Wednesday, November 4, 2015
The .223 Debate... Go Big or Go Home
I could approach the topic from the usual way- which is to procure a whole bunch of data and provide a detailed analysis in regards to the foot pounds of energy at differing ranges, trajectory tables and so forth. Since I've actually shot big game with a .223, I could provide an anecdotal example or two as well. But, I'm not sure I really want to do that.
I'm sure the debate will carry on about using the .223 for deer regardless of what I write about.
I will acquiesce that modern bullets have done nothing but improve the .22 centerfire cartridges, in fact all cartridges are more effective than ever with the excellent bullets we have today, but I have a hard time accepting the .223 as a deer cartridge. I've shot a number of big game animals with the .223 and I have to admit, I wasn't really impressed. At close range, with a good bullet... it worked. I also lost the only deer I ever wounded to the .223 as well. I've seen a deer shot with a .22-250 that dropped so fast that I suspected a spinal hit but it was a behind the shoulder lung shot. I could talk about all that stuff in great detail.
But I won't.
I'd like to reframe the question from being about the .223 and other .22 centerfires to virtually all other larger centerfire cartridges out there. What you notice is that when you look at the .270 or the .308 or one of the endless 7mm cartridges.... no one questions their effectiveness as a big game rifle. No one. People will argue about which one is their favorite, or the most accurate, or the most efficient, but not their effectiveness. Elmer Keith loathed the .270 (or at least its most vocal proponent- Jack O'Connor) but still used the cartridge for mountain goat. Even when you step down to the mild .243 Winchester, no one really questions whether you're talking about a deer rifle or not. The only debates I've seen are when you get to elk or moose, but even big Western mule deer are seen as .243 country. Most states that regulate a minimum cartridge start with the 6mm/.243 bore. Why? Because it works. I've seen a few deer and a couple of caribou readily decked with the .243 Winchester.
It's my suggestion that the absence of argument about those standard bore rifles should speak very loudly when choosing a cartridge. Want to kill deer? No one will tell you the .270 won't do the job. Want to deck an elk? Say .30-06 and you'll get little disagreement. Want to kill a caribou? Carry a 7mm and no one will bat an eye. Respond with a .223 for any of those animals and people will be doubtful. With good reason. In Craig Boddington's "North American Hunting Rifles", he pretty well sums it up as "not big game rifles" and leaves it at that. Cooper derisively referred to the .223 as a "poodle shooter". Many people with far more experience than I have are leery of the .223 on deer sized game.
In my experience, the .223 can work...but you need a good bullet and you need to get close and you need to be really picky about your shot. You might be in for a long tracking job or you might want to take head and neck shots. I'm of the opinion that if you need to make those kinds of stipulations, you really should be thinking about a heavier cartridge to start with. Deer are relatively easy to kill and a .270 will pretty much be forgiving of bullet construction and poor angle, but not the .223. In the bigger cartridges you can argue about what works better but they all work. Virtually any of the standard "deer guns" with a soft point bullet will kill most big game dead as Sunday's fried chicken. I can't say that with the .223.
I've never seen the point of relying on the absolute bare minimum cartridge when shooting for blood when far better choices are so readily available.