gold Dot Ammunition 44 Remington Magnum 240 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point
- Muzzle Velocity: 1400 fps Muzzle Energy: 1044 ft. lbs.
That should be enough to get you started at the very least. There are more options for sure. I just wanted to identify a few that I like.
Solid copper bullets are kind of the elite in the field. They’re expensive, at roughly twice the cost of jacketed bullets. What you get in return is very high weight retention and well controlled, uniform expansion. I do not have experience with copper bullets so I’ll have the take what the manufacturers say at face value. I know that they have a following, and I know at least one person who swears by them for their rifle hunting loads. For thicker skinned game, or for your back-up side arm, this wouldn’t be a bad choice should you run into an aggressive bear. For me, if I’m going the hollow point route for deer, I’d just as soon stick to a jacked bullet. If your even more retentive than I am, then this might be the bullet for you. Here’s one bullet choice:
- Barnes XPB Handgun Bullets 44 Caliber (429 Diameter) 225 Grain Solid Copper Hollow Point Lead-Free
- Muzzle Velocity:1535 fps
Jacketed Flex Tip
This is the newer kid on the block, and the one I’ve chosen for my new 44 deer loads. Hornady introduced the FTX bullets to give an alternative to the lever action crowd, besides the typical round nose or flat point ammo. The flex tip is soft and makes for safe loading in a tubular magazine, where you have your ammo back-to-back; tip to primer. A hard nosed bullet runs the risk of detonating your primer, which would end in a less than ideal result. I like this design as bullet profile has advantages for accuracy, given it’s ballistic coefficient. Additionally, the flex tip promotes expansion. Hornady offers loaded FTX ammo in several calibers, as well as the bullets for the reloaders out there.
- Hornady 44 Mag 225 gr FTX LEVERevolution
- Muzzle Velocity:1410 fps Muzzle Energy: 993 ft. lbs.
Whatever your preference might be, there’s sure to be a bullet out there to meet your needs. My intent is to give you a sampling of information, some of my thoughts and preferences if for nothing else than to provide another perspective on handgun ammo choices for hunting. For those of you interested in reloading, I’ve made a video that provided an overview of some of the things to consider if your going to get into reloading. It’s by no means a how-to guide, but instead some thoughts and a demo of a progressive press reloading the Hornady FTX 44 mag bullets.