Ask the Gunwriter



For 2018 there will be a new feature at Empty Cases. It’s called “Ask the Gunwriter” and it’s sponsored by Mossberg. I receive gun or hunting questions every day and I do my best to answer them all. But I realized there might be other folks with the same question, looking for an answer. So now, when someone submits a question—a good question—I’ll crate a video response and post it on the Empty Cases website and on social media. If I do not know the answer, I’ll reach out to other—smarter—folks in the industry for help.

The really cool aspect of Ask the Gunwriter is that if you submit a written question your name will entered for a chance to win a Mossberg Patriot Revere chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor. But even better, if you submit a video question, your name will be entered 10 times! In October, I’ll draw a name and announce the winner. For instructions on submitting a question, click HERE

Submit your question about guns, shooting, or hunting, and you might win a Mossberg Patriot Revere chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor.

But, before this all gets kicked off I thought I’d save some folks some time and tell you what questions not to ask; remember, to be selected your question has to be good.

  1. What’s your favorite cartridge? Not a good question. I had dinner with a group of hunters, writers, and manufactures during the last SHOT Show. The great Dave Petzal was in attendance, and about half way through what might have been the best steak I’ve ever chewed on, someone asked him what his favorite cartridge was. I could not hear Dave’s answer, but in reality it does not matter, because this fascination with the minute differences between cartridges is somewhat asinine. After dinner I asked Dave how many times he’d been asked what his favorite cartridge was. He said, “I have no idea.” What I should have asked him was, how many different answers he had given to that question over the span of his career.

  1. I’m going elk hunting and was thinking I needed to trade my 270 for a 300 magnum. What would you suggest? Don’t be stupid. Spend the money you would pay as part of the trade on ammunition and learn to shoot better. Unless of course you just want a new rifle. If you do, don’t come up with a lame excuse to get a new rifle…you never need an excuse to buy a new rifle! (The key to killing an elk is good shooting.)

  1. What is your advice when it comes to the 9mm? I’m asked this question almost once every week and my advice is always the same: don’t get shot with a 9mm. It will hurt like hell, might make your wife wealthy with insurance money, and free her up to run off with the geek down at the GoMart.

  1. I’ve read several your articles and it seems you don’t like the 30-06. This seems really odd to me. Is this true? And, if it is, would you explain why you do not like what might be the best all-around cartridge? Yes, it is true. And, no, I will not. And, just so you know, I don’t like Pepsi-Cola or Ford trucks either.

  1. My wife complains about me shooting and hunting all the time. And, every time I buy a new gun she throws a fit. She’s thrown my ammo in the trash, cuts up my camo, puts her perfume in my bottles of deer pee, and even joined PETA. What should I do? D-I-V-O-R-C-E, unless your wife is Katheryn Winnick; she’s the opposite of ugly, she’s very wealthy, and might kick your ass. Might I suggest you learn some romance?

A Little Bit of Ballistics

It’s cold here in the hills. Temperatures have been in the single digits and the wind has been blowing hard. I have a variety of projects I need to be working on but they all involve shooting, and, well, I’m holding out for better days.

This has provided me with some down time and I’ve been looking around on the Internet a good bit. Enough to remind me how little most shooters know about terminal ballistics. If you visit most any shooting forum you will uncover enough misinformation to make you think you’re on the MSNBC website.

In no time at all you’ll learn that you need a 338 Winchester Magnum to kill any whitetail deer north of Pennsylvania, that the 30-30 is so old it will only kill yearling deer – and then only with good hits, and that any cartridge created before 1965 was only introduced to get folks to buy more guns.

I went back through my archives and notes and found some video and information where I conducted a bunch of terminal ballistics testing at the Barnes Bullets laboratory a few years back. I learned a lot of stuff during those experiments and validated some of my opinions.

One opinion I’ve held for sometime deals with comparing the terminal performance of various cartridges. Looking at recovered bullets is the way this is most commonly done. It’s the easy way, but it’s also the way that provides the least information, at least when it comes to information about how the bullet damaged tissue. The best way I’ve found to compare terminal performance is to look inside the dead deer, or whatever animal you’re trying to recover a bullet from. That’s where you find the real story. It’s also where you realize that by looking inside a dead animal, you cannot tell which cartridge killed it.

Here’s an example of Internet ballistics wisdom. Some argue that the 30-06 is superior to the 308 Winchester in every way. Did you know that the 180-grain, 308 Winchester, RNSP CoreLokt bullet will expand wider and penetrate deeper than a 180-grain, 30-06, PSP CoreLokt? Probably not. Most assume the 30-06 will outperform the 308 because it has a slightly higher muzzle velocity. Regardless of these technicalities, I’ll guarantee if you look inside two deer – one shot with each load – you would have no better than a 50% chance of guessing which one killed which deer.

Yes, the middle bullet is obviously a Barnes. But, can you tell which of these bullets created the most internal damage, or was fired from a 30-30 by looking at this photo?

Below you’ll see a list of terminal performance information most often discussed for three loads, all shooting a 150 grain, .30 caliber projectile. The loads were a 150-grain CoreLokt fired from a 30-30 Winchester, a 150-grain CoreLokt fired from a 308 Winchester, and a 150-grain Barnes TTSX fired from a 308 Winchester. Can you match the data with the cartridge?

Load                        Penetration         Expansion                  Recovered Weight

  1.                              19 inches           0.54 inch                    105 grains
  2.                              23 inches          0.53 inch                    124 grains
  3.                              30 inches          0.49 inch                    149 grains

Maybe a better way is to watch the video of the bullets impacting the 10% ordnance gelatin. These videos were shot during the testing I referenced. Now, I’ll tell you up front, the videos might be a bit misleading because of where the bullet stuck the gelatin block in relation to the side of the block the camera was positioned on. I’ll also tell you that its – in most cases – as difficult to guess your wife’s weight to her satisfaction as it is to match gel blocks like these to dead critters.

Regardless of all this scientific stuff, the point is most of what you read on a gun forum – and a lot of what you read in gun magazines – is pure speculation, often based on anomalies, examples of one, and even old wives tales. It’s pontification driven by what has been read and repeated, assumed or found in ballistic charts, and by – yes – looking at recovered bullets. Granted, the 30-30 Winchester is not as powerful as the 308 Winchester. The thing is, the animals don’t know that, especially when they are leaking out both sides. To develop an understanding of terminal performance, stop looking at recovered bullets and look at what the bullet does to the animal.

Finn Aagaard – Possibly the most pragmatic and experienced gun writers of all time.

I’ll leave you with these wonderful bits of wisdom from Finn Aagaard, someone who truly understood terminal performance:

1, One can select figures and dense formulas to bolster about any preconceived notion, and therein lies the major weakness of any of these killing power calculations – they reflect merely the personal opinions and prejudice of their authors.

2, Killing power is a matter of biology, not of math and physics, and is influenced almost totally by shot placement, accompanied by sufficient penetration.

3, Rather than relying on fanciful “killing power” formulas, hunters would do far better to learn field marksmanship and to make some study of animal anatomy, in which subject most of them, including most outdoor writers, are woefully deficient.

4, Given sufficient penetration, what does any additional bullet weight add to killing power? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

The REAL Ammo Guy

The guns, gear, and gadgets will all fawn over are interesting, but the real stories – the good stories – are always about people. Those are also the stories I like to write the most. Here is one direct from the pages of the January 2018 issue of Gun Digest magazine. For those who may not know, I write the handgun column for Gun Digest and generally contribute a feature each month. Under the new editorship of Luke Hartle – yes, he is a yankee, but I think there’s enough redneck in him to balance it out – Gun Digest is becoming an excellent version of a modern firearms periodical. I’d suggest you check it out. You can subscribe HERE

The old man shuffled to a cabinet on feet that’d carried him for almost 80 years. He grinned, leaned close enough I could smell cows, corn, and diesel, and said, “This here’s the good drawer.” It contained a hoard of shot shells. He picked up a candy stripped example, handed it to me, and said, “This’ns worth five hundred dollars.” Marv had my attention.

Marvin “Marv” Briegel worked hard all his life, but the only paycheck he ever received was during his three years in the Army. Marv is a farmer, always has been, always will be. He’s damn proud of it too, because he knows it’s a profession too good for most. Marv’s also a hunter. On his farm along Nebraska’s Republican river he once used a 270 Winchester to put a Boone & Crocket whitetail on his wall. That wall, by the way, is in a vault that’s part of Marv’s otherwise inconspicuous farmhouse.

Inside it’s the Marv Show, and it starts with a four-bore shotgun. “I ant shooting that!” I said. Marv grinned, “I ant letting ya.” Then there are the near dozen lesser gauges, Herter’s rifles, and an example of every Knight muzzleloader made. But the Marv Show is mostly about cartridges. I spent hours fingering through drawers of paper-patched cartridges, all-brass shot shells, and other munitions I’d never seen, all while Marv gave John Madden-like color commentary. “Now here’s a shell you don’t see often. I got that’n from an old boy in Oklahoma. That’s a window shell. You know what a window shell is?”

As editor of Gun Digest’s 13th Edition of Cartridges of the World, I’m sometimes referred to as the, “ammo guy.” Amazingly, while deer hunting in the no-stop-light town of Arapahoe, Nebraska, I’d uncovered a physical manifestation of the encyclopedia I’d worked so hard to publish. Historical cartridge collecting is a niche but serious endeavor. Marv’s passion likely exceeds that of Trump voters and, yes, even turkey hunters. He’s even been to Germany to scavange ammunition antiquities.

I asked how a fellow might start cartridge collecting. Marv said, “My first was a 45/100 Pacific Ballard,” Nudging me with his elbow, “but rimfire cartridge boxes are where a guy should start. They’re affordable and easy to find. Just make sure they’re full”

But most of Marv’s collection is shot shell related and I asked why. “With shot shells the information is printed on them, and it matches what’s on the box. It’ll tell you gauge, shot size, and so on. With rifle and pistol cartridges all you got’s the head stamp and no idea bout much else.” Then, with the intensity of a stock trader sharing his first inside tip, Marv leaned in, looked around like, to see if anyone was watching, and whispered, “Robin Hood. Any Robin Hood shot shell is good and the boxes are better-n gold.”

I left Marv a signed copy of Cartridges of the World and a .25 caliber wildcat cartridge I’d based on the 6.5 Creedmoor. Marv gave me something a bit different; a little, but well endowed, bobble-girl off the dash of his – dirtier on the inside than outside – pickup truck.

Passing through the vault door I looked back and Marv was fondling the cartridge I’d given him. He’ll put it in a drawer and someday show it to some guy like me. The bobble-girl? She’ll go on the dashboard of my truck, just to remind me who the real ammo guy is. I named her Casey.

HUNTING – You might be doing it wrong!

Hunting an animal is not just about finding it. It involves getting close enough your shot will be sure. Short of that, you’re just walking around shooting at stuff.

First, let me implicitly state that I don’t care how you kill your meat. I don’t care if you shoot it at 800 yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor and I don’t care if you poke it in the ass with a spear. Hell, I don’t care if you club it with a Louisville Slugger. If you kill it to eat it – or to feed another – and you kill it legally…I don’t care.

Several prominent outdoor writers have attempted to address the ethics of long-range hunting. I’m not going to do that. Arguing the ethics of how a hunter legally kills is – at least to me – like arguing the ethics of how someone has sex. If it’s legal, and if you’re not the one on either end of the activity, it’s really none of your business.

What I want to offer is not a limit on how far you should shoot at an animal, but a pragmatic look at hunting as a sport and ultimately, enjoying the shot you may or may not take. We hunt for meat, for horns, and for hides, but mostly we hunt for fun, and to contribute to the conservation and management of wildlife. Some find fun in seeing how far away they can shoot at, hit, and kill, an animal. This could be because they want to show off, because they do not know how to get closer, or because they believe hunting is mostly about shooting.

With some pursuits, shots at distance are part of the hunt. What they should not be is the most important or only part of the hunt.

Yes, hunting is ultimately all about the shot, but it’s not about making the shot as much as it’s about getting the shot, ideally a shot that should be a sure thing.

To keep things in perspective let’s identify the real challenge involved in long-range hunting. It’s the hitting and killing of the animal. For most hunters, once the distance exceeds about 250 yards, the shot becomes difficult. The challenge therefore is making the shot and that’s something that can be done much more practically, and with no chance of a bad outcome, on a shooting range. Yes, shooting at long-range takes skill and success at it can be satisfying, but it’s skill that can be tested, and satisfaction that can be found, without blood loss or potentially bad outcomes.

Should you enjoy the shot or the hunt?

A shot at distance – any distance no matter how great – cannot compare to an open country stalk to within 60 yards on an animal like this.

In November I was hunting free-range scimitar horned oryx in Texas. The country was so open the only place you could pee in private was on the other side of the truck. I figured my shot was going to be long. I’d even practiced extensively out to 500 yards and was prepared and confident. On our last stalk we managed to work to within about 420 yards of a group of oryx. Thinking that was as good as we were going to do, I began to measure the wind and look for a place to shoot from. It was exciting but not heart pounding exciting.

My guide, Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts, suggested we try to work up a narrow draw and get ahead of them. I figured this fruitless; we would have to cover about 200 yards within their vision as we paralleled their path. We took off, ducking from bush to bush, hunkered down, and fast stepping. 20 minutes later we set up where we thought the oryx would come to. We were in the open, exposed, with no cover. We waited, waited some more, and finally Steve spotted the long sweeping horns of the lead oryx. For the next 30 minutes those oryx moved around us, sometimes within 30 yards. The problem was not getting a shot, it was getting a shot at the only bull in a group of 15.

My knees were screaming and my heart was pounding. I figured the oryx could hear both. All that noise was probably why they were looking at us, confused, like a wino when he has a full bottle in each hand. Finally, Steve identified the bull, and between racing heartbeats and clumps of greasewood; I shot him at 54 steps. The shot was easy, getting it wasn’t. And that’s where I think too many hunters are doing it wrong.

This free range South Africa kudu was spotted from more than a mile away. The stalk, with Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, took more than two hours and resulted in a shot at the extreme distance of about 97 yards. It was difficult, memorable, and damned satisfying.

I believe hunters would have more fun working for the sure shot and not the difficult one. A sure shot means there’s less chance the animal will run, suffer, or be lost. A sure shot means you have not just found, but hunted the animal. Hunters should brag about the surety of the shot they manage to get, shooters brag about the difficulty of the shot they took. If you’re a hunter and a shooter you can brag about not buggering the sure shot you took.

I’ve made some astoundingly long shots on animals, but the deed was one of marksmanship. Striving to be a good marksman is a worthy goal, striving to be a good hunter is just as worthy, if not more. Finding a practical and realistic balance between the two is noble. Professional hunters, like Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts and Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, strive to get their hunters close. Some would argue it increases the chance for success, but I submit it mostly increases the value of the hunt/experience. Sometimes the closer you get the harder your nerves are to control, and feeling those nerves is a wonderful thing, a thing that is near impossible to experience from a quarter-mile away. This is why outfitters sell hunts as opposed to shots or animals.

Can you make this shot? If not, don’t pull the trigger. Hunting is not about seeing what shot you can make, its about working to get a shot that is sure.

Unfortunately too many modern hunters are trained by television as opposed to a professional, a father, or grandpa. And sadly, real hunting doesn’t make good television. This is partly because its damn near impossible to film. Why? It’s difficult to get a hunter close to an animal, and damned difficult when a guy with a camera is tagging along. It’s also partly because it’s hard to relay the difficulty of the challenge to the viewer. When you’re shooting at an elk at 700 yards, the challenge is clear and easily defined. When you have to use stealth and predator skills to cover 700 yards, it takes a choreographed production, lots of hard work, and good music to convey the challenge, excitement, and adrenalin the hunter is struggling to control.

I frequently say, “it’s all about the shot.” Part of that – actually the largest part of that – is about getting the shot. Making the shot should be easy and it should be sure. Anything less than that and you’re essentially depriving yourself of the fulfillment of the reward your genetic wiring has programmed you to seek.

Long range hunting basically boils down to – let’s see if I can make that shot. Hunting, real hunting, boils down to – let’s see if I can hunt that animal and secure a sure shot. Those are dynamically different things. Shooting animals at distance is sometimes part of the hunt. It should not be the only part – or goal – of the hunt.

It is indeed all about the shot. It’s about anticipating it, planning it, getting it, and making it. Not a guess shot, but a sure shot. After all, the object of shooting is hitting, and the object of hunting is killing. True hunters work to maximize the possibility of both.

Here are three simple rules I’d suggest you follow to help make the most of your hunting experience. If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier. If you’re not sure of the shot, don’t take it. If you cannot abide by these rules you might want to do your hunting on a shooting range. Steel targets are easy to sneak up on. They won’t run off if you miss, and they’ll not suffer needlessly from bad hits.

Like I said, hunt any legal way you like; I really and truly don’t care how you do it. The point I’m trying to make is that maybe you should be the one who cares. We hunt largely for fun but to also satisfy our genetic makeup. I’m just telling you how you can find more fun and satisfaction, and become a real hunter and not just a shooter.

It’s a new year. Might I suggest you resolve to become a better shooter and hunter, and then learn to mesh the two disciplines in a way they compliment each other.


Always Visible All The Time

I did not think a more visible handgun sight than the XS Big Dot existed. I was wrong. Check out the sequence of images in this video that illustrates how visible the new F8 sight from XS Sights can be through recoil. If you cannot see this sight all the time, its time for an eye exam.




Poor Man’s Sheep Hunt

One of the surest ways to go broke or get a divorce it to book a sheep hunt. A big horn sheep hunt can set you back about $ 10,000, an Alaskan dall 20,000, stone sheep $ 30,000, and a desert sheep hunt can cost an astonishing $ 50,000! The combination of all these hunts – if successful – is known as the grand slam; typically reserved for millionaires and successful men who are single and not infatuated with any particular lady. The grandness of the slam is not so much that you killed four sheep, it’s that you spent $ 100,000.

Every hunt is a lot about the animal, but for me it’s always mostly been about the hunt; the experience, the effort, and all that sort of stuff. I’ve always wanted to hunt sheep. I never will; gun writers are paid about what they’re worth, and I have three kids to put through college. For me, the hunt for a North American sheep is a dream but it’s also one I can almost experience while hunting for something else – an aoudad.

The aoudad or Barbary sheep is a species of caprid (goat-antelope) native to Northern Africa. It was introduced to North America after World War II. Initially they were found on high-fence exotic hunting ranches but eventually established themselves on the free range. They are ideally adapted to the rugged terrain of West Texas. Its estimated there may be as many as 30,000 free-range aoudad roaming the rimrock and mountains north of the Mexican border.

I’ve hunted aoudad three times, and each time I was in the Apline/Marfa area of Texas. Typically the hunt is very similar to a sheep hunt. Rugged mountain terrain, lots of climbing, falling, and cussing, and ultimately, a shot that is on the long as opposed to the short side. Aoudad seen to have this force field around them that extends out to 450 yards in every direction. Once you step inside that circle, they run.

Amazingly, my first aoudad was taken at a distance of seven feet. He stood up as my guide and I were walking down a mountain. I think he had been asleep, dreaming of Miss Aoudad 2010. Almost just as amazing was another aoudad I took at about 15 yards. We caught him asleep under a juniper tree. He busted out on a run and I shot him with a 450 Bushmaster of all things.

My last aoudad hunt with Backcountry Hunts was more typical of the adventure. We spotted two rams just under some rim rock about 1200 yards away. My guide and I worked behind the mountain, come up over the top, and spooked them at about 150 yards. I dropped to a seated position, threw my rifle over the guide’s pack frame, and poked a 165 Remington HTP Copper (Barnes TSX bullet) through the front of his shoulder as he was running away.

The ram turned and thundered down the valley. I hit him again, mid body, on the run, and then missed the third shot. He slid to a stop like a cartoon creature and the fourth shot put him down. It was an exciting and challenging hunt. We looked at, drove over, and walked across a lot of amazingly spectacular country.

For about half what it costs to hunt one of the North American sheep you can have a marvelous experience in West Texas hunting an animal that is now more plentiful here than where it was indigenous. (Actually, I guess you might say the Aoudad is a North American or at least a Texas sheep.) If you’re interested I suggest you get hold of Steve Jones with Backcountry Hunts. Steve is a professional, has excellent guides, a great cook, and access to more square miles of country than make up West Virginia.

I’ll for sure hunt aoudad again and I hope to do it with Backcountry Hunts. This partly because it is indeed the poor man’s sheep hunt and that description fits me perfectly. (It could probably be called the hillbilly sheep hunt, I just don’t think that would help with marketing.) But, I’ll hunt aoudad again with Backcountry Hunts mostly because Steve, Robert, Dave, and all his crew are damn fine fellows to have around a campfire.

When it comes to hunting – for me – that’s a big part of it. It might be where the real grand slam is truly found.



Gun Guy Gifts from FREE to a Grand

Yes, its hard to buy for gun guys and hunters and get it right. This partly because they are a picky lot, and partly because its hard to know what kind of gear and guns work if you have no experience with them. Well, I’m here to help. Here are 10 items from FREE to a bit more than a grand that any real gun guy/hunter should appreciate:

1. Shooter’s Guide to the AR: This is a great book for the new AR owner. It will educate them on how and AR works and teach them how to shoot it better. It’s $ 15.00 or FREE when you buy Under Orion – the next item on the list. While supplies last of course. (Comes with a training DVD on using laser sights.)


2. Under Orion, Hunting Stories from Appalachia to Africa. For a hunter this is a great beside the toilet or bed book. Short hunting stories guaranteed to make you feel something – even if its regret for spending the $ 20.00. While supplies last it comes with a free copy of Shooter’s Guide to the AR.

3. XS F8 Sights: Great new sights I’m really excited about, that kind of bridge the gap between the XS Big Dot and conventional notch and post sights. $ 142.00. Now available for Glocks and a few other guns I do not own.

4. Jagdhund USA Brand shoes: Here is a great pair of outdoor general-purpose low-top shoes. Not sure what you have to do to wear these out. $ 218.95.

5. Bushnell Engage 2.5-10X 44mm Riflescope: This one of the best values going when it comes to a long range riflescope. We used one in Africa last summer and it performed exceptionally well, good enough for my son to collect animals out to 600 yards. $ 299.00. (Click image for video.)

6. Timney Calvin Elite AR Trigger: The single best thing you can do to your AR is put a good trigger in it. Factory ARs are notorious for triggers that are harder to pull than a Ford out of a ditch. $ 299.95.

7. Crimson Trace LINQ: This might be the best light/laser alternative for an AR. With bluetooth like connectivity, when you grab the grip the unit comes on in your predetermined configuration. Right now its on sale for $ 389.00.

8. XJAGD Buffalo 2 Jacket: When temperatures in Africa dropped below freezing last summer, I thought the hunt was doomed. Fortunately, my son and I both had one of these. They busted the cold, blocked the wind, and the neat binocular retraining strap is kinda cool. $ 396.95.


9. Remington Model Seven LS: I think this the best firearm currently in the Remington line. It is good looking, light, compact, and shoots exceptionally well. That’s why I own one. $ 1039.00.

10. Swarovski CL Companion Binoculars: I hate carrying around big binoculars but I also hate not being able to see when I’m hunting. With these compact CLs you get all the glory of Swarovski glass at a fraction of the cost. I’ve used them from Vancouver, to Texas, to Africa and got no complaints! They only weigh 17 ounces. $ 1199.00.