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Wildcatting: On the Edge!

The use of small calibre projectiles for deer control has always been a hot potato here in the British Isles, with strong feeling on both sides as to their suitability. Since the legalised use of 22 centrefires for small species deer in England such as Muntjac and Chinese water deer (CWD) but not Roe, the debate has just increased. Our Scottish cousins must be chuckling to themselves, as they have known the effectiveness of certain 22 centrefires for Roe, for which it is legal to do so north of the border.

WRONG BULLETS

The reason for this bad press is not about the calibre but the choice of bullet as to weight and type! The 22 centrefire by nature holds a niche as a superb vermin and fox rifle, which excel with fast moving and highly frangible bullets, designed to expand quickly on thin skinned game to cause maximum and instant kills. This they do unequivocally, but try using them on a larger species such as a Roe buck! As if shot placement is not perfect, that same projectile is less likely to penetrate into the vital organs for a humane kill and will cause unacceptable surface wounds.

This is for heart/lung shots, as head or neck shots are a different kettle of fish! What is needed if deer are the primary intention is the use of a heavier, more controlled expanding bullet that penetrates into the vital cavity and causes lethality, without horrendous and unnecessary meat damage.

BULLET TYPES AND TEST MEDIA

To test this out, I needed three rifles that spanned the two ends of the 22 centrefire spectrum in velocity terms, to see each bullet’s performances at the lower end of the velocity scale and upper limits. I chose a .223 Rem as a good all-rounder medium velocity round, both in an RPA barrel with both 1 in 9 and a 1in 12 twist rates in a T/C Contender carbine. In this way, bullet stability in differing twists rates could also be analysed. For the faster velocity rounds I used my trusty RPA 1 in 8 twist barrel in my .22 Satan I developed specifically for heavier 22 calibre bullets.

I ended up with seven representative bullet types that are readily available. These included in weight order:- Sierra 55-grain Game King, Nosler 60-grain Partition, Barnes 62-grain TSX, Winchester 64-grain soft nose, Sierra 65-grain Game King, Speer 70-grain and finally Swift 75-grain Scirocco. Their diverse designs would prove interesting throughout the tests.

To gain any real relevant results I used the Bullet Test Tube which is a green dense waxy material held in a six inch diameter tube that when shot replicates animal tissue very well and is very handy for comparing bullet expansion, like for like. The only problem is it’s hellishly expensive and after one shot and the data gathered you have to melt in down and reset it and that takes nearly 24 hours!

Velocities in T/C and .223 RPA are quite mild to reflect speeds common in both .222 and .223 cartridges, whilst the .22 Satan reflects the velocities from a .22-250 or .220 Swift with top loads.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

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The tests prove that not all bullets are equal and most definitely some are better than others for use on small deer-sized game. The control bullet, the 50-grain V-Max Norma although a spectacular fox or vermin load there was little initial penetration before it literally exploded into fragments; great for vermin but messy on a deer!

The Sierra 55-grain is a Game King but with a hollow point that is stable in a 1 in 12 twist tube with a velocity of 2993 fps, penetrated one inch before it started to expand. But far too quickly as the wound cavity and length was small and the retained bullet weight of 26.1- grains indicated it broke up and only penetrated 4.5” total.

The 60-grain Nosler Partitions are designed for controlled expansion and at 2944 fps from the 1 in 12 twist T/C barrel proved stable with a retained weight of 55.2-grains. There was an initial 0.75” of penetration and then a 0.75 x 3.5” wound cavity with a total penetration of 7”. Therefore it penetrated well and expanded from .224 to 0.455” and thus would transfer its retained energy to the vitals of small deer.

The Barnes is a monolithic, copper hollow point, unlike traditional cored bullets. It showed superb weight retention, in fact higher than the initial weight due to test media imbedded into it. At 2964 fps it was stable in the faster RPA 1 in 9 twist barrel and produced a 0.5 x 2” inch wound cavity and penetrated over 7.5” in total with a final bullet diameter of 0.474”. This was an accurate, solid hitting projectile unlikely to cause much initial venison damage.

Winchester’s 64-grain soft nose is a pretty standard bullet that gave a velocity of 2846 fps from the 1 in 12 barrel twist. I thought the 1 in 12 might not stabilise it but it is a flat base and obviously in this rifle was fine. It gave a good initial one inch penetration before expanding to 0.518” which is superb and a retained weight of 52.8-grains and penetrating 6” with a large 0.75 x 2” wound cavity.

The Sierra 65-grain Game king, soft nose was just stable in the 1 in 12 twist barrel at 2851 fps but fully stable in the 1 in 8 twist .22 Satan barrel at 3577 fps. At the lower speed there was 1.25” of initial penetration to get into the vitals and then a controlled, expanded bullet to 0.405” with a 0.75 x 2” wound cavity. Good final bullet retention of weight at 56.8-grains made it a confident performer! A bigger wound cavity would be nice and the higher velocity .22 Satan round at 3577 fps gave a final bullet diameter of 0.497” but only 33.9-grains weight retention. The cavity was superb at 1.5 x 5” with a total penetration of 7”; very useable performance!

The Speer 70 grain bullet would not stabilise in the 1 in 12 twist rate but from the 1 in 9 RPA barrel produced 2826-fps, with an initial 0.75”penetration followed by a 0.5 x 2” wound cavity with 7” total penetration. However, it only expanded to 0.365”, hence the smaller cavity, the recovered bullet was only 45.5-grains and most of the lead core was found in the test medium. This is actually quite a nice bullet that produces a small wound cavity but sheds a lot of energy within the vitals.

Finally the 75-grain Swift Scirocco, designed specially as a game bullet. Its polymer tip, boat tail and large bearing surface all looked good but even in the 1 in 9 twist RPA proved not very stable, it’s a long bullet. At the lower velocity of 2746 fps there was 1” of initial penetration, then a 0.5 x 6” cavity, it retained its full weight and expanded to 0.522” diameter. A nice controlled design but one that would work better at a higher velocity so loaded it in the .22 Satan at a blistering 3422fps velocity and it was stable. Although it expanded less at 0.503” and lost some weight, now only 64.4-grains. The wound cavity was now 1.45 x 5” long, in fact it blew the end of the media apart! A superb tough and energy releasing bullet if your rifle can shoot them accurately with the right twist rate.

CONCLUSIONS

The results are of great interest. Before using heavier bullets check your barrel’s twist rate will stabilise them and they achieve the legal minimum weight/energy levels; 50-grains and 1000 ft/lbs . Hopefully what this shows is that with a bit of careful thought and prudent choice you have a selection of 22 centrefire bullets more than capable of humanely taking small deer species, so long as you put it in the right place to begin with! Some say this is why larger calibres are best as there is less margin of error. Well sorry, the smaller calibres recoil less and are therefore intrinsically more accurate and I will prefer a carcass that has not been chopped to bits by some inappropriate larger calibre just in case you miss the vitals!

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