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The .308 Winchester: Our Favorite North American Big Game Caliber

The .308 Winchester: Our Favorite North American Big Game Caliber

Savage by Ian Norman / CC BY-SA 2.0

Introduction

If there was only one rifle caliber that you could have, what would you choose? Keep in mind, this caliber would have to be used for literally every application that you would need: big game hunting, tactical training, home defense, and so on.

While there is no one caliber that fits all purposes perfectly, meaning that no rifle caliber is truly perfect, there is one particular caliber that is arguably the most versatile centerfire rifle caliber cartridge there is: the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO, colloquially known as the "Three-Oh-Eight".

Don't worry, this isn't just another .308 Winchester vs. .30-06 Springfield argument!

If you could only own rifles in one caliber, a very strong argument can be made that your caliber of choice should be the .308 Winchester: it’s versatile, it’s practical, it’s available, and it can perform a wide variety of functions.

But what specifically makes the .308 such a solid choice? Let’s find out.

The .308 Winchester was Born from a Legend

The .308’s history can be traced back to the .30-06 Springfield, another excellent and very popular round (at least in the United States).

In World War I, the U.S Army selected the Springfield M1903 in .30-06 Springfield as its rifle and caliber of choice.

The army continued to use the .30-06 into World War II with the M1 Garand, an accurate and dependable rifle that fired from an 8-shot clip.

The M1 Garand served the United States through World War II, past Korea, and even saw limited service during Vietnam.

By the mid-1950s, however, the M1 was showing its age. Modern rifles were being fed with 20-30 round box magazines, and the M1 Garand’s 8-shot clip design was largely obsolete.

Thus, the U.S military sought out a new rifle, and with it, a new caliber. That rifle was the Springfield M1A, essentially a modified M1 Garand that fired from a detachable box magazine, and it was chambered for the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm round, which was essentially a shortened .30-06 round.

The .308 Winchester remains a very popular round among civilians, military forces, and law enforcement units all over the world. In fact, it is quite possibly the most popular hunting caliber and rivals the 7.62x39mm (chambered for the AK-47) in terms of overall popularity for rifle rounds.

Design and Specs of the .308 Winchester

A bottlenecked, rimless, short action, cartridge, the .308 Winchester was officially born into the world in 1952.

The .308 is a common round used for sniping, thanks to its accuracy and high terminal performance. The .308 is capable of delivering velocities of 2,500 to 3,000 feet per second, and will expand and tumble when it hits impact, meaning it can deliver truly devastating wounds to targets.

Here are some basic specs of the .308 Winchester for your perusal:

  • Diameter – .308 inches
  • Length (overall) – 2.800 inches
  • Length (case) – 2.015 inches
  • Base Diameter – .4709 inches
  • Rim Diameter – .4728 inches

More data available at source

You Can do Anything with the .308  

One reason for the .308’s extraordinary popularity and worldwide success, and perhaps the only reason, is because of its versatility.

This is an excellent round to use for medium to large sized game. In North America, the .308 is routinely used for whitetail and mule deer, black bear, caribou, pronghorn, wild hogs, and elk. It is also usable on moose if you need it to be and with the right loads.

The .308 is also a popular hunting caliber in other continents such as South America, Europe, and Africa. In Africa in particular, it can bring down animals up to the eland antelope.

Another reason for the .308’s success, beyond its versatility, is that recoil is moderate and is controllable by most shooters, including new shooters, women, and anybody of a smaller stature and build.

This stands in stark contrast to larger calibers such as the .300 Win Mag or the .338 Win Mag, which produce significantly more recoil and are largely unpleasant to shoot for new or smaller shooters in particular.

Granted, the .300 Win Mag and .338 Win Mag (and other calibers like them) have longer range and greater stopping power with less drop, but for any instances where extra-long range or power is not needed, the .308 Winchester is more than sufficient for most uses.

The .308 is also an excellent round to stockpile for disaster preparedness and survival related purposes because it is readily available, relatively inexpensive, and will be a popular round for bartering and trading purposes as well.

Yet another reason the .308 is so versatile is because it can be used in each of the four major types of rifles, which we will discuss next.

It is available on nearly any platform or action

The .308 Winchester is currently available for rifles in each of the four major types of action: bolt action, semi-automatic, pump action, and lever action.

Bolt Action

  • The .308 Winchester is an extraordinarily popular caliber for bolt action rifles. In fact, major bolt action rifle companies began producing rifles chambered for the .308 almost as soon as it was introduced.

  • Practically every bolt action manufacturer today makes a rifle that will chamber and fire the .308, including the Browning A-Bolt, Ruger M77, Remington 700, and the Winchester Model 70. Budget models of rifles will also chamber and fire the .308, such as the Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, Browning X-Bolt, Weatherby Vanguard, and the Savage Axis.

Semi-Automatic

  • The .308 Winchester was originally designed for the Springfield M1A semi-automatic rifle. Today, the .308 is chambered for a number of semi-automatic rifles including the M1A, FN FAL, AR-10, or the HK G3/PTR-91/Century Arms C-308.

  • The advantage to using a .308 semi-automatic rifle is that it can be used for both big game hunting on game such as deer or elk while also being used for tactical training or defending your home and property against raiders and looters. The .308 certainly has more range and knock down power than the 5.56x45mm NATO/.223, which will definitely be a big advantage in open country.

Pump-Action

    • Pump-action rifles are not the most popular type of rifle used for hunting, but they are still a perfectly viable option. One example of a pump action rifle that is chambered for the .308 Winchester would be the Remington Model 7600, which is essentially a rifle version of the enormously popular and proven 870 shotgun.

    Lever-Action

      • The .308 Winchester round is also chambered in lever action rifles, primarily the Browning BLR and the Henry Long Ranger. Something about .308 lever actions is the .308 can only be loaded into magazine fed lever action rifles rather than tube fed lever action rifles, because the pointy end of the .308 round can possibly cause a discharge if it strikes the primer on the round in front of it.

      Scout Rifle

        • The .308 is also the round of choice for the ‘Scout rifle’ concept. A Scout rifle is simply any carbine-length rifle (41 inches or less) chambered for a full power cartridge capable of bringing down big game, that usually accepts box magazines, and is sometimes installed with a forward optic. The Scout rifle is meant to be a highly versatile rifle that can be used as a hunting rifle, for defensive use, or as a general-purpose truck gun or brush/woods gun.

        • The Scout rifle is generally thought of as being a bolt action but it can also be a lever action or a semi-automatic. Examples of popular bolt action Scout rifles chambered for the .308 include the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle, the Mossberg MVP, the Savage Scout rifle, and the Steyr Scout rifle.

        • Examples a semi-automatic Scout rifle would be the Springfield M1A Scout Squad and the Springfield M1A SOCOM.

        It's Benefited from a Virtuous Cycle

        As a government adopts a caliber (especially when that gov't is the United States), a market expands due to increased demand.  Manufacturers compete and prices go down, which makes the arms and ammo available for that caliber available to the larger commercial market.  

        The .308 Winchester benefited from being adopted by US government and then as a NATO round in the form of 7.62x51mm.  Since it was such a hit with the commercial market, once there, more manufacturers entered creating new rifles and more types of ammo.  

        Today, the options for both ammo and rifles in .30-06 Springfield pale in comparison to the .308 Winchester.

        It is One of the Few Calibers that Gives you Access to the Most Innovative Ammo  

        Along with the 9MM, .45 ACP, 12 Gauge Shotgun, .223/5.56 NATO, and the 7.62x39MM, the .308 Winchester is part of the small club of calibers that get access to the newest and most technologically advanced ammo, such as G2 Research's Trident Rifle Ammo.  This is partially due to the fact that it is lower risk to experiment in these calibers because of the available market.

        Notice that this is the only true big game caliber on the list. In the world of hunting big game, anything that allows us to better harvest game in a more humane way not only increases our success, but also increases the return on investment (ROI) of our time, money spent on gear, trips, license, etc.  To us, here at Clark Armory, that's worth it.  We spend as much time as we can outdoors and sometimes at great cost in trips to experience new frontiers.   

        But, it isn't without cost, more innovative ammo is more expensive because of research and design (manufacturers have to recoup their costs, right?) and because of higher manufacturing costs because they are produced in smaller batches.

        Yes, the most technologically advanced ammunition is more expensive, but all costs combined, it is small percentage of your total overall spend.

        Conclusion

        As you can hopefully tell by this article, the .308 Winchester is a truly excellent all-around rifle cartridge. Is it the only rifle cartridge that you should own? No, but if you can only have one at the present moment due to financial constraints the .308 will overall be the best choice because it’s very effective for long range target shooting, big game hunting, and tactical training or tactical use.

        Yes, there are other great calibers out there. Many will claim that the 5.56x45mm NATO, 7.62x39mm, .270 Winchester, or the .30-06 Springfield are superior calibers that you should choose first.

        Each of those are a great choice, but the .308 is still arguably the better choice because it can bring down larger game that 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x39mm cannot while also being cheaper and generally more common than .270 or .30-06 Springfield.

        The .308 may not be the absolute greatest caliber ever made, but it is certainly one of the most versatile for long guns. If there was only one rifle caliber that you could own, there are ultimately more arguments in favor of the .308 being that caliber than there are arguments against it being the .308.

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        3 Reasons Why you want a Flashlight for Personal Defense

        3 Reasons Why you want a Flashlight for Personal Defense

        In recent months, Clark Armory has had a lot of inquiry and conversation concerning the use of flash lights in personal defense situations. It is a fact that flashlights are a proven, essential tool in law enforcement and military tactical practice. So, we have done some extensive research on tactical flashlights, and the two main categories we will focus on are handgun mounted flashlight, and separate carry flashlights. We have information on what to look for in a flash light for each type, how to use and mount each type of light, and some information on how they “fit” in different styles of open and concealed carry profiles.

        Some people might say, “Why would I EVER want to carry a flashlight, or mount one on my favorite handgun?” Silly! Right!   Well, there are three very sound reasons why you would want to have a flashlight ready.

        A bright flashlight can act as a deterrent to an attacker

        Attackers like the element of surprise! They always want to have the upper hand at first engagement with their would-be victims. Take away the darkness, and you level the playing field, forcing attackers to rethink, or hopefully entirely give up on, their plan. Use a tactical flashlight before an attack by keeping one on you for those times when you find you are in a low light setting or area. If you use it to illuminate any shadow cover, under cars, or entryways while you are walking, effectively remove the element of surprise. The common profile for most attackers is that they are braien enough to attack when they have the advantage, take away the advantage of darkness, and they are forced to face you on more common terms. When faced with such adversity you deminish, or completely erase their motivation to act, thereby saving yourself from harm.

        You want to be able to definitively identify the threat in low light or complete darkness

        In the event that your attacker does NOT get deterred by the bright light, AND there are innocent by standers (A.K.A. you friend and family) in your field of view, a flashlight will help you in those low light situations, positively identify and track the movements of the attacker.

        Most modern tactical flashlights are an effective alternative weapon when necessary

        These flashlights are “TACTICAL.” They are designed to take a beating. Whether they are being dropped by accident, or VERY PURPOSELY Bashing the against the head or hands of anyone trying to assault you. Many of the tactical flashlights available are lightweight and easy to grip in any scenerio. Light with a bezel option to add additional striking power.

        Tactical flashlights are reasonable in price and easy to use. They serve a wide variety of purposes beyond self-defense. Should you prefer to carrying concealed, a flashlight at the ready will give you better aim in low light, and they will provide your advisories some second thoughts when considering you a waiting victim. 

        Tactical Flashlight Styles

        Using the three reasons as a guide, we have defined three styles of flashlights and have highlighted the pros and cons of each type. The debate around mounted vs. handheld tactical flashlights is long standing. While there are pros and cons to all the options, in the end, it is all a matter of personal preference. That being the case, we have collected the following information for the reader’s education and understanding. 

        Styles we have reviewed:

        • Pistol mounted flashlights
        • “Offhand” or separate carry flashlights
        • Modern-day “Stun gun" flashlights

        Pistol mounted flashlights

        Pros:

        • It is ready as soon as your gun is drawn. Several models light up as soon as your hand grabs the gun. It is ready to go
        • You have the ability to shoot with both hands. You do not have to hold the flashlight with your off hand

        Cons:

        • The light is a “target” for you opponent. Pistol mounted lights are set in position. No matter the style of mount, they are always in close proximity to the barrel. The opponent(s) can simply aim at the general area of the light and have a good chance of hitting whatever is pulling the trigger
        •  You have to find a holster that fits the light as readily as it fits the handgun. There are many options out there. However, some would say that the concealed carry connoisseur is already at odds trying to find an acceptable holster WITHOUT having to deal with the mounted light. The “perfect” holster search, which is a chore for the most discerning concealed carrier, could be even more epic

        “Offhand” or separate carry flashlights

        Pros:

        • You can “redirect” your opponent’s aim point. With practice, you can use the flashlight with your offhand to make your opponent think you are in a position 2-3 foot away from where you “actually” are 
        • It can act as a “back up” or secondary defensive measure. If you end up in “close quarters” with your opponent, you have a means of smacking them or jabbing them in the head or some other body part to introduce discomfort, distraction, or even disable them

        Cons:

        • With a flashlight in your offhand, you HAVE to shoot one-handed. This is an impossibility for some shooters, so it deserves consideration in the decision-making process. However, with practice, it is not completely impossible to overcome
        •  You have to carry and plan for, extra gear. Like the mounted flashlight, for the concealed carries, this is often a serious hindrance. Thereby, make it worthy of consideration

        Modern-day “Stun Gun” Flashlights

        “Stun gun” flashlights have come a long way in a short period of time. They pretty much carry the same pros and cons as the offhand flashlights because we were not able to locate “stun gun” flashlights that were designed for pistol-mounts, nor could we imagine a scenerio where such a set up would be value-added or even logical.

        Additional considerations, specific to stun gun flashlights include:

        Pros:

        • It takes the whole “extra weapon” concept to the next level. So much so that it is a REALLY solid, non- lethal alternative to your trusty sidearm.
        • Inexpensive and easy to learn. They are, on average, comparable in price to standard tactical flashlights. Additionally, a lot of recent studies say they are more reliable than pepper sprays.

        Cons:

        • There is ALWAYS a risk that you might “zap” yourself Like pepper spray, you have to be AWARE of your surroundings. This is a Segway into the stun gun flashlight’s other con…
        • It requires additional, specific training/education for stun gun use. As is true with ANY self- defense tool. Responsible ownership demands proper training and education.

         

        Types of Mounts for a tactical light:

        “Rail” mounts:

        Most modern tactical semi-automatic pistols come from the manufacturer equipped with a rail. Typically, you can buy specific rail-mount lights that will universally fit these modern rails with a simple “screw/clamp-type” mounting bracket.

        The number of brands of rail mount type flashlights is wide in scope. Moreover, the price is just as diverse. The Firefield (pictured above) runs between $35 and $50. It can be mounted and “dialed in” in about 15 minutes. You could also get a rail mount light like the SureFire M600 Ultramount for $275-$500. The reason for the price difference is debatable, depending on your background, experience, and general budget. The “average” user could get an acceptable rail mount flashtlight spending not more than $100 and still get a good measure of respect from your gun-wielding, shooting range buddies.

        Like it is a semi-auto sidearm, revolvers have made leaps and bounds regarding the ability to accessorize. You can get rail mounts, grip mounts, and scope type mounts. Which one to choose, is personal preference in conjunction with the size of your handgun, and what fits your style of shooting and how you chose to carry and holster the weapon.

        Other mounting options:

        Pretty much any universal mount you would buy for a laser dot or scope, can be fitted with a flashlight. The most expensive route for any option would be to have a gunsmith custom make a mount. That being said, “You get what you pay for” is very applicable. Customization is expensive, but should you decide to go that route, a reputable gunsmith will size you up and truly fit the flashlight you chose to your favorite handgun. It is also a good idea to contact the manufacture of your handgun of choice and inquire if they already have a flashlight mount designed for your model.

        Selecting an “Offhand” flashlight

        The selection process for using an “offhand flashlight,” like choosing a mounted light, requires any user to make some decisions.

        • How big/bright do you want or need the flashlight to be?
        • How will you hold the flashlight when in use with your handgun?
        • How will you carry the flashlight when it is not in use? (Or maybe it is just for use with the trusty sidearm you keep at your bedside at night.) 

        Once you answer all these questions, the most important aspect of utilizing an off-hand flashlight carry method is of course... Practice!

        One of the cons mentioned in this article, related to using an off-hand flashlight, You HAVE to shoot one- handed. While you could use your “flashlight side” forearm as a stabilizing point, you are still only gripping the handgun with one hand. It is not a standard position for the novice shooter. Live fire and dry fire practice are recommended, and a requirement for responsible gun owners, no matter what your decision is regarding the use of a flashlight. Using the offhand flashlight will just require the user to focus some range time on dialing in their skills with the flashlight in hand.

        “Stun Gun” Tactical Flashlights:

        Stun gun flashlights are quickly gaining in popularity in the self-defense circles. The basic carrying methods for use, in conjunction with your handgun, mirror those we covered with the standard offhand flashlight. However, there is one very important add-on. If you end up in a “bad-way” in a self-defense situation, you have the additional stopping power of a stun gun. The pricing on these, like every other flashlight option, can vary widely from $25 to $250. The sizes are typically similar to a small to “lower” medium size (Double AA battery to Double C battery size). Like the other options before don’t buy low, but you don’t have to break the bank either. $50-100 will get you a reputable Stun gun flashlight. With this flashlight option, LEARN HOW to USE it! Not REALLY getting to understand how it works could really ruin your day with a “SHOCKING” result. You do not want to end up like so many of those people who managed to lunch the pepper spray while standing downwind.

        Some of the most common Stun Gun Flashlights with consistently good reviews are Sabre, Taser, and Vipertek.

        It is all up to the user

        In this session, we have shared a lot of information related to using a flashlight with your handgun. While it is a lot of information, it is NOT the be all end all regarding the “How, what, and what” concerning the use of tactical flashlights with handguns. The one thing that is a solid take away from this information is the reasoning behind using tactical flashlights.

        • A bright flashlight can act as a deterrent to an attacker
        • You want to be able to definitively identify the threat in low light or complete darkness
        • Most modern tactical flashlights are an effective alternative weapon when necessary

        Having the flashlight at the ready will improve your ability to defend yourself and those important to you. When choosing what is “best” for you personally, like choosing to use lead-free ammunition, you have to take the time to decide on what the best option is for your choice in tactical flashlights. The type/brand of the flashlight, the size and style of light, and how you carry/use the flashlight are all personal choices. Even if you just choose to have that “dollar store”, basic, “plastic special” flashlight after reading all this, you will be better prepared for a low-light self-defense posture, then having no flashlight at all.

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        7 Reasons Why I Choose to Use Lead-free Ammunition

        7 Reasons Why I Choose to Use Lead-free Ammunition

        Introduction 

        Regardless of the lead ammunition bans that are starting to occur across the country, my perspective is that there are enough reasons to thoroughly convince me to choose to use lead-free ammunition. Over the past few years, lead exposure has become a hot topic, particularly in our drinking water. We aren't going to touch on the politics of those issues, but rather take a long look at the benefits of using lead free ammunition compared to traditional lead ammo. We'll investigate topics such as lead exposure, projectile performance, and a few other ways to compare the differences between the two types of bullets. Our perspective is that there is a legitimate reason to choose lead-free ammunition in most, if not all, shooting activities.

         

        Protecting My Family: Lead Exposure in Hunter-Harvested Wild Game 

        Let's start with what I perceive as likely being one of the major reasons why folks currently purchase firearms & ammunition: hunting. I am a hunter. Starting as early as I can remember I awaited the day that I could suit up on the first day of buck season and anxiously wait for an antlered beast to come into my view. I also recall my father taking a "four point" buck on the first day in the Eighties and marveling at the harvested animal. We ate well that winter, and we ate everything we killed. All game we took back in those days was taken with lead bullets. No big deal, right? 

        Since then, it appears that there is significant evidence to suggest that consumption of wild game harvested by traditional lead bullets increases lead levels. Studies by both the North Dakota Department of Health (you may need to copy/paste this link: https://www.ndhealth.gov/lead/venison/Fact%20Sheet%20Blood%20Lead%20Level%20Study%20Results.pdf) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources specifically recommend that children and pregnant women should not eat venison harvested with lead bullets. This is because younger children & pregnant women are especially vulnerable to lead exposure - according to the CDC, "No safe blood lead level in children has been identified."

        Taking these two items into consideration - that lead isn't safe and eating game taken with lead bullets increases levels of lead in the blood - it makes it really hard to continue to use lead bullets when hunting. I'm not saying that this choice is clear to anyone. Even if the research above overestimates the risk, if my family is planning on eating with me, I'm going to use lead free ammo. Just ponder this thought for a second… how much would you spend to limit the lead exposure to your family? We’ll talk about the costs in a bit, but I can assure you that this is one of the absolute cheapest ways to do so.

        One of the arguments I've heard against this risk is that since hunters traditionally cut out the wound channel because the meat from the wound channel isn't usable, doesn't that mean that they are cutting out the lead fragments? The answer is no. Most hunting bullets are traveling at such a high speed that when they hit the target, traditional lead bullets often lose >50% of its weight during impact, splintering into incredibly small pieces. In the Minnesota Bullet Fragmentation Study, they found that, on average, lead bullet fragments were found up to 11 inches away from the wound channel. Because these particles are incredibly small, they are not noticeable during normal eating or inspection of the meat. 

        I'm not sure there is any way to totally eliminate the lead in your harvested game unless, of course, you are using lead-free ammo.

         

        Lead-free Ammunition Performs Well

        I’ve heard a lot of stories that lead-free ammunition doesn’t provide the same level of performance as traditional lead ammo.  I’d argue that on all fronts, lead-free ammo is as good as, if not a better option, in most situations.

        Lead bullets are effective because lead is heavy and malleable - it hits something and it deforms. The unfortunate reality is that is doesn’t deform uniformly every single time. Additionally, during impact the lead bullets fragment, losing most of their mass. Neither of those are a big deal alone. When compared to many lead-free projectiles, however, it makes a difference. 

        Other than the hollow-point, the ammunition industry hasn’t seen a lot of innovation over the last hundred years.  In recent years, the advances in projectile design in the lead-free ammunition space has been truly revolutionary.  I’d argue that the lead-free bullets fit into two categories: Traditional Design and Innovative Self-Defense rounds.  In most of the new rounds, copper is often used as the lead substitute, which is much harder.  

        In the traditional design, copper rounds & copper hollow points don’t fragment the same way lead does because of the increased hardness.  By not fragmenting as much, the projectiles retain most of their bullet weight at impact.   Because of this, you can use a lighter bullet. Copper has about 3/4 the density of lead, contributing to a lighter bullet that is the same size of a lead bullet. This enables one to craft much higher velocity rounds.  Some side-effects of both of these characteristics are that there is less recoil with a lighter bullet, allowing you to follow-up an initial shot with a more accurate second shot.  Hollow points function better at higher speeds, too.  And, one could make the case that a lighter, faster bullet is more effective in self-defense situations, though that point is controversial.  There are enough benefits without that added bonus.

        When it comes to innovative self-defense round, there are many options.  Because copper is harder than lead, in order to cause maximum damage, we need the bullet to fully expand. In order to accomplish this, some manufacturers often machine fault lines or build the bullets for specific ballistics, such as mushrooming or splitting deliberately and then spinning end over end throughout the wound channel. This can be effective at causing larger wound channels than normal lead bullets.  Coupled with lighter, faster rounds & one can get incredible penetration along with multiple wound channels, always a benefit when trying to incapacitate an attacker.

        Black Butterfly Buzz Saw

        On top of all these self-defense implications, more often it is the hunting use of lead-free ammo that garners the most attention.  There are some fantastic options out there. Because of the reasons listed above, i.e. a lighter, faster bullet, lead-free ammunition can be the perfect component to your hunt.  A faster bullet gets to your game faster.  Simple.  That means if you are shooting a moving animal from even a mid-range distance (<100 yards), you will have to lead the animal by significantly less.  That translates to higher precision and more humane kills - easy to lead by one foot vs. two feet. 

        But, don’t just take our word for it!  A study was done to check the efficacy of multiple copper rounds vs. a traditional lead round. It appears that the ammunition matters a lot. Two of the copper rounds didn’t perform as well as the lead one, but the other copper round performed in line with the lead round. What does this suggest? Probably not much right now because there was only one lead round. However, it could mean that when choosing lead-free ammunition, there are wider variances the consumer has to consider.  Finding the correct round for your weapon probably means more than anything else, too! And, that is traditional guidance when choosing ammunition.

         

        Isn’t Lead-Free Ammunition Expensive?

        Because lead-free ammo is not as common as traditional ammo, lead-free ammo is “small batch”, which drives up the cost per unit. They cannot be compared to traditional lead cartridges that are made by the billions (exaggeration). It’s simply not an apples to apples comparison.  You wouldn’t compare Pappy Van Winkle with Old Crow, would you?

        Because of the smaller quantities, there is often more precision in the manufacturing process, much like what is done for premium lead ammunition. Lead-free ammo will almost always cost more than the cheapest lead ammo, but when comparing premium lead ammo to lead-free ammo, they are very closely aligned. All in all, us hunters spend a lot of money on our gear, but often don’t spend much thought on ammunition or just buy what’s on the shelf at Walmart.  

        Think about it, we buy blinds, guns, gear (add extra for cold weather gear), some of us buy guided hunts, even hunting licenses are expensive these days.  If I start spending an extra 10-20 cents per round on my hunting ammunition, that’s not going to even be a drop in the bucket.  It’s just another opportunity for sportsmen to further optimize their hunting experience, whether using premium lead or lead-free ammo.  And, consider all the benefits to having cleaner harvested game that’s safer for your family.  You are spending a lot of money to make sure your hunt goes well, why not invest in higher quality, cleaner ammunition.

        But, some of you might pause here…  and think: “I don’t hunt”.  Why would I care about using more expensive ammunition for plinking?  How much does a box of 50 9MM rounds cost at your local Cabela’s or Bass Pro?  I just did a quick search on Cabela’s and, for a 50 9MM round box, I couldn’t find anything cheaper than $13.99.  Funny, we have some Zinc ammunition made by high-quality manufacturers Alchemist Ammunition for $13.75.  While it currently isn’t available in all calibers, it’s a realistic option for available calibers.  And, Polycase has started to product the PolyCase Inceptor RNP.  It’s a training round, meant to perform like the ARX and it comes in at a super reasonable price for 50 rounds - $15.99.  That’s the same range of your traditional lead ammo, even the base varieties.  Furthermore, if your preferred defensive round is the Inceptor ARX (which is a great choice), why not try shooting the RNP to see if your gun shoots them similarly?  That way, you can train with a round that is handled comparatively to your non-training round, which isn’t what we can say about all other training rounds.

        While cost may have been a significant hurdle in the past, the reality is that today lead-free ammunition has some incredibly affordable options.  And, when comparing hunting ammunition, understand that the higher quality the ammo, the more you’ll generally pay for that ammo - whether that ammo is lead-free or not.  And, if you happen to compare similar quality ammunition, you’ll find that lead-free ammo isn’t much different than traditional ammo.

         Alchemist Ammunition Z-Clean at the range

        It’s Safer for Everyone Involved

        Let’s say that you go the local range pretty often, you make some friends, especially the folks that work there.  That’s what the shooting sports are all about.  Seems normal.  Well, did you know that folks who work at the shooting ranges are at a much higher risk for lead exposure because of lead in the air?   The reason is that when you shoot traditional lead ammo, you are putting small lead particles into the air in many ways:

        • Vaporized via the primer, which often contain lead compounds
        • The friction between the barrel and the bullet
        • When the powder explodes against the base of the lead bullet
        • When the bullet fragments at the point of impact

        We’ve all been the range, and the ventilation systems are one of the most noticeable experiences for an indoor range.  They are there to minimize a lot of the exposure for both the shooters and range cleaners.  But, it doesn’t do a perfect job.  Even with great ventilation, the air around shooters is often above toxic lead levels (over 50mg/m3), with ranges as low as 14mg/m3 to about 35,000mg/m3!  That means, by shooting lead bullets at the range, you are putting your friends at the range at risk.  Not a really hard conclusion to make.  That said, it is their choice to work there - they probably enjoy the comradery and the knowledge that they are helping folks improve their ability to defend themselves. 

        On top of that, you also put yourself at risk when using the range, but unless you are there as much as the workers (or even police officers), you probably don’t have to worry as much.  But, maybe you should at least get yourself evaluated if you are at the range often, even if you are shooting lead-free ammo.  And, if you are taking youngsters to the range, remember the CDC says that there is no safe blood level for children.  So, potentially think twice about taking your child or take extra precautions when going to the range.

        I’m not trying to scare you away from lead ammunition… people have been using it for years!  That said, the dangers due to lead exposure are real.  You can lower your risk for lead exposure by using lead-free ammo (your direct breathing space will be cleaner).

        While using lead-free ammo will reduce your impact, you’ll still want to take proper precautions when using or returning from the range (indoor or outdoor), such as:

        • Use lead-free ammunition (of course)
        • Do not eat, drink or smoke while at the range
        • Wear gloves while shooting
        • Have dedicated ‘range clothing’ to wear for each trip
        • Always wash your hands after shooting
        • Take a shower immediately after using the range
        • Wash your clothes immediately after using the range

        And, it isn’t just indoor ranges.  You are at similar risks outdoors, depending on a number of factors, such as wind direction (in an indoor range, the ventilation system should be pulling the toxic air away from the shooters.

        Because of all the issues with lead exposure, and the large cost that some ranges pay to reduce that exposure to their employees and customers, some ranges are opting for a lead-free only policy.  We don’t necessarily advocate for that - we think that choice is the best option out there, but we do see the merits of it.  If we were to establish a new shooting range (outdoor or indoor), we’d probably take that lead-free option because of the peace of mind for our employees.

         

        It’s Better for Specialized Training and Realistic Self-Defense Training

        When I was recently looking into purchasing some heavy steel targets to set up a permanent outdoor range (for personal use).  I noticed some warnings from manufacturers that I shouldn’t shoot within 50 yards or more sometimes.  Apparently, ricochets are a real problem and that is why they recommend shooting at heavy steel targets from distance.

         

        There is an option for safer shooting at short distances, even at less than five yards.  It’s called frangible ammo & it happens to be lead-free! Simply, most frangible ammunition is a compressed copper powder projectile.  Heavy duty presses combined with some bonding additives allow for a usable projectile to be created.  Because the round is copper powder, it basically disintegrates whenever it impacts something harder than itself.  No ricochet, no deflection, just powder.  How cool is that?  So, you can shoot at incredibly close ranges with no risk of being hit by a ricochet from a lead fragment or copper jacket.  I haven’t personally experienced it, but folks with experience shooting at close ranges tell me that ricocheted copper jackets hitting their hands is not out of the ordinary.  

        Most rooms in homes are less than 30 feet long (10 yards).  I don’t really expect to have many situations where I have to defend myself against someone who is greater than 10 yards away.  Why not train in close quarters?  Using frangible ammunition enables you to have more realistic self-defense training:  It’s not just as good as traditional ammo, it’s actually better.

        Keep in mind, quality matters here (like always). There may be some drawbacks from lower quality frangible rounds, such as losing projectile material in the barrel, causing uneven trajectory.  By using higher quality frangible rounds, you can mitigate this risk. Then, you can have an incredibly exciting shooting experience and improve your ability to defend yourself in more realistic self-defense scenarios - something you can’t get reliably with traditional lead ammo. 

         

        The Impact to our Environment

        I often tell my non-hunting friends that hunters were the first conservationists (I used to have a bumper sticker that said the same thing).  They laugh and think that is the funniest thing in the world because they think that killing animals is the opposite of preserving them.  Then, I go on to explain how hunting licenses started and that our plentiful game in the US is a results of hunters wanting to self-regulated.  Then I share some facts about whitetail deer population in North America around 1900 vs. today (500K vs 30M+) and some of these other reasons.  It is often an interesting lesson for them.  I'm of the thought that we need to continue to preserve our own legacy as hunters, and I think that means being great stewards of our landscape.  Traditional lead ammunition has an impact on our environment, whether we want to believe it or not.  And, the cost to stop that isn't outrageous.

        The berm behind my house has thousands of lead bullets in it.  While that seems like a lot, consider places where folks actually shoot often, like outdoor ranges.  For safety reasons, a lot of outdoor ranges have built up dirt backgrounds to absorb most fire.  Consider how much lead has actually been deposited in that hill?  Whether or not the lead has leached into groundwater (it can), that’s probably not an area that I’d like to reclaim and plant my garden in there.  

        Furthermore, let’s think about one of the reasons why the army has abandoned traditional lead ammo.  Cleaning up the berms used as shooting backstops is costly if done right. They’ve also found that the new, lead-free round is more effective!  

        Taking it one step further, the military has called for biodegradable bullets.  How incredible of an idea is that? Why would the military go to those lengths if the traditional lead ammo didn’t have ill effects for the environment?   

         

        Lead Bullets Unintentionally Kill Bald Eagles and Other Wildlife

        As a hunter and lover of nature, it hurts me when animals are put at risk due to actions taken by humans that are easily and cheaply preventable.  Again, as a hunter, I often think we can only count on hunters to make the right choices because we are often those that get the most utility out of nature and the outdoors.

        People always reach out to me to tell me about every lead-poisoned bald eagle they hear about.  In 2011, 21 eagles with measurable levels of lead (6 with toxic levels) were admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

        I’m sure that throughout the US, hundreds of Bald Eagles are sickened by lead every year and perhaps hundreds die of lead poisoning.  It is believed that the majority of these birds get the lead poisoning because they eat the entrails & carcasses of hunter-harvested game taken with lead bullets.  It’s sad – that’s our national symbol, and there is nothing more American than a bald eagle. That’s all I can say.

        The Bald Eagle: Our National Symbol at risk due to lead poisoning

        California instituted its lead bullet hunting ban to protect the condors.  It’d be a shame if, just by using lead-free ammunition, we’d be able to get better return for our investment in saving these incredible birds.

        Since 1991, there has been a ban of lead shot for use in waterfowl hunting because of the toxicity to the waterfowl.  It’s been estimated that since that ban, one to one-and-a-half million waterfowl have been saved annually.  Think about how many more hunters get into hunting because of the excellent experiences they have out in the field - I’m sure a million extra waterfowl per year has increased that number.  While there have been some hiccups, the ban has largely been successful.  

        All in all, if using lead-free ammunition increases the opportunities for all of us to experience the majesty of nature even better, then count me in.

         

        Conclusion

        We’ve covered a lot here.  I think the issues around my family’s health are the most important to me.  And, given it isn’t substantially more expensive to shoot with lead-free ammunition, that’s an easy choice to make because I still get to spend time in the hobby I enjoy.  It’s also important to me that the performance of the rounds is just as good.  The research clearly shows that there is no drop-off in performance on both the hunting and self-defense front. Another incredibly compelling reason is the impact lead ammunition has on the environment & wildlife (the ones you don’t intend to harvest).  Forget about the bans & the politics, that doesn’t change the fact that lead-free ammunition is simply better for most all scenarios.  And, because of that, I choose to use ammunition that is lead-free.

         

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        How to Harvest Running Game and Calculate Lead Distance

        How to Harvest Running Game and Calculate Lead Distance

        Introduction

        One of the hardest things to do in all of hunting is to hit an animal running flat-out, quartering away from you.  Today, at Clark Armory, we are going to teach you how to do that.

        Disclaimer(s): To maintain sportsmanship and respect for the animals we hunt, it's best to not have to shoot at a moving animal. And, only take the shot if you are fully prepared to make a humane kill.  This list is not exhaustive - feel free to add comments and share other tips & tricks to improve odds of successfully taking moving game.  While most references here will be made to deer, the lessons apply to any larger game.

        Safety

        First, we are going to talk about safety, since it is the most important thing when handling a firearm.  If you are in the position where you must shoot at a moving target, you are probably there due to necessity.  Perhaps you are on a deer drive (that's where mine came in Pennsylvania) and a 9 point buck jumps out in front of you.  Time to react, right?  Adrenaline tends to take over in these moments, and a little bit of preparation for this situation goes a long way, especially when a moving target is a high likelihood.  Here are some ways to increase your & innocent bystanders' health.

        When you first get to your spot, plan your shooting lanes.  You should always do this, but when there is a higher likelihood of a moving shot, be certain where your "no go" shots are.  It's far more likely that you have plenty of time when a big game animal enters your range on its own accord.  You can patiently wait until the animal comes over the ridge or hill crest enough that your backstop is the side of the hill, rather than the unknown over the crest.  When that animal is running at 30 mph, and you need intense focus on getting your shot placement correct, other things will receive less attention.  Be prepared and plan for that by creating scenarios, such as: if a deer reaches the 100 year-old oak tree in the fence row (random example), it is out of my range.  Be conservative in determining those boundaries on a running animal, in the heat of the moment, it may be easy to miss them.

        Coordination

        We are going to assume that most times when one must shoot at a running animal that the situation is generally one where the animals are being pushed via deer drives or other methods of moving game (we recognize that driving deer is a controversial, but traditional method of moving deer). If driving deer or running them with dogs (common in VA and the South), the biggest safety concern is to identify where your partners (human and K9) may appear.  One of the ways that we planned our drives out with my hunting group was to actually draw the terrain on large index cards.  That was the days before smartphones!  Either way, those index cards allowed the group to all be on the same page.  "Driver 1" will be coming through this channel, "Sitter 1" will be sitting here, etc.  Timing is another consideration, here.  You'll definitely want to know about how long it will take "Driver 1" to come through the expected channel.  For example, if you expect it to take him or her ~20 minutes and after 10 minutes sitting, you hear footsteps on dead leaves, it's time to start preparing for an opportunity.

        Taking all of these items into consideration will dramatically increase your likelihood of much improved safety when taking a shot at moving game.

        Practice

        We love shotguns at Clark Armory, especially shooting clays!  They are also great training devices for getting used to shooting moving targets.  Few things are more important for shooting a moving target than getting used to the practice of following game (or clay pigeons) with a steady hand.  This is key when shooting targets or game.    So, find a spot, buy a few boxes of clays, a hand slinger, a few friends & have a great time practicing.  Repetitions matter in this game, just the same as going out and getting used to shooting your rifle to find the best ammo for your gun. If you make following game with your aim second nature, you'll be able to spend your precious concentration on more important things, such as looking at the terrain where the game is running.

        Another popular method is to get some old tires and cut some cardboard to fit where the wheel would normally reside.  From there, one could have a friend (from a safe place) either roll it down a hill or you could have a more elaborate set-up where it hangs from a tree and swings like a tire swing.  Again, practice safety on this - you'll want to make sure that you where your bullet will go.

        Pick your Gear Wisely

        As with any adventure, picking the appropriate gear comes first and foremost.  Assess your situation - are you likely to have to shoot at running game.  If you are driving deer or running them with dogs, they answer is yes.  So, how would your gear choices be different if you expected to have to shoot at moving game?  

        Ever notice that, unless the shotgun is rifled and being used for slugs, they never have scopes and have simple iron sights?  The expectation is that you are going to be shooting at fast moving game & targets and iron sights are better for that. But, most of those shots are relatively short.  A lot of time groups engage in deer drives because of the nature of the terrain - thick undergrowth where the deer like to hide out.  From experience, most shots when driving deer come at close range <50 yards.  I'm a big fan of using the basic shotgun set-up as a starting point, especially if buckshot is legal in your location.  If it isn't, firing up something like a Winchester Model 1894 .30-30 is a great choice (and my personal choice in Pennsylvania)! These historic guns are great for sporting open sights & basically made for the conditions in dense Eastern US forests where white-tailed deer thrive & shooting distances are often short.

        Other options are offset sight mounts.  They enable you to have both a scope on the top of the rifle and offset iron sight or red dot mount, so that you can have your cake & eat it, too! Here is a great example.   

        All that said, having a scope isn't a deal-breaker.  There are tons of applications where a scope is perfect for hitting running game.  In particular, they are great for getting the precision lead you'll need for animals greater than 50 yards out. Everyone has their own preference for optics, find one that you are comfortable with and practice finding your crosshairs quickly.  

        Know Your Prey

        We've cobbled a little table here of the land speed of popular big game animals in North America.  Another thing to keep in mind is the style of running, such as when this particular species is running at full speed do the vital areas stay at a consistent height off the ground?

         Running Speed of Common North American Game
        Animal Speed (MPH)
        Pronghorn antelope 61
        Elk 45
        Coyote 43
        Mule deer 35
        Caribou 35
        Grizzly bear 35
        Moose 35
        White-tailed deer 30
        Black Bear 30
        Wild Boar 30

        Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004737.html

        Know your Velocity (FPS) & Lead Free is faster (almost always)

        We are talking about the Feet Per Second here of muzzle velocity.  Most rounds will have this detail on the side of the box.  This is one of the most important inputs into calculating how far one must lead a running animal since it determines how long it will take for the bullet to reach your prey. 

        Doing a quick scan of the available rounds on our website suggests that lead-free rounds as a whole have a higher muzzle velocity than traditional ammunition. When all things are equal - same size bullet, same powder charge, etc, the muzzle velocity should be basically the same between lead bullets and non-lead bullets.  However, lead is >25% denser than copper (most lead-free bullets are made of copper).  This means that, given the same sized projectile, the lead one is going to be heavier and slower, given the same powder charge.  Or, one could match grain and get a larger projectile, which means more damage.  Either way, the outcome is generally better for humane harvesting of game, running or not.  If the game is running, that means you'll have to lead the animal by less distance.  That's always good and allows for more precision.

        Naturally, you'll also want to know more about how your bullet drops at distance, but that is the case for all shots, not just those on running game.  We won't address that here.

        Putting it all Together: Use our Helpful Tool to Determine Lead Distance

        It is time to put all this information together in order to help you determine how far to lead the animal.

        Start with the speed of your animal from above, enter that here (MPH):

        What is the speed of your projectile, in Feet Per Second (FPS):

        At what angle is the animal running at: "Broadside" = 90, "Quartering Away" or "Quartering Toward" = 45.  Use anything from 0-90 to test & play with the tool.  Enter that angle here:

        Ok, last input.  How far away is the animal, in yards:

         

        Sounds pretty far, doesn't it.  Intuitively, it feels like a bullet gets to its location instantly, but we like to use math here at Clark Armory to dispel any myths out there about hitting running game.  

        Implementation

        One thing be totally aware of is that you are not going to have this calculator on hand when in the field!  I like to prepare for these items, by crafting a few scenarios ahead of time that I can manipulate when in the field.  For example, if you are hunting white-tailed deer, your first input to the calculation is 30 mph.  If you are hunting with one of these .308 G2 Research Trident, then you know that your velocity is 2690 fps.  

        From there, I like to craft 2 specific scenarios, one where the animal is quartering away & one where the animal is running broadside.  And, I like the distance to be 50 yards.  The reason I like 50 yards is because I don't want to shoot a running animal more than 100 yards away and I know that a lot of these shots occur at 25 yards or so.  If I use 50 yards, I can double my lead distance to get my 100 yard lead distance and half my lead distances to get the lead distance for a 25 yard shot.

        Then, once I'm in the field, I like to find those 25, 50, and 100 yard perimeters around my location.  That way, I'm very ready to take advantage of my preparation.  Complicated?  Maybe, but shooting running game isn't easy and calls for more precision.  You generally can't get one without the other.

        Conclusion

        We hope that this was a valuable read for you.  We know the topic is controversial and we stress as sportsmen that one should only shoot at running game if appropriately prepared to make a humane kill.  Always be aware of your surroundings ahead of time - it's hard to do that in the heat of the moment.  

        Again, this piece isn't supposed to be the exhaustive requirements to take running game.  This is to be a great starting point to learn some of the details in taking your shooting game up another notch so you are prepared for any scenario in the woods.

        Feel free to leave comments on additional tips for our readers, I'm sure they'll thank you.  And, share this with a friend who might be interested in using our calculator.  Thanks for reading.

        Extras!

        And, if you want to have fun at home, here is our calculation so you can do this on your own.  You can even add additional variables that might make your calculation more precise for your exact application.

        Time to bullet impact = Distance in Yards*3/Bullet Velocity

        Animal Speed in FPS = Animal Speed in mph *5280/3600

        Angle Multiplier = cosine(90-angle)   - Trigonometry reminder: Make sure it is in degrees, not radians

        Feet Necessary to lead = Time to bullet impact x Animal Speed in FPS x Angle Multiplier 

        To go one step further, you might want to calculate the speed that your bullet slows down, especially if you are shooting from long distances.  But, to be honest, if the distance is far enough, you can probably wait to shoot.

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