Premium Ammunition, Worth The Cost?

Steve Felgenhauer

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The three boxes of shells sitting on the counter reduced the $100 bill to barely enough to buy me a value meal at McDonalds.

“Can this stuff be that much better?” I asked the fellow behind the counter.

He smiled as he handed me back my change with a “What a sucker” smirk on his face. I was determined to find out if premium ammunition is more accurate and discover exactly what these golden bullets offer to justify the cost.

I gathered every .308 Winchester rifle I could find and even borrowed one so I could get a good mix of test subjects. I had ammo from all the manufacturers in as many different bullet weights as I could find. I was ready to be my very ownMythBusters and blow the lid off the premium ammunition scam.

The shooting session started much as I hoped. The first rifle I tested really liked 150-grain bullets, and with standard ammo proceeded to shoot a group that I could cover with a nickel. I could smell blood. The next box just happened to be the ammo apparently dipped in gold. Three shots and $5.40 later I headed downrange to my target. Staring back at me was a group size nearly identical to the one I had just shot.

The rest of the morning followed nearly the same. Once I found the particular combination of rifle and ammunition, the standard and premium ammunition shot almost identical group sizes. When the smoke cleared, I was out a few hundred bucks, but at least one of my questions had been answered. According to my testing, premium ammunition is not more accurate. However, the question still remains, what does it offer? The answer is choices. Premium ammunition offers shooters choices – in bullet selection.

Premium ammunition is loaded with premium-grade bullets by makers such as Nosler, Barnes, Berger and Sierra. These bullets are designed for specific purposes. For example; no bullet has won as many accuracy titles as Sierra’s MatchKings. They are considered to be the standard in accuracy. Until just a few years ago, they were only available to handloaders. The ammunition makers heard the requests of shooters and now offer loaded ammunition with these bullets and other top premium bullets for target or hunting.

Few hunters would argue the performance of the Nosler Partition to anchor big game. These are also now available to hunters without handloading as are the Barnes, Berger and Swift A-Frames to name but a few.

Now do you need premium ammunition?

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That would depend on the situation. Just like I wouldn’t go on an elk hunt with a .308 Winchester, and before you get all defensive about that statement hear me out. I live in Missouri, and if I were to go on an elk hunt out west, I would expect to spend several thousand dollars on things like transportation to and from, licenses, guides and the sort. This would be a once in a lifetime hunt for me. And though I might get a bull elk within 100 yards, chances are the only bull elk I would see would present a shot at 300 yards or farther. I want to have enough rifle to do the job and while the .308 Winchester is quite capable, I’d prefer an edge and a little extra oomph. The .308 Winchester would stay at home; in its place would be a .338 Winchester Magnum.

On the flip side, a hunter who lives in the heart of elk country and is able to wait all season long for a 150 yard shot has no qualms using the caliber. The same thought process would go into bullet selection. I might not need premium bullets on the Missouri whitetail I chase each deer season, but if I was spending good money on a hunt, you can better believe the bullet I shoot will be the best constructed bullet I can find.

Many outfitters, especially western and those abroad, prefer you bring factory ammunition over handloads. I know many African guides even state in their brochures to bring factory ammunition. The decision isn’t personal, but when you are hunting something that can maim you at best, the last thing you want running through your mind is, “Will this guy’s handloads go bang?”

So no, premium ammunition is not more accurate, but when a hunt of a lifetime comes around, you can guess what I will be shooting.

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