Are the Federal High Energy and Hornady Light Magnum hunting ammunitions worth their premium prices? We say no.
Choosing an off-the-shelf factory ammunition load for big-game hunting used to be straightforward. The serious hunter would go down to the local shop, buy a box of three or four different brands in the bullet weight he wanted to shoot, tested their grouping ability in his rifle on the range at 100 yards, and took the best round afield.
Then Federal introduced its Premium line of ammunition, which featured the Nosler Partition bullet, and the world of factory hunting ammunition was changed forever. Now virtually every major ammunition maker offers a premium bullet in factory ammunition. With high-performance bullets commonplace, the next step in the evolution of factory hunting ammunition was muzzle velocity. For many years, companies have been thinking about ways to make their bullets go faster without increasing pressures beyond acceptable SAAMI specifications. In 1995 Hornady accomplished the feat when the company unveiled its new Light Magnum line of ammunition. By using a special ball propellant manufactured by Winchester and a special method of dropping that powder, Hornady was able to increase the muzzle velocity of several cartridges enough to market new hunting ammunition to speed-crazy hunters and shooters. Federal soon followed, introducing its new line of Premium High Energy ammunition in 1996. Like Light Magnum, High Energy touts faster muzzle velocities and increased performance over standard loadings in the same caliber.
If you believe the advertising claims made about the Hornady Light Magnum and Federal High Energy ammunition lines, you believe that your .30-06 will now perform like a .300 Magnum—a claim both companies make. Furthermore, Hornady’s new television ads show a race car peeling rubber, implying that Light Magnum’s performance versus standard ammunition is comparable to a Formula One racer competing against a commuter clunker. Also, Federal’s High Energy ammunition was recently named 1996 New Product of the Year by the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence, a 200-member academy comprised of dealers, manufacturers, and industry writers.
But can either of these products match their hype? Performance Shooter decided to take a close look at both Light Magnum and High Energy ammunition to see what, if any, benefits these new cartridge lines actually give to hunters.