Bullet choice

Are you using a big enough bullet?

There is an old piece of shooting lore that says that if a projectile of a certain weight and size will do the job, a bigger and heavier projectile in a bigger calibre will do it better!

This is still true despite the phenomenal improvement in projectile designs that make small bullets so much more capable than they used to be.

British hunting cartridges
A selection of heavy British calibres with round nosed projectiles. Definitely big enough for most things!

These improved designs and higher velocities have started a trend towards smaller calibres on larger animals, but the question must be asked: are we changing old ideas for more modern concepts that may not be all that efficient?

The inappropriate use of smaller projectiles and calibres is nothing new. The .220 Swift was released in 1935, firing a 48gn projectile at the unheard-of velocity of 4100fps (it didn’t go that fast, but that’s another story). Hunters who should have known better attempted to shoot inappropriately large animals with the small projectile but it didn’t work.

The reality was that the .220 Swift was in fact a good varmint cartridge, and it’s more so when matched with modern projectiles and powder. Short of luck or a well-placed head shot, it was giant killer. 

Decades ago, my hunting friends and I learned the lessons the hard way by losing many animals using light calibres incapable of stopping them where they stood.

You need a suitable projectile to stop animals that live close to dense cover

Using small-calibre cartridges such as the .223 Remington on animals like pigs is not to be recommended. Yes, a whole host of shooters who use the .223 will disagree, but semi-automatic rifles were common in Australia I saw pigs hit multiple times with a .223 and still escape into the lignum. 

We traded our .223 Mini-14s for larger-calibre rifles. 

The trouble with smaller calibres is they don’t have the weight to carry the energy required for a good kill. 

Extra velocity can overcome the lack of projectile weight in some cartridges, but only up to a point. What really counts is the downrange energy available to anchor any animal, and smaller projectiles tend to lose speed and energy more quickly. 

Left: The Gary Little Protector Point or the Accubond are probably preferable for longer ranges but the round nose will work very well at shorter ranges. Right: Choosing a projectile of the correct construction is critical to terminal performance

At a nominal 3300fps at the muzzle, the energy of the .22-250 Remington with a 55gn projectile at 250 yards is 681ft-lb. In comparison, a .243 firing an 85gn Partition at a nominal 3000fps has 972ft-lb at the same range; or firing a 100gn Partition at 2880fps it will retain 1161ft-lb. That is increases of 42% and 70% respectively. You simply cannot argue with such figures.

There are circumstances where a heavy round-nosed projectile would be a better choice than anything. Shooting pigs on dams is a typical example, the ranges are known, the animals in a general sense will not be spooked and there is probably time available to set up the shot.

The same applies when stalking pigs in a swamp, and in this case perhaps the rifle used takes care of the problem. Within our group, the rifle of choice is either a lever-action .45-70 or a Winchester .30-30 using a 300gn and a 170gn projectile respectively. 

A friend with significant heavy-calibre experience, including on Africa and Australian buffalo, has used round nosed projectiles extensively in both double and bolt-action rifles.

In the swamps you must be prepared for both long- and short-range shots

He did not report any problems. Most of his round-nosed use was at shorter ranges, where they worked! They hit hard and retain enough energy to be a threat in the swamps. Perhaps the same could be said of deer in thickest of cover.

It is far better to be ready in ballistic terms for a long shot, you not be handicapped if the range is much less. 

It is possible to increase the performance of smaller calibres by upgrading to projectiles with the appropriate capabilities, but there are limits. It is like so much in shooting: it is difficult to suggest exactly where you draw the line.

There will always be a place for larger calibres using heavier projectiles, whether they are round-nosed or not. 

They provide far more certainty that you will score a clean kill. 




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Ron James