Winchester Ammunition did something a little bit radical in 2015. Knowing there are two camps in the world of bullet performance believers — those who want a bullet that holds together and passes completely through the animal, and those that want a bullet that comes apart violently once inside the chest cavity and does not exit — they doubled down on the latter with the introduction of Deer Season XP.
The key difference between Deer Season XP and other rapid-expansion-type bullets is an oversized polymer tip that is going to get the expansion party started the very instant the bullet makes contact; trauma is maximized after just a few inches of penetration. The jacket is thin and the core relatively soft. The thinking is, why pay a premium price for a “premium” bullet when hunting a thin-skinned (deer) animal?
Jason Gilbertson, Winchester’s Director of Marketing, was with me in an Alberta deer camp this past week. “The engineers did a deep dive, and what we wanted was, A.) accuracy; B.) terminal performance; and C.) a bullet that would perform on all deer body mass sizes and weights,” he said. “Also, having a plastic tip at the price point we offer it at is unique to the industry. It was several years in the making, throughout the concept design and testing phases, and so far the public’s acceptance has been great.”
The original offerings of Deer Season XP included .243, 270, .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-30 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .300 WSM and .300 Blackout. For 2017, the line will expand to include both .223 Rem. and 6.5 Creedmoor.
“Our price point with this ammo, at somewhere between $17 to $24 per box MSRP, is solid,” Gilbertson said. “It’s basically giving the hunter our premium ‘black box’ technology at a ‘gray box’s price.”
I’ve been playing with XP for a while now. In both Ruger American and Mossberg Patriot .30-06’s, the 150-grain XP bullet chronographs in the 2950 fps range — right where it’s supposed to. On this hunt I shot a Winchester XPR rifle chambered for the .300 Win. Mag. shooting that same 150-grain bullet at 3225 fps. In all three of these rifles accuracy is consistently in the 1- to 1½-inch three-shot group range at 100 yards.
The buck I killed on this hunt was no giant, but weighed somewhere in the 225-pound range on the hoof. The shot was 325 yards as measured by my Leupold RX-1200i TBR laser rangefinder. The buck could not have gone down any faster had I hit him between the ears with a sledgehammer. Back at camp, the autopsy showed the bullet expanded violently as soon as it smashed into the ribs on the near side, went to pieces once it entered the chest cavity, obliterated the lungs and never reached the offside ribs. In our camp this week we killed six bucks, both mule deer and whitetails, and every time the performance story was the same.
One interesting thing about XP is that it is offered in only one bullet weight for each featured caliber. I asked Gilbertson why so. “We chose what we thought was the ideal bullet weight per caliber for deer hunting,” he said. “This simplifies consumer choice, but we didn’t make each individual bullet weight choice willy-nilly. Our engineers made the call both in terms of what they felt would be accepted by the public, but primarily for what would deliver the accuracy and terminal performance the line was designed for.”
So far, my experiences with this ammunition mirror those of many of my colleagues — most of which shoot and hunt with rifles far more than I do. Accuracy is consistently good, and terminal performance is devastating on thin-skinned, deer-sized game. And at that price, how can you not want to give it a go?