In re-reading some very detailed quasi-scientific papers on this theme — reviewed by myself up to four times — I’ve come to several conclusions that I think can’t be stated as a single judgement, or final dictum. In other words, nothing in ballistic studies or wounding science should be stated in absolute terms — everything must be qualified.
One of the goals I pursue in my blogs is to be as knowledgeable, and yet practical, as possible in the presentation of physical facts and their application. And within reason, I seek to illustrate the principles by personal experience, or the experiences of others who have credibility in my eyes.
The issue of “killing shots” therefore involves many details including: 1) the shooter; 2) the rifle; 3) aiming device; 4) accuracy; 5) the cartridge; 6) the bullet; 7) velocity at impact; 8) the animal; 9) it’s class; 10) its distance; 11) its angle; 12) it’s temperament; 13) elevation; 14) ambient conditions; and 15) physical conditions.
All of which are directly involved explicitly or implicitly.
So, do I really want to even attempt to deal with all that is implied or directly involved, when thousands of thesis have already been researched and developed by scientific minds? Or, on the other hand, by those with less theories but more practical experience.
Personally, I try to harmonize the two and have come up with my own theory, or two, and even three or more! And I make no claim to having resolved anything, other than as personal guidelines.
And some bullets from some cartridges, that others would deem unsuitable, have worked wonderfully. A 165gr Sierra BT hitting a big buck a bit far back did its task admirably. Why? Because range was only 65 yards and the hit was into the diaphram and guts of the buck that was turning away from me, and that bullet fully penetrated to the offside hind leg, hitting the hip joint, turned 90* downward and exited the knee joint in at least two pieces! The deer went down on that hip, got back up and hobbled 20 yards into the bush where I found him comatosed in a simulated going to sleep position. I walked up to within 8 feet and gave a finishing shot between the eyes from my .30-06.
Sierra said THEY were surprised by that performance since that bullet should have “blown up” in the guts! Then, how much do they know? The velocity was right, at about 2800 fps — impact velocity was around 2700 fps –, but the design/construction was suggested for big-game starting at 100 yards IF that bullet hit the “boiler room”! The left-side ham was wasted, by-the-way. And that wasn’t a puny whitetail from the south of the USA — it was a Canadian northern buck!
That’s to illustrate what I’ve stated at the outset — “I have tested bullets in both game and media, and have no theory about either. I go by what “seems” suitable for the job, if I do my job in placing the bullet somewhere close to where I want it.”
Not many of the pro authors praise Sierra bullets, but obviously they must work since Sierra is still in business, and there must be thousands who find them suitable. The reason I was using that bullet in that situation was due to the fact of being on private property that permitted a large variety of possibilities. I was seated on the side of an old logging road that extended 160 yards to my left and 400 yards to my right. And word from a frequent visitor to that land was the presence of a 400 lb buck who lived there too. (The following year I did get a chance on him).
The point? I used what “seemed” appropriate considering that Nosler Partitions (at that time) were twice as costly, and less aerodynamic for a potential shot at 400+ yards. The following year I did use a 165 Nosler BT on that monster buck at 150 yards and it broke up on the shoulder. That’s what I mean by “testing bullets on game”. The idea isn’t to purposely “test them on game”, but the result is useful as “a test”. We form convictions that way.
There have been many presentations of comparing bullets in tests. I’ve done some of that and find it useful as long as the physical conditions are the same for each bullet. For example, I found that a 350gr TSX/.458″ completely penetrated my test setup, and was stopped just inside the final panel of the last cardboard box, whereas a 500gr Speer GS SP was stopped after 6.5″ inside the first box. The 350 TSX retained 100% of its weight at full expansion while the 500gr Speer retained 62% at 310 grains. That’s not to condemn the Speer bullet, (The Speer on ^ far left and the 350 TSX on far right) but to realize that as far as weight retention and penetration is concerned, I might be better off with that Barnes 350 TSX than the 500gr Speer GS, depending, of course, on the game being hunted and the terrain.
Moreover, that was more or less confirmed by a shooter-hunter from Saskatchewan. A few years ago he went to Australia on a cull hunt of Water Buffalo. Using his .458 Win Mag loads of the 450gr Swift A-Frame, a 420gr CEB and the 350gr TSX, he said the 350gr TSX did about as well as the 450 AF at distance and better than the CEB. The MV of the 350 TSX was 2650 fps. In planning a return visit he thought he’d take more of the 350 TSXs than on the initial visit, and not take any CEBs.
That was an important test on big live game. I pay close attention to any reports of that nature. In making any judgement calls on “killing shots” the shooter’s ability is number one, the cartridge is number two, and the final crux of the matter is bullet construction. Why not bullet placement? That comes under the heading of the shooter’s ability, which is number one. If he has knowledge and experience, he’ll choose both cartridge and bullet. If he lacks some knowledge or experience, he’ll research it — or should.
Those associated with the design and manufacturing of the CEBs, apparently did so mostly on the basis of theory, and experience limited to close-range shooting. The Saskatchewan shooter said they worked fine for close shots — but no better than the others — but do to a very poor BC at longer ranges (200 yards) they were like “a hard thrown bag of leaves”.
So, killing shots are very much a significant result of bullet construction and shape (profile), which affects the shooter’s ability to place the bullet where intended as well as in terminal results. Especially is that so in a case of significant differences in both ranges and animal weights. There IS an important distinction in potential effect between hitting a 250 lb soft-skinned animal at 200 yards or meters, than a 1250 lb soft-skinned animal with the same load and bullet at 300 yards! Happy is the hunter who is equipped and prepared for either in the same hunt with the same rifle and ballistic profiles.
A killing shot is not usually by accident. It takes research, practice, planning and confidence. Confidence is largely the result of research, practice and planning. Yeah, I know there are some types who “know” they can pick up any rifle, load it up and go shoot themselves a “BARE!”
But what I’m referring to is a somewhat “normal” hunter.
RESEARCH: I’ve researched every rifle cartridge I’ve ever owned or used. In starting out, it was by reputation. Both the 7×57 Mauser and .30-06 Springfield had excellent reputations for anything I thought might be on my “bucket list” from fox to moose — and that impression was about spot on. The same impression has applied to other big-game rifles/cartridges. I began handloading with my first .30-06 that involved a lot of research. I loaded 165s, and 180s mostly as I didn’t envision much moose or any bear hunting. After that it was a 7 Remington Magnum which digested mostly 160s and 175s, followed closely by a .300 Win Mag and a .338 Win Mag. By then I was serious about bear and moose hunting so went heavier in the choice of projectiles.
That seemed quite “normal” to me. And in the development of loads and practice at the ranges, I developed confidence in my ability to produce very good loads for each rifle and in the shooting of them without fear of their recoil. I could squeeze the trigger on the most potent of them without batting an eye — up to and including a .340 Weatherby, .375 H&H and yes, even the formidable .45-70s and .458 Winchester Magnums. All that was a process, resulting in shooting thousands of rounds in practice before ever venturing afield for big game. How old was I? In my fifties and sixties. I could shoot the .340 Weatherby as well as a .223 Remington. When I shot my first bear I was 54, and that with my first .45-70 — a 400gr Speer at 1865 fps. My first moose (and only) was shot with the .340 Weatherby when I was 66. I never noticed the recoil. I had squeezed off three shots of a 250gr Nosler Partition leaving the muzzle at +/-3000 fps before the game was over. Recoil was on the order of 54 ft-lbs — it was never noticed. First shot at 165 yards and it missed aiming point by 1-inch. Second shot was from the same position as the moose had just started to turn away from me. It hit the short ribs and came to rest just behind the offside shoulder at 4″ from the first exit wound. The bull went down.
The point? Recoil never entered my mind. Neither did worry over point of aim or accuracy. That rifle was as natural to me in shooting as if it were a .22LR. Yes, absolutely, I believe in practice shooting hundreds of rounds BEFORE going hunting with said rifle and load. It did exactly what I expected. Very little offhand shooting had been done previously. Almost practically none. But I had carried the rifle into woods areas and simulated shooting with it, and had handled it constantly prior to the actual moose hunt. Nothing surprised me. It worked as planned, the result of practice and research — I had confidence it would work on any moose no matter the conditions to 500 yards. That’s confidence both in myself and the rifle/cartridge/bullet load.
Any reasonable killing shot can be made by a knowledgeable, practised, confident hunter who knows his rifle and load like he knows his favorite hammer.
More next time…