It is quite apparent to me that a number of handloaders who discuss their rifles and loads on the Internet are more interested in displaying the tiny groups their rifles are capable of than in ballistic performance. I judge that by the fact that while the 9.3 X 62 seems to be “catching on” in the North American scene for hunting purposes, yet most are primarily exchanging ideas and data over accuracy and showing photos of the sub-MOA they are getting from particular reloading components. But usually these are sub-par loads from a ballistics standpoint.
Granted, we all like tiny groups of three or so shots at 100 yards. My rifle will do that from several loads and I consider that a bonus. However, the 9.3 X 62 for many handloaders is a new toy, and that’s as far as it goes. As well, that seems to be the main preoccupation of several who own a number of rifles designed for big game up to scores of them . Many of these never see action on big game. That’s not a particular gripe of mine as I figure that anyone who buys a rifle to see what they can get out of it at the range, and then dream of “far away places and exotic game hunting” is their business, not mine. But my gripe IS that I get bored of viewing multiplied images of holes in targets, but NO game with a hole through its heart, chest or shoulder from rifles whose main purpose is hunting.
And, let me be clear, this has nothing to do with those who shoot competitively, and it is known that they are competition shooters with competition-class rifles.
I knew a fellow shooter at our club who, professionally, was an anesthesiologist at a local hospital, but his hobby was as a competition shooter who traveled both in Canada and the USA to the various functions for target rifle shooters. He had special-built, expensive rifles for that purpose. He would be shooting his .308 Winchester or .223 prone on a mat and I would be shooting from a bench next to him with a loud, rumbling Big Bore. He was not a hunter but we often had friendly chats about competitive shooting and he would ask questions about my hunting experiences. So, I highly respect gun collectors and competition shooters, but I am not into those games.
My interest is ultimately performance on game animals, big game in particular. And when I visit hunting forums, I expect to hear about how well rifles, cartridges and bullets performed in the field, not how well they performed from the bench! That’s why this series has to do with handloading for hunting purposes, and not “Handloading for Shooting Targets”.
That leads us to consider this question: What degree of accuracy is needed for big game hunting purposes?
In part, that will be answered by my own priorities in the transformation of a .338 Winchester Magnum into a .340 Weatherby Magnum.
When I purchased an A-Bolt SS (LH) in .338 Winchester Magnum, with a 26-inch stainless barrel, black synthetic stock and a magazine clip attached to the floor plate, it was with the intention of having it re-chambered to .340 Weatherby Magnum, and replacing the clip with a .375 H&H clip for the Weatherby cartridge. But before all that took place, I tried some experimental handloads in it as a .338 Win Mag. The results were so good that I had second thoughts about taking it to my gun smith. From a book load, employing the 250gr Hornady SP, it shot 3/4-inch at 2841 fps. But, that was NOT at 100 yards, rather it was at 300 yards! Yet, in spite of that stellar performance as to accuracy, I went ahead with the original project. It was re-chambered to .340 Weatherby, the .375 H&H clip was added and I had a rifle that now shot 250gr Nosler Partitions at 1.25-inches at 100 yds. Some would judge that to have been a serious mistake. Would you, if you knew that the 250 Nosler was leaving the muzzle at 3000 fps? I was satisfied, and never gave it a second regretful thought that it wasn’t kept it in its original format. This pretty good moose was shot with that load and rifle.
What endears a rifle and load to me is as a hunting companion that gives confidence; that is its performance on a game animal in the field. Yes, I want a load that performs at the range, both in ballistics and in accuracy, but if I don’t use it in hunting game those memories quickly fade. Not so in a successful hunt! Those memories last a lifetime.
Now, if your thoughts go something like this: “His rifle in .338 Win Mag would have done the job on that moose equally as well as the .340 Weatherby, so why go to the fuss and expense of a re-chamber job?” In response, I’ll say a thought of that nature crossed my own mind BEFORE I handed it over to the gun smith… but not after I got it back from him. Why? Because my intent was NOT to shoot targets with it, but to shoot moose! And 160 fps added to those 250gr Noslers increased potential range by 75 yards, which might have been important in that part of the world with some possible extreme physical conditions.
I have returned to that same general area in Northern Ontario twice since that hunt. The last time will be five years ago this coming October. On that occasion, I toted my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag loaded with 350gr TSX’s leaving the muzzle at 2750 fps. Now, the BC of that bullet isn’t great, but at that MV I figured it good enough for 400 yds. Unfortunately, where I spent a good portion of those 5 days was in a clear cut, hoping for a moose to cross from one side to the other — about 250 yards. However, I felt my .458 Win Mag with that load to be about as good as a BB gun if the anticipated moose should cross out at 500 to 600 yards! That clear cut stretched for a kilometer or more! And evidence suggested that moose were crossing it — wherever they felt inclined to do so.
With a solid rest, that .340 Weatherby was good for any moose at 600 yards! An adult moose is a BIG target! It would’ve been like shooting a big northern buck whitetail at 300 yds… or an itty-bitty Texas whitetail with big antlers at 150!!
If you are thinking “RECOIL”! I never noticed it from either my .340 in shooting a moose or from the .458 in shooting a black bear with the 350 TSX load. It was the last thing on my mind — in fact it wasn’t even the “last thing” because it wasn’t on my mind at all!
The only outfitter I’ve ever used was Norm Easto for my first few seasons in hunting bears. Since then I’ve done it on my own… often alone. So, in a physical sense, apart from the spiritual, I rely on personal experience, knowledge and awareness. I’ve also learned, from experience, that my handloads are MORE than adequate in accuracy and ballistic performance. That’s why I make my own, and use them with utmost confidience after having fired hundreds of them in development and practice. I know their accuracy before going afield, as well as their ballistic profile through using a chronograph and testing their trajectory at 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards, if needed beyond 100. I am always aware of needing to know that data. If hunting bear over bait, then, of course, I’ll already be aware of range.
By the way — in case you’re wondering — the 250gr Nosler load from the .340 at 600 yds would be making about 2000 ft-lbs, impacting at near 2000 fps… plenty for the average bull moose in our land.
Could I have made that shot if it was the only chance? Sure, with a solid rest and a “cheat sheet” taped to the stock… and having done my homework. Since a laser range finder has been added to equipment, that wouldn’t make it “a piece of cake”, but it would be of immense assistance in determining actual range and trajectory. And calculating wind drift — if that were needed.
Accuracy of a handload is good enough if you can place it where it needs to go, whatever the range. And it must have enough “umph”! “Umph”? Yes, that’s what happens to a moose when you smack ’em dead!
Next time, a couple of questions: 1)When do you know that you need to get closer?, and 2)How to safely get the most from your rifle and handload… so that perhaps you won’t have to get closer.
Final thot: Easter isn’t really about bunny rabbits and “Easter eggs”, but in the words of the great Apostle Paul, “Jesus Christ died for our sins to fulfill the Scriptures, was buried and rose again the third day, in fulfillment of the Scriptures”.
Have a Happy Easter.