The Column, No. 8:

Elmer O'Connor VS. Jack Keith

By C. William Drum

Shooting an Elk with a .270 Winchester firing a .33 caliber 250 grain bullet at 3000 fps right through the lungs and both shoulders. What? Yes, that's wrong! They were both right. Messrs. Keith and O'Connor had a war of words that lasted for decades. (Keith admittedly despised Jack O'Connor. O'Connor never evidenced any feeling at all about Elmer Keith. --Ed.)

In my younger days, and I currently am approaching 50, I read everything that both men wrote. How could you possibly disagree with Elmer? If a 150 grain bullet at 2800 fps was good, then a 250 grain bullet at 3000 fps had to be even better. Well, that is true, if the small bullet kills the big bullet will kill even deader. (What is deader than dead? --Ed.) Yep, no argument there. OK. Then was Jack wrong. Well . . . no. No?

No! It appears that the relative size of the projectile, (bullet for you amateurs) is not very critical, given a minimum and a maximum caliber. You can take Relative Stopping Power, Knock Out Value, Muzzle Energy or any other theoretical or calculated value and develop just about any table any good spreadsheet program will allow and devise some sort of theory.

What millions of us have seen with our own eyes is this, any projectile that has enough speed to travel through both lungs will create a wound channel sufficient to cause death to CXP2 class game in a few seconds. Size of the projectile? Well, generally, it should start at about .24 caliber and go up to, say .45 caliber.

Start at .24 and of course mushroom properly. So, bullet performance counts. No kidding. It not only counts; depending on what bullet is used, what velocity it is driven to and what it hits; it just might be imperative.

Can we always rely on proper bullet expansion? Always? Well, probably not always, that is an all inclusive term. Can we rely that Madonna's hair color will always be blonde? I think not. Statistically, if we use good quality name brand bullets, can we rely on expansion? Yes, we can! If we use good quality factory loaded ammunition or well selected handloads can we rely on a proper velocity to expand and bullets that will not explode on impact? Yes, we can!

Can we always rely that we will hit the animal through the lungs if indeed that is the aiming point? Wait just a minute! Not so fast! Does the wind sometimes blow out west? Does it rain sometimes while you are hunting? Do animals move at random times in uneven patterns? Do we ever flinch when firing a rifle? Does a bear s__t in the woods?

Yes to all! Uh oh! Elmer, are you listening? Is there sometimes a need if you are hunting in rough terrain to drop an animal in his tracks? Sometimes? Hmmm.

Am I starting to lean a little to the right? I would never presuppose to speak for any legendary expert, but wasn't Mr. Keith saying that, given all variables and parameters that a bigger, heavier bullet will cover more of the options than the other choice? Well, maybe so.

Wasn't Mr. Keith saying that if you can handle the heavier caliber and shoot it just as well (which, of course, is exactly the problem, since very few shooters can--Ed.) and you have invested your time, effort and money into this hunting trip that you want every edge you can get? Well, OK, maybe he was.

I think Mr. O'Connor had the luxury of hunting a lot. OK, not a lot, a hell of a lot. A bad shot, or poor conditions, would often mean a shot passed-up and, "better luck next week." For many out there, me included, it means, "better luck next year." (Then that's the way it is--no one is ever justified in taking a bad shot under poor conditions. We owe that much to the magnificent animals we hunt. --Ed.)

For Elmer, a guide as well as firearmsman (my own word creation, trademark applied for), sometimes he needed to anchor game where shot. For others, well, maybe it was someone else's problem to get the game out.

The truth is that for most of us, me included, Jack O'Connor was right. A nice .270 Winchester or 30-06 is all the gun we will ever need, and we will just bitch about the one that got away due to that damned cross wind in the rain.

For others, me included, we will pull out our 338 Winchester Magnums, grit out teeth, concentrate on proper form and technique and look up at the wall on cold January days and admire the rack on that mount that I shot one windy day in the rain.

Smile, they're only words.

(In the interest of accuracy it is necessary to point out that, using Hornady Spire Point bullets for comparison, the actual drift of a 250 grain .338 Mag. bullet at a typical MV of 2650 fps in a 20 mph crosswind is 15.7" at 300 yards; the figure for the equivalent 150 grain .270 Win. bullet at a typical MV of 2850 fps is 13.1" at 300 yards--Ed.)

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Copyright 2004 by C. William Drum and/or All rights reserved.