Conundrum: a problem or puzzle. As in, if rabbit’s feet are so lucky, why didn’t they do the original owner any good? And “Brer’ Bunny” had four of them.
Thoughts like this occupy my mind while enduring this stint of voluntary isolation while reading through a plethora of magazine back issues I saved over the years. Mostly outdoor and gun magazines. Some go back over 30 years. True story this: no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same. Especially in gun magazines.
An example would be an article by Craig Boddington in the current issue of “GUNS and AMMO.” The article was on the seldom mentioned model 71 , a .348-caliber Winchester lever action rifle and carbine that used to be “King Of The Hill.” Or something like that. Maybe it was “Pretender to the throne?” Doesn’t matter.
The model 71 was little more than a revamped model 1886 Winchester in a classier stock and a new caliber, the .348 Winchester. Although unique, the caliber was probably chosen because it sat midway between the older .33 (.338) Winchester and the even older .35 (.358) Winchester. All known quantities and proven performers in the killing fields, but discontinued during that 1930s time frame. The .348 chambering was exclusive to the model 71. It was also designed to compete with the newer bolt action offerings chambering the .30-06 cartridge, or so I’ve read.
As for competing with the .30-06, which was the popular caliber of the day, the .348 actually did a fairly impressive job of that, matching the .30-06s’ trajectory and power when comparing similar bullet weights. The problem was that while the .30-06 could be found with a score of factory loads from 100-grain to 250-grain bullets, Winchester only offered the .348 in three. It came in 150-grain, 200-grain and 250-grain loads originally. After a few years, only the 200-grain factory load remained and sales weren’t doing all that well for the model 71.
Not that there was anything wrong with the model 71 except that it was heavy and balanced like a 2x6. Both of the carbines I had must have weighed close to 10 pounds, unloaded. I only used them for a couple of years, specifically for solo jaunts into the high country back in the day, loaded with the original Barnes 250-grain bullets. It was my version of bear spray. Fortunately, I never kicked up a grizzly that was ambitious enough to try me on for size.
A fellow named Harold Johnson who lived at Cooper’s Landing in Alaska didn’t think the .348 was enough cartridge for a really big brown bear and up-sized it by expanding the neck to hold bigger .45-caliber slugs. A couple of years later, when he thought that wasn’t enough, he expanded the neck of the cartridge case to take modified .50-caliber machine gun bullets. Called it the “50 Alaskan” if I remember correctly.
But back to what upset me in Boddington’s article to begin with. And I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve read this drivel in gun magazines. It seems that due to the tubular magazine under the barrel, the gun writer experts think the main deficiency of the model 71, aside from not being able to easily mount a scope, is that like the popular model 94 Winchester and every other lever action firearm in 30-30, only blunt-nosed bullets can be safely used.
Blunt-nosed bullets that have, to quote Boddington, “poor aerodynamics.” As if that should matter in a short to medium range bear buster. After all, a 10-pound rifle with open sights is not exactly cutting-edge technology for hunting bighorn sheep or mountain goats. However, one needs to keep in mind that this whole article was a laudatory marketing pitch for Hornady’s new “Flex-tip” bullets, which are a flexible plastic pointed tip bullet that can be safely used in tubular magazines.
But the center of my frustration revolves around the blanket condemnation of round or blunt nosed bullets as compared ballistically to pointy-ended bullets. To me, it’s a moot point. This was a favorite cop-out of gun writers for years and used frequently to condemn actual serviceability of lever-action rifles. Rifles, which for a variety of reasons were never designed to be bench-rest accurate, but have acquitted themselves well over the past century for hunting big game.
Yes, there is some difference in trajectory curves among bullets of similar weight and caliber when launched in similar circumstances. Several times over the years, tests have shown that with a 200-yard zero, a round nosed or blunt tipped bullet will probably drop approximately four inches more than a spire point at 300 yards, everything else being equal. Other than in a bench-rest match, or an extreme long-range competition, those figures aren’t relevant since, despite the advances of modern riflery, records indicate that most critters are still killed at under 200 yards. Not all, granted, but the vast majority.
I’m a fair shot with a rifle, but after spending a day humping up hills, wading thigh deep snowdrifts or fighting through blow-downs, there’s no way I can keep my shots, offhand, or even with a solid rest, within 4 inches of point of aim at 300 yards – period. And I’ll bet there’s precious few self-proclaimed marksmen who could do it either. The matter of the difference in drop between blunt-nosed bullets and pointy-nosed bullets in an actual hunting situation is a moot point.
Therein lies the conundrum. If the actual results between the different bullet shapes are of such little practical consequence, why do gun writers, most of whom can’t shoot anyway, hate flat-nosed or round-nosed rifle bullets?
But, as I’ve noted before, controversy sells. Reading promotional articles on new firearms or accessories is a lot like shopping for a car. As in, yours is a rolling wreck, while the salesman’s shiny new buggy is the best thing since home-brewed beer. Making the consumer want more or newer sells product. If you feel using lever guns with their “blunt” bullets is for old fuddies, don’t use one. Also, smarter people than me have suggested loading pointy-tipped bullets in lever guns by putting one in the chamber and just one in the magazine way before Hornady came out with their “Flex Tips.”
If you have confidence in your ability, then limiting yourself to two shots shouldn’t be a big thing. By the way, those old single shot Sharps rifles and Remington rolling blocks the buffalo hunters used to kill multitudes of bison at obscene ranges used blunt bullets. The professionals didn’t seem to mind.
Then there’s the shot Billy Dixon made at Adobe Wells down in Texas during that big Indian fight. Shooting a “big 50” Sharps, Dixon took a Comanche warrior out of his saddle at over 1,500 yards, verified and measured. Black powder, iron sights and blunt bullets. No, really.