The other night, while reading Hillary Clinton’s new book The Twilight’s Last Gleaming; How I Will Govern the United States through its Final Eight Years, and How Everyone Who Ever Crossed Me Is Going to Get Theirs, I was stricken by a vagrant suspicion.
Putting down Madame Secretary’s book, I raced to the basement where I do my handloading, and went through my data book, page by page. It was true. Of the eighteen rifles I have on active duty, my three varmint rifles produce over 3,000 fps. I have one load for a .25/06 that makes 3,100 fps. Everything else, and I do mean everything, ranges from 1,500 fps (.45/70) to 2,900 (.270, 6.5/284). That’s as fast as it gets, and most of them kind of fart around in the 2,600 fps-2,800 fps bracket.
Whatever happened to 3,000 fps, which used to be the holy grail of big-game rifles? I still have my data from the early 1980s onward, and there was no shortage of 3,000 fps loads. I had .257, 7mm Weatherby, .300 Weatherby, and .340 Weatherby rifles that would produce that speed and much more. I had a .270 WSM, a 7.21 Lazzeroni Tomahawk and a 7.82 Lazzeroni Patriot. I had a .257 Roberts that would make it past 3,000. And these are just the ones that I remember off the top of my head.
What happened? I got tired of taking a beating; that was the first step. Then came laser rangefinders and range-compensating reticles. Time was, if you were presented with a long shot and you weren’t sure how far away the critter was, the solution was gobs and gobs of feet per second. Get enough, and it didn’t matter how far; you’d probably kill it. I got my first big elk courtesy of a 7mm Weatherby Magnum. The bull turned out to be 498 long cowboy paces away from where I was shooting, and that stretched-string trajectory put him on the ground. I got an antelope at 460 yards courtesy of a 7mm Remington Magnum, and so on.
Now I don’t burn all that powder. I have a laser rangefinder that, along with range-compensating reticles, takes out all the guesswork. Now it’s just math, which is why I no longer feel the need for speed, and my magnums are retired.
By the way, I recommend Hillary’s book. She’s unusually frank. I particularly liked her chapter on husband Bill, which is titled “So You Think You’ve Been Getting Away with it All These Years?”