In the last few years I have seen a huge number of articles about how smaller calibers are just as effective as larger calibers. As a matter of fact, I noticed this increasing dramatically over the last two hunting seasons. As someone who has been hunting since they were 4 years old I find it quite distressing that these “gun experts” are pushing for something that seems more of a trend than actual common sense.
Let me start off with a link and copy of the article was written for North American Hunt Club:
You Don’t Need A Magnum Rifle!
More than any other group of hunters, American’s suffer most from Magnumitis. And why not? We’re the land of bigger, better and brighter, right? Better add ‘battered’ to that list.
American shooters think they know a lot about magnum rifle cartridges and performance, but after they shoot one they’re positive they know one thing—recoil. Magnums batter at both ends.
Experienced magnum shooters sneer at that. Recoil doesn’t bother them. But it bothers others, often to the point of ruining their shooting. Flinch.
It doesn’t have to.
The 7mm Rem. Mag. will throw a 150-grain bullet farther than a 7mm-08 Rem., but a laser rangefinder can compensate for that. Then it’s just a matter of selecting the correct aiming point and putting the bullet in a vital spot.
The so-called magnum advantage really isn’t. Magnums don’t kill harder, deader and faster than most standard rounds. Friends and I have proven this to ourselves while taking literally hundreds of big game animals with everything from .223 Rem. to .458 Lott elephant rounds.
We’ve watched elk drop in their tracks when hit with a 243 Win. and coyotes dash 30 yards after taking a .300 magnum through the boiler room at 50 yards. We’ve shot through jackrabbits with a .357 Mag. without even slowing them down. And we’ve watched 2,000-pound buffalo collapse in their tracks when hit with a .270 Win.
In short, magnums just don’t always deliver the knockout punch they’re supposed to.
This doesn’t mean they’re puny or underpowered—it just means that bullets don’t perform like the punch from a heavyweight boxer. Despite all those foot-pounds of energy in a magnum, it’s not going to hit like the hammer of Thor and pound all game into an early grave.
A puny, little 140-grain .270 Win. bullet broke the neck of this 2,000- pound Australian water buffalo and anchored it in its tracks.
A bullet can absolutely pulverize the heart and lungs of a critter while barely jolting it. Until blood pressure to the brain drops sufficiently, the animal goes about its business. Usually that’s running away, but sometimes it’s just standing there or walking or even eating. Many times game doesn’t even know it’s been hit until it falls over. This takes anywhere from 3-20 seconds—sometimes longer—regardless the energy with which the bullet struck.
So why fool around with magnums? For extra reach. By throwing bullets faster, magnums throw them farther before they fall too low to hit your target. This is all relevant, but many magnums can add 20-60 yards to your dead-on shooting distance. They still recoil smartly doing it, so if you don’t appreciate that, choose a non-magnum cartridge and make up the shortfall with a laser rangefinder.
A 95-grain bullet from a .243 Win. is NOT supposed to be used to shoot Dall’s sheep at 450 yards, but no one told Spomer, his rifle, his ammo or this ram.
A laser rangefinder offsets the magnum reach advantage by nailing precise distance to target. Once you know that, you just raise your sights or dial your turret or choose the correct ballistic reticle to put your bullet on target. If that target is the central nervous system, dead right there. If it’s the heart/lungs, give things a few seconds to work out.
Regardless whether your bullet lands with magnum or standard energy, it’s not going to bounce off.
Now I can understand, especially considering I am an archery hunter, how important shot placement is when harvesting game. I have seen numerous bad shots in my day. Actually, I have seen enough bad shots in my day to make me understand certain needs for certain environments. Countless times I have seen under powered rounds used on large game that would just not do the damage needed to put the animal down ETHICALLY.
Harvesting a mule deer with a .22 lr is definitely possible. As a matter of fact, I have seen it several times. A .22 lr shot to the head is more than sufficient many times. My great-uncle’s favorite deer round was actually the .22 mag and he would take them while they were out near his chicken coup at his ranch on the reservation. Again, they were head shots. The animal went down immediately and there was no suffering.
As far as chest shots go, I have seen more animals shot with smaller caliber rounds that ran off and were never recovered, wounded, slowly bled out or had to be shot again to fully expire them than I have ever seen with larger calibers. Great examples of this are the .270 fan boys who think that their “expert” shot placement is more than sufficient to take down an elk. One of the first elk I ever saw harvested had a .270 bullet lodged in a lung. The wound had healed and it had obviously lived at least another couple seasons after having been shot. This elk was taken with a .338 mag and only a single shot to the heart/lungs. This was not the only wounded animal I have seen in my life due to an under powered hunter. I have seen 150 gr 30 caliber round nose bullets in chest cavities (30-30 round) and many 7 mm bullets that just did not do the job.
Just using anecdotal evidence really doesn’t prove anything, so let’s use science:
Firearms are mostly using hydrostatic shock as a way to put an animal down. The kinetic energy from the fired bullet is transferred to the object it strikes. The quicker that a bullet can transfer that energy to the object it strikes, the more damage can be done to the tissue. It is a very simple concept. If you can get more energy associated with the bullet’s trajectory through increasing mass or velocity, the more energy is available to be transferred. Dropping either mass or velocity decreased energy.
Now that we have established some science, let’s apply some common sense:
Larger animals have more mass, larger bones, and potentially higher density that your bullet has to penetrate. This will cause your bullet to slow down quicker upon entry and leave less energy to do damage to the internal organs. In case you were unsure as to where you wanted the energy to be transferred, this is it: the internal organs particularly those with a high concentration of blood to allow the animal to exsanguinate (bleed out) or no longer circulate that blood properly. Of course lung shots create a pneumothorax where air enters the chest cavity and the animal will expire due to suffocation. Either way, you need to do enough damage to those internal organs to put the animal down in an effective and timely manner. If your bullet loses a lot of its energy just penetrating the chest cavity there will be less energy to do the job of putting that animal down. The more energy left, the more damage internally.
What happens if your bullet passes nearby or just nicks a vital organ without fully transferring that kinetic energy and doing the required damage? Your animal is merely wounded and does not expire from being shot.
Other types of damage from bullets:
Large bore projectiles do damage the same way, but with a twist. They usually use some sort of design that allows for greater penetration of the animal. Taking a 45-70 as an example, I use a 405 grain bullet that travels around 1800 ft/s where a 300 Wby will push out a 180 grain bullet at about 3200 ft/s. This is over 2x the bullet weight at about 56% of the velocity. Basically, it hits like a cinder block being shot out of a cannon at close range. It does an incredible job at penetrating animals, vehicles, or even trees. With longer barreled rifles and modified loads for rifles such as the Sharpes it can even be a very effective long range rifle. Just research Billy Dixon.
To draw my whole thought on large versus small calibers together I simply will state this:
If you have a large critter you should probably use a larger gun. In the words of Martin Brody, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”