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Choosing Ammunition: Factory Loads

William W (Bill) Gabbard

Everyone doesn’t reload? Yep, I know that sounds crazy but there are still a few folks out there that only shoot factory ammo! Some folks don’t have the time, space, or just don’t see the need.  I have a neighbor that is in his mid-eighties that won’t shoot a reload through his rifle. Factory ammo has improved over the last several years to the point that it is fairly easy to find a load that your rifle will shoot quite well. So how does someone that shoots only factory ammo decide what to use for his deer rifle this year?

factory rifle loads

I have one friend that has a trusty 30-06 that he says will shoot anything! He just goes down to the closest discount store, buys whatever is on sale and shoots up a couple of boxes and calls it good. I used to hunt with a fellow that carefully “stacked” his ammo in the clip of his semi-auto 30-06. He used a 150 gr. load in the chamber followed by a 200 gr. load to “keep ‘em down.” I have another friend that hunts with a 300 Rem Ultra Mag that bore-sighted his rifle, took a rest on a fencepost, hit a rock and has never put the rifle on paper to see how it groups. Before we all make too much fun of him, I must tell you that he has killed a lot of deer with this rig! Some of them at very long range. I had an acquaintance explain to me once that he shot Remington ammo through his Remington rifle and Winchester ammo through his Winchester because “they were made for each other.” 
I am not trying to tell you that any of these fellows are wrong. If it works for them and they are satisfied with their results, who can argue with them?

Let’s look at how I selected my loads before I started reloading and how I still do when helping friends who don’t want to reload or don’t want to shoot handloads through their rifles. First, I don’t want to claim credit for developing this method or pretend that it is an original idea. I started using this method in the early 1980s and have read several articles using variations of this method over the years. For the sake of this article, we will use the classic 270 Winchester to hunt whitetail deer as an example. The first step is to select the proper bullet type and weight for the caliber to suit the game you are going after. Best accuracy and all-around performance in production rifles are generally obtained by using mid-weight bullet for the caliber.  For the 270, that puts us in the 130 gr. range. For whitetail, a well-constructed soft point or polymer-tipped, jacketed bullet is normally best. Lighter weight hollow-point bullets can explode on contact resulting in insufficient penetration. A heavy bonded or monolithic bullet may pass through without expanding.

Theoretically, at this point, we would buy a box of every 130 gr. soft point or polymer-tipped, jacketed 270 Winchester ammo on the market and see what our rifle liked best! A quick review of Midway USA showed that they had 22 different loads ranging in price from $17.99 to $44.99 per box that met these criteria. Federal Premium offers nine different 130 gr. loads, two specifically designed for whitetail deer. Winchester offers six while Hornady markets five intended for whitetail. Remington has three while Browning and Barnes offer two each. Add the offerings from Nosler, Prvi Partizan, and HSM and you quickly see that it would simply cost too much to try all the available offerings.

factory rifle loads

choosing factory loadsFirst things first. Buy at least one box of quality ammunition to get your rifle on paper at 100 yards. This is where your friends come in. Talk to every person you know that shoots and collect three rounds each of as many different types of ammo (that fit your criteria) that you can possibly find. Talk to your fellow hunters, folks at local sportsmens’ clubs, shooting ranges, friends and friends of friends. If you have a little patience and persistence you will find out what they shoot and why, and most fellow shooters will be glad to help you with both advice and enough ammo to shoot 3-shot groups of each.
The old reloader in me must caution you at this point to make sure that you keep good records on what ammo you have collected. Do not count on the headstamp to know what you are shooting, remember that Federal had nine different 130 gr. 270 loads. Keep your ammo in boxes or bags clearly labeled as to what it is.

choosing factory loadsNext stop is the rifle range. You have the scope on paper so simply shoot 3-shot groups with each load, keeping good records as to which target corresponds with the ammo. Take care to keep the rifle cool. Shoot a 3-shot group and allow the barrel to cool to normal temperature before firing again. If you have more that five or six types of ammo to try, you may want to clean the barrel and fire a fouling shot from your original box of ammo before continuing.  Once you decide which ammo your rifle shoots the best, buy a few boxes of that ammo. You have already zeroed your scope, so now you will only need to fine tune it for this load.

Over the years, I have had tremendous success using this method and have found very few rifles that will not provide very good accuracy with factory ammunition. There used to be a beautiful Winchester Model 70 XTR Featherweight that lived here that shot 1.5 to 3-inch groups. My little brother happened to try some Federal 130 gr. Power-Shok and the darned thing would nearly cut bullet holes at 100 yards.  However, my old Model 70 XTR preferred Winchester 130 gr. Silvertips. A perfect example of similar rifles preferring different ammo! My son’s first rifle, a Remington Model Seven in 7mm-08. preferred Remington Core-Lokt 120 gr. over any premium ammo we tried through it. A Browning A-bolt in 300 Win Mag would shoot nickel-sized groups all day long with Winchester 190 gr. Ballistic Silvertips till Winchester discontinued the ammo. I killed seven deer with my last box of that ammo. A Winchester model 70 XTR in 7MM Rem Mag would shoot dime-sized groups at 100 yards using Hornady 154 gr Interlock ammo. A Ruger Model 77 in 223 would shoot 0.5 inch groups using Federal ammo. A friend of mine recently dropped off a Ruger in 6.5 Creedmoor and left me several boxes of Factory ammo to use zeroing it in and wanted me to build him a handload for it. After shooting a 0.5 inch group using Hornady ammo, I called him to make sure he really wanted me to handload for it.  He decided it was not necessary.

choosing factory loads

There is no rhyme or reason as to what your rifle might like but try as many different types of ammunition as you can “beg, steal or borrow” (don’t really steal it) and the odds are that you can find a factory load that will shoot better than you ever imagined!

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