I am a true believer in Robert Ruark’s posthumous advice to “Use Enough Gun” when hunting any big game.
Why risk all your hard work with anything less? To somehow “prove” you are a better hunter because you use a cartridge that experienced big game hunters consider too small or inadequate? If that’s the case, I suggest therapy and a new sport. Something where you can’t wound any animals and leave them to a horrible death in a misguided attempt to satisfy your broken ego. We owe the animals we hunt more than that.
I also believe in using the best bullets we can buy. The concept of investing the time, money, sweat and emotional equity that any big game hunt requires and then using cheap bullets to save a buck or two baffles me. The bullet is your only physical connection with the animal you are hunting; so to be blunt, in my never humble opinion, it’s stupid to use anything less than the best.
Besides, there are times when a quality bullet can make all the difference.
I just returned from a do it yourself hunt in North-Central Georgia. My new friend Kevin Mittleman and I spent five days hunting in some of the toughest conditions I have encountered. The acorn crop was the biggest anybody has ever seen there and the game simply was not moving. This is bear country, but the bear kill was only 10% of normal. Stephen Patton from Noontootla Creek Farms, a hunting operation in that area, told me that it was the toughest bear hunting they have ever seen. He says the problem is due to the mast crop.
On top of that, the leaves were still on and it’s some of the thickest country I have ever hunted, so seeing game was tough. Walking was extremely noisy and it was all in mountains that were so steep my legs may never recover. When game is not moving I am of the school of thought that brings the mountain to Mohammed and I try to walk them up. But that wasn’t working either.
The thing about bears is that even when there are a lot of them, there “ain’t many.” This is bear country and nobody ever claimed there were a lot of deer. So game populations, moving or stationary, were not all that high.
Bottom line, it was a tough hunt. That meant that a hunter could not afford to let any opportunity slip away. This is not like sitting in a treestand or blind and taking shots at unaware deer in the open. This was extreme hunting, on your hind legs and in the deer and bear’s domain. Tough hunting like this means things happen fast and a hunter must be shooting at the first opportunity, no matter what that opportunity may be.
I was able to sneak up on the buck that was feeding in some extremely thick laurel. (I was on a trail, he was in the brush.) I took the first shot I had, which would also have been the last chance I had. He was walking and almost past the hole in the brush I had to shoot through before I could get on his shoulder. As a result, I hit a bit too far back.
I had a .350 Rem Mag with 200 grain Barnes TSX bullets at 2,942 fps. It hit the back edge of the lungs and absolutely destroyed his liver. He ran 50 yards downhill and died.
The rifle is a limited edition Remington Classic, made just one year, in 1985. I bought it last winter and wanted to hunt with it, so I took it to Georgia. I am glad I did. I have no doubt a lesser cartridge and bullet would have killed that little deer just as dead, even with the marginal shot. But he might have run a lot further and in that thick, steep country that’s a problem. Not just finding the deer, but getting it back to the trail as well.
The bear was 30 yards above me in steep country in some ultra-thick brush. It came in behind me on a run and skidded to a stop when it hit my scent stream. In a split second it turned and started to run back the way it came from and that’s when I shot. At the shot it turned down hill and ran right at me, going past at 20 feet. It ran across the trail and down into an even steeper ravine that I had been watching for deer.
I believe in the mantra of “keep shooting,” so I did. I hit it four out of four shots. One of the follow up shots hit in the top if its ass as it dropped into the ravine and exited out the chest, destroying whatever was left of the lungs. By using a big cartridge and the best bullets it was able to smash the spine and hip bone and still have plenty of energy and velocity left when it got to the lungs so that the damage was devastating. Not just a hole, but lots of hydrostatic shock. That’s why I like my bullets to exit with plenty of velocity, none of that “dump all the energy in the critter crap for me. Bullets that exit with lots of remaining velocity and energy make big wound channels all the way to the exit. Bullets that “dump all the energy” do not. Make no mistake, what kills big game is tissue damage, not “energy.” Hell, a .22 LR will dump all its energy in any big game critter if that’s your goal.
While the first shot would have killed the bear, this one helped stop it much faster. (Full disclosure. The two other hits were not as “well placed,” but give me a break; I was shooting at a bear running so fast downhill it was leaving contrails behind.)
Had the bear made it to the bottom a mile below, I would still be trying to get it out! As, it was, it took six people to get it out of that ravine.
Bottom line. Cartridges on the large side of the bell curve and premium bullets like the Barnes TSX can make a huge difference in the outcome of any big game hunt. Not just a bear hunt 1,000 miles from home, but also deer hunting where you live.
Most of us use plenty of cartridge. The common deer guns of today are powerful, so if you have anything in the .280, .308, .30-06 school of deer guns you are there. But do you use the best premium bullets? Or do you bring what was on sale?
Don’t skimp. While I think Barnes has the best bullet going, there are a lot of good, extreme terminal performance bullets on the market these days. Spend a buck or two more when you buy or load ammo. It’s like car insurance, most of the time you won’t need them and any bullet will kill the deer, but, when you do need a good bullet you really need it bad. If you don’t have it, the outcome will probably be disappointing.