Ammunition Part IV
- By Pete Moore
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
Ammunition development in terms of the fixed case, projectile and percussion ignition has very much peaked. Caseless rounds have been tried, as has electronic ignition, and neither has proved popular or for that matter practical in small arms designs. We have also seen aluminium and steel cartridges cases and today it looks like the lead-cored bullet might be on its way out, but for purely environmental reasons… Already we are seeing more non-lead designs from the major manufacturers, which are proving to be a mixed blessing in terms of general accuracy by comparison. However, if the green thing eventually becomes law, then we shall all just have to get used to what we are allowed. Doubtless the future will refine this new technology into projectiles every bit as able, maybe even more so as to what has gone before…
Enough of that, so what else have we got? Well probably the only thing we have not discussed is the Ackley Improved principle. Conceived by noted American shooter, hunter and wildcatter PO Ackley the concept makes use of standard calibres but increases case capacity by changing the shoulder angle to 40°. This normally gives up to 12% more powder capacity with an obvious increase in velocity. It also gives the case a more squared-off look, making it instantly recognisable and impossible to load into the standard, parent chamber. Talking to a number of gunsmiths and shooters indicates that the Ackley conversion is becoming more popular today in the UK.
For example; friend and colleague Andrew Johnson has just had a 22-250 Ackley built for him by Riflecraft and is in the process of working up loads. This calibre version with a 1-8” twist rate to handle heavy bullets is said to be one of the best in terms of ballistics. He runs a Hornady 75-grain A-MAX at 3475 fps/1989 ft/lbs. By comparison a standard 22-250 Remington cartridge using the same projectile makes 3200 fps/ 1705 ft/lbs at best.
Someone else I know in Cumbria has a 243 Ackley again in a custom rifle and is able to push 70-grain ballistic tips at 3780 fps/2220 ft/lbs for all his fox and deer work and regularly shoots foxes out to 500/600-yards. Here this sort of performance is essential, as up there it’s open land and shots are generally longer. By comparison, a standard 243 Winchester will probably achieve around 3400 fps/1796 ft/lbs.
Clever is the fact this can be done with a standard cartridge case as the head space and COL (cartridge overall length) remains the same; just the shoulder angle alters. Equally smart you can fire-form the standard case so it blows into the new Ackley chamber and, as head space is not affected; if you run out of Ackley ammo you can use the standard stuff without a drop in accuracy, albeit with lesser ballistics and a change in scope settings, but with more cases ready to reload.
Obviously the rifle needs to be re-barrelled, which is the major cost, as few gunsmiths I have spoken to will run the risk of breaking an expensive reamer by re-chambering. Given you can do this to any standard calibre makes it an attractive and easy proposition if you want a more powerful option. Currently I do not own any of these but my 8.5x63mm REB shows this influence as it uses a 30-06 case necked up to .338”. Comparison to its nearest rival the 338-06 shows that the REB too has an Ackley-type shoulder to give more capacity and performance. The Ackley process is a cost effective way of improving your rifle’s performance without all the hassle of going the true wildcat route.
What’s Better, What’s Best?
Now to the ultimate question; is there such a thing as the perfect calibre? The simple answer is no, as this very much depends on the types of game you shoot and the ranges you expect to hunt them at. However, I feel you can get quite near. Let’s be honest you could probably kill an elephant with a 22 Long Rifle; you just need to get close enough and put it in the right place; does that sound daft…. well it’s not; but foolhardy, definitely. To attest to this, over the year’s poachers have taken a lot of deer big and small in this manner with rimfires.
I knew an American Special Forces trooper from the Vietnam days who killed a water buffalo (Asian) with his M16. He was not hunting but protecting himself as the animal charged him and it took two magazines of 55-grain M193 ball to stop it, but stop it, it did by sheer weight of fire… The great African big game hunter Bell regularly used his 7x57mm Mauser on elephant as he got in close and brain shot them. Plus in the old days there was many a big red that fell to a 22 Hornet or 222 Rem from keepers who could not afford anything more…
Get any group of hunters together and ask them what is their favourite calibre and watch the arguments start. Some might say the 6.5 Swedish with its long, slim bullets is the best, others will rationalise that 308 Winchester is a great all-rounder, as is the 30-06 Springfield. Then the 243 Win will come up as perhaps the best for the UK. See what I mean? All the above views are correct but only by the group that favours it…
I feel that one of the requirements for an ‘across the board’ cartridge has to be an ample amount of power, only this can bridge the species size and distance from target gap. However, this is a trade off as ever, as if you are going from muntjac to moose then you will have to accept a deal of over kill on the smaller species to guarantee enough on the larger one. Plus you have to factor in data like accuracy potential and effective range.
You could decide on a 375 H&H Mag or 375 Ruger, which should be cable of killing anything on the planet and - with the right bullets - not muck up smaller species too much. So here you have your ample power, but the chances of dropping a Marco Polo sheep at 600-yards are highly unlikely from this sort of calibre. Likewise you will have to consider gun weight, shooter comfort and noise, some of which are going to be compromises.
So if we accept for a moment the higher power theory then what are the good choices? Here’s mine; 30-06 Springfield, 270 and 300 WSM, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 and 338 Win Mag. For what I do, which goes from muntjac to plains game and wild boar then it would have to be 300 WSM or Win Mag, which I would also put up against buffalo too. There are any number of similar calibres that can be substituted according to personal taste.
This Is England
However, the truth of the matter is the perfect calibre is a movable feast as it’s the one that suits your main needs. Given I hunt on my land in Suffolk more than I do anywhere else, I must factor in the local species, terrain and ranges. In terms of figures I shoot roe the most, followed by muntjac and then reds, with foxes always being targets of opportunity. I also have wild boar but that is another matter. Most of it is woodland and field work normally from high seats with maximum distances not exceeding 300-yards, but the average is more like 125-170 yards.
My 6.5 Grendel intermediate can do the lot (less boar), though I draw the line at 200-yards for reds with this one. Accurate, handy, recoil-friendly and easy to moderate it fills the slot near perfectly. However, I have other calibres and if I could only use one rifle it would not be the Grendel, as I would like a bit more reach/power when required. For the deer and fox I’d go with either 6.5 Swedish or 25-06 Remington as they offer a lot, but if I had to factor in the boar too then it would be my 270 WSM.
In winding up this article I feel I have rather defeated the object of finding an ultimate calibre, as it plainly cannot exist! It’s also plain to see we have far too much choice, which is a mixed blessing – this is my roe rifle, this is my fox gun etc., shall I take both out today just in case I see a buck and Charlie? Or shall I keep it simple and take my 30-06 with 180-grain Nosler Partition bullets as I know that can flatten anything I might ever encounter?
I will leave you with the words of German hunter and shooting journalist Werner Reb, inventor of the 8.5x63mm. I use this calibre for wild boar and any overseas hunting in my Mauser M03 switch barrel and was talking to him about getting a 6.5x55mm barrel for the Mauser for smaller deer. Here’s what he said: “Hi Peter good choice, the 8.5x63. With bullets available from 9 to 19 grams I don’t see any need for a special 6.5 mm deer barrel beside the 8.5.” This guy has shot everything from roe to buffalo with the 8.5, so is it the ultimate calibre?