Ethical hunting

John Moore answers the question – do we need a high velocity?

My definition of ethical hunting is that I only take a shot at an animal if I can be confident of hitting it in the right place and with a bullet which will kill it with the one aim.

To do this I require to know two things:

  • How to kill the target animal (ie, what is needed).
  • How to deliver what is necessary (ie, how to do this).

So, why should we pursue a high velocity load? Simple. Because a flatter trajectory enables us to shoot accurately at a longer range, plus, because of the higher velocity, it enables the bullet to have the kinetic energy called for to do its job at that longer range.

But, do we always need it? If we are seeking to reliably hit small targets at distance, yes. But what if we are trying to harvest wild game at shorter distances?

When I was a lad I worked on a farm in my holidays with one of my jobs being feral animal control, mainly rabbits. I had an arrangement with our family butcher in the regional centre where I lived to supply him with unmarked, perfectly cleaned rabbits, meaning they had to be head-shot. As ranges were about 100 yards, my second-hand Anschutz chambered for .222 Rem was ideal. I loaded 50-grain jacketed bullets at 3000fps. I needed the velocity.

Later I added a cheap .308W. I couldn’t afford to shoot lots of jacketed bullets so bought the only 30-calibre bullet mould our local sports store had on the shelf. It was a Lyman 311316, a 113-grain FNGC, designed for the .32-20. They worked brilliantly, a hard lead tin alloy bullet at around 1600fps.

Later I bought a Brno combination, 12-gauge top barrel and .308W below. I still use it. Of course it has open sights (double peep sights now because of my eyes) and for walking up a creek line or around gorse bushes it’s ideal.

While I didn’t shoot a lot of game with these .308 cast loads, what I do remember is that whatever I did hit was always anchored – I never lost a wounded animal. The flat-nosed bullets had a kind of smashing effect.

Fast forward 50 years and I still shoot for the pot, mainly wallabies and a few fallow deer. These are taken on our family’s forestry land on an escarpment near where we live.

Except where I need a long-range shot, I’ve learned to use flat-nosed bullets. I now expect everything I hit to go down with that one shot. While I haven’t shot lots of deer, I’ve never had to track a wounded animal. All have been one-shot kills.

To achieve this result I must have a good understanding of what’s needed to do this – so I then know the outcomes I need my bullets to achieve.

Sure, if I’m a superb shot I can shoot almost anything with a small-calibre high-velocity bullet provided I can hit a nerve centre or spine – the spectacular one-shot kills. I can’t do this reliably ‑ especially as most of my game shooting is offhand.

So, I use bullets that will punch an appropriate sized hole right through my target animal in the heart/lung area, where it will sever major blood vessels. If it hasn’t dropped on the spot, it will stagger one or two steps, and in a few seconds, due to loss in pulmonary blood pressure, lose consciousness and collapse, being well and truly dead by the time I reach it.

Where I shoot has a fair amount of vegetation, it’s not open plains country, so most of my shots are taken at less than 100 yards.

Velocity? This doesn’t matter as long as the bullet will pass right through the animal, making the required blood loss channel.

At that range ballistic coefficient doesn’t matter, which is convenient as flat-nosed bullets kill best. What does matter, as Veral Smith, the master bullet mould maker from LBT (Lead Bullets Technology) in Moyie Springs, Idaho would say, is the terminal sectional density (TSD). This is his measure of a bullet’s ability to penetrate which he says is more to do with its nose shape than its calibre. So, if I’m making the bullets, they are quite hard and flat-nosed.

One winter we planted an area with new tree seedlings, expecting the animal browsing to end when the spring growth started in the surrounding bush. Well, it didn’t stop, probably due to the dry summer. Browsing continued right through. We tried everything, including employing a professional shooter, to no avail. So, I decided to have a good, quiet look myself.

I have a spotlight with a dim bulb for walking and because the coupe is steep and rough and I wanted to hear any animal movement as well as not scaring others if I took a shot, I opted for the quietest rifle I have, an Anschutz .22LR with some subsonic HP 40-grain bullets. This rifle will shoot these bullets into an inch at 50 yards.

I had no sooner walked on to the fire trail that surrounds the coupe, switched to the main spotlight globe and started to have a look around than I saw a large wallaby about 30 yards away looking straight at me, head and shoulders above the young bracken ferns.

I juggled the light and rifle then shot it high in the chest. It went down instantly. I kept on walking around until the battery started to fail. I saw nine large wallabies, so shot at seven, clean missed one and dropped the other six with single shots at ranges from 20 to 40 yards. Not all dropped instantly. At least three staggered up to 10 yards before collapsing, dying before I could reach them. I did take care to steady and place my shots watchfully – except for the one I missed.

With a hand torch I recovered three for the meat safe and found in every case the low velocity 40-grain bullets hadn’t disintegrated but had passed right through, including the backbone if it hit, leaving a decent exit hole.

All of these were the large wallabies we find, which stand a good 3ft tall, weigh at least 15kg and require two hands to swing up on to the ute when field dressed. Even at my age, I learned a lot that night. I’ve since been back and despatched some more using the same rifle and technique. Again, all one-shot kills.

Interestingly, our standard spotlighting load for .222s the past 40 years or so has been the 40-grain Winchester FN HP, designed for their 22 Magnum loads loaded with seven grains of AS50 giving about 2300fps. Superb for light vermin out to 100 yards.

Once helping a fellow farmer in another district remove some large wallabies, I found sometimes these little bullets disintegrated before penetrating the animal’s ribcage. So, for them, the load is now a 55-grainer with a better TSD.

That night, I would normally never have gone out attempting to find large wallabies with such a low powered cartridge. It was only extreme frustration with the browsing damage and my desire to see and hear what was happening up there that caused me to do this. So, what did I learn?

Well, I know I need a bullet to go right through what I’m after at the likely range I’ll find it and I only need enough velocity to do this. A 40-grain lead bullet at probably around 900fps will do the job well. And the required velocity can be surprisingly low.

Occasionally when hunting for deer in thick bush, I’ve used a flat-nosed 300-grain paper jacketed lead alloy bullet in a 45-70, muzzle velocity around 2100fps. No wounded game here. I’ve read the professional African hunters of years gone by preferred large bullets with a muzzle velocity aout 2400fps. They risked their lives if a bullet broke up on contact and didn’t penetrate to vital organs.

Which brings me to my last comment. I am concerned that many game shooters believe their chosen rifles and bullets will work well at all potential distances. This is not so. With some, at close range and high impact velocities, the bullets disintegrate on impact, resulting in a large non-fatal flesh wound. At long ranges, some won’t expand. And remember, non-expanded pointed and round-nosed bullets simply push through, making small holes that close up after the bullet exits meaning there isn’t fast blood loss.

As sporting shooters, it’s important that we do some testing and understand how our chosen rifle and ammunition does perform at the distances we shoot at.

Also, should we be asked, we need to be able to explain to any non-shooter what we do when we hunt animals. This entails fast one-shot kills and we should demonstrate we know what’s required and that we have and can use the right firearms to do this.

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