Reloading For Versatility
June 02, 2011
It was 45 degrees, and ground fog blanketed the hardwood bottom that ran along the edge of a thicket. Sunrise was about to take place and I could not wait for the sun to burn the fog away and warm up the damp morning. For two weeks I had been hunting a big boar that thought he owned the bottom and the Boley Creek that ran long its edge. He was an early riser who would only make his run along that span of woods in the early hours just at day light or shortly after.
That boar had put me in a tree one morning a month earlier when I was walking to my deer stand in the dark. I heard branches breaking and a booming like someone beating on a drum as he pounded the ground coming out of a thicket toward me. Fortunately, I was standing right by a fallen tree that leaned against two others at about a 15-degree angle. I ran up that tree trunk for all I was worth and in the process lost control of my rifle. It fell to the ground. For 10 minutes that boar stomped and rutted the ground running in circles under me before he finally decided to leave as fast as he had arrived. I told myself right then that he was mine and I was not going to be run out of the woods by some boar that thought he owned the place. Well, come to think of it, he did own the hard wood bottom that morning--and proof was the fact I was in the tree, and my rifle was on the ground.
As I sat there perched on that limb and taking note of how powerful and big that hog really was, I decided not to use my usual deer load on that big boar. Nope, the .300 Win. Mag. with 165 grain Sierra Game King SBT bullets had served me well on deer, but I told myself, "You need to bring your 180-grain Partition load for him." And that is exactly the load I used when I came back into those woods to hunt the big boar that had a bad attitude. Good judgment demanded that I have the right bullet for a margin of safety and a quick kill. The 165-grain SBT would probably have put that boar down, but I wanted to remove any doubt.
Removing all doubt is where handloading for a specific rifle and cartridge combination can give any hunter a tremendous advantage along with versatility. Handloading premium bullets is less expensive than buying factory premium ammunition, and provides a level of accuracy, confidence and, most of all, versatility that factory ammunition generally can't offer. The main issue is that factory ammo with any given load is a generic powder charge for that cartridge (the same one for everybody who buys it), and that also includes cartridge overall length (COAL). Standard powder charges and overall length work pretty well in some rifles, but certainly not in all.
During the two weeks of hunting that large boar, I put out corn and doctored the ground with some sure-fire hog stuff a friend gave me. He assured me it would bring the early morning boar out into the open even during the day. I found myself hunting that spot and working it for quite a some time, and then one day it happened. On my way out that evening I noticed the boar's tracks were right in my tracks for about 200 yards. It was so hard to believe the boar was actually tracking me and had made note of me during the day. After seeing this big boar's lack of fear, I was glad I had switched to the Partition load in my Ruger Mk II.
The next morning, the fog was beginning to lift and I could see a good 40 yards or so without any trouble. I knew from the size of this boar that it would need a good strong bullet with a stout powder charge behind it. I chose the Partition because I needed something that would shock the animal when up close, and at the same time continue on through a big, tough boar with good penetration. I knew soon after impact that the Partition would shed most of its front, sending out little missiles of bullet fragments and creating a good impact effect, and it would tear a ragged wound that would bleed free and not close on itself. If I was lucky enough for an exit with the back half of the Partition, I would succeed in a quick kill by letting air in and blood out, and also, there would be the added benefit of blood on the ground if I needed to track the boar.
I was concerned about being on the ground in close quarters with this boar because he had such an attitude. I filled the Ruger's magazine and put one in the chamber. To an observer, you would have thought I was in Africa with lion in the bush.
An hour or so had gone by and I decided to backtrack my own steps. I hadn't gone far and there my antagonist stood--facing me, just 25 yards away on the very trail I had used earlier that day. I threw up my rifle and shot him on the right side of the neck. The bullet went down the neck muscle and through the bottom part of the ridge on his back, breaking the right shoulder, going just under the spine and exiting in front of the left ham. The big boar collapsed in his tracks as I bolted the gun for a follow-up shot I didn't need.
I was so glad that handloading had given me an option in bullet style and weight for my rifle. That big old 468 pound boar hit the ground because in 1947 a man by the name of John Nosler designed the Partition and put it on the market in 1948 making it available to handloaders.
Some hunters will have the tendency to use only one bullet to do all their work while in the field. That idea sounds great, saves money and time, and would be neat if it worked every time, but that is not always the case. A hunter might get away with it for a while, but if he hunts a variety of game it will eventually catch up with him sooner or later, and it could cost him a really nice trophy. From the size of game--the conditions under which we hunt--in some places rules for non-lead bullets--to where shots might have to be longer than usual because of terrain, or up close where bullets have to deal with a lot of energy on impact--one bullet will not do it all--not even one of the all-copper bullets.
There is no rule against simplifying things by having one load. If that is your desire to use only one load for all your work with a given cartridge, then expect the day to come when your bullet was not enough, or to much. If enough time is spent in the field it will eventually catch up with you. I remember hunting a deer with a heavy-for-caliber premium bonded bullet and had a complete pass through without sufficient expansion. It took two and a half hours to find that deer, and it was due to luck, not a blood trail. Handloaders are without excuse for using the wrong bullet in our day and time--with all the different designs and weights for most calibers--especially .30 caliber rifles.
I spent two years helping game wardens thin out deer, hogs and coyotes. In those two years, I killed, not counting what I shot during hunting season, 52 coyotes, 41 deer and 16 hogs. Consider that is just two years of my 30 plus years of hunting and killing game. I have seen what all kinds of bullets can do on game. I am here to tell you the bullets that tore flesh, disrupted bone and skeletal structure, ruptured blood vessels, made big wound channels, let air in and lots of blood out quickly, and caused massive internal hemorrhaging were devastating killers and game expired very fast if not immediately. There's nothing like seeing it happen in person. In my experiences of hunting, which pales in comparison to many, I have learned to choose the right bullet for the job, to dispatch game consistently.
This is where the advantage of handloading comes in. It allows for one to be able to have game- and condition-specific loads. Through handloading, one can actually end up using one or two rifles for all of their hunting. My .300 Winchester Magnum and .358 Winchester now do the majority of my work, and in some years they have done all my work. The reason being, they are so versatile because of the many loads I have developed for each rifle. With their accuracy and diversity, I have supreme confidence in the field to make a good shot knowing that I have picked the appropriate bullet for the task at hand.
That day in those damp cold bottoms when I pulled the trigger on my .300 Winchester Magnum and dropped that big boar I was reminded of how important it is to choose the right bullet for the game hunted, assuming you also are using a sufficient enough cartridge and rifle. I have come a long ways through the years, seen a lot, and it has taught me the importance of using my load development to give me accuracy, confidence and versatility in the field--with no doubt about getting the job done.