Making Weight

By Jace Bauserman

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female hunter taking Terminal Ascent cartridges out of its packaging

I once penned a bowhunting article about a frustrated man in a big box store’s broadhead aisle. He would pick up a pack, read it and hang it back on the rack before grabbing another. Finally, with sweat beading on his brow, he grabbed a container of fixed-blade heads, threw them in his cart, and walked away muttering words I will leave to your imagination. I know why he was frustrated. There were simply so many styles, compounded by a huge variety of weights.

I've seen similar scenes unfold while watching hunters choosing ammo for their rifles, and for the same reasons. Anxiety can quickly creep in when you’re presented with bullet types like soft points, boat-tails, hollow points, polymer tipped and much more. Then, of course, are all the weight options. Recently, at a local store, I found weights of 120, 129, 130, 140, 143, and 147 grains in 6.5 Creedmoor alone. I'm sure I could have discovered more. To newcomers or even established hunters, these options can look overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. Let’s dig in to how to choose a bullet style and weight that will fill your tag.

First, Understand Bullet Type

When selecting ammunition, forget about bullet weight for a moment. If you're hunting, say, pronghorn or mule deer out West, shots up to 350 yards are likely. These medium-size game are a great match for a non-bonded bullet like a Federal Power-Shok, Fusion or Nosler Partition. Such cup-and-core-style bullets are typically less expensive, expand reliably on impact at typical ranges and cause massive damage to internal organs. They are a favorite of deer and pronghorn hunters and great for behind-the-shoulder shots where the heavy bone will not interfere with the bullet and cause it to fragment.  

If you’re targeting heavy-boned big game like elk, or even if you're just a fan of the high-shoulder shot on deer-size game, a bonded bullet is a better choice. The construction prevents the jacket and core from separating on impact, which means the bullet holds together well at ranges close and far, retaining weight and penetrating deep. Aside from elk, bonded bullets also excel on moose, bison, and most African plains game.

hunter beside a shot mountain goat

The best ones are those that combine the toughness of bonded construction with a profile and other features that maximize accuracy and range. Federal's Terminal Ascent stands alone here. It sports an extremely high ballistic coefficient, and the polymer tip allows low-velocity expansion, so even if you shoot a bull elk at 600 yards or beyond, you'll still get the bone-busting mushroom effect. 

Weighty Matters

Now that you've decided on a bullet type, consider weight, which is measured in grains. The lighter the bullet, the faster it will fly (all things being equal), which is why 223 Rem. and 22-250 Rem. shooters prefer bullet weights between 50 and 60 when hunting coyotes. However, 50- and 60-grain bullets are too light for pronghorn, mule deer, whitetails, and other big game. 

A good general rule of thumb is to opt for bullet weights of 90 to 165 grains for deer-sized game and over 165 for large game like elk. Beyond that, the choice depends greatly on your individual rifle. For reasons no one entirely understands, certain rifles shoot specific bullet weights better than others. That’s why it’s important to test a variety of different weights to fine tune which one shoots best through your firearm.

Final Factors

However, there are no absolutes, and again bullet construction comes into play when deciding bullet weight. My son, Hunter, recently took a pronghorn with his 270 Win. Short Magnum, using a Federal Premium Nosler Ballistic Tip 130 grain.

Terminal Ascent being loaded into a rifle

After harvesting his buck, he opted to stay with the same bullet for deer but will switch to the bonded 136-grain Terminal Ascent 270 Win. Short Magnum for elk. Some might think a 136-grain bullet is too light for elk, but I have to disagree. I've had success shooting 150- and up to 162-grain bullets for elk, and a top-tier bonded bullet like the Terminal Ascent essentially takes bullet weight out of the equation. The bullet's bonded design allows it to mushroom, not fragment, and blow through heavy bone, muscle and tissue in much the same way as larger, heavier projectiles.

But don’t get too far down in the weeds. Bottom line is, if choose a quality bullet, follow Federal’s on-box recommendations, and experiment with a few different weights to dial in the best one for your setup, you won’t be disappointed.