Just a few days ago, the fools in our government once again took another bite out of our ability to enjoy our rights as firearm owners. Curtailing the imports of modest priced (if there is such a thing) ammunition will only further drive up the demand and price of the ammunition that we can buy.
I’d like to think of myself as a pretty prepared person, I keep the Scout motto somewhere near the forefront of my mind. So as soon as I was old enough to reason (probably about 25) I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start my career as a prepper. It wasn’t food stuffs, MRE’s, and cans of beans, though there have been a few of each stashed under my roof over the years. No, my focus was directed at something far more valuable than bagged Vietnam era pork with rice in BBQ sauce. I had enough foresight, and knew myself well enough that I would need lots of ammo in the future. Precious metals like lead and copper have an incredible value on a stressed market, and if things get bad enough that I find myself tearing open that brown bag of pork, I image the value will quadruple overnight.
I’m sure every one of us has thought about building a time machine, and traveling back to the nineties and filling a U-Haul truck with $80 cases of 7.62X39. I still find myself wanting for the good old days like that. But the secret to living well, and by that I mean plenty of ammo, doesn’t involve time machines or wishes, It’s all about action.
Guns without ammunition are useless, with that in mind I present my first rule of Ammo Prepping.
Buy When You Can, Not When in Need
The middle of an ammo crunch is the worst time to buy, if you find yourself searching for stores for your favorite ammo, you’ve already lost. Buy ammo when it’s cheap and plentiful, I remember when ammo was everywhere I would swing by the ammo counter anytime I went in a Walmart. Typically I’d score a brick of .22 or something similar, but there is also the occasional pound of powder there or something.
There are also lots of smaller outlets like small town hardware stores and such. In my former job I did a lot of traveling, and I’d take advantage to swing by every little sporting goods store out in the country. I got quite a few deals on old bullets, and other things that they would have in stock because nobody bought it there.
Make what you cant buy
When I cant buy ammo, I buy components. Handloading is an incredible value to those of us who do it, every good prepper should know how and have the means to make his own ammo. I apply the same rules here as I did to ammo, buy it when you can. Ammunition components are everywhere, and it never hurts to stock up on whatever you can. There is only so much of the stuff, and it will never be worth nothing. Become the range troll that picks up all the brass, I have done quite a bit of trading and come out ahead every time. I have a huge spectrum of components, dies, brass, and other things for firearms I don’t even own. This works out really nice because I can trade for things I can use, or help out friends when they are in a pinch. You can never have too much.
Buy in bulk
It’s probably been over a decade since I bought a standard box of twenty rifle cartridges, and even that was likely an anomaly. Same thing with buying components, I try not to buy boxes of a hundred. When I buy a box of bullets its usually by 500 or more. Of course you might be thinking; anybody can do that if you have enough money, which is true. I always try to set aside a little ammo fund so that when the occasional good deal pops up, I can splurge where it counts, in bulk. You’d be surprised how far your money will go when its spent in the right places.
Whether it be a yard sale with a case of primers innocently underpriced, or a wholesale opportunity, or some other opportunity, be prepared.
Make sure you keep mainstream
By this I mean make sure you have mainstream chambered firearms. If you’ve followed me for long you are probably aware of all the bastard wildcats and oddities I shoot. But I also have several rifles in the commonest of cartridges, I’ve got two precision 223 Remington’s, and of course my MDRX that also shoots 223 like a house on fire. Not only that, if I had to survive the rest of my life using only 223 chambered rifles, I certainly could. And the same goes for 308, I’ve got several precision rifles as well as semi-autos that shoot this extremely common cartridge.
And it never hurts to have multiple rifles in these common chamberings. I purchased two rifles back in the good ol’ days, chambered in 7.62×39, one is an AK variant, and the other an SKS. At the time, I paid just over $400 dollars for the pair, which is amazing by todays standards. But what I wouldn’t give to go back and buy more ammo for them, luckily the Coldboremiracle of the past was smart enough to buy several thousand rounds for each of them.
Hopefully you’ve learned your lesson during this last ammo crunch. Start making preparations for the next one, because it will surely come. Learn how to handload, find alternative suppliers, create a pool of ammo that could see you and your family through the apocalypse. That’s been my goal, if the world as we know it ended today and I had to live the rest of my life with what I have on hand, for the next forty years I could shoot a couple deer every day, a whole den of marmots, and a dozen or so zombies if they lined up just right, and still have a couple left over for blue-helmets if needed.
The good folks at Patriot Valley Arms helped get me started down this road, what seems like a very long time ago. Good people and good products are the norm for PVA.
I was given the opportunity to test drive PVA’s new 6.5 line of solid hunting bullets. Hunting is my bread and butter, so I was excited to put these lathe turned solids into action.
The 123 grain Cayuga bullets are turned from solid copper bar stock, using the same alloy of copper that jacketed bullets use. Turning them on a CNC lathe gives precise control to bullet geometry, it is this precision cut construction that gives the Cayuga its uniformity.
The bullets are solid copper, with a hollow point cut into the tip. They have a tapered boat-tail, and a driving band around the middle. The gentle taper of the ogive makes these bullets very generous when it comes to seating depth sensitivity.
I cautiously loaded these bullets into some 6.5 Creedmoor brass from Petersen, with a goodly charge of H4350, and took them to the range. Initial groups were easily sub MOA, and with little adjustments, I had them shooting around half an inch.
It was time to hit the track on this test drive, a Rocky Mountain Elk hunt. Some might think that a 6.5 Creedmoor is a bit light for elk, which it may be. But I’d hunted with similar setups plenty of times in the past, so I wasn’t worried.
The first engagement we had with an elk took place at 475 yards, a young cow stood quartering away. The bullet hit her at the top of the left side rib-cage, on a slightly down angle. It passed through the ribs, passed through her lungs leaving quite a mess, and exited the front of her chest just to the right of her neck. She dropped immediately, and slid down the snowy slope. Damage was exactly what I expected to see from such an acute injury. Broken bones, spalling through tissue, leaving mayhem in organs which could no longer sustain life.
The second Cayuga fired at a big game animal was a mature cow elk, chewing away at the brush bark on a cold winter storm blown mountain. She was 520 yards away this time, completely unaware of the heated copper cutlass headed her way. It again impacted in the ribs and shoulder, breaking both the shoulder blade, several ribs, as well as one of her vertebrae as it passed by. She instantly dropped, and bled out as quickly as one would expect.
The damage done on both animals was very proportionate to the size of the expanded Cayuga, unfortunately both of them blew right through the animals so I was unable to see their final dimensions. Never the less they did a perfect job, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
If you are in need of an all copper hunting bullet, or if you want a hunting bullet with an extremely high ballistic coefficient, then give these Cayuga bullets a good look. When the shots count the most, send something that brings it all. For additional info, read my article about the 6mm 100 grain Cayuga
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. Watch the video HERE
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.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)
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 an acute enough 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) Watch the video HERE
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 what’s 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 impactYou can watch the video HERE
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, shoot whatever bullet you feel best about, but shoot it well. 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.
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
If you had to choose one cartridge to shoot for the rest of your life, most of us could narrow it down to at least one or two. But when there are so many options before us these days, it can be an agonizing internal debate trying to pick one cartridge over another. Could it be that the easy answer is right before your eyes?
One advantage to my SRS A1 is that all these cartridges and more can all be shot from the same rifle
One of the first criteria that we evaluate is the intended use, if we plan on deer hunting for example, then we can eliminate some of the larger magnums, as well as lightweight varmint cartridges. If we intend on competitive shooting, then we would be wise to select from the already refined pool of serious competition cartridges that offer advantages such as; superior external ballistics, controllable recoil, and available in volumes and at prices we can afford.
Perhaps Extended Long Range (ELR) is more your preference, and a larger cartridge like a 300 or 338 is in your sights. Again, there are many popular cartridges that will fit that bill. You can evaluate several of them, and consider factors such as barrel life, recoil, and component cost and availability.
Be it 6mm, 6.5mm, 7mm, or a 30 caliber, there are great reasons to pick each one, you just need to find the best reason that applies to your shooting. And even then, which 6mm? You could go with a modest and economical 6XC, or maybe a 6X47L. The new 6 Creedmoor from Hornady has some great benefits and options, or perhaps you want to just go with a traditional .243 or 6mm Remington. You see, all these cartridges share the 6mm/.243 bore and bullet selection, but the differing cases offer different things such as cheap and easy to find brass. Some of them offer better high quality brass, and the barrel life can vary greatly depending on which one you choose.
Community input is very helpful, see what others are doing and using. If you are lucky, you can wrap up all your activities into one “do it all” cartridge.
Sierra Tipped Match Kings loaded in the 308 Winchester
For those like me who have chosen to use the multicaliber systems offered by Desert Tech , this is a double-edged sword. Simply because we are not limited to our choices of cartridges, because a barrel swap can be done in moments, but difficult because now instead of choosing one caliber, we now have two or more choices to make. I choose to look at this in a positive light.
Multi caliber means that we can choose an inexpensive and light caliber for one activity, and perhaps a heavy and devastating caliber to compliment it. Both of which can be used in the same rifle, with the same trigger pull, and optic. Once you have decided the intended use of your rifle, you can then pick calibers suitable for them. With so many options, it can be daunting and exciting at the same time.
The 300BLK (L) and the 223Rem (R) are two similar sized cartridges with vastly different applications, shooting a multi-caliber rifle like the SRS allows me to profit from both of these cartridges strong points
I like to start with cartridges with a proven history of performance. Sure, there are always hot ticket and fly cartridges that come and go. but there is wisdom and experience with traditional and mainstream choices. In addition to the abundant availability of these more common cartridges, there is plenty of information about their performance which could help you in your quest for perfection. And don’t rule out that significant technological advances in powders and bullets have given new life to cartridges once relegated to antiquity.
Another decision factor is whether you intend to reload your ammunition. Some cartridges are best left to reloaders, while others enjoy diverse and very affordable factory ammunition options. This could mean the difference between two similar but different cartridges. For example, the .260 Remington and the 6.5 Creedmoor are almost equals, but if you intend to buy ammunition, the Creedmoor is the better choice due to the high volume of factory ammunition choices. Whereas if you intend to reload, the .260 could give you an edge over the Creedmoor with customization and more velocity.
Reloading gives you the option to customize ammunition to your rifle
This leads right into my final criteria, which is cost. Many people want to shoot large and venerable cartridges, but not many want to pay the price of some of them. So while the 338LM might be at the top of your long range fancy list, you’d be surprised at how many more affordable smaller cartridges there are. Many of them that can get you to the same distances as the 338, but without leaving you destitute. So don’t be afraid of looking into some of those less costly calibers that will still fill your need.
Once you’ve taken the time to evaluate these many characteristics, there should at least be a couple options floating to the top of your choice list. At this point it could simply be preference, or some other simple reason that swings you toward one over another. The best news of all, is that there are few bad choices anymore, so good luck.
Three very different cartridges with differing purposes that can all be used in my rifle. (top) 338Lapua Magnum (middle) 260 Remington (bottom) 223 Remington