Friday, December 2, 2022

Reality check

One day I was shooting the fertilizer with David. David was one of the "Utility" guys in the Body Shop and moved around as unexpected absences happened.

Hunting was David's passion.

He told me about going to Ontario with his family to hunt moose. They got out of their vehicles and were moving their cased firearms to the hotel room. They had an equal number of .300 Winchester Magnums and 30-06s and a single .308 Winchester in the armory.

As the hunting party mingled with the townfolk to get intelligence about the best place to find moose they encountered several of the local Cree (Indian tribe). To a man, the Cree used battered relics with iron sights that were chambered in 30-30 to harvest their moose.

The Great White Hunters from Michigan learned that moose are not hard to kill. Get close. Shoot them in the rib-cage behind the shoulder. Let them run into the deepest water nearby. Let them die. Send the young kid in with a long rope to tie to the antlers. Have a come-along handy to pull them out.

Moose are not hard to kill but can be the fair devil to extricate from where they choose to die.

What about whitetail deer?

So if a 30-30 Winchester carbine flinging a 170 grain, round-nosed bullet with an impact velocity of 1800 feet-per-second is adequate for moose, what is a defensible "floor" for a deer cartridge?

This question has been responsible for the consumption of large amounts of beer because there is no single answer. Your initial assumptions dictate where you are likely to end up.

For instance, if you hunt in the cholla and thorn-scrub of Texas then you want bang-flops which means central nervous system hits which means very accurate, flat-shooting rounds.

If where you are hunting is not heavily hunted and you will not lose your game to other people tagging it, and if the cover is favorable to tracking, then bullets that pass through the game and leave an exit-hole are desirable.

Let us look back to the hey-day of market hunting and see what those guys used. After all, they shot-and-killed game on an industrial scale, filling up train-cars with animal carcasses. Individually, they killed hundreds of times more game than most modern hunters.

Blackpowder cartridges

Two cartridges stand out as "plenty-enough". Remember, lots of shooting meant buying and carrying lots of ammo. Enough was plenty.


Loaded with 40 grains of blackpowder, the 44-40's ballistics looked like a very anemic .44 Remington Magnum.

From a carbine, it launched a 200 grain, soft, lead bullet at about 1250 feet-per-second. That compares to the .44 Magnum launching a 240 grain bullet at 1800 fps. 20% heavier and 50% faster.

The .44-40 didn't have any problem killing deer even at 100 yards. The velocity and energy levels at 100 yards looked much like a 40 S&W handgun at the muzzle. 

The problem was that the trajectory limited the round to 125 yards unless you were gifted at estimating range.


Like the 44-40, the 32-40 was originally loaded with 40 grains of blackpowder.

It fired a 160 grain bullet of .323" vs the .44-40's 0.429" diameter and its starting velocity was a little bit higher at 1400 feet-per-second.

That compares to a 158 grain .357 Magnum fired out of a carbine's velocity of 1750fps.

Those differences added about 25 yards to the 32-40 range vs the 44-40.

In New England the 32-40 was considered adequate for MOOSE with the caveat that you picked your shots. Hitting the shoulder bone would likely "splash" the bullet and it would not penetrate to the heart-lungs.

Mimicking those old-time ballistics

If you are a retro-minimalist, you can mimic those market-hunter ballistics by loading cast bullets in a 30-30 Winchester. Gas-checked, 170 grain bullets cast from 50:50 lead:wheelweights with gas-checks will be a close match for the 32-40 terminal ballistics. According to Lyman's 49th Reloading Handbook 10.5 grains of Unique in a 30-30 will drive them at a velocity of about 1500 fps. If you want a little more horsepower then 18 grains of Alliant 2400 will deliver a muzzle velocity of about 1800 fps.

Neither of these loads produce much recoil.

Bonus image

Image too good to not post. Source
Impact velocities of the last four bullets shown on the right were about 1500fps for the first two, then 1400fps and 1300fps respectively as calculated by the Hornday Ballistic Calculator. This image suggests that straight, air-cooled wheelweights are too hard to get reliable, down-range mushrooming when launched at original 32-40 velocities.


  1. I'm more of a fan of softer lead with paper patching. Better damage at the terminal end.

    1. What would you advise? 30:1 lead:tin?

    2. something along that line. I have even done pure lead.
      Of course, you have to undersize 'em a bit to make up for the paper jacket...And lube and size after the jacket dries.

  2. Interesting thoughts.
    Picking your shot and range make a big difference.
    IMHO, there are few times you need a long range heavy hitting cartridge, the biggest need being wide open spaces with few, skittish, large animals.

  3. Having hunted moose with Crees I will tell you some things from personal experience,.
    1) Nobody wants to deal with a dead moose in the water. They are big enough to be difficult on land when you are dry. It takes 3 stout horses to pack one out of the bush.
    2) Most of the Crees and Tahltans shot their moose at night from their truck with lights with anything available including .22. The crazy Inuits shoot polar bears with 22 WCM! They thought we were nuts to go so far into the bush just to shoot one.
    3) Moose can can drop like a rock or travel for a mile depending on shot placement. They feel safe in water so they will head for it if available. See #1.
    4) The First Tribe gentlemen have a good sense of humor. It would not surprise me they would tell a group of Yankees to let the game run to water, See #1

  4. Does the shape of the round matter as long as it stops in the body? The amount of energy is fixed when the bullet strikes, so does the final shape of the bullet really make a difference other than wow factor?

    1. Yes, a mushrooming round will cause a wider wound channel and more tissue damage and cause more internal (and hopefully, external) bleeding.

  5. What about reloading for the. 350 legend with cast bullets? I originally got a rifle in 350 legend to comply with Michigan's caliber restrictions but after seeing it drop 6 deer, it's now my favorite deer round.

    1. YMMV/Check advice from people not standing next to you when stuff goes bang.

      The question with 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster is really dependent on what you're shooting from and what guns you have. If you only ever shoot from a bolt action rifle, don't own a AR action in those calibers and are loading your own (and know what you're doing) you have a lot of flexibility to extend the FPS a bit. The book reloading data is for AR actions, not bolt actions and so you can squeeze a little more performance/range out of both rounds in a bolt action.

      On the other hand, why? Hornady Flex Tips/Interlock (or other reliable manufacturers) are available and cheap in hunting quantities. .350 Legend can fire the same bullets as .38 Special and a variety of .357 bullets (for pistols/carbines/lever actions). Likewise 450 Bushmaster fires a bunch of .45 ACP/.45 Super bullets, and with plastic sabots can also be fired out of many .50 caliber muzzleloaders.

      Certainly if you plan on casting general purpose bullets that can work in your deer rifle, lever action and revolver it makes sense. Otherwise if you're not loading for some special reason I'd suggest buying a box of 100 FTX or Interlocks and needing to buy a 2nd box in 10 or 15 years (assuming <10 shots from the deer rifle per year) (or buying 2-3 boxes now).

      The 350 Legend is a great deer round, and after seeing it shoot/talking to people I'm convinced it's a better choice than a 450 Bushmaster for 99% of people. But, the factory ammo is so good and the ammo consumption so small (unless you're making your own bullets for dbl/triple uses (or pushing the pressures)) I can't imagine reloading it from homemade bullets.

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  8. I've hunted for years in TX/AR brush with both shotguns and 30-30. Taken my fair share of deer. The key is shot placement! Always is, always will be. I have a friend that hunts deer with a 17HMR. He usually gets at least one a year.

  9. When I first came to Alaska in 1972 I worked with an old timer who came up in 1929. He said he had shot moose with a .22, put a round in the lungs of a sleeping moose and sit down till he bleeds out. If they spook you will never find them. Another friend said his Alaska Native friend told him to put the .22 bullet in the front knee and wait until the moose holes up in thick cover then finish him off, meanwhile the game warden flying around in his cub won’t see you dressing him out! Another coworker tried a neck shot with his .243 Winchester and the moose just shook his head. Fortunately his brother was next to him with his .300 mag or they would have lost that one. Another friend lost a moose he shot with a .300mag. He shot just before dark and had a good blood trail to start with but it trailed off in the dark. He spent the next day in increasingly wide circles and never found it! In My own experience i shot two caribou with one round of .44mag from a carbine. The load was a 265 gr Hornady and they were down but we needed to finish them.

  10. My Dad reliably took whitetail deer from his back porch with a .22 Jet. They were within 50 yards and headshots. Dad was the best practical shooter I've ever been around.


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