How far out will this bullet/rifle perform?

Dave King

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2001
I just got another e-mail regarding the limit on using a particular bullet at some stated velocity.

This latest question was about using a 220 grain Sierra 30 cal at 3200 fps. The question was whether this would work on deer at 1500 yards.

I'm sure we all get asked similar questions quite often.

I feel that in a good broadside double-lung shot, nearly any bullet that can survive the trip through both lungs will kill the animal. (There are limit of course, perhaps a monolithic 14cal. at 800 fps would be a poor choice.)

The, "what if" crowd, nearly always want's a premium hunting bullet just in case the animal makes a quick "left face" and we end up striking the unfortunate critter in the bum. My line of thinking on that is that I didn't spend enough time studying the critter before the shot so it's not a bullet problem but a shooter problem.

What are your thoughts on minimum energy, bullet design (I sure we're nearly all of the same thinking here) and shot placement?

For us 'first round hit' (no sighter shots)guys, how about the trajectory limitations. Specifically, how do you determine at what point the trajectory angle gets too steep, steep enough for a miss due to a marginal distance error (+- 10 yards or so).

Anytime the velocity gets below 1500 fps. you can consider the bullet to be a one to one and a half caliber hole maker. This means that expansion will be nill if any and the secondary wound channel will be minimal. The bullet will have to cause the damage without the help of wave effect crushing tissue. A central nervous system hit (very difficult at that range), double lung, heart, liver or artery will be necessary for a rapid kill. The heart or liver shot would also be difficult. That leaves the double lung, which means the animal has to be broadside and standing(laying) still.

As far as the increasing fall angle, what Dean Michealis calls the effective "Danger Space", becomes critical. Calculating how much horizontal error is allowable at that distance is paramount. At 1500 yds. that 220 MK is dropping 13.2 in for every 10 yds. horizontal it travels. If you consider the the lung target area of a deer to be 15 inches vertical then you cannot be much more that 10 yds. horizontal off( 15/13.2 X 10 = 11.36 to be exact) on your range or you will miss the kill zone. This is just in range determination. This does not consider vertical or horizontal dispersion due to ammo, rifle, or trigger puller.
Hello Dave and Warren

Just another point of view from some of our hunting trips and the use of the bullet, velocity and caliber mentioned.
Many times actual field testing on live game will produce a much different picture then what the bullet is advertised to do or not do.

Would that combination (220 gr bullet at 3200FPS out of a 30/378) work on deer at 1500 yards?
You can bet it will and further then that.

For most of those thinking that they are going to kill an animal with the first round out of their barrel at 1500 yards, think again. A spotter round or two is advisable in that situation----ALWAYS.
I know of no one that can (with normal civilian built custom guns) make a kill with the FIRST shot on a regular basis. There are just to many variables to overcome.
I would rather take a spotter round or two (away from the target) and be able to place the shot better on the animal.

When compairing bullets, speed, energy and killing power, check out how much energy a 30-30 has at 100 and 200 yards. That little 170 grain bullet and rifle combination has probably killed more deer size game between 100 and 200 yards then ANY caliber in history.

Lets take it a step further and apply THAT energy (or more) to an animal that is standing 1500 yards away (broadside), not alarmed to anything and in a RELAXED state.

If you can kill with the same energy at 100 or 200 from a much smaller caliber then say a 30/378 using a 220 gr bullet at 3200 FPS and retain a good portion of that velocity, you will most certainly be able to apply that at 1500 with a high BC bullet such as a Sierra Matchking.

At 1500 yards the above mentioned bullet with a BC of .655 has 1065 foot lbs of energy
and a velocity of 1476 FPS remaining.

When we used 30/378 calibers with the 220 gr bullets with long barrels, our velocity was 3250 FPS with the 220 gr bullets when we wanted to reload our brass several times.
We have made kills on whitetail deer in Pennsylvania at 1100 to 1700 with that combination.

At 1700 yards the bullet is still traveling at 1317 fps and has 848 Foot pounds of energy left. It really does not take much to kill a whitetail deer here in the mountain area of PA. They are very small (110lbs) and the energy to make the kills can be reduced.
Many short range hunters are using 222 Cals and placing the shot.

When trying to figure your max range for killing, just compare a close range cartridge and that energy it produces and apply it to an extended range that your large overbore cartridge will duplicate. Energy is energy regardless of the range.
If you can produce energy that a small caliber will give at 100 yds to what a huge cartridge and bullet combination will give at 1500, the energy will still be applied.
I am refering to the 30/30 as mentioned above in this instance.

Of course, an accurate rifle, a high BC bullet, a good rangefinder and a shooting partner with a set of bigeyes is the key to success.

NEVER try a 1500 yd shot without your partner.

Darryl Cassel

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: Darryl Cassel ]

I am going to disagree with you here. Energy is not a good quantifier of bullet lethality. The hole the bullet makes,primary and secondary, is what is lethal. Energy or 1/2 Mass times Velocity Squared doe not give any description as to how a bullet expands, how it retains that expansion, how it retains it's structural integrity, how it penetrates, whether it tumbles, how much energy is used to form it's expanded shape and more. Using energy as a quantifier assumes all bullets will perform identically. They don't.

Also, there is a definite border between bullets traveling above 1500 fps. upon impact and bullets traveling below 1500 fps. upon impact. You wont' see it with a 1510-1490 deltaV but you will with a 1600-1400 deltaV. You can consider those below 1500 as non-expanding. This is not that they do not deform, but is due to the fact that there is little wave induced, or secondary wound channel, damage around the primary hole. Sometimes secondary is interpreted from damage caused by a bullet that tumbles. This latter effect can be quite dramatic, but in most bullets is unpredictable.
Hello Warren

Retained Energy AND speed is the point I was trying to emphasize. Both must be incorporated to cause tissue damage at the extreme range we have had experiance with over the years.
Point being, we have never had one get away from us yet. I like high retained energy and velocity in the bullets I use. The better the BC the more V & E are retained.

I use to be a speed merchant and could drive a 200 gr MK out of my 30/378 (37" barrel)
at velocities approaching 3600 FPS. This was checked and double checked by several chronagraphs for accuracy.
I soon found that we could get some dramatic results and case life extension if we slowed it down and concentrated on accuracy more then the importance we put on the speed.
However, we found we needed both, speed and accuracy so a compremise was made.

We also have found , and I mentioned this before that, we have recovered ONLY two bullets from about 20 elk and they were mushroomed perfectly and the range was in excess of 1100 yds. The exit holes in elk out to 2100 yards you could stuff a volleyball in each of them. That was with the 338/416.

On PA whitetail deer at ranges of 1000 to 1500 yards it's almost criminal what a 30 cal 220 gr from a 30/378 or especially the 338/416 will do.

I'm sure you have run tests on tissue damage but, ALL cases are not the same and all bullets do not react the same. Certain types of bullets seem prdictable though.
If the flight pattern stays constant with a high BC bullet & a good retained velocity, it will cause severe damage at 1500 plus yards.
This is what We have found in actual on hands testing while hunting.

As mentioned before, you can read what something should do or not do or is supposed to do but, to have actual field testing over many, many years on live animals is one of the most important tests to me, since I am a longrange shooter and hunter.

When I respond to this forum, it is what I personnally have witnessed concerning bullet distruction to live tissue at extreme range from several longrange calibers.

We are coming from two perspectives here. You are doing more testing on paper targets at extreme range (I think) and I am doing more testing (I think) on live animals such as deer and elk.
The very first thing I look at when we get to the downed animal is the exit hole. I am amazed what the Sierra Match King bullets do to animals at ranges considered by some as, not possible. You know what I'm talking about here being in the bullet business.

Sometime we should combine our talents.

Anyway, it's nice to have this forum to share ideas and experiances with others who may not have had the chance to do what you and I both have done over the years.

Darryl Cassel


I doubt you have more experience than I do on bullet performance on live animals. When you have personally shot large game that number in four figures or have witnessed the same at about ten times that number then you will be approaching my experience. We purchase animals here that have limited life expectancies, for bullet testing. We do not advertise this, for obvious reasons. My experience is not theory nor paper testing. When I state something it is from 1st hand knowledge and years of testing.

We also test bullet performance of all manufacturers at all ranges. I am very aware of how MKs perform at long range. What I have been trying to ease you into is an awareness that what you consider to be expansion at long range, is not that at all. You may be getting mushrooming at impact velocities above 1500 fps., but you are just as likely to be getting bullet destabilization and tumbling. Those grapefruit and volleyball size exit holes you speak of are characteristic of destabilized bullets, not mushroomed bullets. If you want to say it is still lethal, I won't argue at all. What it is though, is not controlled and sometimes not predictable.
Hello Warren

Have you found that tumbling bullets will penitrate both shoulders or at least one, at ranges between 1500 to 2100 yards on elk?
I have found that the exit holes are larger at closer range then past 1500 yards. Do you think my bullet is tumbling from the start? I don't think so at all. We have hit deer at 1000 yards and put volleyball size holes in them. Elk at 1500 seem to have the same wound, At 1700 and 1800 the exit holes are smaller.

The elk at 2100 had a hole about the size of a large grape fruit when the bullet exited through the far shoulder. Im sorry but, I cant believe for a moment that that bullet tumbled. That rifle is just too accurate.

I have found that, my 338/416 will repeat shot after shot at 1800 yards regularly. If there was tumbling of the bullets, my accuracy would suffer and that's not the case I have found at all.
When testing on paper at extreme range I have not witnessed any key holeing what so ever and I certainly would if my bullets were tumbling.
I don't believe the tumbling is happening, as you mentioned even though I can appreciate the tests you have run.

If the animals you are testing bullets on are all deer and elk size and the ranges are all in excess of 1500 yards and you have killed over 1000 of them, then you have more experiance then me.

I can only tell you and others what I have witnessed and found.

Darryl Cassel

When I say destabilized I am speaking of the profile during penetration. Obviously, if you can hit it at 2100 yds, the bullet is aerodynamically stable.

What is interesting is that the same forces that make a bullet stable in flight are the same forces that make it stable or unstable during penetration of tissue. In tissue the penetrated media is a lot denser. A long ogive bullet, like the MK, will immediately achieve an overturning moment that will force it to begin swapping ends, unless it has a characteristic that immediately forces a flattening or blunting of the front end. With a MK at impact velocities above 1500 fps the forces are sufficient to cave in the HP nose forcing the blunting and mushroom initiation. At impact velocities below 1500 fps. it is not usually sufficient for this to happen before the destabilization occurs.

With your 338-416 Imp. and that 300 gr. MK you are getting mushrooming at 1000 yds and probably 1500, but I am fairly confident that that 2100 yd wound channel you describe is a destabilized bullet, or what you call tumbling. A mushrooming bullet of .338 cal. traveling at about 1500 fps. will not cause that kind of damage. Even a 50 cal won't, unless it is destabilized. Would the .338 MK penetrate both shoulders while going end over end? You bet. I would be surprised if it didn't. Actually it does not destabilize until it has penetrated the first shoulder and traveled about four to eight inches. The large cavitation characteristic of the destabilization occurs for the next six to 10 inches. Four plus six or eight plus ten gives a variable cavitation parameter of 10 to eighteen inches, which is sufficient to blow a large exit hole in the shoulder of your average elk. A mushrooming bullet would have a one caliber entrance hole and a one and one half to two caliber exit hole at those velocities. That is why I am pretty sure it wasn't a mushroom exit. Complete autopsies and postmortum wound analysis would be mandatory for certitude, so yes, that is my opinion.

Didn't you ask yourself why the exit hole seemed larger on the 2100 yd. kill than it did on the 1700 and 1800 yd kills? I don't know all of your parameters but a quick trajectory plot shows that your bullet was traveling about 1500 fps on impact at 2100 yds.

I do not enjoy ****ing contests and I have too much respect for you to get into or continue one. You implied that I did not have the experience to know what I was talking about, but in this case, I do. It is an area that I have spent a lot of time and energy researching.

There was and never will be a P contest as I too respect your opinion. You enlightened me as to the extensive testing you have done and I appreciate that.
I was under the opinion that you did mostly target/paper trajectory work on ballsitics as Bob McCoy was so active in.

On the 2100 yard shot I was happy as hell that we got him without another shot to finish him off. I didnt think about bullet tumbling at the time. I was only trying to get him cut up and out of there while we talked about the massive wound at that range.

If I offended you or your expertise in ANY way---I apologize.

I really didn't know the extent of your overall testing

Darryl Cassel

As always you are a gentleman. I learn more from people with experience and stong opinions like yourself than I ever will from those who spend their lives sitting next to the window watching the world go by. I appreciate a good lively discussion and I can tell you do to.
My only experience in this subject was with a 45-70, a big lead bullet and a steel oil drum.

The rifle and bullet were VERY accurate, allowing hits at 900 yds offhand.

The entrance holes were nice and round. Impact with the thin steel skin of the drum was enough to cause the bullet to become unstable.

A 55 gal oil drum is 24 inches in diameter. After impact the big bullets yawed at least 90 degrees to exit completely sideways.

They exited with such force that the lubrication grooves were imprinted in the peeled back steel.

This awesome demonstration really showed how a large, slow moving bullet could kill a beast as big as a buffalo. In use, the huge, tumbling lead slug must have torn a massive wound channel through the buffalo as it smashed through bone and muscle.

I would imagine that a .338 cal, 300gr MK impacting at low velocity would perform in much the same manner and would be just effective on game smaller than a buffalo.

Peter Cronhelm
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