By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU
So what does it mean to be under gunned?
Much of this discussion is situation dependent, but in short, under gunned means that the firearm that you are carrying or selected lacks either power, range, or capacity for the intended use.
For example, a defensive handgun is convenient for every day carry (EDC), but probably not what you would choose if you were knowingly entering a dangerous situation. One thing that is accurate in many western movies is that the sheriff grabs a shotgun or Winchester when about to confront the bad guys.
Marlin Guide Gun in 45-70 Govt. A truly hard hitting brush gun.
There is an old expression, “never take a knife to a gunfight” but it is also true to not intentionally take a handgun to gunfight. If you have ever been on a shooting range (or in combat), when someone is shooting a handgun and everyone else is shooting rifles, the difference in power is dramatic. The handgun sounds like a pop-gun compared to the boom and crack of the rifle rounds. If you also look at the impacts on steel targets, 308 Win hits much harder than 9mm or even 45 ACP, and .300 Win Mag hits harder than .308 Win at long range.
So if you have the choice, and know you are going in harms way, then a 12 gauge or semi-auto rifle would be a better choice. The length of the shotgun or rifle would also be influenced by the environment or terrain. For close quarters urban fighting, a 10” to 14” barrel may be optimum, but for rural outdoor environments, a fully length 16” to 22” barrel would be a better choice.
On the topic of caliber, when SWAT teams and CT teams were embracing the H&K MP5 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many traded in their M-16s for the handy, compact MP5s. But in doing this, they gave up their 100 to 400-yard capability of the 5.56mm (.223 Rem) for a 9mm pistol cartridge more suited to 25 to 50 yards. This became evident during a hostage rescue operation in the 1980s when the rescue team, armed with 9mm MP5s, began taking enemy rifle fire from 300 to 400 yards. This type of event resulted in almost every SWAT team going from the MP5 9mm to the M4 5.56mm and its numerous variations.
For the conventional military application, the M16 5.56mm became popular in the jungle environments of Vietnam where ranges were relatively short and the ability to carry more rounds was considered important. Precision engagement of individual enemy soldiers was replaced by squad and platoon-level mass fire into the jungle or night. Statistically, tens of thousands of rounds were being expended for each confirmed kill. But in embracing the 5.56mm, the deep thinkers in the Pentagon were neglecting the probability of future conflicts in more open terrain.
The open terrain of Afghanistan requiring effective engagements out passed 600 meters
Therefore, when our war fighters entered Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, it quickly became apparent that the 5.56mm round, in the hands of the average grunt, was not very effective out passed 400 yards. As a result, 7.62mm M14s were dusted off and refurbished as designated marksmen rifles (DMR), soon to be replaced by the M110 on the SR25 platform. Initially, designated marksmen were one for each platoon, but have now been pushed down to the squad level. There is also a range of more suitable rifles such as the Heckler & Koch HK417 (7.62x51mm) complete with optical sights by Leupold, Nightforce, and SIG.
H&K DMR rifle
For the hunter, it would be considered unethical to hunt with a rifle that lacked the accuracy, range, or power to kill cleanly. While there are numerous stories of large game being taken with a .22 rimfire, these are the exception and still have a high potential for losing a wounded animal. Similarly, when hunting dangerous game, the hunter needs to know that the animal will be dropped in its tracks, and this requires a more powerful cartridge. There is a reason that the .375 H&H is one of the most popular calibers with hunting guides in Africa, and rapid second shot follow-up should be a smooth, practiced skill.
Remington 700 .375 H&H
This brings up one of the most common questions found on Facebook shooting pages – “what is the best caliber for hunting?” As you all know, there is no one answer since it depends on the type and size of game, the anticipated distances, and the ability of the shooter. Having talked to numerous hunting guides, and watched hundreds of would-be hunters zeroing their rifles for hunting season, it is fairly obvious that all too many hunters have little to no fundamental shooting skills. They probably had no formal instruction and don’t practice regularly so their accuracy sucks. So instead of asking, “what caliber” they should be asking, “how many rounds should I shoot in practice prior to hunting season?” or “where can I get good instruction prior to hunting season?”
Back to the topic of caliber, traditionally two calibers that have harvested almost any game in North America are 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag, but in more recent years, newer calibers such as 28 Nosler, 30 Nosler, 300 Norma Mag, and 300 PRC have gained popularity and acceptance. In short, when you hit an animal, you want to see it physically shudder and drop, or stagger several yards and drop. This comes down to shot placement and energy dump, a result of bullet weight, construction, and velocity. Given the choice, the goal should be to be slightly over-gunned than under gunned, but whatever you choose, shot placement is everything, and this requires practice at the distances you plan to hunt. Therefore it would be unethical to only practice at 100 yards and then attempt shots at 600+ yards without a proven ability at long range shooting.
For long range competition shooting (800 to 1,000 yards), there are several light calibers, in the 6mm range, that are deadly accurate under ideal conditions, but when the wind is blowing, most top shooters opt for the 200, 210, 215 and 220 grain 30 caliber bullets. For decades I shot 190 grain Sierra Match Kings (SMK) with considerable success at 1,000 yards, but now my long range bullets of choice are the Berger 185 Juggernauts, 200 grain Hybrids, and 215 grain Hybrids – all worth checking out. The military has leaned the same lesson by now running the 220 grain SMKs in their .300 Win Mags, such as the Marines’ Mk13 Mod 7.
.308 Win long range rifle (600-1,000 yards) built on the McMillan A5 stock with a Heavy Palma Bartlein barrel.
Mk13 Mod7 clone built on a Stiller’s MK13 action and Bartlein barrel in .300 Win Mag, utilizing the Berger factory 185 Juggernauts and 215 Hybrids. The Federal Gold Medal 190 SMKs used as the standard by which other factory ammunition is evaluated.
Extreme long range shooting (ELR), out passed 1,500 yards, has further illustrated the importance of heavy bullets with a high ballistic coefficient (BC), pushed at adequate velocity, for effective target engagement. While many smaller bullets may go the distance, their loss in energy and velocity results in tumbling and erratic performance. The light bullets are also adversely affected by even light winds. There is a reason that .375 CheyTac and .416 Barrett are dominating ELR shooting. Their heavier bullets, such as Cutting Edge 400 and 550 grain Lazers respectively, not only hit hard at 2,500 to 3,500 yards, they maintain energy, stability, and wind bucking ability.
.416 Barrett ELR rifle built on a BAT action, Bartlein barrel, in a McMillan Beast-2 stock. Ammunition is the Cutting Edge 550 grain bullet loaded into Barrett/Ruag brass with VihtaVuori powder
To wrap this up, when you are expressing an opinion on Facebook about “the best caliber,” give some careful consideration to the type of competition, game, and distances involved. The choice for a small deer is not the same as the ideal caliber for a massive elk or grizzly bears. Similarly, hunting in North America is not the same as hunting dangerous game in Africa. For defensive purposes, a 9mm for EDC is convenient and better than nothing, but it is not the weapon or caliber of choice for intentionally going in harms way.
On a positive note, you now have a valid reason to purchase multiple handguns, rifles and shotguns for various applications such has defense, competition, or hunting.
BE SAFE OUT THERE