These rounds from Remington and Federal showed speed, power, and expansion qualities we liked. Losers: Two Federal loads that turned to shrapnel.
Proper shot placement does not begin in the field while setting your sights on a trophy elk or monster mule deer. Rather, it all starts at your favorite ammo dealer because the best-placed shot of a lifetime could literally amount to a spoonful of shrapnel if you don’t choose the right cartridge and bullet combination.
One of the favorite medium-game cartridges is the .300 Winchester Magnum, which shoots the same caliber bullet as the .308 Winchester, but with more velocity. Thus, the .300 Win. Mag. will hit with more power, specifically, more impact energy. But you should still be careful about your selection of ammunition. For one thing, you can buy a .30-06 load in a .300 Magnum case. One of the loads we tested was just that, and not a very husky .30-06 load either. Another problem is bullet performance. It takes a stouter bullet to handle these higher velocities well.
To be effective a bullet must expand and penetrate. If it fails to expand it will produce only a pencil-sized hole through the animal, usually resulting in a lingering death and lost meat. A bullet that expands and promptly looses its mushroom is little better. This was a major problem with the bullets we tested. A bullet that disintegrates on impact and doesn’t penetrate expends its energy on the surface, causing only a superficial wound. You can’t expect to kill an elk with a spoonful of shrapnel. A somewhat less serious problem is bullets that lose most of their weight and energy on impact, but continue to penetrate. Our testing procedure checked for all of these problems.
A higher impact velocity can aid the mushrooming process of a properly constructed bullet, or it can “wipe” the mushroom off after the bullet enters the target. It takes a well-constructed bullet to withstand the higher impact velocity of a short .300 Magnum shot. Most of those we tested didn’t do so; they disintegrated or lost their mushroomed front end. But we buy these bigger guns to shoot at longer ranges; a bullet has to perform especially well at the limit of its range when most of the speed has drained away. All but one of the bullets we tested expanded at 300-yard velocities.
Our test rounds included the Remington Safari Grade brand, which has a Swift A-Frame 200-grain bullet; Federal Trophy Bonded with Trophy Bonded’s Bear Claw 180-grain bullet; the Winchester Power Point 180-grain Soft Point; the Winchester 220-grain Silver Tip; Remington’s 190-grain Extended Range cartridge; the Remington 180-grain Core-Lokt round; PMC’s Barnes “X” 180-grain bullet; Federal’s Premium load with Nosler’s 180-grain Partition bullet; the Speer Nitrex with a Grand Slam 180 grain bullet; Winchester’s 180-grain Fail Safe load; the PMC 180-grain Pointed Soft Point; Hornady’s 180-grain Spire Point Interlock; and Federal’s 180-grain Pro Hunter and 200-grain Boat Tail Soft Point loads. Of this group, we liked the Remington Safari and Federal Trophy Bonded rounds, but would pass on the Federal Pro Hunter and Boat Tail Soft Point loads, for reasons we detail below.
Remington Safari Grade with a Swift A-Frame 200-grain bullet. Our testing demonstrated that this is the best round available for the .300 Winchester Magnum. Each bullet expanded well in all three mediums and retained most of its weight. It also delivered the most energy at 300 yards because it’s a faster, heavier bullet than most of those tested. The cases are nickel plated. That may be an indication of premium price, but it doesn’t really make any difference. Cases are plated to prevent contact with leather from corroding the brass. No one that we know of carries his rifle ammunition in leather belt loops.
Bullet construction accounts for this superior performance on impact. It uses a partitioned jacket like the Nosler bullet. But unlike the Nosler, the front section of lead is bonded to the jacket using a process similar to soldering. A flux removes the thin layer of copper oxide and allows the molten lead to bond to the copper alloy jacket.
This produces a nearly perfect mushroom in water with the lead flowing over and backwards while the jacket partition holds everything together. The rear portion of lead core is not bonded to the jacket and moves forward on impact, bulging the midsection of the jacket and leaving a cavity in the rear of the jacket. This bulged midsection helps support the mushroomed front lead. With bone impact, some of the lead mushroom is wiped off, reducing the retained weight and showing the bulged midsection. A second shot produced the same form of mushrooming.
Federal Trophy Bonded with Trophy Bonded’s Bear Claw 180-grain bullet. Another good choice. It’s faster, shoots flatter, penetrates deeper, retains more weight in bone, and expands better in the 300-yard bacon test than the Safari. But the mushrooming is not as perfect; it’s a little ragged around the edges in both bone and water tests, and it doesn’t hit quite as hard at 300 yards. The bullet is bonded, and, as befits a premium load, the case is nickel plated.
Winchester Power Point 180-grain Soft Point. This relatively inexpensive bullet, which we think is a best buy, gave the best expansion in both water and bone of any of the bullets tested. The retained weight and impact energy rivaled the bonded bullets. If you’re watching expenses closely, this load, at about half the price of the bonded bullets, is the choice for you.
Winchester 220-grain Silver Tip. If you need a heavier bullet, choose this one. The retained weight is better than the Power Point, but there is less expansion, less impact energy, and more drop than its sister bullet.
Remington 190-grain Extended Range. This is not Remington’s best long-range load in spite of the boat tail. The Safari shoots flatter, hits harder, expands more, retains more weight and penetrates deeper. It also costs more. But this bullet expands fairly well and retains about half its weight. Be sure to check for accuracy in your gun; it shot a 9-inch group with our 26-inch barrel. Note that the bullet separated in the bacon test.
Remington 180-grain Core-Lokt. This bullet solves the problem of core and jacket separation by locking the core into the jacket with a “heel fold.” The very butt of the core fits into a small annular recess at the bottom of the jacket. And it works; note the bullet didn’t separate in any of our tests. But the expansion is only fair and the retained weight isn’t very good either.
PMC with a Barnes “X” 180-grain bullet. This fairly expensive bullet solves the problem of core separation by not using a core. It’s solid copper alloy, and it’s too hard to expand very much. Barnes attempts to solve the expansion problem by fluting the inside of the hollow point. On impact, the point splits and folds back into four petals, which form a nice but small mushroom. Note that the bullet we tested in bacon did just that. But at higher velocities and heavier impact mediums, these petals break off. We sifted all four of them out of the sawdust portion of our bullet trap after the bone test. Only three of the petals broke off in the water test; we couldn’t find any of them. But these copper slugs did retain most of their weight and there was a small amount of mushrooming even without the petals. Note: Handloaders should be wary of this bullet. It’s hard and the engraving resistance is high. This leads to a steep pressure gradient, a large increase in pressure for a small increase in powder.
Federal Premium with Nosler’s 180-grain Partition bullet. Only a few years ago this was the finest bullet available, and it still is a pretty good bullet at low speeds. At belted magnum velocities, it doesn’t fare as well. Nosler solves the problem of bullet separation with a partition in the center of the jacket much the same as a Swift A-Frame. Two lead cores fill the jacket; the front core mushrooms while the rear core, behind the partition, remains undistorted and retains all its weight. At low speeds the system works well; note how well it performed in our bacon test. At faster speeds the mushroomed front core is lost. Usually only a thin wafer of the front core lead remains with the bullet. If the front core is lost, the front half of the jacket folds back, turns inside-out and forms the leading surface of a copper mushroom. It’s still a good bullet at this speed, but at faster speeds the front half of the jacket folds back tightly against the rear core and presents only a fair-sized mushroom. This is what happened in our water test. In our bone test, this bullet had a different problem. After the copper mushroom formed, the bullet parachuted. It flipped end-for-end. Then the forward (rearward?) motion of the bullet bent the mushroomed copper back in the direction it came from and broke it off. You can clearly see the fresh fracture mark on the small triangle of mushroom that remains attached to the rear half of the bullet. Federal attempts to control this problem by loading the bullet lightly to only 2,850 feet per second, by far the slowest 180-grain bullet in our test. That’s .30-06 velocity for this bullet weight, but the case is nickel plated to indicate a premium load.
Speer Nitrex with a Grand Slam 180-grain bullet. Speer has a unique system for controlling separation in this bullet. It has two cores, the rear one is described as “hard” by Speer, the front one soft. (We found both cores soft enough to dent with a fingernail.) There is no partition to keep the rear core in the jacket, instead a large annular ring extruded or swaged from the jacket holds it in place. The soft front core and front half of the jacket are expected to mushroom. In our water test, the front core was lost, leaving only about half of the weight retained, but the jacket mushroomed nicely. In the bone test, the bullet broke in half where it had been weakened by extruding the retaining ring. (In other testing, we have found that this bullet frequently breaks in half.) Nickel plating the case did n0t improve the performance of this load.
Winchester 180-grain Fail Safe. This bullet is Winchester’s improvement of the Barnes “X” bullet. It has a lead core inserted in the rear; it’s held in place with a steel plug at the rear end and protected with a steel cap on the front end. That adds a little to the sectional density, but it doesn’t do anything to improve the basic weaknesses of a copper alloy bullet. The alloy is too hard to mushroom well without petals, and the petals break off. Half of the Fail Safe petals broke off in the bacon test, all of them broke off in the remaining tests. Be sure to check this load for accuracy, we shot a 10-inch group with one rifle; a 2.2-inch group with the other rifle. Winchester uses a nickel-plated case to identify this premium load and paints the bullet black to positively identify it.
PMC 180-grain Pointed Soft Point. This conventional bullet held up fairly well in the bone test, but it disintegrated in the water test.
Hornady 180-grain Spire Point Interlock. Hornady attempts to solve the bullet separation problem by locking the core in with a small annular ring extruded from the jacket, much like Speer’s Grand Slam, but it didn’t work very well. The core popped out of the jacket in our bacon test. The bullet totally disintegrated in our bone test, but did fairly well in the water test. Lots of mushrooming; not much weight retention.
Federal 180-grain Pro Hunter. This bullet failed to expand in bacon and totally disintegrated in both water and bone.
Federal 200-grain Boat Tail Soft Point. While this bullet expanded in the bacon test, it totally disintegrated in both bone and water.
Guns, Gear & Game Recommends
The top-performing brands in this test include Remington’s Safari Grade with a Swift A-Frame 200-grain bullet, the Federal Trophy Bonded with Trophy Bonded’s Bear Claw 180-grain bullet, Winchester’s Power Point 180-grain Soft Point, and the Winchester 220-grain Silver Tip. We believe the Safari is the best round available for the .300 Winchester Magnum; however, the Federal Trophy Bonded was the flattest-shooting round in the test. If you need a heavier bullet, choose the Winchester 220-grain Silver Tip.
Because of its low price and top performance, we think the Winchester Power Point 180-grain Soft Point is a best buy.
Several other rounds fall into the niche category; that is, if they fulfill a specific hunting need for you the rounds above don’t (and we can not think of one), then they’re worth a look. These include the Remington 190-grain Extended Range; Remington’s 180-grain Core-Lokt bullet, and PMC’s Barnes “X” 180-grain bullet.
We feel that the remaining bullets in the test don’t have any performance characteristics that surpass the rounds above. Thus, we don’t see any reason to buy Federal’s Nosler 180-grain Partition bullet, the Speer Nitrex with a Grand Slam 180-grain bullet, Winchester’s 180-grain Fail Safe bullet, the PMC 180-grain Pointed Soft Point round, Hornady’s 180-grain Spire Point Interlock cartridge, and Federal’s 180-grain Pro Hunter and 200-grain Boat Tail Soft Point.
-By Roger Eckstine