Here's why hunting with a deer-specific cartridge is a smart move
What do we want a whitetail bullet to do?
Most whitetail hunters are looking for fairly rapid expansion that will induce massive trauma on the animal, followed by penetration that will result in at least some substantial part of the bullet transecting the body of the deer. Bullets used in whitetail-specific ammo tend to be "softer" than most premium-bullet designs and offer more expansion and less penetration, which is fine so long as you pick your shots accordingly. Such bullets are relatively easy to manufacture and are, therefore, available at a lower price than premium designs that require more intricate procedures and pricier component materials, so whitetail hunters can save a few dollars.
Let's take a look at four of the most common whitetail-specific product lines on the market and how they benefit whitetail hunters.
Remington Whitetail Pro Core-Lokt
Remington never really left the party when it came to whitetail-specific ammunition. Its Core-Lokt bullet has been around for over 75 years and remains a standby for whitetail hunting. The bullet was considered a groundbreaking premium design at its introduction since it mechanically controlled expansion and produced consistent mushrooms on game. Bullet technology has long surpassed the Core-Lokt when it comes to deep-penetrating and expanding designs, but it is still the standard by which other "cup and core" whitetail bullets are judged.
The Core-Lokt not only is a solid performer, but also is available in factory ammunition for a wide variety of cartridges, including some unusual ones, such as the .300 Savage, .303 British, and .35 Remington. Though these cartridges don't get much, if any, love from the outdoor media these days, there are plenty of them in the hands of whitetail hunters across the nation, and they kill deer just as dead as they did before World War II. Core-Lokts aren't setting any records for ballistic coefficient, but that matters little to 90 percent of deer hunters. It's hard to beat this classic when it comes to putting deer in the freezer.
Winchester Deer Season XP
Winchester's deer-specific load is called the Deer Season XP, and it is probably the most explosive of the designs discussed here. Winchester's whitetail line differs from the other brands in that it utilizes a polymer-tipped bullet to facilitate expansion and provide a slightly higher ballistic coefficient. Bullets in this line are light-for-caliber and are loaded to fairly high velocities.
This load is designed to expand rather violently and create a massive wound channel, exactly what some whitetail hunters are looking for. I wouldn't expect many exit wounds when using these bullets, so if deep penetration is your thing, look elsewhere. Winchester's cartridge selection is fairly limited with loads available for eight common cartridges, including the .243, .270, and .300 WSM.
Hornady American Whitetail
Hornady's whitetail line uses the company's long-proven InterLock bullet, which I've often heard described as a "poor man's premium" due to its excellent terminal performance and low price. The InterLock uses a tapered jacket and a locking ring to mechanically control the expansion of the bullet on game. The bullet acts a bit like a Nosler Partition: The front expands, and sometimes fragments, while the shank stays intact and penetrates deeply.
I have used handloaded InterLock bullets on countless deer, feral hogs, and a black bear and have never witnessed anything but great performance. Just last year I used a 162-grain InterLock at very close range on an Alabama whitetail buck, and despite an impact velocity of well over 3,000 fps, the bullet exited after dropping him where he stood.
My own experience has taught me that InterLock bullets often produce exit wounds on broadside shots, a virtue I hold in high regard. Hornady's American Whitetail ammo is loaded in 10 common whitetail cartridges, including the .25-06, .30-30 WCF, and the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Federal Premium Fusion
Federal was one of the pioneers in offering premium bullets made by nonaffiliated companies in its loaded ammunition line. This was a great thing for hunters who didn't handload, but it created a price and performance gap. Federal created the whitetail-focused Fusion line to fill this important niche.
While Hornady and Remington use similar mechanical means to control expansion and keep the bullet's lead core attached to the jacket, Federal uses a more modern molecular bonding method to "fuse" the elements. In theory, the jacket and core in a bonded bullet such as the Fusion cannot separate, which means the bullet will not "blow up" on the shoulder when shot at close range.
The Fusion is available in a broad variety of cartridges, from the .223 Remington to big-bore magnums, such as the .458 Lott, and even includes a deer-appropriate load for the often-underrated 7.62x39mm. The Fusion is a tough bullet I wouldn't hesitate to drive through the shoulder bones of a big buck at close range.