THE 1920s, 30s, 40s and even the early 1950s was a time of experimentation and advancement in ballistics science. We were just coming into the era where velocities of 3-4000 feet per second were commonplace. The time of the .3855, .45-70, and the romantic era of the old big-bore single-shots such as the Sharps “Big Fifty” was still remembered with fondness. The Winchester Model 94 .30-30 epitomized the term “deer rifle,” and the Winchester .32 Special, .25-35, and the similar Remington Rimless lineup were popular. The .30-06 fought in two World Wars. The .270 Winchester and .220 Swift were the darlings of high velocity, and Roy Weatherby introduced his magnum-Magnum lineup. Shooting magazines brimmed with wondrous claims for wildcatters’ pet creations. Affordable, personal chronographs did not exist, so gun lovers of the day took tales of hyper-velocity at face value. Reality, a transient commodity, was often lost in the swirl of wishful fantasy as one gun nut after another discovered a way to achieve 4000 feet per second using a tricky new shoulder angle with Uncle Ben’s Rice soaked in nitroglycerin for powder. Parker O. Ackley was a famous gunsmith, experimenter, and loading manual writer in the 1940s-60s. From 1946 to 1951, he was an instructor in the gunsmith school at Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado, and a staff writer for Guns & Ammo and Shooting Times. He did an immense amount of testing on the strength of military actions, introduced the still popular Ackley Improved series of wildcat cartridges, and was a loudly outspoken advocate of super-light, sub-caliber bullets at ultra-high velocities such as the .17 caliber, and advocated the use of these lightweight speed demons on game larger than most experts of the day (and the present for that matter) thought reasonable. The vast majority of Ackley’s experience took place on a rifle range, not in the hunting fields. He knew ballistics as well as anyone of his day, but had very little actual experience shooting game animals. He and many others believed there was something magical and mystical about ultra-velocity and small calibers. Wild-eyed speculation abounded about what happened at the ultra speeds
of .220 Swift and some of the .17 calibers, and many large and truculent beasts were killed with small, speedy bullets. We don’t know how many were wounded and escaped because nobody talked about that. One missionary took a .22 Savage High Power (not that speedy by modern standards; a 70-grain bullet at 2800 fps) to the Far East and shot several tigers with it. However, that does not make a proper dangerous game round of the .22 Savage High Power. It simply means he was lucky that one of them didn’t get annoyed and counsel him about his manners. Another man took a .22-250 with very light Sisk bullets at over 4000 feet per second to Canada and killed a grizzly bear. The first bullet hit a rib and blew up. The second one slipped between two ribs and killed the bear instantly. Does that make the .22-250 a grizzly cartridge? Elmer Keith, the proclaimed “father of the .44 Magnum,” was an unabashed proponent of big bullets at moderate velocity. He liked to talk of raking shots and longrange handgunning. He thought any bullet less than .33 caliber and 250 grains was fit only for varmints. He said the .270 Winchester was “a damned adequate coyote cartridge.” He was right about that, but it is also an adequate load for much larger game. Keith wanted heavier bullets of larger caliber because he had experienced a number of bullet failures on big game with the smaller, faster calibers, especially the .30-06. His solution was to use bigger bullets. If he had the benefit of modern bonded core bullets during his formative years, he might have come down on the other side. Jack O’Connor was the acknowledged godfather of the .270 Winchester. He believed in high velocity, but not tiny bullets. He thought higher velocity made cartridges shoot flatter, which made hitting game at longer ranges much easier. He felt bullet placement was far more important than how fast it got there or what it weighed, but T e x a S
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also said he didn’t think deer and other big game should be shot with the micro-calibers. O’Connor wrote in The Hunting Rifle that he thought deer should not be hunted with bullets weighing less than 90 grains. The war of words between O’Connor and Keith raged for decades with no real winner, but consensus these days is that O’Connor was right and Keith (at least in regard to rifle calibers) was stuck in the 1890s. When O’Connor went after lion, tiger, or brown bear, he toted a .375 H&H Magnum. He realized that the bigger the game, the heavier and tougher a bullet needed to be. He also realized that many of the “cartridge failures” were in reality bullet failures caused by poorly designed bullets, or by the use of bullets that were intended for other purposes, such as using varmint bullets on big game. He killed many elk, sheep, goat, deer, moose, and big game in Africa, India, and the Middle East with a .270 Winchester, but he also used a .300 Weatherby, .30-06, .257 Roberts, 7x57 Mauser, .338 Winchester, 7mm Weatherby and Remington Magnums, .450 Watts, .416 Rigby, and other calibers enough to know what worked and what didn’t. During my lifetime, we have been through these “high velocity vs. bullet weight” and “impact velocity vs. penetration” arguments several times, and I expect they will be argued long after I am dead. The truth is, neither side is correct in the most extreme versions. In years past, I have seen game animals lost because of both causes—bullets that expanded too slowly, and bullets that blew up to quickly. Find a happy medium. If you stray to either end of the spectrum, you eventually find disappointment and lose animals; take it from someone who has been there...more than once.
G a m e ®
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2/9/12 1:31 PM
Published on Mar 1, 2012
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