I was in the shop of Chris Kravitt, ace sheath and holster maker and leader of the intelligentsia in northeastern Maine, when he asked me what rifles I ordinarily used on the Pine Tree State’s massive whitetails.
“A .270, usually, but this year a .338.”
“That’s overkill,” said Chris.
“Not necessarily,” I said. “You know how difficult it is to track up here, but you shoot ’em with a .338 Barnes X-Bullet and you get a big hole on the far side which gives you a big blood trail.”
Years ago, I and a very good tracker, much better than myself, spent an hour on our hands and knees in northern Maine looking for a whitetail buck which we eventually found not more than 75 yards from where I’d shot him. The event left me permanently traumatized, to say nothing of what it did to the deer.
If you can handle the recoil, I don’t believe there is such a thing as overkill. I don’t believe that any cartridge is magic, and I know for a fact that there is no such thing as a cartridge that gives instant kills all the time, but it is a fact that a strong, heavy slug that opens up to a large diameter will create a large wound channel and punch a big exit hole. The combination will either drop an animal quickly or do so much damage that he can’t get far, and regardless of what happens, and will leave enough blood behind so that you can find him.
Years ago, there was an article in Gun Digest written by a fellow who had all of one whitetail hunt to his credit, in which he claimed that a .375 H&H was the ideal whitetail cartridge. The barking and roaring that greeted this proposition was historic. I don’t think people ever got over it. In theory, some of what the author had to say made sense, but to claim that a cannon like the .375 H&H was ideal was stretching it too far. But if you get your ya-yas out by lugging one after whitetail, and can shoot it, why not? It will certainly do the job.
If you hunt caribou with a .338 you are certainly overgunned but if you’re hunting them in bear country you’re not. If you take one to Africa instead of a .30/06 you’re probably overgunned because the ’06 will handle it all. But I’ve used both, and I’d rather have the extra power.
The theory behind overkill, or overgunning, is basically correct–that you need only so much power and anything more is a waste. But it’s a theory that I ignore at every opportunity.