< This is at the bottom of a ridge on the left with a small stream on my right which is still at a relatively high elevation in the Haliburton Highlands. The month is late October and I was alone. The rifle was my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag loaded appropriately for whatever licences I may have had in my wallet at the time. I felt quite confident despite this being moose, bear and wolf country, plus many other smaller creatures. What could possibly go wrong? (For a better view, right click on photo, then left click on “Open image in new tab”, finally left click on “new tab”.)
In Part One (P1) I posed the possibility of a worst case scenario on any given hunting day without expectation of that happening — yet it can and does at times happen even though, in our minds, we may have gone prepared for every possible contingency, including weather variables, health issues and equipment. Several examples were given including the last one: Bullet failure.
I’ve read articles by pro authors who, generally speaking, don’t really believe bullet failure is possible with today’s techno-wonders. If the animal in question escaped it was the fault of the shooter in (a) choosing the wrong bullet, or (b) in misplacing it… surely it wasn’t bullet failure! Of course, non-professional “experts” on the Internet also affirm that to be so…. so it must be! Right?
Not in every case! The wrong bullet for a particular application could, of course, happen, but why was a “wrong bullet” chosen in the first place? Because humans make mistakes and often assume too much, that’s why. That’s what happened to me in the final example of the lost 400 lb buck whitetail in P1. And why did I make that mistake?
Reason 1: Because a similar bullet had worked very well on a “nice buck” the previous year. I simply wasn’t ready to entertain the thought of failure due to my choice of bullet. And after the fact it took some time for that to sink in! At the time of seeing the bone fragments and small pool of blood on top of the hill, I fully expected to easily locate a dead buck twenty or so yard inside the tree line! All I found, however, were pin-pricks of blood and turf flying from the buck’s hooves leading to the swamp. I did the followup, but still couldn’t believe that big buck wasn’t dead somewhere just in front of me!
Reason 2: Lacking experience with 400 lb bucks and that 165gr Nosler SB, plus never having read prior to, nor since, any bona fide tests of such bullets in any suitable media, nor African fauna, I became the tester! It is said about life: “We learn more from our failures than from our successes.” T’is true most of the time because success only affirms what we already know — or think we do — as judged by the known experiences of others. And failure also causes us to eliminate a bunch of assumptions, including by those who profess to be “experts”, or are promoted by “authorities” to be “experts” in a particular field of endeavour. There’s this growing feeling about science, even by some scientists: “The science of today will become the myths of tomorrow”. Recently in watching a science program on TV about “dark matter” in the Universe, it was clearly stated by an astrophysicist that “Dark matter causes us to question anything we think we know about physics!”So then, how do we mere mortals discover the best, reliable, fool proof bullets for our next hunt?
In a set of fallible criteria yet to be given, I’m assuming that only a single shot may be possible in a worst-case scenario before the animal is located or lost. In the “wounded-but-lost-buck” case a single shot connected where aimed, the second was past the rear end of the huge whitetail as it was swallowed up by the thick bush.
FIRST — but not LAST: use what has previously worked in your experience. But that’s one criteria only! Remember, I once made that same mistake and it cost me dearly! Even in a deer hunt the potential for extraordinary conditions is a definite possibility. I couldn’t begin to tell you of how many swamps I’ve had to cross to get to where I though I needed to go, or return to my vehicle! Yes, those were mostly solo hunts, or with one other, in relative unfamiliar territory based on Government maps. By the time we (I) got to where we (I) thought we needed/wanted to go, when we finally made it, we were in no immediate shape to squeeze the trigger on anything, let alone a “trophy” confronting us at a mere 150 yards! My “trophy” saw me well before I saw it, and was steadily gazing in my direction, giving me time to get in a steady prone position before squeezing the trigger! As stated, there are contingencies over which we have no control.
< This was my African guide, Madi. Melinke was his native tongue. He’s using a stick from the bush to point out animal tracks of various African creatures of which I’ve no clue about what he’s saying apart from my interpreter, son Brent, who was following with a camera. I’m the only one of three with a weapon, a Stevens 12ga pump belonging to my son loaded with Brennekes. I was told by Brent, who was a licensed BG hunter, that if confronted by a lion or buffalo, “shoot it!” I’d never handled this firearm previously nor fired it! This was thick, wild bush country and any creature native to that area could show up when least expected, so “Be ready!” I was told.
This is to point out that we may somehow and in some way find ourselves in a hunting situation that is totally new and different, and those in charge (PH, paid guide or friend) don’t seem able to communicate very well what we need to know, mostly because they’ve never experienced what we’re trying to comprehend, but having difficulty doing so because the current situation isn’t like anything we’ve previously experienced.
So a new location or terrain is a definite variable that can alter plans immediately! So you’ve done your homework for the upcoming moose hunt to the “far north” with a couple of buddies. Have you been there? Do you know the variances of the geography? Are you certain of how far or close, or at what angle, you might have your ONE CHANCE of squeezing the trigger on a mature bull ? But you made the decision to take your 270 Win anyway, loaded with 150gr Partitions that theoretically would be enough to 250 yards on a clear broadside shot. BUT! What if your only chance in several years of moose hunting presents itself in the form of a 1300 lb bull on the far side of a small lake at 450 yards… and the bull isn’t broadside? And what if you know that the average success of a DIY hunter in a group of three is 25%, would you still choose your beloved .270 Win?
I’ve told this before: On three consecutive moose hunts to Northern Ontario a group of us — four the first trip, six the second and five the last — went to the same WMU, but hunted in pairs or solo as the case might best suit us. On two successive years at least three of us met the same solo hunter seated more or less comfortably in a cove of a medium-size lake where he had clear vision to the opposite shore line at about what appeared to be — if you were a golfer — approximately 350 to 450 yards away. Of course, shooting across water can be a very deceptive thing in regard to distance. Anyway, this gentleman — about 50 years old or so — had great confidence in both his location for spotting an adult moose and his ability to make the shot using his .270 Weatherby Magnum. We bid him adieu and moved on. The following year we met him for the second time at the exact same location, but this time he’d upgraded in firearm to a .300 Weatherby Magnum. When asked his reason for doing so all we got for an answer was “It has a better reach”. He didn’t seem to want to discuss it further but among ourselves we decided that he must have lost a moose the previous year due to the .270 Wby’s lack of expected results to the far shore. The third year we were back to the same general area, walked the trail past that familiar cove of the lake and the interesting gentleman hunter wasn’t there.
Because I’ve found myself more than a few times in like scenarios, I’ve never considered anything less than a .300 magnum as suitable for all conditions. And the bullet must be nothing less than what John Nosler came up with in the 1940’s after having lost a good bull on the Canadian side to bullet failure!
SECOND – but not FINAL: Ask questions, do all necessary research. Then, and then only, test bullets for velocity, accuracy and drop to at least 300 yards. But nice holes in paper at 300 or more yards is, again, one thing only. Honestly, I get tired of seeing and reading reports of accuracy at whatever ranges, with NO guarantee of performance on live game. OR, as a minimum, comparative performance in media against other bullets purporting to do the same things. I’ve done enough testing of .458-cal bullets from both .45-70s and .458s in game as well as media to have my own ideas of best for each depending on contingencies. I’ll probably again write of my own experiences in regard to .458-cal tests, and on game, in an upcoming blog. I still have a much greater supply of .458″ bullets on hand, and in a greater variety, than I’ve ever had in any other caliber. If my arthritis cools off enough this spring-summer, my plan is to do a lot more testing for velocity, accuracy, penetration, retained weight and expansion — all much needed first-hand information to establish bullet selection criteria.
THIRD – a bullet’s REPUTATION: If that has yet to be established, then the brand’s reputation is at stake! Personally, I’d NOT want to be the first to try a new, untried bullet on an expensive and long-awaited-for hunt, as the one-and-only bullet in my repetoire. Mixed results have often been reported from the field on “new and improved” bullets from Hornady, Barnes, Trophy Bonded, and others. There IS one bullet that has never failed me in cartridges up to and including the MEDIUMS — that being the NOSLER PARTITIONS. For my BIG BORE .45-70s and .458s, I select according to expectations of the hunt. But I did have a disappointment from a 350gr Barnes TSX in my CZ550 .458 Win on a medium bear — it killed the bear but only after the bear went about 70 yards… No, it was not due to poor placement – it hit exactly where aimed at 97 yards, but it failed to expand! No doubt it’s performance would have been much improved on a moose, being a larger, tougher target. In tough media it penetrated the whole system and retained 100% of initial weight, retaining all four petals. The only others to completely penetrate the system were solids!
< The 350gr TSX on far right retained 100% weight and penetrated the full length of media –15.5 inches, stopping just inside the final panel of the last (2nd) box. On the far left is the 500gr Speer GS that lost its front core, penetrated just 6.5 inches of the tough media retaining 310 grains/62%. In the middle is the 350gr Hornady FP that penetrated a mere 4.5 inches, lost it core retaining 52% in its copper alloy jacket. These were all .458-cal.
While “Worst case Scenarios” can involve the weather, health issues, the terrain and equipment, or other unforeseen events over which we have no control, let us never forget that out of a multitude of circumstances and thousands of dollars invested in equipment, in the end game only one tiny part determines the outcome = the bullet! Yes, by that is intended, as in that very disappointing outcome involving the extraordinary 400 lb buck whitetail, a bullet may have the necessary energy at impact and placed with precision, BUT IF IT’S THE WRONG BULLET the outcome may even be worse than a clean miss!
So what do I now look for in a bullet before it gets to the game fields?
The final answers will take another blog: P3