One of the greatest wildcat cartridges ever made, the .280 Ackley Improved was developed by the legendary P.O. Ackley after he added a 40-degree shoulder to Fred Huntington’s .280 RCBS Improved. Since its inception in the late 1950s, the cartridge has continued to pick up steam among big-game hunters, especially those looking to extend their maximum effective range on medium- to large-bodied animals.
Rather ingenious, Ackley’s cartridge delivers roughly 300 fps more than Remington’s factory SAAMI-spec .280 load, thanks to a chamber with less body taper and a steeper 40-degree shoulder. A proven cartridge for virtually any North American big-game, the downside for so long was that the .280 AI required a handloader’s touch and thus limited the spread of its popularity. That all changed when Nosler standardized the cartridge, which was accepted by SAAMI in 2008.
While factory loaded ammunition remains fairly limited, several manufacturers, including Hornady and Federal, have continued to add new .280 AI offerings. Likewise, Nosler has expanded the number of loads and bullet choices it offers in the Trophy Grade and Custom lines, giving hunters more reason than ever to utilize the cartridge. It doesn’t hurt that premium big-game rifles, like Kimber’s Mountain Ascent, are chambered in the mighty .280 AI and have gained a cult-like following among serious mountain hunters. Whatever your hunting needs, there’s a factory load to get the job done. Here’s a look at the best factory loads currently available for the .280 Ackley Improved.
Federal Premium 168-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter Featuring a low-drag, match-style bullet with a hybrid hunting design, Federal’s 168-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter is a long-range hunter’s dream. The Hybrid Hunter combines a tangent and secant ogive, allowing for maximum accuracy out of factory barrels and impressive BCs for downrange accuracy. As a result, the Berger bullet delivers more downrange energy and flatter trajectories than comparable hunting bullets. The jacket and core are designed to expand rapidly after penetrating roughly 3 to 5 inches in flesh as the bullet sheds 40 to 90 percent of its weight. They’re not meant for center-punched shoulder shots on elk or particularly close ranges, but a mid- to long-range shot in the vitals will prove especially devastating. MSRP: $45.95 per 20-rnd. box; federalpremium.com.
Hornady 162-grain Precision Hunter ELD-X An ideal pairing, Hornady offers the .280 Ackley in its Precision Hunter line with a 162-grain ELD-X bullet. Designed with a Heat Shield tip to prevent melting and to ensure the highest in-class BC over its entire trajectory, the ELD-X performs well at long or close range, giving hunters a terminally effective bullet no matter the distance. The ELD-X bullet is a streamlined boattail design with a well-constructed AMP jacket that won’t come apart on the toughest of big-game animals.
I’ve seen the ELD-X work remarkably well on every species from large-bodied mule deer to British Columbia mountain goats and massive black bears, at distances from 8 to 650 yards. What’s unique about the ELD-X is that it will expand reliably at lower velocities past 400 yards, yet deliver devastating terminal performance at higher velocities and closer distances. The 162-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at close to 2900 fps with 2,921 ft.-lbs. of energy, and retains between 85 to 90 percent of its weight on target, leaving behind large wound cavities and providing deep penetration. MSRP: $45.99 per 20-rnd. box; hornady.com.
Nosler 140-grain E-Tip Nosler’s E-Tip bullet consists of a solid copper, lead-free construction that offers hunters maximum penetration and 95 percent or better weight retention. At 140 grains in the .280 Ackley Improved load, the E-Tip features an Expansion Control Ring (ECR) to help the projectile expand at various velocities and conditions, giving shooters the long- and close-range performance needed for lethality. Meanwhile, an Energy Expansion Cavity provides dual chamber for uniform, impressive expansion and devastating penetration. A boattail design with polymer tip delivers extreme long-range performance and match-grade accuracy for hunters looking to stretch their distances. Due to the monometal construction, the 140-grain E-Tip is lighter than comparable lead-core bullets but still delivers a whopping 3050 fps and 2,904 ft.-lbs. of energy from the muzzle. The E-Tip load is great for lead restricted states or for large-bodied game like elk and moose for which maximum penetration and solid bullet construction are an absolute must. MSRP: $59.45 per 20-rnd. box; nosler.com.
Nosler 140-grain Ballistic Tip Featuring a lead-alloy core with polymer tip to assist in rapid expansion, Nosler’s 140-grain Ballistic Tip is highly accurate, long-range capable and extremely lethal at various ranges. The boattail design and streamlined tip also provide impressive accuracy, making it an ideal fit for deer, antelope and hogs. Utilizing a spitzer design and heavy jacketed base, the 140-grain Ballistic Tip produces clean kills and flat shots. Leaving the barrel at 3150 fps with 3,084 ft.-lbs. of energy, the 140-grain projectile offers less weight retention at maximum velocity than the E-Tip variant, but delivers greater expansion and larger mushrooms, making it extremely reliable and lethal across a wide spectrum of distances and species. For larger game animal applications, Nosler also offers the 140-grain bullet in the .280 Ackley AccuBond variant. MSRP: $35.45 per 20-rnd. box; nosler.com.