I am one of some voices who grow faint in contemplating ‘hunting rifle’ velocities. I see no reason to overwhelm myself with muzzle velocity and pin point accuracy at over five hundred yards.
There I was, looking about in a local gun shop and overheard a conversation between a customer and one of the employees. The customer announced he was looking for a telescopic sight for his “.375” – no further identification – rifle. He further stipulated he wanted to be able to shoot at game at 1,000 yards.
I was confused, wondering what he intended to shoot with a “.375” over half a mile off. Being the polite (other than the eavesdropping) gentleman I am, I avoided any communication.
Of course, this brought up a whole bevy of questions to my fertile and suspicious mind.
Will a “.375” kill game at 1,000 yards?
What sort of game? I live in Nebraska; we have deer, but hardly any elk or moose. In some of the agricultural area, one might have a shot at 1,000 yards, but one must distinguish game animal from cow or (John) Deere.
Target shooting? Yes. There are long range target shooting matches (I’m told) about. I think a .375 H&H would be fairly good for range and wind drift considerations. However, I would think one would need a fairly heavy rifle to deal with recoil.
How is the shooter to spot game at that range? I can spot movement, but it’s hard to distinguish antlers at that range (presuming one is limited to taking one sex or the other). For me, at 1,000 yards, I might have difficulty distinguishing a moose from a Fiat 500. Especially if the Fiat were brown.
Back to reality, more or less. Humans have successfully bagged game animals since the dawn of humanity with rather feeble weapons. Rocks and clubs were probably the earliest. Then pointy sticks. Then pointy sticks with chipped rock points. Atlatls. Bows. And so on. We come to firearms.
Hunters using firearms have taken much game with primarily precision shooting, but with firearms suitable to the task. Most game of any sort, varmint or pests, small game and so on up to the African dangerous critters are usually taken at less than two hundred yards. (One hunts elephants up to the point of smelling each other. A normal human can smell an elephant a ways off and trust me, the elephant will detect a human sooner.)
Shooting a squirrel or bunny does not take a great deal of power. I’m sure the anonymous gun shop gentleman will not be shooting at either at 1,000 yards. Probably not an elephant, either.
Many manufacturers of firearms and ammunition seek to convince hunters – consumers – of the overwhelming advantage of having the latest, fastest, fanciest, coolest rifle and cartridge combination possible. (Much like cars, if no one buys them, the company folds.) However, consider the vast number of Odocoileus virginianus taken with the lowly .30-30 rifle since 1895.
Why should one think the lowly .30-30 has somehow ceased to function? It isn’t like the laws of physics have changed. (Even with Drs. Einstein and Hawking the basic laws are still the same.)
Frankly, I’m not a lever gun proponent. They work and are useful for all manner of things, but I’m a bolt gun sort of person. They fit in my idea of being a gentleman. And they’re available in pretty much any caliber.
No. I do not have a single answer. Hunting is an art form and self actuating experience as much as a science. Besides, there are all sorts of game and all sorts of terrain in which game will be taken. But I do have some considerations for the hunter to consider.
What is being hunted? Cartridges run the spectrum from small cartridges for small creatures to huge cartridges for large creatures. Some game is thin skinned while other game is very tough to penetrate. Some game is dangerous and may attack. Other game is not. One notes most bears are not the cuddly, friendly sort in the cartoons. Female bears with young have less sense of humor than a state trooper upon whom one just spilled a beer.
Generally speaking, the larger the critter, the more ‘killing’ is required. A rifle set up for rabbits will probably lack authority deer and be incredibly insufficient for elk or moose. Do not stumble upon a large dangerous bear, for sure.
Looking at the other direction, a rifle suitable for dangerous game will surely dispatch any of the smaller critters. However, taking a .358 Winchester along while hunting is rather large for deer and far too much for rabbit. The recoil might be objectionable as well. Probably.
Also to be considered is terrain. Prong horned Antelope are notorious for being found in very open, arid areas. Typically a prong horn will be a ways off and rather skittish. This is one of the furthest shoots commonly made. Or not made, as the situation dictates.
On the other hand, deer in the Pacific Northwest (and other parts of the country) is typically found in forests. Visibility is short and a ‘long shot’ may be no more than fifty yards. A telescopic sight, good for shooting targets at several hundred yards will probably not be needed.
Mountain goats, prized as a trophy, live in the mountains. (Go figure.) Usually ranges are farther than average and the cartridge must be capable of reaching out accurately and powerfully.
Carrying a rifle in either long tramps through the forrest or while mountain climbing can be a burden. Typically one seeks a rather ‘light’ rifle in these endeavors.
One notes a “light” rifle is not always a “light” rifle. Stalking a mountain goat usually requires some form of telescopic sight, which deep woods stalking does not. Properly taking a deer or other ‘woods’ animal usually requires a heavier caliber than a mountain goat.
Cartridges also have purposes and overlap. Big cartridges usually come in bigger rifles, but some moderate sized rifles have rather powerful cartridges which mean recoil.
Truisms for recoil: All things being equal, (the rifle being the same rifle)
- heavier bullets – the projectile – will generate more recoil.
- faster bullets (pushing the same weight bullet faster) – will generate more recoil.
- A heavier rifle will mitigate recoil.
- A heavier rifle is not as much fun to carry, especially all day.
There is a trade off of bullet weight and bullet velocity when leaving the rifle (or handgun). A slower bullet – typically a heavier bullets which does not move as fast – will have a slightly gentler ‘push’ feeling to the recoil while a lighter, faster bullet will give a more abrupt ‘slam’ feeling. This is ‘felt’ or ‘perceived recoil’; it is the amount of recoil ‘felt’ by the shooter, not the mechanical or mathematical amount of recoil generated.
Bad stock fit or design – will generate more felt recoil. A stock with a great deal of drop at the butt will tend to ‘rotate’ – around the pivot where the butt plate meets the shoulder – up and hits the shooter in the cheekbone. The recoil isn’t any greater, really. But it is more objectionable.
It should be clear when using the same cartridge and bullet weight, the lighter the rifle, the more recoil is generated. And, surely, the heavier the rifle, the less a given cartridge recoils.
The rub is to balance the recoil one can handle against the power needed.
What is needed to harvest a specific animal?
The current trend seems to place great value on high speed. The factories seem desperate to have their cartridge go faster than brand X. Some of the ‘new’ cartridges are designed for long range target shooting and could be useful. The lure of a small group at 1,000 yards and more is apparent, even to me. But my eyes are old and they seem to give up quickly. So long range shooting is not at the top of my list.
My mind is more interesting in hunting game. Even if hunting season is too cold and too early in the morning.
Kinetic energy vs. Momentum.
A fast bullet is depending on kinetic energy – the sort of energy one finds in advertising and comparisons – which is calculated by squaring the velocity and multiplying the product by the mass (not weight) of the bullet then dividing that product in half. Setting aside all the complexities of calculating the result, one notes two often overlooked factors. One is the kinetic energy of the bullet is calculated at impact, not at the muzzle. So the advertised value of ‘muzzle energy’ is a good for comparison at the muzzle, not where the game is standing (or running). Secondly, one often achieves high velocity by using a light bullet. As it happens, lighter bullets loose velocity sooner in distance of flight than heavier bullets. Which means the impressive energy falls off rather quickly.
Momentum is developed by the product of velocity (not squared) and bullet weight. Momentum seems to be less impressive – lower numbers – but it a good measure of quickly and humanely killing an animal. Momentum does not dissipate with velocity loss as quickly as kinetic energy. Momentum is also a greater factor in penetration. This endears the concept to larger animals with greater and perhaps stronger bodies. Like African game and large bears and moose.
I have not found a table precisely defining the size of critter and required energy or momentum. This can be deceptive as well. A mountain lion can be quite dangerous, but is not a thick skinned, heavily armored, creature. Sufficient power is needed to reach the vital components of the body, but not the level needed to penetrate and kill a Cape Buffalo.
What accuracy is needed?
Hopefully, the reader recognizes any level of power is wasted if not applied correctly. Normally, this means a direct hit to the heart and lung area, or the central nervous system. A shot ‘anywhere’ on the animal in question is not particularly effective.
“Big” game in the North American Continent usually includes anything of deer and larger animals, with antelope and mountain goat included. Feral pigs are often hunted, but are not always classed as ‘game animals’. However, feral pigs are often quite impervious to small arms fire.
The target zone of most of the ‘Big’ game in North America is around eight to ten inches in diameter. (Obviously one is expected to do some research on the particular game animal.) Usually a one inch placement criteria is not required.
Distances are normally reasonably short, less than two hundred yards or so. Varmints are shot at various ranges, ground hogs are typically longer range (two hundred to five hundred yards). Antelope live in plains areas, and are normally encountered at several hundred yards. Mountain goats are encountered in mountainous areas and legendarily at distances of over two hundred yards.
Then again, it is only the long, spectacular shots that are written up on the commercial periodicals. (Which probably influenced the fellow mentioned in the second paragraph.)
So, by and large, one is shooting at an eight inch circle (more or less) at less than two hundred yards. (Deer are commonly taken at one hundred yards and less.) So it’s easy to see one does not require a bench rest rifle giving half-inch groups. They are usually heavy, as well.
With all that, what conclusions may be drawn?
I do not see the need for a “long range” rifle. This applies to both range and accuracy. A rifle that will group within four inches (2 minutes of angle) at two hundred yards will suffice in most cases.
I do not see any need for an ‘excessively powerful’ rifle. When first developed. the .257 Roberts was considered a high power cartridge. Also consider the .30-30 Winchester has been used by many and for many years to kill deer, and possibly larger game. I personally find nearly anything with a ‘belt’ on the case to be of greater power and velocity than needed. Or even wanted. Without attempting to name my own biases, I suggest a minimum caliber of .243 Winchester – which I consider to be the absolute minimum for humane kills and others think is just perfect – up to something like a .308 Winchester. Once again ignoring some current trends, a heavier bullet seems to be of greater effect than a lighter bullet.
Depending on location or type of hunting to be done, one must consider weight of rifle as a factor. If one is shooting from a tree stand, blind or out the back of the camper, the weight of the rifle is probably irrelevant.
However, if the tree stand is two miles into the forrest with undergrowth, one may not want to lug a heavy rifle in and out. For sneaking and prowling in the undergrowth, a light rifle does not tax one’s strength as much.
Probably not more than around seven pounds or so for convenience.
If the reader has a rifle and likes it, do not let anything I say be taken as criticism. There is no need to buy a new rifle (as if one needed an excuse to buy a new rifle) just to align with my thinking.