Ammo questions

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.

13 responses to “Ammo questions”

  1. Dave
    I always follow your hunting posts with great interest and enjoy hearing about your trials and tribulations as you grow and learn as a hunter. I made the switch to copper bullets a couple of years ago and have had very positive results. Both the Federal Trophy Copper and Barnes TTSX factory loads have performed well for me in light for caliber bullets.
    Specific to the .308 I have had good luck with the 150 gr. TTSX in the Barnes factory line. Shots on sheep, caribou, and moose have all resulted in quick kills without shooting animals through front shoulders (from 60-350 yards). The bullet from this years moose was embedded in the offside hide and looks like it is from an advertisement with 4 perfect petals. It seems that the TTSX expands more reliably at slightly slower velocities than the TSX while the 150 gr load has higher muzzle velocity to begin with.
    The Federal Trophy Copper is also a tipped bullet and seems to behave similarly to the TTSX on game. I did find the Barnes load to be more accurate in my .308, but my other rifles have shot the Trophy Copper well.
    The post-season review process is an underrated part of the hunting experience and a very important one at that. As always, enjoy reading your thoughts!

    1. Much appreciated Scott. Having higher velocity with the lighter bullet is probably something I’ve overlooked.

  2. Dave,

    My experience pretty much mirror’s that of Scott’s.
    Since switching to a lighter rifle almost 20 years ago the majority of the animals I have taken have been with Barnes TSX and TTSX, mostly in a .308 Winchester. Like Scott, I have always used lighter bullets in the .308, 150 and 130 grain. Most of mine were hand-loads, driven as fast as was safe and accurate. The majority were quick kills, many with a single shot.
    I’m contemplating a light rifle build, probably a .308 with an 18″ barrel and, if I do, I will most likely use Barnes TTSX 130 grain factory ammo.

  3. A lighter bullet MIGHT be a solution. But I fired a 375 Ruger bullet into a chunk of wood and got a similar result. Velocity was roughly 2550 fps.

    I’ve corresponded with a hunter in New Zealand who reported similar results even at very high velocity. I don’t know the whole story but he believes Barnes got their metal mixture off in some batches.

    GMX makes a similar copper bullet. That might be an option.

    In the above mentioned test I fired the TSX and a lead soft point into a firewood chunk and then split it to get them out. The TSX barely defored. The soft point expanded roughly the way it would have in an animal. I’d suggest a similar comparison.

  4. No personal experience with them, but have your looked into DRT? I am interested myself, but I gotta learn Finnish before I can get a licence, so it will take a while before I have hands on reports…

  5. Just to clarify “similar results” means no bullet expansion. I looked at old forums and saw people who loved the TSX and people who reported it failing to expand. My only conclusion is that quality control must be lacking or maybe mono copper bullets are just inherently unpredictable. Regardless I quite hunting with them before killing anything.

    Assuming you do get expansion I think the 130 grain bullet is an option. A guy up here had one punch end to end through an interior (smaller) grizzly. He was using a 308 and as I recall the impact velocity was estimated at 2900 fps for a close range kill. In other words that should be plenty of penetration for deer or elk.

  6. It is possible that the unexpanded bullet you found was not yours but from some one else taking a very long shot. I would assume at 250 yards the bullet would have penetrated deeper especially since it did not expand.

    I have had issues with TSX bullets not expanding myself and now use TTSX and keep velocities high by using 130 grains for deer and not shooting past the distance were velocity is falling below 2400fps.

    You might want to look at Accubonds, or similar offering, for your go to bullet, they are going to hold together a little better than the Fusions but still potentially create better terminal performance than a monolithic bullet.

  7. Out of curiosity; are there studies showing adverse levels of lead in game animals killed?

    I’ve never considered a copper bullet (I understand there are states that require them), the performance of bonded bullets (specifically Nosler Accubonds) has always been very (very) satisfactory.

      1. interesting- thanks! definitely a direct correlation to the lead present and the distance from the wound channel

        I can see where someone would want to be on the safe side, particularly with young children and use a copper mono; I’ll be sticking with the Accubonds for the time being :)

  8. Hello Dave,

    Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    This year was the first year I shot copper, and I shot a very large mule deer with a 50 gr TTSX out of a 22-250 (Arguably too small I know. I was antelope hunting and a a buck I couldn’t turn down presented himself).

    It seemed to perform beautifully. Total pass through, but an exit wound comparable to those I would see shooting partitions out of my .308, for what it’s worth.

    1. Much appreciated everyone, lots to think about.

      Regarding the bullet being from another hunter, it is certainly possible. The herd had come out of the flats mid-morning, and I have to assume there were plenty of folks down there to have taken a super long shot. Plenty of shots on opening morning, needless to say.

  9. It was very interesting to see these posts. Living in Illinois, I can’t use a centerfire rifle for deer, so I shoot a muzzleloader with Barnes Expander MZ or Spit-Fire T-EZ. I have taken 8 deer with this and never had a problem with the bullets. All of my shots, save one, have been pass throughs. I recovered one bullet and it had expanded perfectly. Since I only have one shot, I have been careful not to take a bad shot. The exit wounds appear to be small, but the damage to the lungs is extensive. I shot a deer just before Thanksgiving this year and the outward signs were typical. When I cleaned the heart, I found that the bullet had taken the bottom of the heart off and the damage was like a circular saw passing through the meat. The differences between my bullets, which are basically solid copper hollow point pistol bullets and the TSX bullets are quite striking. Mine probably have a muzzle velocity of around 1800 FPS, a lot slower than the centerfire rifle bullets. I wonder about the manufacturing process, since my bullets appear to have been scored in six places and then swaged back together. The photo that you show appears to show that the hollow point is not as deep as it ought to be for good expansion. The TTSX might perform better, but I wonder.

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