Imagine, just for a moment, what the ammo shelves at your favorite gun store look like—or what they looked like before the Great Ammo Shortage, anyway. You’ve got your old-time standby brands, your solid performers, boutique brands, manufacturers’ sub-brands and, in big-box stores, the price-point house brands. Some packages are instantly recognizable while others are simple brown cardboard with stenciled lettering like they recently came out of Cold War storage (which they likely did). Then you’ve got the flashy foil and neon boxes screaming for attention. In short, it looks a lot like the cereal aisle in a grocery store.
If all this selection makes even experienced hunters scratch their heads when trying to find their favorite cartridges, just think how someone new to hunting feels when they’re purchasing their first box of ammunition. Some savvy ammo marketers have recognized this and tried to simplify the field by introducing cartridge lines with names that make their intended end-use clear; think Winchester’s Razorback XT, Remington’s Hog Hammer and, yes, ZombieMax from Hornady. For its most recent introduction, the Nebraska-based bullet builder sunk its roots even deeper into the heartland with its flag-waving American Whitetail series of ammunition.
Officials at Hornady claim that while avid hunters are well versed in bullet and ammo options, a majority of sportsmen are simply looking for “a good deer round.” They recognize both new and experienced hunters are faced with an assortment of options that can be overwhelming, from bullet material and construction to high-velocity and low-recoil choices. With its patriotic packaging and straightforward brand, American Whitetail is designed to cut through that clutter and take the guesswork out of buying bullets for the average deer hunter.
While the box and branding might be forward thinking, what’s inside the package is actually a bit retro. That shouldn’t be taken as a knock on the ammo. Instead, Hornady defines a “good deer round” as its famous Interlock bullets loaded in the most popular deer-hunting calibers. For years, the Interlock has been defined as a classic hunting bullet, one that effectively combines expansion and penetration into one accurate design. This proven terminal performance comes thanks to a lead core that is mechanically locked to the gilding metal jacket via an internal raised ring–hence the name Interlock. I should also mention American Whitetail is generally priced a few bucks cheaper than Hornady’s other Interlock-topped cartridges of the same caliber and bullet weight.
American Whitetail isn’t just about the Interlock bullet, however. It’s also about the reams of data that Hornady has accumulated over the years, data that engineers utilized when it came time to load a deer-specific cartridge. With this information at their fingertips, they were able to come up with the best velocities for each individual caliber and bullet weight that would maximize both the accuracy and the effectiveness of the Interlock bullets. For the 150-grain .308 Win. I chose to test, that means a factory-listed muzzle velocity of 2820 fps—pretty standard for that weight of bullet. The Interlock does retain a good measure of that speed at 200 and 300 yards, before dropping off to about 1800 fps at 400 yards as you would expect from the .308 chambering.
I first put American Whitetail to the test on the bench through my Sisk Point-Five, a semi-custom build from Texas riflemaker Charlie Sisk. Built on a Howa action, the Point-Five has been a tack driver for me and results with American Whitetail were no surprise. All three, three-shot groups printed within an inch, with the best group coming in closer to the half-inch mark.
After testing American Whitetail in the Sisk rifle, I wanted to see how it would perform in an off-the-shelf gun. After all, the cartridge is marketed as a price-point offering for the proletariat, not a premium load, and a vast majority of American deer hunters go into the field with factory rifles. For that, I turned to Mossberg’s ATR, a workhorse of a rifle that I’ve had good success with in the field. In previous tests with other bullets, including Hornady’s GMX, the ATR has flirted with the 1-inch mark and it liked the American Whitetail just as well. Though I never broke an inch, groups did consistently measure within 1¼ inches.
While groups of that size are well within the diameter of a whitetail’s vital zone, I still opted for the Sisk when it came time to head into the field. I only had a day and half to hunt to fill my tag on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation and guide Travis Brave Bird put me on buck after buck but I couldn’t seal the deal until the last afternoon. In the waning minutes of light, my first shot punched through a beefy prairie buck at 228 yards. The whitetail bolted at the shot, so I put a second in him just as he disappeared in the shadows. It turns out both were right on target as we found the nice whitetail just 30 yards into the pines. Both bullets blew through the off-side, so I didn’t get to find out if either Interlock expanded to twice the diameter as Hornady claims, but from the short tracking job and the size of the exit wounds, I’d say they did the job admirably.
With field-proven bullets and a generation of loading data behind it, Hornady’s American Whitetail brand is really more about marketing than anything revolutionary in terms of technology. In today’s world, that’s perfectly okay. Unlike the legion of fanatical gun guys who seem to have more time on their hands than the rest of us, a whole new group of hunters is hitting the fields who don’t want to sort through shelves of confusing information to find a “good deer bullet.” For those folks, Hornady has run American Whitetail up the flagpole and, I’m guessing, there are plenty of people prepared to salute.
Bullet Type: Interlock; soft point spitzer
Base: flat (.243 Win, .25-06 boattail)
Core: one piece, lead
Jacket: gilding metal
Features: mechanically locked bullet; optimized powders
Ballistic Coefficient: 150-grain, .30-cal .338
Calibers/Weights Available: .243 Win.; .25-06; .270 Win.; 7mm-08; 7mm Rem. Mag; .30-30; .308 Win.; .30-06; .300 Win. Mag.
Uses: deer and deer-sized game
MSRP Per Box: $26-$38 (.308 Win. $29)