Wolves To 900-Yards Possible For This Rifle & Load!
September 24, 2011
Building A Dedicated Wolf Rifle & Load
I have long been a fan of the .308 Winchester cartridge. I've owned a number of super accurate bolt-action rifles chambered for the round over the years - a few of which would continue to group extremely well at 500 and 600 yards. This was especially true when time was taken to precisely handcraft loads tailored for each. The great accuracy of those rifles and loads made me realize why the .308 Winchester (a.k.a. 7.62 NATO among military circles) was such a popular caliber among competition long range rifle shooters.
If rifles chambered for .308 Winchester do have a downfall, it would be that the cartridge, while extremely accurate out of a quality rifle, is not exactly a powerhouse once past 500 yards. One of my favored "to 500 yards" elk, deer and pronghorn loads for this cartridge gets a 165-grain Hornady .308" InterLock SP (.387 b.c.) out of the muzzle of a 24-inch barrel at around 2,700 f.p.s. By the time the load gets to 500 yards, it has slowed to around 1,650 f.p.s. At the muzzle, the load is good for right at 2,670 f.p.e. - while out at 500 yards, it hits with just under 1,000 f.p.e. That's still good for taking deer-sized game, but it's getting marginal for elk.
With wolf seasons now scheduled for the Northern Rockies states, I decided to put together a rifle...scope...load combo specifically for hunting wolves - one with the retained velocity and energy needed for shots possibly out to 700 or 800 yards, and maybe even farther. When glassing from one mountain ridge to another here in western Montana, the distance can stretch out quite a ways. Several of the spots I hunt, I can often glass meadows and open ridges that are in the neighborhood of a half-mile away. While some of this county's top rifle shots have won 1,000 yard matches with rifles in .308, I knew the retained energy was really down at that distance with a bullet of .380 to .400 b.c..
(Photo Above - Most shots at game, any game, are generally well under 500 yards, and the majority of today's wolf hunters simply rely on the same rifle they use for other big game.)
Getting a shot at a wolf could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted a rifle capable of at least reaching out to 600 yards - and I wanted a load and bullet fully capable of retaining the energy to get the job done on a tough predator that could top 140 to 150 pounds. In the same light, I did not want a bullet that would fragment and possibly blow a huge hole in the pelt when exiting out the other side.
My rifle and caliber choice was easily filled when I picked up a very nice used stainless steel Winchester Model 70 in .300 Winchester Short Magnum. And, that's exactly the caliber I was considering, since my goal from the outset was to develop a load for the caliber that would shoot a bit like a .308 Win. on steroids. (Photo of rifle at right.)
I got in touch with my good friends over at Western Powders, in Miles City, MT to see what powder they recommended. Keith Anderson, who handles the ballistics department suggested I give the company's Accurate Arms 4350 powder a try. So I turned to the Accurate Arms load data, and found that with a 165-grain bullet, recommended loads with the powder started at 61.2 grains, which gets the bullet out of a 24 inch barrel at 2,823 f.p.e.. The recommended maximum load of AA4350 behind a bullet of this weight is 68 grains, producing 3,137 f.p.s..
I liked the velocity range. In the past, I've only had a few rifles that tended to shoot very well with the hottest recommended loads, so I decided to start a notch and a half down from "Max"...with 66.5 grains. And during my first go around, I decided to play with two different bullets - the 165-grain Hornady .308" GMX bullet and the Barnes TSX BT of the same weight. Both of these bullets are "Non-Leaded". The Barnes TSX is an all-copper bullet with a small hollow-pointed somewhat spire-pointed nose, the Hornady GMX is a polymer-tipped gilded metal bullet (brass that is rich in copper). Both have been designed to expand well, and retain near 100-percent weight retention. And I chose these two bullets to avoid bullet fragmentation and the chances of blowing a huge hole on the exit side.
(Following photo shows the .300 WSM [left] compared to the .308 Win. - loaded with the same 165-grain Hornady 165-grain GMX bullet. The greater powder capacity of the .300 WSM gives it a tremendous velocity and range advantage.)
The velocity difference was negligible. With 66.5 grains of AA 4350, the Barnes TSX BT exited the 24-inch barrel at 3,073 f.p.s., the slightly longer Hornady GMX got on its way at 3,068 f.p.s. Both shot great. During my initial shooting, I had one of the 3-12x50mm Hi-Lux Optics "Top Angle Professional" model scopes mounted on the rifle. Both bullets proved fully capable of punching solid 1- to 1 1/4 inch hundred yard groups - with a few sub 1-inchers. So, I decided to run a couple of 10-shot groups with each to see which could be counted on to produce the tightest groups.
My plans were to make this an honest long range wolf rifle - one that I could count on for placing killing shots out to 600 or 700 yard shots. So, I upgraded to a scope better suited for super long range work - one of the 7-30x50mm Hi-Lux "Top Angle Professional" models. And at the highest magnification, you can count the fleas on a wolf.
With the scope set at 10x, and easily focused for a sharp target image, using the top-
angle focus turret, I again found both bullets to shoot exceptionally well. The Barnes 165-grain TSX BT kept all ten shots right at an inch. But in the end, it was the Hornady 165-grain GMX that won out. The target shown here shows the ten-shot group punched, measuring right at .625" center-
to-center (from what I could determine "center").
Now, there is nothing "custom" about this rifle. It is a stock .300 Winchester Short Magnum Model 70, with a standard weight barrel. The previous owner had put less than 400 rounds through it during the 6 years he owned and hunted with it. The stock is a standard "All Weather" plastic/composite stock.
When checking out the rifle, I asked the owner if he minded if I tried the trigger, and snapped it a few times. It proved to be one of the absolute finest factory triggers I've ever squeezed. I still have not put a trigger gauge on it, but I'd say it say it's right at about 2 1/2 pounds.
Ordinarily, I'd go into a stock factory rifle such as this and do some trigger work, and also glass bed the action and barrel channel. But for once, I think I got really lucky...and found a rifle that shoots absolutely great without all that work.
Even before shooting that tight group with the stock Model 70 in .300 WSM, and Hornady GMX bullet, the slight difference in accuracy already had me leaning in favor of going that direction. The 165-grain TSX BT bullet has a ballistic coefficient of .398. The .308" diameter GMX bullet of the same weight has a .447 b.c. While the difference may not seem all that great to some...that difference is big once past 500 yards.
For ballistics purposes, let's just round off the muzzle velocity of these two bullets to 3,070 f.p.s. That equates to a muzzle energy of 3,453 f.p.e. By the time the bullet reached 500 yards, the slightly lower b.c. Barnes 165-grain TSX BT would still be flying at around 1,950 f.p.s., and hit with just over 1,390 foot-pounds of retained energy. At that same distance, the 165-grain GMX velocity would be around 2,060 f.p.s., bumping retained energy to around 1,555 f.p.e.
Still not a tremendous difference. Not enough to really make a difference.
It's in the next 500 yards where the advantages of the higher b.c. GMX really begin to show. At 700 yards, the load made up of 66.5 grains of AA4350 and TSX BT bullet continues to fly at just over 1,600 f.p.s. - and hit with just under 940 f.p.e. The same load with the GMX bullet is a bit speedier at this distance, in the 1,740 f.p.s. range, and retaining around 1,110 f.p.e.
At 800 yards, the TSX BT is down to about 1,450 f.p.e. - with around 760 f.p.e. And some will begin to argue that this has become a marginal energy level for taking any animal that could be in the 100 to 150 pound weight range. At 800 yards, the 165-grain GMX continues to move along at around 1,580 f.p.e., and retains 915 f.p.e. In fact, even at 900 yards, the higher b.c. GMX, with the load that shoots so well out of my stainless Winchester Model 70, will retain the 800 f.p.e. that perhaps should be considered the minimum energy level needed to cleanly put a wolf on the ground.
I have done some shooting to 600 yards, shooting across a mountain clear-cut valley, and have managed to keep three hits inside of 5 inches. With a center hold, allowing for the 95+ inches of drop even this high b.c. bullet has at that distance, will keep 'em in the kill zone. And to do that, with the scope set at 18x, I place the 2nd mil-dot (below the crosshair) pretty much where I want the bullet to go.
A neat feature of the Hi-Lux Optics 7-30x "Top Angle Professional"
scope is the "No Math Mil-Dot"
ranging system incorporated right into the optics. A bracket in the reticle itself allows the shooter to zoom in on a distant target of about 18 inches in height or length, by increasing the magnification, until the target fits in the bracket, and a scale on the power ring of the scope gives the range. From the top of a wolf's back to the bottom of its chest cavity is approximately 18 inches. One unlucky coyote that stepped out at 511 yards (shot with a laser rangefinder) discovered the long range accuracy of this rig - the hard way. Once the range was known, it was just a matter of allowing for the 63 inches of drop.
The rifle, scope and load are now sighted to hit right at 2 inches high at 100 yards, allowing pretty much a "dead on"
hold to 200 yards. After that, I have to do some calculation. For instance, at 300 yards I have learned that with the scope set on 14x magnification, I can rely on the small cross-bar located half-way between the intersection of the crosshairs and the first mil-dot, center it on my target, and point of impact is about 2 inches above point of aim. Learning what it takes to keep hits on the target at different ranges means spending a great deal of time on the range. However, when one has so many options in the magnification settings and the different aiming points incorporated in the reticle, it's more than most minds can compute quick enough to get on a target that's 500...600...700 yards away, and place a clean killing shot. So, down the road, if you see me with this rifle in a photo, and there's a cheat sheet taped to the butt of the gun, please don't think I've turned into a nerd. It's just that I'm already suffering from information overload.
(Photo Above Right - Much of the Northern Rockies wolf range is very open country, offering some exremely long range shots. This is where a specialized long range rifle, scope and load offer an advantage.)
The Hi-Lux Optics 7-30x50mm Top Angle Focus Professional
scope is one heck of a buy at the suggested retail of $449. And for those who don't want quite that much scope on their rifle, there are also 3-12x50mm and 4-16x50mm models that are also well suited for long range shooting. The slightly lower powered models would make any accurate rifle in .300 WSM a great all-purpose rifle. Mine has been set up specifically for shooting at predators, primarily wolves, at long range.
FOR MORE ON THE HI-LUX OPTICS SCOPES, GO TO -
Now, like many of you who may be reading this, all I have to do is find a wolf. But, with a rifle that's capable of reaching out to a half-mile, I can cover a lot of wolf territory while sitting out on a long point overlooking open country. But then, there's learning how to place those shots at 700...800...900 yards.
Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH