The following information on high power, small bore hunting cartridges comes from Rifles and Rifle Shooting by Charles Askins. Rifles & Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
Rifles for Deer, Antelope, Caribou, Black Bear, Mountain Lions.
Calibers—.25-35-117 Winchester, .25-35 Remington Automatic, .32-40 High Power, .30-30 Winchester and Marlin, .303 Savage, .32 Special, .30 Remington Automatic, .33 Winchester, .35 Remington, and .35 Winchester.
I have seen fit to separate our hunting cartridges into classes 1 and 2, partly on the ground that one class was designed exclusively for hunting purposes and the other as a rule for military use, partly for the reason that they differ essentially in ballistics.
Those listed in class 1 are strictly game cartridges, no army rifles ever having been chambered for any one of them. On the contrary those embraced in class 2 were either originally intended for military arms or they have been modeled after the military ammunition. A radical difference in the two classes of cartridges is that those of class 1 are rarely used with other than soft-nose bullets, while expert opinion leans to the belief that the number 2 class are more effective with full mantled, sharp pointed bullets.
The cartridges heading this chapter, though varying widely in caliber and energy, yet otherwise have very similar ballistics. They unite in a happy medium of range, power, accuracy, velocity, trajectory, and moderate recoil. Undoubtedly some of them would be found much better adapted to certain purposes than others, yet all have been thoroughly tested by American big game hunters and have proved to fulfill admirably the purpose for which they were designed.
Excluding the .25 calibers, many consider that any of the cartridges in this class have all the power needed for any game on the American Continent. Free recoil is something to be considered in the choice of a rifle, and with the exception of the .350 Winchester all of those listed in class 1 are of the non-kicking persuasion. Moreover breech pressures are light compared with those in class 2, and this furthers length of life in a barrel with absence of metallic fouling and other troubles most familiar to the military man. Practically all of them use soft-nose bullets exclusively, handling them with regular accuracy. Velocities in these cartridges vary from 1,985 feet for the Savage to 2,200 for the Winchester .35.
I will now briefly outline the special points of the different cartridges in class 1.
.25-35 Winchester and .25-35 Remington Automatic
Ballistically these cartridges might be considered as one, though the Remington has over a hundred feet the higher velocity and the shell is different, being rimless.
Many species of game, including elk and bear, have been killed with the .25-35, but I think it would be wise to restrict their big game use to deer. They have a muzzle energy of from 1,000 to 1,200 foot pounds, but this falls short of the 1,500 pounds that might be considered the minimum for big game shooting of a general description.
The slight recoil of the little cartridges, only three and a third pounds, renders them especially attractive for general rifle practice, including target practice up to five hundred yards, training in the woods and fields with a view to promoting the correct judging of distance, and for that quick and accurate snap work for which the rifleman of the future will be noted. For shooting all small game of the “varmint” variety this is a splendid cartridge.
By reason of its being made of a more modern type, rimless, because of its higher velocity, and because it is used by an automatic rifle, the Remington cartridge will probably outlive the other. The Winchester cartridge is furnished in reduced charges for such game as squirrels and rabbits, thus making it a fairly good all-round rifle for certain sections of the country.
The .30-30, .32-40, .32 Special, .303 Savage, .30 Remington Automatic
These cartridges are so similar in all essential properties that if all but one were done away with the others would hardly be missed. The Savage has a heavier bullet than any of the others with the consequent greater penetration, but its velocity is also somewhat lower which makes its energy about the same. The .32 Special has the highest velocity and greatest smashing force, but not to any marked extent. The .32-40 with its straight tapered shell and slower twist of rifling lends itself to a variety of loads, including black powder charges, and many believe that, taken all round, it is the best of the lot. Striking force in this lot of cartridges varies only from 1,540 to 1,684 pounds.
Cartridges of the .30-30 type can be considered the most conservative and most fully tested of any used in American hunting rifles. Perhaps the .30-30 has killed more big game in the last ten years than any other cartridge in use. We know what this ammunition will do because it has done it again and again.
It has always impressed me that for use in the Northern or Eastern woods, on any game less than grizzly bear, the sportsman would be perfectly safe in selecting any one of the above cartridges, confident that he had made a wise choice of the cartridge and the hunting arm which handles it. These cartridges are all shot from lever-action rifles except the Remington Auto.
The .33 Winchester, .35 Remington, .401 Winchester
To all intents and purposes, so far as results upon game are concerned, these three cartridges may be considered as one and the same. All of them use 200 grain bullets, and while the Winchester .401 has some little advantage in velocity, trajectory, and energy, the difference is not of sufficient moment to be worthy of special mention. All have muzzle velocities of 2,000 feet and better, with a striking force in the neighborhood of a ton. The character and shape of the soft-point bullet used is the same in all.
While I believe that in view of present tendencies and preferences among riflemen and game hunters this ammunition could be improved by increasing the velocity to 2,400 or 2,500 feet, yet I consider them at the present time, for general use, the best all round big game cartridges we have in America. They have such diameter and shape of bullet as will insure against upset and the expenditure of the full energy upon any game, whether soft skinned or heavy boned. Moreover, power, accuracy, and trajectory are accompanied in them by low breech pressure, little metallic fouling or wear on the barrels, and a minimum of recoil for results secured.
In the hands of experienced guides, mountain men, and hunters in the West and North these cartridges and the guns in which they are used have given perfect results upon all game including the largest varieties of bear. This is not saying that they are bear or elephant guns, but they will do the work when required, and certainly have ample power for elk and moose.
The .35 Winchester
This cartridge might fairly have been placed with the big bores, but falls short of the 8,000 pounds of muzzle energy that is the minimum with them, so I have put it in the present class. In power it shows what the .33 Winchester and .35 Remington might have accomplished if given a few hundred feet greater velocity. The .35 Winchester is well liked by all those who have a partiality for ample power and do not mind the recoil which must accompany it. In all respects, striking force, velocity, and trajectory, it is an advance upon the preceding cartridges, having an energy at one hundred yards equaling the others at the muzzle.
There are many other cartridges, like the .30-40-220 Krag, .303 British, 7, 8, and 9 mm. Mauser which might have been placed in class 1, but they are being remodeled to take heavier powder charges in connection with light Spitzer bullets and so have been promoted to class 2.
Class 2.—Military and Sporting
Rifles adapted to shooting Moose, Elk, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Sheep, Goats, and all American game.
Calibers—.236 Lee-Navy, .256 Mannlicher, .25-50-117 Newton High-Power, 7, and 8 mm. Mauser-Spitzer, .280 Ross, 30-’06 Springfield, .275-303 Axite.
As previously stated, cartridges embraced in this class were either originally designed for long range military use, or they have been modeled after this type of ammunition. With the exception of the .275-303 Axite, all the above are alike in every essential ballistic quality. Those of most recent design are the highest in velocity, which aptly illustrates the tendencies of the times. Velocities range from 2,500 feet for the Mannlicher to 3,500 feet for the Newton High-Power.
With the one exception noted, considered as game cartridges, they are an absolute departure from accepted conclusions. Previous to their invention it was not doubted that soft-point bullets were more effective on game than full metal patched, or that blunt points had a smashing effect that the sharp lacked. Now we are confronted with the theory, not unsupported by proof, that the sharp-point, full mantle is the most deadly form of projectile when driven at a velocity approaching 3,000 feet. Accepting the theory as true, we can only account for it by acknowledging as a fact the statement that given speed enough a bullet will upset anyhow, no matter what its shape or metal covering.
Further the speedy ball must have an explosive effect on animal tissue not unlike its manner of bursting a can of tomatoes. So pronounced is this explosive quality in the highly driven bullet that I am told the tiny .22 Newton-Savage is more deadly on deer than the .30-30. Whatever the reason that may be assigned, such rifle experts as Lieut. Whelen, Roosevelt, White, Crossman, and others pronounce the ’06 Springfield the most deadly form of 150 grain missile that ever struck animal flesh.
Whether time and further experience will modify the views of these experts or not, and I believe they will be modified, the whole tendency of cartridge designers of the immediate future will be in the direction of still further increasing bullet velocity, thereby promoting that peculiarly deadly effect mentioned.
It seems probable that while raising the velocity with improved and stronger powders, the bullets will be lengthened from the present short and light missiles, thus furthering accuracy and speed of flight at long range. Taking the ’06 Springfield as the type, and all the others are modeled after it, the ball loses velocity too rapidly after traveling five hundred yards to be acceptable as the military bullet of the future. The 2,700 feet initial velocity of the Springfield has fallen to 1,068 feet at one thousand yards, a loss of 1,632 feet over the range. In view of the fact that long range military shooting will finally be lengthened to two thousand yards, this falling off in velocity is altogether too rapid.
We are not treating military arms or military shooting, but the desirability of maintaining velocity in game work is this: Unless there is a miracle in the little sharp pointed ball, its effectiveness is entirely due to its velocity. When its speed drops to 1,200 feet it will have no more effect on the animal struck than any other ball of like size and shape traveling at the given rate. If it takes 2,500 feet of velocity to “explode” animal tissue, we must maintain this speed up to the point where the bullet lands in the game. This the Springfield 150 grain will not do if it is to be used at ranges from two to three hundred yards greater than our ordinary game rifles, as our experts declare that it can be.
I think that we, the conservative and the radical alike, can make up our minds that the day of the 3,000 foot velocity hunting cartridge is upon us. The known and the good will have to give way, first to the experimental, and then to the perfected cartridge of the future. Class 1, ammunition will at last yield to class 2, though these may be modified considerably from those that at present hold sway.
Game of the future is going to be scarcer and wilder, necessitating shots at longer distances. Trajectory must then be considered of the utmost importance. Moreover the rifleman of the next decade will be better trained to snap and running shots than any marksmen we now have, and whether the bullet lands in a quarter of a second or a half second will make a wonderful difference, where the target is two or three hundred yards away and traveling at the rate of thirty or forty feet a second.
To the credit of the new type of ammunition, too, it should be remembered that it is the most accurate sporting ammunition in use. Experiments by the War Department demonstrate that the ’06 ammunition will keep ten shots in a three-inch circle at two hundred yards while the soft-point bullet of the .30-40 and similar rifles will only pattern in an eight-inch. Granted that game is to be killed at three hundred yards and farther, we must have the accurate cartridge.
With the exception of the .275-303 which has been included in class 2 because of its high velocity and small bore, all the cartridges in this class are as like as the peas in a pod. Some of them may be loaded with different sizes of ball, but the characteristics and the ballistic data given have reference only to the Spitzer bullet.
The 6 mm. or .236 U.S. Navy has never been extensively used in sport, but this was not from lack of merit, but because the rifle from which it was shot was neither well known nor easily obtained. The rifle for this cartridge is no longer made, yet at this time there is a tendency to extol the merits of both rifle and cartridge. The 112 grain bullet has an initial velocity of 2,562 feet, energy 1,682 foot pounds, 200 yard trajectory 3.49 inches.
The .256 Mannlicher is very like the .236 Navy, except that its bullet is heavier and its striking force something greater. It has been used extensively abroad but not very much in this country. Almost every species of big game has been killed with the .256 Mannlicher, even to elephants, and at one time it was the fashion to pronounce it more deadly than the big bores. A more extensive use showed this conclusion wrong, but it seems to have execution sufficient for any of the deer family.
The latest candidate for the favor of the high velocity, Spitzer bullet devotee is the .25-50-117 Newton Savage High-Power. The cartridge has not been used enough to afford any very reliable data as to what it will do, especially on game. However, there is no reason to doubt but that it will be as successful as others of its class. Its bullets shows the highest experimental velocity of any cartridge ever built, 3,500 feet, and its striking energy is about the same as that of the Springfield ’06.
The characteristics and ballistics of the New Springfield have been treated in the preceding pages. It has been pronounced the most accurate military cartridge made, a claim our Canadian neighbors are disposed to dispute with the .280 Ross.
The Springfield has made many possibles at all ranges in the hands of our troops and won the international matches, while the Ross last year carried off the highest honors in England.
The Ross .280 has a velocity some four hundred feet higher than that of the Springfield, a bullet of the same shape but weighing a few grains less, and the claim is made for it that it has less chamber pressure than the ’06. The accuracy of the Ross is said to equal that of the Springfield.
The 7 mm and the 8 mm Mauser-Spitzer are designed exactly like the Ross and the Springfield. There is hardly a doubt but they will have the same capabilities. Their initial velocities are a trifle short of 3,000 feet. Full ballistics of these cartridges will be found in the table.
The .375-303 Axite is a development of the .303 British Army cartridge. It is loaded with the same weight and shape of bullet, 215 grains, but the powder charge has been increased to give a muzzle velocity of from 2,500 to 2,600 feet. The muzzle energy is about 8,000 pounds, and this with soft-point ball makes its power ample for ordinary large game.