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Rifle Magazine
June - July 2004
Volume 39, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 229
On the cover...
The Hornady Lock-N-Load AP five station press is shown with the CZ Model 85 Combat 9mm. Loading press photo by Stan Trzoniec. Pistol photo by Steve Gash.
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Outside of North America, many experienced hunters firmly believe in what Americans consider moderate muzzle velocity, from about 2,400 to 2,800 fps. Why? Well, for one thing such velocities don’t jelly, shred and crater huge amounts of edible venison – which in many other countries is sold on the marketplace. Too, such velocities allow the use of “standard” bullets. Believe it or not, many “premium” hunting bullets become pretty pricey for general hunting by the time you ship them to the Czech Republic or South Africa.

Many such hunters have also found that moderate velocities often kill quicker, even with premium bullets. How can this be so? We’ve been told for decades that extra speed always results in extra “killing power,” whether through more foot-pounds of kinetic energy or high velocity’s Holy Grail, hydrostatic shock.

Except for “solids,” game bullets are designed to expand when they hit a game animal. Where they expand can affect how well they kill. We’ve all heard about – or even seen – tender bullets coming apart before penetrating deeply enough, but even some expensive “premium” bullets work more effectively at lower velocities.

When pushed to high velocities, any bullet can expand so rapidly that the vast majority of tissue damage occurs near the entrance hole. By the time the bullet gets inside, expansion’s over. Instead of blowing the heart or lungs apart, the bullet punches a relatively small hole.

Reduce velocity a few hundred fps, however, and the bullet only starts to expand on the skin, muscle and bones on the outside of a game animal. Much of the bullet’s expansion takes place inside, doing much more damage to heart and lungs – and the animal quickly keels over.

This phenomenon is most noticeable on game larger than deer, one reason Americans (who mostly hunt deer) are unfamiliar with the concept, particularly down South where deer run smaller. Here about any bullet will do the job, because even if it expands extremely quickly, the deer’s chest cavity is only a few inches wide. But move up to larger game, even big northern deer, and moderate-velocity bullets often kill just as quickly, or even quicker. The slower bullet does more of its “work” deep inside the animal.

If you’re worried about reducing “energy” by slowing a bullet down, use a heavier bullet. While I was growing up, wise old gun writers said to use 150-grain bullets for deer in the .30-06, because 150s were built to expand more rapidly than 180s and hence killed better. I haven’t found this to be true with today’s bullets, in fact have dropped more 100- to 200-pound animals in their tracks with 180-grain bullets from the .30-06. Most of today’s hunting bullets are designed to expand easily, no matter what their weight.

American hunters tend to fret that reducing velocity also reduces range. Along with extreme velocity, this is also an odd concept to most European and African hunters, who consider 300 yards a very long shot. Americans also doubt that slower bullets will expand way out there, but 2,400 fps is plenty for shooting out to 200 yards, and 2,700 to 2,800 for shooting game at any range out to 400 yards – as long as you know your rifle’s trajectory. If you don’t, you have no business shooting that far!

The next time you peruse a ballistics table, note the numbers of some old rounds that have survived around a century, such as the 6.5x55 Swede (110 years), 7x57mm Mauser (112), .30-06 (98) and .375 H&H (92). These have all gained a reputation for killing better than their paper ballistics – and most factory loads send bullets out the muzzle at between 2,400 and 2,800 fps, speeds not only easier on our shoulders but also very often harder on game.

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