My home state of Virginia, like several others, prohibits hunting whitetail deer with any cartridge containing a bullet smaller than .23 caliber. It is a good thing I was far from Virginia. The nimble Savage Model 11 Lightweight Hunter was locked and loaded with a new offering from Federal Premium, the Vital-Shok 62-grain .223 Rem. Trophy Bonded Tip, and an old busted-up South Texas warrior was presenting me with a mighty-fine broadside shot.
Hold on a minute, now. Step away from the keyboard. There’s no need to bruise your little fingers typing nasty-grams. I’m in no way, shape or form taking a side in the “.223 and its viability as an effective deer cartridge” debate. Yes, I realize I’m holding a match in one hand and a gas can in the other, but please believe me: I’m no arsonist—just a lowly outdoor writer with a message. So hold your fire.
The entirety of this debate can be summed up in three concepts: legality, shot placement and bullet type. As for the law, obey it. If you can’t shoot a .223 at deer in your state, don’t. My theory on shot placement is even simpler: When is it not an issue? Always strive to put a bullet into the vitals. This isn’t hand grenades. For those who happen to find themselves in an area where legality and desire meet, I simply say: Choose a bullet that can do the job. The Vital-Shok 62-grain .223 Rem. Trophy Bonded Tip load fits that mold.
Based on the tough and tested Trophy Bonded Bear Claw platform, the new .223 Rem. bullet features a lead core bonded to a solid-copper jacket and shank. Notable additions include nickel plating and a polymer tip. The tip, along with skiving in the front portion of the bullet, assists in initial expansion. Federal lists weight retention at 90 percent, a result of the bonding as well as the substantial solid-copper rear section. That's an important aspect when talking about a 62-grain bullet taking medium-sized game.
Shooting through a chronograph indoors and using a Howa Mini Action rifle with a 19-inch barrel, I recorded an average muzzle velocity of 2816 fps, a bit shy of Federal’s advertised 3050 fps, but likely due to the short barrel length. Outside at the range, I tested the load’s accuracy with the Howa as well as an LWRC M6IC. From sandbags at 100 yards, the sub-inch to 17/8-inch groups I measured showed just what this little bullet is capable of in the right rifle.
Of course, Federal loads other, more traditional, whitetail deer cartridges with the Trophy Bonded Tip bullet. The 140-grain .270 Win., 165-grain .308 Win. and 180-grain .30-06 or .300 Win. Mag. are a few of the obvious choices for deer and bigger game like elk and caribou, which I’d never contemplate shooting with a .223 Rem.
As to whether the .223 is adequate for dropping a whitetail deer given proper placement of the bullet, my experience with the Trophy Bonded Tip says yes. In testing, the bullet penetrated a full 16 inches through ballistics gelatin (as well as an additional 11 sheets of standard cardboard), expanded to .52 inch and retained close to 98 percent of its original weight. I’d say that’s more than enough simulated proof but we live in the real world, and deer aren’t made of uniform gelatin. In South Texas, as with everywhere else, you have hair, hide, bone and flesh to deal with, and deal with it this little bullet did.
The ragged, past-his-prime buck didn’t even flinch as the little bullet zipped through, and while I rushed to the “I missed” conclusion, the deer walked about 6 yards, paused and suddenly tipped. And though my shot was only 45 yards or so, I can’t recall the last time I shot a deer back East that was farther than 70. Upon inspection, we found a hole on both sides. Adequate penetration? I’d say so.
If you’re someone who desires low recoil, be it from necessity or preference, or simply a hunter who’s keen on AR platforms, this little bullet can get the job done on small- to medium-sized game at close to moderate ranges. Again, don’t shoot the messenger. Get the right load—the Federal Premium Vital-Shok 62-grain .223 Rem. Trophy Bonded Tip is a great choice—and shoot a deer instead.
• Caliber: .223 Rem. (tested); other .270-, 7mm, .30- and .338-caliber loads available • Bullet Weight: 62 grs. • Bullet Material: bonded lead core, solid-copper jacket and shank, nickel plating, polymer tip • Ballistic Coefficient: .255 • Muzzle Velocity (Advertised): 3050 fps • Muzzle Energy (Advertised): 1,281 ft.-lbs. • MSRP: $26.95 per 20-rnd. box