A number of years ago while chatting on the phone with a Hornady Rep, we discussed bullets for bear. Actually, I was making inquiry about their Interloc bullets suitable for black bear, specifically in 9.3 mm if my recollection is correct. But we did discuss other calibers as well. At the time they were producing one bullet only in 9.3 mm (.366″), a 286-gr Interloc SP-RP.
(270-gr Speer on left, and 286-gr Hornady)>
In the course of our discussion, mention was made that he’d hunted black bear in Saskatchewan and was successful in harvesting “not a big bear”. I asked its weight. “About 300 pounds”, he said. “What were you shooting?”, I asked. “A 25-06” was his reply. I don’t recall the exact bullet weight, but it was, of course, one of the Hornady brand — one or other of the 117 Interloc in RN or BTSP. I don’t believe (from memory) that it was the 120-gr HP. Range would have been less than 100 yards.
Still, I was surprised that a Hornady Rep would go to Saskatchewan for a black bear that could easily surpass 400 lbs with a “puny” .25-caliber! So I did the math, assuming it to be the 117-gr BTSP:
BC = .391
MV = 3200 fps
50 yards = 3076 fps/ 2458 ft-lbs
75 yards = 3015 fps/ 2362 ft-lbs
100 yards = 2956 fps/ 2269 ft-lbs
According to my calculations, at 100 yards (the actual range was less) 2269 ft-lbs should be more than adequate for a 300 lb bear from a .25-cal, 117-gr bullet. But for a 400 lb bear, I’d want more – much more – than a .25-caliber for reasons that I’ll explain. Presumably, the Hornady bullet, whether it was the 117 BTSP or the 117 RN, or even the 120-gr HP, worked as intended, which was good news for the shooter as well as for the Hornady Manufacturing Company.
Personally, as suggested in my previous blog, if I did choose a .25-caliber for a bear hunt it would be the 120-gr Nosler Partition, and I’d wan’t to be prepared for a much longer shot — in which case it would likely be a .257 Weatherby that could move that bullet along at 3400 MV. But it is still only .25- caliber, and looses 255 fps at 100 yards, dropping KE well below 3000 ft-lbs. Nonetheless, at 100 yards the 120 Nosler from the .257 Weatherby is quicker than a .25-06 firing the same bullet at muzzle speed. The .257 was one of Roy’s favorites, thinking it adequate for The Big Five of Africa!
Regardless of his credentials, I disagree! Even on big black bears I’d disagree!
I’ve written on this numerous times, but “all” have not become acquainted with my experiences or philosophy. And there are “surprises” that happen that even very experienced bear hunters have not expected or been prepared for. The “norm” is like “normal weather” conditions! Average circumstances and conditions include variables that at times may verge on extreme!
I didn’t expect, and was not prepared for, a mature, 25 lb female turkey to fly across a highway and into the windshield of my “new” (to me) Ford Escape as my wife and I were taking a Sunday afternoon drive to visit a bird sanctuary one week ago! It was a first, but it HAPPENED! Yes, the windshield has been replaced. The turkey? Nada!
The following adage has been correctly assessed by others, I believe: “Don’t take the rifle cartridge that will work when everything goes right, but take the one that will work when things go wrong!” – or a philosophy to that effect!
In a “any bear hunt” – black, brown or white – we’re dealing with potentially dangerous game, or in the words of wisdom that still echo from Elmer Keith: “Remember, dangerous game is not really dangerous until it is in close proximity to the hunter, and when that is the case he doesn’t need high velocity but rather a big caliber with a heavy bullet that will penetrate well and also deliver a heavy knockdown wallop.”
Of course, many have taken a negative view of Keith and his “heavy knockdown wallop”, thus dismissing his views as antiquated. Keep in mind, however, that Keith used a lot of “modern” magnums, many of which were “wildcats”, and others over .500-caliber! The above article was written about 1950 and published in the 1951 Gun Digest, so he was not living in the Dark Ages of ballistics when expressing his views based on solid experiences in Africa as well as the Rocky Mountain States!
The “heavy knockdown wallop” was an artistic description of results rather than a technical one.
As mentioned in my last blog, it was ole’ Elmer who convinced me of the real potential of an 1895 Marlin in .45-70, NOT the wimpy loads found in ALL handloading guides of the ’80s and ’90s! A full decade AFTER publishing loads in my “SUPREME LOADS for the .45-70” manual, involving the Marlin and Ruger No.1, which included 405s from the Marlin that exceeded 2100 fps, Hodgdon published a single load that slightly passed 2000 fps from a 400-gr using H4198! Then, a few years later, Brian Pearce, of Handloader magazine, also published a few loads that attained about 2000 fps from 400 – 405s!
A good friend said, “I think someone is reading your stuff.” True or not, I’d been publishing a manual for 10 years before anyone, other than myself, took Elmer Keith seriously! So, he was an “old crank” was he?
Actually, in practice, I’ve found “bigger” kills “faster” than smaller on bears unless it’s a clear central-nervous-system hit! Over bait at close range you can “pick your shot”, maybe! Yet not always if you want a particular bear, because very rarely do they pose for that perfect shot. If the site is set up by an outfitter, usually it takes into consideration the closest and clearest shot possible from a tree stand, that a “little ole’ lady” could make! Unless you specify otherwise.
But what if…
You stumble on a bear, or into one, while hunting deer, elk or moose? Or a DIY without bait, as in a stalk, call, or search for, or….
What then? A .25-caliber? In timber or thick brush? I’ve done a lot of that kind! The lightest I’ve carried for that kind of scouting is a Ruger 96/44 rifle loaded with 300s at 1650 fps. Those were 300-gr Speers made for big game, more potent than a .30-30 at close range and even a .35 Remington firing a 200-gr at 2100 fps – not in KE but in KO! Would a big-bore handgun get the job done of stopping a big bruin dead in its tracks? Of course, if it’s big enough and you can shoot it well enough, with a consideration of the range involved.
But there’s a multitude of other considerations:
An incoming 200 lb+ bear… FAST! At less than 20 yards! Even a 200 lb bear is no lightweight, and it will hit harder than a linebacker with a helmet at 35 mph! How long would it take from 20 yards at 35 mph? LESS THAN A SECOND!! Or, to be more precise, 0.855 seconds!! It takes at least that long to BEGIN to realize what’s happening… unless we’re already prepared from hearing or detecting movement in the brush, and the rifle is on the shoulder, chamber loaded with the safety OFF!
Unless it’s a frontal head shot, a .25 caliber will allow the bear to hit, maul, chew, and perhaps kill it’s assailant! Same deal with an arrow or medium bore rifle. But a true big bore is a STOPPING RIFLE and not just a killing rifle.
As much as I love my 9.3 x 62 (.366-caliber), it is NOT a stopping rifle. I’ve killed three bears with mine, and only the first one was “stopped” because it had been seriously wounded twice by a young friend and I finished the job with a going-away shot that took out 3 to 4 vertebrae. The other two went at least 20 yards from shots that took out lungs and heart. The same shots from my .45-70s would have dropped them where they were! Do you wonder how I know that?
Of course, good bullets are always assumed! And what are those “good bullets”?
Here are some that I’ve used in .458″, and one to avoid:
1) My first bear was shot using a Classic 1895 Marlin in .45-70 with the Micro-groove 22″ barrel. The bullets were the 400gr SPEER FP at around 1865 fps/3089 ft-lbs muzzle energy. Range was 100 yards. The 7 yr-old trophy male was hit broadside, midway up, just behind right shoulder. Impact velocity was about 1535 fps/2092 ft-lbs. The big bear reared up and went over backwards, took off on a dead run for 10 yards into an alder patch where he went down on his back with all four paws pointing heavenward. I stood on the moose-hunting platform, and gave a finisher between neck and shoulder that wasn’t needed. He was eviscerated after dark and it took four of us to load him onto the back of a pickup. The first bullet was never found as it likely came out with the innards in the darkness. The second (finisher) was found in the offside armpit and weighed 90.5% of original weight at 362 grains, fully expanded with one side of the “mushroom” sheared off. (see pics)
2) A 350-gr Speer Hotcore FP, fired from my first .458 Win Mag at 2345 fps (reduced load) stopped a going-away young male at 75 yards. It took out his liver, several inches of spine and the back of its head. The 350-gr was never found having departed into the thick timber beyond.
3) A 405-gr Remington FP flattened a medium male at 98 yards. It too was a going-away shot that hit the flank on the left side and made exit just aft of the right shoulder. Bullet was never retrieved after three-feet of penetration. MV was 2110 fps/4003 ft-lbs from my Marlin Classic in .45-70, and impact would have been about 1835 fps/3028 ft-lbs. (405-gr Remington 5th from left)>
4) A 500-gr Hornady RN Interloc was fired from my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT at 2185 fps/5300 ft-lbs. Impact was on a quartering-toward dry 165 lb sow bear. Impact was behind the on right shoulder and took exit in the offside flank. Range was 40 yards and the bear made tracks for 20 yards, bawled three times and died. I didn’t know it was a female as it quartered toward me. There’s ample reason to believe that the bullet did NOT EXPAND! I wanted to try it on bear and I cannot recommend that bullet for medium, soft-skinned game — but it will kill!
(500-gr Speer AGS loaded for my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT, 3rd from L)
5) A 465-gr hardcast from my single-shot New England Firearms (NEF) in .45-70 literally flattened a 6-foot bear at 70 yards as it faced me. MV was 1900 fps/3727 ft-lbs, and impact was approximately 1735 fps (depending on actual B.C.) and 3108 ft-lbs. It was in tall 30″ grass and completely disappeared therein when my rifle came out of recoil. It thought for a moment… Did it evaporate? No, I saw a faint shade of coal black hidden away in the tall growth of dried grass — something the color of African dry grass. The bullet completely penetrated from frontal chest under the chin to just below the sternum. It was lost somewhere in the dry grass, soil and blood. I made a brief search, but the call was to finish field dressing before lights were out!
(Here that bear has been field dressed and measured 41-inches around his chest just behind shoulders. He should therefore have weighed 240 lbs. But he was like a fast growing young-adult male, tall and lanky with little fat.)>
Those are only a few examples of bullets that will work well enough on medium to big game of the soft-skin types. But bullet construction, profile, and impact velocity are all key issues as well. More to come in our next blog.
A wounded, departing bear at 25 – 30 mph… That is a different scenario that we’ll discuss next time.