I spent eight hours this last Saturday at the shooting range trying to develop a new load for my .264 Winchester magnum. A buddy of mine tried out a load for his .308 and I also got to shoot his .470 Nitro. What a cannon. It was a good day of shooting and spending time with friends. I also got to listen to some interesting chat about what a few seasons in the woods has taught fellow shooters about their choice in firearms.
Before I go any further, let me state there are a few things in a life you should never criticize. Never disparage a man's wife (even if she doesn't like you), mother, or his hunting rifle. That being said, I was amazed at how some of the guys ended up with the deer rifles they had. Two were using .338 magnums with 250 grain bullets and another had an older .250 savage. My buddy with the .470 used it to take a smallish four pointer a couple years ago.
My buddy, Al, used the .470 on deer as a means of practice before heading out to Africa to bring home a Cape buffalo. Fair enough. The gentlemen with the .250 said he was tired of watching deer run off after being hit with his old .303 savage. He liked how the deer would either drop in their tracks or go for a short run after being hit by the 100 grain slugs from the .250. Each bullet would mushroom well and perform flawlessly. The harder, stouter, 190 grain silvertips from the .303 would always punch through without much dramatic fashion. He didn't say he lost deer when using this rifle/cartridge combination, but he wasn't impressed with the terminal performance.
The father and son who were using the .338s decided to retire their .30-06s because they wanted to bring down their deer without having to track them after being hit. I asked both men what bullets they were shot out of the 06s. One used a well-built 180 grain and the other had some old 220 grain slugs he had used for some time. Both bullets are of very tough construction and neither was meant for use on deer. When asked how their .338s performed, both stated the results were no different with this cartridge than with their 06s. The deer hit with these rounds would be recovered (usually) but they didn't fall as soon as desired or expected.
When asked how my .264 performed, I told them the honest truth; it kills like lighting. I rarely have to follow a deer more than 50 yards.
The reason these fellas aren't having deer fall at the shot or shortly thereafter are because the bullets they use aren't expanding when hitting the deer. The bullet has all kinds of energy behind it, but it doesn't transfer it to the fragile deer. Remember the guy with the .250 savage? Those little 100 grain bullets mushroom on impact and do a stellar job at messing up a deer's vitals. The 130 and 140 grain bullets from my .264 expand dramatically when hitting a deer. There is a huge difference in energy between the .264 and .250, but it's the design of the bullet that matters most.
There have been countless articles written on the best deer cartridges and what bullet/velocity combination is best for quick knockdowns on deer. Ultimately, the selection of cartridge isn't nearly as important as the bullet loaded in it. Heavy bullets don't necessary hit deer any harder. If a round doesn't expand properly and therefore expand its energy into the target, the weight and energy of the bullet is of little consequence.