Written by Sierra Ballistic Technician Philip Mahin
As the deer hunting season took off and faithful rifles were pulled from their slumbering place of honor, a question crossed my mind: Is there such a thing as overkill in the hunting field? I could almost bet that everyone reading this does have or knows someone that has a 30-30 or 30-06 going with them this year. How many are going out with a 223Rem or a 243Win? How many more are going out with a 338Lapua or a 375RUM? Personally, I believe a person’s choice in cartridges is their own, but a hunter is responsible for the animal as soon as the shot is fired.
Because bullets are generally made to be a little more frangible in smaller diameter cartridges, a 223Rem was usually considered to be too small for deer hunting. This was completely turned around by reloaders that could choose a tougher bullet to load like our #1395 65gr SBT GameKing in faster twist barrels. It has been proven to work on whitetail sized deer with proper shot placement. The keywords there are proper shot placement, because the bullet must reach the vitals. I wouldn’t expect this same proven bullet to travel through a ham, especially through a heavy hip bone, and reach the heart or lungs. In this case, it would be better served on a broadside behind the shoulder shot because it will expand quickly enough. My deer this year were actually taken with a 243Win cartridge using our #1540 100gr SPT Pro-Hunter. One was quartering away and at 20 yards, the bullet broke a rib going in, and then broke the offhand front leg on the way out. It worked exactly the way it should have because it is made tough enough to handle the stress from this sized animal.
On the other hand, what type of bullet design will you find in .338” or .375?” More than likely, it will be built tough enough to handle larger, more dangerous game so it will pencil through a whitetail without even a second thought. They won’t give much, if any, expansion, so the only way to insure the whitetail is taken humanely would be to aim for the shoulder and push it through the heart or lungs. Of course, a head or spine shot will work with almost anything, but you don’t really go into the deer field with a 338Lapua to shoot 25 yards. With distances usually associated with this type of cartridge, the spine or even head offer a very small target but will it take the animal? You bet they will! In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to push it through that ham shot we were talking about earlier. A 35 Whelen will push our #2850 225gr SBT GameKing lengthwise through a whitetail but do I consider mine overkill? No, I don’t because I’ve had nothing but success using it. You could call it that if you want, but any cartridge in the hands of a good hunter, there is no such thing as too much dead.
Overkill Follow-up (12-19-2013)
It has come to my attention that I only gave half a story with my latest blog post and that Ineeded to clarify a few things. Way back when my Granddad was teaching me to hunt, he drilled into my head that it was my responsibility to the deer to make sure to take it cleanly. The heart / lungs were the biggest targets and a sure way to accomplish the task, even for an inexperienced hunter like myself. At the time, the 170gr bullet from a 32 Winchester Special cartridge in a 336 Marlin lever action would do that from a variety of not-so-ideal angles. This was the only rifle he owned, so that is what I learned with. When it becametime for me to purchase my own firearm, that responsibility stuck with me, and I wanted something that would work on medium to large game, just in case I ever had the chance to hunt larger than whitetail animals outside of Missouri. Since I could only afford one rifle at the time, the 35 Whelen was my cartridge of choice. I never could get used to sitting in a tree stand though; as soon as I picked the perfect spot to put one, the deer change their travel route, andcold; wow they were bitter cold to sit in. My preferred hunting method became still hunting. Walking the trails and catching them with other things on their mind may give you a broadside shot but most times, they know your coming. They will let you pass three feet from them before bolting after you pass by. I trust my 35 because I know sometimes my shots won’t be perfect but I’ll never go hungry. This deer meat feeds my growing family and honestly, I’ve come to depend on it every year. Sure, I could purchase beef from the store but I enjoy venison better. Sorry Granddad, I know you were a cattleman, but thanks forteaching me to walk my own path.
Other cartridges will still work as well or maybe even better than a 35 Whelen on whitetail. In talking to fellow hunters and using my own experiences, there are quite a few actually. Be that as it may, the bullet must still take out a vital organ to be effective. Other hunting styles will allow a wider range of cartridges to be used but may hinder the shot placement to broadside only or head / spine shots. Honestly, it depends on the person, the impact velocity, the shot placement, and especially the construction of the bullet. I know I touched on this earlier, but a lightly constructed bullet out of a 223Rem won’t do what I need it to do on deer. If a hunter had the patience to sit and wait for the perfect shot though, bullets like our 65gr SBT or even our 60gr HP or 63gr SMP will workfine for a broadside shot out to normal hunting ranges. I have proved to myself that my 243 Winchester with our 100gr SPT Pro-Hunter will work on deer at awider range of angles to reach the heart / lungs. I wouldn’t hesitate to hug a shoulder using our 100gr from it but a 55gr or 70gr BlitzKing won’t do that. The two types have a different degree of expansion and the BlitzKing expands too quickly on this size animal. So to the naysayer that claims a 223 is not a good deer cartridge, I would say it depends on your ammunition and how you use it, just like with a 243. When you get into the 25 caliber cartridges, you can pretty well bet anything but the lightest constructed bullets will work well on deer from a majority of angles and most likely exit. From there, .277” through .308” have been thought of as deer and larger cartridges and from .323” through .458” for large to dangerous. Not to say you couldn’t use them on deer, but you most likely won’t get the quality expansion you need to kill quickly; it will be a small hole in and a small hole out. In this case, you’re back to picking your shots like head / spine or busting a shoulder or hip to get to the heart / lungs and bring it down quick. Everyone has their favorite cartridge and bullet combination and as long as you’re successful using them, have fun hunting. Right now, I’m on my way home to enjoy some of the wife’s delicious deer chili.