The round ball has been described by then author, Ross Seyfried, as the perfect projectile. It may have been at a certain time in history but, other than current usage in shotguns, it fell out of favor about a century-and-a-half ago to be replaced by more aerodynamic designs. Whatever may have been their main attributes, they have long since been replaced not only by those that resist atmospheric drag better, but also by great improvements in construction and style. Enhanced engineering capability and practical issues have forced the evolution of both pragmatic thinking and re-tooling by bullet manufacturers; most of which came about as a product of multiple wars. That is, in a melancholy sense, a terrible reality that still imposes a somewhat negative perception of guns and bullets on current “civilized society”. So those of us who use them in recreational activities must live with that awareness — like it or not. My first big-game rifle was a British Jungle Carbine in .303, and for most other Canadian hunters of my generation as well. Americans have had a love affair with their ex-military rifles chambered in .30-06, which has been carried on in just about every production sporting rifle to this day. But that didn’t happen with the various editions of the Brit .303, though many military rifles of that chambering are still in use for hunting purposes across Northern Canada; usually in a somewhat modified form.
For myself, the study of ballistics and bullets is related to a scientific bent, and a pragmatic one. I want to know what works best, and why. Or the corollary of that being: what doesn’t work as well, and why. Of course, the experience of others, and self, may shorten the process to the pragmatic issue of what works best, but begs the issue of “why”. Some of us must find out for ourselves — which may be “the hard way”, but in the end often more satisfying.
What works “best” may NOT be a premium bullet in certain applications; and what may be considered an inferior bullet may actually work excellently in other applications. So, it’s not just a matter of the latest and most costly that should determine our choice for every use.
< This bullet is a prime example of how a “cheap” Remington bullet may do it’s intended work as well as a Swift A-Frame that costs four times as much. It was a 200gr, .35-cal fired from a Marlin chambered for the .35 Remington. It immediately terminated a very good bear from a few yards leaving the muzzle at about 2100 fps, as handloaded by a good friend. And make note of the fact that it was a ROUND NOSE SP that seems to be left on dealers shelves these days in favor of the sleek-slippery kind!
Over time, I have collected a small number of bullets from game, and a larger number from personal tests in various media: conducted to determine comparative results of bullets designed for similar purposes.
EXPANDING BULLETS for hunting purposes are made that way to “dump” as much kinetic energy as possible into the vitals of an animal before exit. That is the usual way of looking at matters in as brief a statement as possible. However, as we all should know by now, there’s more to it than that.
Kinetic energy is an important factor, but is it the only one? As understanding of the issues involved have come to light, professional hunters, guides, regular hunters, and ballisticians have finally come to an agreement on a couple of key issues regarding the clean termination of big game:
1) The bullet must expand (exception: solids for their very limited use) and retain a majority of their initial weight. Some bullets are designed to lose a portion of the frontal part, such as the Partition and CEB Raptors. But they must still retain enough weight and momentum for adequate penetration through a vital area.
There are various claims as to whose bullet does that job best. Some measure success based on percentage of weight retained after complete expansion. Swift is one such company that claims at least a 95% weight retention after impact with flesh and bone. And pretty pictures are presented to back up such a claim. Of course, in such a scenario, the bullet has NOT produced an exit wound that a majority seem to think necessary IF the bullet has a success story to tell.
Every bullet retrieved from an animal stayed INSIDE the animal and there was NO EXIT! And, moreover, if it was found inside the animal, we must assume, by nature of the circumstance, it died prior to the necropsy!
Some say a bullet failed if it “exploded”, or came apart, inside the animal! Others proclaim that a bullet succeeded if the bullet made a significant exit wound whereby they could track the animal from 50 to 200 yards from a blood spore! Where I live and hunt, I’d choose the former as I prefer a dead animal where it was shot to one that I may have to search for in a ravine or thick bush in the dark — especially if it is noted for being of the hazardous sort! That’s speaking from having experienced both scenarios.
I’ve had Partitions exit and I’ve had them stay inside the animal — both cases on one bull moose. The first went through both lungs leaving a small exit wound but splattered blood and lung tissue across the bushes on the far side. The next was a quartering-away shot that stopped under the hide next to the offside shoulder. The bull went down to stay — but it got back up when my son approached it. I shot it the third time in the rump and it went down to stay. Those last two 250gr Partitions were retrieved — the second shot bullet made a lump under the hide which my son, Phil, immediately detected and retrieved. The last by the butcher in the forward chest compartment of the moose. They each lost the front core and retained 71% of un-fired weight. Did they fail or succeed? You be the judge.
Personally, I think my Marlin lever-action .45-70 would have put an end to matters much sooner with less shooting! No, not proof, just a sense! It was for backup, loaded with 405gr Remingtons that would leave the muzzle at a tad over 2100 fps.
The three shots made on the moose were from my .340 Weatherby. The bullets were 250gr Partitions at 3000 fps. Range was 165 yards. Impact energy was about the same as a factory load from a .338 Win Mag at the muzzle — 3927 ft-lbs each! That moose absorbed a total of 7855 foot lbs of KE from the two that stayed inside the beast, plus whatever was transmitted from the one that made a pass-through, plus two from my son’s .338 Win Mag at near muzzle velocity from 250gr Hornady’s to finish the moose on the ground — one through the neck and the other between the eyes!
If anyone is inclined to deny the effect of KE in killing power — there is your argument!
That’s one solid reason why I mentioned above that there’s more to it than a good expanding bullet in the right place!
So, let’s consider this “more to it than…”:
PLEASE NOTE what is clearly said in the statement above: “more to it than a good expanding bullet in the right place”.
If that is true, which I’m obviously convinced is a valid statement of fact, then there are at least TWO conclusions drawn from it:
a) Bullet placement is NOT the main thing as many seem to claim, and
b) There IS “more to it”.
The three shots I made on that 1100 lb bull were all made from offhand and hit exactly where aimed. This was NOT a “trophy” hunt, which I think is a bad word anyway (I happen to agree with Shane Mahoney on that theme — he writes for SPORT’S AFIELD, but the article was in MOUNTAIN HUNTER, a Canadian publication, titled: The Power of a Word”. The word is “trophy” of which he feels it contributes to a bad impression of our sport within the general public.). I’m just a hunter! The primary issues for me in hunting is first my own safety and that of any others who may be partners. The second is the clean and immediate termination of the beast I’m hunting. That is a safety issue AND to spare the animal from needless suffering. The main goal IS NOT to collect horns! I will collect meat. So, I didn’t aim to hit the moose in the shoulders, but just behind them. In total the moose made two steps after the first shot, went down on the second and would have been finished had not my son spooked it and had we left it for twenty minutes or so. Ergo, the bullets did their job as intended, but a bigger bore with good bullets would have finished matters sooner — of that I’m convinced.
Yes, you can shoot a moose in the “hump” and dump it on the spot — no doubt. That’s a spinal shot, but from 165 yards offhand!?
I’ve witnessed on video a number of Cape buffalo being “knocked down” on the first shot from a spinal hit, but always there was need for finishing shots. So bullet placement is part of it, and with a “good bullet”, but not the whole thing!
2) The end of the matter is that one of two things must happen, and perhaps even both: a) Oxygen to the brain must be shut off, or b) Messages to and/or from the brain interrupted.
Oxygenated blood to the brain comes from the lungs via arteries. This blood supply is cut off immediately or quickly with the destruction of both lungs and/or the heart, or major arteries above the heart. In larger game this happens from a larger permanent wound cavity in any, or all, of those vital areas, and usually caused by a large caliber bullet of proper construction that has enough force and energy to not only reach vitals but completely and immediately finish their activities. Of course, a brain shot is the quickest means of permanently shutting down any messages, such as, “Destroy that humanoid!”
On elephants a solid is used from large calibers with enough force to smash through the “honeycomb” bone structure that protects the brain from a frontal shot. A side-brain shot might be preferred for lesser calibers as there is less protection for the brain. That’s mostly moot these days as ele hunting is fast becoming a relic of the past.
So, what about “best” expanding bullets for any soft-skinned game from 300lbs to 1500 lbs? If an expanding bullet expands too fast and too much it will release its energy too quickly and may not penetrate enough to reach vitals. If it expands too slowly or has a relatively small “mushroom”, it may exit without fast enough termination that allows the animal to possibly run too far into a thick bush, a ravine, a swamp, or onto a property that we don’t have permission to enter. Worst case, it may be lost! That’s why I prefer to start with a large bore. A larger bore using a good expanding bullet will always create a larger permanent wound cavity, other things being equal such as energy, bullet profile and construction.
Just about everyone who hunts big game within those boundaries (more or less) has his favorites. Hornady lists certain of their bullets for medium game AND large game. Others of similar design, but heavier, are listed for large game plus dangerous game, such as their DGX and DGS series in calibers from .375 to .510. 9.3mm comes in a 300gr DGS, plus a 286gr SP-RP that also is suggested for DG. And so on.
Seemingly, there’s no end to offerings from the major bullet companies that cover all basic needs in the medium to large, and even dangerous game projectiles. Though Nosler has been one of the slowest to venture into the rare realm of solids and softs for the larger calibers most often associated with trips for large DG.
Some hunters swear by Barnes’ offerings, others by Swift, and still more by Nosler, CEB or North Fork. And I’ve left out a few because the list is seemingly endless and growing.
But you get the message, I’m sure. There are truly no bad ones; though even the best will at times not get the job done as expected. The bullet’s fault? Maybe, but more likely it is due to some failure on the part of the hunter.
SOLIDS are intended for sure penetration on big, tough game like elephant, a follow-up on buffalo, hippo, the rear-end shot on a departing large-dangerous game, etc.
A “big hammer” breaks big bones better than a small one. And broken bones become secondary missiles of destruction in addition to bullets. I’ll soon be testing some 450gr Barnes Triple-Shock-X in my Ruger Tropical in .458 Win Mag. Currently some older 450gr-X are loaded and ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates. If that goes well, the 450 TSX’s will be given a try with the same load of 83 grains H335 at 3.695″ COL. The 450-X has a COL of 3.705″. I will be expecting over 2400 fps. If the first shot or two doesn’t reveal excess PSI, I’ll continue shooting.
Till the next…