Speed or power in rifle ammo – which is the best?

Should your ammo offer speed or power? Will O’Meara compares the leading loads.

Should your ammo offer speed or power? Will O’Meara compares the leading loads

This season, I have had the privilege of using new rifles in new calibres with new ammunition. The rifles have been impressive, the calibres have been interesting and the ammunition has been eye-opening.

On the rifle front I had a lightweight magnum from Proof Research; in summary it was a fantastically finished tool that was sweet to hunt with but it was particular about what ammo it liked, so it took me some time to find how it liked to be shot in order to get repeatable results.

Having said that, after I did the legwork to work out what it liked, it shot the 150 grain Federal Vital Shok with incredible accuracy – 1/3 MOA five shot groups kind of accuracy off the bench.

Despite the Proof’s potential accuracy, it was the Tikka that inspired confidence – no matter the shooting position. Whether I shot it off the bench, the bipod, a tuft of mountain grass or the quad sticks, the accuracy and precision was incredible. I shot it using PSE Riflestock’s E Tac model and I found it to be a fantastic addition to the Tikka CTR. 

I recently put the Tikka back into its factory stock and spent a day on the range practicing precision rifle style shooting. It only took me a couple of shots to re-zero and get back in the groove of the polymer stock. Once I did, I found it to be as accurate as ever.

I screwed a set of tactical legs onto the Javelin Pro-Hunt and throughout the course of the day I found it to be stable and intuitive. The carbide tips worked really well on the likes of steel barrels and it was easy to remove when space was tight on certain shooting props.

Calibres I used this past year included the .270 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor and 7mm Rem Mag. The .270 is an old favourite for hunting but has also proved that it is well capable on the range and it shot on par with the 6.5 albeit with a bit more recoil and slightly less efficiency in the wind, but that has as much to do with ammunition as calibre.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is well established as a good factory load for precision rifle matches, but it was on the hunt that it really impressed me – more on this when we get into ammo.

The impressive 6.5 Creedmoor

From a calibre perspective I felt that the design and build of the Proof Research really did a good job of handling the recoil. I think however that I need to be shooting a heavier projectile in order to get a tangible benefit over the .270 or 6.5.

The 150s performed well on big hybrid and sika stags. With the 7mm it was all chest shots that I took this year – I had good exit wounds but I expected more shock effect at longer ranges. I think a heavier bullet will add to the terminal ballistic capabilities and see more animals drop to the shot while heavier projectiles will suit the twist rate of the barrel, increasing accuracy and confidence in real-world hunting.

It was the Creedmoor that really surprised me; on terminal performance I had expected it to be a disappointment compared to the .270 but that was far from the case. My preconception was based on my experience guiding and on the experience of other guides and hunters such as John Fenton and his crew of experienced guides.

John has always been vocal on his disdain of 6.5s. That disdain is based on having guided many Scandinavian hunters using their own 6.5x55s and having lots of tracking jobs for his Bavarian hounds as a result.

JL Firearms is famous for his cappuccinos and it was over one such beverage that we discussed the delta between previous experience and my findings this season. I proposed that for all intents and purposes it makes little difference to the deer whether the 6.5 projectile hitting it has been launched from a Creedmoor or a x55.

The only difference might be speed or distance. I had shot some sika at extended ranges and had documented excellent exits and damage to vitals and had animals drop within 20 metres.

Lambert pointed out that the difference is most likely construction of the projectile, for many years Scandinavian hunters would bring their 140 grain Nosler partitions, crawling out the business end of the barrel at less than 2700fps – after all, it worked well on moose but not on light little sika.

This year I was using a Sako loading of the Sierra Gamechanger head – the Gamehead Pro – this 6.5 works well on sika. Headshots showed devastating damage, neck shots often resulted in complete severing of the spine and chest shots saw exit wounds with a normal size of two inch diameter.

More interesting was that on the inside of the chest cavity I witnessed large holes on the entry side, that means that the projectile is opening up quickly, causing a lot of damage to vitals and then a large exit.

A large exit is important for rapid blood loss and for a good blood trail, but the damage inflicted on the vitals is paramount. I compare everything to a .270 – it’s my benchmark.

When I compared the effect on animals to the Creedmoor I was convinced that the Creedmoor was more effective. To use survey lingo my “sample size” was significant and the variables were wide ranging. The variables were shot placement and range.

Quality factory loadings guarantee optimum feeding, locking, firing, extraction and ejection.

The ranges were from 15 yards to 500 yards and longer shots were only taken in near perfect scenarios that offered scope for follow up. I am a fan of getting in close but I am also a fan of knowing your equipment and practicing to ensure capability.

At longer ranges I found that bullet expansion was still reliable and I ran the numbers on paper to be sure. Sierra claim that the Gamechanger will reliably expand down to 1800fps. What does that mean? It means that reliable expansion is dependent on speed of the projectile as it impacts the animal; the slower the bullet on point of impact, the less expansion you get.

Speed kills. In my Tikka it means that the theoretical effective range of the Gamechanger bullet is 629 yards (575m). When I compare this to my .270 Federal 130s using the same expansion limits its theoretical range limit is 580 yards (530m.) Although the comparison is not like-for-like it does go some way to explain why I was seeing such good results with the Creedmoor.

I ran the numbers for my .270 using Sako’s 140 grain Gamehead Pro (also a Sierra Gamechanger head) and the results were also impressive – it pushed the reliable expansion limit out to 667 yards (610m)… which is about the same as my 7mm shooting the 150 Federals.

I range tested the Sako Gamehead Pros in my .270 and they liked each other! If I put my .270 with 130gr Federals back to back with the 6.5 130gr Sakos, I see that the .270 is faster out of the muzzle but the Creedmoor catches up and passes it out by the 330yd mark.

All of this got me thinking about calibres and how much time we spend thinking about and debating the merits of each. The conclusion of my testing is that your projectile is more important than your calibre, within reason.

With larger calibres you get a shock effect on the animal which can drop them on the spot due to the transfer of energy to the brain and central nervous system, but smaller calibres can inflict similar wound channels.

Let’s play out a scenario then to try to decide; say we have two identical sika deer at 200yds, and both are shot at the same time in the same place (the heart), perfectly broadside and in a relaxed state, Deer A is shot with a 7mm Rem Mag 165 grain Gamehead Pro.

Deer B is shot with a 6.5 Creedmoor 130 grain Gamehead Pro. From my experience I believe that both animals will have similar damage to vital organs and exhibit similar exit wounds.

It is very possible in my estimation that Deer A would drop to the shot and Deer B would run a short distance – the difference would not be that one is more dead than the other but that the larger calibre had a greater shock effect transmitted to the brain, thus causing the animal to drop.

This is where we get the impression that certain calibres kill better. Bigger calibres can drop vital shot deer quicker but they can be more difficult to shoot and ‘more difficult to shoot’ can mean less precise shot placement.

Your own typical hunting scenario then, should be an influential factor for what calibre suits you. In forestry you may want to drop your deer on the spot to avoid blood trailing in heavy cover. Perhaps you have a dog and this is not an issue.

Sako ammunition proved itself to Will this year in both range and hunting scenarios

Perhaps you are a very stealthy, well-practiced and experienced shot and can confidently head- and neck-shoot all your deer at close range. Some of these scenarios will suit a larger calibre, some will suit a more moderate calibre.

The ideal solution here is a calibre that is both easy to shoot and has good killing effect. I believe that in a well designed modern hunting rifle calibres such as the .270 or the .30-06 sit right on this balancing point – even in relatively light set ups that are moderated. I say this, based on back-to-back testing of Sako 85 Carbonlight in .270 Win versus 30-06 Springfield.

Both rifles were equipped with Hausken moderators and the perceived recoil difference between them was almost nil. Both rifles weighed around the 9.5lb mark fully kitted and were smooth to shoot. I’d be interested to see how these calibres perform with the Sako Gamehead Pro in 140gr and 165gr respectively.

The big realisation for me this season is that the 6.5 Creedmoor, with the right ammunition, is a fantastic hunting tool. In a package like the Tikka CTR the Creedmoor is easy to shoot and I am a big fan of how the Sako Gamehead Pro ammo performs on deer.

My conclusion? Your calibre is as good as your ammunition, choose wisely…

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