Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bullet Energy Variables

Few categoricals exist in the wild, open west.

Subzero temps engulf horizontal snow.

Green shoots and bright flowers burst forth following snow’s retreat.

Dust blows in our century degree cauldron.

Yellow aspen leaves drift to the ground as frost supplants stifling heat.

On Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the only constant seems to be relentless wind, yet, for the last three days there hasn’t been a whisper.

As humans we tolerate the changes. Sometimes we embrace them, but humans seem to search for categoricals. How long will this weather last? What IS this? How long is that? Why does that work?

Hunters preparing for an elk hunt ask the categorical, “How much energy does it take to kill an elk?”

Simply put, about 150 foot-pounds will do the job. The largest bull elk can be killed with a .22 Long Rifle fired from 25 yards into the forehead. (Tangential Note: Many people say shoot between the eyes. Shooting between the eyes is not correct. Old-timers say, “Draw two imaginary lines; each one from the center of one eyeball to the opposing horn base, or where the base of a horn would be for hornless critters. Where the lines cross should be your intended bullet strike point, but that may not be your aiming point.”)

A high-velocity .22 LR has about 150 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle—so there would be less than that at 25 yards. 150 foot-pounds equals dead elk.

Much like the seasonal revolutions the necessary amount of energy to kill an elk is not constant. In a previous post I mentioned a stray .270 bullet that I had taken out of an elk that I killed (story here). The 6-point bull probably had the bullet in his loin for less than 5 weeks. I’m not sure what the original weight of the bullet was, but if it was a 130 grain bullet out of a .270 Winchester it would have had about 2700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. A .270 Weatherby Magnum would have about 3300 foot-pounds at the muzzle. Whatever rifle was used, it didn’t kill the bull, even after a month. 3000 foot-pounds equals empty stew pot and a short shirttail upon returning to camp.

The .22 and the .270 did what bullets should do—expend all their energy in the animal. Of course, if you are planning on wounding a bull elk, then you want a large exit wound making a good blood trail.

If one small, slow, low-powered bullet can drop a bull elk and a large, fast, high-powered bullet didn’t drop an elk—both expending all their energy into the animal—then where is the categorical of how much energy is needed to kill an elk? The categorical is the person reading this story. The same thing that you depend on in blizzard, dust storm or fair weather. One hunter hunts, gets close and puts an under-sized bullet into a dime-sized area and takes home a trophy. Another hunter takes a risk by expecting his overpowered, flat-shooting weapon to overcome his poor decision to blast a 900-pound animal in the ass.

Be the hunter that hunts and makes good decisions.

For a quick reference, Ackley, in his Handbook for Shooters & Reloaders gives the following energy figures for killing elk-sized game:

  • Minimum: 1500
  • Adequate: 2000
  • Preferred: 2500

Regardless of the season, shoot well my friend.

Return to FAQ.

Return to Drifting Thoughts

Return to The Elk Hunter's Rifle

Return to Training to Use the Elk Hunter's Rifle

Back to Got Flinch?

Return to .300 Weatherby Magnum

Return to .308, 7mm-08, .243

Return to 30-06 Springfield for Elk Hunting


hodgeman said...

Good post. I've field dressed a moose killed with a single .22LR from quartering away at about 10 yards. Remarkable effect but placement perforated the lung and cut the heart. Not that I'd suggest a .22 as adequate but a .338 wouldn't have killed it any deader.

It really is where you hit em more than what you hit em with...

gary said...

Nicely put. I think in my lifetime I've seen about everything and your perspective brings it around to comprehensible. For some reasons we humans like a generalized (categorical) answers to everything. If we get such an answer its got a good chance of being wrong.