Now that hunting season is winding down with the growing cold and failing light, I finally have some time to ponder a few of the events of the last few months. While not exactly a thorough article, I do feel it is of value to record our experiences with various cartridges and bullets. When viewed singly, they are merely anecdotal evidence- who could draw any substantial conclusion about what you could expect from cartridge or projectile from a single or even a handful of animals?
It is our shared experiences that give us a trend over time. With modern hunting, tightly controlled bag limits, and the plethora of new products hitting the shelves (as well as old favorites being discontinued) no one of us might actually get in enough actual shooting to really explore how bullets perform on game. In the old days we would rely on the world's great (or maybe not so great) hunters who often shot hundreds, if not more, animals in a lifetime. Often with the same rifle or with just a few loads. Modern gun and hunting writers, such as Craig Boddington, do a great deal of hunting but by virtue of their career use a plethora of different rifles and ammunition. The days of market hunting are long over and none of us will likely surpass the lifetime bags of any of those guys on a general run of game- and we probably shouldn't. The average, even very successful, North American hunter will be unlikely to get a significant amount of experience with a cartridge and load in a lifetime of shooting. Or at least enough to make a definitive statement about it's worth. A guide or PH might- but his impressions are of the shooting of clients or shooting when things go very wrong. It also supposes that a guide is terribly interested in such esoteric facts and they frequently just aren't.
So it is in this vein, that I've decided to just post some impressions of the loads and field performance I've seen this year- either that of myself or my companions. Some of the shooting I witnessed first hand, others I just helped in the butchering. Not that anyone could (or should) draw any firm conclusions from this- it is simply one more piece of anecdotal evidence to add to the greater body.
.338 Winchester Magnum/ 180gr Nosler Accubond- I saw two caribou shot with this load this year and came away impressed. The first a small bull at moderate range and the second a large bull at 300 yards. Both died instantly and no bullets were recovered. Significant was the fact both were quartering shots and the bullet penetrated a LOT of caribou- including some bone and still sailed through.
.300WSM/180 Nosler Accubond- I've used this load on more game animals in recent years with excellent results. This year's effort was a single bull at about 100 yards. Shot twice and the shooting was not very good. Bull died quickly and no bullet was recovered. This combination continues to impress after quite a few animals though.
.308 Winchester/ 150gr Remington CoreLokt- I shot a large bull at 300 yards. Although accurate, this was stretching this load's capability from a carbine in my opinion. Two broadside lung shots failed to fully penetrate- the bullets were not recovered. A third shot in the neck penetrated fully. I did find some evidence of bullet fragments in the wound channel.
.243 Winchester/ 100gr Federal Hot Cor- I saw a small cow caribou shot with this load at close range (30yds.). It was a quartering to shot and the bullet entered the neck and was recovered in the offside rear hip. I didn't weigh the bullet but it looked to have shed a fair bit of material. The cow went down in just seconds from what was probably a severed femoral artery and a lung hit. In retrospect, the smaller rifle was more capable that I gave it credit for on a quartering shot and I'd suggest the result would have been better at longer range and a better shot angle.
.300 Remington Ultra Mag/ 150gr Scirocco- easily the highest impact velocity of any round in the group. I've seen three caribou taken with this combination from 150 to 400 yds. and it is shockingly deadly- even with some marginal hits. Meat damage from hydrodynamic shock is nothing short of fearful however. I am curious how the light and fast bullet translates in a moose, but in caribou sized creatures no bullets or fragments were recovered.
.300 Winchester Magnum/ 180gr Barnes TSX- this round resulted in the death of a small moose, it's likely not representative of the expected performance as the shots were taken at extremely long range (est. 700yds). I counted 3 sets of bullet holes but the internal damage showed little expansion (most likely due to low impact speed). I wasn't doing the cutting but I'd expect that the bullets barely expanded, much less fragmented.
.300WSM/ 180gr Trophy Bonded Bearclaw- shot quartering through lung shot on a middle sized moose at 100yds. A magazine worthy, perfectly mushroomed bullet recovered under the off side hide that weighed 172.8 gr. The moose took about a dozen steps and went down for the count.
Some opinions that I've formed are such….
1. Nothing wrong with standard "cup and core" bullets like the CoreLokt and Speer Hot Cor. Be aware that high speed impact will fragment these and might not be suitable for some magnum cartridges. At moderate range, in standard cartridges they do just fine. At longer ranges these don't impress much.
2. Modern controlled expansion bullets in high speed magnums are great at longer than average range. In fact, I have to say that of all the shooting I saw this year, a lot of it was at the 300 yard mark or more and the results were pretty darn good. Much better than you could have expected 50 or even 20 years ago. I'm a real fan of the Nosler Accubond and Trophy Bonded Bearclaw bullets in the .300 class rifles.
3. Modern controlled expansion bullets rely on high impact speed to a degree to perform their best. If long range shooting is on the menu, then perhaps a softer bullet is in order- realizing that a close range opportunity will turn it into a grenade. I also think (from mine and other anecdotal evidence) that modern controlled expansion bullets are mostly a waste of time (and money) in standard velocity cartridges.
Shoot straight friends!