Let’s keep in mind that apart from bullet construction and impact velocity, sectional density (SD) drives penetration. The question then is: How much penetration might be needed on a certain hunt for a particular species in order for the vitals to be sufficiently damaged or destroyed to insure a clean harvest. On the same 1000 lb animal that could mean 2 ft or 6 ft depending on angle of presentation. That’s a significant difference in challenge for the same bullet!
When I killed a 1000 to 1100 lb bull moose with my .340 WBY, the load was 250gr Nosler Partitions at 3000 fps. Range for the first shot was 165 yards broadside behind the shoulders midway up. Penetration was complete with blood and lung tissue splattered across bushes for 20 yards or more. To the moose it was like a Mike Tyson punch to the gut! The bull staggered but didn’t go down. Then it saw me and started to swing away. I gave it another in a quartering away shot and it went down where it stood. That bullet stopped under the hide making an obvious bulge about 4 inches from the first exit wound but had penetrated at least four feet. A third shot from my rifle at about 35 yards into it’s rump put it down to stay after it staggered back to its feet when approached by my son. That third 250gr Partition had penetrated at least 6 feet when found by the butcher in the front part of the chest cavity.
The first 250 Partition was lost after complete penetration. The second (far left of pic) was retrieved by my son just under the hide next to the first exit wound and retained 71% of initial weight, and the third (in the middle) was retrieved by the butcher after penetrating about 6 feet and also retained 71%, but is shorter than the other because of more stress at a much higher velocity from relatively close range. (The bullet on the far right was from a black bear shot frontally from 68 yards from my 9.3 x 62 and an MV of 2630 fps. It was sticking through the hide in front of the right hip. It retained 210 grains of the initial 286, or 73.4%. Penetration was about 32 inches.)
Let’s have a look at some other potential scenarios:
The rifle is a .308 Winchester and the game animal a mature bull elk at 350 yards. Assuming this to be the only possible shot before the elk disappears, which weight bullet would you choose knowing; a) The animal could be quartering away, and b) It is within the realm of possibility, with the region having multiple ravines, that if the elk runs after the shot it could fall into a deep ravine? The bullet choices are: 1st- a 150gr Nosler AccuBond @ 2950 fps/ .226 SD/ .435 BC; 2nd – a 165gr Nosler AccuBond @ 2820 fps/ .248 SD/ .475 BC; or 3rd- a 180gr AccuBond @ 2700 fps/ .271 SD/ .501 BC.
All bullets have the same construction, and are bonded, but the only distinctions are weight and velocity. Bullet weight, caliber and shape determine ballistic coefficient (BC). These three are a product of the same manufacturer having the same build and basic profile to ensure best down range performance and with good performance at close range.
The MVs were chosen based on the Nosler manual and I think they’re reasonable from a good rifle with a 24″ barrel using the best powders. The .308 Winchester is very popular as a whitetail, mule deer, pronghorn, predator and target rifle. It’s accuracy is also renown. This is a typical modern .308 Winchester in a bolt action M70 Featherweight.
Let’s compare the results of those three Noslers in trajectory, downrange performance, wind drift and recoil from an 8 lb rifle ready to go.
150gr Nosler AccuBond @ 2950 fps/ 2898 ft-lbs/ zero @ 250 yards/ Elevation: 1000 ft./ Temp. 70*F/ RH @ 65%
100 – 2747 fps/ 2513 ft-lbs/ +2.6″
200 – 2553 fps/ 2170 ft-lbs/ +2.2″
300 – 2367 fps/ 1866 ft-lbs/ -3.6″
350 – 2277 fps/ 1727 ft-lbs/ -8.7″ ( 28.9 TE) For a quartering away shot the 150gr is not a good choice on a bull elk that could go 700 – 800 lbs.
Physical recoil from an 8lb rifle: 18.3 ft-lbs
165gr Nosler AccuBond @ MV 2820 fps/ 2913 ft-lbs/ zero @ 250 yards (Same conditions as above)
100 – 2639 fps/ 2551 ft-lbs/ +2.9″
200 – 2465 fps/ 2226 ft-lbs/ +2.4″
300 – 2298 fps/ 1934 ft-lbs/ -3.9″
350 – 2217 fps/ 1800 ft-lbs/ -9.43″ (33 TE)) Still coming short for a 700 – 800 lb animal quartering away. A couple of shots might do it but what about those ravines?
Physical recoil from an 8 lb rifle: 19 ft-lbs
180gr Nosler AccuBond @ MV 2700 fps/ 2913 ft-lbs/ zero at 250 yards (Same conditions as above)
100 – 2535 fps/ 2567 ft-lbs/ +3.2″
200 – 2375 fps/ 2255 ft-lbs/ +2.6″
300 – 2222 fps/ 1972 ft-lbs/ -4.2″
350 – 2147 fps/ 1842 ft-lbs/ -10.2″ (36.9 TE) Marginal. There’s likely a good enough reason why 2000 ft-lbs at impact on a mature elk has been recommended as minimum under all conditions.
Physical recoil from an 8 lb rifle: 20.7 ft-lbs (Keep in mind, however, there may be a significant difference between physical recoil and “felt” recoil that involves things like stock shape, overall fit of the rifle and how the hunter is “feeling”.
< How far is 350 yards? There are three moose in this photo, a bull, cow and a calf – I know because I took this photo. How far in your estimation? What rifle cartridge and bullet would you choose if you decided to shoot? (Right click on pic for “Open image in new tab”. Left click on new tab for a better view.)
1 – It’s fairly obvious that there’s a positive progression in terminal effect (TE) from the 150gr through the 165gr to the 180gr.
2 – The MVs are also what might be used in a 22″ .30-06. Though, if I were to use a .30-06 for such a hunt in the described physical conditions, it would be the 200gr AB at about 2650 to 2700 fps. But then in .30-caliber, mine would be a .300 mag shooting a Nosler 200gr AB or Partition at over 2900 fps.
3 – Though the 180gr Nos AB has slightly less wind drift, I doubt it would be noticeable in the field.
4 – Again, there is incremental increase in recoil from the 150 to the 180 but not enough to make a difference for hunters who are not into competitive shooting.
5. The .308 Winchester is certainly a worthy general purpose elk rifle, even a mature bull at closer range on a broadside hit. BUT! Can we guarantee those conditions before the hunt?
My oldest son’s FIL killed moose (any size or sex) with his .30-30, but he lived where they lived – they were in “his kitchen”, so to speak! And shots were about 30 – 50 yards on average into the “hump” – the spine! So physical conditions matter in the choice of a rifle and it’s bullets for big game.
Here’s another trial for that same bull elk using a more appropriate cartridge in my view. But then there are also multiple choices when it comes to choosing the best bullet.
The rifle cartridge is the .338 Winchester Magnum with a 26″ barrel in a Browning A-Bolt SS. I saw one for sale a few days ago, and it was identical to the one I bought in 1999 to be ultimately rechambered to a .340 WBY. But I shot many handloads through it prior to its surgery.
The .338 Win Mag… but what bullet and load for a mature bull elk at a potential 350 yards quartering away?
In my view the choices are between these Nosler Partitions: a 210gr at about 3000 fps, a 225gr at 2875 fps and a 250gr at 2842 fps. Those were realistic velocities from my .338 Win Mag with a 26″ barrel. The powders of choice were RL-19 and RL-22 ignited by a magnum primer. Of those Nosler Partitions: 210gr, 225gr and 250gr, which would you choose?
210gr (SD = .263/ BC = .400 @ 3000 fps/ 4196 ft-lbs (recoil from an 8.75 lb rifle = 38 physical ft-lbs
225gr (SD = .281/ BC = .454 at 2875 fps/ 4129 ft-lbs (recoil from an 8.75 lb rifle = 39 physical ft-lbs
250gr (SD = .313/ BC = .473 at 2840 fps/ 4477 ft-lbs (recoil from an 8.75 lb rifle = 45 physical ft-lbs
At 350 yards the 210gr hits at 2265 fps/ 2392 ft-lbs (56.4 TE)
At 350 yards the 225gr hits at 2238 fps/ 2503 ft-lbs (63 TE)
At 350 yards the 250gr hits at 2232 fps/ 2765 ft-lbs (77.6 TE) That’s good enough for an approximate 2000 lb eland at the same distance (350 yards) with a perfect shot through vitals.
Any of the .338 Win Mags loads should be more than adequate for a quartering 800 lb bull elk at 350 yards with a hit to vitals. Penetration is the key factor and the 250gr would be best in that regard.
NOTES: Not all .338 Win Mags will make 2840 fps from the 250gr using a 26″ barrel. But Brian Pearce’s .338 Win was making 2800 fps from a 250 with a 24″ Winchester factory barrel, so I don’t think 2842 (actual) was off the mark from a good 26″. That was only 160 fps short of the same rifle rechambered to .340 WBY firing the 250gr Partition.
The physical recoil of 45 ft-lbs about matches my 9.3 x 62 Mauser with top loads firing the 286 Partition at 2630 fps. At this stage, I’m aiming to add about 1 pound to its current weight of 7.7 lbs fully loaded with scope, reducing recoil from 47 ft-lbs to 42 ft-lbs. That is on a par with a relatively light (8.7 lb) .375 H&H firing a 300gr at 2600 fps (45 ft-lbs physical recoil).
Comparing Partitions with the TSX’s: Why not choose the same weights, or even less, in the Barnes TSX’s for equal or better performance? For me the answer is simple — 1) Copper is less dense than lead so any TSX bullet of equal weight to the Partitions will be significantly longer taking up space in the cartridge case that should be reserved for power — in effect creating a situation that simulates a smaller cartridge. And 2) A TSX of equal weight has a lower BC (ballistic efficiency) due to the grooves. The addition of the plastic tip may help some but still never attains the BC of the AccuBonds of equal weight, in addition to which the plastic tip on the TSX’s only adds more length removing more powder space. If anyone really wants to make those comparisons, go check it for themselves from the two manuals. Those who don’t want to believe the truth will usually declare that the TSX’s work for them… KUDOS! Check the lengths of the .30-calibers and .338-calibers in TSX compared to their Partition or AccuBond equals and then we’ll have a talk. And I have some TSX’s on my bullet shelf, having hunted with them and fired hundreds in testing.
< To provide some examples of all copper bullets being much longer than their counter-parts in the same weight with lead cores, the 4th from left is a 450gr Barnes – X (replaced by the 450 TSX). The three on its left are a 480gr Hor. DGX, a 465gr cast, and a 450gr Swift. As well, notice the 350gr TSX, 6th from right, with equal weight bullets with lead cores on its left and right: a 350gr Speer and a 350gr Hornady. These are all .458-caliber.
Some say that they use lighter TSX’s than “normal” for the same effect as heavier bullets with lead cores. At relatively close range, maybe, but that can’t happen at longer ranges due to a poorer BC than their counter parts with a bonded lead core in the Nosler AccuBonds. For instance: compare the 225gr MRX BT in .338-cal, with a BC of only .443 and max velocity at 2791 fps with the 225gr Nosler AccuBond in .338-cal with a BC of .550 and max velocity of 2882 fps. That’s hardly a contest there, which will be won by the Nosler from the start and only increasing the longer the range!
Some reader doesn’t believe? Here are the worked out numbers based on the same conditions as given for the hunt:
225gr Nosler AccuBond at 350 yards = 2349 fps/ 2757 ft-lbs/ -8.62″ (69.5 TE)
225gr Barnes MRX BT at 350 yards = 2138 fps/ 2282 ft-lbs/ -9.96″ (57.5 TE)
Both are more than adequate, but the 225 AccuBond overwhelmingly so, just in case the bullet didn’t go where intended!
All of the above is to share some insights and methods that I use in preparing a chosen rifle’s loads for a particular hunt under all conditions. It’s still a fact that the highest SD per caliber will produce the highest BC assuming bullet profile is the same as the lesser weights. It will also maintain it’s velocity to target animal better assuming psi is the same as lighter loads, and penetration will be best from the bullet with the highest SD in a lineup of bullets from the same manufacturer with the same construction and profile — as in the case of the 250gr Noslers over the 225s and 210s. Therefore, as a general rule, use the heaviest bullets for the largest game, and the lighter bullets for the lighter game.
< This is how I loaded the 350gr TSX for my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag, and how I do the same in my current Ruger No.1 in .458. In practical effect it is like using a case whose length would reach the top groove (cannelure) in the bullet, or 1/4″ (0.25″) longer. In general, .458 Lott loading data from manual #3 for the 350gr FXB can safely be used for the 350gr TSX. They show 82 grains of H4198 but I use 81 grains for the 350 TSX for the same or slightly more MV in either the former CZ550 with a 25″ barrel or the #1 Ruger with a 24″. The Ruger actually gives the highest MV, but some of that could be from a different lot of powder.
Once again, monometal bullets have a place in hunting, but the heaviest of them per caliber have the effect of reducing available powder space thus negating their usefulness — unless the rifle action and freebore is longer than normal permitting the seating of bullets much longer than SAAMI. Some manufacturers have caught on to this, now producing rifle cartridges for long range shooting in rifles specifically made for this purpose. Of course, any single-shot rifle can have their throat extended, permitting the seating of bullets as long as practical, as I did with my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT… or as already possible without gunsmith work in the Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag.
Some choose to follow what others do or have done. Some go blindly hoping for the best. Others do their homework and if they come home empty-handed they have no cause to blame their rifle or it’s bullet.
Til the next