Winchester Deer Season XP: Knockdown Loads for 2015

posted on January 18, 2015

While there's no shortage of factory loads that reliably kill deer, Winchester had an even sharper goal in mind for what would become its Deer Season XP line. In response to their hunting customers' top concern, Winchester's product developers set out to create a load that would effectively minimize the distance well-hit deer would travel before going down. In short, customers kept asking for a load that will drop a deer in its tracks.

Naturally Winchester's solution centered on the bullet, the component that directly impacts the game. Only an accurate, streamlined projectile capable of high-level downrange performance would find favor with today's hunters, and to produce the degree of trauma necessary for rapid knockdown, it would have to expand radically upon impact. But not so radically that it would fail to penetrate into and through the vitals. Cost containment was also important, since Winchester knew the product must be priced competitively with current favorite deer loads.

Tipped bullets have become the industry's go-to solution for achieving the dual objectives of flat downrange trajectory and rapid expansion, so that was the starting point. After much trial-and-error, Winchester's rifle-ammo development team headed by Mike Stock came up with a solution that at the same time was ingenious and yet quite simple. They found that making the tip bigger, both in length and therefore in diameter where it meets the metal, would indeed help to cause the rapid upset they sought. However, to achieve the optimum expansion-penetration ratio, the bullet developers then had to experiment with jacket thickness and then tweaked the formulation of the bullet's lead alloy.

The end result is the Extreme Point (XP), and it's easy to see the tip is oversized. At the same time, XP jackets taper from very thin at the front to a stout contour at the base. The progressively thicker jacket material checks the initial radical expansion and ensures a solid, substantial core remains to drive through inner tissue.

We first learned about the project in the fall of 2013, at the time the company was convinced it was time to move from development to field-testing. Our first look came during a whitetail hunt on a north Texas ranch that carefully manages its wildlife resources. NRA Publications Web Operations Manager Tom Rickwalder and I joined Greg Kosteck, who heads up Winchester's marketing team, and who supplied us pre-production cartridges topped with bullets sporting an unusually large tip.

The bullet's grouped very nicely in our rifles, and our threesome proceeded to take three nice bucks, a hog and a coyote. Impressively, all were dropped right where they stood. Upon closer examination, it was evident that the rapid-expansion ploy did indeed cause extreme tissue damage, just as intended.  Even so, we recovered just one bullet, the rest completely passing through. My buck, a wide, broken-racked 9-point was struck on the rear shoulder at 130 yds.,  and the .308 Win. 150-gr. XP's exit through the off-side rib cage tore a ragged, 3" hole. Obviously, the penetration was as good as could be expected from any well-made bullet.

In fact extreme tissue destruction and excellent penetration have been in evidence in all of the 20 or so deer and hogs I have either examined firsthand or received a heard about in detailed reports from hunters at the scene. Winchester has received many more similarly impressive reports from its field testers. Not every animal was dropped in its tracks, but I know of only one instance where the hunter lost sight of his quarry after the shot.

In fact that hunter was me, a couple months ago when Greg Kosteck and I reunited in Oklahoma for a second field-test hunt. Along with us was Chris Sprangers from NRA's Office of Advancement, and Chris got busy right away dropping a great old-timer buck that had come to feed in a wheat field.  Greg scored too, killing a dandy 10-point. In both cases Deer Season XP met the drop-‘em-right-there objective.

My buck luck wasn't as good but I did single out a mature doe traveling without a fawn, and shot it with XP .270 Win. 130-gr. from a hilltop blind at about 120 yards. The deer hunched, but with one leap vanished behind a wooded point. I expected to find the doe in a heap right there, but no. However inside of 30 seconds I spied blood and within a few paces the trail looked like vandals had been splashing red paint on the ground. It was easy to follow the crimson markers, and incredibly they extended more than 100 yards. My steeply angled shot had entered low behind the shoulder, eviscerated the heart, and then punched out between the legs. The bullet path through the deer was about 10 inches long and effectively drained the blood through it. I was amazed and humbled by what had occurred, and it served as yet another lesson that terminal ballistics can be mysterious.

I knew beforehand that not every deer shot with the new development would tip right over, and folks from Winchester certainly know that too. First, the hunter has to make a killing shot into the vitals, and for XP to realize its true potential those shots should be through the heart-lung area where the bullet can exert maximum effect. Even then, there will be exceptions, and in my case it produced such a copious blood trail that I am confident any other hunter would have recovered that deer.

However, what's even more amazing to me than this case, is the consistent track record Deer Season XP has amassed thus far. I will be watching the feedback closely that comes as more hunters employ this ammo in the 2015 season.

According to Winchester, Deer Season XP loaded ammo will begin arriving at retail outlets this spring and will be widely available prior to fall hunting seasons. That'll give everyone ample opportunity to range-test loads and to collect more information as the shooting media covers this major development. Initial offerings will include .243 Win., .270 Win., .270 WSM, 7 mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, .300 WSM and .300 Win. Mag.

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