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Propellant Profiles
Rifle Magazine
September - October 2001
Volume 33, Number 5
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 197
On the cover...
The Zeglin takedown Winchester (USRAC) Model 95 has interchangeable barrels for the .375 Hawk/Scovill and the .411 Hawk. See "Spotting Scope" for details Photo by Gerald Hudson. Whitetail deer photo by John R. Ford.
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Rifle Magazine
Columns
In the last issue of Rifle, I began a saga that will weave us through the fabric of big game hunting. My hope is that we can explore this art one piece at a time, dispelling the myths and revealing the deep, dark secrets of success. We began with a negative, explaining why critters do not automatically turn up their toes just because we shoot them. Now let’s see how we get them to quit as soon as possible.

To make a big game animal expire, quickly, we must do two things: Hit the right spot, and hit it with a bullet that does the necessary destruction. Both of these concepts expand into many more issues, but they are the absolute necessities.

The “instant” go down can only be predicted by hitting the brain or spine. Shooting at the head and neck are bad ideas (see Rifle No. 192), so we rule out this approach. Striking the spine where it passes between the shoulders is reasonable, but tricky. The target is small and the slightest miss on the high side results in failure. It is this “one-third-of-the-way-from-the-top” that I use to make a Cape buffalo or anything else tumble, when I must. However, when we are hunting (as in hunting, not stopping), there is a perfect shot. It works on anything: elephants, squirrels and, yes, even deer.

The target we are after is the big one that contains the “clockwork.” This target is everything that lies between the front shoulders, in the lower half of the chest cavity. The angle of the shot has a lot to do with where we must aim, a subject for the future. For now we are interested in the concept of driving a bullet through the heart, lungs and/or the major veins and arteries that feed them. If, at the same time, we can partially or totally wreck the mobility of the front limbs, all the better. Any animal that has one or both shoulder bones damaged slows down. When the bullet also passes through the major oxygen and blood supply, the beast is going to expire within a few seconds and leak a great deal in the process. So, when we make this hit, the oxygen to the brain begins to fail almost immediately, the critter cannot run as fast as normal, and he leaves a bright, red bread-crumb trail for us to follow. The trail will almost always end in less than 100 yards. “Tomorrow” we will look at bullet performance that makes that trail as short as possible.

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New Talley Rimfire Mounts

Talley manufacturing has begun to make mounts (actually rings) for various .22 rimfire rifles. This is a great boon to those who have high-quality rimfire rifles and want a scope mounting system that is not only pretty but absolutely functional also. In the past, rimfires were often treated as poor cousins by mount makers. It seems because the rifles were for a little shell, no one bothered to make a quality mount. Now we have the very best! Currently the rings are available for: Anschutz (most models after 1955), CZ/BRNO, Ruger 10/22 (rings to fit the aluminum rail and replacement steel bases), Winchester Model 61, Winchester 94-22 and Weatherby Mark 22. Rings are also available for the “square bridges” on the centerfire CZ actions.

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.458 Winchester Barrel Length and Long-Range Potential

Q: I have a Winchester Model 70 .458 Winchester Magnum with a 22-inch barrel. I purchased this rifle after studying the ballistic tables I found in a hunting annual. Without spending too much time on my decision I’ll just say this: In reading the numbers for the .416s (which seem to be the only real competition), I found only a few loads that are right with the .458. Considering the loads available and cost, I felt the .458 was the best choice. If money were not an object, I might lean toward the .460 Weatherby.

When I bought my rifle, I was under the impression the Winchester came only with a 24-inch barrel. When I received it, I discovered the barrel was only 22 inches.

The trajectory tables show the Federal 400-grain Trophy Bonded load having the best numbers, but the barrel length is not listed. If the numbers are for a 24-inch barrel, what is the real difference I can expect from my 22-inch barrel? I will test the rifle at specific ranges to determine what it can do, but I am irritated enough to have the barrel switched out. Do I need to change the barrel to 24 inches to fully exploit the rifle’s capability out to extended ranges? - F.S., Arizona

A: There are two or three facets to your questions that seem important to me, some may help other shooters with other cartridges and similar questions. First, when we look at ballistic tables for any cartridge and especially a heavy, dangerous game rifle, we are generally being deceived. No, I do not mean the numbers are incorrect, just that the numbers are not relative to anything that matters. A Cape buffalo does not care about trajectory, and he certainly does not care about foot-pounds of energy. The only thing we can do to him that will alter his actions is to chop up his vitals with penetration and frontal area.

Federal quotes its numbers from 24-inch test barrels. Specifically looking at your 22-inch barrel, relative to the 24-inch barrel you believed you were buying, we can make the following judgments. First, each inch of barrel will reduce the muzzle velocity about 25 fps. In the 22- to 24-inch range, with the .458 cartridge the reduction may be a little less. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you were robbed of 50 fps. What does this mean in reality?

First it says that with good loads you will be chronographing about 2,050 fps at the muzzle with a 500-grain bullet. Because the 400-grain bullet is more suited to a .416 (sectional density is important), let’s concentrate on 500-grain bullets. You may add 200 fps to the numbers for 400-grain bullets, at the muzzle. In terms of the often quoted foot-pounds, the 50-fps loss is costing you about 200 of these units - about the same as a really powerful .22 rimfire! No, Nyati does not care! Remember this is the maximum difference, right at the muzzle.

Because you mention “extended range,” let’s look at a more distant crystal ball. By the time your bullet has traveled 300 yards, it has lost about half its original energy and one-third of its velocity. The difference between the 22- and 24-inch barrel, at this range, is now something like a .22 Short.

A more realistic worry would be one of trajectory and your ability to precisely place the bullet. We notice that if both barrel lengths are zeroed at 100 yards, the difference in midrange height is less than .10 inch, or about one-quarter of the bullet’s diameter. As we move out, the plot does not thicken. At 300 yards the 24-inch barrel has an advantage but is only about 2 inches less drop from a 100-yard zero than your 22-inch barrel. This is 2 inches in a total of about three feet of drop.

An even more realistic view of truly long-range performance comes from the black powder target rifles. They often use .45-caliber bullets in the 500-grain range but with an initial velocity of around 1,200 fps. It was and is quite possible to shoot very credibly, even near possible scores at 1,000 yards - buuutttt to do so the rifleman had to take into account wind drift that was measured in tens of feet and a midrange trajectory that would arc over a pretty tall building. Even though the .458 is going almost 1,000 fps faster, its trajectory, at long range, is severe. So in the end you can see that from a realistic point of view, ballistically speaking, the 2 inches of barrel length does not matter.

I, like you, would prefer a little longer barrel. It might improve balance and increases sight radius, if you are using iron sights. But, once again the margins are so small that few mortals can prove the difference with a rifle in their hands. My answer is to enjoy your big rifle and do not worry about the barrel length. There is certainly no gain that will justify replacing the barrel. Spend the difference on primers and perhaps having the trigger and action tuned. You will be miles ahead of the game. Also, be very glad you could not afford the screaming .460!

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