Bugle’s Best New Ammo for Elk Hunters
From precision ammunition for open country to lever-gun loads for the timber, here’s a list of RMEF’s favorite loads for 2024.
You work all season to prepare for this moment: the bull walks up the ridge, your setup is perfect and you calmly start to squeeze the trigger.
Of all the gear we carry in the field as elk hunters, ammunition is perhaps the most critical. I’ve never seen an animal lost because a hunter wore the wrong camo, but I have seen animals wounded because a bullet didn’t do its job as advertised.
Quality bullets in appropriate calibers shoot accurately and offer good terminal performance when the shooters do their part. Whether you use factory ammunition or reload your own, here’s a list of the best ammo and reloading products for 2024.
Why We Love It: A tried-and-true hunting bullet, Nosler’s RMEF Trophy Grade ammunition loaded with Partition bullets is designed specifically with elk hunters in mind.
I’ve harvested a variety of game with Partition bullets—including my first bull elk—which have impressed me not only with their weight retention and terminal performance but also their accuracy. That first bull traveled just a few steps before piling up, and my experience was very similar on an elk hunt in New Mexico last October for RMEF Films.
John Nosler originally designed the Partition after the unimpressive performance of the jacketed bullet he used on a 1946 British Columbia moose hunt. By leaving a divider of copper inside the bullet (the “partition”), Nosler would forever change the design of hunting bullets by separating front and rear cores to ensure deep, straight-line penetration at a range of velocities. Nearly eight decades later, few bullets can match the Partition’s consistency on elk and other large game.
Nosler offers RMEF-licensed Trophy Grade ammunition loaded with Partition bullets in cartridges from 6.5 Creedmoor to .338 Win Mag—all loaded in Nosler premium brass cases. The patented dual-core design of the Partition ensures maximum weight retention (generally more than two-thirds of the original bullet weight) and the spitzer bullet profile promises excellent accuracy for long shots. Learn more at Nosler.com
Why We Love It: It’s the lead-free load for Hornady’s new long-range cartridge.
A red stag I shot on a hunt in New Zealand made it only a few yards before going down after being hit hard by a 175-grain Hornady ELD-X from my 7mm PRC. With its high retained energy, wind-bucking capabilities and inherent accuracy with manageable recoil, the 7mm PRC is certainly one of the best elk hunting cartridges to come along in years.
It follows the same guiding principles that have made the 6.5 PRC and .300 PRC cartridges so successful including efficient case design and the ability to handle long, high-ballistic coefficient (BC), heavy-for-caliber loads. Now Hornady is offering a 7mm PRC Outfitter CX load which pushes their 160-grain Copper alloy expanding bullet from the muzzle at 3,000 feet per second giving you deep penetration and nearly 100% weight retention. I’ve hunted with CX bullets for a wide variety of North American and African game, and it’s become my favorite lead-free bullet because it offers consistent, reliable performance and a relatively high BC. The 7mm PRC Outfitter CX 160-grain load retains over a ton of kinetic energy at 400 yards and its trajectory is as good or better than most .300 magnums with substantially less recoil, making it ideal for backcountry hunting. Additionally, Outfitter ammo comes loaded in waterproof nickel cases with sealed primers and case-mouths to shrug off moisture for consistent performance when things get wet. Go to Hornady.com to learn more
Why We Love It: Excellent accuracy and weight retention make the versatile Fiocchi KnockDown a superb option for hunters.
I’ve used Fiocchi shotshells since college, but when I traveled to Lecco, Italy, last year to tour the factory, I was impressed by the company’s commitment to producing high-quality centerfire hunting rifle ammunition. The same attention to detail that make Fiocchi shotshells a favorite of Olympic shooters has carried over into their new centerfire rifle line.
The KnockDown LFCHP (Lead-Free Copper Hollow Point) bullet has longitudinal grooves that initiate expansion and create three distinct “petals” to increase bullet diameter and transfer shock. The result is a bullet that is not only accurate but very reliable, with close to 100% weight retention for excellent terminal performance.
Fiocchi is already offering KnockDown in a variety of loads from .243 Win to .300 Win Mag, including popular elk hunting rounds such as the .308 Win, .30-06 Springfield, 6.5 Creedmoor and .270 Win. But my favorite for elk hunting is the 160-grain 7mm Rem Mag load. With a muzzle velocity of 2,935 fps, this bullet shoots flat, and the aerodynamic boat-tail bullet design keeps wind drift to a minimum. Rings cut into the shank of the bullet also help reduce fouling in the bore. Fiocchi’s new 281-acre facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, will soon ramp up production, so look for KnockDown cartridges in new loads in the future. That’s good news for hunters because this is a great bullet for elk—or just about any other big game animal. Learn more at Fiocchi.com
Why We Love it: Tough and accurate, the Norma Bondstrike is a bullet built to exacting standards.
I’ve hunted whitetails with Bondstrike ammunition, and I love Norma’s legendary attention to detail and quality components ensuring consistent velocities and reliable performance. Deer dropped quickly with the 6.5 Creedmoor 143-grain Bondstrike, which left large exit wounds on the off shoulder with substantial blood trails.
The streamlined profile of this boat-tail bullet has a high BC. The jacket thickens toward the base and the blue polymer tip help initiate expansion. Because of the jacket profile and bonding, you can expect reliable performance at high velocities and close ranges, but if you need to stretch things out on a cross-canyon shot, the Bondstrike will not let you down. I’ve been very impressed with the accuracy of this bullet, and I’d have no concerns hunting elk with the 6.5 Creedmoor 143-grain Bondstrike I used on whitetails. It is one of my favorites for open country where shots may be long because the polymer tip initiates expansion at lower velocities than competing bullets.
But the 6.5 Creedmoor is hardly the only option: Bondstrike ammunition is available in eight larger calibers to .300 RUM including .308 Win, .30-06, .300 Win Mag, and .300 WSM. It can be difficult to find a hunting bullet that consistently performs at a broad variety of ranges, but Bondstrike is one of them. Visit Norma.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: The large tip initiates expansion for maximum energy transfer on big game.
Browning introduced Max Point ammunition a few years ago as an ideal deer and pronghorn load, but these bullets have proven very effective on elk as well. The large polymer tip maintains a high BC and helps them slip through crosswinds more efficiently than other bullets. Upon impact you can expect maximum energy transfer.
All the Max Point ammunition I’ve tested shot quite well, grouping an inch or better for three shots at 100 yards through Browning rifles. Available in a variety of calibers from .243 Win to .300 Win, my favorite load is the highly underrated 6.8 Western pushing a 170-grain bullet at 2,870 fps. That load shoots flat and doesn’t generate excessive recoil—an ideal recipe for an elk hunting load. Go to Browning.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: The brand that first brought us monometal bullets, Barnes continues to improve upon the original design.
Barnes has been in the monometal bullet business longer than anyone, and their VOR-TX Long Range line of ammunition is superb. Barnes LRX bullets are tough enough for big animals like elk, and extremely accurate. These high-BC bullets group almost as well as match ammo in many rifles I’ve tested, and that’s exactly what hunters need for long-range shots on tough animals. Barnes offers a large selection of VOR-TX loads for elk in several calibers including the 7mm, .300, .338 and .375 Remington Ultra Mags as well as classics like the .300 Win Mag, .30-06 and .270 Win. New for 2024 is a .300 PRC offering which should be an outstanding cross-canyon elk load. Learn more at Barnes.com.
Why We Love It: This aerodynamic all-copper bullet expands reliably across a range of velocities and sheds energy effectively and efficiently.
Winchester’s Copper Impact bullets have an oversized polymer tip that not only improves ballistic performance but also helps initiate expansion at low velocities. Its streamlined profile means it maintains a sizzling velocity even at longer distances. The bullet also unleashes significant energy transfer while achieving superb weight retention.
I believe Copper Impact is the best all-around hunting bullet in Winchester’s lineup because while it is designed for excellent long-range accuracy, the ultra-tough construction makes it lethal on larger game like elk. You can expect deep straight-line wound channels and short follow-ups with these bullets. The newest offering is a 150-grain 7mm Rem Mag, but I’ve talked to several writers and industry professionals who have used the 6.8 Western version firing 162-grain on elk and have found it deadly, making it my choice for elk season. To learn more go to Winchester.com.
Why We Love it: Federal offers another option for hunters who want to use ELD-X bullets.
Federal Premium is now offering ammunition loaded with Hornady ELD-X bullets, a deadly combination for big game at any reasonable distance. Hornady designed the ELD-X (or Extremely Low Drag-expanding) to offer true match-grade accuracy while still performing reliably in the field. ELD-X bullets offer the best BCs in their class, and their unique design is what makes them so versatile at varying ranges and velocities. Under 400 yards the bullet’s progressively thickening jacket and InterLock ring prevent overexpansion. Beyond 400 yards the HeatShield polymer tip initiates expansion at lower velocities. The tip initiates expansion at faster velocities as well, but the HeatShield part must resist deforming due to heat
It’s not a bonded bullet, but the ELD-X retains 50% to 60% of its weight at close to moderate ranges and 85% to 90% of its original weight beyond 400 yards. I’ve found this to be true on whitetails, pronghorns, elk and even tough African antelopes like nyala. Loaded in Federal brass with premium propellants and outstanding primers, you can expect these loads to shoot accurately and perform reliably. Visit Federal.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: This new straight-wall cartridge has lever-action fans excited for fall.
Remington has seen the success of straight-wall cartridges like the 350 Legend and decided to have another go at this growing market, albeit with a whole different brand of hunting cartridge. Their new 360 Buckhammer is designed for lever guns and is based on the .30-30 cartridge necked out and straightened to accept .358-inch bullets. Current loads available from Remington include both 180- and 200-grain Core-Lokt offerings, and you can expect to see Federal Power-Shok and Hammer Down appear on store shelves this fall as well. While the Buckhammer isn’t designed for long-range work, it’s an ideal timber-hunting cartridge and retains over 1,500 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. Visit remington.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: Temperature insensitive Winchester StaBALL HD Powder that pushes a variety of popular elk hunting bullets to consistent velocities.
Handloaders all seek the perfect propellant for their loads, and if you’re an elk hunter, Winchester StaBALL HD by Hodgdon might be the ideal all-season powder for elk hunters who handload. It’s far less sensitive to temperature changes than other powders, and with a slow burn rate similar to the popular Hodgdon Retumbo, it’s perfect for medium-caliber elk-hunting rounds like the 6.5 PRC, 7mm Rem Mag and .300 PRC. As with other BALL powders, you can expect precise metering for consistent performance and ultimately, better accuracy. Learn more at Hodgdon.com.
Nosler RMEF Bullets
Why We Love Them: Premium component bullets that help support RMEF’s conservation efforts.
Partition bullets have already been mentioned here as part of Nosler’s RMEF licensed ammo product line, but handloaders can also stoke their loads with the popular Partition hunting bullet, one of the most rugged and dependable projectiles ever designed. I have a soft spot for partitions since that’s what I used to harvest my first elk, and, like the other big game animals I’ve hunted with them, that bull went down almost immediately from my well-placed shot. The Partition’s front core helps initiate expansion while its rear maintains deep straight-line penetration. There are five different RMEF-licensed Nosler Partition offerings including a 200-grain ideally suited for the 8mm Rem Mag—one of the most underrated elk cartridges of all time. Visit Nosler.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: Your rifle, optic and ammunition should all work together—and nobody understands that better than Gunwerks.
Gunwerks operates under the philosophy that a firearm system is the best way to enhance in-field performance, so their product lines differ from other manufacturers. Essentially, you build a system with a rifle that is optimized for premium ammunition, and Gunwerks custom loads that ammunition for you. I tested their new Nexus rifle at the company’s Sheep Mountain shooting course, which helped me understand why the company pushes the system concept. With a 6.5 PRC rifle optimized for Gunwerks 140-grain VLD bullets, I was able to hit targets consistently across windy canyons and out beyond hunting ranges. Ammo is but a part of their system, but the system works. Go to Gunwerks.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: Quality brass, primers and powders plus Nosler Accubond bullets make this ammo ideal for serious big game hunters.
SIG is now offering hunting ammunition loaded with Nosler Accubond bullets in their new Elite Series – a fantastic option for big game hunters. SIG will always be best known for their firearms (and the military contracts they continue to win) but they’ve invested heavily in ammunition production and the quality of their ammo is outstanding. Elite Series ammo comes in nickel-plated cases carefully loaded to produce low standard deviations and consistent accuracy. Combine that with the Accubond’s proven track record and it’s easy to see why this ammunition is already in high demand. Visit SIG.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: GameChanger ammo offers match accuracy with deadly performance.
In the early 2000s Sierra optimized its MatchKing bullet for big game hunting and added a signature green polymer tip. That bullet became known as the GameKing, and hunters loved this new projectile. The only problem is that Sierra only offered it as a component bullet, but that changed in 2019 when the company started loading it as GameChanger ammunition. It lives up to its name with super accuracy and outstanding terminal performance. In my experience it is very close to the legendary MatchKing bullets in overall accuracy and the special lead alloy core and copper jacket perform well at a variety of distances. Learn more at Sierra.com.
Why We Love Them: Speer brings their renowned performance and quality to the big game bullet market.
The new Speer Impact bullet features a molecularly bonded core and jacket and a Slipstream polymer tip that initiates expansion at velocities 200 feet per second below competing bullet designs. This makes the impact bullet an ideal choice for hunting at longer distances where low velocities may compromise bullet expansion. At close range the bonded design ensures high weight retention and reliable performance. Speer’s Gold Dot bullet has become the standard-bearer for law enforcement, and Impact could do the same for big game hunting bullets. Current offerings include a .264-inch 140-grain Impact bullet as well as a 172-grian .308. Visit Speer.com to learn more.
Why We Love It: All the basic equipment you need to get started reloading in one box.
I was once told that there are two types of rifle shooters: those who reload and those who will someday reload. Reloading allows you to customize ammo specifically to your gun and hunting needs, and it also saves money. That is why Hornady’s Lock-N-Load Classic Kit is such a wonderful addition to anyone’s gun room. It comes with a press, digital scale, reloading manual and everything else you need to start rolling your own ammunition except dies and shell holders. Reloading is a great way to spend the off-season, but even if you’ve never loaded your own ammunition, the Lock-n-Load Classic Kit makes it so simple that even beginners will soon be able to create their own handloads. It also makes a great gift idea for hunters and shooters. Learn more at Hornady.com.
By Brad Fitzpatrick