There are many factors that determine “killing effect”, depending on all the potential variables:
- Kinetic Energy (KE) at the muzzle (MV)
- Kinetic Energy at impact
- Bullet construction
- Bullet mass
- Bullet diameter
- Bullet sectional density
- Bullet velocity at impact
- Ballistic Coefficient of bullet
- Momentum of bullet at impact
- Class of animal
- Weight retention of bullet
- Range of shot
- Suitability of rifle & cartridge
- Accuracy of rifle and load
< They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is of my late friend Frank, a Brit. He was a UK military guy that when released from that moved to Canada, got a job, married, settled down and had a family. He wanted to hunt a bear, with me as “guide”, and was so impressed with my “little” Ruger 96/44 (in .44 Rem Mag) that he chose this Marlin in .44 mag. Ammo for the hunt was my handloads, and that scope has a 50mm objective lens! Too much for that “little gun”? No, just about right for the physical conditions: very tight bush and forest, and it was getting very dark in there. And range to bait was only 35 yards. Plenty of rifle and scope – and suited Frank with minimal recoil.
Not on this occasion but on another, he was sitting in a different blind with our friend, Ken. They picked “straws” as to who would get the first shot… it fell to Ken. When a behemoth of a bear came to the bait, Ken squeezed the trigger on his .270 Win… but no BOOM came from the muzzle but a “clink” from the chamber- a missfire! That bear, at an estimated 500 lbs, was never seen or heard of again! If the “straw pick” had fallen on Frank, would that “little” Marlin in .44 mag been adequate? THAT, will never be known! But I did tote my “little” 96/44 when walking trails and bringing bait to “bear baiting sites”!
So, the long and short of all that for me is that I’ll not be purchasing a .30-30 Winchester any time soon as a dedicated bear rifle even though I know it’s been used to kill many bears – and large ones at that. It has also been used to wound many that were never retrieved! Personally, I don’t know of any current and dedicated bear hunters that specifically choose a .30-30 as “their bear gun”! I’d suggest nothing less than a .308 Winchester, or its equivalent, and then ONLY under specific conditions. And anything less than a .308 Winchester, such as a .243 Winchester, ONLY under more restrictive conditions still. A .44 Rem Mag properly loaded is more “bear worthy” than any of those three at close range, “all else equal” – a 300gr from my 96/44 at 1700 fps = 31 TKO at the muzzle; a 200gr/.308 at 2450 fps = 21.5 TKO at the muzzle; and a .243/100gr at 3100 fps MV = 10.76 TKO at the muzzle, as one expression of potential “terminal effect”.
For example, where I’ve hunted black bear (that’s the only kind we have in this part of Canada) on both private and public land (Crown Land), physical conditions have at times exposed me to potential threat from bears on any day of a hunt. From considerable experience I know that a bear could sneak in behind a ground blind – with me there – without being readily detected and with the purpose of intimidation or even attack! And that’s not just an over active imagination – it’s happened on too many occasions to be casual or indifferent about it. If a bear should charge, I want a “stopping rifle” because I might only get one stopping/killing shot.
There’s a blue bait barrel under that tree at 125 yds. The rifle was my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT. A young bear was coming to the bait and at times sleeping under the tree. I never shot it because it was too young, and also because the mother was hiding just inside the bush to the right of the tree. I caught sight of her a few times. Now let’s assume that from ignorance or plain stupidity I, or someone else, shot and killed the young bear… what might momma bear do as the hunter approached that tree? Your guess would be as good as mine if mother bear had not previously been sighted.
Same scene a few hours later. The bait barrel would be just slightly left and above the leaf in the center of the pic – the tree top can be seen shilhouetted against the night sky. I snapped this just before leaving. I then had to lower my rifle on a rope after removing the cartridge that went into my jacket pocket, descend the ladder, pick up my orange hat and vest, remove my hunting hat, put on the orange vest and hat (the law), untie my rifle leaving the cartridge in my pocket, and walk in darkness (using a flashlite) to my van in another pasture 200 yds away. “Where is that momma bear?”
A significant amount of hunting under all conditions doesn’t always insure precise shooting from a rest, taking a carefully aimed shot at an exact spot on a game animal. Though there are several potential variables, I want to eliminate as many as possible that relate to the ballistic effectiveness of the rifle. I will not be hunting, nor am I currently, with the services of a guide/outfitter who will back me up or try to micro-manage my every move.
Bear hunting, of any colour, is a potentially risky business! And there is always a certain amount of tension involved. That’s why we do it! Adrenalin will be high and senses alert! The balancing factor to all that is the rifle we’re toting: not, “Is it adequate?”, but “Is it MORE than adequate?” – in case the unforeseeable happens… or the hoped-for story goes awry!
During a period of a dozen years or so, my dedicated bear guns were 1895 Marlins in .45-70 ready to do battle with bears using my own handloads at ~4000 ft-lbs at the muzzle. There were no arguments against their effectiveness. In fact, it was those Marlins in .45-70 that instructed me to think “outside the box” as concerns kinetic energy and momentum. Personally, having to shoot from the left side as a right-handed person (blind in my right eye), the lever-action Marlins were potentially much faster for a second or third shot than working a right-handed bolt-action from my left side. But… only once did I ever fire a second shot at a bear using a Marlin in .45-70, and that was my first bear that didn’t need a second shot – it was finished within 10 yds in an alder patch. The Marlins with heavy barrels were very accurate but that heavy barrel meant a heavy rifle after an hour or so of toting in thick bush. These were “Classics”, not the short 18.5″ GGs – so I began to consider the New England Firearms single-shot rifles in .45-70, while keeping a Marlin for follow up on any wounded bears. The NEFs also had heavy barrels which enhanced their accuracy and had stronger actions than the Marlins so could be loaded a bit “hotter”. Then came my first .458 Win Mag – a used Ruger 77 with tang safety in excellent shape, followed by my first Ruger No.1 in .45-70.
All in all, .458-cal bullets at comparatively modest velocities convinced me that KE was only part of the terminal effect of bullets. “Killing power” or “terminal effect” (TE) involved caliber and bullet mass (sectional density) as well as velocity at impact. So several attempts were made in various formulas to express those distinctions in potential terminal effect. The one I eventually settled on included kinetic energy at impact, sectional density and cross-sectional area of the bullet – which, incidentally, I still believe has value by way of comparison. To me, it has merit in matching what I use with other cartridges and calibers, and in some instances I use a form of momentum. Actually, I firmly believe both are involved, other “matters” (bullet shape and construction) more or less equal. I’m quite sure that I’ve witnessed the effect of both kinetic energy AND momentum in killing game, especially larger game.
This issue has been debated by amateurs and professionals alike with no common consensus even to this day! Nevertheless, ballistic engineers still test bullets in media and quote kinetic energy numbers. An increasing number of hunters and armchair “experts” give little credence to ANY numbers, saying dumb things like: “It’s not what you hit ’em with, but where you hit “em”, and another off the top of the head comment like “The sectional density of an expanding bullet changes on impact so adds nothing to results.”, etc. Such statements – and they are not the only – are partially true but are far from the complete truth! PHYSICS is involved, and IS the major part, but a formula that could fully express terminal results still seems elusive. So… we tend to push “the escape button”: “all else being equal”, as if that covers all potential variables – some mentioned at the beginning of this essay.
Rather than attempting to cover all possible issues – as though it could be possible to split an atom with a bullet – I’ve determined to use a simple formula that includes the basics of physics involved. Some amateurs (non scientists) with a practical mind and experience have placed emphasis on four factors of bullet impact that determines it’s ultimate effect on whatever part of the anatomy is impacted:
- Impact velocity
But the “red herring” argument thrown into this discussion is: “But bullet placement is most important!” which has absolutely NOTHING to do with a rifle’s ballistic potential! That is a subject concerning the shooter’s potential – NOT the rifle’s potential! Then the counter argument becomes: “But a hunter-shooter will be more accurate with an adequate rifle that generates less recoil!” HUH? What has that argument to do with this piece on a “RIFLES Killing POWER”? And what is the proof of that as an across the board experience for ALL hunter-shooters? That certainly has NEVER been a fact in my experience either at the range or in shooting a game animal! In real life hunting, I shot my .340 Wby Mag on a bull moose at 165 yds from offhand as well as I did my .223 on chucks from offhand at similar ranges! The .340’s calculated recoil was 54 ft-lbs and the little .223’s was less than 4 ft-lbs!
For any rifle-cartridge we don’t need a PhD in math sciences to construct a simple-to-understand formula that approximates expected results, “all else equal”, excluding nuclear physics! Many such formulas have been constructed and offered – but not without criticisms from the “arm-chair” guys to pure scientists who claim that “momentum” is unscientific!
Yet, despite all, I’ve a formula that’s been used for decades that seems to work well enough for me, and comes close enough to expected results as well as research of results by other hunters – “all else equal” – cartridge and bullet used, and range.
Hence: bullet weight and caliber determines sectional density. Impact velocity determines both kinetic energy and/or momentum, and bullet construction is a variable but vital component in both penetration and destructive cavity (secondary and permanent).
So how do I think about all that in a comprehensive way in preparation for a big-game hunt that may involve dangerous game under non-specific conditions?
The No.1 priority must be the rifle AND cartridge inclusively – not separately!
Which or what 6.5 is best for long-range target shooting, and which bullet is best under those terms doesn’t even open a door to my interests! And I don’t despise those who’s life-styles revolve around such priorities, but I’ve never been any kind of devoted target shooter! Sure, I shoot my 22LRs at up to 200 yds for casual interest and trigger time, and they’ve been used in hunts of groundhogs to around 100 yds or so, but when we had thousands of ’em in this area, and chances to +300 yds, I got my first .223 Rem. Yet no longer do I have a .223 in my locker because huntable woodchucks are now scarcer than $1000 bills in my saving’s account!
But I was duped by “the media” into a few 6.5 x 55 Swedes – thinking “dual purpose”! Man, was that ever a bust… without giving all the details again!
7mm magnums – I’ve owned a bunch. Yet, despite media-hype comments, they’re NOT .300 magnums, for which I’ve still great respect, especially for the .300 Win Mag of which I’ve owned more than any other chambering except in .45-70.
After all was said and done, I settled on mediums (.338 – .375) and .45-70s – that led to a few editions of the great .458 Winchester Magnum (that will likely be the last to go).
Because I stopped trying “to split atoms”, and no critter, small to large to dangerous, will even think of having an argument with me over what I’ve used to hunt them during the last half of my hunting life of 70 years!
In my current bear hunt, for example, I’m aiming to kill a young bear – 2 or 3 year old. It appears that one of that nature was regularly hitting my bait, so why am I toting a .375 H&H alternately with my .35 Whelen? I’ve partly explained all that above and in recent blogs – but those two rifles in particular are relatively new acquitions (though I’ve owned .35 Whelens and .375 H&Hs in the past) yet distinct in concept. I’ve owned the .35 Whelen for over a year and loads were developed for it in my bear hunt of May, 2022. But no bear was shot in last year’s somewhat shortened venture due to changing logistics that I’ve already discussed in recent articles. It’s a single-shot ready to hunt with scope at 7 and 3/4 lbs. The .375 is a magazine repeating rifle that weighs 10 lbs exactly with scope and three cartridges in the magazine. The light .35 Whelen is used more for walking about and the heavy .375 for shooting from a ground blind as a bear comes to the bait.
However, it might turn out that a bear attending the bait is a young female coming into eustrus. I’ll not knowingly shoot a female- it’s a challenge to discern them unless with cubs which puts both them and her off limits for the hunter. But a young female leaving an attractive scent for a mature boar bear could very well attract one while at the bait site. I’m not much inclined (at this time of my life) in shooting a +300 lb bear of either sex, but I need to be prepared for a possible confrontation from an agressive big guy if he doesn’t take a liking to me being around when he has other interests! (As it turns out, the bear NOW coming to my bait setup is a large male, according to my visit to the site on Monday, May 29, to replenish bear grub!)
I found this:
<Its original location was just behind the two larger trees that appear together in the background about 20 yds. There was bear grub inside and outside the orange tote with a log on top.
<As I left it four days earlier
And finally this also on Monday, May 29
<This was “fresh” at about six feet from where the tote was located when I’d finished setting it up on Friday, May 26. Those are 2 – 2.5″ in diameter! NOT from a young bear or female! I think what has happened is that a big boar male has moved into the site over the past couple of weeks and “taken charge” of it. They do this as a marker of ownership of the site, and keep any others away. A sure sign of a dominant bruin! Do I want to shoot it? Sure… but do I want the hassels of the necessary details following? Not sure yet… may just take some pics. But “what if” happens? There are yet details to be cared for, like a blind in place without disturbing a bear’s sense of well-being.
Of course, the bait was again replenished before returning home.
There’s a lot of misinformation on line that could spell trouble for those who take it seriously, such as: “Bears are easy to kill”, or “They run the other way whenever they see me”, as though that should be the expected experience of everyone under all conditions! No doubt that could be the experience of some on some occasions, BUT that’s far from MOST cases – unless those “most cases” involve easy access to multiple bears at a “safe distance” that were unaware of their own danger. I had correspondence with a rancher in Western Canada a few years ago who told me of shooting scores of black bears on their ranch from long range. They’d come out of the woods into the fresh grass of their pastures for nourishment. From long ranges of several hundred yards they were killed using flat-shooting magnums with high-power rifle scopes, and from steady rests. The 300 RUM was a favorite! He said they burnt out many barrels. That has no comparison to where and how I hunt bears… nor the Quebec hunter, while hunting was surprised by a bear that killed him while his two sons heard his screams but were unable to get to him in time! Or the trapper from Sudbury who never came home! A search party found his ATV still running, and drag marks from it into thick woods where they found his body partly consumed and covered by leaves and debris from the forest.
Even IF there’s ONLY a 1 in 20 chance of running into an aggressive bruin while hunting them, is that enough reason to go ill-prepared for the possibility of an attack that could terminate in a serious mauling or even death? We hunt bears because they ARE dangerous! But that in itself should instruct us to be fully prepared AND equipped! And that includes the environment of the hunt, including any others who might be involved! But a SOLO hunt raises the risks at least five-fold!
1. No backup!
2. No alternate means of contact with the outside world!
3. No extra set of eyes, ears or voice!
4. No alternate perspective when facing a critical situation!
5. No extra hands for several physical chores.
Mine is a modified solo hunt in that a neighbour has committed himself to assist in getting a dead bear out of the bush.
The distance from blind to bait is ~50 yards with a rough natural gully between. So any charging bear would be slowed in navigating that. But that would also be more challenging for the shooter as the bear would not be coming straight on over flat unobstructed terrain. Near the end of such a charge he would be coming up out of the gully. I’m not expecting that but it’s something to be aware of and prepared for.
< The gully – this image is from last fall’s (2022) hunt. The bait setup was 20 yards back of the edge of the drop into the gully. My shooting position was about from where the pic was taken, up top on a knoll. Sometime over the next week I’ll construct a blind there and make provision for a rifle rest.
A fair hit from the 225gr Nosler AB at close to 2800 fps from the Whelen should have at least a deterring effect it not an immediate killing one. One disadvantage could be that a well-placed second or third shot might be slower than from a bolt-action repeater, hence the need for accurate shooting of the first. An advantage of the Traditions G3 is its comparitively light and fast handling when bringing bait to the site and keeping an eye on the surrounding area while doing those chores, though it will not be used from the blind when that time arrives.
The .375 H&H has an edge in stopping power with the 250gr Sierra GameKing leaving the muzzle at +3000 fps. Plus, it has a couple of extras in the magazine. But it is both longer and heavier making quick adjustments to a bear’s erratic movements in a charge more difficult and slower. The best I have for that kind of scenario would be my Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62. It weighs no more than the .35 Whelen, has greater potential “killing power” with a very slick 70* bolt action – that I’m very familiar with. But in tight quarters – the .35 Whelen is five inches shorter than the 9.3 x 62, at 39″ OAL vs 44″ OAL for the Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62 – and should have a slight advantage for a snap first shot. The .375 H&H in the Zastava M70 is 43.25″ OAL, and 2 and 1/4 lbs heavier than those other two. It is not for still-hunting or stalking in the thick bush and forests that I’m often hunting. However, from a blind it sould be excellent or for more open areas.
The .35 Whelen and 9.3 x 62 both have muzzle brakes that result in near identical calculated recoil effect. The weight of the .375 at 10 lbs, with 3 in the magazine, is more than usual for .375 H&Hs. However, my loads for that rifle have greater MVs and energy than most .375 H&H’s, as I load it to the basic equivalent of a .375 WBY. So that “extra” weight isn’t for naught! Recoil is getting “up there” at 45 ft-lbs calculated vs 33 – 34 in my other two rifles “loaded for BEAR”.
I’ve not yet hunted “the bear” – only baiting. The spring season is relatively short, ending June 15. So I hope to begin hunting sometime over the following week. That means sitting in a blind for a few hours on each visit. But I’ve never before experienced anything like the millions of mosquitoes that we have this year! I’ve been leaving new bait on each visit but not hanging around afterwards – which I normally do! So how much “hunting” that actually will be done will depend on “the mosquitoe factor”. It may turn out that I’ll put it off until September – October which usually ends the nasty bugs’ season.
Though rarely recognized, an additional asset of “extra weight” in mediums and BIG BORES is their steadiness once the aiming point is acquired. Light carbines are great for “snap shooting”, assuming adequate “stopping power” but they lack the steadiness of a longer, heavier barrel that just “hangs there” when the target animal is centered by the reticle.
I use 15 lb iron weights in each hand as I do my workouts each evening. Each one is about 1.5x the weight of my .375 H&H or .458 Win Mag. That’s a total of 30 lbs between two hands doing multiple maneuvers. Will 10 lbs between two hands seem like a burden too heavy to bear? But I don’t carry a 10 – 11 lb rifle that way unless I’m ready to shoot! Otherwise, I use a sling – that’s why God gave us shoulders!
Till the next…