It would be great to own a gun/scope combo for every kind of hunting we’d like to do, but most of us can’t afford that. So it’s smart to understand the hows, whats and whys of versatile cartridges. Buy the right one and you could be ready to hunt everything from coyotes to moose with one rifle.
Years ago everyone did hunt with one versatile, do-everything rifle. It was called a muzzleloader, and shooters loaded theirs up or down in power to match the game. Initially they were stuck with the same diameter round balls, but the creation of conical bullets made it possible to go heavier or lighter. Those are the two keys to versatile performance: Variable velocities and variable bullet weights/shapes.
Today, unless you handload, you’re stuck with the bullets and power levels manufacturers market. This makes optimum versatility difficult because supply and demand inspire ammo-makers to limit offerings. Because most big game hunters want maximum power and punch, most ammo is built that way. Winchester and Federal, for instance, offer full power .270 Win. loads with 130-, 140-, and 150-grain bullets, which are fine for most big game hunting chores, but not ideal for coyotes, small game or plinking practice.
Maximize Your Performance Options
By choosing the right cartridge, you can maximize your performance options. Most ammo-makers offer the .30-06 Springfield in the greatest variety of bullets and power levels. Federal, for instance, sells .30-06 ammo in bullet weights from 125-grain to 220 grains in seven different bullet types from soft points to monolithics. Norma loads the .30-06 with eight different bullets from 150-grain to 200 grains. While most of these remain a bit much for coyotes and small game, they will certainly work. The beauty of the .30-06 is that it has enough horse power and bullet weight to tackle the biggest of big game without generating so much recoil that hunters can’t learn to control it. With lighter bullets recoil can be less than that of a .270 Win.!
A few manufacturers market variable power loads in a few popular calibers that reduce velocity and/or bullet weight slightly, but if you want to maximize cartridge/rifle versatility, handloading is the optimum way to proceed.
Bullet-makers such as Sierra, Speer, Nosler, Hornady, and others sell .277 bullets for loading in the .270 Win. weighing from 90-grains to 150 grains. You can find .308 bullets for the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and all the 300 Magnums as light as 90 grains and as heavy as 220 grains in every shape from flat-nose to boat-tail spire point. Berger specializes in sleek, long range bullets and Barnes offers monolithic projectiles that practically guarantee deep penetration on the largest animals.
By handloading with various bullets and various doses of powder, a .270 Win. shooter could end up shooting a 100-grain Speer bullet as slow as 1,550 fps. A .30-06 shooter could build loads that fire 110-grain plinking bullets at 2,000 fps, and even a 7mm Rem. Mag. can be downloaded to spit a 130-grain bullet just 1,768 fps. At such velocities recoil is minimal, making these suitable plinking and training rounds, but they also work well for head shooting small game such as rabbits, hares and marmots. BUT — and this is an important BUT — you have to follow handloading recipes carefully. The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 has recipes for many cartridges and Hodgdon has a universal recipe for its H4895 powder at www.hodgdon.com.
Select Lighter Bullets For Long-Range Shooting
To make any cartridge/rifle shoot flatter for longer range hunting of rock chucks, coyotes and pronghorns, select lighter bullets. Speer’s 100-grain Varmint Hollow Point in .277, for instance, can be loaded to zip out at 3,450 fps from most 22-inch barrels. Hornady’s sleeker, higher B.C. 110-grainV-Max can be pushed to 3,300 fps, and its wind-resistant shape will help it continue flying flat. Zeroed at 250 yards, this bullet will peak 2.5 inches high at 150 yards and drop just 3 inches at 300 yards. That means all shots should stay inside a 6-inch target from the muzzle to 300 yards.
Too add power to that .270 Win. — enough power for elk, moose, grizzlies, and most African game — fill it with a slow burning powder (as recommended in various handloading manuals) and top it with a heavy, 150-grain, premium, controlled expansion bullet such as a Barnes TTSX, Nosler Accubond, Swift A-Frame, Norma Oryx, Hornady Interbond or something similar. Driven to 2,900 fps, those slugs will deliver 2,440 f-p of bone-crushing force at 100 yards and still be packing 1,850 f-p at 300 yards. No big game animal is going shrug that off!
Study ammunition options and handloading options, choose your rifle cartridge for balance and maximum versatility and you could become a one-gun hunter of everything edible.
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