November 09, 2022
I bought a used rifle off a preacher last winter, and I probably should’ve paid more for it. It was a Marlin 336, JM stamped, in .35 Remington. I didn’t particularly need another deer rifle, and had I even been looking for a lever-action, I would’ve preferred a .30-30. But that’s not the gun the preacher had for sale. Maybe I should’ve felt guilty about the deal, but he named the price, so I brought the gun home with the full intention of hunting with it in the fall.
I replaced the old see-through rings and scope with a new Weaver base, rings and a Maven RS.2 2-10x38 scope. It looks good; modernized with classic lines. Sometimes I take the rifle out of the safe, just to shoulder it, look at it and cycle the action—but I’ve yet to fire a shot through it because I’ve yet to see a single round of .35 Remington ammunition for sale since I bought it.
I’ll lay odds you’ve had a difficult time finding ammunition of some sort over the past couple years, too. While rimfire ammo, and the high-volume centerfire range calibers like 9mm and .223, have been back on shelves in much of the country for a few months now, it’s mid-May as I write this, and a lot of hunters are still seeing a dearth of their favorite deer-rifle rounds available for sale.
There is bright news on the horizon, though, which I can tell you firsthand because I toured the revamped Remington Ammunition factory in Lonoke, Arkansas back in March, where I not only saw ammunition being made by the thousands, but also had my eyes opened as to why certain calibers might be easier to find than others. Although the factory has been in operation since 1969, the Remington brand has suffered hardships in recent years due heavily to poor leadership at the head of the investment group that, for a while, owned them. The Remington Outdoor Company filed for bankruptcy in July of 2020—the second time in two years—and auctioned off its assets, including Marlin firearms.
The ammunition business was purchased by Vista Outdoor, the same group that owns brands like Federal, CCI and Speer. Ruger bought Marlin, and Remington firearms are still being produced by RemArms in the Ilion, New York facility. If there was any initial concern at the ammo plant over being bought out by a competitor, it went away quickly when Vista invested heavily in the plant with new tooling, raw materials and some 500 new employees. Now, the factory is running 24/7, and there’s even a new facility dedicated to making the products in highest demand (they were cranking out 9mm FMJ when I was there). But rimfire and centerfire-rifle ammunition and shotgun shells are all made from scratch right there in Lonoke, too.
A CLASSIC DEER KILLER
Core-Lokt bullets begin life as raw materials: Spools of lead wire and rolls of copper are formed to approximately the correct size before being mated together into a jacketed soft-point bullet. Brass is formed here, too, and eventually it all comes together with powder and primers (also made on site) to become a cartridge. They’re checked for quality control and boxed up for sale.
Thirty years ago this fall, I was sitting against a big swamp oak in the river bottoms of Ballard County, Kentucky next to my dad, and that’s where I shot my first buck: A nice 7-pointer that fell in his tracks at 70 or so yards to a single 100-grain Core-Lokt bullet out of a .243. After 82 years in production, that bullet is still preferred by some of the best whitetail hunters I know. There’s nothing fancy about it, particularly given the other bullets on the market today. It’s simply a jacketed soft point with a deep lead core that expands rapidly but still penetrates well from run-of-the-mill calibers like .270, .308 and .30-06.
With a flat base and that soft lead point, the Core-Lokt is not especially suited for long-range accuracy, at least compared to the competition, but nobody who hunts with them gives a flying damn about that. They use them because they’re hellfire on whitetails at whitetail ranges, reliable, economical and easy to find (at least when the State of the Union is normal) in about whatever caliber you need.
In addition to restocking the classics, Remington has several new products available and for whitetail hunters. None is more exciting than the Core-Lokt Tipped, which replaces the traditional lead soft-point bullet with a polymer-tipped version—green polymer, of course. That polymer tip gives the bullet a higher ballistic coefficient for better long-range accuracy, while retaining the original Core-Lokt’s jacket for the expansion we expect.
Maybe you don’t plan to shoot a whitetail at 412 yards (I don’t), but at 100 yards, the 165-grain Core-Lokt Tipped shoots better out of my .30-06 than did the classic softpoint. I haven’t tried these on a deer yet, but I expect good things. They cost about 30 percent more per box than standard Core-Lokts, and are available in .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270, .280 Rem., 7mm Rem. Mag., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .308 and .300 WSM.
THE HUNT FOR HUNTING AMMO
Conventional wisdom has long held that buying a new rifle in a classic caliber is always safer than buying it in the hot new thing because, if for some reason you find yourself missing ammo on a hunt in BFE, you can likely run to the hardware store and get some stand-in stuff if you’re shooting .30-06, .270 or something equally as common.
Ironically, though, the most popular deer-rifle calibers have been some of the most difficult to find during this most recent ammo shortage. Still, if your primary deer gun is as boring as my old .30-06, know that relief is coming. As I learned on the Remington tour, centerfire-rifle cartridges are mostly all made on the same machines, just like at your home reloading bench. Switching calibers means switching tooling and dies. Although, on a production scale, a full change of tooling might require a full shift of work or more, during which time nothing is coming off the line. That’s a move that plant managers don’t take lightly, and since calibers like .270, .30-06 and .30-30 must have production runs in the millions to meet demand, rest assured they’re making a lot of it. All three calibers were pouring off the line when I was there.
What about the .35 Remington I need to feed the old lever gun I bought off the preacher? They’ll get around to making that one, too, and probably with a Core-Lokt, since it’s a safe bet that .35 Remington shooters use that bullet as much as any. But with an annual demand that’s only in the hundreds of thousands of rounds, satisfying the need for the more popular calibers is the priority. What does that mean for deer season? Well, I’ll keep watching the shelves for some .35—and take comfort knowing I can always use my .30-06 if I need it.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.