View Full Version : selecting a cartridge for big game

Dave in AZ
December 6, 2007, 04:19 PM
I have used .308 for hunting but the high speed bullet damages a lot of meat. I have an old mauser parts rifle and was thinking about rechambering it for something that works well under 200 yards and doesn't destroy the opposite side of the deer / elk when they are shot.

I am leaning towards 45-70 or 444 marlin - big slow bullets that can break bones but am open to other suggestions about cartridges and bullet combinations that leave as much meat intact as possible.

December 6, 2007, 05:04 PM
How much money do you want to spend? Unless your Mauser is a Siamese Mauser I haven't seen too many converted to .45-70. I think you can have a Marlin lever rifle new in both the calibers you mentioned for less money than building a custom rifle. H&R/NEF offers a single shot rifle in both .45-70 and .450 Marlin for quite a bit less money than a custom rifle.

To convert your Mauser which I'm guessing is an old model 98 to .45-70 is going to take quite a bit of work. You'll have to open up the bolt face for rimmed cartridges, work the feed rails to make sure it feeds properly as well as the magazine and magazine box. A new barrel chambered and threaded as well as installed, along with squaring the bolt face, lapping the recoil lugs and polishing the feed rails on the action will run over $600 at most gun smiths.

New stock will run anywhere from around $100 for a cheap synthetic to well over $1K for something in a real fancy grade of wood. Then there are a lot of little things that add up like triggers, safeties, sights (iron, optical, or both), bolt handles, and metal finishing. I'm over $1500 in my custom .25-06 and will probably be closer to $2500+ by the time I'm done.

Get into hand loading and load that .308 down to .30-30 levels of speed and put some 220 grain round nose bullets in it. This should stop ruining meat or stop aiming for the shoulders and aim for the ribs. Can't damage much meat in the rib area plus you take out both lungs and they will not get far.

These are just my suggestions FWIW.

Dave in AZ
December 6, 2007, 05:11 PM
I got to thinking about the very issue of rimmed vs rimless right after I made the original post. and started leaning towards a .35 remington. I don't do a lot of handloading but I do have most of the resources to do the rifle work (sans lathe) so final chambering and headspace fitting are the only two issues I will need to farm out.

I was alos leanign towards a "scout" configuration for field work.

Basically I am a big playbaby with the my creative toys.

December 6, 2007, 05:20 PM
.35 remington, .30-30 win, 7.62x39 russ, .444 marlin .45-70 gov't, .348 win.

December 6, 2007, 05:22 PM
Make it easier on yourself and go .358 Win with some 250 grain bullets. The .35 Rem uses a different rim diameter as well, if I remember it is smaller. This means you'll have to rework the rim on the bolt face as well as the extractor. If you stick with a standard rim diameter and get into reloading it will be much easier.

I do like the scout concept, and hope to have a rifle set up that way someday.

Rim diameter:

.35 Rem .460
.358 Win .473

Just looked it up.

Dave in AZ
December 6, 2007, 05:30 PM
rim diamter - point taken, if its smaller that would make it a lot of work to make the bolt fit. Its easier to cut away. Thanks for the tip.

December 6, 2007, 06:33 PM
Take up bow hunting!:D

I don't get the whole meat damage issue. I use a -06 with 165s and my hunting partner shoots a 7 mm Mag (don't know what weight). If we hit either front shoulder, we lose 1 shoulder (not a lot of meat on the front shoulder anyway). Perfect shot through the heart/lungs loses no meat. We live in a one deer/year state, but that is not excessive meat loss to us.

December 6, 2007, 08:46 PM
Nothing wrong with 8x57

The "anemic" 170 grain american loads by Remington, Winchester and Federal all have a little more oomph than the old 32 Special or 30-30. Folks who hunt deer with those loads have claimed "you can eat right up to the hole".

The full house European loads are perfectly adequate for elk or moose.

Sounds like exactly what you are looking for, and odds are you don't have to change out the barrel....


December 6, 2007, 09:41 PM
You already like the .308 and know its capabilities. Why not re-barrel with the necked down version, also known as the .243 Winchester? It has the same basic design but it shoots deer bullets which range from 85 to 105 grains. I like the 100 grain bullets. :D

December 7, 2007, 12:23 AM
You might want to check this thread out.
You also might want to check out different loads for your .308.

If you're looking to shoot at 200yds and down then stay away from the magnums. since you've got the Mauser then maybe you could check out the 6.5mm Swedish, I've heard good things about that.

You could go for a .30-30 in the Mauser and be certain you've got a great short range deer cartridge.

December 7, 2007, 01:25 AM
This has less to do with the caliber then it has to do with the weight of bullet you are shooting.

I have been a bowhunter for the last 25 years, but when I moved to Colorado I found I had the opportunity to hunt archery early and rifle later in the same season. I didn't even own a rifle other than a .22.

My hunting partner had moved to Alaska before I moved here, so I knew if I was going to buy a rifle, I wanted one big enough to take to AK and hunt Griz. I read a book by M.L. Simmons where he extolled the virtues of the .338 Win. Mag. he stated that he shoots everything with it from Pronghorn to Elk. In his many years of killing animals he said that he doesn't get a coffee cup of ruined meat with that caliber, even on a small animal like a Pronghorn.

I went out and bought a Ruger M77 MkII stainless/laminate in the .338 WM and then went about developing a handload for it. I looked at the available bullet weights for it, and decided that because I was going to be using it for Deer and Pronghorn, that I wanted to use a lighter bullet than the 200-210-225-250 grain common weights. I found some Nosler AccuBonds in 180 grains which I thought would be perfect. I loaded them over IMR 4350 and found that with 73.5 grains I could keep 10 shots under the size of a quarter at 100 yards.

I shot a 5X5 Bull Elk last year ('06) on opening day at 30 YARDS, the gun went boom, and it ran like hell. No blood, no hair, no nothing. I tracked it down the hillside, and didn't cut blood for over 100 yards. When we gutted it out, the entrance hole was the size of a small fist, and there was NO exit hole. It had broke two ribs going in, and we found a hole in the stomach that we figured was where the bullet had turned and gone towards the back of the animal. I wasn't about to go digging through the guts to find the bullet. I was shocked about two things, first, that it actually ran after the shot (I figured it would have been doing backflips with a .338 WM at 30 yards), and two, that the bullet had not been a passthrough. It is entirely possible that the bullet at that close of range didn't have the time it needed to stabilize, and it might have been tumbling causing the large entrance wound, then didn't expand either, allowing the animal to run. It went close to 175 yards before it was down.

Hunting season '07 I shot a Pronghorn Doe in WY at 225 yards. The bullet hit her at the base of the neck, and my wife said it didn't even flinch, of course with a shot like that there was no loss of meat. A couple of weeks later I shot a Mulie Doe at 225 yards and the entrance was between the neck and the front shoulder with the exit through the heart and out the ribs also breaking the off side front leg in half. When I skinned her out, it was bloodshot from the shoulder to the back ham on the entrance side.

I think the amount of bloodshot on the Deer was caused from shooting the lighter bullet. I am going to take the off season and re-develope a cartridge in the 200 to 210 grain range. The theory I have heard is that the bullets in that range and higher punch through the animal so fast that it causes a vaccuum at the entrance and you don't get the bloodshot. This is only a theory I've heard, and I have no data to back this up but I figured I'd increase the bullet weight and see what happens next year.

If you're worried about the meat loss from bloodshot it might be worth it to investigate some different grain bullets and see if they cause less damage. It's sure cheaper than the other options of reconfiguring a rifle to another caliber, or buying a new rifle.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Art Eatman
December 7, 2007, 09:20 AM
Sorry, no sympathy. I've used an '06 with 150- and 165-grain bullets of various types. The only time I ever ruined meat was when a buck's stance was such that the bullet exited his neck and ranged on into a ham.

.243: The Sierra 85-grain HPBT will create a double-handful of mush in whatever it hits. The twenty-some deer I've killed with that load had no ruined eatin'-meat.

Neck shots and heart/lung shots don't ruin meat. If you take an angling shot, odds are that some edible-meat area will be hit, and any bullet will mess up some meat.

December 7, 2007, 08:20 PM
The theory I have heard is that the bullets in that range and higher punch through the animal so fast that it causes a vaccuum at the entrance and you don't get the bloodshot. This is only a theory I've heard, and I have no data to back this up but I figured I'd increase the bullet weight and see what happens next year.

This vacuum or sonic effect is called cavitation. Basically if a bullet is traveling over about 700 fps it will start pushing its sound wave out of the way as it travels, creating a sonic boom. The faster things go the bigger and harder the shock wave gets to the point where bullets traveling over about 2200-2400 fps tears the tissue almost like a blender. As Art says it leaves "a double-handful of mush", though I prefer the term "goo". The vacuum itself is formed as the tissue is pushed out by the shock wave then it quickly collapses producing a secondary shock wave.

Bigger bullets are traveling slower and so actually have less vacuum effect rather than more. Which leads me to the point that I'd think the culprit here is speed and not weight. Surely even in a big cartridge like the 338 WM there must be somewhere in the loading tables a listing for a safe medium velocity load for the 180 grain bullet? I'd think that if a safe load could be found which shoots no more than 2200 fps then one could significantly reduce the shock wave. (I keep repeating the words 'safe load' because it isn't safe to just put a dab of powder to shake around loose inside a big cartridge.)

December 8, 2007, 11:14 AM
I shoot a 7mm-08 with 120 Nosler Ballistic Tips running right at 3000 fps. I shoot double-lung shots almost exclusively. What meat damage? The ribs don't have enough meat to fool with and I only lose a piece about the size of a silver dollar anyway. Rarely does the bullet exit and when it does, I lose a hunk about the same size. The deer's vitals are almost always turned to jello and I've never had one run more than 40 yards. Many have fallen where they stood. Come to think of it, I've also used 140 grain core-lokts and partitions. Then again, I've shot deer with .50 cal muzzleloaders and with a .270 win. All my experiences have been similar which leads me to conclude that shot placement is everything. You can be under-gunned and shot placement will likely still take care of you. You can be over-gunned and good shot placement will prevent meat destruction, even with a .338 win mag.

December 8, 2007, 01:14 PM
I've been hunting with 180gr in 30-06 since '48 and have never lost much meat to blood shot when the bullet went where I wanted it. If I do my job, the bullet does its job and we are both happy.


December 8, 2007, 06:22 PM
It is entirely possible that the bullet at that close of range didn't have the time it needed to stabilize, and it might have been tumbling

I'm almost afraid to ask, exactly what does this mean?

Hawg Haggen
December 8, 2007, 07:10 PM
I use a 30-06 with a 165 grain BTBT running close to 3000 FPS out of a 26 inch barrel and I don't lose much meat. I don't use the ribs anyway.

December 9, 2007, 10:23 AM
30.06 with a 180 GR bullet has done a great job for me.

Art Eatman
December 10, 2007, 08:35 AM
sasquatch, I've read this sort of thing from time to time, and I've never understood about "stabilizing". If the twist rate and the bullet length are compatible, the bullet is plenty stable for hunting accuracy. Tumbling is not even in the picture, absent a shot-out barrel or a serious mismatch of twist and bullet length.

Supposedly, it's possible for bullets to initially have a bit of yaw as they exit the muzzle. They supposedly settle down, "stabilize" and spin around the axis of the bullet at some distance out. I've yet to see anything besides round, bullet-diameter holes in paper at 25 and 100 yards--and that's with maybe ten different cartridges and thirty or forty bullet weights and designs among thirty or forty different rifles over these last forty-some years. (Dang, that's a lot of numbers! :D)

December 10, 2007, 11:01 AM
I agree with you 100%, Art.

If a bullet from a hunting rifle is "tumbling" at 30 yds., there is something seriously wrong with that rifle.

I think these kinds of theories are nothing more than "urban legends", passed on by folks who do not have much experience with firearms and ballistics.

December 10, 2007, 11:39 AM
I've only had bullets keyhole once on me at 50 yards. I was loading for a .204 Ruger in a 14" barreled Contender pistol. I was trying some 40 grain V-Max and at 50 yards 3 out of 5 bullets keyholed. Dropped down to 32 grain problem solved never had a keyhole again.

December 10, 2007, 12:02 PM
Shoot 'em in the ribs with anything and you won't lose any meat, ever. Easier said than done, I know.

December 10, 2007, 12:07 PM

I'm not saying that "keyholing" can't happen.....it does. However, it is usually due to the base of the bullet being deformed before, or as, it leaves the barrel.

Dave in AZ
December 10, 2007, 06:58 PM
I had borrwered a .270 about 2 years ago and had a helluva time zeroing because the bullets were keyholing. Aftere consiberable expense and aggravation I discovered that ballistic tips on the bullets were too long for the chamber and when I switched to a win. failsafe HP (no tips) the rifle shot like it should.

Tumbling is not always caused by deformed bases but can be evident when there is any form of instability.