In the quest for the “best” hunting rifle cartridge, the simple fact is that many of us are going about it the wrong way. Once you look at it carefully, it’s easy to understand why. It’s because we haven’t taken into account the use of magic bullets.
The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Hunters, especially, labor under a misunderstanding of ballistics which keeps them from seeing the “magic” available across the counter at any gun store.
Many of us have been suffering from something Mark Twain wrote more than a century ago.
“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”
In our case, the part that “just ain’t so” is that you need more velocity at the muzzle if you want a bullet to shoot flat and hit hard. It just ain’t so.
Generations of rifle shooters — especially hunters — “knew” that you had to increase the muzzle velocity if you wanted a flat-shooting bullet that hit hard downrange. Today, though, hunters are discovering they don’t have to carry a heavy magnum rifle, and suffer the increased recoil, to have a long-range rifle that hits hard. They just need better bullets.
By “better,” I mean bullets with high ballistic coefficients, or BC. High BC bullets are more streamlined, so they are better at penetrating the thick fluid we call air. We benefit several ways from this. High BC bullets retain velocity much better than what we consider standard hunting bullets. In fact, a high BC bullet started at 2,700 fps will be going about the same speed at 300 yards as a lower BC bullet leaving the muzzle 300 fps faster. In other words, when reaching 300 yards, the lighter-recoiling round is surpassing the magnum round, and it only gets better as range increases.
A more streamlined bullet drifts less in the wind, which is a huge advantage. You can determine the distance to the target with a laser rangefinder, making drop a non-issue. Wind drift is still a guess, driven by experience, but cutting wind drift by half can easily make the difference between a hit and a miss.
There’s a hidden benefit to the higher BC bullets I hadn’t thought about until I read the latest John Barsness book, “The Big Book of Gun Gack II.” Terminal performance. Bullet designers struggle to make a hunting bullet which will expand at long range, when the velocity is low, but will still hold together if you shoot a moose at 20 yards, when the velocity is much higher. It’s the range of impact velocities that drives the quest for “controlled expansion” bullets.
How about this? Start the bullet at a lower velocity — say 2,700 fps. That’s much easier on the bullet that hits a deer at 40 yards. But use a bullet that retains velocity much better, so that at 500 yards, it still has the energy needed to anchor your trophy. At this point, the high BC starts to be somewhat magical.
This is what the 6.5 Creedmoor is all about. A faster twist rate in the barrel stabilizes longer (high BC) bullets. Even though it starts out much slower than the .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum, it meets and exceeds the performance of those rounds as they pass the 300 to 400-yard mark. And the Creedmoor does it with much less recoil.
So, how high is “high BC?” It’s arbitrary, but I’d say anything in “the fives.” That is, it has a G1 BC of .500 or higher. (For more on what G1 and G7 mean, get a copy of Barsness’s excellent book, or if you want to totally Gun Geek, check out “Ballistic Performance of Rifle Bullets” by Bryan Litz.) We even have hunting bullets with BCs well into the sixes!
Still not convinced? Here’s a simple comparison from the Hornady web site, using two of its popular bullets in the .270 Winchester and the 6.5 Creedmoor. In the .270, with the 130-grain Inter Lock bullet (BC of .409), it starts at 3060 fps. At 500 yards, it’s going 1996 fps and hits with 1150 foot pounds of energy. The “puny” 6.5 Creedmoor, using the Hornady 143-grain ELD-X bullet (BC of .625) leaves the barrel at 2700 fps. That’s a whopping 360 fps slower than Jack O’Connor (“Who?”) round. At 500 yards, though, it’s still zipping along at 2030 fps and carries 1308 foot pounds of energy. Probably a third less recoil, hits harder at distance, and drifts much less. That’s a triple win!
Need more? Start the Hornady 139-grain Interlock from a 7mm Remington Magnum at 3,150 fps, and it’s pretty much a tie with the Creedmoor at 500 yards. Think 2027 fps and 1,269 foot pounds.
Yes, if you use higher BC bullets in magnums, you get the benefits, but what many of us (especially the old-timers) are learning is that you don’t have to carry a heavy rifle, and you don’t have to put up with more noise and recoil (and expensive ammo) to have a serious 500-yard and beyond hunting rifle.
Are high BC bullets science fiction? No. But to someone like me, who grew up shooting darn-near round-nose bullets like the Remington Core-Lokt, this change is nearly indistinguishable from magic. ~ Tom
CLICK HERE to buy Hornady ELD-X 6.5 Creedmoor ammo.
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Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.
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