Rifle Ammo: Gentlemen, Choose Your Bullets

What with all the wonderful, virtually infallible, big-game bullets that are available even to the funky, the feeble, and the futile, the argument still persists about whether a slug should stay in the critter or exit. The "stay in" crowd argues that bullets that do not go through and through transfer all their energy to the unfortunate beast and drop it quickly, while bullets that go whistling out the far side spend all their foot-pounds in the open air where it does no good.

I can't follow the "transfer of energy" argument. I've seen big, tough animals--900-pound elk, 1,400-pound eland-- drop dead in their tracks from one hit with an "inadequate" caliber that had enough muzzle energy for a well-fed whitetail and no more, and I've seen smaller animals run like hell after being walloped with something serious like a .338 or a .375 H&H.

The reactions of big game to bullets remain, in large part, wildly unpredictable. In 1981 in Zambia I shot a very good sable in the boiler room with a 180-grain Nosler Partition (the old screw machine Partition) from a .300 Weatherby. It galloped off madly for perhaps 100 yards, stopped, galloped back to the precise spot where I had shot it and keeled over dead. The bullet did not go through. To what do you attribute that? Energy transfer? Mephistopheles?

What I do like is a bullet that goes out the far side and leave a big hole. Not a small hole, which can shift over the wound itself, but a big hole, which will leave me a blood trail to follow. That's why I favor bullets such as the Swift A-Frame and the Barnes TSX. You will not recover them, because they've kept right on going, but you will recover your animal because of the big hole they leave in its far side.