Most will recall that a bit ago Luke commented that “I think a TSX is just tougher then it really needs to be for a deer or even an elk broadside.”  The translation here, for the non-hunters, is that while bullets may be lumps of metal, they are not merely lumps of metal.  300 years ago bullets could be simple balls of lead; with probable ranges relatively short and velocities low the force on the bullets were modest and predictable.  Today both variables are several to many times greater, which means that a modern hunting bullet needs to effective at 50 yards and 3000 feet per second, as well as 400 yards and 1900 feet per second.  A hunting bullet needs to expand predictably under both scenarios, and ideally while hitting relatively little resistance (a broadside lung hit, going through hide, ribs and organs) as well as much more resistance (a quartering shoulder shot, with bone and lots of meat to clear before exit).  Too much expansion and the bullet will not create an exit wound, too little and the bullet will potentially not do enough damage on it’s way through.

The Barnes TSX is an all-copper bullet, renowned as Luke noted for being a tough bullet.  Barstool wisdom has them excelling when they hit bone, something my experience last year endorses.  So, imagine my surprise cutting up some elk and finding this:

That is a 168 grain TSX from a Remington factory load, buried 2 inches deep in a hunk of shoulder.  I don’t recall noticing an entrance wound, or meat damage.  The inescapable conclusion (I suppose?) is that one of my initial misses was in fact a hit, and (evidently?) longer than I had supposed, which I find hard to accept for several reasons.  Barnes does not guarantee the TSX below 2000 or so feet per second.  What I find hard to wrap my head around is how my shot got that slow.

Further damming to the TSX was a recent mule deer hunt, and one of those odd overhead quartering to shots (the deer was 150 yards across a canyon, subtly below me, and facing downhill) which led to a high lung shot that exited out the paunch, and entirely not enough wound damage or blood.  5 years ago I shot a similar sized buck at a similar distance with the same rifle and a 165 grain Federal Fusion, with the exit wound being the size of a softball, and the deer dying instantly.  This year, I faced a fairly lengthy and unpleasant tracking job with a deer that was obviously almost dead for far too long.

So I’m looking for a new go-to ammo, or maybe a return to Fusions.

I’m also reminded, by this ammo situation, both kills this year, and a few of the weirder shots from the past few years that the acting of shooting an animal with a rifle is far more fraught with ambiguity than most folks, individuals or media outlets, care to admit.  An instant bang-flop is the ideal, and it is proper to expect that practice and conservative shot placement makes such a reality most of the time.  But sometimes we hunters make mistakes, and some other times weird stuff happens somewhere within the system.  The wind on the other slope is far stronger than expected, the critters take a big step forward at just the wrong moment, a bullet improbably misses vital points on a trip through the torso, or something else which will never be understood.

I had to go out last week and shoot paper to assure myself that I was not the weak link in the system, and was left contemplating nothing more than the delicious messiness which is big game hunting.