Anything mechanical has limits within which it functions best depending on its purpose and specifications.
My wife and I were driving south last week on a couple of major highways that eventually join up with Ontario # 401 that is part of the Trans Canada Highway system that goes from east to west (or the opposite) all the way from mainland Nova Scotia to mainland British Columbia. It’s one of the main routes we take in visiting the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) from the east side to visit our doctors or family members.
We had a rather brief visit with our daughter when she arrived from work to pick up some samples of materials for refinishing a couple of older living room chairs. They had recently moved from the east side of the GTA to further east into one of Ontario’s much older original settlements that, like so many of that nature, have grown exponentially into major residential towns for mostly younger couples and their families. They sold a very modern home in a major city for a heritage home in a heritage town. That puts us within about a 40 minute drive, each way, to their place under normal driving conditions.
The highway going south, from the south-east corner of Lindsay is #35. It ends at #115 that goes from Peterborough to the #401, and it is near that union that our daughter and husband now live. Highway #35 is a very good highway that is mostly straight but becomes very hilly, with some long steep ones, the further south you go. Plans are on the board to make it into a 4 – lainer and have been since we moved into the area 28 years ago. Unfortunately, during that time traffic has increased four-fold! That means often you may get stuck behind some huge 30-wheeler that is only making 40 mph (65 kph) up one of those grades. We are getting more and more of these huge trucks with double trailers pulling tons of aggregate materials. These trucks can move along just fine on normal grades, but when encountering long, high hills their strength peters out the closer they get to the top. On a two-lainer with heavy traffic coming from the other direction patience is a MUST! Even these behemoths have limitations on public highways. Of course, that is only one example of the point I want to make. There are countless others.
Like huge trucks powered by diesel motors of 500 to 600 hp, any rifle has limits in one way or another no matter the size of its bore or kinetic energy at the muzzle — even my current favourite medium-bore. To ignore that or, worse, to deny it would be foolish. After all, even the largest and most powerful of them is technically still a small arm. While capable of taking on elephant, they are not capable of taking on elephant at any range or under all conditions. And no one, to my knowledge, totes a 10 1/2 lb rifle into the mountains to shoot sheep! Plus, 5000 to 6000 ft-lbs at the muzzle is no better than 3000 for the same purpose! It fact, it would become such a physical handicap that it might literally endanger one’s very life in trying to control 60 to 80 ft-lbs of recoil on the side of a mountain where a slip or fall could finish the hunt, or even any future hunting!
While there may be too many cartridges and rifles that fill the same niches, yet any one of them has limits as to what they can do even under ideal conditions, and some more so than others. And no matter how many we add that basically cover the same fields of hunting endeavour, each of them is still limited to a somewhat narrow window of opportunity if hunting is the goal. Many never experience field conditions or hunt real game.
Let’s consider the somewhat ubiquitous .243 Winchester — a favourite small bore that pretends to be a dual-purpose firearm for small game like woodchuck to big whitetail deer to bear to elk and even moose — according to a few hunters, as one example of a rifle’s realistic limitations. Before we go any further, I will acknowledge that under particular circumstances, in the hands of a careful and good shot (or sheer luck), the .243 Winchester probably has accounted for the demise of all those animals mentioned, plus others. But so has the meek and mild .22 LR. So, this is the question to be considered: “Is the .243 a legitimate big-game rifle under most conditions?”
Also, keep in mind that there are mature whitetails in parts of the USA that barely break the 100 lb level that can be, and have been, effectively terminated by the likes of the .223 Remington. Then, there are monster whitetails in some of our Canadian provinces that attain 400 lbs plus! I submit they are NOT the same animal! I also submit that such an animal motoring through thick brush at 30 mph being chased by hounds is not a sure thing even when hunters are armed with a deer hunter’s favorite .30-06! Such a beast overcharged with adrenalin has too often been lost when hit solidly by several .30-caliber, 180-grainers. How do we know such things? Experience. When several of these animals have finally succumbed to a barrage, upon field dressing festering wounds have too often held 12ga slugs, buck shot and .25- caliber to .35-caliber bullets along with some wounds that completely passed through lungs. Yes, I’ve shot big bucks that were totally unaware of my presence, during the rut, and all it took was a single shot from a .30-06 or .300 Win Mag. that were carefully placed where they had most effect. Agreed, that’s shot placement. On the other hand, I recall one big buck seeing me a split-second before I fired and he was half-turned away from me when a 165gr from my .30-06 hit too far back. He went down but was up again in the other half of the split-second and made it into the woods from which he emerged onto the trail before I could fire again. Nonetheless, that 165gr, non-premium bullet, made it through paunch, intestines and into the offside ham where it followed bone to the knee where it fragmented. That was still plenty to cause that buck to lie down as if going to sleep in the woods, 20 yards away, where I was able to apply a finishing shot. Could a missile from a .223 or .243 have accomplished the same thing under the same unforeseen circumstances? I have very serious doubts about that. Enough doubt, in fact, that I’ve NEVER carried a .223 or .243 in serious hunting of our big Northern Whitetail in the conditions most of us in this region encounter. As a matter of further fact, I’ve also NEVER met a deer hunter in these regions who use either of those two for woods hunting of deer. Those that are sold here in sub-.270-cal. are applied to coyote and pest control.
(Eastern coyote -Wikipedia)
So, the real point of all this is to stress that we should ALWAYS choose the right rifle and cartridge for the task at hand. It is easy to point out the possible extremes of such scenarios, a .223 for elephant hunting or a .458 Win Mag for groundhogs (though the latter has been done for practice purposes in managing such a rifle for real hunting in Africa). But, there is a middle ground where the average hunt is for medium and big game in North America, Australia, Africa, New Zealand, Asia, South America and Europe where a sensible choice might be anything from a .30-06 to a .338 Win Mag, for example. If some menacing beasts are on the agenda, such as grizzly, we would want at least something on the upper end of that, or even in the middle of the mid-bores. Such thinking makes sense to me and, obviously, to the majority of serious hunters. If we have a modicum of sensibility in these matters, we will not try to prove a point that we can “take” any animal to 1500 lbs or more with our “cute” .243 Winchester. I know a serious coyote hunter, one of my bear hunting partners, who uses nothing but a .243 Winchester for coyote. And he has taken many of them, including on his own property. But for deer on his property he uses a .50-cal. BP.
Unless you are one of those, like myself, who likes to experiment and find out for yourself what works best for a variety of hunting scenarios, then the options are to choose what your family and friends use, or what’s promoted by the hunting and firearms media, or even the run of the mill being bought and used by the masses without much thought except for the $$$ signs. Then, an awful lot depends too on the intended purpose of owning a rifle. Early on in my big game hunting “career”, I decided that rather than spending $35 on a very good Brit .303 Jungle Carbine, I’d be better served in spending the same amount on a bolt-action 12ga shotgun. The reasons were economics and practical hunting choices. I could hunt a variety of game with the 12ga, including birds, varmints, deer, moose and bear a lot more cheaply than I could using rather “expensive” .303 ammo designed for big game. I had a new wife, a new job as a young pastor of several country churches that required a lot of travel over hill and dale in a new-to-me Chevrolet that already had a million miles on it. So, economics was VERY important. Then, I found it was relatively easy to shoot several grouse early mornings and be home by mid-day, and my hunting exploits met with loving approval from my wife who simply loved cooking (and eating) breast meat from grouse in the hardwoods (much less so than spruce grouse)!
The point? Rifles are inappropriate for certain types of hunting — in fact, only shotguns or BP have legal approval for deer species in particular areas. I could only use my 12ga in a deer hunt last fall due to firearms restrictions for that area.
(From my deer hunting hut on Brian’s farm last November at sunup.)
But even the most popular cartridge/calibers as the .270 Win, the .308 Win and .30-06 Springfield have ballistic limitations if certain hunts are on the agenda. Unless someone is trying to make a point about their marksmanship and fearlessness, few would be encouraged by their outfitter to take one of those along to The Alaska Peninsula for a serious brown bear hunt! In the words of Dirty Harry, “One must know their limitations.” Not that one of those three could never kill a bear — any bear — but are they the most appropriate under all conditions? The consensus is “NAY!” or NO WAY!
Lots of rifle enthusiasts like to collect rifles of the same or different calibers. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, if that’s their “thing”. But they shouldn’t pretend to be experts on what they could do with them in the field if they haven’t yet done it! We all know there are way too many Internet “experts”.
While I have some experience in shooting moose and deer, yet the big game animal that I have most experience with is the black bear — and that’s not news to those who follow these blogs. I’ve shot several with .45-70s and .458 Win Mags. I know pretty much what to expect if the bullet goes anywhere near vitals. I’ve killed one with a .35 Whelen and a 200gr X-Bullet. Another with a 175gr NP from a 7mm Wea Mag. And so on. I’ve also been present when others have shot bears with their particular rifles and loads. More recently, over the past five years, I’ve used the 9.3 X 62 for four of those hunts, taking two good bears on my own and finishing off a third that had been wounded by a young friend. Those are just facts, no boasting implied. Others, who live in bear-rich areas, have shot many more bears than I. They know what they know. I’ve also shot and killed an 800 lb mule for a friend that was troubling other animals on their hobby farm when it was supposed to be protecting them. I did it as a favour and a German family bought the meat. That was done with a 250gr Grand Slam from my .350 Rem Mag at an MV of 2710 fps at about 15 feet. The mule went down and I gave a finisher. I like both .45-cal and .35 for large or heavy game. The .35s led me to the .36-cal in the 9.2 X 62. For bears I like big holes going in and coming out. Period.
I give bears the credit for forming my opinion on what works best.
Finally, on the subject of bears: A recent post on one of the forums alerted me to the general ignorance about bears — blacks in particular — not only among the general population but hunters as well.
A hunter “out west” somewhere, has a lot of experience with bears on his property where he also hunts turkey, deer, etc. In a turkey blind calling gobblers, he had a visit from a very persistent bear. He tried several attempts to drive it away including shots from his pistol in its general direction. The bear would leave but shortly it would return. His question was “Was this bear curious or dangerous”? One respondent in particular, really annoyed me, and evidently others as well who eventually took him to task in failing to recognise the differences in “bear language”. In the end, most felt this was a predator situation with the bear as predator and the hunter as prey. I agreed.
In more recent times, studies by experts have revealed what the signals emanating from bears are intended to communicate, whether they are conscious of it or not. At this juncture I’ll not get into all that because it demands several pages at least. For now, let me just emphatically say that if you live and hunt in the USA, and if you are in a bear-rich area and hunting lesser species, you’d be VERY wise in carrying a Big Bore handgun — and learn to shoot it well! In Canada, we can only get permission to do that under special conditions. But nothing beats a 12ga for variety of shot that can adequately cover most hunting scenarios. And, a couple of Brenneke-type slugs could put a dent in the framework of any bear bent on mayhem that he’d like to forget about if he had a brain cell left to recall what happened! Better yet, I think, would be the use of 3-inch or even 3 1/2 inch turkey loads of #4 or #5 if turkey hunting, into a bears face that gets too close. That too would put a severe dent into his psyche! For more tender-hearted souls, a warning shot followed by one in the rump as it turns away would surely cure any predator of its penchant to taste human blood.
More next time…