AR PLATFORM PERFORMANCE By Craig Boddington

More juice from the lemon?

Warm, sunny midday, we were tootling around Zack Aultman’s place in southern Georgia in a four-wheeler. A decent-sized boar jumped up on the forest verge and started jinking across a clear-cut, running at top speed like a champion broken-field runner. Zack was driving and there was an AR15 between us. I knew it had a loaded magazine in the well, but I was a second slow on the uptake and the pig had already covered some ground before I got the rifle charged and up. The first shot felt good, but I guess the pig zig-zagged out of the way because there was no apparent effect.

Boddington and his friend Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog
Boddington and his friend Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog dropped in its tracks at about 200 yards with the .308 Arrow cartridge. Based on the 7.62x39mm with body taper removed, this cartridge seems to develop about as much bullet weight, velocity, and downrange energy as can be wrung out of the AR15 platform

I lost sight in some brush and figured I’d had my chance—and then the pig reappeared, still in the open and streaking off, now pushing 200 yards. Swinging hard, I got with the pig and a bit ahead. Lucky shots sometimes happen; at the second shot the pig somersaulted in a cloud of dust. The animal had gone down so fast—and so hard—that I assumed I’d broken the spine. Nope, by mysterious coincidence (or the pig’s incredibly bad luck), the bullet had struck center on the shoulder, and there was no exit.

My friend Zack enjoys a long deer season on his place, and has an ongoing problem with feral hogs. He’s also a bit of a rifle addict, so there’s no telling what he might have on hand. Other than to verify it was a “normal” AR with empty chamber and cartridges in the magazine, I hadn’t looked closely at the rifle when Zack handed it to me. Considering hogs are always in season and, knowing Zack, I assumed it was reasonably zeroed. Now we both paused and took a closer look, because the way this little rifle flattened that hog was impressive.

AR Bolt
Almost all rifle actions have limits on cartridge size. The standard AR15 bolt face is sized to the .223/5.56mm’s .378-inch rim diameter. The bolt face can be altered, but the AR15’s integral magazine well and magazine put a sharp limit on cartridge length.

Look, maybe that was a fluke…like my shot. No two animals react exactly alike upon receiving a bullet, and flukes can be both good and bad. So, when evaluating cartridge and bullet performance on game, it’s risky to make assumptions based on limited exposure. I make no definitive claim, but terminal performance gave us pause. The rifle was from Arrow Arms in nearby Macon, Georgia, and the cartridge was their proprietary .308 Arrow, propelling a 125-grain jacketed hollowpoint at 2814 feet per second.

The .308 Arrow, left, shown with its parent cartridge, the 7.62x39mm Russian.
The .308 Arrow, left, shown with its parent cartridge, the 7.62x39mm Russian. Essentially an “improved” version, the .308 Arrow increases velocity by removing body taper and using a sharper shoulder angle.

 There’s nothing magic about those numbers, slower than a .308 Winchester, also faster, and yielding more energy at 200 yards, than anything else I’ve shot out of an AR15 platform. The AR10 was developed for the 7.62×51 (.308 Winchester) cartridge. In the late 1950s, Gene Stoner and his team the AR10 scaled down the AR10 to create the AR15, lighter, handier, and intended for smaller, less powerful cartridges. The .223 Remington was essentially a parallel development, created in 1957 to fit the AR15 action.

Remington released the .223 Remington as a sporting cartridge in 1963, and in 1964 both the .223 (5.56mm) and M16 were adopted by the U.S. military. The .223 quickly became a popular varmint and target cartridge, but decades would pass before semiautomatic sporting versions of the AR15 achieved widespread popularity. During most of those decades, the AR15 and the .223 Remington (after 1980, 5.56x45mm NATO) were inextricably linked, with few other options.

During the last 20 years, much effort has been expended developing cartridges that increase, or significantly alter, performance from an AR15 action. Cartridges are often developed for specific actions…especially popular actions. And, most rifle actions have limitations. Over decades, Winchester developed several cartridges for their 1894 lever-action. Most were based on the .30-30 case because the ’94 needs a rimmed case…and the action has both pressure and cartridge dimension limitations.

The .300 AAC Blackout has become extremely popular.
The .300 AAC Blackout has become extremely popular. Although it offers the advantage of using standard AR magazines, it was at least partly designed for suppressed fire. Velocity is low, and Boddington considers it extremely marginal for hunting.

Even the versatile bolt-action has restrictions. Classic and current bolt-actions like the 98 Mauser, Winchester Model 70, Remington Model 700, and Savage 110 can be adapted to a wide range of cartridges, but cannot house the largest cartridges like the .338 Lapua and .378 Weatherby family (although there are extra-large bolt-actions that can).

Action length is always a consideration. As a detachable-magazine rifle with integral magazine well, the AR15 action is limited to cartridge length of 2.275 inches. This is a short centerfire rifle cartridge. Cartridge overall length specification is 2.825 inches for the popular 6.5mm Creedmoor. The Creedmoor (and the entire .308 Winchester-based family) fits easily into the AR10 action (because that’s the cartridge size it was designed for), but you simply cannot house that size of cartridge or that level of power into an AR15 action.

On the bench with a left-hand-eject AR from Wilson Combat.
On the bench with a left-hand-eject AR from Wilson Combat. The incredible popularity of the AR15 platform has led to much cartridge development. There are numerous options but, ultimately, the action size can yield only so much power.

There’s only so much juice to squeeze from a lemon. However, because of the incredible popularity of the platform, a lot of cartridges have been developed to squeeze just a bit more juice from the AR15. Cartridge length is the primary limiting factor. The .223 Remington case can be necked up or down, changing bullet diameter and weight, which dictates potential velocity. The .223/5.56mm rim diameter is .378-inch. Without altering bolt face, this is also a limitation, and you can’t alter the case shape much without going to cartridge-specific magazines.

chambering, ARs
Depending on chambering, ARs are suitable for a wide range of hunting. For sure, it’s a ball to use an AR for shooting prairie dogs!

Among others, the very fast .17 Remington is the .223 case necked down; the .300 AAC Blackout is the .223/5.56mm shortened and necked up, but designed so standard 5.56mm magazines can be used. The AR15 action can handle a wider or fatter case, which increases powder capacity. Winchester’s .350 Legend retains the .378-inch rim and, at 2.25 inches, is short enough. However, the rim is rebated (smaller than the base), and the base diameter is larger (.390 inches). Wider cases with rebated rims are also how they cram the .30 Remington AR and .450 Bushmaster into the AR15 action. Both of these use a rim diameter and bolt face of .473-inch, same as the .30-06. Performance is amazing from the little AR15 action. However, magazines must be modified (with a single-stack follower), and magazine capacity is greatly reduced.

Jason Morton and Boddington with a good Kansas whitetail
Jason Morton and Boddington with a good Kansas whitetail taken with a CZ 527 bolt-action in 6.5mm Grendel. AR15-compatible, the Grendel is a versatile hunting cartridge but, provided velocity is meaningful, no 6.5mm can hit as hard as a .30-caliber.

It’s probably not a coincidence of design that the AR15 action easily houses the 2.2-inch 7.62x39mm Russian. Propelling a 123-grain bullet at a bit over 2400 fps, the 7.62 Russian is obviously a long-proven military cartridge. It’s also a pretty good hunting cartridge, effective on deer and hogs at short to (very) medium range, with performance on game on par with the .30-30 (which is not damning with faint praise). With rim diameter of .447, the standard .223/5.56mm bolt face won’t work, and specific magazines are required, but the 7.62mm Russian is a fairly common and popular AR chambering. The 6.5mm Grendel, which I like very much, is simply the 7.62x39mm case necked down with body taper removed. It is much faster, propelling a 123-grain bullet 2650 fps. Now 20 years old, the 6.8mm SPC Remington is another option. Designed as a military cartridge to offer better terminal performance than the 5.56×45 yet with minimal reduction in magazine capacity, the 6.8 SPC is also an effective short to (very) medium range hunting cartridge. Based on the old .30 Remington, the 6.8 SPC has rim diameter of .422-inch. Although never widely adopted by the military, the 6.8 has its fans, but I never warmed up to it.

n Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel
An Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel in a prairie dog town. With light recoil and the aerodynamic advantages of 6.5mm bullets, the Grendel is a wonderfully versatile AR cartridge…but the 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet doesn’t have the hitting power of a .30-caliber.

As a hunting cartridge, I considered the 6.5mm Grendel one of the most versatile options for an AR, and still do. Then, by chance, I ran into the .308 Arrow. It is nothing more, nor less, than the 7.62mm Russian case, blown out to remove body taper, with sharper shoulder, but retaining the .30-caliber bullet. It is thus essentially an “improved” version. A proprietary of Arrow Arms (www.arrowarms.net), the improvement is considerable, with Hornady offering cases and dies.  Arrow Arms loads are rated: 125-grain bullet at 2814 fps; 130-grain bullet at 2739; and 150-grain bullet at 2545 fps. This is still far short of .308 Winchester velocity; that’s just not possible from the AR15 action. However, these are very credible velocities: Much faster than the .300 Blackout, 7.62 Russian, or .30-30, and in the ballpark with the .300 Savage (also not damning with faint praise).

hogs taken at sunset with a .350 Legend.
A couple of hogs taken at sunset with a .350 Legend. Although chambered in bolt-actions, Winchester’s .350 Legend is AR15-compatible, sharing the .223/5.56mm bolt face. In any action type, it’s a fine short-range hunting cartridge, but lacks the velocity to be effective beyond about 200 yards.

Unlike many of the AR cartridges, the .308 Arrow was not designed as an alternative military cartridge, nor for use with suppressor; it was designed as a hunting cartridge, to wring maximum .30-caliber performance from the AR15 platform. Again, it’s dangerous to reach conclusions based on limited exposure. However, like so many Americans, I believe in .30-caliber performance…and I believe in at least moderate velocity. We probably have all the cartridges we need (maybe too many), so I don’t predict huge popularity for the .308 arrow. Even so, it’s a sound cartridge that really does squeeze a bit more juice out of the AR platform. I’m going to spend a bit more time with it.

THE GREAT .308 by Craig Boddington

In the 40-odd years I’ve been doing this (and something north of 5000 articles), I don’t think I’ve ever written an article in praise of the .308 Winchester. This is embarrassing and downright shameful! After the .223 (5.56x45mm), the .308 Winchester is the most popular centerfire cartridge in the western world. In part, this is due to its adoption and widespread use by NATO nations (as the 7.62x51mm). However, its popularity is also based on pure merit: It is accurate, powerful, and versatile; and easily adaptable to the full range of rifle actions: Pump, lever, bolt, semiauto, single-shot.

.308 may be slightly more accurate than the .30-06
On average, the .308 may be slightly more accurate than the .30-06, but it’s not magic; you still need to find the right loads. The bottom left group is getting there!

We all have our favorites and, just like bigotry, favoritism often isn’t grounded in reality. I prefer the .30-06 to the .308. I prefer the 7mm-08 Remington to the 6.5mm Creedmoor, and I prefer the 7×57 Mauser to the 7mm-08. I prefer the .270 Winchester to the .280 Remington, and I prefer the .300 Weatherby Magnum to the .300 Winchester Magnum. I could go on with my irrational idiosyncrasies, but all these cartridges (and many more) are awesome. Others with similar—or different—experience could turn my preferences around and make compelling arguments. There are many great choices, and differences of opinion make horse races.

It’s impossible to love all cartridges equally. I have used all of the cartridges mentioned (and many more). However, it is virtually impossible to acquire equal experience with a wide range of cartridges and, ultimately, we are all victims of our own experience. I’ve used, shot, and hunted with the .308 in a wide selection of rifles, including several action types. However, I have more experience with the .30-06.

Mossberg’s Linda Powell clung to her .308
On this blacktail hunt most of the group used 6.5mm Creedmoors while Mossberg’s Linda Powell clung to her .308

The .308 Winchester and I are of an age; we both came into this world in 1952. The .308 is based on the .30-06 case shortened (from 2.494 inches to 2.015 inches. I like to remind people that the .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge ever adopted by a major military. In shortening the case, the intent was not to create an emasculated cartridge. Rather, it was designed as a military cartridge that could be used in a shorter, lighter, and more efficient self-loading action than the long, heavy Garand. In initial testing it was called “T65” and adopted in 1954 as the 7.62×51.

Montana md Bud Boddington
Montana md Bud Boddington: Boddington and his Dad, Bud Boddington, with a nice Montana mule deer. Craig’s father did almost all of his hunting with this rifle, a restocked Winchester M70 Featherweight in .308 Winchester.


Note: This was two years after its civilian introduction as the .308 Winchester. Apparently, the Winchester engineers thought they had something, and indeed they did. The .30-06 is very powerful…but so is the .308 Winchester! In 1952, I’m not sure the burning efficiency of a shorter and relatively fatter case was widely recognized, but the .308 Winchester is an early and shining example. Despite its shorter case with 20 percent less powder capacity (65.1 grains for the .30-06; 52 grains for the .308), the .308 runs only about seven percent slower than the .30-06.

Match group .308
Not all .308 rifles or loads can produce 100-yard groups like this!

Obviously, figures lie and liars figure. It depends on the load, and who is doing the loading, but it’s in the ballpark to say that the .308 Winchester is about 93 percent of the .30-06 in velocity, at least with bullets up to 180 grains. With extra-heavy bullets case capacity starts to tell, and the gap widens. But, realistically, with the great hunting bullets we have today, how many of us actually hunt with 200 and 220-grain .30-caliber bullets, especially in .308 and .30-06 rifles? I submit that few game animals will notice that seven percent difference! I suppose the only excuse I can offer for my long neglect of the .308 Winchester: The .308 and .30-06 are so similar in performance on game that, in my mind, I separate them little. With more velocity and more energy, I suppose the .30-06 is a slightly better elk cartridge. However, both cartridges are fully adequate for elk and moose, and the .308 is plenty of gun for any deer that walks!

For about 60 years (1920s into the 1980s), the .30-06 was America’s most popular hunting cartridge, which carried the huge advantage of widespread availability. We have a lot more choices today, and the .30-06 hasn’t been our standard-issue military cartridge for 65 years. The .30-06 is still popular, but the .308 is more popular, in part because of its better availability in semiautomatic platforms.

Linda Powell Coues deer
 Mossberg’s Linda Powell used her Patriot .308 to make a long shot on this huge Coues whitetail. A .308 would not be Boddington’s choice for this kind of hunting, but confidence counts…as does straight shooting.

The .308 is often praised for its mild recoil, but I want to be careful about that because it is not a mild cartridge. In rifles of equal weight, it will kick noticeably less than the .30-06. However, because of its shorter and more efficient case, the .308 needs a bit less barrel to reach full velocity. So, with a shorter, lighter action and an inch or two less barrel, most .308s are lighter than .30-06 rifles. Reduce gun weight and recoil increases. The .308 may not be ideal for youngsters or shooters of smaller stature…especially in very light rifles!

Kyle Lamb AR10
 Retired Sergeant Major Kyle Lamb, elk hunting in the high country with his semiauto .308. That’s what he’s used to, and that’s what he carries!

The .30-06 and .308 are just two of dozens of great cartridges. It’s impossible to use them all and love them all equally, so it comes down to confidence in one’s choice. I’ve used the .308 quite a bit with perfect satisfaction…but I have more experience with and more confidence in the .30-06. I doubt this will change, but people I respect prefer the .308. My Dad was one of them; he did almost all of his hunting with an early M70 Featherweight .308, including moose and bear. My friend Kyle Lamb, retired special operations Sergeant Major, is a .308 guy, rarely abandoning his semiauto platform…and not minding the weight. Old industry friend Linda Powell, now with Mossberg, long with Remington, is a .308 lady. Pre-pandemic, in Sonora, she shot a fantastic Coues whitetail at some ridiculous range with her .308.

Another friend, Ron Silverman, is a die-hard .308 fan and has four rifles so chambered. Recently he told me why he uses the .308. “It is not the .308 per se that I like. I just got started on it over 20 years ago. I’ve learned the accuracy, drop, velocity, and energy with the .308. I know the recoil, I know what it does best, and what I dare not attempt. I have my pet loads; I’ve tested my data from fifty yards all the way out. With all the variables addressed, if something goes wrong, I can figure out the problem: Scope, bullet, powder, etc.

Kansas eight-pointer.
Boddington’s friend Ron Silverman with a nice Kansas eight-pointer. Silverman is the rare one-cartridge man; he has four .308 Winchester rifles. He knows the cartridge, practices with it, and shoots it straight.

And: I practice all the time with all my .308 rifles! I could be using the .270, .30-06, or .300 Winchester Magnum…in the final analysis, the round doesn’t matter to me. That I know, understand, and can deal with the variables of the .308 makes my life of shooting very easy. In the field I am confident. I could do the same things with a different cartridge but, like my father told me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Ron hunts with us in Kansas, and all his deer are well-shot, no tracking. He makes his .308s talk!

Byron Sadler and Boddington with a big-tusked Texas boar
Byron Sadler and Boddington with a big-tusked Texas boar, taken with a Blaser R8 with .308 Winchester barrel and AimPoint red-dot sight

BULLET DILEMMAS by Craig Boddington

Things are pretty simple right now: We shoot what we’ve got…or whatever we can get! This may not be as awful as it sounds: I don’t think there are any bad bullets on the market today. However, most bullets are better for some things than others and (at least in normal times), there are so many to choose from that it gets downright confusing.

 270_Group_1
Boddington’s old .270 Winchester groups exceptionally well with Hornady’s SST, an accurate fast-opening bullet excellent for deer-sized game. For larger game he’d probably shift to a tougher bullet…even if group size wasn’t quite as good.

When I was a kid, we mostly hunted with Remington Core-Lokts or Winchester Power-Points in factory ammo. In handloads, primary choices were Hornady, Sierra, and Speer, all fairly simple lead-core bullets. The only “premium” hunting bullet known to deliver extra penetration was John Nosler’s Partition, introduced in 1948, back then also the exclusive province of handloaders. Polymer tips, bonded cores, and homogenous-alloy bullets were unknown!

Name any bullet, and you can find shooters who swear by it…and others who damn it. Not everybody liked the Nosler Partition, but it was considered the hot ticket for game larger and tougher than deer. When I got ready for my first African hunt, I hadn’t yet used any Partitions. Following conventional wisdom, I loaded up 180-grain Partitions in my .30-06. The spectacular performance I saw on about 15 head of plains game, large and small, was unforgettable.

Win_ 300 _200gr_ ELD-X
Boddington Jarrett .300 Winchester Magnum shoots 200-grain ELD-X so well with factory ammo that a handload as accurate was elusive. Old standby IMR 4350 turned in a .407-inch five-shot group, bottom left. The velocity isn’t quite what he wants, so that’s another dilemma needing a compromise.

Today we have many choices, but the Partition is still produced…and still a good bullet. In 1948, the only other option for ensuring better penetration was to increase bullet weight! The .30-06 “made its bones” with 220-grain bullets; the 7×57 with 175-grain bullets; the early 6.5mms with 160-grain bullets, all round-nosed. Today’s long and heavy-for-caliber “low drag” bullets complicate the issue, but few of us hunt with extra-heavy bullets today. Because: With modern hunting bullets, we don’t need extreme weight to ensure performance. And: In any given cartridge case, the heavier the bullet, the less velocity.

Which brings us back to my previous column: The accuracy and velocity that we Americans crave. Obtaining both in equal measure is usually a compromise! There’s no predicting what bullet or load a certain rifle will shoot best. Right now, availability sucks, but we have such variety in factory ammo that you could spend a fortune trying loads in popular cartridges…and never discover the best combination for your rifle. Handloaders can experiment infinitely, but it’s always a compromise: Accurate enough…and fast enough. As you work up handloads, it’s common to discover that the best groups are obtained long before you approach “maximum.”

.264@129-grain
There’s no telling exactly what bullet or load a given rifle will shoot best. Boddington was working up loads for his .264. He knows the rifle shoots AccuBonds well, but he expected the best groups from Berger. At the range, the winner on this day was 129-grain Hornady Interlocks he’s had on the shelf since the Sixties. You never know until you try!

Reality: You never know what works best until you try! I would always expect the best groups from “match” bullets, but I’ve seen finicky rifles that seemed hopeless until, in frustration or on a whim, they turned in spectacular groups with old round-nose bullets! So, the search for optimum accuracy in a given rifle is almost never exhausted. We hunters complicate things greatly by seeking the “perfect” bullet for the game we’re hunting.

Let’s simplify things: There are no perfect hunting bullets. Fortunately, there are lots of good choices and no “bad” hunting bullets. It’s more a matter of understanding the expansion and penetrating properties you want, in relation to the size of your game.

recovered bonded-core bullets
eight recovered bonded-core bullets. Right, recovered homogenous-alloy bullets. Copper bullets cannot expand as much as bonded-core bullets but, with less expansion, they will deliver deeper penetration. Neither type is always this “pretty” when recovered…it depends on impact velocity and what they encounter!

Most bullet manufacturers offer “match” or “target” bullets, engineered for maximum accuracy without thought to terminal performance on game. No manufacturers recommend match bullets for hunting, but because they are often the most accurate, some hunters use them anyway, especially at long range (where accuracy matters most). Sometimes they work well, but because they were not designed for terminal performance, they can be erratic on game. I have seen match bullets expand prematurely and fail to penetrate; and I have seen them pass through showing almost no expansion. So, this is a major compromise when choosing game bullets: The projectiles likely to be the most accurate (and produce the flattest trajectories) are probably not the best choices for hunting.

“Match” or “target”
“Match” or “target” bullets are not designed to provide consistent terminal performance in the game. Berger (center) marks their packaging as suitable for hunting. Most bullet-makers assume all other bullets will probably be used by hunters, so design accordingly.

Hunting bullets are a complex subject, and divisive: Everybody who’s shot a deer is an expert, and if there’s a problem the bullet is always the culprit, never shot placement! 

On the California Central Coast, we have great hunting for blacktail deer and feral hogs. By law we must now hunt with “unleaded projectiles.” In rifles, this means: Barnes “X”-series, Hornady GMX, Nosler E-Tip, etc. Some barrels shoot these homogenous alloy bullets extremely well…and some do not. This complicates the normal accuracy variance present with all bullets.

Randy Brooks, inventor of the Barnes X bullet
Randy Brooks, inventor of the Barnes X bullet, and Boddington with a Colorado bull, taken at 350 yards with a single 180-grain Barnes X from a .300 Winchester Magnum. All homogenous-alloy bullets are “penetrators;” the larger the game, the better they work!

Let’s understand the design. The “copper-alloy” bullets have a hollow nose cavity surrounded by a notched or “skived” tip. Upon impact, the nose peels back in petals, with expansion limited by size and depth of the nose cavity. These vary (and some also have polymer tips), but the homogenous alloy bullets are penetrating bullets. They will retain near-complete weight, and will usually exit, but the wound channel is limited by the amount of expansion.

I’ve taken a lot of game with Barnes X and GMX bullets. For me, the bigger the animal, the better they work! They are impressive on feral hogs, but on our small-bodied blacktails they tend to punch through and exit. They work, but more tracking is often needed. American hunters are big on the “behind the shoulder lung shot” because it is surely fatal, offers the largest target, and ruins little meat. I tell my California hunting buddies to borrow a chapter from African PHs, who always recommend a “center shoulder” hold, breaking heavy bone and disrupting the major vessels at the top of the heart. A little more meat is damaged, but usually less tracking! 

goodbullets
There are lots of good bullets…and few (if any) “bad” bullets. It gets confusing, but the idea is to figure out what performance characteristics you want for the game you are hunting.

The opposite of a pass-through with minimal damage is worse: Premature expansion with a nasty surface wound. This will not happen with a homogenous-alloy bullet. But it shouldn’t happen with any bullet marketed as a hunting bullet. Except: Velocity is the great enemy to bullet performance. At moderate velocities: 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .308, .30-06, there are no bad bullets, and anything other than excellent bullet performance is unusual.

Add several hundred feet per second in velocity and things can change. I love polymer-tipped bullets: They don’t batter in the magazine, and have better aerodynamics than an exposed lead tip. However, the polymer tip always initiates expansion, mitigated by thickness of jacket and bullet weight. Accuracy is often excellent! I like Nosler’s AccuTip and Hornady’s SST…for deer-sized game. For larger game, or at high impact velocities, I prefer to mitigate with core-bonding. Tipped-and-bonded bullets include: Federal Trophy Tip, Hornady InterBond, Nosler AccuBond; and Swift Scirocco.

California boar with a 139-grain
Donna Boddington took this big California boar with a 139-grain GMX from a 7mm-08. With “unleaded bullets” required by law for all hunting, California hunters are learning to use shoulder/heart shots with the deep-penetrating all-copper bullets.

With lead core chemically bonded to jacket, a bonded-core bullet will expand much more than is possible with any homogenous-alloy bullet. The bonded-core bullet cannot retain quite as much weight; some lead will wipe away during penetration, but retention is still high. Homogenous-alloy bullets usually retain over 95 percent of their weight. Bonded-core bullets will be in the high 80s into the 90s…and everything else may be 60 percent or less. This is not a problem: The larger wound channel created by bullet expansion is what puts game down faster.

You can’t have it both ways: Unless you’re hunting pachyderms with “solids,” bullet expansion is good. But expansion creates more resistance, and must limit penetration. In my younger days I followed the school that wanted both entrance and exit wounds. Back then, only the Nosler Partition reliably exited! Today, I’m happy to have the bullet expend all its energy inside the animal, not against trees on the far side! However, an exit wound is prima facie evidence of adequate penetration! Absent that, you must have a bullet tough enough to absolutely penetrate deep into the vitals!

Alabama whitetail
This Alabama whitetail dropped in its tracks to a 130-grain SST from a .270 Winchester. Boddington believes the polymer-tipped lead-core bullets are excellent for deer-sized game, usually yielding dramatic results.

These are bullet dilemmas…but not so complex, with multiple solutions. In January ’21 I hunted whitetails in Alabama with friend Gordon Marsh, proprietor of this site. Gordon lucked into a very accurate Ruger No. One in .270 Weatherby Magnum (a rare No. One chambering). His rifle produces one-hole groups with 130-grain Barnes TSX. This rifle likes homogenous-alloy bullets…at extreme velocity (3400 fps!).

I used a .270 Winchester, loaded with 130-grain Hornady SST about 400 fps slower, good groups but nothing like the accuracy of Gordon’s rifle.  A buck presented himself at 225 yards, and I flattened him, down so hard he bounced. The bullet exited, good expansion but no mess.

130-grain TTSX
Gordon Marsh used a 130-grain TTSX for his Alabama buck, the bullet was pushed very fast from a .270 Weatherby Magnum. Despite good shot placement, the buck ran 100 yards into the woods and required tracking. This can always happen, but isn’t uncommon with extra-tough bullets employed on medium-sized game.

Next day, Gordon shot a similar buck, about 150 yards. Good blood on the food plot, exit wound obvious…but not much sign where his buck entered the woods. We found him 125 yards into thick timber, perfect shot placement…and almost no blood trail. Nobody has hunted with all the great bullets we have today. I’ve used many and have favorites, but it depends on what the gun likes, what I have (or can get), and what I’m hunting. 

If we were talking elk, moose, or Cape buffalo it’s a different discussion. But, in the large world of shooting deer and hoping not to track them into thick stuff, I’m convinced we would have found Gordon’s buck quicker if he’d used a bullet that expanded more…even if it wasn’t quite as fast, or produced groups as tight!

ACCURACY AND VELOCITY By Craig Boddington

This old Savage 99 in .300 Savage passes the “paper plate test” easily. Provided the terrain doesn’t require long shooting, older rifles like this should put meat in the freezer with no problem.
This old Savage 99 in .300 Savage passes the “paper plate test” easily. Provided the terrain doesn’t require long shooting, older rifles like this should put meat in the freezer with no problem.

American rifle shooters have long been obsessed by accuracy and velocity, demanding more of both than is really necessary. Mind you, neither are bad things, although it depends on what you’re doing. In target shooting, accuracy is everything, although shooting disciplines and target sizes vary widely. In hunting, let’s be honest, the vital zone of a deer-sized animal is not a small target, and it’s exactly the same size at 40 or 400 yards. If you can consistently hit a volleyball or a ten-inch paper plate you should have venison for the freezer. That vital zone looks smaller and, for sure, becomes harder to hit as distance increases, but it’s still a large target.

This is the level of accuracy that you simply must have for a serious varmint rifle, in this case Boddington’s Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. Groups like this probably aren’t essential for most big-game hunting…but they build a lot of confidence!
This is the level of accuracy that you simply must have for a serious varmint rifle, in this case Boddington’s Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. Groups like this probably aren’t essential for most big-game hunting…but they build a lot of confidence!

Obviously, different situations require more or less accuracy. I shoot the occasional coyote on the Kansas farm, and we wear out the armadillos because they dig up the yard, but an annual prairie dog shoot is my primary varmint hunting. A prairie dog is about three inches from back to belly so, that’s the window you must hit, and we do some of our prairie dog shooting beyond 400 yards. A one-inch group at 100 yards, what we call “Minute of Angle” (MOA) can be expected to naturally disperse to four inches at 400 yards…without taking into account wind and wobble. One MOA accuracy isn’t good enough for prairie dog shooting.

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CRAIG BODDINGTON VIRTUAL CONVENTION 2021

2021 CBEO Convention Press Release

Craig Boddington Virtual Convention Helps Save Conservation Efforts Around the World

Contact: Conrad Evarts 406-475-4994 conrad@craigboddington.com

Click this link to online convention

Helena, MT. — (January 5th, 2021) — The 2021 Craig Boddington Virtual Convention is open. This convention is Col. Boddington’s third annual online hunters convention and is important to conservation efforts worldwide. With the response to COVID restricting travel and ending brick and mortar conventions for the foreseeable future, outfitters urgently needed to connect with clients in a new way. Boddington saw a need for a simple and effective online convention to facilitate a comeback for outfitting in 2021. The continuation of hunting is a life and death situation for conservation; farms and concessions that support wildlife, antipoaching teams and rural communities worldwide rely on hunting to survive. These are good people doing good things for wildlife and Craig’s hand selected a group of carefully vetted outfitters that are committed to ethics and conservation.

Exhibitors at this virtual convention are exclusively members of Craig Boddington’s Endorsed Outfitters. ““I created this online convention to help hunters find trusted outfitters in a season of canceled conventions. Each outfitter was vetted with at least one visit and thorough research of their history. Clients can book with complete confidence. What about the personal interaction? We covered it. On each booth you’ll see a button to SCHEDULE SKYPE. Click on the button and to have a face- to-face discussion scheduled in no time. The money saved in travel can go to all kinds of efforts from anti-poaching, conservation projects, local schools and facilities. It’s a win not only for the outfitters but for wildlife and hunters.” said Boddington.

Attendees can register to win a trip to join Boddington on a salmon “HUNTING” trip during the Black Gold Lodge Craig Boddington 11th Annual Salmon Fishing Tournament, a safari for two to South Africa or series of prizes from African Sporting Creations.

Live seminars? They will occur via ZOOM. Starting with a live but virtual cocktail party at 6:30 CST on January 22nd, 2021 then moving on to a Q&A with Donna at the same time on January 23rd, a chat with Jim Morando and a seminar on filming hunts and gearing up for North America in 2021. Each night during the seminar week, a sweepstakes winner will be announced.

It’s important to visit the virtual show floor. It’s never been more important to fulfill your hunting dreams. All the outfitters are prepared to have one on-one conversations. Visit CraigBoddington.com to book a hunt with the best outfitters on Earth. Sign up for the newsletter to enter to win the sweepstakes.
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About Craig Boddington: Hunter — Journalist — Author — Adventurer
Craig Boddington is one of today’s most respected outdoor journalists. He spent the past forty years exploring our natural world as a hunter and sharing his knowledge and experiences in dozens of books and through thousands of published articles and essays. He’s a decorated Marine, an award-winning author, and continues to be a
leading voice for conservation and ethical hunting around the world.

TOP THREE AR CARTRIDGES

By

Craig Boddington

The two most popular actions in the U.S. must be John Browning’s Colt 1911 pistol…and Gene Stoner’s Armalite 15, long shortened to AR15 (which does not stand for “Assault Rifle”). Dozens and dozens of large and small firms make (and have made) firearms based on these actions. All self-loading actions have sharp limits on the size of cartridges they can accept. The .45 ACP cartridge was developed for and around the Colt 1911. Browning and his team must have done a good job because, 110 years later, the .45 ACP still rules the 1911 world. Although easily adapted to 9x19mm (and expanded to 10mm), the Colt 1911 frame has spawned few other pistol cartridges.

AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.
AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.

The AR15 action is also not new. Developed in the 1950s, it is fast approaching retirement age. Formal acceptance of the AR15 and its “final” cartridge by the U.S. military came in 1963. That cartridge was “Cartridge 5.56mm Ball M193, already released to the public as the .223 Remington. Then and now, the .223 is a great cartridge. It is not as inherently accurate as the .222 Remington, but the military specs required more velocity. This led to the .222 Remington Magnum…which led to the .223.

Old-timers (including me!) lamented the loss of the M14 and its 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester), more powerful and offering greater range…at cost in rifle and ammo weight and recoil. Right or wrong, the deal was done, and for decades the AR15 platform and the 5.56mm/.223 Remington were inextricably linked. However, there has been much recent development in “AR-compatible cartridges.

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SHOT AT DEER- BY CRAIG BODDINGTON

Across the country, it’s deer season! For some the best of the season is behind us, but for most American hunters the best part of the season is yet to come. This depends on where you live, depending on the season. Which, in turn, depends on local weather, deer densities, and management goals. Limits are based on the same! My friends in the Deep South tend to have amazingly long and lavish seasons, usually with multiple bucks allowed and lots of doe tags.

Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!
Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!

In the West and Midwest, we’re usually not so blessed. Deer densities are lower and the populations are more fragile. A “one-buck” license is more common. Whether you’re in South Carolina (where, uniquely, some counties still have no limit on bucks). Or, in Kansas, where we are a strict one-buck state, it makes sense to make every buck tag count. But it really doesn’t matter: The odds are with the deer! Whitetail or mule deer, there is no hundred-percent deer hunting in North America!

Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7x57.
Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7×57.
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PIG POWER by Craig Boddington

Just after sunset we came around a bend in the trail. The pig was standing in deep shadow under an oak, good-sized, solitary, probably a boar. That’s about all we could tell, and that was enough. Donna’s shot looked good, but the pig rolled into a little depression just out of sight. Donna and our rancher friend, Tony Lombardo approached and immediately backed up…fast!

44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.
44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.

The first shot was fine, but the pig didn’t accept that and was almost on top of them before it dropped to a quick second shot. It was not exactly a close call, but several exciting seconds! In fading light, we hadn’t appreciated that this was a really good boar, burly and heavy, with four inches of thick, sharp tusk showing above the gum line.  

AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
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THE VERSATILE LEVER-ACTION? By Craig Boddington

The lever-action is part of our heritage, as American as apple pie, motherhood, and John Wayne. In rifle tastes, many of us have gravitated to super-accurate, flat-shooting rifles; others to adaptable, fast-shooting (and also accurate) semiautomatics. I’m okay with these, but as I grow older, I find myself circling back to lever-actions! 

A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.
A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.

The Winchester 1894 and Marlin 336 alone account for ten million rifles! The majority of these, thus the majority of lever-actions, were chambered to .30-30. Although mild by today’s standards, the .30-30 remains a fine deer cartridge! 

No lever-action is an extreme-range platform. Depending on which action or model, lever guns are hampered by some combination of pressure limitations, action length, two-piece stocks, tubular magazines, and sight restrictions. Over time, many of these problems have been solved, or at least mitigated: All Henry, Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage lever-actions can easily be scoped, as can all Winchester 1894s since 1982, when “Angle Eject” came in. Historically, blunt-nosed bullets with poor aerodynamics had to be used in tubular magazines. Hornady’s Flex-Tip bullet with compressible polymer tip solved this, instantly improving ballistics. 

Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.
Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.
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Why not a .270?

Here’s a riddle: What cartridge is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than a 6.5mm Creedmoor…with similar recoil? And, is chambered to more rifles, with a wider selection of factory loads and component bullets? 

270 lineup-light: Left to right: .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .270 Winchester. All of these are great deer cartridges, but the .270 is far and away the fastest, most powerful, and most versatile of the group.

At the moment, it’s not true to say that everybody wants a 6.5mm Creedmoor. Right now, everybody wants whatever is ideal (or marginally suitable) for defending the hearth and home against virus-ridden zombie hordes. But I have to believe both happy and sane times will return, and we’ll spend more time thinking about hunting seasons past and looking forward to seasons ahead. I assume the Creedmoor Craze will continue, and everyone who wants a new hunting rifle will be longing for that amazing phenomenon, the 6.5mm Creedmoor. 

.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
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