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WHY DONíT THEY FALL...
ĎShucksí I thought, Ďhe is only 30 yards awayí........I lowered the muzzle of my 45 colt chambered Ď92 Rossi leveraction so the sights would cover his left shoulder knuckle, knowing the big 350 grain LBT slug would total it at 1500 fps and rip thru the front third of his body wreaking everything and exit his right back ribs. He would fall instantly, roll over on his back, and be dead immediately. The shot went exactly where I aimed and the 120 pound whitetail ran for over 150 yards before expiring...!
Once while carrying a Super Blackhawk in 44 magnum loaded with 250 grain Keith slugs at over 1400 fps I shot a small 20 lb. Javelina right thru the heart smashing ribs and lungs and such. She ran 80 yards screaming. When she turned on her back trail and started popping her teeth I head shot her to be sure and that did the business. Cast Iron animals?
No....these examples and others I have had just show us that life is a strange thing....and the will to live and/or fight, makes a big difference even in animals. Arizona has some strange and ugly country...but it also has some strange and beautiful country. In the high northern part of the state some of the finest elk in the U.S. live there, it is gorgeous land. They might not be the largest elk in America, though you can find some monsters...but they are some of the best eating you can find.
Three years ago I was lucky to get an antlerless elk tag. This makes me happy because the cows always taste better than the bulls especially in the rut season, as far as Iím concerned...and elk meat is some of the finest game meat ever. I shot a good sized elk cow around 300 pounds on the hoof....the bullet was a 350 grain Speer flat tip .458 slug, from a 45-70. Entering the center chest missing the spine but clipping the main vein, it traveled the entire length of her body crossing over and exited just before the back hind quarter. The exit wound was the size of a baseball...the damage inside was immense. She never even shuddered, showed no sign of being hit other than for dust coming off her chest at the shot, only reaction was she began to run in very high gear.
She ran more than a hundred yards and suddenly folded up dead before she hit the ground. The blood trail was incredible...she practically bled out before she went down. I used some of the meat the following June at the Shootist Holiday making a very special meal with it for almost 100 people.. many folks wanted the recipe, so it went over well. At this yearís Shootist Holiday...all the elk meat was gone, so I had to use prime beef...no one asked for the recipe... Hummm...interesting.
Then there are the animals that are not hit that hard, go down quickly and die just as fast as if a hand grenade exploded inside them. There are so many factors involved, and it is usually a combination of many factors that contribute to the swiftness or lack of it in harvesting an animal. Not just the one or two we always blame or credit...That is: our accuracy or the loadís accuracy....which comes down to the same thing. There is so much more to it.
So lets take them one at a time, but remember it is almost always a combination of factors that leads to a quick kill or a slow one. Lets rule out inaccuracy...not that it isnít important, itís just well known...hit in the wrong place and you have problems, no matter the load. Thatís why good reloaders and hunters work at finding the best load for the firearm they are going to use. And why I always push Pacoís Rule....one round fired in practice for every yard of distance you might chance a shot on live game with that gun and load...if itís two hundred yards, then thatís 200 practice shots from the muzzle out to 200 yards, minimum. You want to be an excellent shot.. itís learned, not a born talent.
So finding the best load and being able to accurately use it, is called, Ďworking at ití. And we will say that is our base line and is covered very well. That brings us to one of the biggest problems...not understanding the bullet we use, itís abilities and itís short comings.
CAST BULLETS are probably the most misunderstood slugs for many folks when hunting. I was out one day with my beloved 3 screw 30 Carbine/Ruger single action...we were playing the velocity game and I was pushing a round nose hard cast 60 grain 30 caliber cast slug at well over 2000 fps from the 7.5 inch barrel. When a small desert rat jumped out of some brush and took off straight away from me. I whacked him with that load and he rolled and tumbled for several feet got up and ran like crazy. We found him a long way off and cut him open to see what happened. There was a thin wound line directly thru him but no disruptive damage. Muzzle energy for the load was around 550 ft.lbs, but it was meaningless for a number of reasons. The bullet was round nosed, a taper to a small round nose at that....it was very hard so it wouldnít foul the bore at that velocity and pressure, so there was no expansion...the animal gave little or no resistance so the bullet slipped right thru. Itís a combination of factors that happens many times with large animals and larger cast slugs also....
I have hunted extensively with 358 caliber cast slugs from the 38 special and 357 magnums to the 35 caliber rifles like the 35 Remington, 356 Winchester Big Bore, 358 Win, 35 Whelen, 9.3mmX62mm (rifle round I used in Africa that is .366 caliber) and a 358 Norma Magnum. I like the 35s obviously...and now I am using the 356 GNR on the Ruger Blackhawk....357 on a 41 magnum cartridge case.
The 358 caliber exemplifies the problem with cast bullets. Where a 44 or 45 caliber cast bullet can have a large nose diameter and doesnít have to expand that much to kill cleanly...the 35s can only have so much of a flat nose before they become cylinders like wadcutters. Also too much of a flat nose and the range of the .358 becomes limited. Wadcutters for example, cast hard and pushed at good velocities kill well at short range...but they are losing energy and velocity at an alarming rate in comparison to tapered and round nose designs.
I have taken a number of deer and several black bears...and a few hogs with 357 magnums loaded with Keith designed 173 grain cast bullets. And they will harvest well, but you have to be good at what you are doing...even the very fine LBT design which improves on the Keith design, especially with heavier slugs and broad flat noses...you need the know the gun and the load and itís abilities all the way out to the furthest distance you would use it on live game.
For me on smallish bears and deer and hogs that is 100 yards or so max. I now use the 200 grain LBT from Cast Performance and push it at top velocities...way above the handgun velocities. Out of my rifles. But it is still a cast bullet and it acts differently on smallish and medium small animals. Unless a spine or brain is hit, animals are not generally going down quickly. A 160 grain JHP or JSP .358 bullet from a handgun at top velocities...like 1500 to 1800 fps thru a deer's ribs is going to explode the lungs and everything in between the entrance and exit of the bullet. Personally I like a heavier jacketed bullet like the 180 grain XTP or Remington scalloped HP, I know they have a better chance of exiting the animal. The Sierra 170 grain JHC Sports Master Power Jacket is also in this class...destruction of internal tissue is the name of the game. And if the animal is smallish and soft like a deer there is very much less resistance to the bullet as it passes thru the animal, so with hard cast bullets internal tissue destruction is lowered substantially. Yes, a lung and or heart shot deer is going to die with any bullet...but harvesting cleanly and quickly is the ethical sportsmanís responsibility. So we have to do the best we can....
By the vary nature of cast bullets we need hardness to resist fouling...hardness chosen for the velocity level we are going to use. A heavy cast bullet of BNH 14 to 15 hardness and velocities to 1200 or more fps will not foul much (using slow powders like Blue Dot and 2400 etc) and even give some expansion in medium game animals...if the caliber is 41/44/45 colt....and the bullet is a flat nose design it will be a good killer and penetrator. Push the bullet in the high 1300s or into the 1400s and fouling will start...but expansion will almost double and itís killing power is exponentially raised.
So I practice with hard cast bullets, but the ones you use on game should be softer...they may foul but your only going to shoot upwards of three or four....in the rifles they have to be some what harder but the velocities are higher so the disruption is still there.
When cast bullets expand in a substantial animal they donít look like the classic jacketed mushroom if they are recovered. As the cast slug is passing thru the animal the 360 degree leading edge of the mushroom thatís forming is also coming off in particles ...wearing the bullet down as it were. But the revolutions per minute are so high that these particles of lead are traveling out and away from the wound channel, and they cause much damage in their own right.
So there is a balance we must reach between the weight/resistance of the animal, the velocity of the bullet and the hardness of the bullet. Testing your loads in very wet newsprint...very very wet newsprint not stacked too tight, will show you how your bullets will react. I have found if the newsprint is dry or even just damp, you get a false reading...even rocks will nearly expand in dry paper at the right velocity.
What do I do for the cast bullets I use on game....I take 19 pounds of Magnum Shotgun shot...any size pellets, which ever is cheapest...mag shot has 6% antimony, into that I mix 1 pound to 1 and a 1/4 pound of 95% plumbers tin in a twenty pound pot. I keep the pot up as hot as it will go and the mold hot also. Donít believe the old wiveís tale that bullets should be cast shiny and at as low a temperature as possible. Frosty bullets have less voids and fill out much better...you open the mold and drop them right into a bucket of water, if they sizzle they are tempering. You need a depth of 8 to 10 inches of water. This tempers the bullets harder...they come out near 20 on the Brinell scale...BUT...they will expand in medium size animals. I practice with wheelweights or scrap tempered...
So the Mag shot bullets are really 1 part tin to 18 or 19 parts lead, and that is soft. But the antimony and tin bond in the lead, and make an alloy that will temper exceptionally hard. Resists fouling but still expands well...you can have your cake and eat it too. But remember cast bullets donít kill like some jacketed bullets do. In Virginia when we lived in the wilderness, state law allowed the taking of any deer (really any animal) that was damaging farm property. Small whitetails up to 150 lbs tops on the hoof were everywhere, and they are crop eating animals. I probably averaged 20 plus deer a year for over five years. We fed a lot of needed folks back then. I used cast bullets most of the time.
It was the exception when one was shot with cast handgun bullets, that they fell in feet from the gun. With heart and heavy lung shots with 40 caliber cast slugs, 50 to 80 yards was the average run. Some went further, some shorter. My favorite load back then was 260 grain Keith over 18.5 grains of 2400 in 45 colt cases....from single actions. Except for very long lengthwise body shots, rarely did one of those slugs stay inside a deer. It was heavy treed terrain, and ranges to the animal were rarely over 50 yards. Cast handgun bullets are effective...if they are flat nosed, heavy, loaded heavy and put in the right place...but they are rarely lightning killers.
JACKETED BULLETS were on the market in those days from the late 1960s thru the mid 1970s...but they were no great shakes. Speer had a 180 grain .358 bullet for rifles...and loaded heavy in 38 special cases (for the shorter length) and fired from a rebuilt Winchester 32-20 into 357 magnum. I was most likely getting 1600 fps...it was a pig killer supreme. We had many feral pigs in Va. But it would just punch right thru those little deer with little expansion. But Speer had a 146 grain HP and another just like it that was 160 grain soft point. The jackets were a little longer than Ĺ jacketed and the nose was Keith in design and very soft lead. From my Rugers and S&W N-Frame 357 magnum handguns, I was pushing these with very heavy loads of 2400. They killed deer like an explosion. The same design bullet made by Speer was in .429 also...and did for the 44 magnum in handguns what the 357 bullet did. The 44s came in 225 HP and a 240 grain soft point.. nice bullets. Excellent killers of medium sized game when loaded well.
But load these bullets to 2300 to 2400 fps from the Marlin 444 and they gave ugly wounds near the surface, with little penetration on animals like big hogs. I learned this the hard way when I whacked a 300 pound plus boar with the 225 Speer at well over 2400 fps from the Marlin 444 levergun on the point of his shoulder. I shot him from my back porch, we had hundreds of acres of trees all around the house...he was 40 yards tops, from the gun. He took off to my surprise, but the wound bled well...after waiting about fifteen minutes I went after him...almost an hour later I nailed him with a shot to the back of his head...that bullet took a good portion of the head off. I learned that day different jacketed bullets are made for certain velocities and certain animals....
Another example today is the Hornady 350 grain .458 round nose and the Speer 350 grain flat tip. The Hornady bullet was designed as a light weight bullet for the 458 Winchester magnum, at velocities 2500 to 2600 fps...it has a very stiff jacket and at 2000 fps from a 45-70 it will work well on very large animals like large elk, moose, grizzles...etc.. But will just punch thru smaller game. The Speer 350 is a lighter jacketed round, it works very well in the loading tubes of 45-70s and at 2000 fps will perform very well on small elk, large mule deer, and average bears...certainly well on hogs.
Speerís Number 13 Reloading Manual page 416 states the 350 grain .458 flat tip bullet can be used on the big bears of the north. I have never hunted the big bears, I canít comment on that...but if I do Iíll stick to the Hornady 350 round nose. I file a small flat on the nose so it can be loaded in the tube of the levergun. The 350 grainers can be loaded to 2000+ fps and they are deadly when used as they were designed. So what bullets are for deer in the 45-70s? All the better bullet makers make 300 grain hollow points and soft points...for the 45-70 for deer sized animals up to small elk, hogs and black bears. But again these bullets can be pushed to fast for some big animals, and you can get shallow wounds.
Most times your reloading books will tell you what jacketed bullet is good for what sized game. The bullet manufacturers spend a lot of time and money on these books...unfortunately many reloaders donít read the text, they just use the reloading data. But even with the books recommendations on any bullet, I test them...there is always a possibility that the box you buy came from a lot that for some reason came thru stiffer or softer than normal. If back 30 years ago I had tested that 225 HP 44 at 2400 fps in wet newsprint, I would have found out quickly it wasnít the velocity/bullet combo for tough pigs. The bullet that will come apart at rifle velocities might be wonderful at handgun velocities...only testing will tell.
With all of the fine rifles now on the market, chambered in pistol calibers pushing handgun bullets to velocities four and five hundred fps faster than they were maybe designed for...testing is important...if not imperative. This is especially true for the light weight bullets for the caliber....what happens to the 170 grain 41 mag bullet when it is jacked up to 2300 to 2400 fps from a Marlin levergun...what happens to that wonderful 180gr 44 magnum deer bullet when it goes from 1600+ fps to 2400 fps from one of the leveraction 44 magnum rifles? Hornady makes a very fine .452 JHP at 250 grains rated for the 45 colt chambering at 800 to 900 fps. Out of my Rossi rifle Iím sure I can push it way past 2000 fps....what will happen if at that bullet hits a big hogís shoulder at that hyper velocity? In the ribs of a whitetail it sure would explode the lungs and bring him down quickly...but suppose the only shot offered is a butt shot. I seem to get a lot of those with deer. That bullet at that velocity will give a butt shot deer a gut shot response because thatís where it will come apart, and if the animal gets away, itís a long suffering death....
So why donít they fall...even when it seems they are hit hard. Wrong bullet...wrong velocity...misunderstanding of the way cast bullets kill...on top of that we also have all the old bug-a-boos like inaccurate loads, bad shooting on our part...the wind, the weather...the signs of the moon...goodness. The only way to beat it is practice and testing...hey itís hard work but I think all of us are up to it.....