By Ron Spomer

Contributing Writer

Read the shooting magazine headlines and you’ll realize how
undergunned you are. Why, that old .270 Winchester isn’t adequate
for hunting anything bigger than a cottontail. Today’s big game
animals are so smart, so elusive and so durable that not even
magnums will bring them down. What you really need is an
ultra-magnum, mega-magnum, super-magnum not just a man’s rifle, but
a superman’s rifle. One hundred grains of powder, 180 grains of
bullet, and 28 inches of heavy barrel. Reach out and touch
something, pilgrim.

Yeah, right. Truth is, double-shot magnums are indeed useful for
generating more rifle sales. This is not necessarily a bad thing,
particularly if you make your living writing about hunting and
firearms. If shooters don’t buy new rifles, advertisers don’t buy
ad space and publishers don’t buy stories and photos, so hurry down
to your local sporting goods store and buy a super magnum, please.
But you don’t really need one.

Properly used, a 7mm-08 Rem. with the right bullet will quickly
kill the largest land mammal known to science, elephant included.
The most famous ivory hunter of all time, W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell,
felled most of his big tuskers with a 7×57 Mauser, slightly less
powerful than the 7mm-08 Rem. He also killed lions, elk-sized kudu,
moose-sized eland, and even buffalo with that little cartridge. The
standard argument against trying to duplicate Bell’s
accomplishments is that he was an expert marksman of vast
experience. My counter argument is that any hunter today can learn
to shoot just as well, probably even better, given today’s super
accurate rifles and scope sights. Bell shot with open sights.

Recently my wife borrowed a light Jarrett Walk-About rifle
chambered 7mm-08 Rem. Firing Swift A-Frame premium bullets, she
dropped gemsbuck, kudu, and blue wildebeest bulls out to 250 yards
with three shots. This little woman hasn’t pushed more than 40
rounds through a centerfire rifle in her life, but she’s cool under
pressure, stalks close, and doesn’t pull the trigger until she
knows the crosshairs are on target.

Does this mean anyone, even you, could cleanly kill Western mule
deer, elk, even moose and bear with a “standard” deer rifle such as
.270 Win., .280 Rem., 30-06 or even the aforementioned 7mm-08 Rem?
Certainly. Just be certain you do three things: shoot a controlled
expansion bullet, study and thoroughly understand its trajectory
out to 400 yards and pick your shots. Most especially, pick your
shots. The wrong bullet in the right place is better than the right
bullet in the wrong place.

Dependable, deep-penetrating, controlled-expansion bullets
include the Swift A-Frame, Barnes X, Trophy Bonded Bear Claw,
Winchester Fail Safe, Nosler Partition and a few others of similar
construction designed to keep them more or less in one piece and
retain a significant shank behind the mushroomed nose. The weight
in this shank retains energy and propels the slug forward through
tough muscle, sinew and bone.

Standard jacketed lead-core bullets can do the job, especially
at low velocities, but they have a history of pancaking on major
muscle mass and bone, or breaking into small pieces, both of which
reduce penetration. Deep penetration is necessary to reach vitals,
especially on large animals or those that present other than a
broadside target.

Despite “minimal energy figures” repeated by gun writers and
shooters, there is no significant advantage in killing efficiency
in a bullet carrying 1,500 ft.-lbs. kinetic energy versus 1,000
ft.-lbs. or even 769 ft.-lbs. As Dave Scovill, editor of Rifle
magazine recently pointed out, a 200-grain, hard-lead cast bullet
fired from a .44 Special revolver at a mere “900 fps will shoot
through a midsized deer, end to end, with little more than 360
ft.-lbs. at the muzzle.” That being reality, why all the hurrahs
over super magnums? Well, a larger diameter bullet, all else being
equal, will cut a larger wound channel than a smaller bullet, good
insurance when hunting extremely large game. A 45-caliber slug that
fails to mushroom still punches a big hole. This is one of the
reasons African buffalo hunters often shoot solids from their .458
Winchester Magnums. There is no chance a solid will come apart or
explode on tough bone as some softpoints will.

Before the advent of premium, controlled expansion bullets,
magnums provided deeper penetration potential than standard
cartridges because they could drive heavier, longer shanked bullets
fast. The extra length helped maintain momentum and energy during
impact. But today’s best slugs, many of which retain 90 percent or
more of their mass while passing through game, penetrate more
deeply than the best bullets of 50 years ago. Experience has proven
repeatedly that a 180-grain .308 Barnes X bullet will penetrate
farther than a 200-grain .308 softpoint. Such lighter bullets can
be driven pretty fast by standard cartridges.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of super magnums is
extra reach. By pushing bullets several hundred feet per second
faster than standard ammo, magnums compensate for poor distance
estimates beyond 300 yards. Aim for center chest on a deer 300
yards away with a .30-06, 180-grain Swift Scirocco bullet sighted
for 200 yards, and it will fall 8 inches, enough to miss a deer.
Fire the same bullet from a .300 Weatherby Mag. and it will drop
just 5 inches for a perfect heart shot. The big magnums, then,
provide a fudge factor of roughly 50 to 100 yards to compensate for
inaccurate range estimation. If you employ a rangefinder, however,
and know your bullet trajectory out to 400 yards, this fudge factor
is superfluous. Just hold the appropriate distance high to
compensate for the drop. Or use one of the mil-dot or multiple
stadia wire scopes and put the appropriate crosshair on your target
for the same result. Trained military snipers use ordinary .308
Winchesters effectively well beyond 600 yards.

The problem with all long-range shooting is uncontrollable
variables that lead to inaccuracy. Wind gusts, changing
temperatures, unknown angles, excitement and unsteady rests are
some examples. Past 300 yards it becomes exponentially more
difficult for even an above average shooter to place his bullet on
target in real hunting conditions. In truth, standard deer rifles
are capable of cleanly killing all big game out to 400 yards,
probably 600 yards, but few shooters can guarantee perfect hits at
those ranges. Rather than rely on a super magnum as a crutch, most
of us will perform better by learning to shoot standard calibers
well, to estimate range accurately and to stalk within sure killing
range of all game. Standard rifles with mid-weight, 22- to 24-inch
barrels and 3-9X scopes are lighter and easier to carry than big
magnums, too, making it easier to hike the extra mile without
tiring. Better to be afield covering ground with a light rifle than
catching your breath near a busy road under the strain of a heavy
one.

In the final analysis, a super magnum can indeed shoot farther
and hit harder than standard cartridges. In the right hands it can
be deadly. But the average hunter will perform better with a
standard caliber.

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