Then, what is your rifle for which you want to choose a “best load”, assuming that is of interest or importance to you, whether a .223 Rem or .500 NE, or anything more or less?
Very early on I discovered a 53gr BTHP, .223-cal from my M7 Remington was “best” for groundhogs from 30 yards to 300+ yards. From the short barrel it was making over 3100 fps, was very accurate and, most importantly, did its intended job in an efficient manner. I’d tried others but settled on that one from Hornady. Interestingly, a bit later I thought it a good idea to give the Nosler Solid Base a try, not that the 53gr Hornady was lacking anything, but “just because”. Without going back in history for about three decades, I recall it was prior to the plastic “ballistic tip” .223-cal bullets. And if memory serves, it was a 52-53 gr BT with a pointed lead tip. I shot some groundhogs with it but was not as impressed as with the HP from Hornady — that always went through the varmints leaving a good-size hole with innards following the bullet for a few feet! The Nosler didn’t do that, though it killed them. It was obviously a tougher bullet, perhaps a multi-purpose one that would also work well on coyote. Whatever the case, on one incident I took a shot at a standing-up groundhog in nearly a-foot of tall grass, from 30-35 yards, and it disappeared from view in the uncut grass. When I found it, and rolled it over, there wasn’t any outward sign of a hit… no entrance or exit holes could be found, and no blood! But when I picked it up by the tail it was like a bag full of water! The bullet had done its job but in a far less dramatic fashion than the Hornady which always passed through with blood and guts that a three-year-old could discern and follow. I returned to the Hornady 53gr BTHP.
The above anecdote is a full commentary on testing bullets for both small and large game – though that entails some reflection and analysis in comparison with others.
TESTING BULLETS < These are 300gr Barnes TSX bullets in .458-caliber. The one on the right was fired into a box containing a 1″ thick catalogue, a 3″ thick nursing manual with hard plastic covers and glossy pages (donated by my wife, a retired nurse) and backed by 10 inches more of glossy (dry) magazines. The bullet retained about 100% of initial weight while penetrating the cardboard box front, catalogue, the nursing manual and another 4.5 inches of magazines while seriously damaging the remainder, and busting the end of the box open, scattering damaged magazines across several feet of crusty snow beyond the box that was itself pushed several feet away from the point of impact. It left the muzzle of my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT at ~ 2650 fps and impacted the test media at three yards from the muzzle. Based on very good accuracy from that load, plus those results in a tough media, I was certain it was good enough for an “any bear” hunt.
A lot of professional writers, and staff members of bullet producing firms, test bullets not only in ballistic gel initially, but on live game and sometimes on dead animals as well. If a “new” bullet is involved, and doesn’t meet certain criteria, it’s seldom written about, published or heard of again. If it’s dramatic in video results as could be useful in promo material, it’s often announced as “their greatest bullet ever!” The followup by the pro writers reports will likely be that it “worked great on game” – chosen in a particular context.
Whatever the proclamation of initial reports, by whomever, savvy hunters should wait for more trials, or do their own!
There are many ways of bullet testing prior to game killing, or wounding them. I’m sure that many of you know as much about that as I, or perhaps more so. But testing of a bullet for a “best load” involves at least the following:
1 – Its history, if it has one
2 – Load development for the rifle
3 – Testing both velocity and accuracy at the range
4 – Testing in media for expansion, penetration and weight retention
5 – If “all goes well”, it will likely go hunting sooner than later.
Some hunters/shooters (handloaders) are satisfied with the first step only. They “load up and go get’em some game”!
Others are a bit more conscientious; they go through the process of load development for their rifle, sight-in and go hunting.
A few will make certain of the MV and accuracy of their “best load”.
But a mere handful will test their “best load” in media for comparative results with other bullets. They are the “scientists” among us.
Some are hunters — the rifle and load is a tool.
Others are craftsmen: They are concerned about quality and perfection. Handloads and hunting are expressions of that.
A few are scientists: They want to know what, why and how.
But an unknown number are explorers and adventurers who hunt. They may also make precision handloads.
Yup, I sighted-in my first owned big-game centerfire rifle in a gravel pit from a standing offhand position. The distance was “about 50 yards” on a piece of cardboard! I haven’t ever done that again!
And I hope you haven’t either! But… I see some PH’s have their clients check the sight-in of their rifles by hitting a scrap of paper or cardboard tacked to a tree at “about fifty yards”, and if they hit it somewhere near the middle – they’re “good to go”! The PH’s expectations are based on…? Well, a Cape buff is a huge target even at 100 yards! But many are urged by the PH to take shots where I NEVER would… through heavy thorn bush! So… I guess the PH is thinking that minute-of-angle shots have no advantage in his real world.
< Three 250gr AccuBonds on July 6/15 into less than 1/2″ at 100 yards from my 9.3 x 62 is plenty good enough for any hunting to 400 yards. The load was adjusted 1-inch left, and at just over 2″ high was perfect for my purpose. Details: Hornady brass, WLRM primers, 3.37″ COL, 71 grs RL-17, corrected MV to 2712 fps average for 3 shots. Elevation @ 900 ft, Temp = 23*C/73*F, Recoil = 44.7 ft-lbs. BC of bullet = .493 giving a -23″ trajectory at 400 yards and 2068 fps/2375 ft-lbs of energy.
But MOA, or better, has important advantages anyway, whether that has any value in shooting through thorn bush or not. First and foremost, it gives confidence to the shooter to pick a “hole” through that thorn bush if it aligns with a vital spot on the beast! Furthermore, if the shooter has done his homework back home, he’ll not take the shot through thorn bush if it doesn’t align with a vital spot on “whatever”.
Secondly: If the shooter-hunter has put in the practice time necessary for getting the best accuracy possible from his/her chosen bullet-load, no longer is that a main concern for success in the field whether shooting from “sticks” of offhand. His focus will be to have a clear shot on vitals, knowing the bullet will hit where aimed and do it’s job.
“Doing it’s job” – that confidence — the most important feature of the hunt — will come as a result of at least the first three of the five points given at the beginning of this topic.
The “BEST LOAD” is the “best bullet” hitting the game where intended, under any sensible circumstance, with enough “power” to cleanly dispatch the animal within a “reasonable” distance.
A “REASONABLE DISTANCE”, means “safe” and “sane”, and not worrisome!
The IMPORTANCE of PRACTISING with the chosen load:This can not be over stressed! Even “bench” shooting as practice has significant value, though many advocates of “practising” say “Get off the bench” as soon as you have your load and do some realistic shooting under conditions that simulate hunting conditions. I’m all for that, but often it’s not possible for many hunters from the suburbs or urban areas. I do have access to Crown Land at about an hour’s drive from home, but even then we don’t practice during hunting seasons in those areas due to a couple of significant reasons: 1- Spooking game from their natural habitat, and 2 – We could be charged by CO’s for not only spooking game but other hunters as well! So, when I do some of that, it’s always in off seasons.
Yet bench shooting has great value: 1) For sighting in; 2) Becoming familiar with the rifle and load – it’s consistency; 3) Confidence in it’s accuracy; 4) Getting used to it’s recoil; and 5) Operation of the action that becomes habit forming (without looking) by feel only. Of course, some practice at home in operation of the action without ammo has some value as well, but it’s NOT the same as shooting live ammo!
Then there’s the possibility at many ranges of practice from a standing-offhand position. I did that with my first 1895 Marlin in practice for my first bear hunt, and could put three 400gr Speers into a 3″ circle at 100 yards. That builds first-hand experience with both rifle and load, and major faith in oneself is conceived. Similarly in regard to the .340 WBY: It’s only practice was at the range, yet when it came time to squeeze the trigger on a bull moose I had no qualms over being able to hit where aimed with those 250gr Partitions at 3000 fps in offhand shooting at 165 yards. Recoil wasn’t even an afterthought.
The main reason most hunter-shooters complain over the recoil of big-boomers, and say they’re not as accurate, is lack of practice with them. I’ll not say it’s as true of me today at age 86, and after having lost a lot of muscle strength due to last winter’s bout of severe arthritis, but in my 70’s I could shoot my .340 WBY and Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT – both having well over 50 ft-lbs of recoil – as well as I’ve ever shot a 25-06, a 6.5 x 55 or a 7-08 Remington. It’s a practice-thing and mind-thing! Not primarily a recoil-thing! Those who say it’s a recoil thing, haven’t done much, or any, shooting of the “big-boomers”… or they hated it from the beginning. Or their nervous system is very high-strung! That’s not condemnation, but pure, simple facts. To them I say: “Don’t do it, but also don’t insist that I can’t shoot a .458 Winchester Magnum as well as a .30-06 or a .243 Winchester. With the .340 WBY, I put the first two shots exactly where aimed at 165 yards to the animal from an offhand stance. I couldn’t have done better with a .243, a 7-08, a 30-06 or a .300 magnum… and that 340 was kicking me with 54 ft-lbs of recoil! That’s quite a bit more than a .375 H&H.
However, at this stage of life, I no longer want to cope with that degree of recoil on a regular basis, so I’ve elected to have muzzle brakes, add some weight and go with reduced loads. My goal is to have all loads for my .458 WM and 9.3 x 62 Mauser limited to not more than 40 ft-lbs of recoil.
< My Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62 with its new muzzle brake. Those cartridges on the butt stock are loaded with 286gr Nosler Partitions. Four adds five ounces, plus three ounces for the muzzle brake, increasing overall weight to 8.2 lbs (with 3 cartridges in the clip and 1 in the chamber). The brake is to reduce recoil by up to 20%. So instead of the previous recoil at 48 ft-lbs from an MV of 2640 fps, and only 4 cartridges in the clip and chamber making a total weight of 7.7 lbs, the recoil from the current setup as seen in the pic should be reduced to 71% of its former recoil, at 34 ft-lbs. Those in the stock holder have been tested at 2583 fps/ 4236 ft-lbs, using two grains less of RL-17 than formerly at 2640 fps. The reduction from 48 ft-lbs to 34 ft-lbs IS VERY SIGNIFICANT, but the addition of 1/2 lb as to carry weight is insignificant, and so is the loss of 57 fps.
Of course, “felt” recoil is a variable thing, depending on many factors other than just the shooter: Stock shape and material in addition to the overall weight of the rifle, for some examples. My four Browning A-Bolts (LH) in .300 Win, .338 Win, .375 H&H and .340 WBY, all seemed to absorb some of the recoil in their synthetic stocks – they had some flex in them. They wen’t “flexible”, as in being able to bend them, or as in “softer” synthetic material, but as in the stocks absorbing some of the energy before it reached my shoulder. No doubt the 26″ barrels also had a positive effect in some control of muzzle “jump” as well. And a good butt pad is also mandated.
Another significant fact that tends to discourage much practice is the cost of today’s component bullets. And the greater their ability to retain 90% to 100% of their initial weight, the more costly they’ll be. And that’s far more true of large calibers over small and intermediate calibers.
I have five suggestions for big-bore shooters:
1) Become a handloader.
2) Cast your own – or buy cast.
3) Buy on special deals – auctions, online, store sales and individuals getting out of “Big Bores”.
4) Be content to shoot “enough”, not like you would if shooting a .243 Win.
5) There’s at least some truth in “getting off the bench” when you have that “best load”. As stated, if the range you shoot at gives permission for standing offhand practice, then do at least some of that, or find a safe place (with permission) to “field practice”. This is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY if we want best results from “a best load”, AND LET’S STOP WHINING OVER THE RECOIL of OUR BIG BORES as an excuse for poor field accuracy!
<I recently got these at a “bargain-basement” price at my favorite emporium. The “normal” cost would have been at least twice of what I paid!
And “a best load” in this context is for hunting purposes, not target shooting! While field accuracy is very important, terminal effect (TE) is of crucial importance!
Moreover, let’s be honest with ourselves! If we can’t mentally, emotionally or physically endure (after adequate trial and experience) the “kick” of ANY rifle, including a .270 Winchester and its ilk, it needs to “go down the road” to someone who can get the best from “a best load”.
I’ve fired thousands of .223 Remington loads, and literally thousands of .458-caliber loads – 90% of which were maximum. That’s about 3.6 ft-lbs vs. up to about 80 ft-lbs, with an average of at least 50 ft-lbs. My health and life expectancy hasn’t been lengthened by shooting a couple of .223 Remingtons, nor shortened by shooting a dozen .458-caliber rifles! No bones were broken, and the arthritic attacks were due to an inherited faulty autoimmune system. But getting punched in my left shoulder to the tune of 54 ft-lbs every time I squeezed the trigger on my .340 WBY became as normal to me as the 3.6 ft-lbs from the .223 Remingtons.
How could that be so? Well, the .340 was preceded by my first handloaded rifles in .30-06, followed by 7mm Mags, 300 Mags, .338 Win Mags and .375 H&H Mags, plus a few in .45-70 and one in .458 WM. You get over focusing on recoil, and concentrate on accuracy. That’s how!< A recent load from my Ruger No.1H in .458 Winchester Magnum… at 50 yards. Recoil was a mere 23 ft-lbs from a 250gr MonoFlex/.458-cal at 2610 fps. Not close to a maximum load that could make over 3000 fps from my Ruger No.1H. That’s “only” 3781 ft-lbs from a rifle capable of 6000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. That is a bear and deer load.
Til the next…