Going the Distance
Q: I hunt whitetails on my farm in southeast Kansas, and we have so many deer that I don't even consider taking shots that are longer than 50 yards, so I don't have much shooting experience at longer distances. However, I'm considering moving to Oregon to be closer to my daughters and would like to do some hunting out West.
I recently purchased a Marlin 1895SS in .45-70 Gov. I've read about the 1895GS Guide Gun and the reports seemed very favorable for using this rifle for deer and elk. The Guide Gun advertises an 18½-inch barrel with deep cut, Ballard-type rifling. My rifle has a Micro-Groove barrel. How do these two rifles compare, and will the one I bought do the job?
-LM David Burns/Lee's Summit, MO
A: You have a very good rifle for deer and elk out to 200 yards. I have a Marlin 1895GS in .45-70 Gov. that I have used to take mule deer, black bears and elk. Due to the trajectory of the .45-70 Gov., I wouldn't push it out beyond 200 yards. This is a hard-hitting short-range caliber. The load that I like for elk and bears is the 420-grain Hammerhead by Garrett Cartridges. With a 150-yard zero, it's only 8 inches low at 200 yards and you can bet on full body penetration.
As for comparing the Micro-Groove rifling to the Ballard-type rifling, both work well and I can see little difference on the range, and I have rifles with both. Micro-Groove is a shallow form of rifling with more grooves. Ballard has deeper rifling and fewer grooves.
-J. Wayne Fears
Waterfowl Shot On A College Kid's Budget
Q: I have a mid-1940s Stevens Model 124 12 gauge that I'm looking to hunt waterfowl with. Obviously, I need non-toxic shot, and I believe the gun is too old for steel shot (and other similar hard shots). I know that bismuth shot is one option, and that tungsten-matrix is another, but I was wondering if there are any other types of shot I can use, and what you would suggest using? I'm on a college student's budget, so cost is a huge consideration for me. Thank you for your help.
-August Hendrickson/Coralville, IA
A: I know that it's arguing against a long-held belief, but as long as your gun has a fixed choke (no screw-in choke tubes) you can use steel shot, or tungsten-alloy. You mention that price is a consideration, so steel is the way to go because it's much cheaper than tungsten-alloys, bismuth or tungsten-matrix. The common belief was always that steel shot would score an older barrel, but today's steel loads are encased in very stiff plastic shotcups that keep those pellets away from the barrel walls.
I would advise against using steel or the new tungsten-alloys in older guns with screw-in choke tubes simply because the metal in the tubes is too soft and the loads would swell it, effectively welding the tube into the barrel. Depending on the choke of your barrel, you might find that bismuth does pattern better than steel, and the newest (and most expensive) tungsten-alloy loads will pattern fairly well out of any choke. Rule of thumb: use smaller pellets for better patterns. Good luck.
Q: I recently shot my first big game animal, and I have a question concerning hydrostatic shock that I'm hoping you can answer. The animal I killed was a pronghorn, and I shot it with a 165-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip .30-06 bullet. The bullet entered the pronghorn behind its front right leg and exited in front of its left hind leg, traveling diagonally through the chest cavity and abdomen.
When I field dressed the animal I was surprised at what I saw. Instead of the organs and intestines that I expected to see, the cavity was filled with thick, pulpy blood and not much more. I did find the heart completely intact as well as the tubes of the throat and neck. The lungs were in bad shape, the intestines were shredded, and I'm not sure that I recognized the kidneys and liver. Was this almost complete destruction of the internal organs an example of hydrostatic shock?
-Erling J. Bakken/Aurora, CO
A: Welcome to the world of terminal ballistics- where strange things happen on a regular basis. I doubt that any aspect of our sport has more unknowns and old wives tales interspersed with real data than what happens after a bullet penetrates the body of a critter. Unlike television's CSI, terminal ballistics in the hunting field don't benefit from text-book data. Terminal results are influenced by the impact velocity, rate of spin, make-up of the bullet and an endless number of variables within the body including bones, muscle, organs and fluids.
Believe it or not, the "mental state" of the critter is even involved- whether it's running for its life with sonic cracks happening around it, or if it's quietly reaching for a mouthful of clover with no idea that a bullet is on its way.
I believe what you encountered was the result of your bullet very quickly dumping much of its energy into the pronghorn's chest and continuing to do so as it passed through the animal's diaphragm. The tremendous hydraulic forces can destroy and relocate internal organs exactly as you described. Plus, there are usually secondary projectiles such as bone and bullet fragments that cause more shredding and dicing. To make this a real mess, I believe there's a powerful vacuum formed behind the bullet, which can suck fluid and tissue like one of those 8-pound vacuums advertised on TV!