View Full Version : Minimum calibres

Bush baby
January 8, 2002, 01:39 AM
:) Hi to you all,
I'm a new visitor to this forum, want to wish you all a good new year. Anyway here is my first post.

After a recently wounding and losing my first animal this past season, I have been giving some thought to the subject of minimum calibres.
The animal I lost was ‘just’ an Impala ewe, a small antelope about 45 kgs (100 lbs), the cartridge was the 7x30 Waters firing a 140gr Nosler B/T at 2250 fps from a 14’’ barrel, and she was broadside at 75 yards, give or take.
It was a gut shot (11 ½’’ from centre of the shoulder), only a portion of the core exited and was recovered in a sapling about 5 feet behind her position, needless to say, blood spoor was minimal. I tracked her for about 250 meters then lost the spoor.
Now I have been asking myself if a more powerful calibre would not have brought her down sooner or at least provided a better blood spoor to follow?
Consider this, if that same shot had been made with a 338 Win mag firing a 210gr Nosler Part. at 2900 fps, the wound would have been such that she would in all probability, not have moved more than 50 or so yards, and there would have been a trail anybody could have followed – I’m sure of it – I know there are rare exceptions.
Clearly a 338 Win Mag is too much for such a small creature, but it does make the point.

What I am asking is this, is it not time for us all to reconsider what is the recommended acceptable minimum calibre for a particular class of game. Based on what can be expected of that cartridge when hits are less than perfect – instead of judging it’s performance when a bullet hits ‘on the money’?

As an example, that particular 7x30 Waters combination had up to that time accounted for 7 Impala’s (1 male/ 6 female) and 2 medium sized Warthogs – all under 100 meters, and so, could be fairly judged to be ‘suitable’ for game in that weight class. Now however, I feel this particular combination should be categorised as ‘marginal’, and better suited to the smaller classes of antelope such as Duiker, Steenbok, and Klipspringer etc.
Reason is that, because in the case of a poor hit, it cannot be relied upon to put an animal in this weight class down anywhere nearly quick enough. We all know a gut shot animal will almost always run off, the question is how far will it run and how much blood will it lose (on the ground) along the way? These factors will determine the probability of recovering it or not.
Obviously the small piece of soft lead core ‘squirting’ through the offside skin left a very small hole – contributing to the lack of blood spoor to follow. So perhaps a better bullet that held together would have improved things a bit. Still she had moved at least 400 yards (250 plus fanning around when spoor was lost), probably much more, from where she was hit.
I just wonder if a 308 Win/30-06 or similar would not have put her down sooner?

I know a lot of what I have said here is a generalisation and is based on a singular incident, it is not my intention to dissect this incident, but rather I used it only as an example of what I mean generally. The same could be said of many of the smaller and less powerful hunting cartridges.
I feel we as hunters tend to judge and so categorise cartridges (un-suitable, marginal, suitable, good choice) by what they can achieve when all goes well. As such we are unwittingly continuing to move toward smaller and less powerful cartridges – which may not be ‘generally’ suitable.
A good example is the recent trend towards hunting big game with the various .22 centrefires. Just because they can kill quickly when shots are perfectly placed does not necessarily make them suitable. What happens when they’re not placed perfectly, how long does death take then? And what are the chances of recovery?
In a recent article in our local hunting magazine there was a story of someone testing Barnes ‘X’ bullets at various velocities on game, many animals were shot ranging from Impala to Zebra, and the cartridge of choice was….……….the 22 Hornet.
While the idea was a good one, the data collected was really only applicable to the 45gr bullet used, and cannot be readily extrapolated to the larger calibres, so its usefulness it questionable. So I must ask why use such an inappropriate cartridge?
Is an article like this not (inadvertently) prompting some people into thinking that the Hornet could be suitable for game hunting ……….even up to Zebra?

sorry this is such a long post, I'll try to keep them shorter in future.

Bush baby

Roman Knoll
January 8, 2002, 03:15 AM
Bush Baby,

I don't know much about 7x30 Waters but one thing is sure - with gut shot you seldom get much blood to follow the spoor - whatever a caliber. Well trained dog may follow gut shot game easier, especially with through anf through penetration. This is on other hand not easy to achieve on bigger game. Stomach contents have incredible capacity to stop bullets.

Only heavy overkill calibers may in some cases cause relatively speedy demise. My friend gut shot once a black springbock with .375 HH 250 grains Sierra GK (close to 3000 f/s). The ram run off 200 yards and died. It appeared that bullet disintegrated inside the body and few particles lodged in the lungs. THat's what made the trick. But springbuck is rather small. Had my friend pulled same stunt on the blue wlidebeest we would be searching for it over the whole provinvce.

What I mean is that heavier calliber is not an insurance against poorly placed shots. .375 saved my a.. once when I botched running shot on moose. At least it incapacitated the animal so I could find it easy and finish it off. Not that I rememeber this moment with pride. I was just lucky.

There is of course some rules governing what cartridge/bullet weight/velocity should be used for game of given size. I don't think though that .338 would change picture much with gut shot on imapala.

Gun writers presenting catridges use often expression "with proper shot placement this cartridge is adequate for ... " This is of course nonsense. I would change it to "without proper shot placement none of the cartridges is adequate".

Your're South African aren't you Bush Baby,



Snow Man
January 8, 2002, 07:50 AM
Your caliber is probly still okay for what you shot. Results would have been different if the bullet had hit the chest cavity instead of the gut cavity. One of the shots that hit my deer this year was a gut shot. A slug from a 12 gauge. If that had been the only hit, the deer would have gone farther than it did. The green stuff that can come out of a gut shot acts as a darn good blood plug. I would have been looking for the grren stuff on the ground and probly not the red stuff. Yuck.

Art Eatman
January 8, 2002, 09:16 AM
I'm in general accord with Roman that a gut shot from even a larger cartridge isn't necessarily going to improve the situation.

That said, it is common for an animal to go down, briefly, from a leg hit or gut shot if one is using cartridges with more Oomph! than a 7X30. This, then would buy time for a second shot to (one hopes) to be more effective. That's one of the reasons I've used the '06 for central Texas deer hunting, even though they don't usually have a live weight much over 150 pounds.

I have written often in threads here about ethics in hunting, and how important is the "clean kill". At the same time, I know full well that there is no such thing as perfection. Once in a while there is indeed that bad hit, and that's just the way life goes.

One reality about all this is that "waste" is a human term. In the wild, nothing is actually wasted. I may make a mistake and not get to eat what I've wounded but lost. That doesn't mean that a predator or scavenger won't enjoy my mistake. (In this case, my "rationalizing" is yet reality.)

A 140-grain bullet at 2,250 is demanding of near-perfect shot placement. That's equivalent to the AK cartridge, and just below the performance of a .30-30. It's some 700 ft/sec slower than a .30-'06. However, I've seen folks with an '06 lose a gut shot deer, and to me the solution isn't necessarily "more gun" so much as "better shooting".

Losses are distateful and disheartening, but nobody ever told me life was fair.


January 8, 2002, 08:27 PM
The landowner where I hunt regularly uses a .257 Roberts or a .270 but he has been hunting since he was 8 years old and occasionally misses the vital area, having to stay hours in the woods looking for deer.

Not being as experianced as him I think that for high power midrange shots a .308 is a good cartridge and for deep brush a 200 grain .35 Remington is good. This is hunting deer less than 140 +/- pounds.

Art shoots a 30-06 but I think the recoil from that is a little bit much for me, so I can concentrate more on target aquisition and trigger control with the slightly lower powered rifle. That way I don't flinch until AFTER the shot goes off. :eek:

I always worry about missing, so I think it is better to use too big than too little, up to the point where flinching is a factor. Shooting a 338 I wouldn't be able to hit a target the size of an elephant. :(

January 9, 2002, 03:35 AM
First off, Bush baby, welcome to TFL!, Don't think I've seen a better forum to get accurate information for what you'd want to do firearms-related.

Hope you get as much out of "here" as I have.

The Wife shoots a 120 Nosler Ballistic Tip right at 2600 fps out of her 7-08 (for USA - light-skinned game) ... excellent results "IF" - & that's THE "only IF," the bullet hits where it's supposed to.

Your bullet/loading should have done everything expected - except for the "less-than-ideal placement.

BTW, I've "seen" the same "non-performance" with "premium bullets" in "magnum calibers" when the bullet wasn't placed where it needed to go, & somewhat similar results when a much faster & heavier bullet went where it was supposed to go.

Nothing is for certain.

But, using a proper bullet ( you appeared to), decent enough velocity to penetrate & expand (you appeared to), & hit where it will be a vital wound = preferably to reach through to the heart/lung (didn't happen on this one) ... I believe that to be one of "those things" that we cannot always control.

Even with a larger/faster/"better" bullet, a "poor" shot placement will not necessarily "put down" an animal whem/where we'd like ... $#!+ does happen.

My first elk (cow) was shot 3X with a .270 150 gr loads at about 125 yards, quartering towards me & all were in the "kill zone" ... "somebody else" got to harvest this animal. My next elk (& the very next day) was a 6X bull, shot with a .30-06, 180 Nosler Partition, at about 150 yards ... this one was not recovered either .... e-mail for my real feelings ;(

Since then, I have used less, at closer ranges & rcovered everything within 100 yards - usually much less, but many should have been "done in" much quicker, & with much less hassle .... even with "perfect shot & bullets," they have not always cooperated .....

January 9, 2002, 04:31 AM
I see no arguement with your caliber choice if you can hold a 5 inch circle at the range you're taking game. There are plenty of deer taken here in North America with lesser caliber than what you are using, but if you are beginning to doubt your firearm, I would strongly recommend that you load up and practice until you get your confidence back. A larger caliber might have brought your game down with more authority, but as mentioned by others, it is not something you can always count on. Bullet placement is always first, followed by caliber and bullet selection, and even then, there will come the day when your game will surprise you. I think any hunter on this forum will have a story to tell. My first white tail deer in Texas took two shots from a 270 Winchester, a 45 automatic point blank through the top of the head, followed by a knife to the throat! All were killing shots, but the animal just did not want to stop kicking.

Art Eatman
January 9, 2002, 08:59 AM
David, that was one of those deer that, "Yeah, he's dead; he just didn't know it."

:), Art

January 9, 2002, 11:33 PM
It almost looked like a three stooges short! Fired the weapon-a borrowed one at that (never again-don't ever hunt with a borrowed rifle or fish with a borrowed pole!), knocked her down, went over to where she fell and was handing the rifle back to the owner when she got up on her front legs. I'm pulling my pistol out of the holster when the rifle owner hands me back his rifle, so I holstered and put another 270 into her neck at 20 yards. She goes down. We climb the fence and throw her over it, and she starts to get up again! I screwed my 45 into the top of her head and shot again with a 230 grain hollowpoint, and she goes down. I start to roll her over and she starts moving yet again! Out comes my skinning knife and I slit her throat, still waiting to see whether she would try to get up. Hardest meal I EVER got in the field. The only thing I would say "absolutely" after that is a small thermonuclear weapon on a Texas white tail, and after that, I would be certain to put it in their brain before detonation!!!
Looking at what was left, I saw some errors resulting from my shot-my buddy wears glasses and it hit left for me, so my initial neck shot actually hit her back and blew out 4 inches of her spine. Thats why she was able to raise up on her forelegs. The second shot to the neck should have done it, the pistol shot to the brain darned sure should have, but the knife stilled her. I almost cried when I saw the impact of the first shot right in the middle of the backstrap! My buddies rifle does some strange things-it looks like a standard Remington 700 but it has a poltergiest! The very next year he tries a headshot on a doe. 75 yards give or take-no sweat. Bullet enters the skull, turns 90 degrees, exits the back of the head, enters the backstrap, tearing up the spine, goes through its guts, exiting out the flank, entering the hind leg, burrows under the skin for the length of the leg to the joint, exits the leg, drives through the hoof. We never found a trace of the bullet. Makes you want to believe the Kennedy bullet theory!

Art Eatman
January 10, 2002, 09:11 AM

January 10, 2002, 05:55 PM
Dave, I have seen a deer run 85 yards with its heart 'unplugged' from the blood vessels on top of it and have heard stories of worse. Thats why I think it good to err on the side of a bigger bullet.

But your story of the .45 is eerie! That is a pretty big bullet and should have put the deer down right away.:eek:

January 10, 2002, 07:09 PM
My ole bolt action being in repair for a broken firing pin, I once fired a 12 gauge 3" slug at a deer, hitting it straight into the chest cavity, transforming the lungs into minced meat. I thought that this would stop the doe in it's tracks.

Nope. Should have taken a 9.3x74R. The animal got up and ran another 100m before finally succumbing to blood loss. We've had wild boars in the vicinity of Basle run after a pretty good shoulder shot from a .378 Weatherby Magnum, or a 10.3x60mm.

Shot placement counts. All the time. Like that farmer a tad outside of the city of Berne who once got a 450lbs boar. With a .22lr. One hit in the eye took the beast out of competition from the Swiss cornfield tilling championships forever.

slick slidestop
January 10, 2002, 09:30 PM
I don't think caliber was your problem, it was shot placement.

I shot a whitetail on the trot at 250 yards with a 7MM Rem Magnum and it turned into a gut shot. After the shot I sat and watched where the deer had gone into some trees and I was surprised to see him standing amongst some bushes. I thought I had missed so I shot again. A perfect heart lung on the second shot.

When I cleaned the deer, I noticed that the first shot was an in-out through gut and ribs and the intestines had come out the exit wound about 1 inch and totally clogged the hole, thus no blood would have been visible if I had to track him.

If I had not seen the deer in the bushes and come from my stand, i'm sure he would have run off and not been found.

I lucked out and had a nice 10 point to brag on :D

January 10, 2002, 10:59 PM

After that incident, I bought a Remington 700 VS in 308, and have practiced head and upper neck shots almost exclusively ever since. This rifle will do 1/4 inch 5 shot groups with hunting bullets-either Hornady 165 BT or Nosler ballistic tips in 150 or 165 grain weights, and I have not had the experience since. It might be a heavy rifle, but I lost a leg in the service a long time ago, so I stand hunt and the rifles weight helps control the buck feaver that none of us ever get .:D
BTW, the 45 did take a deer the year before last with a standard pressure 200 grain reload at 30 yards. Was so glad to see that, but like others have said, its bullet placement first, then the rest fall in line.

January 11, 2002, 01:52 PM
Yeah no amount of caliber will make up for poor placement. The seperation of the lead core from the bullet sounds suspicious... You really want the jacket and core to stay together unless you are varmint hunting.

My longest day stalking involved a buddy shooting an antelope at 160-165 yards with a 7mm mag. The bullet hit NOTHING but the animal's diaphram. We could see it was hit, we heard the impact, tracked blood for a while, finally at the end of the day got an 80 yard neck shot into it.

No matter WHAT gun used on that day.. the bullet went between ribs, creased the diaphram and exited between ribs.. almost no damage. I think that animal would have survived ahd we not been so persistant.


January 12, 2002, 03:32 PM
I see nothing wrong with your load combo and agree that any gut shot can be trouble from a rifle or a handgun regardless of calibre or bullet used. I have had good sucess with a 7mm tcu loaded with the nosler 120gr solid base(the original bullet for the 7-30?) on Texas whitetails. I shoot this as a max 125 yd round with this flat nose bullet in my super 14. However, I have some people tell me that a 270 win is not enough gun on whitetails because the deer keep running off after they are hit.:eek:
Your load is a good one and is in the ball park of the 30-30 which has probably harvested more deer than any other calibre.
Shot placement and bullet performance is what counts. I have had best results with round nose/flat nose bullets in the calibres I shoot but I know I am loosing distance and power due to the bad coefficient. I have other t/c friends that use the nosler b/t and the sierra single shot pistol bullets and they are sucessful and would never consider the r/n.

January 12, 2002, 06:34 PM
However, I have some people tell me that a 270 win is not enough gun on whitetails because the deer keep running off after they are hit.

I had the same question about the .35 Rem earlier in the season, but it seems that nearly every more experianced hunter I've talked to or who has posted here has had deer run off for sprinter's distances unless the shot placement is perfect.

We could probably get really absurd here and say the ultimate commonly available round for deer hunting is a VW Beetle fired at 80 feet per second. One online ballistics table (http://yarchive.net/gun/ammo/cartridge_table.html) had it listed as being more powerful than the biggest hunting rifle.

A second table (http://www.recguns.com/VIIE8.html) didn't mention the VW so I wonder if it might not be as popular for hunting as I had hoped. So far there is no mention anywhere about the muzzle energy for a Chevy pickup. :rolleyes:

Disclaimer. M&M aint a ballistatician and he don't know what he's talking about half the time. Hitting a deer with a VW can be dangerous.:eek:

January 12, 2002, 06:46 PM
Even with "perfect" placement, a critter can, & has run off. ('Course, we could argue, "if it was perfect ... " ... )

Had a doe shot with 4X 165 .308 Ballistic Tips & had to track/hunt/persue her for over a mile. Finally snap-shot her at about 15 paces when she, & a flock of does jumped out like quail.

When I got her home, hung & started dressing out, bullets started "raining" out of the chest cavity. All full penetration, all plenty good expansion, all in both lungs, all within ~100-150 yards. First shot was on a standing/for all practical purposes a non-alarmed doe deer in about the 125 lb range.

Sometimes things don't want to give it up.

I've shot deer/elk through both lungs (yada re expansion, tissue destruction & total penetration) & they'll still go 100 yards, or more - at times.

Unless you break down the skeletal structure, or destroy the central nervous system, it will not necessarily drop on the spot - & likely it won't - still takes time for the "inherent" oxygen to be used up & cause the critter to fold.

Something to consider re self defense.

Art Eatman
January 12, 2002, 08:50 PM
I've never had a neck-shot deer do anything but drop in its tracks. That's my first-ever at 15 yards with a .222; a dozen or so with a .243, and another dozen or so with an '06. Some were only paralyzed and quivering, but they were right where they had been standing when they were shot. Two ear-shots had the same results.


Roman Knoll
January 13, 2002, 06:41 AM
Shots destroying central nervous system are surely the best solution for having animal down at once. Nevertheless I consider it a risky proposition. Error margin is very small in case of neck shots.

Off course if there is a chance to shoot on stationary game, preferably with good support for the rifle, one can have a go.

Things get complicated if you shoot game you've never hunted before and which anatomy you may not know too well.

A shot in shoulder with a bullet that penetrates through and thruogh is IMO most safe approach. The critter with punctured lungs and smashed shoulders can't survive. Exit hole will sooner or later give blood spoor. I haven't yet lost animal shot that way. Freak exidents can always happen of course.

In our neck of the woods we often have to take shots at moving game in rather dense forest. It is usaully no time for such a surgery as neck shots, good hit in the center of lung/heart area is the only option. Fortunately we have always trained dogs at hand to help us locate game after run off.


Art Eatman
January 13, 2002, 09:21 AM
Roman, I sure agree with your comments. I guess my neck shot notions stem in part from a comment from my father that you either kill 'em or miss 'em. A central Texas whitetail deer is relatively small--field-dressing around 100 to 130 pounds, generally--so any hit to the neck tends to ruin things for him.

A moving critter is a whole 'nother story. :)


January 13, 2002, 11:21 AM
I wonder if there is any room in the discussion for side shots versus front shots, which one needs a bigger slower bullet? One can drill through a deer from either direction but they don't want most of the power to waste.

Roman Knoll
January 13, 2002, 12:33 PM
I'd rather take a frontal shot in the breast than neck shot from the side. Again, the question of margins. You have a chance to take out both spine, which usually bends down and the lungs or heart.

Because anything may happen I'm a heavy bullet/moderate velocity/ deep penetration freak. I'm prone to believe that expansion is fine but penetration's even better.

If you can kill buffalo whith .375 or .416 solids you should be able to get a dear clean with .308 FMJs. After all what's Nosler Partition after nose get crashed on impact. If you shoot something really close, 180 grainer turns to let's say 110 grain FMJ anyway!

In any case I don't care what bullet - premium or otherwise- as long it's heavy and stays in one piece. Thanks God in my place I usually don't have to take intercontinental shots.

Then I'd rather worry about shooting skills - there the problem really is when bullet "fails".


January 14, 2002, 02:07 PM
.243 is commonly held as a good cartridge for whitetail,
probably wouldn't want anything smaller.
Part of what would be the minimum caliber would depend
upon how close you are to the animal, ex. .357 and .44
magnum pistol rounds are apparently ok if you're in close.
Used a high-power rifle for the first time this fall and shot
a very large doe. The deer went down so fast I didn't see
it fall. Used an old Swedish Mauser, 6.5x55mm. Hit it in
the backbone. Excellent cartridge.
The only other time I've used a rifle to kill a deer was an
M-1 carbine, .30 cal. I would not recommend that as a
deer cartridge. I was 15 at the time. Hit the deer in the
right front leg and left front leg, broke both bones. The
deer took off running on its two hind legs, looked like a
kangaroo leaping. I had to run it down about 150-200 yds
from where I shot it and then killed it with 2-3 more shots.
My father used the M-1 to deer hunt for a couple of years
and then he also quit. Said he was tired of tracking deer
1/2 mile after he shot them.

Art Eatman
January 14, 2002, 06:42 PM
Well, scotjute, I guess when you're young, you're an optimist. When ya get old, ya tend to expect to have to look up and say, "Why me, Lord?"

Be nice to be a permanent 40. Been doin' it all long enough to be pretty good at it; not old enough to get pestymystic.

:), Art

January 14, 2002, 09:32 PM
Art, are you saying your a pest mystic? Like you can call up the ghosts of prairie dogs?? They have anything usefull to say? Is that were you get your ideas for varmint loads?


January 15, 2002, 09:46 PM
Bush baby, Let me welcome you here as well.
I am not going to take the time to figure the energy in your 7x30 from your 14" pistol but it seems quite enough from your range and descriptions.
Everything else said aside, I will would like to offer the following from this past Saturday. Whitetail at 185 yds shot wiith .270 130 gr. Rem Silvertip. Bad shot by young kid. I had to pick up teeth and bone to help age the deer. The deer,3.5 year, 125 lb. doe, was dropped in it's track.
Running buck at 40 yds shot with 45/70 350 gr. while quartering away in the high shoulder. Good quality round nose at Ruger velocity took a right in the deer and headed South. The deer was thrown down right there but the track of the bullet, once in the animal, was not expected at all.