Ammo & Gear Reviews

Proven Handgun Bullets For Whitetails

By Tom Adessa

Picture: L to R Recovered Bullets
230gr .45 ACP Golden Saber
230gr .45ACP Hydra-Shok
200gr .44Magnum XTP
158gr .357Magnum HP

When it come to best, that terminology is subjective and open to endless debate on social media. Simply tagging something as “the best” opens up a can of worms with damn near everyone chiming in and disagreeing to disagree.

With over four decades of whitetail hunting in the North East under my belt and having had great success hunting with a handgun for whitetail deer there are a number of bullets (factory and hand loads) that I have tried and all have worked; but some have performed extremely well. In previous columns by myself and other authors there has been a good deal of information in regards to the improvements of hand gun bullet design, primarily for self-defense. But, many of those bullet styles are exactly what you would want to use for whitetail hunting; of course staying within the parameters of safety and a quick humane harvest.

Here are 7 rounds that work:

One: Hornady’s XTP bullet in .44 magnum, 200gr hollow point; while the recoil is stiff this is a go-to round for me and other hunters I know. I once recovered a bullet from a doe taken at 35 yards facing me; the bullet entered the crease between the shoulder and brisket and lodged in the hip joint, exhibiting great penetration and the bullet retained 85% of its weight. This round when used in a TC Contender topped with a scope and from a resting position is like shooting a rifle.

Two:  Remington’s Golden Saber in .45ACP has always been a solid performer with great expansion although there have been reports of jacket separation; personally I have not seen this problem. The .45ACP for whitetail is a round that requires exact placement of the shot and is always suited for ranges of 50 yards or less and plus P loadings are recommended.

Three: Speer Gold Dot in .44 magnum, 240gr HP-what can I say but this round is the gold standard! It is always a top performer due to its bonded construction, but in a revolver this load also has stiff recoil.

Four: Going old school, my favorite, a 250gr Keith cast, .44 magnum handload with 18.0 grains of 2400 powder, it travels at about 1050 fps and was my only load for deer for many years. The recoil is mild and the load is adequate for whitetail out to 75 yards and good for practicing. Many will argue that a cast bullet does not expand reliably for game; but before we had high performance jacketed or bonded bullets, thousands of deer were harvested with this type of bullet.

Five:.357 magnum, 125gr Winchester PDX-1, this bullet is also a bonded construction and although I have not used it for hunting I have seen it shot into gelatin and it expands well. Within reasonable hunting ranges (50 yards or less) this bullet should do well for whitetails.

Six: Federal Hydra-Shok in .45ACP 230gr exhibits great expansion and weight retention, suitable for whitetails within short ranges.

Seven: Sierra .357 magnum, 158gr HP hand load pushed at 1250 fps it is shown to be a reliable expanding bullet as seen in the photo.

All these bullet types will harvest deer efficiently if kept within reasonable yardage and using correct shot placement. Your personal preference and experiences will always determine what is the “best” bullet and load for you.

Tom Adessa resides in Central New York, he is a LEO, a NRA Pistol Instructor, an avid lover of the outdoors and passionate about handgun shooting.