Myth be dispelled: There is no best ammunition for killing deer. There are, however, many reasons why ammunition designed for whitetail hunting is better than offerings that aren't.
Send a projectile through the vital organs of a whitetail and mortality will occur. Be that projectile a knapped flint, lead round ball or polymer-tipped copper bullet, the end result is the same. When double-punched through a buck's heart and lungs, an expandable broadhead and a 6.5 Creedmoor bullet will kill him equally dead.
That being said, high-quality ammunition that's purpose-built for downing game provides a host of advantages over more archaic options. But how do you determine what ammunition works best for you?
In my opinion, there are three major criteria that must be met before I consider ammunition effective for whitetail hunting. Those are: reliability, accuracy and knockdown power.
Here's why my checklist is short and sweet: I can't kill deer if my ammunition won't go bang, just like I can't kill deer if my ammunition won't go where I send it. Finally, deer that don't expire quickly might prove difficult to recover.
For hunting ammunition to receive my stamp of approval, none of those shortcomings can occur.
Make the Grade
I don't need my whitetail load to ring steel at 1,000 yards (even if it will), and I won't spend hours tweaking my powder charge or seating depth to shrink my groups. For me, those hours are better utilized in the field studying and pursuing whitetails.
In order for me to spend more time in a treestand and less time at the shooting range, I choose reliable, hassle-free ammunition that I know will discharge when I squeeze the trigger. That's priority number one. If I can't establish that basic level of confidence in a cartridge, then it doesn't make the cut.
Again, I don't measure my groups with a caliper, but I take accuracy seriously. A whitetail hunter has no business shooting ammunition that won't consistently pattern as tight as a tick at ethical hunting distances. Don't be afraid to experiment with bullets of various design and grain-weight to find the combination that works best in your firearm.
When a buck stands broadside at 100 yards (or closer, if I get my way), I'm not thinking about wind drift or adjusting the turrets of my scope. In those precious seconds, the round chambered in my rifle is the last thing on my mind.
Why? Because when you shoot the right ammunition you already know it performs on command. Once you've grown accustomed to a certain level of accuracy in your hunting setup, it's as easy as leveling the crosshairs and finding the boiler room. In the deer woods shot-placement is critical, and accuracy is the key to quick, clean kills.
Knockdown power is the Grim Reaper living inside each cartridge — some of whom carry a larger scythe than others. What I mean is that hunting rounds with greater energy levels can produce more hydrostatic shock and cause higher levels of trauma, equating to faster mortality.
None of us like to lose deer, but it's an unfortunate reality of whitetail hunting. Just as no hunter can execute a perfect shot every time, not all deer will drop dead in their tracks when hit. However, you'll lose fewer deer and spend less time blood trailing by using ammunition that's designed to penetrate mediums such as muscle, bone and organs, as opposed to paper targets.
One I Know Works
Since the fall of 2016, I've used Hornady Precision Hunter ammunition with ELD-X bullets on my rifle hunts for North American Whitetail Television presented by Quick Attach. I've also used the ammunition to harvest truckloads of feral hogs across the South. Based on my field testing, the load checks every box on my list.
The Precision Hunter cartridge I've grown particularly fond of is the 143-grain 6.5 Creedmoor, which at the muzzle of a 24-inch barrel touts a velocity of 2700 fps and produces 2315 ft./lbs. of energy. As many know, the 6.5 Creedmoor has grown increasingly popular thanks to its excellent speed, trajectory and lack of recoil.
I've used the load most often in my Smith & Wesson Performance Center MSR-10. After shooting approximately 200 rounds of the 143-grain 6.5 Creedmoor through the rifle, I've experienced no failures to feed, fire or eject. Accuracy has been excellent thus far, and my groups consistently measure one inch or less at 100 yards.
Last November I hunted with Joe Ogden at Indian Hill Outfitters in Pike Co., Missouri. There I harvested a tank-bodied buck that dropped on the spot after being struck at the point of his shoulder by an ELD-X at a distance of 120 yards. I was impressed to see the 250-pound deer leveled in his tracks by the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Later that month I traveled to Carlile, Wyoming to hunt with Ralph Dampman of Trophy Ridge Outfitters. On the first morning of my hunt, I was granted a shot opportunity on a mature 10-pointer that was corralling a doe through a set of lodgepole pines on a nearby hillside.
The buck stopped momentarily at 237 yards; I squeezed my trigger and watched the bullet impact just behind his front shoulder. After a hard 50-yard charge, the buck expired in sight. The ELD-X passed through both of the deer's lungs, producing an excellent, albeit not-needed, blood trail.
Don't Take it from Me
It's a matter of preference what cartridge works best for you. Before you head out this fall, research and experiment with ammunition lines from major manufacturers. Don't hesitate to check out new products for 2018, including the Precision Hunter lineup from Hornady.
When you've made a selection, familiarize yourself with how the load performs in your hunting rifle. Once you're driving tacks, hit the woods and hunt hard!