Category Archives: blog

Stories or posts to be shown in the blog feed

Is Shot Placement More Important than Bullets?

Before I dive too deep into this, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear; I hold no grudge against those who disagree with me, these are only my opinions. I believe that the ancient tradition of hunting carries differing values and consequences depending on those individuals who engage in it. I believe in ethical hunting practices, though yours and mine may differ slightly, or immeasurably. And though we may have differing opinions, I believe that we as hunters must cohere as a group. Those that would refute our right to hunt see no difference between the crowded categories of hunters, and divided we will surely fall. I believe every hunter should do his best to make clean, quick, and effective kills. I also believe that every hunter should pursue (within the law) the techniques and tackle that he/she is most comfortable with that will allow them to do such.
In this article, I’d like to discuss both bullets and shot placement, and how those things apply to making ethical shots on game animals. We’ll also touch on a few subjects taboo to some, such as match bullets, and long range hunting as they relate to the subject.
With that in mind, I will start with a question; what causes a quick and clean kill? For the sake of time, and simple minds like my own, I may over simplify a few things. In layman’s terms, a quick kill is caused by applying sufficient energy to vital organs causing a temporary or preferably permanent interruption in their functions. This interruption in life sustaining organs is what causes death. The time it takes for an animal to succumb to death, depends greatly on the blend of how severe an impact is applied, and specifically where it is applied. A very simplified example of the opposing ends of that spectrum could be; A 22LR placed point blank between the eyes would certainly kill most game animals, but the same game animal shot with a .22LR at 100yds, (between the eyes or not) would likely survive, or at minimum get away un-recovered.

Overkill is a myth, something is either dead, or it isn’t. When discussing the use of a 300 Magnum versus something smaller like a 308, a wise man once told me: “it’s not going to get up and ask if you have anything bigger”. Which is likely why so many magnums and super-cartridges exist, and are particularly marketed to the hunting public.
Obviously for general North American big game hunting a 22LR is not enough, and a 500NitroExpress for example is more than enough. Most hunters favor the heavier than necessary, in order to ensure a humane kill, but not so much as to be wasteful of the prey they are after.

Heart shots work every time, especially if they come apart, like these muley’s did. (top left) was done by a Hornady 180BTSP/300WM/2900FPS from 280yds (Top right) was done by a Sierra 175SMK/308/2700FPS from 250yds (Bottom left) was done by a Sierra 175SMK/308/2700FPS from about 60yds (Bottom right) was done by a Hornady 162Amax/7SAUM/3050FPS from 430yds

The bullet is obviously a crucial part of the sequence of a quick and effective kill. It is the bullet after all that punctures our prey, causing damage to vital organs, allowing us to take the animal.
Many different manufacturers make an assortment of bullets. Technology has made traditional bullet construction simpler, as well as opened the door to completely new bullet structures and designs. Cup and core bullets used to be the standard, but today’s latest bullets feature multi-chambered, bonded cores, new alloys, monolith, as well as many other designs.

Light, fast bullets can have explosive energy on target 223Rem

All of these, could serve well depending on your intended target. For example, thin skinned varmints are usually engaged with thin jacketed cup and core bullets with either open tips, or a poly tip of some kind. The idea behind this light construction is that the bullet will open rapidly, and expend all its energy on small animals such as rabbits or prairie dogs. If a bullet designed for big game was fired at such a thin and small animal, it may not even rupture, or deform enough to cause much more than a hole.

A very large animal like those found in Africa have thick and strong bodies, a lightly constructed thin jacketed cup/core bullet would likely blow up just under the skin, without causing sufficient if any damage to vital organs. For this reason, many dangerous game hunters use bonded or monolith (solid) bullets that drive deep into tissue. Because all the energy in the world will not be effective if it doesn’t reach your intended target (the life sustaining organs). So choosing enough bullet is key.
It may be another over-simplification, but when it comes to hunting, my criteria for acceptable performance is based on the first question I asked above. Can my chosen bullet discharge enough energy (damage) to my target (vital organs) to bring the animal down satisfactorily?
In order to answer that question, there are a couple other criteria that must be entertained. Velocity is one of those. Velocity times mass is what creates the energy we need, and a bullet needs sufficient energy to do its damage on our target. If too small a bullet is used, it may not penetrate enough to transfer its energy into the right spot. Furthermore, if the target is too far away, a small bullet may shed all its energy just to get there with none left over to penetrate. Bullet mass then is another criteria to consider. Typically, energy is driven by either bigger bullets, or faster velocities. Either of which will ramp up the energy impact on your target.
This doe antelope was taken with a heavy for caliber bullet from a relatively small cartridge (75 grains/223Rem/2850FPS) but good shot placement put her on the ground quickly, even at 330 yards

There is such a thing as too much however, for example; a 150 grain bullet fired at 2900 feet per second from a 30-06 will work fine for most big game animals. But if you fired that same bullet pushed to the max from something like a 300RUM, it may be leaving the muzzle at 3400+ FPS. That may not sound like a bad thing to some, but it depends on what your intentions are. If you are shooting a deer at 100 yds, then the slower velocity bullet would work as intended. Whereas the high velocity with the exact same bullet would likely blow up on contact. That’s not to say it wont work, it just may take a lot of your venison with it. If you took the same two loads out to 500 yds however, the slower velocity bullet may not perform well, and the high velocity load may work perfect due to the velocity and energy lost in flight. These are just some of the reasons to think through your equipment and hunting practices beforehand.

When selecting a bullet for hunting, the size or weight of the bullet must be adequate for the job, and as I mentioned above the velocity upon impact must also be sufficient to take down our game. One must keep in mind the variation in velocity depending on the distance to target. A bullet that performs well on a deer at two hundred yards, may not work well at all when used at five hundred yards.

A small bullet to the right place is far more effective than a bullet in the wrong place, even if it doesn’t pass through. This animal dropped in its tracks, so there was no need to track it. .257 Sierra 120gr HP

Another point that should be discussed regarding energy and impact; sensitive targets require less energy. A bullet that has insufficient energy to penetrate and damage heart and lungs, may still have enough energy to penetrate and break the neck. Scenarios such as these, are sketchy, and not for aspiring marksmen. Terminal Ballistics is a fascinating subject, about the behavior of projectiles when they impact a target. We have danced around some parts of it, but regarding the current point of discussion I feel it is important to discuss in more depth.

This young bull took a 175 Sierra Match King between the eyes at 540 yards, keeping within the effective range of your bullet/cartridge combination will ensure enough energy to kill properly (308Win/175SMK/2700)

As a bullet makes contact with an animal, there are many forces at work. The vector of the bullet itself, the variable resistance of the flesh and bone of the prey, as well as unknown numbers of tiny inputs by other forces. The speed, direction, and yaw of a bullet will all affect how it opens (or ruptures), the higher the impact velocity, the faster and more violent it will open. If the bullet is excessively yawed (by wind or some other force) upon impact, it may exacerbate or change the angle or path the bullet takes through our prey animal. The structure of bones, hair, and meat could also greatly affect the path of our bullet. Striking between two ribs, a bullet may continue straight, whereas striking a rib at a deflecting angle, may cause it to turn. In addition to these, there could be many other forces at work that will affect our bullet’s impact, and behavior immediately after. An unseen blade of grass or twig, a muscle that is flexed vs. relaxed, all of these things could have some input on the path of least resistance that our bullet will seek. That is why we will never see two identical wound paths. Physics would demand that a heavier bullet be less affected by these forces, trying to maintain its trajectory. It is for this reason that some seasoned marksmen favor heavy bullets and calibers, as well as heavy for caliber bullets.

This is where the bullet’s construction also comes into play. A solid or bonded bullet is less likely to rupture or break apart, and therefore maintain its path with less deviation. While bullets with a weaker construction may come apart, cup and core often separate leaving the copper jacket on one path and the lead core on another. Depending on your target this may or may not be an issue.

Both of these bucks were shot with the same bullet from the same gun, a 140 grain Barnes Match Burner (260Rem @2930fps). The larger deer at 60 yards, and the smaller deer at 1,006 yards. Both fell from one shot, and never got back up

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation; you are hunting whitetail deer with a 270, shooting 130 grain bullets at ranges from 50 to 400 yards. Sounds perfectly fine right? That’s because it is, the energy generated by a 130 grain bullet at standard 270win velocities around 2800 feet per second generate over 2000 pounds of energy at the muzzle. That is twice the amount of killing energy suggested by most wildlife agencies. But what happens when that same whitetail buck of yours, runs out to the five or six-hundred yard line? The gears in your head may start turning, and a serious controversy may develop. For some people, it is a simple answer; don’t shoot. But for others, perhaps tempted by the large antler rack making its escape, it may be more difficult. For the 270 load I mentioned above, operating at 500 plus yards may be towards the outer limits of its effective envelope. At those distances, it’s kinetic energy has dropped significantly, and possibly below the suggested 1000 pound threshold needed to kill a big game animal. And we haven’t even discussed whether or not the hunter in this scenario has the needed skill to hit the deer at this range. So with all things considered, not taking the shot is the safe bet.

Switching up even just a little bit, can change the stakes (or steaks) into our favor. Remember what I said earlier about heavy for caliber bullets? The 130 grain bullet in a 270win is a fairly standard load, but you could also step up to something like a 150 grain bullet. And when comparing the energy of the two different bullets, you’d be surprised how much difference it makes. The energy of the 130gr bullet drops below 1000 pounds near the 500-550 yard line, but the heavier 150gr bullet carries its energy further, and doesn’t drop below the 1000 pound mark until nearly 700 yards. So, by shooting a heavier bullet, in the same rifle, you theoretically just added another 150-200 yards to your usable envelope.
It would be irresponsible to take shots based on energy alone, as I mentioned earlier, all the energy in the world won’t do its job if it is not put in the right place. It is therefore paramount to consider as well, the shooter’s ability to place the shot in the right spot. This may be a much harder debate to resolve, due to the many variables that may affect him/her.

On your best day, in perfect conditions, with your hunting rifle and ammunition; can you hit a ten inch or smaller circle at 500 yards? What about on a cold windy day, under pressure? After running over a hill? With daylight waning? If the answer to any of those questions is no, or even maybe, then you shouldn’t be taking that shot. If you’ve ever said “I can’t believe I made that shot”, then you probably shouldn’t have taken it. Any shot you take on an animal, should be a shot you know you can make. It should be second nature, after practicing over and over, in the same conditions, and same distances.
A hit should come as no surprise to a marksman. The same could be said for seven hundred yards, or any other distance. If your skill level or equipment limits you to one hundred yards, then that is as far as you should be shooting to ensure clean and quick kills.

This was a heart shot on an elk from 540 yards, being prepared will help put meat on the table, and practice brings confidence when the pressure is on (300WSM/180BTSP/2900fps)

This is another elk that was shot on the run, a well placed shot put her on the ground in seconds. 300WSM/190SMK/2950FPS

Let’s bring the discussion back toward bullets and their design, does the shape of a bullet affect its ability to kill? It can, and does so depending greatly on how it is applied. A bullet with a flat meplat (tip) like those used in tubular magazine rifles, has a broader surface with which to apply its energy. Whereas a bullet with a sharply tapered tip may not open until it has penetrated the target and met with resistance. A solid bullet may not rupture at all, and simply push its way through.

But how do these different shapes affect the bullet in flight? A flat meplat may be great for delivering heavy impacts, but they don’t fly as well. At least not as well as their sleek and pointed cousins. Most ballistically superior bullets feature long and slender tips, often times they are hollow, or use some kind of polymer cone. The tail end of the bullets are often tapered as well, these features allow the bullet to slip through the air as efficiently as possible. The point is to keep the bullets from shedding all their energy before they get to the target, in addition to that, it helps them sneak through the streams of wind they are sure to encounter. As bullets travel through wind, the force can affect the trajectory of the bullet, so a better ability to slip through wind bands will keep the bullet as close as possible to its original trajectory.

Bullets begin to slow down and loose energy as soon as they leave the muzzle, the longer they can hold onto their velocity and energy they will stay more stable. The added stability in keeping bullets on track to their target we see and interpret as more accuracy. These modern technological advances in bullet design, have made it possible to put more energy on our target, even at extended ranges. These are not your Grandfather’s bullets anymore. There is a big difference between a 150 grain flat nosed bullet, and a modern 150 grain boat tail hollow point. They may carry the same weight, but one carries it further, better.
A 175SMK (Top) found just under the offside skin of an elk, (Below) A Lapua 300Gr Scenar that traveled at an angle through 2-3ft of elk at 400yds

So, we have plenty of information to chew on now. Bullet construction, the velocity at which they impact the target, the terminal ballistics of bullets when they hit our prey, and the skill of the hunter pulling the trigger. These are certainly not all of the aspects that we need to evaluate nor are they in that particular order, but they surely are some of the most vital.

Some of you may need to take a deep breath here, as I mention match bullets. You may have noticed that in discussing bullets construction I didn’t touch this point, but I will talk about it now. Match, or competition bullets, are used for shooting targets during the course of a shooting event or tournament.

This pronghorn only gave a frontal shot, so she took one to the neck, and dropped in her tracks. 165SierraBTHP/300WM/2900FPS

These events usually feature paper or steel targets at various ranges to test the skill of shooters. Match bullets have evolved over the years to become as ballistically efficient as possible.

The design and manufacturing processes are designed around minimizing drag, augmenting consistency, improving its ability to overcome air resistance. The obvious purpose for these enhancements is to give competitive shooters as much of an accuracy edge as they can get.

I use match bullets for hunting. I don’t use them because they are suggested for hunting, in fact many manufactures suggest against using them. Keep in mind these are the same people who want to sell you “premium hunting bullets”. Having overheard more than a couple discussions on hunting ammunition, I haven’t been convinced that they make and sell premium hunting ammunition for any reason other than the fact that people buy premium hunting ammunition. And people usually are willing to pay more for it as well. Clearly most hunters feel the importance of what they are doing, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. There is so much more to it than that however, as we’ve discussed here.
I use match bullets for several other reasons, I shoot quite a bit, and I enjoy it immensely. And in an effort to get the most bang for my buck, I use the bullets that give me great performance, and at a price that I can purchase them in large quantities. Match bullets fill both of those purposes quite well.

My Father always told me practice makes perfect, and in marksmanship it holds just as true. Shooting frequently, and practicing proper skills will indeed make you a better shot. And practicing these skills in the natural environment will help give experience with variables like wind, angular shots, and obstacles.

All of this will make you a better shot, be it at game, or just plain old paper. Consistent shooting bullets only add to these skill building practices.
One of the many reasons I hunt with match bullets is because I hardly see an upside to adding variables to my shooting. After shooting hundreds or even thousands of “practice” rounds in a year, I don’t see why I would change to a different bullet right when my shots count the most. Nature is very good at giving me variables, with wind, temperature sways, and any number of other things. I don’t need to add to this storm by introducing my own variation in bullets.

Here is another Mule Deer that took a 140gr Amax to the neck from around 500yds. Terrible terrain, and daylight fading required immediate anchoring of this guy. 140Amax/260rem/2850fps

Some claim that match bullets perform poorly on game animals, claiming that they “pencil through” or they come apart. This has not been my experience at all, and though it may happen to some, I have seen it happen with bullets labeled “Hunting” as well. There are hunting bullets that can effectively reproduce match bullet performance, as well as other bullets that claim to do it all. There is nothing at all wrong with them, and I am sure they function as advertised.

Another pronghorn, this one fell to the 175SMK/308Win/2700FPS

I prefer to keep consistency as much as I can control. I can achieve that by using one bullet, and one load, for every caliber I shoot. That way every time I shoot, it is the same familiar performance I am used to. I shoot what works for me, as should everyone else. I use match bullets because the same advantages they give to competitors, help me make better shots on my game.

Consistency breeds accuracy, and like mad scientists we scour every possible way to uniform our loads, turning necks, setting tension, tipping bullets, etc. Why not use the consistency to our predatory advantage? The game we hunt deserves that. Depending on the target animal, as well as distance, and conditions, a miss could be as little as a few inches. Keeping my shots as close as possible to my point of aim elevates my chances of a clean kill.
I have found through experience over many years, that shot placement trumps all other factors. Through not just my own hunting experience, but that of many others as well. As you can see, it is demonstrated by the many photographs in this article. A bullet that strikes the vital organs of an animal is far more effective than one that doesn’t. I made a comment earlier about 22LR and 500NitroExpress, for a quick clean kill, a point-blank shot between the eyes with a 22LR is more effective than a double ham shot with the 500Nitro.

Consistent shooting and practice make predictable shots whether its a sticker, or a heart. Sub MOA consistency should be every marksman’s goal

We already discussed the reasoning why; the small amount of energy placed on the brain by a 22 is likely enough to damage it beyond function, while the incredible amount of energy from the 500 applied to the rear quarters may not be sufficient to acutely incapacitate the animal. Surely I am not encouraging or suggesting anyone to hunt big game with rim-fire cartridges, I am simply speaking hypothetically. And speaking of hypothetical, it’s certainly possible that the 500Nitro double ham shot scenario I conjectured above could work by severing a major artery, but you can’t and shouldn’t count on things like that.

Shot placement can trump things like bullet weight, bullet construction, magnum-headstamps, and almost any other factor. Perforated organs sustain no life. I’d prefer to take a shot to the lungs or heart with a small caliber bullet over a questionable shot with something big every time. I’ll admit that my opinion is biased, but it doesn’t come from reading internet posts and literature.
I remember buying premium hunting ammunition, thinking it was superior. Justifying the cost thinking it has to be better, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. It didn’t matter because it worked, everything I hit properly died. When I started shooting higher volumes of match ammunition, it just made sense to keep with what I could consistently hit my intended targets with. I switched over many years ago, and have shot nothing but match ammo. Nothing has changed over these many years, every animal I hit properly still dies.This Pronghorn took an 80grSMK/223Rem/2880FPS between the eyes. One of the advantages of such shots besides disabling it instantaneously, is a quick bleed-out due to the intact circulatory system, as well as minimal meat loss.

An important point that I feel should be brought up; All bullets can fail. Every bullet of every type can fail, and by fail I mean not perform to its designed standard. A Bullet can fail, and still kill the animal you are after. It doesn’t take much of an internet search to find stories, pictures, and cases of bullets doing strange things. Bullets that failed to open, or come apart. Just because a bullet is designed to open a certain way, doesn’t mean that it always does. There are all kinds of bullet fails, as well some outright strange things such as severe deviations in path, or blowing up on impact, etc. Certainly this is the exception not the rule, as for the most part, bullets almost always do what they were designed to do. This in part is why shot placement is so pertinent, if a bullet fails to function as intended at least you still have a hole through the animal’s vitals. The likelihood of a bullet failing to perform properly, is minuscule in comparison to the likely failure by the shooter.
There is and always has been a raging debate between those who shoot match bullets at game, and those who see it as a sin. The difference between them is that those who are successful at taking animals with match bullets usually have a multitude of pictures and stories of dead animals. Along with descriptive narration of what happened, and usually their best interpretation of what the bullet did. Much like those who use “hunting” bullets, when they accurately hit an animal’s vitals, everything works fine. Conversely those who are against using match bullets, usually have stories about “the one that got away”, etc. Whether it was bullet performance or not, we rarely see pictures or any conclusive evidence proving such. I suspect that the reason is either they never recovered the animal in question, or their pictures don’t align with their narrative about bullet performance. Or worst case scenario, pictures would show that their shot placement was actually questionable. Two of the three ideas suggest that the animal wasn’t hit properly.

Any kind of bullet placed in the right spot can do the job, this antelope took a 140Grain Barnes Match Burner to the back of the neck.

Many years ago, I was told by seasoned shooters that “you can’t do that”, which I found odd because I already had. I quit listening to people who think you can’t do something because they couldn’t. The best place to get information about something, is from those who do it, and the ones that do it the most. That is where I put my attention.
While I do spend much of my time in pursuit of game, I don’t lay any claim to being a professional, nor a forensic scientist, but I have never seen an animal hit properly get away. But I have seen plenty of them hit questionably, and go unrecovered. Minimal gains on the “drop clock” can be had with magnums, head shots, higher velocities, etc. But nothing can compensate for a well-placed shot.
Head shots, like this one (just above the suppressor) can be very effective, but aren’t always available (308/175SMK/2700fps)

There are many relevant arguments about bullets, some that I think deserve some discussion here. Many people believe that a “pass through” is the best possible scenario, with good reason. Having your target animal opened from both sides, surely gives more room for blood to escape. And a handy consequence to that is a more prominent blood trail, should you need to track them. While there is obviously nothing wrong with this idea, the primary objective should still be the vital organs, whether you pass through or not. I have seen many animals killed that did not pass through, but all the bullet’s energy was transferred into the vitals, killing the animal usually where it stood. A good blood trail is nice, a really good blood trail is short, but the best blood trail starts and stops at the animal’s feet.

Another common argument around campfires is bullet fragmentation. One of the many technological advances in bullets comes from new alloys and bonding process’. The purpose for these newer technologies is to help bullets stay together. As we discussed earlier, heavier bullets carry more energy. So a bullet that stays together during a pass through, will retain its ability to penetrate. While there is nothing wrong with these new designs, the new bullet styles have caused many to look down their nose at traditional cup and core type bullets. The reason is because so many of them come apart upon impact, I can remember on many occasions finding a separated copper jacket. Contrary to the belief of those looking down their noses, separated bullets seem to work just fine, (here is the kicker) As long as you hit them in the right spot. The separated jacket and core of a bullet is certainly capable of decisively damaging the vital organs. I have seen cases where the jacket separates inside the animal, and the lead core continues through exiting the opposite side of the animal. I’ve also seen where the two diverge as they pass through, each coming to rest in different places within the vitals. This is a perfect example of how a bullet can fail so to speak, but still do the job.

Bullet jackets frequently separate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they wont work well. This deer only made it about 20 yards. The core passed through, leaving a 1″ exit wound (30-06/165BTSP/2820fps)

There is also an expansive host of misunderstood, and mistakenly articulated beliefs that proliferate occasionally through the hunting community. Let me share a couple examples that I’ve heard over the years; “The 25-06 is a piece of shit, it’s very inaccurate and even if you hit an animal, it does a piss poor job of killing it.” I heard this once from a neighbor who I thought was a hunter of prowess, but upon hearing this nonsense come from his mouth my opinion tarnished quickly. He continued to explain, about how once upon a time, he was hunting with a 25-06, and couldn’t manage to hit a deer. For some reason, he wasn’t able to understand that the caliber of the rifle has little to do with accuracy. It was more likely the rifle, ammunition, or he himself that was the problem. But none of that stopped him from badmouthing a perfectly respectable cartridge, with a well-known and distinguished history of performance. What’s more, how many impressionable people out there heeded his gibberish, and espoused their own ignorant version of the truth regarding the 25-06.
Another example once overheard that carried an equal amount of absurdity; “ My brother was angry because my 30-30 has more knock down power than his 300WM.” The evidence cited to support these generalizations, came from two incidents where a deer was shot by either rifle. One of the deer went straight to the ground, never to move again. And the second deer ran off, to be recovered some distance, and several shots later. Now, for anyone to consider this as evidence that a 30-30 has more knock down power than a 300WM is absurd, the most likely scenario is that the 30-30 shot was acute, and the 300WM shot wasn’t. But like the first example, it doesn’t stop the impressionable people out there who for one reason or another want to believe it.

Another elk that fell in her tracks (430yds) from one well placed shot through the neck (7SAUM/162AMAX/3050FPS)

People approach hunting like everything else in life, with prejudice and preconceptions. Everyone has that uncle or friend who was exceptionally biased for or against one or more of the many facets of hunting. Those preferences are passed along just like any other tradition. Much like the gentlemen in the example I cited above, there are those who feel that unless you are using a premium hunting bullet, you are asking for a failure. Perhaps blaming their misfortune on a fragmented bullet or anything other than their own diligence. These are usually the same folks who think match bullets are for range use only. Furthermore, there are far too many hunters who think that because they are using a “Diamond-Crowned-Golden-Trophy-Triple X-Wolf-Fang” Bullet, that simply hitting the animal will do the trick. There are also those who believe that because they paid top dollar for the latest super magnum from some prestigious firm, that anything and everything in their field of view, will drop dead in its tracks. Both of these beliefs are false, but they continue to enjoy popularity among most hunting parties.


These are whats left of two 120gr BTHP Match bullets that killed the deer and elk shown below, both of them fractured but they still did the job as good as I could have asked for. They were found on the opposing side of the impact

I’d like to add one more anecdotal story to the mix, one of my own;
Many years ago, I was on a mule deer doe hunt at the base of the Rocky Mountains near my home, and I was planning on head shooting them to maximize the meat in my freezer space. Expected shots were to be under a hundred yards on does that were likely used to human activity due to their rural location. The rifle I carried that day would stack five 75gr bullets into 3/8 inch. So naively I headed into the field with my plan, looking to fill the freezer.

For some damn reason, that was a very hard hunt, and finding a smooth-head wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. We spent quite a bit of time trying to find the deer, who were much more skittish than anticipated, and the weather was becoming an issue as well. When I finally did get a shot, it was a fleeting moment before she was about to bolt into the woods. I quickly decided to take a shot, I dropped to a knee, and let it fly. But in my haste, I’d forgot about my plan to head shoot my target, and instead took the typically safer shoulder shot. The rifle I was shooting that day believe it or not, was a 25-06, and it was loaded with 75 grain Vmax bullets. If you didn’t already know, the Vmax is a varmint bullet, made to pop small animals and varmints. But even so, at 3300fps, that Vmax busted through not one, but both shoulders, and clean through the other side. She fell dead in her tracks. What’s more, it didn’t even damage the meat much. I ate that deer with great satisfaction.
I learned several lessons that day, first that I was lucky, and the second was bullets don’t always do what we expect or want them to. These examples demonstrate several points. And though many lessons could be taken from them both positively and negatively, the glaring truth that can be gathered from them all reiterates the central point to this whole discussion; shot placement rules.
I don’t mean to persuade readers to shoot one bullet type over another, nor do I intend on convincing them that my way is the right way. I only aim to help those who would listen to open your understanding. Let go of your bias and those learned from others. And no matter what you choose to shoot at your game, make sure that you can hit your intended target. Whenever asked, I always tell people to shoot what you and your gun shoot the best. It may not be exactly what the hunting rags would suggest, but more importantly, it should give you the confidence to hit your targets effectively.

-CBM

More pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Another Mule Deer taken with a Barnes Match Burner at 264 yards (140MB/264WM/3050FPS)

These are my Son’s first elk (530yds) and deer(490yds), both killed with a 120grBTHP/260Rem/2795FPS

This young cow elk fell to a single shot at 970 yds (183GrSMK/7SAUM/3000FPS)

Another Muley that fell at 620yds to the wicked combination of my 260 (140GrMatchBurner/260Rem/2930FPS)

This big bull fell at just over 500yds from one shot from the 7SAUM (183GrSMK/7SAUM/300FPS)

Sometimes a good neck shot presents itself, a kill can be made with less energy due to the sensitive nature of the neck. Never the less, this kill was made just under 400yds with the standard 175SMK/308/2700FPS

My first long range kill, taken at 880yds with a 190SMK/300WSM/3000FPS

Another antelope that fell at 300yds to one well placed 175SMK/308/2650

This goat fell to a single 130grBerger/6.5SAUM/3000FPS around 300yds, the damage done was surprisingly minimal, but due to perfect shot placement, she only went a few yards and toppled over.

The Little Things

The summer solstice took its time today, the heat of the day was drawn out into the late evening. The day was far too nice to waste, with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the perfect calm dry air was calling me. A simple hike through the foothills I grew up on seemed like a perfect way to end this beautiful summer day. Simple plans that quickly turned into a sensory laden stroll.
My free-time has recently shown a surplus, allowing me to get out often, today was one of those. I had opted for a quick and light hike, leaving behind the pack, and all the extra gear. I wanted to move fast and get some good exercise, but true to the form I came from, I couldn’t leave my rifle behind.

As I progressed up the trail, the summer heat brought its due sweat to my brow. Not carrying all the gear that I usually bring along, made this trek seem somewhat easy. And since my mind wasn’t focused so hard on the typical destination and the effort that I usually expend on getting there, I found my mind wandering. Like the tufts of cotton liberated minutes before from the tall and weathered cottonwood trees that line the small creek, drifting softly on the breeze. I could hear the water running nearby, probably water that I walked upon months ago and three thousand feet above when it was frozen.

In my hands I could feel the warmth coming from my rifle, my familiar companion could not escape the sun’s rays. With upcoming competition, I knew I had better put in some good practice. So I refocused my stride, and continued towards my hideaway. With my rifle held tight against my back, I hustled along the rocky trail.
The song of a bird caught my ear, the familiar sound that year after year, stays the same. The deep green color that graces these mountains through the spring had been cooked away with the summer heat. The grasses that were now waist tall, had lost their soft green texture, and traded it for a yellow and abrasive one.

My love for shooting runs deep, mostly it remains a simple practice of skills, that for a large part of my daily life are irrelevant, and go unnoticed. But my marksman mind through the window of my eyes, never really turns off. It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I am doing, there is always at least some part of my mind that is running numbers and evaluating the conditions that surround me. I could be in a restaurant downtown, looking out a window at a pigeon walking along the edge of building. And over the sounds of plates and utensils and people talking, my mind will be estimating the distance to that pigeon, and what kind of breeze is coming down Main.

After ascending more than a thousand vertical feet, I found myself in a quiet cove. The steep landscape kept the distant civilization hidden from both my eyes and ears. The quiet moments passed, and my mind too quickly dismissed all that lay beyond my perspective. I sat quietly contemplating my next move.

I learn my skills, and make my practice, one target at a time. I pick them out from the bountiful variety of natural elements given to me, I find it makes a more realistic challenge. Random distances, shooting positions, and angles are the spice of shooting life, and the rocky and steep terrain where I shoot only add to it.
I judiciously elected my target from the many that littered the far side of the canyon. Through my scope I noticed the dragonflies, Buzzing through the air, on a hunt of their own. I noticed their labored flight into the afternoon breeze, coming up the canyon, as it does every afternoon. My rifle rested on top of my tripod, raised high above its typical relationship to the ground. I steadied my position with my backpack tucked beneath the rear of the rifle, giving me both a comfortable and sturdy rest. Only the beating of my heart, and the rhythm of my breathing pattern caused the reticle to wander on the target.
I picked out a small white stone, surrounded by several feet of soil. Having given up its moisture earlier in the year, it now lay parched under the rays of the sun. The powdery dry consistency of the soil is perfect for spotting a miss as it wisps into the rising air current. I hardened my focus on my target, as a dry leaf tumbled left to right across the patch of earth.
As I stroked the bolt forward on my rifle, the always familiar sound I have grown so accustomed to reverberated against my cheek. Again I directed my stare through my scope, aligning the reticle with the small white stone. The tunnel vision that occurs as my senses converge began to take over. The small rocks that pressed hard into my knee on the ground faded away, and the itchy grass that prodded into my ankle dulled its sting. I shifted the rifle so slightly, pushing to my left, into the breeze. Holding enough wind to overcome the afternoons currents. My finger rested on the smooth shoe of the trigger, and I pressed just enough to feel its resistance. The timing of my breathing regulated, and in the calm between the rise and fall, I broke the trigger.
The bullet flew across the canyon, trace-less in the dry air. The pause between the recoil of the rifle, and the sound of distant impact, is lengthened by the elevated senses in my mind. So much so, that it feels as though time speeds up after the shot. And one is left wondering how so many thoughts and calculated expectations were made in the time it took a bullet to make its flight.

The rock I had targeted, still lay centered in my scope. And in this slowed time warp, I waited to see the bullet hit. The hope that I had made a good wind call reflected through my thoughts. A rapid burst of white rose just above and left of my target, the surface of the rock brightened as my bullet removed a portion of it. Little bits and pieces of white scattered in the brown dirt behind it.
Time had caught up with my mind, and just a second later, I heard the report. The sound of the bullet impacting the rock sounded almost like another distant shot. Natures volume returned with it, though the birds had gone quiet now. Only the breeze and the running stream could be heard.
The sound of the impact echoed through the canyon as I lifted my head from the cheek-rest. I looked around slowly, as if surrounded by onlookers waiting to give their praise. But there was no one, just the quiet solitude of nature.
As I picked up my things, in preparation to move to a new spot and target, I was reminded of the little things. The small and seemingly insignificant affairs that make every experience a valuable lesson.

-CBM

Memories

“Freedom to roam, and explore are the currency of boyhood, and we took every opportunity to spend it”

I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old, way back when hair was longer, and shorts were shorter. My father bow-hunted every year, and my young mind was fascinated by the deer he would bring home. It was one of these trips into the wild mountains of Utah that forever cemented several of the many obsessions in my heart.
A young coldboremiracle, circa 1984

It was a scouting trip into the high Uinta Mountains in the late summer, that destined me to be a junkie of sorts. Dad and a couple of friends were on a scouting mission, checking out the deer population and general conditions on the mountain. I was lucky enough to be towed along. I cant say for sure, but I believe I was the only kid that received the honor.
Junior enjoying the beauty of the Uinta Mountains

Times were different then, simpler and less apprehensive. As a kid, I was happy just being there. All it took was a slice of Mom’s applesauce cake, and a Shasta to keep me happy. Surrounded by the beauty of those mountains, carpeted with forest trees, and never more than a short walk from a stream or river, how could I not be in heaven?
My Father and his friends would leave at times, hiking off into the hills to find the best spots, and leave salt rocks pulled from the Great Salt Lake. I’d like to think that my Dad knew what made me tick, I think after all, that we were cut from the same fabric. He’d hand me a fishing rod, and a box of flies, and leave me to it. It could have been hours or days, I couldn’t tell. The time I spent drifting flies and wetting my sneakers passed without my recognition. Even then, my little eyes squinted and focused on the prize, unconcerned with anything beyond my casting radius.
Grandpa, and grandson
Dad had given me some modest direction as how to catch these vigilant little fish, but it was trial and error none the less. What Dad had made look so easy seemed so hard to me. I kept after it until I had become proficient, and one after another, the little trout found their way into my hands. Satisfaction was my prize, the feeling that I was part of this wilderness. I would sit there, on a large rock to the side of a noisy little brook. My damp hands holding the fly-rod as the evening drew nearer, even in the summer cold air is never far away.

These deep rooted memories, based on senses, became the building blocks of my passion. The profound colors of a native mountain trout, glistening in the sunlight with an almost three dimensional glow, so beautiful that a camera can only scarcely do it credit. The smell of mountain blossoms drifting on a cool breeze, or that of the soft soil broken underfoot, black and damp with fresh vegetation thriving throughout. The quiet soundtrack of the forest with chirps of bird and squirrels echoing through pine trees, with a gently running creek mixed in. These and many other effects forever cemented the alpine forests at the top of my home element. And there is no better way to enjoy these beautiful wilderness’ than floating a line.
six degrees can make fishing more an obsession than a sport

This fall, I was able to return again to one of these beloved places with not only my father, but my young son as well. Sharing these beautiful experiences with my son, has made them so much more cherished. Much the same way my father did for me, I tried my best to let Junior feel the freedom of this beautiful landscape on his own. Wandering along a grassy creek, drifting a fly through crystal clear fishing holes, learning to watch his shadow and rod tip. Freedom to roam, and explore are the currency of boyhood, and we took every opportunity to spend it.
When nothing else can, I know what will light a fire in his smile, as both he and I are definitely cut from that very same fabric. We come from a long line of great men who also enjoyed being part of nature’s dynasty. I can only hope that his memories like mine, only grow brighter with the passage of time. And maybe if I’m lucky, someday share these same majesties with him, and his son. What memories could mean more?

-CBM


Uinta Mountain Brook Trout

The First and Last Elk

As the sun sets this time of year, frigid cold air rushes in to fill the void left by the sunlight. We watched as the last few glimmers of the sun disappeared over the cloudy horizon, the cold grip of winter seemed to tighten around us in the eerie silence. My son, my cousin and I, sat in the snow regaining our composure as natures evening show came to a close. It had been a busy day, and we finally had a moment to pause.
For the past few months, we had been following the habits of a small herd of elk that live in the steep and rocky mountains that surround this valley. You likely read about our previous encounters with them, only last week I took one of the herd myself after we got into them. My son still had a tag, and he hadn’t burned out yet, so we had returned to fill it.

The temperature inversion turns the valley into a cold cloudy soup

This time of year, getting up the mountain early doesn’t seem to have the benefits it does during the normal season. The cold temperatures, and the lack of hunting pressure have animals out and about during the daytime. Deer, elk, coyotes, etc. can all be seen and heard during the day, and its a great time to just be out there. Once we got above the cold fog in the valley, there was a beautiful sunny day waiting for us.
This nice buck sat and watched us from 300yds for the better part of a couple hours

As Junior and I made our way up into the canyons, I scoured the draws and hill’s where I expected to see our herd. Moving slowly, we would stop every so often to glass the brush covered ridges. It is amazing how little it takes to conceal a whole elk. I hadn’t even planned on shooting anything today. I figured we would go for a nice ride up in the sunshine, and if we were lucky, maybe spot the herd on some distant, miserable, and untouchable ridge line.
It is of course Murphy’s law, that as soon as you least expect something, or ill prepared for it, that something will happen. This was the case, as Junior and I rounded a turn, and my eyes focused on familiar brown and tan shapes that stood above us on a slope. Four of them, kicking away the snow to find the grass underneath. Not wanting to spook them, we quickly and quietly grabbed our gear, and made our way to a clearing. Once we had gotten a good position, I helped Junior get his rifle setup over a pack. It was a fairly steep angle, so we had to build a little taller position to get him comfortable. In just a few moments, we were fixed on our target.
Our girl

There were four elk visible, all cows and calves. This herd had once numbered six, besides the one I had already taken, the missing one must have been just out of view. There was a single elk off to one side of the herd alone, and her broadside position made her the ideal target. While Junior prepared himself, I hit the elk with my rangefinder. The distance to our target was 540 yards, not a short distance. But I knew he could pull it off, as he had done before. We had practiced as much as time would allow.

A shot like that requires a good rifle, and my son carried it in his hot little hands. A custom Remington I had put together for him the year preceding. It was a sixteen inch .260 Remington, today it wore a Delta P Design Brevis II 6.5, and a Minox 1-6X30 scope. Junior had shot this rifle with great success, and it fit his stature. Well enough to shoot his very first Mule deer buck a few months ago at a similar distance.
So now we sat there, ready to shoot, all that was left was the trigger pull.

My son has been hunting with me since he was two or three years old. Even though he has been there, and seen it done so many times, he still gets that pounding heart and feverish excitement when its time to shoot. He was nervous for a moment, but after we locked eyes, and had a little Father & Son pep talk, he calmed down. He resigned himself to it, and I watched through my 8X rangefinder, waiting patiently.
Maybe it was that he needed to just get one shot off to feel at home, or maybe it was the shot itself that focused his little mind. But whatever the reason, that first shot pealed across the slope without hitting the elk. And as if a switch had been flipped, Junior’s demeanor changed, and he was now “in the zone”. After a reload, he re-engaged the elk, and put a bullet into her. She walked a few steps forward, and laid down in the snow. We put another one into her moments later, to make sure she was dead.

The steep hike up the hill to the elk took a little time, but it was very gratifying once we got there. Habitual observances took over at that point. We took some time to take plenty of pictures, and clean her up. The beauty of the snow covered landscape lit by the unfiltered rays of sunshine made the experience even more pleasant. Just a short time earlier, we were covered with coats, hats, gloves and the typical winter gear. The cold fog below had left our beards frosted, and yet in this moment of pristine success, we stood in the sunshine wearing only T-shirts under blue skies.



With the help of a couple good friends who came to help, we tied her up, and drug her down the hill. It took quite an effort, but it was well worth it once we had her back to the truck, and ready to bring home.

As night drew near, the ice cold fog that had hidden the valley from us, worked its way back up the mountain and threatened to envelope us once again. As it does every year, the bitter sweetness of the end of the season came over me. Knowing that we are done hunting for the season brings a somber feeling. The blood dried on the backs of our hands, as well as the freezer full of meat, fills me with satisfaction, and gratitude. These two contradicting sentiments are what give spice and excitement, they are part of the experience that comes with participation in this primal circle of life.
The only thing better than experiencing such exhilarating highs and lows, is doing it with the ones we love the most. I am a very lucky person, being able to share this with my son, and family. We are already looking forward to next year.
-CBM

Cold, with a Chance of Elk

I love to hunt elk, the excitement and challenge they bring to a hunt is difficult to describe. Every year I do my best to get my hands on a tag, and this year I lucked out, as both myself and my son drew a late season cow tag. With the late season tag, comes a longer season, and we hunt them through the first half of the winter. Some of you may already be familiar with our pursuit, Junior and I have spent as much time as possible in the rocky mountains that rise just a few miles east of our home.

Last week Junior had a close call, and almost shot a cow, but he wasn’t comfortable with the shot, so we let them go. I am quite familiar with the habits of this herd, so I would rather wait for a perfect shot, than rush a bad one. We will get back up there, and get him a good shot.
As the sun came over the frosted white mountains this morning, I prepped my gear to go up, once again hoping to fill my tag.
Everybody else had plans for the day, but I found myself with no excuse to not go elk hunting. In no time at all, my boots were crunching through the hard crusted snow. I had ridden my ATV up into the mountain, the rumble of the motor breaking the bitter silence that seems to be held down by the cold air. I moved slowly, and deliberately, I knew where to expect them. But just to be safe, I inspected the ridges thoroughly before getting too close. The lower herd that I had seen last week was no where to be found, likely hiding in the thick brush patches that were peppered across the front. I kept moving slowly upward, my eyes pouring over the black and white details of every draw.

My cautious advance paid off quickly, as I approached the canyon where I expected to find the second herd, I dismounted my ATV, and rounded the corner on foot. My eyes watered as I squinted to see through my Swarovsky range finder, the cold breeze bit both my face and fingers. As I scrutinized the canyon where I expected to find my elk, my eyes would jump quickly about, drawn to shapes of so many deer that were scattered around. I looked further and further up the draws of the canyon, and suddenly my heart stopped. Sometimes elk are very hard to find, and one sees so many deer in the process that you begin to second guess your own eyes. Everything looks like an elk, and you soon tire of jumping to label something as an elk. But when you finally do spot one, all that second guessing, and frustration is hastily turned into adrenaline.

My eyes had spotted a lone cow elk, kicking into the snow with her front hooves to expose the dry grass underneath. Instinct took over, and my frozen hands suddenly found new motivation to move. I removed my rifle from its case, and quickly grabbed the rest of the gear I needed from my backpack. I looked back at the distant clearing where she fed. And as I suspected, there were at least three more feeding up behind her. This was the herd I had been watching for weeks, waiting for them to migrate into a position that I could not only shoot at them, but also extract them afterwards. I knew that today was that day, the clearing they were feeding through lay a mere four-hundred yards from the trail where I could get my ATV. It seemed like a perfect plan, there was only one small problem, the elk were making their way from my right to my left, and the ridge that rose between us would soon give them cover, and wreck my opportunity for a shot. I knew I had to move quickly, I had to get into a shooting position, and get ready to shoot. With likely no more than twenty to thirty seconds before they became obscured, I laid down in the snow behind my rifle.

My SRS A1 Covert was kitted out with everything I needed to pull this shot off. After obtaining the distance with my rangefinder, I referenced my drop table on Trasol. I dialed the 5.2 MIL that it suggested into my ER25 scope. My rifle was mounted into my tripod, and I quickly deployed the monopod to stabilize the whole setup, and align it with my target.
Inside the rifle itself, I had mounted my 7SAUM barrel, which had proven itself time and again when engaging elk. The cold air would test both myself, as well as my collection of gear. As I finished my shot prep, I rested the reticle on the shoulders of the first cow I had spotted. The other three were slowly walking to my left, but she stood there with her head to the ground, poking at the snow.

I felt the warm and moist air as my last breath escaped me, my body lay still in the snow. I could feel the surge of my blood as it pulsed through my body, the steady pause before breaking the trigger was complete.
I pressed the trigger, and set ablaze the 183 grain Sierra Match King. As it flew I caught a few glimpses of its trace, arching high above everything between me and my prey, who stood there unaware of the speedy menace that was closing fast. The impact was not particularly dazzling, it struck her with a rippling effect across the body. She immediately staggered, and took an awkward step forward. Her company quickly cantered away, while she staggered forward, trying to keep with them. She made it about twenty or so yards, then landed her belly into the snow. She rolled over, and slid down the steep hill. Leaving a blood stained path behind her.

I drew a deep breath, and jumped up from my rifle. The elk had slid behind the ridge between us, and I lost sight of her. I quickly gathered my things, and rode up the trail towards the canyon where she fell. It took me a few minutes to get there, the bullet traveled the complete 970 yards in less than 1.2 seconds. It took me several minutes just to get to the bottom of the hill where she lay. As I got there, the remainder of the herd was seen on the opposite canyon slope. They heard me pull up, and slowly walked out of sight. I hiked the remainder of the way uphill to where she had gotten hung up in some brush.

As I always do, I spent a reverent moment knelt by her side, to appreciate the beauty of life. How incredibly lucky I am to experience something so primal, and to enjoy spoils of the life of this magnificent animal. As I sat there in the snow, the warm sunlight came out, and for a time the cold was withdrawn. I was grateful for everything in that moment, the warm sun reminded me of how blessed we are.

I got on my phone, and called my brothers, who were quick to come and help me. And in just a couple hours, we had her back down to the ATV’s. From start to finish it was a pretty smooth adventure, I can still taste blood in my mouth, from hiking hard and fast. From the warm comfort of my home its nice to share the story, while still fresh in my mind. The work isn’t over yet, right now she is hanging just outside, waiting to be butchered. And now I can work even harder to get Junior a shot at one of these beautiful Rocky Mountain treasures.
-CBM