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How Dead Do They Need To Be?

A few weeks ago, several of us at the hunt camp were all sitting on the porch, and for whatever reason, the discussion turned to bullets.

Now, I am talking about bullets – not loaded ammo. With the exception of one of the eight guys, we all hand load, so we can load whatever bullet we want to use to hunt the elusive Southern whitetail deer.

When you get several guys together talking about guns, hunting, fishing, ammo or the neatest and newest 4-wheeler, it could turn into the debate of the century – and that's where the discussion was headed. Each of us had an opinion on the best bullet (or maybe the worst), depending on the circumstances in which it was being used.

The discussion and debate led me to drag out some old (and not-so-old) data I had been saving for many years and do a comparison of animals that either my hunting buddies or I have harvested. I even made a call to one of my other hunting buddies that has been keeping data on bullets for many years.

So, sit back and enjoy, "How Dead Do They Need To Be?" – a column about different bullets and their performance in different guns and different calibers. If you do not already have a favorite style of bullet, maybe this will help.

Bullets come in about five different styles, as far as performance after they hit the target.

1) Solids – such as the Barnes, Hornady Gilding Metal and others like these. These solids are designed to "petal" and stay together, even when they hit bone.

2. Ballistic tips – such as Combined Technology ballistic tip and Nosler Ballistic tip – are designed so the front half will break into pieces on impact, sending these pieces through the deer's body, while the back half stays together to drive through.

3. Interbond and Partition styles – like Hornady Interbond or Nosler Partition – are designed to mushroom, but stay together, generating a large exit hole and maintaining almost all of its original weight. These are normally advertised to retain between 85-90% of the original weight.

4. Full Metal Jacketed lead bullets. These were designed for combat, and other than shooting varmints or plinking, I see no real use for them as hunting bullets.

5. Target bullets – like the Sierra Match King or the Hornady A-Max – are extremely thin-skinned and come almost completely apart when the come into contact with anything other than paper targets. The bullet manufacturers do not recommend hunting with these but, boy do they make a giant entrance hole!

There are other types and styles, but you can pretty much put almost every type of bullet into one of these five categories.

My hunting partner Alex has been hunting deer for about five years now and has shot several deer with his .308 Winchester using several different bullets.

His first deer was harvested using the 150-grain Combined Technology Ballistic Silvertip. The deer was hit just behind the right shoulder and part of the bullet exited in front of the opposite rear leg. The deer was about 40 yards away when shot and traveled about 20 yards before dropping.

This bullet entered the shoulder and fragmented, sending small pieces of lead and copper through the body. A small piece of the bullet's base (about 60 grains) exited the deer after traveling about 30 inches.

The next deer came with the same .308 rifle, using the same bullet. This deer was hit on the left shoulder from a downward angle, which caused the bullet to pass through the heart and exit below the right shoulder. The deer was about 65 yards away when shot. The bullet created an exit wound big enough to put a golf ball in, and the deer ran about 40 yards before dropping. The bullet was not recovered.

The next deer was also shot with the same rifle in .308, but with a 165-grain Nosler Partition at a distance of about 45 yards. It was hit behind the left shoulder, and the bullet exited behind the right shoulder, leaving an exit hole about the size of a nickel. This deer ran 50 feet before falling. This bullet was not recovered.

Another deer was shot in the lower neck as it was facing Alex. The bullet traveled through the body without exiting. This deer fell exactly where it was shot.

The bullet was a Combined Technology 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip. This deer was about 50 yards away when shot. This bullet was not recovered. I shot a deer with a .30-30 170-grain Silvertip at a distance of about 50 yards. The bullet entered behind the right shoulder and exited the left side between the shoulder and rear leg. This deer ran about 25 yards before dropping. The exit wound was about the size of a quarter. This bullet had completely destroyed the heart, and the bullet was not recovered.

My next deer was shot with a .45-70 shooting a Hornady 350-grain Interlock flat nose bullet. The deer was shot through the middle of the neck at a distance of 100 yards. It ran about 10 feet before dropping. The exit wound was the size of a silver dollar. The bullet was not recovered.

My next deer was shot with the same rifle, using the same Hornady 350-grain Interlock bullet at a distance of about 40 yards. The deer was hit in the middle of the neck and it dropped where it was standing. The exit wound was the size of a silver dollar, and the bullet was not recovered.

My next deer was also shot with the .45-70, using the same bullet, at a distance of about 75 yards. The deer was looking right at me and was hit in the middle of the chest. The bullet passed completely through the deer, which dropped right there, and exited between the crotch. This bullet was recovered and weighed about 250 grains.

My next deer was taken using a .300 Weatherby Magnum, shooting a Hornady 180-grain Interlock Spire Point at 110 yards. The bullet entered the front of the chest and exited just before the crotch. The bullet opened a cavity in the underside of the deer large enough for all of the entrails to fall out – as they did. This deer ran 50 yards before dropping. The bullet was not recovered.

The next deer was shot at 170 yards, using a .30-30 with a Hornady 150-grain Interlock round nose. The bullet hit the deer in the left shoulder, traveled through the body and was lodged in the right rear leg. This deer ran about 20 yards before dropping. There was no exit wound, but the bullet was recovered and weighed about 80 grains.

Then we had a deer shot with a .270 Winchester at a distance of 180 yards, using a Barnes 130-grain Tipped Triple Shock X solid copper bullet. This deer was hit in the left shoulder, and the bullet exited the right shoulder. The entrance and exit wounds were almost the same size. The deer ran about 150 feet, but had to be shot again.

Next we had a deer that was shot at a distance of 50 yards with the same rifle and bullet as above. The deer was hit behind the left shoulder, dropped to the ground, but then got up and ran off. There was a little blood to trail, but after about 50 yards the blood disappeared. Even with several people looking for a couple of hours, the deer was not found that day. One week later this deer was found about a half mile from where it was shot. The bullet exited the opposite side behind the other shoulder and was not recovered.

My most recent deer was shot with a .308 Winchester using a Hornady 165-grain Interlock SST from a distance of 90 yards. The bullet entered just behind the right shoulder and exited just behind the left shoulder. The deer fell over as if it were made of paper and you blew it over. The exit wound was about the size of a quarter and the bullet was not recovered.

Now, let’s get back to the discussion that night at the camp One hunter talked about the bullets he liked to use because they expanded to 1-1/2 times their original size. Another liked solid copper because they did not come apart. Another liked bullets that the front came apart and the rear of the bullet stayed together and pushed on through.

But the best of all was the old guy that shot an old, beat-up, bolt-action .30-06. He said he shoots factory ammo and the brand does not matter because the longest shot he has ever taken was 50 yards.

He added that no matter what bullet he shoots, as long as he does his part and puts the bullet in the right spot, that animal is going to fall down with little to no tracking.

The next few paragraphs are just my opinion, but are based on the information that I have seen with my own eyes over the past 45 years of hunting both deer and pigs in the South.

Bullets that disperse all or most of their energy in the animal (or bullets that come apart either entirely or partially) seem to be better for quick kills. When you poke a large hole or many small holes in a bucket with fluid in it, the fluid will run out of the bucket faster than if you have only two small holes. No matter which type of bullet you shoot, you should know the characteristics of that bullet and shoot accordingly.

I have been asked many times what my favorite bullet for hunting deer and pigs would be, and I have had the same answer since day one – The one that shoots the most accurate from any category above.

I believe that if you practice, practice, practice with that bullet you want to use and make sure you take a clean shot, you should always be able to find your animal with little to no tracking.

If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings. Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe!

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Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”