It should be fairly obvious that expected results from handloads for a .30-30 will be very much different than for a .300 Winchester Magnum. The PURPOSE for each will also be distinct.
In my last blog, a list of ten steps to determine a rifle’s BEST load for its PURPOSE was itemized. So this week’s introduction to “the best load” for your rifle starts with:
A Rifle’s PURPOSE
Since this is a presentation on HUNTING LOADS from a hunting rifle, the need to settle in our minds what the intention is for a “best load” will be dependent on the game animal (or animals) to be pursued, and in what geographical context.
< The context here was a bear bait setup at 35 yards from this blind. The rifle was my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag. The load was a 350gr Barnes TSX that would leave the muzzle at 2750 fps. That was a former moose load for potential long-range shooting in N. Ontario. So it was a multi-purpose load that could be used on any North American game within any geographical context.
In P1 a summary of my experiences was given that ultimately led to handloading all centerfire rifles that would ever be personally owned. The Brazilian Mauser in 7 x 57 was actually my first owned high-power rifle. Prior to that I used my .22LR to terminate sea gulls, skunks and coons. A 12ga was added for big game and birds. Rifles for deer and “whatnots” were borrowed — which included a .30-30 and a .303 British Jungle Carbine (that was offered for sale to me for $35 in mint condition which, as a starting-out young pastor of several country churches, and having a young wife, I couldn’t afford!). So the PURPOSE of my own early-on rifles was for hunting whitetails with the possible addition of moose and predators (including wolf and black bear). Thus a rifle with sufficient “power” for the mentioned game was wanted. That would include both factory and handloaded ammo. At the time, a .30-06 seemed the logical choice and that’s where my handloading experience began — with two of them, the first a used military and the second an M70 sporter.
However, the reason (purpose) for the acquisition of rifles in many chamberings, that basically do the same things when handloads are applied, becomes blurred in our minds when “WANT” becomes the vague motivator! There are scores of thousands (perhaps millions) of rifles in safes that have no reason for existence other than “WANT” because “others” have the same! Many of these rarely see daylight or use! They collect dust that sticks to their oily surfaces in their dark prisons!
If the motive of these blogs is “BEST LOADS” for harvesting game or predators, then we exclude “Safe Queens”, collector choices, never-handloaded rifles, antiques, autos, and neglected “WANT” rifles.
THIS is about RIFLES to be used, or RIFLES already in use for hunting purposes.
Of course, many would claim that one must first choose the cartridge and then the rifle in which it’s to be used. Whatever. In my own case I mostly chose both at the same time. As told already, my first and second actually owned were both military Mausers. The main reasons for that being that I was somewhat familiar with the cartridges (7×57 and .30-06) and the rifles were relatively cheap. I would not have chosen an unfamiliar foreign cartridge designation even in a beautiful sporter. But cost was the main factor, so those rifles came in chamberings of which I had some knowledge. But how did a military Mauser 98 get chambered in .30-06? To this day I haven’t a clue! I could, of course, speculate but your guess is as good as mine without knowing the facts. But that’s the one on which I was able to mount a scope as it had a bolt handle that wasn’t sticking straight out, but bent down by the side of the action. It was also the one that first experienced my handloads.
So, was the rifle or chambering first in order? Whatever your view on that, it was obvious that they came together as a package. And several other rifles in my ownership have come into possession in the same manner. In the case of the .45-70s, I was attracted to the whole concept of the 1895 Marlin chambered in .45-70. As to medium bores (.338 to .375), I’d say it was the cartridge first in some and the rifle first in others. As to Big Bores, it was definitely the cartridges — the .45-70 and .458 Win Mag. Still, I have to add that eventually I wanted a .45-70 in a Ruger No.1. Another .45-70 would not have come into my gun cabinet unless it were a Ruger No.1. Ergo: I’ve owned two with the second receiving an extended throat for the long bullets and more powder. And a few .300 magnums were chosen specifically because they were .300 magnums.
So there you have it.
Yet my reading of reports from “gun nuts” suggests that the acquisition of rifles may have several distinct motivations: the rifle, the caliber, the cartridge, the “want” factor, inherited from family or friends, a gift, etc.
But if chosen for a particular style of hunting — brush hunting of big game (BG) or dangerous game (DG) as an example, then the rifle will be first and an appropriate chambering second. In Alaska, among it’s guides and outfitters for dangerous game like grizzly/brown bear, a short-powerful carbine type is usual. That might be a Ruger Alaskan in .375 Ruger or .416 Ruger. On the other hand, it might also be one of the short Marlins in .45-70. Therefore the emphasis will be first on handiness and second on chambering. There are even some short and handy .338 Win Mags and 9.3 x 62s.
In such choices the motive is firstly on the rifle itself, and secondly on its cartridge.
It’s far too common to refer to the cartridge as “caliber” — which is a mistake! Caliber is the bore diameter of the barrel, but there’s a great difference in the chambering and power between a .35 Remington and a .35 Whelen! They are each .358 – caliber, but the .35 Whelen can make 4000 ft-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle (when handloaded), whereas the .35 Remington can make about one-half (1/2) or 50% of that! They have the same CALIBER but are distinctly different in CARTRIDGE! Cartridge being the entire package of case, primer, powder and bullet. The .35 Remington can shoot a 200gr from a 20″ barrel at about 2100 fps/1958 ft-lbs, whereas the .35 Whelen can shoot the same bullet at over 2800 fps, and I’ve come very close to 3000 fps from two .35 Whelens. That’s a KE of from about 3500 ft-lbs to almost 4000 ft-lbs – about 2x that of the .35 Rem.
Therefore, when we speak of cartridge, caliber is implied, but when speaking of caliber, the cartridge isn’t known unless it’s mentioned. There are at least five known commercial .416 calibers still being manufactured: Rigby, Ruger, Remington, Dakota, and Weatherby – all with distinct cases that can’t be exchanged for any other. Then there is a 6th that was a wildcat, then became a legit cartridge, and now isn’t even mentioned in literature or handloading manuals: My favorite of all, the .416 Taylor.
So what CARTRIDGE should you or I choose for a particular purpose and rifle?
Never in history has there been the sheer number of cartridges being manufactured by various companies such as Winchester, Federal, Hornady, Remington, etc. But that belies the thousands upon thousands of bullets being produced for handloaders of those cartridges. To pick one among the many to create a “best load” is a daunting task, which is an understating of the challenge!
Economics is also a serious consideration in the whole scheme of matters. The time is long gone when we could think of handloads as a cheap way to produce exceptional ammo for our rifles. And, added to that the entire cost of a safari, or a simple DIY week of hunting on your own terms, means serious expenditures when all is added or multiplied together.
There was a time when I was shooting several thousands of bullets down range at targets each year to determine “best loads” for hunting purposes, or “just because”. No longer! My costs for a full season of bear hunting (Sept 1 to Nov 30) (about 2x weekly until I got a bear) was less than $350. “Bait” was free. Now I’m at the range once a week shooting no more than 10 to 20 big-bore loads (about $3 per) plus about 30 to 50 .22LR (a total of about $2.50 for the bunch). Then gas at the equivalent of $4.50 per Imperial gallon, plus buying “bait”, plus, plus… You get the picture. So, it’s important to settle on a “best load” for my purposes without needless experimentation!
How do I do that, or how has it been done?
Research is cheap! Experience NOT so cheap! But both are needed. So I spend a lot of effort and time in research (reading reports and other data as well as discussion with others who know somethings I don’t yet know), and enough in shooting and testing.
Testing for bullet velocity, accuracy and expansion-penetration characteristics before going afield isn’t cheap either in time, effort or money — but MUCH better than the loss of an animal due to ignorance of the bullet’s qualities, or wounding a game animal!
The cheapest way to “approve” a bullet is in hearing or reading what others have to say. But those “others” — what do we know about them? What’s their motive in publishing a good report — it killed the game sought after?
And, what’s the motive of a bullet-making enterprise producing a near clone of what some other company has already done, declaring it to be “superior” than any others? The reality is that there are already too many on the market that do the same things equally well! And, besides all that, animals were “cleanly killed” with so-called “cup-and-core” bullets long before “premiums” came to the fore! Don’t misunderstand, I use and like Noslers and TSX’s, but Sierras, Speers and Hornadys have killed deer by the thousands, and you could throw in a few grizzlies, moose and elk as well!
The 250gr Speer HotCor in .358″ has had an enviable reputation on moose and grizzly from a .35 Whelen long before Nosler ever produced a 250gr Partition in .358. And the 200gr CorLoc made specifically for the .35 Remington has no doubt taken more than its share of Maine black bears!< a 200gr CorLoc from a good black bear
So, what’s the “best load” based on a bullet’s attributes?
Those anecdotes serve, I think, to expose some myths as well as to confirm some known truths:
- The shooter must become familiar with his/her chosen bullet.
- The handloaded bullet must perform as intended and expected.
- The physical conditions for those expectations must be known and planned for prior to hunting season.
The above three points assume the hunter to be both an “advanced handloaded” and experienced hunter. He/she has done the requisite research, knows what to expect from personal experience, or the experience of others in whom he /she has confidence.
It has been rightly stressed that the bullet is the cheapest part of an expensive safari (or trip to Alaska for a brownie or moose). But there are “safaris” nearby that are far less demanding on our limited time and financial resources. The current load for my Ruger No.1 “Tropical” in .458 Winchester Magnum is a bullet that cost pennies! It’s the 5th from left in the above photo.
I recently did a ballistic profile of “that load” which shoots MOA. It’s the loaded cartridges on the butt stock of the Ruger No. 1. Here’s the data:
Rifle: Ruger Tropical in .458 Winchester Magnum (Photo is from last week’s hunting excursion. For a better view, right click on photo, then left click on Open in new tab, then left click on “new tab”)
Bullet: 405gr Remington; SD = .276; BC = .281
COL = 3.26″
Powder: 75 grains RL-15
MV (muzzle velocity) = 2091 average fps/3932 ft-lbs (The rifle is capable of 6000 ft-lb from particular loads.)
100 yds = 1826 fps/ 2997 ft-lbs/ +3.68″/ 136.5 MTE (Mitchell Terminal Effect)
200 yds = 1586 fps/ 2261 ft-lbs/ -1.57″/ 103 MTE
300 yds = 1376 fps/ 1701 ft-lbs/ -20.74″/ 77.5 MTE
400 yds = 1080 fps/ 1050 ft-lbs/ -58.37″/ 47.8 MTE (I like 50 MTE for a 1200 lb moose, but that’s close enough.)
Is that my “best load”? It’s actual for my current intentions for that particular bullet from my Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag. Being a flat-point, it will surely kill a lot of big game (and small) to 400 yards and beyond, though knowledge of its ballistic profile and trajectory is essential.
Just for the interest of the curious: That 405gr could be pushed out the muzzle of the “Tropical” .458 Win Mag at over 2500 fps, but there’s no need for such an extravagant MV! Plus, that bullet isn’t constructed to withstand an impact of much over 2000 fps on large game. And, at the current MV, the recoil energy is a mere 31 ft-lbs compared to a potential of 51 ft-lbs (that includes the Mag-na-porting).
Is that my “best” load for the 405 Rem bullet, fulfilling my purposes in that context? I have utmost confidence in it based on previous use of that bullet on bear at 100 yards from about the same MV fired from an 1895 Marlin in .45-70. And it will not go where a 400 yard shot could be taken; 200 yards would be a very long shot for the area where the majority of my BG hunting is done. If I should ever go to the “Far North” of our province again, there are several other “best loads” that could be selected for more open country.
From an analysis of the above “best load” for my current purposes (and there are other “best loads” that could have been chosen) there are some takeaways that might be useful to others:
A- There are usually several options that will do the same “job” equally well.
B- Consideration of all factors involved: costs, recoil, long-term availability of components, rifle weight and handiness, accuracy, and familiarity with and confidence in both rifle and load are all equally important.
C- Knowledge of the geographical area.
D- Honesty and knowledge of our own abilities and physical status is more important than the “best load”.
Next: testing, evaluating, sighting-in and harvesting of game.