First Look: Winchester Deer Season XP

winchester_deer_season_xp_top2There are a lot of deer hunters in the woods each year — more than 10 million in fact, all waiting for a chance to hang their tag on one of the roughly 26 million whitetails that roam the U.S. today. So with that many deer and that many people hunting them, it might come as a surprise to realize there aren't many, if any, choices when it comes to ammunition specifically built for deer.

A few years back, Hornady introduced American Whitetail, a revamp of their popular Interlock line of bullets in an All-American package. Other than that, the choices for deer hunters are limited to general-purpose big-game bullets that are often overbuilt for thin-skinned whitetails. Winchester, after successfully introducing two other species-specific cartridges — Razorback XT and Varmint-X, will finally give deer hunters a bullet of their own — Deer Season XP.

"A vast majority of deer hunters are using a product that was originally designed and built to hunt a wide range of critters, with deer being the thinnest skinned," said Mike Stock, centerfire product managers for Winchester. "Products like Power-Point have done a fantastic job on deer over the years, but what we really wanted to do was for the first time build a bullet for the deer hunter."

Although Deer Season XP won't be available until early 2015, Winchester's team has been testing the bullet on whitetails for the past year or so. I got the chance to do some testing of my own on a hunt in South Carolina this past August, which unfortunately just consisted of chambering the same round every morning and evening for three days. Others on the hunt were more successful.

All totaled, our group killed nine bucks in three days. Every deer, except one, basically dropped in its tracks and that outlier only made it 50 or 60 yards before toppling. This dead-on-its-feet performance is exactly what Winchester was looking for in the development of Deer Season XP's Extreme Point bullet.

winchester_deer_season_xp_top"Hunters tell us over and over again that they're tired of following blood trails," said Stock. "The new Extreme Point bullet in Deer Season XP is built specifically for deer to efficiently dump all its energy in that 200 to 250 pound animal."

The secret to that knockdown power is what Winchester calls Maximum Impact Diameter. Looked at in profile, the Extreme Point bullet features a larger polymer tip that extends farther back into the bullet, creating a wider, flatter meplat, which is the front-leading portion of the bullet itself. This sledge-hammer like face results in more rapid expansion and greater trauma during the first five to six inches of penetration.

The larger the diameter, the more rapidly the bullet expands, leading to a higher transfer of energy at terminal velocities and a larger wound channel. Deer Season XP manages to balance that instant, controlled expansion with adequate penetration to make it to the offside of thin-skinned, deer-sized game.

During my South Carolina hunt I saw that time and again back at the skinning shed. Each deer brought in showed entrance wounds that were far outsized for the .270-caliber bullet and excessive trauma to the vitals.

Keeping with the penetration theme, of the nine bullets fired, three were found just inside the hides of the offside of each deer. The rest penetrated completely. Granted, these were Carolina-sized deer, so I'm interested to see what kind of penetration a hunter will get on the big-bodied deer of the Northwoods and Midwest. According to Stock, so far Deer Season XP has performed up to Winchester's high standards.

"We've done plenty of testing in the lab, including recording high-speed footage shooting Deer Season XP into ballistic gelatin to ensure it opens up quick for more shock and trauma," said Stock. "But the proof is in the pudding. On deer hunts we've done during the development phase, the bullet worked as advertised. It knocks deer down and we've yet to have a deer run very far after being hit with Deer Season XP."

winchester_deer_season_xp_draperDue to the high ballistic coefficients created by the extended polymer tips, Deer Season XP is also meeting great expectations in the accuracy category, especially in the variety of rifles available to hunters today. The lead core has been wrapped in a gilding metal jacket that's slightly thinner that leads to greater accuracy in the widest range of rifles on the market. Winchester is also offering Deer Season XP in a single bullet weight for each of the eight popular deer cartridges in the line — which includes .243, .270, .270WSM, 7mm Magnum, .308, .30-06, .300 Magnum and .300 WSM.

"We've selected the optimum weight for a deer hunting bullet in that caliber," said Stock. "It simplifies the purchasing decision, but we've also found it's the right construction for the bullet's performance. It doesn't waste extra bullet weight the hunter doesn't need."

When it comes to polymer tipped bullets hunters are also used to paying a premium price, which might be the most surprising thing about Deer Season XP. For just a buck or two more than a twenty-spot, hunters can now get a high ballistic coefficient, polymer-tipped bullet. Or should I say, will be able to. For that's the worst thing I can say about Deer Season XP — it won't be available until later in 2015, leaving deer hunters to wait another year before they can test the bullet themselves.

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