Since its inception in 1952, the .308 Win. has increasingly pilfered proponents of traditional deer hunting cartridges, such as the .270 Win. and .30-06 Springfield, and, thanks to .308 Win.-chambered “tactical” bolt-actions and modern sporting rifles (MSRs), next-generation hunters have flocked to the round, too. Due to its popularity, there’s now an abundance of ammunition (and component bullets) from which to choose for pursuing deer. Below are some of my personal favorites, and by selecting only seven, many good ones have been omitted. I also eschewed perennial favorites, such as the Core-Lokt, Power-Point and Ballistic Tip and instead opted for “different” options. Hopefully, you’ll find something new to try on your next deer hunt.
Barnes 130-grain TSX BT
Among the “gold-standard” combinations for deer hunting is the .270 Win. loaded with a quality 130-grain bullet. When loaded with the Barnes 130-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullet Boat Tail (TSX BT), you can best the downrange performance of Jack O’Connor’s baby, and with less perceived recoil to boot. With top velocities approaching 3,300 fps, the all-copper TSX BT shoots extremely flat—perfect for wide-open areas—and hits hard. Thanks to its monolithic construction, high weight retention is assured for deep penetration. Grooves in the bullet’s shank help reduce friction (and thus pressure), aid accuracy, and enable crimping. The projectile’s sole weakness is its ballistic coefficient, which is an atrocious .340; however, this can be somewhat overcome by high muzzle velocities. The Barnes 130-grain TSX BT is a handloading-only proposition right now.
Hornady 150-grain SST
The Hornady .30 caliber, 150-grain Super Shock Tip (SST) is aptly named—fairly-hit deer expire extremely rapidly. I know this firsthand because I’ve employed it more frequently than all others on this list. Upon impact, the sharp, red polymer tip, which, when combined with a boattail base (and streamlined shape) results in a .415 BC, is forced rearward, initiating expansion. To prevent jacket-core separation during expansion—thereby reducing penetration—the jacket is mechanically locked to the 3-percent-antimony-lead core via the raised InterLock ring. Despite their cup-and-core design, only once have I recovered a 150-grain SST, and it was when fired from a .300 Wby. Mag. Beyond phenomenal terminal performance, SSTs are superbly accurate, too. They often rival match-grade bullets. Outside of handloading, 150-grain SST .308 Win. ammunition is offered by Hornady in its Custom and Superformance lines, and the projectile is loaded in Fiocchi Extrema and Black Hills Gold, too.
Sierra 150-grain GameKing SBT
There’s nothing flashy about Sierra’s .30 caliber, 150-grain GameKing Spitzer Boat Tail (SBT), and yet—unsurprisingly—the simple, cup-and-core-style bullet provides devastating terminal ballistics to down deer fast. Recovery distances of even the largest whitetails and mule deer are generally short (if they run at all), and the spent bullet will typically be nestled against the offside hide. It probably won’t be picture perfect—lacking a mechanical lock, jacket-core separation is a real possibility. This’ll matter not at all as you’re admiring your trophy; it did its job well. It always does. Perhaps the projectile’s only weakness is its modest BC of .380. That being said, since 150-grain GameKing SBTs are only about 30 cents each, you’ll be able to practice all year without “breaking the bank,” learning how to dial in elevation for that all-important shot. Or, just take your shot from a realistic range. At this point, these Sierra bullets are available for handloading and are also factory loaded by HSM in its GameKing line.
Hornady 150-grain GMX
Hunters who choose (or are required) to go leadless will find a great option in Hornady’s .30 caliber, 150-grain Gilding Metal eXpanding (GMX) bullet. Manufactured from copper alloy, the projectile has a polymer tip, boattail base, two relief grooves to reduce friction (and thus pressure), and fouling and aid accuracy. Expansion runs 1.5X the projectile’s pre-expansion diameter. Weight retention is upward of 95 percent, and penetration is extremely deep. It’s doubtful you’ll recover one from a broadside shot on a deer. In addition to an improved blood trail (i.e. exit hole), deep penetration offered by the GMX provides insurance for less-than-ideal shot placement. The .30 caliber, 150-grain GMX has a BC mimicking that of the like-weight SST. Outside of the biggest bears, this bullet will also work well for all North American species. It’s loaded by Hornady Superformance and Black Hills Gold.
Swift 150-grain Scirocco/Scirocco II
Deer hunters looking for a projectile that will expand reliably (upward of 2.5X) at long range, but hold up during a violent, close-range impact will find it in the Swift Scirocco/Scirocco II. Enabling said performance is a lead core that’s bonded to a tapered, extra-thick, copper jacket. In addition to aiding expansion, the polymer tip—when teamed with the secant ogive and 15 degree boattail base—create a streamlined bullet that sheds velocity slower than many of the other bullets in this list. The .30 caliber, 150-grain Scirocco II has a BC of .430. Like Hornady’s GMX, don’t expect to recover many Scirocco bullets from deer-size game, and it can be employed on all North American non-dangerous animals, too. That being said, if elk is on the menu, you might consider moving up to the 165-grain variant. Accuracy is often very good, though experimentation with seating depth will be necessary for best performance. As for the 150-grain version, outside of handloading, it’s only found in Swift High Grade Hunting Ammunition.
Nosler 165-grain Partition
The grandfather of “premium” big-game bullets, Nosler’s Partition—the 165-grain variant in particular—is a top choice for hunting deer with the .308 Win.—especially if there’s an opportunity for black bear or elk, or if you’re a one-gun hunter. Featuring dual, lead-alloy cores separated by a cross member (or “partition”), the front core is washed away during expansion and serves to further enhance trauma, all while the rear portion drives deep. So deep, in fact, that seldom will you find one in anything but the largest game animals, such as elk. Like the GMX and Scirocco, the Partition provides a measure of insurance in case of a less-than-perfect shot or steep angle. Nosler’s 165-grain Partition is factory loaded in .308 Win. ammunition (Custom and Trophy Grade).
Norma 165-grain Oryx
Factory loaded by Norma USA (American PH), the flat-base, semi-spitzer, 165-grain Oryx features a heavily tapered, gilding metal jacket that is bonded to the lead core. This results in rapid expansion and high weight retention—bullets exhibiting ninety-percent-plus weight retention are commonplace. Given its blunter profile, this isn’t a bullet for shooting long range, but at all practical distances, it will hit hard and penetrate deep no matter what.
Only days before this piece was written I used the 165-grain Oryx to take a medium-size Virginia buck for the freezer. Catching it feeding in a hayfield undisturbed at 40 yards, the bullet entered mid-way up the left shoulder and exited around the last rib on the opposite side. The buck traveled about 60 yards before expiring. A post-mortem inspection revealed tremendous trauma—little wonder for its rapid demise. Given the performance and strength of this bullet, it would make a good one-load option for the hunter who hunts deer but also pursues bigger, tougher species, such as elk, or is going on safari.
There’s a plethora of bullets that are suitable for deer with the .308 Win. Hopefully this article will open your eyes to a few that you might not have previously considered.