Hollow Points & Mule Deer
The day was bright and beautiful, the sun shining coldly from azure skies. The air was crisp with fall, trees bare and grass brown, cured for winter’s coming season. The red stone cliffs towered starkly above me, rising to skyscraper heights, piles of fallen skree at their feet like worshippers bent before alters of stone.
I was taking a last stalk into a canyon Bob McKay had recommended, one that he said often held a big mule deer buck. I had spent the previous four days watching big bucks. “Watching,” was a euphemistic word in this case. The chasing and catching had been spectacularly unsuccessful.
It had been obvious from the first that there were many big deer in this high red rimrock country. I spent the first day sitting on a high rock overlooking a migration trail. I saw literally dozens of 24-inch and a few better bucks. I’d even seen one 32-inch 4 point with long beams and generous forks, but unfortunately without enouph mass. I let him live for seed. The second and third days had been similar, but every good-sized buck had some strike against him.
The fourth day brought a huge 36 incher out of the dawn. We saw him from 800 yards, going up Blind Canyon. “No way out,” chortled Bob, as we closed off the mouth of the canyon. “He’ll have to come past us to get out.” Famous last words, those.
The buck took a course past the half dozen groups of does in the canyon, smelling out each one for readiness, but not finding any that warranted closer attention. The bucks with the does either ran off or turned their backs and went to grazing at his challenge. Only one big ugly 40 incher returned his challenge briefly, then bent his head and turned his back while the monster sniffed out his harem.
We watched helplessly as this huge animal strolled over to the 300 foot red-rock cliffs that surrounded the canyon some 600 yards from us. He picked a chute and climbed it with all the skill of a bighorn sheep, disappearing over the top with a bound. Blind Canyon was blind no more.
I had only this last afternoon left before having to skedaddle for home. So Bob had suggested the small canyon we were in. It didn’t have a name, but was just another of the many sage filled bottoms surrounded by high rimrock in southern Utah.
…The fourth day brought a huge 36 incher out of the dawn. We saw him from 800 yards, going up Blind Canyon. “No way out,” chortled Bob. Famous last words, those…
There were a myriad of tracks in the bottom. Most led down to the farmer’s fields in the lower canyon. Occasional breaks in the rimrock accessed the bottom lands, with safety in the high rock and plentiful food and water in the fields. Many of the tracks were quite fresh, only days to hours old.
I bent my course to the left as I climbed out of the sage and into scattered junipers. I heard a deer stotting in front of me. I knew it wasn’t Bob. He was off to the right and he didn’t stott.
A small side canyon stretched into some high yellowish rimrock just to my front. We had inadvertently blocked it off. It was only several hundred yards deep and wide with the usual 200-300 foot vertical walls. Any deer there would have to come back past me or Bob to get out. There was no chute to climb this time.
I struck a fresh track. It was alternately walking, then standing, then stotting away, only to repeat itself shortly again. It was obvious that the deer was running in front of me and watching his back trail. Real nervous behavior. And best, a long, big track with fetlocks deep in the dirt.
I tracked along slowly, trying to see through the junipers as I followed the tracks. The canyon was quickly narrowing down. The rimrock to the left was only 50-60 yards away with Bob another 100 yards to my right. He was a like distance from the opposite canyon wall.
I saw a flicker of mule deer hide in the trees at the far canyon bottom. Cottonwoods stretched high there, a sure sign of water. Suddenly the deer burst into view, circling around to the left, looking for a way out past me. It was a buck, heavy bodied and carrying a 30 inch rack with heavy beams. I couldn’t count points, he was moving too fast.
I moved further to the left, hoping to crowd him into the middle, where it was more open and Bob could possibly get a shot. We’d only have one apiece with our White muzzleloaders. There wouldn’t be time to reload. He’d be carrying the mail when he finally came past.
I guess my leftward move was too threatening. The buck suddenly burst into plain view, bounding along the left-hand canyon wall. He was right up against the rock cliff, jumping from scree pile to scree pile as he rapidly closed the distance. He would pass me at about 50 yards, head up high and huge body thumping the ground with the effort of escape. I heard Bob yell behind me. He’d heard the stotting and knew the buck was making a dash for freedom.
I only had time enough to throw up my White .451 caliber Super 91 rifle, catching him in the peep as he sailed between scree piles. He was flying twenty feet in the air as the front sight pulled through his body. The rifle blasted, apparently on its own. I saw my new White 350 grain PowerStar hollow point bullet punch him in the ribs. The buck collapsed in the air, big head coming down, huge body flipping sideways, then crashing into the scree. It was like shooting a goose, only a lot more exciting, and I get excited about big geese. He rolled down the scree a ways then piled up, motionless.
I quickly reloaded, taking advantage of the White QuickChargers on the buttstock of the rifle. It takes less than twenty seconds to reload when the adrenaline flows. The 90 grains of P Pyrodex and .40 caliber, 350 grain hollow-pointed PowerStar in a .45 caliber White SuperSabot were quickly rammed home and the rifle capped. I waited a few moments while Bob ran up. It became obvious that a second shot would not be needed.
The buck was enormous, weighing near 300 lbs. on the hoof. His antler spread was a good 30 inches, with heavy beams. He was old, with greying muzzle and fewer points than might be expected. His three- point rack was small compared to his enormous body size. His front hooves were unusually long. Bob said that he had lived his life out in the sandy soils of the lower rimrock country. He certainly needed a manicure.
We found that the350 grain hollow pointed PowerStar had hit the buck square in the ribs, blowing a good sized hole through both lungs and vitals before exiting the other side. The exit wound was fist-sized, explaining the quick and humane kill. A far better way to go than being pulled down by coyotes in his old age.
…I saw my new PowerStar bullet punch him in the ribs. The buck collapsed in the air, crashing into the scree. It was like shooting geese, only a lot more exciting…
I had been thinking about hollow points for a long time. After all, in the days of lead bullets, before jacketing was developed, the common way to enhance expansion was to hollow point the bullet.
There were a plethora of designs in that day, some good and some not so good. I’d had a chance to use a few original hollow points back in the fifties. Old molds were fairly common then and I couldn’t afford hardly anything else. I had come to admire the heavy hollow point bullets designed by Gould, who favored a deep hollow point. Gould was the editor of the 1880’s magazine that later became Field and Stream. He was a widely experienced hunter who wrote a lot about the black powder cartridges and the heavy lead bullets of his day. His hollow-pointed bullets were so effective in my black powder cartridge guns that it looked like it would be easy to design a hollow-point bullet for muzzleloaders using his basic design.
I had used Gould’s classic .45 cal 330 grain hollow point bullet on moose and black bear in an English double 450-31/4 when I was stationed in Alaska in the late 60’s. He had originally designed this hollow point for the 45/70. The hollow point was about 1/10th of an inch wide and 4/10ths of an inch deep, and was cast from a 10% tin-lead mix in an old Lyman mold. It had proven to be startlingly effective, producing large wound channels and sudden knock down yet through and through penetration and generous blood trails. It seemed to kill as suddenly as most modern rifles.
I well remember the spring black bear that Dave Wily and I spotted on Cooper’s Mountain on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in1968. We were glassing the hillsides from Kenai Lake. The bear was high above us, feeding on last years blueberries. Fog was drifting thickly about and the bear would appear and then disappear only to re-appear as the fog lazily drifted past. The winter’s snow was still up to our knees as we climbed, using the fog to hide from the bear.
We climbed to within 70 yards of the bear, but found him only because the foggy curtain conveniently opened at just the opportune moment. I used the left barrel of my Wilkinson and Grey 450-3 1/4 hammer double, hitting the bear in mid-chest. He collapsed like a sack of potatoes and came bouncing at me down the steep tundra covered slope . The bear was quite obviously instantly dead.
The big 330 grain soft lead hollow point, driven by 120 grains of FFg black powder, had blasted through heart and lung and exited the other side, leaving a fist sized hole. Wiley commented that the bear probably hadn’t felt a thing. Hydrostatic shock caused by the rapid expansion plus deep penetration by the still heavy bullet had been responsible for the quick kill.
Naturally, the intervening years have given me the chance to reflect on the difference in performance between that old Gould hollow point and the new swedged hollow points currently available for modern pistols and often used in muzzleloaders. I pondered why modern swedged hollow points are all so shallow and wide in contrast to the narrow and deep cast models advocated by Gould and contemporaries.
Our modern manufacturers all claim controlled expansion with their modern open-faced, hollow-pointed pistol bullets. That is, at pistol velocities. However, my own experience with them at muzzleloading velocities has been adverse. Few of them penetrate well at all, simply because most open way too fast at higher muzzleloading velocities.
This is especially true with modern pistol bullets fired in sabots. Modern light jacketed pistol bullets just weren’t designed for the 1500-1800 FPS velocities attainable with a muzzleloader. And even then, their ballistic coefficient is low and they don’t carry well at distance, losing substantial energy at ranges past 100 yards.
The answer to this riddle became apparent only after I designed the then new White ShootingStar bullet (now the Power-Star.) A deep Gould type hollow point was originally intended, but to my horror, our bullet maker could not swedge the deep hollow point as designed. He had to widen the opening and cut the depth to a fourth to get his swedging machinery to work. To my great relief, the PowerStar performed adequately, expanding decently even in smaller deer and antelope, forming large wound channels and still punching through to exit and leave good blood trails. The hollow point proved to be deep enough to promote violent expansion while retaining enough mass to punch clear through large animals, even at longer 200 yard ranges.
…Such great bullet performance (in a muzzleloader) can be attributed to the extra weight, length and ballistic coefficient designed into the PowerStar…
White’s then CEO, David Gumucio, known to all and sundry as Gumby, used a .504 caliber two-handed White Javelina pistol and the 50/45-435 PowerStar with 100 grains of P Pyrodex to take a 300 point bull elk in the fall of 1995. He took the shot at over 100 yards, hitting the bull in the ribs, blowing up both lungs and destroying the large vessels between heart and lung. The bull was knocked down with the shot and was quickly dead. Note that this was a 1200 fps. load out of a 14 inch barreled pistol.
The first animal ever taken with the original ShootingStar was a good sized Fallow Deer, an Asiatic exotic that’s fairly common on hunting ranches nowadays. They’re beautiful animals, with high palmated antlers and a spotted coat.
This particular animal was headed out of the hay field he had been feeding in when we spooked him. I waited until he stopped, then waited a little more until he cleared some small trees. He collapsed with the shot and never moved. Range was about 100 yards. The charge was 90 grains Pyrodex P. The bullet quartered through the shoulder and heart lung area. The only problem was that the shoulder was bloodshot and ruined. And that’s too bad, as Fallow deer eat even better than Whitetail, if you can believe it.
The only drawback to the original Super-Saboted ShootingStar (and the later PowerStar) is they are a little slower to reload, although just as accurate as any SuperSlug or PowerPunch. And like all saboted bullets, they come in two pieces, which makes handling more difficult. The handling problem can be solved with a White Quickcharger, which allows you to do the loading in the quiet of your own kitchen and speeds reloading tremendously in the field.
Naturally, using the hollow pointed PowerStar on heavy big game, like moose or elk, or even that occasional bigger deer, requires careful shooting to achieve good kills. Shots should be limited to chest-heart/lung areas, avoiding the heavy bones of really big animals like bear and moose with the hollow-pointed bullets.
The solid Enhanced Lead Power-Punch bullet currently produced is perfect for effective shoulder and end to end shots in such heavy animals. Their use is encouraged if such shots are anticipated. Use of the hollow points should be confined to chest shots, involving no heavier bone than the shoulder blade. Any shoulders or hams hit will result in massive tissue destruction and loss of good eating.
Still, they can be extremely effective in huge animals. I was hunting in Northern Canada some years back when my guide announced that he would like to take his moose for the year with my Super-91. We were looking at a ‘Mulligan’ bull at the moment and the rifle was loaded with 120 grains of Pyrodex P and a 435 grain PowerStar. The shot was about 60 yards.
I cautioned him to shoot for the heart and the bull went down like a ton of bricks and never got up. He commented that he could see little difference between it and his 338.
So, that 300 lb. mule deer, and a few other well-killed animals, show that a fairly deep hollow point in a heavy muzzleloading bullet is effective, capable of initial rapid expansion and hydrostatic shock, accompanied by deep penetration with multi-organ tissue destruction. Nothing kills quicker in thin skinned game, shot from any angle. Of course, we knew that would be the case. Mr. Gould and his cronies proved that way back in the 1880’s. We only have to plagerize to repeat his success.