Category Archives: hunting

Bullet Penetration and Tumbling


For years I have been fascinated by the performance of bullets both in the air as well as once they hit their target. As a hunter at heart, a bullets terminal performance inside flesh and bone are particularly interesting. Today’s subject is about Bullet Penetration and Tumbling.

Recent events have lead me to investigate the subject in a little more detail, and today I am jotting down a few theories based on experience and the albeit anecdotal evidence I’ve been exposed to.


I’ve seen quite a few bloody bullets in my hunting career, a subject I’ve gone into great detail in another discussion titled: Is shot placement more important than cartridge and bullet selection?

Expansion is no guarantee of a kill, this bullet would have probably worked great had it gone through vitals (.270 Nosler ABLR)

The main theory behind that article is that shot placement is more important than the cartridge or bullet you choose. That’s not to say that cartridges and bullet selection are not important, just emphasizing that making a good shot is MORE important.

Today’s subject seems to be a little bit of an offshoot from that discussion, and more relevant to bullet selection.

Different bullet designs utilize different methods to transfer their energy to the target. Some use raw energy to simply peel open into a larger frontal face (meplat) creating a larger diameter to plow through tissue. Others are designed similar to a mechanical broadhead that open to a consistent pattern that also generates a larger path of damage through the tissue.

There are other designs as well, our forefathers hunted with simple lead balls with little to no increase in size upon impact.

The bullet that got me thinking

For the last few seasons I have been using bullets quite different than I had used during the many seasons prior. Some of you may have already guessed that I am talking about the Cayuga Solid bullets manufactured by Patriot Valley Arms.

I was approached by the manufacturer to test the bullets performance on various big game animals at varying distances and conditions. For all the information about that subject you can read the whole thing in: A Solid Season.

Dont consider this a sales pitch for any specific product, I share information on products I use and I include information where they can be found. As always, I encourage you to use what you shoot best.

After shooting nearly a baker’s dozen of Utah big game animals (and one unfortunate Wyoming coyote), I had become quite pleased with the bullets performance. We used the bullets in almost every popular caliber, but mainly in 6mm, 6.5mm, and 7mm.

A Mule Deer heart that took a 122 grain 6.5mm Cayuga

The animals hunted with the bullets were Pronghorn Antelope, Mule Deer, and Rocky Mountain Elk. All the animals shown in A Solid Season were taken as close as 200 yards and as far away as 1000 yards.

How do bullets work?

As the seasons passed, and the meat stacked in my freezer, I was curious what exactly these bullets were doing. We had yet to recover a single one, even the 6mm bullet had zipped through a Mule deer at 1000 yards. This piqued my curiosity as most other styles of bullets had at one point or another come to rest in our game animals for inspection.

There are other solid copper bullets from other manufacturers that likely perform in a similar fashion

The Cayuga is turned on a lathe from a solid copper bar, with a hollow point cut into the tip of it. There is no other structural facets or features to it, which had me imagining that they simply mushroomed open somewhat at the front.

Discussing the topic with the manufacturer of the bullets, we discussed the probable eventuality that the bullets were tumbling within the tissue. Something I hadn’t considered beforehand.

Wound Channel Analysis

Inspecting the various animals that we had shot over several seasons, the damage was what I would consider a textbook wound channel. That is to say, everything looked exactly as I would have wanted and expected to see.

Broken shoulders when applicable, pulverized vital organs with large holes preventing their further use, and the almost exclusive anchoring of the animal upon being hit. This was the norm when shooting these bullets.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve seen a lot of bullet holes. And for all applicable purposes the solid bullets I had used seemed to perform in a near identical way. Compared to all the cup and core bullets I have used over the twenty years prior.

This set of elk lungs took a solid bullet (and some bone fragments)

But do bullets tumble?

The gyroscopic energy of a bullet induced by the barrel’s twist surely keeps the bullet stable and moving in the right direction while in flight. But how far into the target tissue does this stability remain? Does bullet penetration and tumbling happen immediately?

Watching ultra-slow-motion of bullets impacting a ballistic torso you can clearly see that many bullets tumble. Particularly towards the end of their travel through the dummy torso filled with fake bones and organs.

the almost perfectly preserved tip of a Hornady 135 A-tip does it look like it bent to one side?

I expect this is due to the reduced stability caused by the loss of rotation induced by friction and bullet deformation within the target. Despite its tumbling, it continues to pass through the target. We know the bullet is expending its energy as it passes through the target. So it would make sense that running into bones and other “stuff” within a body could cause it to turn or tumble.


The increased diameter of bullets as they expand, as well as the reduced weight as some of them shed their mass is also likely to slow their rotation. Much like a spinning ballerina extending their arms slows their rotation.

I also think its a reasonable assumption that many bullets do the same as they mushroom out. The overall shape of the bullet becomes more of a round shape than a long cylindrical one. This too could make the bullet change its orientation as it passes through the target.

Is it possible that the solid copper construction of the Cayuga bullets has something to do with tumbling? The lack of any lead within the bullet means that they are particularly large for their weight. And the larger/longer bullets need a faster twist to keep them stable. Perhaps the bullets are close to the edge of unstable due to their size, and therefore easier to tumble than a traditionally constructed bullet.

Jacketed bullets

Many of the theories above can affect bullets regardless of their composition. Jacketed bullets also mushroom or expand and can change their orientation during pass throughs. The mushroomed tip of a jacketed bullet frequently has sharp copper edges. Together with the wider surface is likely why bullets come to rest backwards.

Once the centrifugal force of spinning is overcome by friction, the slowing bullet probably hangs up on the sharp edges and the drag of the wider mushroomed face pulls it to the rear. Much like the fletchings of an arrow keep your arrows traveling the same direction.

the remains of a Hornady 150 grain Interlock

The flattened meplat of a bullet causes a snow-plow effect as it pushes through tissue. Obviously the bigger surface of the meplat, the greater the effect. A bullet that travels sideways through a target also has greatly increased the forward moving surface area. Either of these scenarios seems to cause significant damage and wound channels.

A First Recovery

During a recent Pronghorn Antelope hunt, I was actually able to recover the very first Cayuga solid bullet. The shot was with my 6mm GT shooting the 100 grain Cayuga. The impact was from approximately 480 yards and crossed through the buck who stood at a quartering angle.

After shattering the left shoulder, the bullet passed through the ribcage tearing through one lung and the top of the buck’s heart. It continued towards the opposite corner of the animal passing through the liver, and a bit of the stomach (lucky for me it wasn’t messy).

The bullet came to rest in the soft belly skin. Just in front of the buck’s right hip and was poking out of the skin.

Inspecting the buck. Note broken left shoulder and exit wound low left (censored for my guy)

Perhaps striking a bone is all the bullet needs to start a spin. Or perhaps maybe hitting anything at all? Make sure you comment below to let us know your theory.

It is apparent from both the recovered bullet, and the damage that some of the bullet fragmented

After butchering the buck, I found that the bullet had broken the shoulder bone just below his shoulder blade. It was also apparent that either fragments of the bullet or pieces of the shoulder bone were sent thrashing into the chest cavity causing additional damage.

The broken shoulder, the shoulder blade is on the right

The Bullet

Perhaps the most interesting bit of all was the recovered bullet itself. Much of its weight had lost at the front. But it also had not mushroomed at all, in fact it really wasn’t much bigger at the increased meplat than the 6mm bullet diameter.

Discovering the bullet pointing against the direction of travel, didn’t surprise me. I’ve found many jacketed bullets in the same awkward stance. Weighing the fired bullet turned out to render almost a 10% weight loss, the remaining bullet weighed 90.2 grains.

the recovered bullet (left) compared to an unfired bullet (right)

There has already been some serious panties ruffled discussing this topic, and the usual suspects doing their armchair spotting and backseat analysis. I myself remain quite curious as to what happens when these and other bullets hit their targets.

While I can only offer my opinion on what might be going on in the milliseconds after impact. My experience killing animals with bullets that appear to be tumbling has been nothing but good.

I don’t know for sure what happens, only that the result is a dead deer, elk or antelope. And many of them have been the cleanest of kills. With only a couple of them taking more than a step.


Does a tumbling bullet do more or less damage? Do jacketed bullets tumble as well? Can bullets that come apart on impact effectively take down our prey?

Obviously I can only speak from my own experiences and those I have witnessed. But I think that all bullets will tumble at some point. Either when they slow down enough, or when they hit something significant enough to knock them out of their rotation.

this is another wound channel from a Cayuga solid bullet

We could all agree that a bullet that reliably opens to a larger size is probably a very safe bet for inflicting damage. However there is something that hasn’t added up for me here; We have been sold “reliable bullet expansion” as the most desirable trait a bullet can have for as long as I can remember.


After witnessing what this little 100 grain chunk of copper did to this antelope buck I am curious. If the bullet isn’t tumbling, and its spinning stability sticks with it through most of the animal, then how did minimal or perhaps no expansion cause such impressive damage? If a 6mm flat-point bullet can cause that much damage, is the expansion sales pitch oversold?

I don’t think it is, as I’ve seen FMJ performance through big animals as well, which proved to be significantly less damage. Granted, fmj’s aren’t flat-points but you get the idea.

this set of lungs was hit by a very fast FMJ bullet, though they seem barely damaged the animal expired in seconds

My theory is that these solids must be tumbling, or at minimum a combination. Otherwise their wound channels would look more like an FMJ wound channel than that of an expanding bullet. Furthermore they seem to produce just as deadly wounds as expanding bullets.


This is all of course just my opinion based on my experiences. Don’t get too excited or bent out of shape if it conflicts with yours. These questions are simply looking to create a discussion and see how my experience contrasts with yours.

While I don’t consider myself a forensics specialist, or a ballistician. I am very interested in both of these subjects as its related to hunting and the equipment we use for it.

Please feel free to add your comments below, and share your own experiences. Perhaps we might all be somewhat enlightened through discourse. I will likely update this post as additional information is added.


The Remington 700 hunting rifle

The title of “Gold Standard” is no easy achievement to attain in any real competition. Having said such, if you put the proverbial gun to my head demanding I crown the greatest of all time American hunting rifle. I would have to pick between the Winchester Model 70, and the Remington Model 700. And lucky for you, today we will focus on the latter of the two, and what makes its reign so supreme.

this custom Remington 700 has taken quite a few mule deer and elk

The Model 700

The 700 was first produced in the early 60’s. A design meant to be mass produced with all the best that Remington had learned since its inception. It has since been revised, refined, improved, copied, cloned, and adopted. One would hope that the diverse offerings in the 700 line were not a contributing factor to Remington’s financial problems (but Im sure it did). There has been quite a few variants over the years, some stood the test of time. While others quickly faded away in dust covered gun cabinets. I’ve had a few myself during my firearm infatuation, and I can say none of them ever let me down.

another 700 I rescued with a new barrel chambered in 260 Remington, and wears a Minox rifle scope

A Hunter’s Rifle

The 700 has always had some great features that make it an excellent choice for hunters. Whether you like wood or synthetic, there is a stock selection that should fit your taste. Stainless all-weather models for those of us who love to hunt in the clouds, as well as traditional bluing and satin coated spray finishes. Left-hand models for those who were mis-wired, assorted barrel lengths, twists and contours, as well as some with threaded muzzles. And whether you are hunting varmints with a .223 or moose with a 338WM there are incredible choices in calibers across the many variants.

great aftermarket support parts are available from companies like Hawkins Precision

Its All About the Options

Few rifles in the market enjoy as much aftermarket support as the Remington 700, you can find almost any conceivable accessory made for rifles. This gives shooters the ability to customize their rifle in subtle or extreme ways. And we know how much everybody loves to make their rifle their own.
All of the best trigger manufacturers have a model for the 700, which is great considering the recent issues Remington faced with the X-mark. Rifle chassis for the 700 are everywhere, making it easy for beginners to upgrade their rifle as their skills improve. Scope mounting systems, bolt-releases, improved extractors, floor-plates and magazines of all kinds can be used to fit a rifle to your specified purpose.

Remington 700 clones like this Christensen Arms Ridgeline use some of the same parts

So prevalent is the Model 700 that it’s footprint has become the standard for the growing mass of custom action makers. This is not so much an endorsement of superiority in design, but more of a recognition of market direction.

A rifle that grows with you

A new hunter could start out with a bone-stock 700 SPS from a pawn shop, and as skills and needs grow, a better barrel might be installed. A new stock or chassis could be added to increase rigidity, followed by perhaps a muzzle brake to help visualize impacts and recoil management. Better scope options with canted bases for increasing range as hit ratio increases at typical distances. You get the idea…

remington 700 308 winchester
this bone-stock model 700 has killed more venison than it’s worth

And years later the same hunter may be using the same carbon fiber stock but has since upgraded to a Defiance Action and carbon-wrapped barrel. Many of us have traveled this road that started with a humble little Remington 700 picked up from a swap meet. My first 700 came from way back in the 60’s when the guns were still quite new. It’s since moved along to a new owner, but sometimes I miss that old smooth action. At least one elk and a few deer succumbed to its shots.


The venerable model 700 has seen action across the planet. Whether it be hunting, or as a law enforcement/military tool. Being in the business of shooting things for over fifty years can sure build a case for setting the standard, and the Remington 700 has surely shown to be that. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones who got handed down a rifle from Father or Grandfather, a rifle that came with both history and prestige.

Much of the same could be said about the 700’s former biggest competitor, the Model 70. But not to same degree. But that ship sailed, and all that are left besides the limited 700’s are countless 700 clones from companies like Bergara and others. As well as seemingly cheaper models that while serviceable, don’t carry the same reputation or performance.

remington700 pronghorn antelope
another successful hunt with a Remington 700

Final Thoughts

The Remington 700 definitively has everything a budding hunter could ask for. And you could probably find a dozen of them between here and the next sporting goods shop. Its a rifle that can grow with you, or spend generations giving families their annual venison. All this without much more than the occasional oiling.


Great Basin Bucks: Hunting Pronghorn Antelope

An Overlooked Hunt

I’ve lived my whole life in the great western state of Utah. When people think of our state they often think of red rocks and scenic desert vistas. For those of us with hunting in our blood other things come to mind. Like the roar of a rutting bull elk are a more common thing to imagine. That or a mythically large monster mule deer slinking through the brush like a grey ghost. But today we are hunting pronghorn antelope.

As a resident I have been lucky to experience plenty of both of Utah’s better known species, but today I bring you a tale of something a little less famous. And a hunt that is not so commonly associated with my home state.

Pronghorn antelope are an extremely unique animal that are far more commonly hunted in Wyoming and Montana than here. But I was finally able to draw a tag for one this year. And today I bring you the adventure I was lucky enough to experience.

The Great Basin

The Great Basin is a massive expanse of land that covers almost all of Nevada. As well as several other surrounding states. The water that falls from western skies into the Great Basin is captured there.  Destined to either evaporates or sink into the dry ground.

The Great Salt Lake of Utah is the result of countless centuries of this process. Turning it into a briney inland sea.  Surrounded by hundreds of miles of incredibly flat sedimentary valleys and salt flats. That is where today’s story takes place.

The topography is scattered with particularly rugged mountain ranges. Which typically run north and south. Cedar trees and sagebrush are variably scattered across the dry landscape.

a typical sight in Utah’s west desert

The Great Basin is home to the pronghorn antelope, the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere. Despite the dry and hot climate. They thrive in this open desertscape where their eyes and speed are the only defense they need.

The Hunt

the Desert Tech SRS M2, I LOVE this thing

Speed goats as they are often called aren’t as plentiful as Utah’s other famous big game species.  Permits for them are therefor harder to obtain. This year the state saw fit to issue me one of the buck pronghorn permits, and I was excited to fill it.

I’ve done several of these hunts with others but this time it was my turn. I wanted to make sure it was a good one, so I selected my Desert Tech SRS M2. I installed the 6mm GT barrel for this particular hunt. The lightweight pronghorn are lucky to top 150 pounds, so a 6mm rifle is plenty of power.

Opening Morning

It was very early on a Saturday morning. I stood on top of one of the many rocky ridges that divide the landscape. The cool air of fall felt amazing in my lungs. It was accompanied by the stinging bite of voracious mosquitos eager to feed before the desert heat of day turns them into dust.

a lone doe antelope bedded approx. 400 yds, as seen through my Nikon Field Scope

Through my Kilo binoculars I surveyed the sea of dry grass and green tumbleweeds that expanded for twenty or so miles. The terrain is scared with natural drainage formations and the occasional sand dune. Any of which could easily hide the small bands of pronghorn that scrape out a living here.

This year was exceptionally wet compared to our normal precipitation. A lingering winter followed by a rainy summer actually kept some of these valleys green. Instead of the completely parched yellow I am used to.

As I panned across the seemingly endless plain, the occasional raven would glide through the spotting scope. I even laid eyes on several coyotes who were so comfortable and unaware of me perched in the distance. They sat and watched as the sunlight moved across the valley for twenty minutes or more.

A mother coyote watching her pups play

The much wetter than normal year had resulted in widespread greenery. Puddles of standing rainwater in low spots everywhere. This predicament, though a welcome one, had resulted in something I hadn’t anticipated. The antelope were scattered for countless miles due to abundant water and food. They had no reason to congregate as they often do.

Time for Action

As my brother and I sat and watched the sun creep across the valley. I fumbled cartridges into my rifle magazine. Not just any cartridge, these were Alpha Munitions 6GT cases loaded deep with RL-16 and 100 grain Cayuga Solid bullets from Patriot Valley Arms. I’d used them on many occasions with incredible accuracy and devastating impacts.

The cold air kept my fingers from working right. But once loaded the magazine went into the rifle as we continued searching for a buck.

There were antelope scattered  and bedded for miles. Despite their bright white color they are easily hidden by terrain and brush when bedded.

we watched this lesser buck follow my buck and his does for miles

We’d seen a couple bucks the night before. Only one of them looked good enough to burn my tag on, and we sifted through miles of desert to find him.

After a couple hours of watching, we found a particularly large group of twenty or so antelope together near a low spot that surely held a puddle. They were so far away that mirage prevented any realistic judging of horns. But we figured that with that many animals together there was surely a buck with them and possibly our guy.

Sneaking Into Place

From our elevated observation perspective, we picked out a drainage that would provide some concealment to get me closer to them. In a stroke of luck they seemed to be working parallel to the drainage which could provide me an opportunity.  With all my gear in tow, I hustled down into the ditch. Hunkered over I started working my way towards them.  I had to keep low, because if any of the dozens of eyes on that plain spotted me they would likely all run for several miles before stopping.

I’d managed to cut the distance from a mile, down to twelve hundred yards, and then down to only five-hundred yards. And almost exactly as I had planned, I lay there in my position as several animals popped into view through the tall tumbleweeds. As the previously identified buck followed a doe I zoomed in my US Optics FDN25X to have a better look at him. Even at five hundred yards the mirage made it hard to make out his horns, but pretty quickly I decided that he was not the buck I was after. I lay there and shot him in my mind a few times, just in case that was the closest to a trophy I would get. 

Another buck we didn’t pursue

I called my brother to tell him the deal was off, and he told me to hurry back as he’d spotted another buck a mile or two north of me and moving further away. We hustled to the truck and drove a few miles to the north to see if we could sneak ahead of his path. And with almost no time to spare, we were setting up in front of him as he worked his way up and over a small rise in the valley.

The Shot

Seconds before the shot

The moment I saw him in the rifle scope, I knew he was the buck we’d come for. He was for sure the best buck we’d seen during both the hunt and scouting trips, and now it was time to take him.

When I fired the shot, he was standing quartered to me showing his left side. I watched through the light recoil of the rifle as the bullet flew the 480 yards to him. The bullet struck him centered in his left shoulder, shattering the bone.

It carried through the ribs puncturing one lung and cutting through the top of his heart. The angle of the shot continued through the liver and all the way to the back of his belly coming out just in front of his right hip. He took several backwards steps as his rump dropped to the ground and he toppled over. We gathered our things and moved in to find him.

Hands on

As I neared the downed buck, I was quite impressed with how handsome he was. He looked even better up close than he had in the scope, and he was for sure significantly better than any other buck we’d seen.

The Desert Tech SRS M2 suppressed by YHM R9 and scoped with a US Optics FDN25X

He had decent cutters and deeply hooked horns, he was just a fantastic specimen of his kind. And one I could certainly appreciate for years to come. A good friend of mine and his son had also joined us by this point, and the four of us stood there appreciating this magnificent little buck. The bullet had hung up in the skin just before exiting, which rewarded me with an additional souvenir.

the 100 Grain Cayuga bullet after traveling 24 inches through bone and flesh. For more information on this bullet, and what it looked like read Bullet Penetration and Tumbling

After taking a bunch of good pictures, we cleaned him up and filled him with ice to get the meat cooled as soon as possible. Then it was time to head back to camp for food and drinks while we recounted each others perspectives over and over.

Note damage to heart, lungs, and liver


I don’t blame people who don’t get excited about antelope hunting, I can understand that the call of a big bull elk or moose might be much higher on their list of dream hunts.  But in my opinion hunting pronghorn antelope is an absolute riot of a time.

Make sure you wear your hunter’s orange, but keep it fresh

They are incredibly cunning animals with eyes that will pick you out of the brush, and when they want to get away from you there is almost nothing you can do but stand amazed at their speed.

the four of us with our prize

I typically do all my antelope hunting in the great state of Wyoming, but this hunt here in my home state has been a fantastic adventure. The desolate lands of the Great Basin are some of the most remote in the lower 48, and it feels incredibly romantic if only to find yourself here when the sun dips from view. Watching stars shoot across the silent night sky as coyotes bark in the distance brings a feeling you won’t find other places.

I am incredibly lucky to live like I do, and it is by no mistake that I am surrounded by such good company. I promised my brother I’d give his guide service (unofficial and sure as hell not licensed) a five star google rating, but the five stars go to the great family and friends that love these adventures as much as I do and make it worthwhile.


Caliber Discussion for deer and elk hunting

Let’s start out by stating the obvious. There are literally hundreds of good cartridges that are more than adequate for deer and elk hunting. There is neither time or space here to go over all the possibilities. So lets focus on a few excellent groups of cartridge choices.

Today’s subject matter is deer and elk, two animals I am quite familiar with and I have had the good fortune to take many of both over my hunting career. One of the many takeaways from these many years, is that neither of them are bullet proof, and most people use much more gun than necessary. Let me be clear; Use what you think is best, if you think you need a .338 super magnum to take down a bull elk, be my guest. But I certainly don’t. With that in mind, lets get into some cartridges.

This young elk was taken with a 7mm PRC, from my Desert Tech SRS M2

The ’06 Case for elk and deer

The popularity of the 30-06 is undeniable. Probably as many deer and elk have been killed by the 06 as anything else. Quite frankly it’d be hard to go wrong with it, but there are a few offspring from the Springfield that are also more than adequate hunting cartridges. And they may assuage your taste for something more exotic.

The .270 Winchester  and 25-06 Remington are both derived from the 06 case, and both are excellent choices for your next hunting rifle. While the 25-06 may be considered a bit light for elk, it is an outstanding choice for any deer. It’s fast bullets fly a very flat trajectory, and its lower recoil make it an excellent rifle for a new hunter or one who is a bit recoil shy. The bigger .270 has a better bullet selection. With a wider range of bullet weights, and a heavier overall selection.

This probably makes the .270 a better choice if elk are in your future. I killed both my first buck, and my first elk with a 25-06. But honestly any one of these 30-06 based cartridges would be an excellent choice for your next deer or elk rifle.

Of the many elk I’ve killed over the last twenty years, most have them have been from short action cartridges like the 308 and Creedmoor. The last seven alone have been dropped in their tracks by the 6.5 or smaller.

A Magnum Option

Many hunters choose magnum cartridges in their caliber discussion for deer and elk hunting, they do so for a variety of reasons. The main advantage of magnum cartridges is power. The high velocities and typically heavier bullets used in magnum cartridges gives hunters additional power to take down animals. As skills and tech advance the range of hunters, the additional power of magnums can come in handy down-range.


The always popular 300 Winchester Magnum has long been the standard magnum cartridge for deer and elk hunters. With loads varying from 165 grain up to 240 grain bullets, and ammunition available almost anywhere ammo is sold, it is hard to go wrong with a 300WM. The 338WM and 7mm Remington Magnum are not quite as common, but comparable and excellent choices. But the old gold standard isn’t the only good option. If you want something more exotic or just different there is a cartridge just for you.

Short Magnums were a big craze years ago, and still make a good choice today. While they are not as common in the retailers, they offer some good advantages. The Winchester Short Magnum family with 270, 7mm, and 300 calibers would all make excellent elk rifles to pack into the back country. One of my all-time favorite hunting cartridges, and has claimed several of my best shots, is the 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum (7SAUM). Fast seven’s are lightning on big game. The selection of great bullets for them give you the ability to customize them to your hunting needs.

Whether you choose one of the golden oldies, or something brand new like a 300PRC, or 28 Nosler. Make sure you don’t fall for the old mistake of thinking that your magnum will make up for poor shooting. A good shot with a small cartridge is better than a bad shot with a big cartridge.

The Right Bullet

Choosing the right cartridge for your hunt is perhaps not as important as choosing the right bullet to shoot. For example, a .270 is a great cartridge for deer and elk hunting. But if you are shooting too light a bullet then you may as well be shooting a .243.

Not that it cant be done with either a .243 or light .270, it’s just a better choice to shoot something heavier. Heavy bullets carry more energy, and energy is what kills our prey. So when picking out ammunition for your next hunting rifle, pick something that is towards the heavier side. Especially if you are on the smaller side of the cartridge spectrum.

If your shooting a 6.5, you may want to steer away from 100-120 grain bullets and get into a 140 or bigger bullet. If your shooting something like a 7mm or .30 caliber, bullet weights like 150 grains and above are pretty normal and more than adequate.

Bullet construction is another subject you should consider in your selection. Not all bullets are built the same. Traditional copper-cup and lead-core bullets have worked for generations. But today we have bonded bullets, copper solids, and more.

The most important thing I could mention here is that “hard bullets” or those bonded and built to stay together, work great at high velocities and up close. But if its a long shot, and much of your velocity has been lost. You may want to use a “softer bullet” with a simple lead core and thin jacket. Otherwise you may have less than satisfactory terminal performance due to the bullets impact velocity and its ability to open.


As I mentioned at the intro to this subject, these animals are not bullet proof. But magnum horsepower, and the worlds best bullet don’t mean much if you cant shoot it well. I also mentioned that a good shot from a small caliber is better than a bad shot from a large caliber. I’d rather make a heart shot with a 25-06 than a gut/liver shot with a 338 Lapua Magnum. This line of thinking applies to everything we’ve discussed here today. If the shooter is intimidated by heavy recoil, or out of practice, they are more likely to make a bad shot.

My son shot his first elk with a .260 Remington, read that story here

Keep this in mind when selecting your next hunting cartridge. Flinch factors and the ability to shoot with enough frequency to become more than proficient are just as important as the rest of the considerations.

Final Thoughts

There are more good options than bad ones nowadays, so don’t sweat it too hard. You should evaluate the application of your choices and the way you plan to hunt. Then balance it against your shooting skill level and the cost, you will be setup for a successful hunt. Enjoy it and make the most of the opportunity.


Ruger M77 Overhaul: Turning 50 aint so bad


Everybody loves a good comeback story, and today I’ve got a good one for you. Many great things came from the American 1970’s. No I’m not talking about the Carter administration but as a product of the 70’s myself I can assure you there was some good stuff back in the day. Shortly before I met my father, a committed hunter and shooting enthusiast. He purchased one of the many guns he managed to collect during early life. It was a Ruger M77 Mark 1 chambered in the popular at the time 220 Swift.

I remember as a youth fawning over Dad’s guns, thinking they must be the coolest thing ever. Nothing got me more excited than when Dad would take me shooting.

My Father, he also grew up hunting these same mountains with Grandpa

The Ruger M77

Sturm Ruger introduced the model 77 in the late 1960’s, so by the time today’s subject was manufactured years later they surely had it dialed in. The original MKI used a tang mounted safety. Like many other rifle actions it borrowed a great deal from the Mauser model 98 . The M77 uses a claw extractor and a two-lug bolt, fed by an internal box magazine. To this day even modern M77’s utilizes the original angled action screw that pulls the action down and back into the stock. This curious design has been arguably beneficial as well as irritating for owners and gunsmiths alike.
Modern M77’s, which come with the MKII designation use a bolt shroud mounted safety vs. the original tang mounted one. A plethora of different models of M77 have been made over the years, in too many calibers to list here. Rest assured if you want an M77 in a specific caliber, they probably made it at one time. The rifle we are talking about today came with a twenty-six inch heavy barrel featuring a one in fourteen-inch twist, it was blued with a glossy finish and a traditional walnut stock.


My father is a man of few shots, sort of a quality over quantity kind of marksman. During the many outings where I accompanied my Dad, I don’t remember him ever firing many shots, sometimes only a single shot was ever fired. But that was enough to bring home the venison at our house.

My siblings and I enjoying one of Dad’s deer, thats me in the middle

The 220 Swift is nearly a hundred years old already, it was a very popular cartridge a generation ago. It gained fame as one of the fastest cartridges around, and it is still a very fast cartridge today. This rifle shoots the same .224 caliber bullets you will find in a .223 Remington, but it shoots them MUCH faster. Shooting Hornady 55 grain hollow-points yielded velocities near 3900 FPS, and the Hornady 75 Grain ELDM leaves the muzzle at 3400 fps. Both of these loads seemed quite mild, with room for additional speed.

the claw extractor of the M77

An Impressive Memory

I remember a specific occurrence, when as a young man I learned exactly why Dad shot sparingly. And at the same time I learned a LOT about why he chose the Swift.
It was a rabbit hunt in the dry deserts of Utah. We would push the brushy draws hoping to drive a rabbit or two up the other side in hopes of claiming one.

As a youth, it was my responsibility to push through the worst of the terrain to give others a shot. One of the many jackrabbits ran up the hillside in front of me, I followed him through the brush with my sights. As he cleared the top of the hill before me, I was beginning to press the trigger when the rabbit suddenly disappeared. In its place there was a cloud of hair drifting on the dry breeze.

In the distance I heard the report of a rifle that surely wasn’t a rimfire. I turned and saw Dad standing way back on the other end of the draw still looking through the Leupold 3.5-10 scope mounted on the Swift. As I neared the spot where the rabbit disappeared, I was immediately educated on several things. First was the impressive performance of the Swift and its exemplary demonstration of the destructive power of rifle rounds. Second was the entire anatomy of the jackrabbit scattered across the weeds.
That was at least thirty something years ago, and that old Swift became legendary in our family. But with that speed it also has an appetite for barrels, and more recently its blistering speed has consumed its accuracy with bore erosion.

Few things have ever escaped the Swift, before or after the overhaul

A New Life

There was no way that I was going to let this gun that I had idolized my whole life disappear into inaccurate mediocrity. I made a plan to overhaul the old Ruger and build it into a “Super Swift”.

Dad doesn’t get out as often, and varmint hunting seems as appealing as ever. So turning his Swift into an even better version of itself would be ideal for varmint hunting.

I started with the barrel, a replacement match grade blank from K&P was ordered. To be finished at the same 26-inches but this time with a 1-8 twist, a significantly aggressive twist rate for a cartridge like this. For this I sent it to my good friend Eric at ES-Tactical. My plan was to still shoot the 50-55 grain bullets at Mach 3+. But also have the ability to shoot the Hornady 75 grain ELDM bullets for things that are out there a ways.

refinished bottom-metal and floorplate

The new barrel would be threaded for suppressors because this isn’t 1974 anymore. And the old walnut stock would also be swapped out for something that better fit in with the rest of our guns.

ruger m77 220 swift
Suppressed is the only way to shoot

For that I looked to Boyds Gunstocks, and selected a model had Dad would like. The At One model with adjustable butt and cheek-riser, and a vertical style grip. Installing the new heavy barrel of the rifle would require opening the barrel channel somewhat to make enough room to float it. But despite being a 50-year-old design, the stock’s fit was perfect. To ensure consistency I glass-bedded the recoil lug area of the action into the stock, after which it fit so well you almost didn’t need screws.


While I had it apart, I completely disassembled the action and bead blasted the old finish off, in preparation for fresh Cerakote. Since the trigger was apart, I stone polished the mating surfaces to improve the trigger which was already good, but now feels incredible. The stock featured dual front sling studs for bipod mounting, as well as a QD cup at the rear to add a QD sling swivel.

One thing some might call a drawback to the M77 is the scope mounting options. I don’t mind the Ruger scope ring design and mount, but you are limited to using what is offered. Lucky for me I found a set of Leupold high rings in 34mm to mount the US Optics FDN17X scope to the old MKI. Which would make an excellent match to the rifle.

The beautiful tungsten Cerakote match made the whole thing look sharp. Now it was time to get the legendary Swift back out where it belonged, scattering varmints across the countryside.

If you like this rebuild, you’ll also like Rebuilding a Hunter

Swift Vengeance

With the completely rebuilt rifle in hand, as well as some fresh 75 grain handloads, my father, brother and I headed into the high Rockies to put it to the test. Not only did the rifle shoot the 75-grain bullet very well, but it still craved the twenty-year-old hand-loaded 52 grain Match Kings I loaded once upon a time.

220 Swift shown next to a 223 Remington

With the rifle zeroed, and after installing a Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20 suppressor, it was time to exact the Swift vengeance it is so famous for.
We hunt Marmots all spring and summer long, and today would be an exceptional day of chuckin’. The blistering speed of the Swift had returned with incredible accuracy, allowing surgical pinpoint accuracy. We were all stunned at how fast the bullets arrived at their furry little targets. I can’t help but think that the aggressive 1-8 twist also greatly increases the rotational energy of the bullets making them even more explosive than before.

Continue reading here

Find your own Ruger rifle here


After renovating this old rifle, I am quite confident in the upgrades. This rifle will surely continue terrorizing varmints for the next generation. The match-grade barrel produces incredible accuracy, the new twist allows for a much broader selection of bullets to be used. And threaded for a suppressor will make doubling and tripling up on coyotes a possibility.

The new stock, besides being incredibly handsome, offers a great deal of modularity. Its polymer parts are in all the right places to avoid scratching the wood on the landscape.

The new scope vastly increases the rifles potential for shooting long-range. We’ve already shot it beyond 1100 yards, something near impossible with standard 220 Swift rifles. The further distance capability is also enhanced by the improved trigger.

The M77 with its new look and Cole -TAC suppressor cover

If you have an old Ruger M77 laying around, don’t be afraid to dive deep into a custom like this. Despite the fifty-year-old design, they still make a great rifle. I’m glad this project turned out to be such a fantastic result, that even eclipses the legendary performance it had before.

The unbelievable power of the 220 Swift shooting 75 gr ELDM’s

If your old M77 has passed its prime, do yourself a favor and breathe some new life into it. They could be a great performer for you as they are. Or serve as the base of your next project that may become its own legendary family heirloom.


Me, Dad, Brad, and Spence. You can see the action in Major League Chuckers 9

Hunting with kids: more effort with more rewards

Kids and Hunting

My son started coming hunting with me as soon as he could walk. He would toddle along behind me always excited for whatever it was we were going to do. I took every opportunity to bring him along, though sometimes the days events were too rough to go hunting with kids. This was a lesson I learned myself as a youngster. But I was determined to make sure I pushed the endeavour as long as it stayed fun for him. My Ridley is a legal adult now, and I often wonder if I could go back in time, would I have done it the same way.

hunting with kids
My Ridley on one of his first deer hunts.

A Father’s Guidance

I grew up under the watchful eye of my father, himself quite a dedicated hunter. I often speak of how my dad was also raised hunting these same dry desert mountains of Utah. So it should come as no surprise that as far back as I can remember I wanted to hunt. So many of my most memorable childhood experiences were related to the times that I was able to tag along with my dad or my grandfathers. You can read more about those Memories right here.

A shot of my dad from the early 80’s

That was a different time I suppose, different rules and more hunting options that were much easier to participate in. My dad is a bowhunter, while he’s shot plenty of animals with a rifle I think in his heart he truly enjoys the thrill of the ancient art of archery.

I’ve been on a few bowhunts in my lifetime, and looking back I can better understand why I never got to go as a child. Sneaking into archery range of a Mule deer is hard enough when you have the wind, concealment and noise working against you. I can’t imagine trying to put the sneak on a deer hunting with kids by your side.

the freedom to roam and explore are the currency of boyhood, let him spend it often

My Experience with Kids

As a young man, I too was bitten by the bug carrying the archery pathogen. And spent countless hours preparing myself for an eventual bowhunting trip. Unfortunately I grew out of it by the time I had reached the age to go. That and the fact that teenage girls existed greatly reduced my dedication to the sport.

child carrying rifle
Ridley packing around his first rifle, the Cricket EX17hmr

Many years later I would find myself longing for hunting memories that never were. So when my lifelong dream of becoming a father was finally realized. I made a mindful decision that my own son would never want for the chance to join a hunting adventure. In fact I hoped that conversely he might someday look back, and wish he’d taken the opportunity more often.

A Hunting Opportunity

One of the many adventures hunting with kids involved my son, also happened to involve my dad. It was well over a decade ago, and my father and I were situated along the spine of a steep ridge in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. One side of the ridge was a traditional slope that had a trail we had come in on ATV’s that morning. The opposite side of the ridge was as steep a hill as you can imagine. It was littered with thick brush and deadfall, and dropped for over a mile into a thick wooded forest below.

children with bull elk
I consider my kids lucky, I sure hope they do too

We were after Mule deer bucks that morning.  I had learned the pattern of them crossing this ridge spine over the years. Dad and I had spread out several hundred yards across the ridge to better cover potential bucks crossing over. Ridley was probably four or five years old at the time, and he sat near me quietly munching snacks and watching the sunrise. We’d spent the morning softly answering his many questions about trees and squirrels and every other thing that caught his curious eyes.

As we sat there in near silence, I heard a noise that immediately captured my own curiosity. It sounded like sticks breaking and the occasional rustle. I closely paid attention to the sound, and told Ridley to do the same. It would come and go, but I knew that something was moving up the steep drop off below us. As minutes passed, I continued to listen.


Hunting with Kids

After a few minutes I knew action was at hand and I motioned to my dad to come toward me, in anticipation of something stepping out. As dad made his way towards me, my son in a whisper asked me if he could walk over to the fourwheeler to get something. Sensing his pocket-to-snack ratio reaching critical, I told him he could go as long as he stayed quiet and in sight.

Once again I heard noise coming from the drop off, and this time it was much closer. My heart nearly stopped when I heard the familiar chirp of an elk from below. Now, I had said we were deer hunting but it just so happened that my father also carried a cow elk tag in his pocket that was still good. I immediately started making frantic hand motions for him to hurry to me. He had clearly understood the message, all but the frantic and hurry parts.

As he made it to me I told him what had been happening just over the edge of the ridge. We sat there quietly listening to rustling brush, and the occasional elk chirp. Ridley was quietly refilling his pockets with goldfish from the backpack on my fourwheeler as dad and I watched carefully for the sign of an elk coming through the trees.

Like they often do, the elk made their way so close to us under cover that we were quite surprised when they emerged. Barely sixty-yards or so away, two cows came up through some aspen trees. It was quite obvious that they knew nothing of our presence.

The Shot

As dad lifted his rifle I remember thinking to myself; that’s it, we’re gonna have elk for dinner. As the front elk cleared the second one, I knew that dad was probably starting to press the trigger.  That’s when things went south…

Perhaps fifty yards away in a different direction, my son continued his supply mission. I was of course looking at the elk. So I can only imagine what it was like from his little guy perspective when he too spotted the elk standing on the edge of the treeline. Forgetting all the counsel I’d given him that morning, he saw the elk and in the most excited voice he shouted out: “Dad there’s two elk!”. I can just imagine his big brown eyes wide open, spitting bits of goldfish as he belted out his discovery.

I’ll spare you the rest of the story, and the rest of that hunt for that matter. As it was uneventful after that morning. Hustling over to the fourwheeler to him, I saw his face lit up with excitement.

I remember a sense of calm that came over me, and despite my internal rage of missing an easy opportunity. Calmly I explained the consequences of him breaking silence. I distinctly remember wanting to make sure not to chastise him, and sour the experience of hunting for him. Dad and me were both a bit sour though, we’d been so close.

No Regrets

I’ve never regretted taking Ridley along, not that day nor any other. He learned his lesson about keeping quiet. That was his very first experience with elk, but it would not be his last.

cow elk
My 12yo Ridley with his first elk, you can read that story here

We’ve been on so many hunts together since, and my daughter too has come along with us. She has an elk tag of her own this year. I think back to all the times where I had to carry extra snacks, make fires to keep kids warm. And hold chubby little hands as we descended a sketchy trail. And there is no amount of venison, or bones on the wall that would mean more to me than the adventures we have shared together.
bull elk
I can guarantee that the elk we didn’t get that day isn’t the only animal lost because I had one of my kids along, but the experience is far more valuable to me. I don’t blame my dad for not taking me hunting more when I was younger. But someday when I’m long gone I hope my kids will remember all the adventures we made, and smile. And more importantly I hope it serves as inspiration for them to raise the next generation of adventure seekers.


coyote hunting with children
Kids cant learn and enjoy if they dont come along

Ridley with his buck from last season, read more about it here

For more hunting stories visit our hunting section

Major League Chuckers 9: Chuckageddon

In this latest installment of the Major League Chuckers film franchise, we again take you into the high Rocky Mountains. Both my brothers, my father and myself running the guns.
This incredibly fun hunt is part of my spring hunting regimen, and it helps keep me active as well as sharpening all the shooting senses. Spotting these cunning little creatures takes talent at times, as does hitting them in their low-lying hideouts. Sometimes you go for the direct hit on their tiny pudding pot, and other times you literally bounce the bullet (or splatter it) into the target if it needs so.

Give this one a watch, and share it with your like-minded friends:

Elk Hunting: Double down in deep snow


I have lived most of my life here at the feet of the Rocky Mountains. And I’ve been lucky to enjoy much of what this beautiful landscape offers. This winter (22-23) has been one to remember, not only because of a welcome change in weather patterns but also because of the circle of life that is affected by it. Come along on this elk hunting adventure.

Return to Normal

As a child and teenager, I remember epic snowstorms that would pile ice deep around our yard. So deep in fact that my siblings and I would burrow around through the piles of snow that Dad would stack up while cleaning off the driveway. But those distant memories have faded now, partly because snow like that has been scarce for nearly as long as I’ve had children. This year the snow came back, pummeling our mountains time and again with an ever deeper snow pack. So deep in fact that many of the herds of animals that often winter in the canyons around this valley have been driven right into town, even causing serious traffic delays on interstates.

As a hunter, I was excited to see how this welcome return to normal snow-pack would improve the hunting situation in the state. Surely the heavy snow-pack will help fill our water bodies back up, but what about the herd of elk that I chase every winter here in the mountains above my home?

A Return to Normal

The early snow had fallen, and had begun to push the animals down in elevation and much closer to the canyons and draws where I wait for them every November. This year myself and a good friend we’ll call Dustin both had antlerless elk tags. I’m torn by the premise of these tags, I have little faith that my state’s wildlife agency has anything other than budgets in mind when it comes to them. I suppose the purpose is to keep the number of elk from getting too out of hand, and perhaps the light hunting pressure on the herds keeps them just far enough out of suburbia to prevent unwanted interactions. In my experience from watching many other hunters with the same tag, I think it is a fairly low success for most.

Our experience however has been one of great success, due mainly to the fact that we live close enough to watch the mountain every day, keeping tabs on when they arrive and where they go every year. The fact that every year we return, to pattern their habits also adds a great deal of experience that improves to our success.

Can you spot all five bulls?

Finding Elk

With the return of heavy snows, Dustin and I spent weeks watching elk, calculating when the right time would be and where we could intersect with them. For those who have never taken elk, I’ll explain why. Elk can be very large animals, getting a whole elk off of a mountain in four or five feet of snow can be very taxing on your hunting energy.

A picture from a past hunt, in these conditions it can get dicy quick

Rather than overexerting ourselves and pushing everything to our limits, we prefer to tactfully engage with our prey. Waiting for the right time and place can greatly reduce the effort needed to extract our prize. I prefer to get them out whole, to reduce lost meat, so that is always my first choice.

After watching several bulls for weeks, I was starting to get worried that their cows had perhaps had gone another way this year. And our season was quickly coming to an end, with less than a week left I was becoming more desperate.

At Long Last

Luckily, Dustin was also looking, and he had a bit more luck on his side of the mountain. I walked into my office on a Friday morning, only to get a text from him that he’d spotted some cows, and they were definitely doable. I gathered my things and jumped back in my truck to head towards Dustin, knowing that I would at minimum be able to help him get one out should he shoot one and potentially shoot another myself.
Before I could get there Dustin already had put one down, taking a mature young cow from a group that numbered around a dozen. The rest of them made their way over the ridge into the next drainage. After showing up, I helped him get his cow the rest of the way back down to the trail. Despite being his first elk ever, Dustin already understood the how and when to shoot an elk. Ensuring it was all downhill to our destination, and with minimal obstacles allowing two guys to get her down without further assistance.

After a surprisingly easy extraction, we decided to see if we could find the others since it was still before noon. We knew the direction the herd had gone, so we decided we’d go that direction to see if we could find them, or another group of elk. This time of year, elk typically don’t go far even after having been shot at.

Dustin and Benson

Round Two

We found ourselves looking up into another drainage, hoping that there were more elk hiding within it. The plan we agreed upon was to hike up to a small saddle that would give us better perspective of the area, and with any luck we’d get a shot from there.

Of course the sunshine was quickly covered up by menacing clouds as they began to drop snow on us and the temperature began to drop. Still uncommitted to making a full effort to the bowl above us, we chose to take the easiest path which was a game trail that worked around a south facing ridge with less snow-pack. We worked around the edge of the bowl until we had to directly cross over a hilltop through some trees. Our approach had unbeknownst to us presented us with a near perfect scenario, as we skylined over the hilltop our silhouettes were obscured in the treeline. It was at that point I picked out the shape of three elk, laying in the snow a mere 250 yards away.

Just before the shot was fired

We quickly got into position to make a shot, the deep snow making a perfectly comfortable and stable shooting position. I laid my gun across my backpack to get the right angle on the unsuspecting elk. One of the three must have noticed the goings on, and stood up to get a better look at us. The other two lay next to each other, perfectly aligned.
I told Dustin I was going to shoot the standing animal, and we waited for her to present a perfect broadside shot. As usual, I carried my Desert Tech SRS M2 that day. But this time I had installed my 7mm Short Action Ultra Magnum barrel, something I hadn’t hunted with for several years. I’d taken another elk and a deer with it some years prior, but today it was chambered with something new. I was shooting the 151 grain Cayuga solid bullets from Patriot Valley Arms. The SRS M2 and the 7SAUM have been incredibly consistent and deadly for me, so as I closed the bolt looking at these elk I knew we were about to embark on a lot of work.

Trigger Time

As the young cow turned giving me a good broadside shot, I put my finger to the trigger and began to press. The snow slightly obscured the view through my Steiner scope, but I still had every confidence as the trigger broke. The incredibly fast bullet impacted the elk before we even heard the shot go off, but it echoed across the canyon, muffled by the dense and snow-filled air.
The elk immediately reacted, lurching forward into a sprint across the top of the ridge. I watched as she ran, favoring her right shoulder. The stiff leg she clearly didn’t want to use bounced as she hurried over the hill in what could only be described as a fast hobble. The other two elk followed her after leaping to their feet.
Much like times before, despite not seeing the elk after they crossed the hilltop, I had a warm feeling knowing that the 7SAUM does not take prisoners.

We hiked across the draw and found their bedded imprints in the snow, and easily found the ungainly tracks in the snow with the crimson confirmation that I had indeed hit the mark. We followed the tracks and blood which at first seemed less than ideal, but the closer we got to the downed elk, the blood trail became extremely evident. Surprisingly we never saw the other two elk again, but we laid hands on our prize for the second time that day. The Cayuga had hit the mark perfectly, breaking the right shoulder, passing through the lungs then exiting just in front of the left shoulder.

Clockwise from top left: Blood trail, bullet impact, broken shoulder, and pulverized lungs

I’ve lost count of how many elk we’ve shot with the Desert Tech SRS

Cleaning Up

I had to go against my own preferences, as the lay of the land would certainly not allow us to drag her our whole. We decided to cut her up, and pack out in pieces with the help of some friends who were quick to respond.

For the next couple hours, Dustin and I went to work reducing the animal to carryable portions. My dog Benson eagerly lent his assistance and attention while trying to stay warm.

Once again I stand here in my kitchen with freshly packaged meat neatly wrapped and ready to freeze. The venison we take every year fills our freezer and helps sustain the clean and healthy meals for our families. As I look out the window at the deep and cold snow in the mountains around us, I can’t help but feel thankful for the bounty we’ve been given. And thankful for friends with whom I can share the experience of thriving survival, and with whom I can share the delicious cuts of meat.


I process all my own meat, with Outdoor Edge knives