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Ballistics (1): Do Not Buy Bullets That Break

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

General facts about external and terminal ballistics. We shall start at the terminal end and work back to the muzzle.

Hunting is about the ethical killing of an animal with the intention that the hunter or someone else is going to eat the meat. The shot must indeed be a quick killing, deep penetrating impulse by the bullet without undue meat wastage. Meat wastage is not compatible with ethical hunting - the latter being a term bandied about a lot in gun magazines and hunters’ social media forums. Particularly is it not compatible with the ethics of the professional hunter who guides a hunt. Food wastage in the first instance is in contempt of Creation.

Meat wastage during hunting is caused by using too lightweight, too soft bullets at too high impact velocity. The small amount of matter a light for calibre bullet possesses can not absorb and contain the translated thermal heat caused by its pre-impact high kinetic energy value. Kinetic energy is nothing but potential heat which was absorbed by the bullet during its kineses (movement) as it accelerated down the rifle bore. When the kineses ends within 1,000th of a second as happens when a lightweight, fast bullet is stopped against an animal’s skin, tendons, muscle and/or shoulder bones the joule value of that potential heat-by-kineses is immediately translated as thermal energy (raw heat ) into the bullet.

The amount and type of physical matter that the carrier of the kinetic energy (the bullet) possesses determines the amount of thermal energy it can absorb before deforming under impact - as well as the actual amount of deforming it will suffer. When absorbing this release of thermal energy due to its high KE-to-mass ratio, a light-weight, soft-skinned, lead bullet deforms a great deal more than a similar design of higher weight will do. Assisted by the structural support of a thicker copper jacket around the front end the heavier bullet will not only absorb the thermal heating better but will cause the bullet to better maintain its structural integrity.

As seen on the photo, the entrance was just above the first humerus right in line with the front leg, cutting the heart in half. The gemsbok did not go 20 yards and was dead.

Even bullets staying intact normally create very large fracture channels through the ribs, out of proportion with the bullet diameter.

The exit wound made by the 180 gr Federal Fusion from a.308W at 220 yards was only twice the size of the entrance hole, after it had also broken the opposite humerus and leaving a 4x calibre inside wound channel.

The following example demonstrates the general concept: The 5,500 joules kinetic energy possessed by a 300 gr Woodleigh bullet from a .375 H&H is translated into thermal heat within one 500th of a second during its passage through a Cape buffalo’s 1” thick skin, shoulder tendons, breaking through the humerus bone and a 1”thick rib, cutting open the heart, breaking an opposite rib and shoulder bone, cutting through the shoulder tendons and stopping against the opposite skin.

A 150 gr similar bullet from a .300 Remington Ultra Magnum is stopped within one 2,000th of a second against the first shoulder bones of the buffalo and the same amount of thermal heat from its same 5,500 joules kinetic energy is now absorbed by only half the amount of matter. One can forecast the physical thermal heating effect thtis has on the bullet, as well as the physiological pathology and psychological disturbance this will cause in the buffalo. Going “mental” is not unusual for the specie.

Even in bullets of the same calibre these physics are regularly observed in the field. Shoot a kudu with a 180 Federal Fusion carrying 3,600 joule kinetic energy from a .308W. The amount of KE translated as thermal heat into the bullet’s 180 gr of matter, supported by a strong jacket to which the lead core is soldered, still allows the bullet to easily absorb the translated heat and stay intact while breaking both shoulders of the kudu, not stopping but passing through with less than a half-pound of damaged meat.

Another kudu in a similar shot stops a 150 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip containing 4,200 joule KE. from a .300 Win Mag, and Its 20% lower mass has to absorb 17% more heat while its thin jacket offers no structural support. The bullet disintegrates on the shoulder bone and does not even penetrate the rib cage. A terrible superficial wound is created and the animal requires hours of tracking to be shot again with another rifle and bullet to end its suffering.

The unacceptable food wastage and an animal that is totally disgraced in death as opposed to the kudu neatly killed by the slower, heavier 7.82 mm bullet says there is an ethics principle which demands that Nosler Ballistic Tips and similar fragile designs should never be used for hunting in Africa where shots are into the heart and nowhere else.

The problem is not in using a .300 Win Mag if the hunter can shoot it accurately without flinching in anticipation of the recoil and loud report. The physical and ethically unacceptable performance of speedy, lightweight fragile bullets is the basis for the argument. A 7.82 mm calibre, 150 gr Nosler Ballistic tip bullet from a .308W at 80 yards causes exactly the same amount of unacceptable meat wastage and poor penetration as if it had impacted the kudu from a .300 Win Mag 100 yards further. A 220 gr Woodleigh, or 200 gr Barnes or any one of the 8 brands of South African made monolithic and welded core premium bullets turns the .300 Win Mag into the same beautiful on-game performer as the .308W and 30-06 are with 180 gr premium bullets.

With that perfect shot placement and a premium bullet the shoulder joint of the humerus and scapula is broken, the top of the heart sliced open, the opposite humerus broken and just a 2xcalibre size exit hole will show. Inside there will be a 4x calibre permanent wound channel. The animal will be dead in a couple of meter from where it stood. Meat loss will be non-existent.

This is where the bullet's home is: The heart top chambers flared open by the still intact, passing bullet.

The average hunter typically possesses at least a working level of knowledge about rifles and ammunition and knows the effects on the type of game he regularly hunts under his average home state conditions. There also are shooters or inexperienced hunters who still believe in the flat shooting dogma of plastic tipped, rapid expanding light-weight bullets. When either plans a hunt on different type animals under different hunting conditions it is wise to adapt - and adopt the old, proven principles advised by the professionals of the state he visits.

The principle not only applies when hunting the 25 species of Africa game: exactly the same results are achieved on mule deer and elk in Colorado and white tails in Virginia and Texas.

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