Terminal Performance Testing

Warren Jensen

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2001
Arco, ID 83213
It is time for a scolding!

A recurring theme on this forum as with many forums is "How will this or that bullet perform on game". A typical response will be
for another person to relate their experiences with shots on game. There is almost never a response that includes, "my testing data shows...". There should be.

Terminal performance testing is not difficult, time consuming overall, or expensive. It does require some preparatory thought and rounding up of the materials. Once you have done the initial work, the time and effort for each test session is not great. It should be as essential to the development of a load for hunting game as selecting the proper powder, zeroing the rifle, and markmanship practice.

It is astounding to me that this group who in general are meticulous in your preparation of rifles and loads are not doing this. Start. Start now. It is the only way you will know how a bullet will perform in game. It is essential in the selection process of the proper bullets and should be as essential as determining a particular bullet's accuracy potential. Going hunting without knowing the terminal performance of your bullet in your rifle, with your load, at the distances you intend to shoot is the same as the guy who goes to the store, buys a rifle, has it boresighted, and accepts the clerks assertion that it is "ready to go", without zeroing the rifle at the range.

Wound channels are many things, but what they are mostly are different each time. The various factors bullet construction from lot to lot, impact velocity, impact angles, tissue encountered, excitement state of the animal, and a multitude of other factors make each wound channel unique. As stated by Col. Frank T. Chamberlin, Med Corp. in P.O.Ackley's HANDBOOK FOR SHOOTERS AND RELOADERS,

"There is one fact that stands out in my mind based on hundreds of experimental wounds that we created under known conditions, known ammunition, the bullets traveling at known speeds, known shapes or contours and known weights, dissected, X-rayed, and photographed with specimens of the wound tissues examined microscopically. NO TWO WOUNDS WILL BE FOUND EXACTLY ALIKE."

The point here is that examination of wounds in animals is mandatory and a very good thing to do, but conclusions based upon sample populations of one, two, or ten are not sound. General conclusions of a particular bullet's performance are only valid when the sample population of game taken with that bullet is greater than 50. Yes, 50 and that is a minimum number. There are so many variations in construction from lot to lot and materials, year to year that conclusions based on lesser samples are not valid.

Testing in controlled media does provide valuable data and should be used before a particular bullet is taken to the field.

There are a number of methods. You can develop your own. The media can be newspaper, magazines, silt, sawdust, fine clay, and others. It should be soaking wet. A box to hold it is necessary. A cardboard box will do for one time use. A place to shoot is required. All of this is well within the means of the average hunter and especially within the means of the members of this forum.

I really want to start to see some "my terminal performance testing shows......", comments. We can then discuss and argue over the results and conclusions. This will be good and interesting.

The comment "I don't have the time or money"is Baloney! and Hogwash! That is not a reason. That is an excuse. You as a group spend infinitely more time and money selecting your rifles and scopes and the bullet is at least as important as part of the equation.

Hello Warren

The only response I can make to your excellent suggestion on bullet performance is from actual killing of over 125 deer and 30 elk mostly by me on the deer and some of the elk by my friends hunting with me.

My actual testing is field testing only and has been successful for me and the friends I hunt with. We used the poor animal as our first live test many years ago and it proved out to be very accurate over the years.

In field dressing all of those animals, I have only had two bullets that were recovered from two of the elk. Each one of those bullets had gone through one shoulder and lodged itself just inside the hide on the other side of the elk. They entered the elk on a "facing away" slightly angle. The bullets were pealed back in four even segments and half of the lead core was still there.

All the rest of the animals had small entrance bullet holes and large exit wounds from the size of a grapfruit to that of a volleyball. The wound channel, in diameter, was larger on some shots as compared to others.

All animals were killed using Sierra Match Kings in several calibers and weights rangeing from the 140 gr 6.5, 7mm-168 gr, the 200 and 220gr 3o cal and the 338--300 gr.

The 338--300 gr seems to be the most lethal of any I have used so far.

For instance at 1000 yards that bullet went into 2 deer on the same day, again a nice little entrance hole and the exit hole was honestly as big as a volley ball.

On the 2100 yard shot on the elk, the entrance hole was again very small and round like the bullet diameter, and the exit was that of a large grapfruit after it went through one shoulder.

I have stuck with the Sierra MK so far because of the success we have had with them. I know there are other bullets available, yours certainly, that will do a fine job but, with our success, we tend to stay with what has worked for us for many years.

Some of the above animals (deer) were killed
at close range (100 to 200 yards) with lessor cartridges but still using the Match Kings and with similar results.

We don't xray the wound channel in the field ,as you have done and have access to, but only take a visual check of the pieces and parts we are removing.

We also write down the temperture of each day we hunted as a comparison for later.

The angle of the shots are usually straight across the mountain but, that also varies.

That's all I can tell you concerning the actual kills we have made or the live tests on animals.

I can only say, the wounds have always been lethal, ugly and death was swift in most cases. A second shot is seldom needed but is required from time to time if we see the animal is down and still alive.

Darryl Cassel

PS: As an aside, most of us on this forum and others don't have the testing facility and equipment you have at your disposal.
Most of us don't have your knowledge and experiance concerning bullet performance either.

As you stated, you do this for a living and must be MORE exact then the average or even the above average LR hunter, by far. Much of your work goes to the Government and they have strick rules of engaugement to follow.

Most of us do not test (maybe we all should)
to any length each and every bullet we use other then getting the best accuarcy load performance we can from our rifles.

Your suggestions are very valid but, most will not or I should say can't go to the extent you must go to in testing performance.

A box of wet telephone books or papers or such, is a start though.

[ 01-24-2002: Message edited by: Darryl Cassel ]

You have the experience and field data to support your claims. We can discuss and argue over any conclusions, but as to quality and amount of data you have enough. There are others on this forum who do, also. As a group, as with the hunting community in general, the knowledge level is lacking, due primarily to a lack of research on the part of the individual hunter. The individual has not been told he should be doing this. That is my intent. I want to tell the individual he can and should be doing this. It is a call to action for the group in general.
Excellent thoughts and suggestions Warren

Keep them coming.

It would be a good idea for all of us to follow as, your experiance and knowledge is valued.

Darryl Cassel

[ 01-24-2002: Message edited by: Darryl Cassel ]
Warren... a scolding for your scolding, and I agree/disagree (How's that for an anbiguous start?).

Back in the dark ages, when I started shooting, I did a number of tests on the Matchkings that I was using on varmints... used wet news paper at first. Then, when I was employed in the firearms field, I had access to 20% "jello".

It was an interesting time for me... I was 20-ish, and the learning curve was very steep (sometimes like a brick wall!).

The little .224, and .243 SMK's would come apart in a predictable way in both the wet paper, and the jello... but in the field, they were all over the place.

I am now thinking back some 30+ years to a 16 pound greyback chuck that was shot dead center at 80 yards by my shooting companion, using a .222Mag, and the still made 52 gr HPBT. Terminal energy would be around 1100 fp, and velocity would be about 3,100fps.

It fell over with little "X's" in it's eyes, and when we examined it, we found one tiny pencil sized hole in the skin. I thought that it was the entrance hole, until the shooter said it was on the wrong side of the critter... and after about 5 minutes of looking through the hair, we found a "dot" in the skin that looked like an ice pick wound... the bullet hade gone straight through, without opening up a bit... it was nerve damage that brought the animal down.

The point of this is that one can shoot all the Jello, sawdust, wet dirt, whatever, and still have little predictable knowledge what will happen on game.
When letting loose on a medium or large game animal, the path can be through simple flesh (with maybe an air chamber), or it can encounter 2" to 5" of solid bone first... with this kind of variables set, there is little that the shooter will ever learn about the bullet, and the best info may be had on forum like this one, where the results of many shooters can be pooled, and picked over.

Your posts are pure education and advice of the first order, please keep them coming.

I have had the good fortune to see some controled bullet tests in a ballistic lab and was amazed at how tough it is to control variables. If things are kept REAL simple the results seemed to be relatively uniform but they sure don't stay that way when bones, hide, clothing etc. are introduced.

One time I had access to a huge number of expired phone books, all neatly packaged in proper fitting boxes that I had lined with poly. I poured the same amount of water into each box and let them sit overnight. Needed info on muzzleloader bullet performance, particularly one brand. Set a box up at 100 yards and fired a shot, went down to the box, recovered the bullet and could have put it back into a sabot and shot it again. Tried five shots, all the same, no expansion. Moved the boxes to 50 yards - same thing. Believe it or not I ended up shooting one box point-black - on the **** shooting bench - and that bullet upset a bit but did not mushroom. Might have been flawed testing or a batch of bullets made of Titanium or something - anyhow I drove back to town and threw all the boxes into a recylcing bin. Still don't know what I did wrong that time. Felt like a real bonafide bullet tester that day.

Another "test" that I did was also on paper, only very hard sheets of carboard. Bundles of 150 stiff cardboard sheets, wrapped in brown wrapping paper, were placed in a single line on the ground, each bundle butting against the next single file. One .300 Winchester Magnum factory load was shot into the front bundle. None of the bullets penetrated a bundle fully. As each test round was fired the bundles were rotated back so that a fresh bundle was always foremost. Shots were fired from the prone position and aimed to strike the center of the bundle, approximately 3” above the bottom. The paper wrapping frequently split on a front seam, but all bundles stayed intact. The paper wrapping was then cut open, and the sheets separated to expose each bullet. Care was taken to determine the most forward position of each bullet. Bullets were removed and the penetrated sheets were counted and recorded. The bullets were carefully examined and all visible cardboard was removed with tweezers and a sharp pin. The bullets were then weighed on a reloading scale.

Ammunition Recov. Weight (gr) #. SheetsTOTAL (Wt.+#Sheets)
Winchester Failsafe 180 gr. 178.7 (99.3%) 114 292.7
Federal Safari - Nosler Part 180 gr. 120.3 (66.8%) 113 233.3
Federal Safari - Tr. Bonded 180 gr. 133.3 (74.0%) 095 228.3
Federal Safari - Woodleigh 180 gr. 123.7 (68.7%) 095 218.7
Sako Hammerhead 180 gr. 085.5 (47.5%) 101 186.5
Speer Grand Slam 180 gr. 068.8 (38.2%) 102 170.8

The above charts might turn into a dog's breakfast, here is what the top line should read:
1. Ammunition 2. Recov. Weight (gr) 3. #. SheetsTOTAL and 4. (Wt.+#Sheets)

(Weight plus number of sheets is an original Canuck evaluating method that means pretty well nothing, but I had to come up with something that seemed like I knew what I was doing...)
..all bundles were of equal weight and wrapping
..this test allowed a direct count of penetrated cardboard sheets
..only one round was fired per bullet type
..the TOTAL number is only for interest
..the Winchester bullet was a classic Failsafe profile
..the Sako bullet shed the core and the jacket was tightly packed with cardboard
..the Speer bullet shed the core and was loosely packed with cardboard
..the Nosler peeled back to the inner belt in classic Nosler form
..the Trophy Bonded bullets looked very similar and were excellent mushrooms
..the Woodleigh bullet mushroomed nicely
..did not have factory loaded Barnes or Swift A-Frames - too bad

This was probably not too far from shooting the bullets into a tree, pretty hard test "medium" but it was something to do that day. Another trip to the re-cycling bin.

Warren, I was involved in a little bullet test a while back with one of your competitors - Swift Bullets. I have pasted a chunk of the article below. Amazing thing about this story was it ran with some pretty graphic photos of very dead pigs and there was no backlash from the Save the Cuddly Wild Pig Foundation weenies or anything.

"...Although the range testing and water tank shooting was impressive, Lee (fellow from Swift) felt strongly that the bullet needed to be tested on game, so he asked if I had any ideas as to how we might do a good field test. That was an easy one, as I had hunted with Craig Winters and his guides on the Nail Ranch in west central Texas in November '98. I was impressed with the numbers of wild hogs roaming their 56,000 acres of range land.

Craig agreed that shooting 10 wild hogs could be done fairly quickly, and we could further the test by using their excellent 500 yard benchrest range to re-shoot the carcasses under controlled conditions. We would be allowed to take dry or flat-bellied females that were not obviously pregnant. Big old wild boars are commercially hunted on the Nail Ranch but there is almost no pressure on the sows. Taking a few sows wouldn't mean anything to the herd, as wild hogs have adapted amazingly well and probably outnumber whitetail deer on the ranch. We agreed on a two day guided hunt, with guide Tim Rhodes taking Lee and I out.

Once we decided on the wild hog hunt the fun began. To simplify the hunting, I suggested that we work up two separate loads for my custom built Lilja barreled Winchester Model 70 in .300 Winchester Magnum. Mounted with a rugged 10 power Bausch and Lomb Tactical scope on a one-piece long range base manufactured by Richard Near of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, the big Winchester shoots well under an inch with heavy loads of Hodgdon's H-1000. Using a chronograph I determined that 66 grains of H-1000 gave 2600 feet per second through the 26 inch barrel (.308 Winchester velocity), and a much hotter magnum load of 81 grains shot slightly over 3100 fps. Both loads shot 0.50" to 0.75" with the lot of Scirrocos that Lee had made up for the hunt. Since the tuned-up Model 70 action had originally been on a 7mm STW Laredo, I had an extra long magazine box to work with. I could load the 175 grain spitzers right out to the lands for maximum accuracy and still load the cartridges into the magazine. (note - the original prototypes were 175 grains, not the final 180 grains that are marketed) I marked the primers of the 2600 fps load with a black felt pen to be able to tell them from the 3100 fps rounds.

We arrived in Albany Texas, just a few miles from the Nail ranch on March 7th, 1999, a couple of days before the hunt. I needed to spend some time on the 500 yard range getting zeroes with the two loads. Starting with a 100 yard zero, I determined actual bullet drop at each distance out to 500 yards. I used 175 grain Sierra hollow point match bullets since I had a good supply of ammo loaded and wanted to save as many Scirrocos as possible. I then fire three shot groups with Scirrocos to check their drop and found that the Swift bullet dropped one minute or five inches less at 500 yards than the hollow point bullets. I got some three shot groups that went under four inches at 500 yards with both the 2600 and 3100 fps loads. The 2600 fps load had exactly 20 inches more drop at 500 yards than the 3100 fps rounds. I made up a drop chart for the faster load, as that would be the ammo used for most of the hunting.

The B&L Tactical scope made this job easy, as the adjustments are very positive and perfectly accurate. In addition I could use the mil dot reticle for elevation and windage hold-over if necessary, and to determine distance if the laser range finders couldn’t provide a reading. I was not worried that the 10 power magnification might be too much to hunt with as the Nail ranch is wide open ranchland. Lee was bringing his Remington M-700 .300 Win. magnum mounted with a 3x-9x Nikon Monarch so we had a lower powered scope if we needed to shoot close.

Lee and I met Tim at the Nail headquarters just before dawn on the first day of the hunt. After explaining our objectives, and going over the equipment, we headed out on one of the many oil access roads that criss-cross the ranch. Tim had been guiding hog hunters since whitetail deer season ended, so he knew where we could count on finding suitable groups of pigs. Lee and I would take turns shooting and lasering distances, so that we would both get to see how well the Scirroco acted on wild critters. We used two Bushnell laser rangefinders, the 600 and 800 models with excellent results. We only took animals that Tim "OK'ed", and we were fortunate to make good hits on pigs at ranges from 60 yards to 250. We would hunt for three or four hours and then take whatever pigs we had shot over to the 500 yard range.

We shot pre-planned tests at the range involving the ammo loaded at the two velocities and at accurately determined distances. We also decided on four impact locations to ensure that the bullets hit bones and other tissue. Impact locations were broadside shots through the scapula (shoulder blade) and the femur or hip, and head-on and going straight away shots.

Lee had welded up a stand that supported the carcass in a lifelike position. He had also brought along a steel table that matched the height of the "pig-stand" on which we placed large plastic jugs full of water. On side shots the bullets passed through and were stopped by the water, so that all we had to do was pour out the water and the bullet dropped into the hand. (note - these bullets were completely clean, we did not have to pick anything out of them) Bullets shot length-wise into the pigs were easily recovered with the aid of a powerful metal detector.

After two days we had recovered 35 Scirrocos and seen the reaction of ten animals hit at various ranges and locations. We agreed that the bullet appeared to release energy very quickly, as most animals were flattened on impact. Tim has guided a lot of hog hunters over the years and he stated that these animals were "going down hard". Autopsies enabled Lee to examine exactly what wound paths looked like, and how far the bullets were penetrating under each circumstance.

We kept detailed records of each shot, including distance, animal position, impact placement, velocity and reaction to impact on data sheets. We placed each recovered bullet into marked containers so that weights and measurements could be correlated to the field info.

What were the results? The 35 recovered bullets averaged over 88%. We also shot some competitors during this test, some did well and some blew up.

Sorry for the long post guys, hope you didn't get too bored.

Warren's point is valid, we should make an effort to learn what our bullet does on critters as well as how small the groups are at 100 yards.
This is how I test:

I take the nearest neigbors cat or dog that has been craping on my lawn or barking / fighting and keeping me up late.

To a near by shooting spot with a big bowl of yummy food quickly drive away to 300 yrds and shoot.

I then inspect the carcus and blood spray pattern (great for the winter snow) and if I find more than three golf ball size peices I reject that bullet and try another one.


[ 03-15-2002: Message edited by: Joe Blow ]
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