So by now do you believe “the right load for your rifle” has been chosen? Based on what criteria? Has it been tested? Sighted in? And game taken with it? If not, then some of that “right load” might be wishful thinking!
This time around, without claiming to have answered every possible question, or dotted every “i”, I’ll share some (not “all”) thoughts on testing, sighting-in and harvesting game with “the right load” based on some personal experiences and common sense.
As a disclaimer, I’ll mention that the largest game I’ve taken is a mature bull moose and the smallest would be several score of groundhog, coons and at least one skunk. And, oh yes, quite a few birds with a shotgun and .22LR. The “sea gulls”? No laws or licenses existed in those days re: gulls, other vermin or most other small game (1950’s), not even for black bear if you possessed a deer license. A moose license was needed and available as was a license for ducks.
The moose was not shot with a .458, nor the groundhogs, but two .458s were used on bears as well as several .45-70s. In between the .458-calibers (that includes eight .45-70s as well as three in .458 Win (not all at the same time) and .22LRs, I’ve handloaded and used in hunting several dozen rifles from .22 Hornet to the .44 Rem Mag, including five in 7mm, at least a dozen in .30-cal, several in .338-cal, .35-cal and .375-cal, plus a few single cartridges such as the 7.62 x 54R, .270 Win and 9.3 x 62 Mauser. Many have handloaded more, and many far less.
As a note of clarification: I use the terms “handloading”, “handloads” and “handloader”, as opposed to “reloads” etc, because of assembling ammunition from fresh (never previously used) components to start with, and at times, if I already know how a particular load’s components will come together for a hunt, I’ll do it with new cases — so that’s obviously NOT a so-called “reload”. And even though I will use the same brass several times for “testing” and “practice”, they are not necessarily the same formula, so NOT “reloads” either, i.e., redoing the same thing over and over – which might honestly be designated as “reloaded” ammo, but in that way only.
< This is not a “reload”, but it is a handloaded 270gr Speer for my 9.3 x 62 Mauser.
Another matter: I use “handloads”, not “hand loads”, even though the American language (and other forms of English) don’t yet recognize “handloads” as a word. Yet, it has been historically used in literature for decades. So it’s past time for whoever decides what new words (and there are many because the English language is a dynamic language – not dormant) goes into dictionaries becomes aware of the familiar usage of terms in our hobby! Language today is quickly evolving to make it more efficient for those who do less reading and more watching of videos, etc.
Other than the Brazilian 7×57 and the mentioned borrowed rifles (.30-30 and .303 Brit.), every other centerfire rifle I’ve owned has been handloaded by myself for HUNTING purposes, and “best loads” were chosen, often after a prolonged testing process.
None of that is intended as boasting, but simply to establish some credibility at least.
Handloaders try their home-brewed ammo at various ranges: their own and other private or public. Range distances and other possible conditions could vary significantly. Most of my trials have been on a private range at which I’ve been a member for over three decades. I’ve also done some on Crown Land and short ranges open to the public. And once I had a lengthy session at a military range in Nova Scotia.
Testing at a range is vitally important; I think on that point we’d all agree. As previously mentioned, a majority of handloaders seem firstly to be concerned over the accuracy of their loads. Most are guessing muzzle velocities, assuming book values to be close enough. At the private range that I attend, many are shooting to 200 and 300 yards, testing accuracy and trajectory. However, MV is still a guessing game… so also a bullet’s energy at any distance. A few, going on safari, practice with a known load of their own, or factory loads assumed to be what spin doctors claim. 99.9% of my cartridges are handloaded, but I did fire 1/2 box of Remington .35 Whelen 250gr RN CorLocs over my Chrony for verification and wanting some brass for handloads. They were advertised at 2400 fps/3197 ft-lbs — which is about 200 fps shy of decent handloads – but the average was 2247 fps/2803 ft-lbs! That’s plenty for whitetail at most ranges, or even big moose to 160 yards, but what about 200 to 400 yards? At 160 yards the kinetic energy would be 1774 ft-lbs but the bullet velocity would only be 1747 fps! Would that even be enough for bullet expansion?
Without testing that .35 Whelen factory load over my CHRONY, I might have assumed Remington’s published ballistics to be correct and gone afield for a “big” moose… at what range? A mature bull in our country can tip the scales at 1200 to 1400 lbs! It might have worked… then maybe NOT!
So testing for accuracy is “nice”, but that’s far from the whole story of a tested load that will perform as intended under ALL conditions!
And, by-the-way, a 250gr Weatherby cartridge in .340 Weatherby came within a hair of it’s promotion, at 2840 fps, advertised at 2850 fps. Still, that was 150 fps shy of my handloads!
A bullet’s performance in media at realistic impact speed is needed! Bullet companies test their products in ballistic gel followed (hopefully) by harvesting game of various sizes, angles and ranges. However, usually the reports are from professional writers of popular hunting/shooting/sports magazines and videos. Though there is a certain amount of value in all that, also a certain amount of cynicism is not an unhealthy attitude either until proven in “combat”! A rep at Barnes affirmed claims that all TSX’s would give some expansion down to an impact velocity of 1600 fps due to the hollow cavity being filled with tissue and blood. I shot a bear frontally using the 350gr TSX/.458″ at an MV of 2750 fps and impact at 100 yards of around 2400 fps. The bullet made exit in the right side flank with NO evidence of expansion! And it wasn’t a big bear but that bruin went the farthest of any I’ve ever shot with a .458″ bullet! And that bullet was never found after an intensive search.
In media, the 350gr TSX, (on the far right) at an impact speed approximating that into the bear, went through everything. Two were fired and one was “caught” by the final cardboard panel of the second box filled with dry hard cover books and glossy magazines, plus two wood planks — a total of 15.5 inches and retained 100% weight — which defeated a 500gr Speer GS (on far left which only penetrated 6″ and weighed 311 grs or 62% of initial weight) and a 500gr Hornady — (the one in the middle was a 350gr Hornady FP that only made 4″ of penetration and lost its core) there was really no comparison with the TSX still weighing more than the 500gr Speer GS! And I know that 350 TSX from a .458 Win was used in Australia to cull Asiatic buffalo, along with the 450gr Swift AF and Cutting Edge 420gr. It worked as well as the heavier bullets on over 100 buffalo! So, if you want a fast, penetrating .458″, it might be a challenge to beat the 350gr TSX!
I evaluated the Weatherby .340 factory product against possibilities. Since that first product, Weatherby has upped the ante to 2950 fps for their factory .340 250gr ammo! Thus it is possible that some of today’s factory products come close to, or achieve actual promotions. That’s due in large part to some handloaders owning and using their chronographs! Cartridge making enterprises have been forced to be more honest in regard to their products!
Evaluating obviously includes internal and external ballistics, accuracy (and how much is needed) and BULLET PERFORMANCE! <There are three 286gr/9.3 mm Nosler Partitions from my 9.3 x 62 that went through this target at 100 yards. MV was 2600 + fps. That was not a final sight-in. It was adjusted to about 1.5″ high, dead-over-center (DOC). Those are 1″ squares.
This should be done at a range if possible. And a ballistic computer program should be used when and where other means is unavailable. When I tested and sighted some rifles for hunting in Nova Scotia, apart from the military range at Bedford, the public ranges were limited to 75 yards. There was no way to certify trajectory apart from handloading manuals. Today, I use a downloaded program. Then there are others on the Net that are free, like Hornady. Yet, I still prefer to test trajectory at our range to at least 200 yards, and in some cases to 300, depending on expected actual hunting conditions. Knowing trajectory, after we have confirmed MV in the use of a chronograph, will also confirm the BC of the bullet by its drop at certain ranges.
Because I know very well the area of Crown Land in which I have done 90% of BG hunting over the past forty years, I usually sight-in at not more than + 1.5″ @ 100 yards. That means that even with the relatively slow MV of a .45-70 (for example) I could still take deer-size game at 175 yards without holdover.
So, once again, we must know the geographical area, the game, and ballistics of our “best load” for the intended game or predator.
That of course means retrieval of the game or predators that were shot.
None of us should be satisfied with lost or wounded game, or spoiled meat! Nonetheless it happens. Before we squeeze the trigger, we need to be certain of a clean harvest. Of course, sometimes circumstances beyond our control can shake our previous confidence. In a lifetime of hunting, I’ve wounded and lost two whitetail bucks and two black bears that I can honestly recall. And I can still see them in mind’s eye, recall the feelings and thought of not hunting ever again!
The main object in hunting is the game, not the gun!
I make handloads because I’m a hunter; I’m not a hunter because I make handloads… and that leads on to…
next: HUNTING PERSPECTIVES