Just a while back there was fellow asking me about ammunition for his deer rifle.
“What’s the best factory load?” he asked.
“For me,” I replied, “I’d say it was the 30-06 180 grain Musgrave round noses.”
“I’ve never heard of Musgrave!” he said.
“You probably wouldn’t.” I replied. “A boatload of the stuff came in from South Africa back in the 80’s. It was the one and only time I saw it.”
“What about now?”
“I haven’t bought ammo at the store since Clinton was in office.” I said.
You probably think this is going to be another shamanic paen to the benefits of reloading. If you do, then you probably know what I am going to say already and have not taken my previous recommendations. Either that, or you have already drunk the Kool-Aid and are patting your little green Rock Chucker and are confident you know what is coming next.
This is not that.
Let me begin by analyzing why I answered with the 180 grain Musgraves. At the time I bought the stuff, I had only one deer rifle. It was a Remington 742 in 30-06. If you look back in my weblog, you will see many mentions of the rifle. I no longer shoot it. It is a long story. However, back then, like any beginning deer hunter, I thought my rifle was the best thing out there for deer.
The Musgrave stuff showed up at my local gun store about 1984. Jay, the manager, had it stocked up by the register. Prior to this, I had tried Remingtons and Winchesters in a variety of weights. What I noticed was that if I went out looking for ammo, I might find 150’s, 165’s, or 180’s in stock. They might be Remington Core-Lokts or Winchester Super-X, and I would pick up a couple of boxes and go shooting. I would expend the first box getting the rifle sighted-in and then get a season’s deer hunting out of the remainder. That was if I was lucky. Sometimes I would have to repeat this all a couple of times before I had enough ammo left to go hunting.
Part of this was availability and part of it was the vagueries of the ammo from lot to lot. Part of it was that I was not all that great a shot at this point in my career. I could have been holding inconsistently or not keeping a steady rest. The problem was I just did not know.
I bought a couple boxes of the Musgrave to try out. It worked like a charm in that old 742, so I went back to Jay and bought a case of the stuff. I think it was $3.99 a box or something like that. I took my first deer with it. I took a bunch of other deer with this stuff. I still have a few boxes left in the back of the cabinet.
A lot of folks hear reloading and they think it is all about shooting on the cheap. It is, but it isn’t. A lot of the “cheapness” is about reproducability. Once I have found a load that works in a deer rifle, I usually stick with it. In some cases, I have kept to the same load for 15 years or more. I have fewer rounds to crank off every year making sure the scope has kept its zero. Not worrying about lot-to-lot variations helps tremendously. I loaded out of the same 8# jug of H4895 for 10 years for most of my deer rifles and those of my sons. When something is off on a given day, it is more likely me.
Getting back to the original question: “What is the best factory ammo for deer?”
1) It is what shoots best in your firearm. Every rifle is different. Even rifles with consecutive serial numbers shoot the same ammo differently. The trick is to find what works best in your rifle.
2) It is the cheapest stuff that will get the job done. I never did shoot a $50 box of ammo. I think the most I ever paid was about $20. Deer are not that hard to kill. Anyone who claims differently is trying to sell you something. Forget all the fancy premium stuff. Deer will not know the difference.
3) It is the stuff that you can acquire easily and reliably. Most all of the manufacturered ammo is better at lot-to-lot consistency than it was in the mid-80’s, but there are still variations.
4) It is most likely the stuff that is in the middle of what’s commonly out there for that particular chambering. Forget the stuff at the far ends of weight spectrum.
If I had to repeat what I did with the Musgrave ammo tomorrow here is what I would do. First I would hunt around for the cheapest load that shot well in my rifle. It might be Remington or Winchester or Federal. It could also be Sellior & Belloit or Prvi-Partisan. Either consult with your LGS or go online to a place like grafs.com and find that exact load and buy as much of it as you can afford. Get your deer rifle dialed in with that load and then hold onto that stuff as best you can. With the Musgrave stuff, I basically bought a 10 year supply at a 50% discount from what I was paying at Walmart for a big name brand.
There is another concept here that I will introduce at this point and that is the dedicated deer rifle. If all you have is one rifle, then there is the temptation to use it for target work and plinking at cans. You might loan it out to your buddy for the weekend. You might decide to let it rattle around in the truck all summer. If you are serious about finding the best ammo, then it is time to ask yourself if it is not time to dedicate one rifle to the purpose of deer hunting at the same time you are dedicating one load to the rifle. Lastly: save your empties. Ten years from now you’ll be thinking about reloading them, and you’ll have a supply of 1-fired brass to last you for the rest of your life.