Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections on Caliber

I've been thinking a lot about the deer I shot this weekend with my Savage Model 10 in .243 Winchester. The load I used featured a 100 grain bullet traveling at 3100 fps. The kill shot took the deer in the ribs, just behind the shoulder, in a classic perpendicular shot. The animal went about 60 yards from the point of impact and it was piled up dead when I found it. An unprofessional autopsy showed that the bullet blew up on a rib, but cut an artery on the top of the heart. When the bullet blew up, it ruined the shoulder on that side of the animal and didn't penetrate through-and-through.

The bullet is an unknown make. It was sold as a blemished bullet and even with the blem tag, it's shown to be very accurate. It's a cannelured, 100 grain 6mm bullet with a boat tail, of standard lead/gilding metal construction. I suspect that it might be the Hornady #2453, but I can't be certain. I drive that load with Reloder 22 powder at about 3100 fps. In my Savage, it turns in remarkable groups, on the neighborhood of 1/2 inch. At that speed, it's not surprising that the bullet came apart and if the remnants of the bullet hadn't gotten into the artery at the top of the heart, it would certainly have gotten into lungs. However, the bullet didn't pass through the deer and I didn't have a blood trail to track the deer.

I certainly can't complain about the performance of the rifle or the bullet. However, I didn't have a blood trail and without the knowledge I had of how deer travel in those particular woods, I might not have found the deer without a great deal of searching. With a better bullet, perhaps a premium bullet like the Barnes Triple Shock, or the Nosler Partition, I might have had a better blood trail. Maybe not.

The first deer I shot this season, I took with my Savage 110 in .30-06. That load uses Reloder 19 powder to throw a 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet at about 2900 fps. That deer was facing me and I shot her in the brisket, where the neck enters the body. The bullet traversed about two feet of the animal, shattering a lung and breaking her spine when it exited. She was pretty much anchored and didn't move off the pipeline. It's easy to track a deer when they're laying right where you shot them.

In both cases, bullet placement was right where I wanted to shoot the animal. Both bullets got into the vitals, but the larger, heavier bullet penetrated better.

This is no indictment of the .243 Winchester caliber for deer hunting. Another half an inch to the right or left and the bullet would have slipped between the ribs. I found the deer within 60 yards of where I shot it. The load performed admirably. That little bullet got me a lot of venison, and I'm thankful for the experience. However, for the rest of the season, I think I'm going to take the .30-06 to the woods. This summer I'll get a box of Partitions and work up a deer load with those bullets. I'll save those blemished bullets for general shooting, target work, training grandkids and other tasks than deer hunting.


J said...

I think you gave yourself some good advice. Two holes in a deer is twice as good as one. The older I get the more I think like Elmer Keith. I might start smoking cigars and wearing a cowboy hat.

Buffboy said...

I've seen this too many times both with my experience and others to have much confidence in the 243 as a deer rifle.

My wife wanted to go deer hunting and the guys at the shop talked her into a 243. I was a little reluctant but didn't fight it. It was her rifle.

I first loaded it with 100gr Hornady Interlok bullets as I'd used them for decades in my 270 and numerous 30 caliber rifles with excellent results. I was extremely disappointed with the results, essentially your experience. I then loaded it with premium Nosler Partitions in the same weight and got poor performance including having to follow a deer over 3 miles to recover it. We never lost any of these deer but none were DRT and a couple took multiple hits in what is considered the kill zone. I recovered all of these bullets, all showed dismal failure of the projectile. This was with good, though not perfect, hits. None showed very good penetration.

I got tired of chasing deer that were well hit and she was getting discouraged that she was having these problems. I saw it eroding her confidence. I bought the wife a 300 Savage 99. With 150gr bullets, it has about the same recoil, and the long chases ended, with most going feet not yards. Confidence restored she traded the 243 on a 223 to use for varmints.

Old NFO said...

Good post and good points Paw- I don't even own a .243...

Anonymous said...

Only deer we never found was gut shot with a .243 and hornady 100 grain interlock. Now gut shot is not even close to good shot placement, but the lack of exit wound made tracking difficult and made recovery impossible. We have killed animals with 7mm mags and .270 winchester that had no exits, but well placed shots that still killed within reason. I wonder what would happen if the velocity was slowed down somewhat to allow better integrity of the bullet.