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Bullet Performance on Big Game - by Cope Reynolds

Well, articles have been sporadic for the last 2 or 3 months but all that’s about to change. The New Year is going to usher in regular, weekly articles on a variety of topics including constitutional issues, survival, preparedness, gear, hunting, reloading, camping and firearms in general. Many of my articles are based on personal experiences and some of you may find that what you read may not exactly align with your own ideas. That’s OK. My articles are for reference and entertainment and are my experiences and opinions. Your mileage may vary. If the content helps you work out a problem or gives you some ideas for a project or something, GREAT! My goal will have been accomplished! Now then, let’s move on to a fairly controversial subject among hunters and shooters.

I wrote the following piece back in 1997 and submitted it to both the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and the Wyoming legislature in an effort to interject some common sense into the hunting regulations which I supposed at the time were written by people that had neither shot nor hunted much. My biggest gripe was allowing the .243 for elk, moose, etc. along with a couple of other issues. Before you get the pitchforks and torches out, please read the article... INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this report is to provide information concerning the minimum caliber restrictions for elk and moose. I do not claim to be an expert, however I am a lifelong hunter, hand-loader, competitive shooter and professional firearms instructor. Being a hunter does not keep me from being sympathetic towards any animal that is not harvested cleanly and swiftly.

I would like to see the caliber restrictions raised to a larger caliber in an effort to reduce the chance that animals will be left to die from infection, predators or the elements. I feel that the current restrictions were created more from biased opinion and/or public pressure than from the actual study of terminal ballistics, both in the field and from the numerous manuals and reports that are available to the public.

This is not to say that, in the hands of a responsible sportsman and expert rifleman, the .243 Winchester will not cleanly take an elk. But, if you consider misjudgment of distance, wind speed, nervousness, fatigue, overconfidence, inexperience, failing light conditions or bad shot placement you will almost certainly have a wounded animal to try and recover. I also understand that we will lose some animals no matter what we use, but by using a larger caliber and prohibiting some types of bullets, we can help compensate for those factors that prevent perfect shot placement.

In the following text, I will present a number of facts that should help to explain why we should increase the minimum caliber allowed for elk and moose.

Bullet Performance

The variables in this topic are virtually endless so I will try to sum it up in a reasonable amount of time.

There is a happy medium somewhere between full metal jacketed, non-expanding bullets that cause almost no tissue damage or trauma and the hollow point bullet that may expand too rapidly and cause shallow but grievous flesh wounds that may cause an animal to die a slow, lingering death. Remember that we are talking about big game here, not rabbits and coyotes.

There are no jacketed hollow point rifle bullets, to my knowledge, that are expressly made for big game. The exception to this are the homogeneously made bullets such as the Barnes-X bullet which is an outstanding performer on almost any size game. These bullets are not jacketed but are constructed throughout of the same material, therefore usually providing perfectly controlled expansion and a devastating wound channel. The overwhelming majority of hollow points (for rifles) are made either for varmint hunting or target shooting and will reliably offer the penetration and proper expansion needed for a humane kill on big game. They either expand too violently allowing little penetration or, in the case of match-grade hollowpoints, due to a manufacturing process that leaves a very small opening, may collapse inward causing the bullet to perform more like a full metal jacketed bullet. Neither of which is conducive to quick, clean kills.

My idea for the restriction of hollow point rifle bullets stems from the fact that I know at least 3 people that regularly hunt elk with them, with varying degrees of success. I know one man that hunted elk last year with a .243 Win. using 75 grain hollow points. I was appalled that anyone would use a varmint bullet on any big game much less an elk or a moose. It’s a shame that we have to place legal restrictions on something that should be regulated by common sense and respect for our quarry. Luckily, this hunter was successful but the elk was no more than a calf. The same hunter wounded a large cow on the previous weekend that my wife finished off with a .30-06.

Handgun Bullets

This hollow point data does not necessarily apply to traditional, straight-walled handgun cartridges or such rifle cartridges as the .45-70 and .444 Marlin. These are hollow soft points that are designed to expand controllably at lower velocities and penetrate as well. They do not exhibit the violence of the higher velocity rifle bullets. The regulations specify soft or expanding point bullets. This is logical for high velocity rifle bullets but, by the letter of the law, restricts a couple of the most effective handgun bullets made, the hard cast flat nose and semi-wadcutter. These bullets, unlike roundnose bullets, remove tissue to its full diameter which causes free bleeding entrance and exit wounds and allows air to get to the heart very rapidly. Organ and tissue damage is guaranteed and penetration is usually complete. The probability of one shot kills with these bullets is very high if properly placed.


This report is more than one man’s opinion. I have done a considerable amount of research on the subject to be certain that I was armed with enough evidence to make a case. In light of these facts, coupled with the experience of myself and others, I would very much like to see the minimum rifle caliber raised to at least .25 and preferably .27 for elk and moose and the banning of jacketed hollow points that are not designed specifically for big game hunting.

In the accompanying table please note the degree of contrast between Energy and Striking Force (TKO) in any given caliber, then see the difference in the TKO between some of the most popular big game calibers.

According to the Energy table, the .223 Rem. would be better suited for big game than the .44 Magnum. However, the .44 equals the .30-06 at the muzzle in the TKO table. You will find that the .30-30 and the .257 Roberts both have more striking force at 300 yards than either of the .243 bullets. Even the .357 Magnum rivals the .243 at 100 yards and the .357 is illegal!

You have rightfully specified expanding bullets but I ask you to please consider these recommendations for the same reasons.

In the vast expanses of Wyoming in which we hunt, many hunters are overcome with the temptation to shoot at distances that are totally unreasonable for any caliber. The .243, being touted as a flat shooting, long range rifle, is relatively easy to hit with at these ranges and is therefore expected (by some people) to do the same things that the “big” guns do. The same person, shooting a .30-30 or .44 Magnum, would probably not be tempted to make the same shot.

You can call it stopping power, knockdown power, energy, momentum, striking force or whatever you want, but the .243 caliber in any cartridge, absolutely does not have enough of it to be reliable on animals the size of a horse!

If you wish to figure some other cartridges, here are both formulas:

Foot Pounds of Energy:

Velocity (in FPS) squared x weight (in grains)) 450,400 = ft. lbs.

The Taylor Factor:

Velocity x Caliber (in inches)x weight ) 7000=Taylor Knockout Factor (TKO)

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