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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.