Ammunition

Avoiding Misapplication of Calibers

.357 Magnum, .45 ACP and .44 Special

As an interested student sometimes called an expert, I continue to be surprised at the misapplication of calibers. Too often, inadequate calibers are used with poor results. At other times, too much gun is used for relatively lightweight game.

The result is a sometimes costly misapplication of time, money and resources. If you are headed the wrong way, well, it is never late to alter your trajectory. A good step is to climb the logic ladder. Some things simply don’t make sense.

I carry and use some firearms just because I can and I really like some of the older gear, but there are pretty interesting innovations and technical wonders available today.

I have the greatest respect for those using single-shot .45-70 rifles (and the 6.5 Creedmoor) for hunting deer. This makes life interesting. Sometimes, though, we simply need to slow down and think a bit about our applications and where we are going.

I suppose I am pretty blunt, but I have a talent for stating the obvious. As an example, I ran across a fellow lugging a Magnum rifle and also a long-barrel .44 Magnum revolver in the wild a few years ago.

If he can’t hit a deer with the rifle, he sure isn’t hitting it with the pistol. I don’t overburden my chassis.  I usually carry a handgun in the field, but it is for snakes and personal defense—such as a feral dog or coyote at close range.

It is pretty much the same as what I carry concealed on a daily basis. Let’s look over some of the better choices and perhaps get to thinking.

magnum revolvers - misapplication of calibers
Magnum revolvers are awesome firearms, but seldom the author’s first choice. They’re often involved with misapplication of calibers.

Misapplication of Rifle Calibers

I divide the size of game into more categories than most shooters:

  • Small game: rabbit, squirrel, raccoon and so forth
  • Medium game: coyote, javelina, some varmints and the smaller of the big cats
  • Large game: deer-sized game, hogs, etc.
  • Big game: bears and bigger

You get the picture. You have to understand that some animals are tougher than their size would indicate.

.30-06 - misapplication of calibers
The classic .30-06 is a great cartridge. The author fires it in vintage rifles and modern hunting rifles with excellent results.

Small Game

The .17, .22 and .22 Magnum rifles are great small game calibers.

Since headshots are the rule, the .22 Magnum may be used without destroying a lot of meat, but the option remains to use the Magnum on the larger end of small game.

.22 rifle - misapplication of calibers
A good .22 rifle, such as the CZ 452, is an essential part of a rifleman’s battery.

Medium game or varmints are in the ideal range for the .223 Remington.

I have great abiding respect for the wonderfully flat-shooting .22-250. I guess I love the old wildcat and own a relatively inexpensive (but accurate) Savage Axis in this caliber.

These calibers generate more power than is really needed at moderate range, but the idea is to give the pest or varmint a humane and quick death. Moving up to deer-sized game is where I see most of the misapplication happening.

Large Game

I will not criticize the 7mm Magnum for those that have mastered the round; I really like this number. But I feel that the .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08 and the .30-06 are all that is needed.

With careful bullet selection, these calibers are useful on some of the larger beasts as well. And that is the key. Sure, you can take deer with a perfect shot using a high-penetration .223 bullet. Perfect shots are what we all strive for, but they are not always present.

A raking or quartering shot isn’t possible with the smaller calibers. With the .30-06, you have that option. I also like the .308 Winchester and regard modern .308 loadings with Hornady’s A-Max and Interlock bullets as superior to .30-06 performance of a generation ago.

And that is very good.

7mm Remington Magnum - misapplication of calibers
The author has the greatest respect for the 7mm Remington Magnum.

Medium Game

In the medium game category, there are excellent low-recoil choices with plenty of penetration, but success hinges on the proper load. Among these is the 6.5 Creedmoor.

As time goes by, I am increasingly happy with the 6.5 Creedmoor and impressed by the offerings in this interesting caliber. There are others, including the .257 Roberts, which in this age seems to be overlooked. The 6.5x55mm Swede is another excellent choice.

6.5 Creedmoor - misapplication of calibers
The 6.5 Creedmoor is the author’s favorite 6mm.

A few notes on past experience with the .30-30 WCF show that it is an excellent killer given proper shot placement, particularly with the proven Remington Core-Lokt. This is a good expander with good effect.

The problem with the .30-30 WCF is shot placement, something that we cannot value too much. Even if you can shoot well, you may not shoot well with iron sights and the Model 94’s buckhorn sights are not a model of precision.

The .30-30’s reputation has suffered when it has been overmatched.

.30-30 - misapplication of calibers
The .30-30 is a light, handy, fast-handling rifle. But it isn’t the most powerful and the iron sights are a limiting factor. It’s a common misapplication caliber.

Misapplication of Handgun Calibers

I have arrived at the scene with victims running around screaming with all manner of wounds. I have also seen those hit by the .44 Magnum with horrific wounds—and a case in which one was killed and one crippled for life by a single shot.

On two occasions, violent offenders were shot—one with.32 Smith and Wesson Long and another with .38 Smith and Wesson—and had to pick bullets out of their body as they awaited medical care. The bullets had penetrated a couple of inches.

I was a hunter long before I was a peace officer or researcher and I came to realize that men and deer are about the same size and about as hard to put down with gunfire. There is no psychological shock with animals, however; they do not know they have been shot.

Men are susceptible to shock. I see a lot of folks carrying handguns that are worthless, in my opinion, for anything save a threat. For motivated assailants, more power is needed.

.38 Special - misapplication of calibers
There is really nothing like the .38 Special when it comes to a balance of compactness and power.

The baseline for personal defense is the . 38 Special or 9mm Luger, two medium size and ballistically similar cartridges. If you can shoot well, these two are a good starting place. There are more powerful cartridges that are not that difficult to control.

One may question the wisdom of the .41 and .44 Magnum. They are difficult to control, difficult to conceal and not the best choice for personal defense. The .357 Magnum is controllable in mid-size handguns by dedicated shooters.

If you are willing to invest the time and expense in training, the .357 is a reasonable choice for personal defense. It may be carried in the field for defense against feral dogs and the big cats with a high degree of confidence.

For my use, the two (or maybe three) .45s are ideal:

  • The . 45 ACP offers the combination of a big bore cartridge and self-loading action. The .45 ACP may be controlled by those that practice, requiring perhaps 25 percent more practice than the 9mm for equal results.
  • The .45 Colt is a better choice for my needs than the .44 Magnum. A 255-grain SWC recoils less in the .45 Colt than the .44 Magnum (to my senses) and offers similar wound potential. I often carry a single action .45 Colt when hiking or exploring.
  • The .45 Auto Rim is an overlooked caliber with great potential. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the .44 Magnum may be the better choice, but only for those that have mastered the type.
.45 Colt - misapplication of calibers
The author finds the .45 Colt more useful than most Magnum cartridges.

Conclusion

In the rifle, I often see shooters carrying too much gun. The .300 Winchester Magnum kicks a lot and simply isn’t needed for most uses.  I am a big fan of the .30-06, but must remain objective.

The .308 Winchester is available in short-action rifles and, in my experience, perhaps is the more accurate cartridge. You can go the other way as well and not have enough power.

I won’t embarrass my cousin, who shot a larger bear with the trusty old .30-30 that had never failed him… until then.

If you have ever gotten into a fight with an animal that required five or six cartridges and ended with the beast falling less than 20 feet away, it is memorable.

In handguns, I see folks carrying ineffective handguns that simply could not perform in a worst-case scenario. The caliber probably needs to be increased for most uses.

Choose a cartridge with a good track record, consult those with field experience and you’ll avoid most misapplication mistakes.

What is your biggest caliber mistake? Let us know your misapplication stories in the comments below.

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Comments (13)

  1. Mr Jenkins,

    Thanks for reading. As you may note I said in the article the .30-30 has ‘excellent killing power.’

    It is shot placement with the older iron sights that is the problem.

    Best,

    WR

  2. A cartridge that does not get much notice now days but is a very good round in a revolver is the .44 Special (aka .44 S&W). The ballistics mirror the .45 ACP round but I find it a bit more controllable even in a short-barrelled revolver such as the Charter Arms Bulldog. Recoil is much less than the .41 or.44 magnums. It seems to have been largely forgotten, much like the .257 Roberts (one of my favorite rifle calibers).

  3. Mr. Roberts, I believe quite a few deer have been taken by the .30-30 WCF. I think many hunters will disagree with your label of the .30-30 as a misapplication caliber for large game. Perhaps I have misunderstood you in some fashion?

  4. My biggest misapplication of caliber was shooting a cottontail rabbit with a .44 magnum. The rabbit was in my garden, and I had a Ruger Super Redhawk on my hip. I had 240 grain soft points in the gun, and the first shot passed through him with very little damage. The second shot went through lengthways, and pretty well turned him inside out.

  5. I don’t think I’ve had any mis-caliber applications in my time. When I first started deer hunting in my youth back in the late 70’s I started with a Remington 6 MM. I still feel that it is a suitable cartridge for 150 pound white tail deer. As I matured both physically and as a hunter I set my target on larger bucks that normally are 200 plus pounds here in the southeast. I started using a 25-06 (a necked down 30-06) and then settled on the .270 Winchester as my caliber of choice for deer hunting in the southeast. I had a custom built Interarms Mark X put together in this caliber and used this rifle from 1990 up until this past season. I took many deer with it over the years and I have a wall full of trophies thanks to this gun and caliber. I load all my own ammo for it and it will always have a special place in my line up. This past year I switched over to a .308 caliber. I used it some in the 2018 season, but in 2019 I went full time with it. I was really impressed with its performance and having picked up a Ruger American and using my suppressor on it, I’ve gone full time with it for both deer and wild hogs. The .270 is now normally brought along as a backup. As for a sidearm I like to carry a small Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum. It is a double-action/single-action pistol, has a 4.5 inch barrel with adjustable fiber optic sights and is only about 30 ounces of added weight. It makes a nice little side arm for the pigs with one caveat; it is only a five shot revolver. As for concealed carry or EDC I use a 9 MM.

  6. For personal protection unless you’re carrying a .22, i believe gun choice is the biggest issue. people carrying crummy old revolvers or cheap unreliable autos. the statistics show any caliber .380 and up is just as effective at stopping a human threat.

  7. I found this authors comments, choices and reasoning to be very good in my opinion. Today the choices a person can pick from are as numerous as hair on a dogs back. I have been an avid shooter and hunter for many years and when I started the choices weren’t nearly as vast. Mostly older standby calibers that today have sorta been put aside. I shot a lot back then and had the privilege of being able to try some different calibers that various friends had. Being from rural Texas a person didn’t really (And still don’t) need much more than a 30-06 for deer and a 30-30 was popular. 308’s and 243 gained popularity as the 60’s progressed toward the 70’s.
    Pistols were mainly 38, 357 and 45’s either automatics or Long Colt.
    Another factor was availability of some calibers of ammunition. Not many places other than the local hardware stores and a very few sporting goods outlets carried ammunition. They all mostly carried the old favorites and “EXOTIC” things were sometimes hard to find and were generally more expensive.
    I know the 7mm Mauser is not nearly as popular as other calibers but I have found it to be a very easy effective round to shoot and recoil is light. I also have several other rifles in various calibers and enjoy them all as well.
    Thanks for the article.

  8. I went on my first wild pig hunt in 1981, about a year after I got married. My wife’s grandfather owned a modest dairy farm in central Tennessee, where he also had some nice fruit trees that often produced prodigious amounts of apples, pears, pawpaws and even some nice peaches. The orchards, along with his vegetable garden had begun acting like a magnet for a small, but growing, number of wild pigs that had recently taken up residence in the area.
    The wife’s grandfather was getting on in years, but he was still vital and active, and had made some efforts at reducing the ravages the pigs were taking on his property. His weapon of choice was a well-used Model 94 in .30-30. He wasn’t very successful in killing many of the swine, although he’d hit a number of them squarely. He blamed his poor vision and the lackluster sights on his old Winchester.
    On one visit, I volunteered to go with him if it were okay with him, and he was eager for any help, and we both figured it would be a splendid opportunity for the two of us to get better acquainted.
    It was no coincidence that I happened to have a few guns with me, because my wife and I were on sort of a visiting “tour” of various relatives both of us had in the region, and on my side of the family, if you aren’t an avid shooter, you’re likely not on anyone’s Christmas card list.
    I had read a good deal about hunting feral hogs in The American Rifleman, Guns & Ammo, and Shooting Times. Most of the writers used moderately powered rifles, and the .30-30 Win. was somewhat popular and considered useful. I also knew that reading about hunting something, and actually hunting were two different things. I hoped that I’d picked up enough in print that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself in front of “Pappy.”
    It turns out his lack of experience in hunting pigs didn’t inhibit his quickly gained knowledge about their habits, and it didn’t take us long to find a few.
    I had been a fairly decent handgun hunter since my teenage years, when I successfully hunted squirrels and rabbits with a .22 pistol, and had taken several deer with my favorite handgun at the time, a 6-1/2” barreled Old Model Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum. From what I’d read, the .41 should be more than adequate against wild hogs since some of the writers were downright enthusiastic about their .44 Maggies. And I’ve never thought the .41 was in any way inferior to its bigger brother.
    I killed three hogs that day. A boar and two sows.
    The boar took a round from Pappy’s .30-30, but it was poorly placed due to the fact that the pig turned unexpectedly as Pappy was beading down on him. When the hammer fell, the boar was struck in the gut just forward of its hind quarter. He ran about 50 feet or so, quartering away from me and Pappy, then suddenly stopped and bent his head backward as though he was trying to sniff or lick the entry point of his bullet wound.
    I took the opportunity to gently pull back the hammer on my Blackhawk, and the sound of each of its four clicks sounded like they were amplified in my ears. When my front sight settled on an area of the hog’s head midway between his right eye and ear, I squeezed. The boar collapsed, as though he were dead before hitting the ground.
    The two sows I killed also died with a single gunshot to the head from my Ruger. They both acted as though they were toys from which their batteries had suddenly been disconnected.
    Pappy was tickled. I felt no small measure of pride and accomplishment.
    Then the question of what to do next came up. I’d asked him the night before about the possibility of keeping anything we might kill as meat. Being a native Tennesseean, naturally pork ranked as a major food group unto itself, but he wondered if the animal would be “gamey.”
    Pappy had a friend of his “on call” who had a background as a meat cutter. We hung the carcasses in Pappy’s barn, and the old friend had them skinned and quartered in a very short time.
    Turns out, the meat wasn’t very much “gamey,” and Pappy acted as though I were royalty from that moment on.
    I had an open invitation to return any time I darned near pleased, especially if I was going to tramp about his property looking for any more porkers.
    The pigs seemed to steer clear of Pappy’s orchards and gardens for only a brief spell, but pigs being pigs, returned in undiminished numbers in a couple of months.
    I made it a twice-a-year habit to go hog hunting there for the next several years, and I always took nothing other than my Old Model Blackhawk as my tool of choice, and never once did I have to fire more than one round at a hog to kill it. And more than half the time, I managed to make headshots.
    For me, the .41 Magnum and feral hog hunting seemed to be made for each other.
    That is, until one year…

    About that only time I didn’t carry a .41 Magnum…
    Back in the early 1980s, Hornady brought out a new truncated cone FMJ bullet for the .45 ACP that all the gun magazines touted as the best thing to roll down the pike since Martha Stewart invented sliced bread you could hide your secret stock dealings in.
    Guns & Ammo and Shooting Times both sang such praises of what a wunderkind bullet this would be in turning the .45 ACP into the kind of weapon only read about in mythology. With even modestly hot powder charges, the writers all claimed, this bullet would turn your garden variety M1911 into a veritable magnum!
    And one of the biggest hooks that got me snookered was that this bullet was originally designed the smaller 9mm Parabellum (then considered somewhat marginal as a self-defense round, by the way).
    These writers were all wringing their hands and salivating all over themselves that, by God, if this thing could turn a crunchenticker into a real-deal, honest-to-God manstopper, then by God, it could turn a .45 auto into an honest by God BEAR KILLER. By God.
    And I bought into it. Hook, line and sinker, as the saying goes.
    So I diligently worked up what I believed would be just the medicine for the hog harvesting I’d been doing previously in Tennessee.
    In the field, it was breezy and mostly overcast, and I hadn’t had much luck all day until I spotted a nice sized porker about 50 yards away. I proceeded to sneak up on it. At closer range, I saw it was a sow, and, boy, she had some tuskers on her! And she also had a brood of offspring nearby.
    About that time, the wind shifted. Instead of me being downwind as I was before, it was now blowing from my back directly toward the pigs. That’s when the big sow took note of me.
    Now pigs can’t see worth a damn. But they can smell almost as good as a hawk can spot a mouse from 500 yards away. And considering that she had young-uns nearby, she was naturally downright protective of them. That’s when she decided to visit with me, probably to protest my presence in the vicinity. She took off at a slow trot. But she began picking up steam with every step.
    I already had Henry in hand. (Henry is my name for all my pet 1911 pistols.) It was stoked with my brand-spanking new handloads, all nice and shiny. Eight in the magazine and one up the spout.
    I thumbed the safety down and placed those really cool white outline sights that Millett used to make right on the big sow’s forehead and squeezed the trigger.
    She not only didn’t slow down, she seemed to pick up speed. So I squeezed off another round. Same result.
    After the fourth or fifth round, I began to get somewhat concerned. I knew I was hitting her square in the forehead. I could see a massive red splotch right square above her eyes, and she wasn’t slowing down, staggering or anything.
    To say I was nervous by this point would be a gross exaggeration. I kept shooting, and Kermit’s girlfriend just kept getting closer.
    At about 15-18 feet from me, she finally jerked, then fell flat on her side.
    The slide on my 1911 was locked back.
    I started trembling like I probably never had before in my life. I just stood there, breathing very hard and began seeing bright yellow light and little stars sparkling in my peripheral vision. I was hyperventilating.
    It was at that moment I realized my bladder had voided, and my pants were soaked.
    I walked over to a tree stump close to a fence row and sat down to gather my thoughts.
    I don’t know what went with the piglets, and moreover, didn’t give much of a damn at that moment.

    I fetched my truck and got Miss Piggy into the bed and drove back to my wife’s grandfather’s house to dress out the hog.
    Her tusks almost made Boone and Crockett. They were 1/16th” shy of the necessary length to get me in the book. And she massed nearly 425 lbs. She was huge.
    When we removed her hide, we found eight deformed Hornady truncated cone lead base FMJ bullets over the ham regions.
    Every bullet I fired hit that hog squarely in the forehead and skidded underneath the entire length of her backside under her skin to her hind quarters.
    It was one of the last two, perhaps three, shots I fired that killed her. It had found its way into an eye socket and short-circuited her brain and central nervous system.
    Two things came out of this adventure.
    1. I never enjoyed the taste of pork in my entire life the way I did every time I sat down at the table to dine on that critter. And
    2. I never ever, ever, ever entertained the notion of carrying anything but one of my .41s into the field again when looking for more pork.
    It was two of the greatest, if scariest, lessons of my life.
    Stick with what you know. And stick with what works.

  9. Was mulie hunting in New Mexico back in the late ‘70s. Shot a nice 5×5 with a .270. He ran about 30 feet and fell dead. Got back to camp with him and another hunter just berated me for using a “cannon” when it wasn’t necessary. I asked him what caliber he was using and he said “.22-.250”! I sure hope he didn’t get off any shots because he would have just wounded a nice animal that would later die and be wasted. Thinking back I wonder if the .22 caliber was even legal for deer in New Mexico at the time?

  10. While I mostly agree with the authors comments on the application of larger rifle calibers, I know a lot of people cannot afford to have multiple rifles chambered in various calibers for different game, so they buy one or two guns that will cover their hunting needs . More than 30 years ago I went to my local gunship to buy either a 30.06 or . 270 so that I could extend my practical hunting distance as all I had at the time was my Marlin 336 chambered in 35 Remington . The shop owner had a Winchester model 70 chambered in 300 win mag that he said was just collecting dust because nobody wanted that much power and that he would give me the deal of a lifetime if I wanted it . He sold me that rifle for $300 and the rest is history . I did have a muzzle brake added to tame the recoil . I have taken many deer and hogs with this rifle and in my opinion it does not destroy any more meat than my hunting buddy’s . 270 . I always go for headshots on the hogs and I have never had to shoot a second shot or track them, they drop where they were standing .Shot placement is the key more than the caliber as you stated at the end of your article .

  11. Over the years, i definitely have seen overmatch in hunting larger game. Out west, you just dont need a 7mm mag, or 300 win mag for deer. Even for elk, they are pretty large. Everyone seems to want to prepare for a 400 yard shot. I have never taken deer or elk at more than maybe 75 yards. 400 yards is a long way to walk carrying a pack full of meat. That is, if you could even make such a shot. I stick with .308. 165 gr for deer, loaded up with 180gr for elk. Although either will do just fine.

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