View Full Version : Thoughts on firearms and bullet energy...

May 7, 2012, 08:51 PM
My mind was wandering on the way home. I got to thinking how firearm performance has come a long way. I thought about the 30-30 and how it was the ultimate deer rifle when it came out. What was the ultimate deer gun before that? As far as energy goes, people have hunted big game with firearms for a really long time; how much actual energy was generated by, say, an 18th century musket? Daniel Boone was able to kill deer, etc, right?

May 8, 2012, 06:41 AM
I think the Tower musket (Brown Bess) used by the British forces would shoot a round ball about 900 fps with an issue 60 grain powder charge.

Rifles could shoot patched roundballs up to 2000 fps, especially in the smaller calibers but roundballs had so much drag that that bullet would be subsonic at 100 yards.

Civil war rifled muskets, .58 caliber pretty much equalled a 12 gauge shotgun shooting slugs, maybe less velocity.

In those days, you had to be good a stalking, almost like bowhunting. An arrow has kinetic energy on the order of a .22 rimfire, maybe less.

May 8, 2012, 07:20 AM
The key thing to remember is that energy isn't everything. A hole if the right place leading to rapid loss of blood pressure and blood was and still is the primary cause of death.

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May 8, 2012, 07:34 AM
I'd say that before the .30-30 came out, the .44-40 was probably considered "the" deer cartridge, if not exactly the ultimate. Maybe the penultimate. It was used a Browning designed Winchester lever action that stayed in production almost until WWII. So if nothing else, it at least had some popularity. For hunting deer and even black bear, it was good enough. If the deer you know are like the deer I know, you probably won't get many long shots anyway. In the Western states, on the other hand, a longer shot is more likely, so I expect the .30-30 quickly became more popular, at least for lever actions.

May 8, 2012, 07:53 AM
You often hear of the Colt SSA or Winchester 73 being the guns that "won the west".

In reality the "real" gun that won the west was the single barreled shot gun and most of those were muzzle loaders, even late into the century. Few could afford brass cases.

Most of those who moved west couldn't afford to buy the Colt and Winchesters. The shot gun gave them the option of using shot for small game and slugs for heavier game.

Post civil war there were tons of surplus rifles. Not a lot different then the Krags and Enfields after WWI, Springfield's and Enfields after WWII.

The rifles taken home after the CW were muzzle loaders, cap and ball. Though rifled, they too were used for shot. Most rifles came with their own bullet molds and just about every one cast bullets.

The ideal of "cowboys" and their six shooters is a Hollywood stereotype. Most ranchers wouldn't allow their hands to carry. If they had pistols, they were carried in the saddle bags or left with the bed roll. Most couldn't hit anything with a pistol anyway. At normal pistol ranges the shot gun was much better.

Anyway, little was thought of regarding energy. The ammo was large led bullets, slow velocity. But again, most of the "hunting" was done with shot. These people had no means to keep meat that long. However rabbits and grouse 'n such could be consumed before it spoiled.

A whole lot didn't change moving into the 20th Century to the depression. My grandfather had a small farm, and used a single shot 16 gage to supplement feeding his family. Ammo was expensive, shotguns made it easier to get a squirrel or rabbit with the first shot.

He had a part time job working for the Sheriff, escorting prisoners from Perry County AR to Little Rock. He didn't carry a pistol, he couldn't afford one and not many LE Dept's issued weapons. He used that same shotgun.

My other Grandfather came from a little more "well to do" family. His father was a rancher. When my GF left home to cowboy on his own he was given a S&W 44 Russian. It was carried mostly in his saddle bags.

After WWII my father didn't want anything to do with military style rifles. He hunted with a Model 94 Winchester in 35 Remington. We lived in Cheyenne back then and he use the 35 Rem hunting antelope. That was a relatively short range gun compared to the rifles we use on the plains today.

I just don't think many thought much about energy and balistics in the 1800s, I don't think most shooters didn't get into that until after WWII.

After the war, the country was flooded with surplus milityar rifles, and ex-GIs looking for jobs. Many took their firearm experiences and got inot the gunsmithing trade, modifying these rifles. Some were good and lasted, some weren't. That's where many of these old rifles got their bad names (take the stories of the 1917 Enfields and headspace. It wasn't the gun, it was the lack of knowledge of checking headspace.

Gun people were different back then. You built your guns, now some rifles go for more then I paid for my first house.

May 8, 2012, 09:39 AM
No, I believe there were two guns that won the West. The first was a buffalo rifle that killed off the great herds that supported the Indians. The second was the army rifle that defeated the Indians. After the Indians were out of the way, it was won.

May 8, 2012, 10:11 AM
The ideal of "cowboys" and their six shooters is a Hollywood stereotype.

As usual Kraigwy is right on the money. They same can be said of the 30-30. It owes most of it's popularity to the Hollywood Westerns that were a staple in theaters and TV from the 1920's-1970's. The 30-30 was first introduced in 1895, had had been obsolete for 3 years before the 1st rifle and box of ammo were ever sold. It has never been the ultimate deer round, except in some hunters heads. The 7X57 Mauser came out 3 years earlier in 1892 and is the first truly modern chambering. Almost every chambering since is in some way based on the 7X57's design.

After WW-1 most of the soldiers knew how much better rounds such as the 7X57, 8X57, and 30-06 were, but many still associated bolt rifles with military guns much like many today have the same feelings about AR's. I Believe that had it not been for their starring role in Hollywood movies the lever actions and the 30-30 chambering would have died a quiet death in the 1920's. As they did in every other place on the planet other than the USA.

May 8, 2012, 10:58 AM
Most of the lever actions you saw in cowboy movies were more likely to have been Model 1892, probably chambered in either .38-40 or .44-40. They could use the same blanks as the revolvers. And by the way, there really were cowboys in the old west. Some were Mexican and some were even black. And the .30-30 isn't such a bad cartridge. And furthermore, compared with most military rifles, a Model 1894 carbine is sleek and lightweight and fits into a saddle scabbard rather better.

Isn't a 7.62x54r obsolete, too?

May 8, 2012, 11:28 AM
Probably the most common cartridge shot at deer was the 44WCF well into the 20th century until the 30-30 passed it up. But perhaps the best deer cartridge may well have been the 38-55 Winchester which was actually a development of Marlin/Ballard from the 1880's I believe. It had a good balance of accuracy, power, and range for those days before smokeless powder rounds changed the shooting world.

May 8, 2012, 11:33 AM
kraigwy is pretty close to spot on. Most cowboys were migrant workers or subsistence workers, and spending a month's wages on a revolver when your boss didn't allow it was not in the picture. Shotguns did a lot of the hunting work, and cap and ball firearms were still in use right up to the late 1800s. Small bore cartridges were the norm for deer hunting. At the end of the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century, the .32-20 was considered a fine deer cartridge, with low recoil and available in handy, easy to carry, inexpensive rifles that you could set by the back door to chase away the occasional varmint from the hen house or carry in the buggy to pot a grouse on your way to town. A Winchester 1873 cost a good bit of money, so not everyone could afford to have one just sitting around. Instead, there were a lot of older surplus weapons in use on ranches and farms, old Trapdoors, Spencers, and the like.

The 30-30 was an amazing cartridge when it was first introduced, 2,100 fps with a 170 gr bullet in a 6 lbs package was pretty cool, especially when you compared it to its competition, so it was no big surprise when it took the gun world by storm. Let's see, you could have a 1873 Winchester in 44-40 (1,400 fps with a 200 gr lead bullet in a 9 lbs package), or a 1873 Springfield in 45-70, or a Savage 44-1/2 single shot in a variety of small-bore cartridges, or a Winchester 1894 in 30-30 that would shoot to point of aim out to 150 yds and still had enough energy at 300 yds to down an elk. You could not buy a 1893 Mauser outside of the larger cities, and the lever action was king of the repeaters for many years, until after WW1 at least. After that, the rules changed, but the Winchester 1894 was and still is a great rifle.

BTW, most of the buffalo herds were slaughtered using black powder muzzleloaders and 45-70s, the military would sell ammo to civilians and if you wanted cheap ammo they were the place to go as long as you owned a 45-70 or a 45 Colt firearm, so that was what many commercial hunters used. If you owned a rifle in an exotic chambering, you had to special-order ammunition, which could take weeks to get, although mail order was generally considered pretty fast in rural America. Many of the cartridges we consider to be "buffalo gun" cartridges were in fact target rifle cartridges so they were very uncommon anywhere, and many were not even introduced until most of the buffalo had been killed off already.