Is Muzzle Energy Important for Hunting? – Foundry Outdoors
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Is Muzzle Energy Important for Hunting?

Muzzle energy is a highly debated term among the hunting industry. Some say that it is the most important aspect of your cartridge, and others toss it out of the window. So to be able to form an informed opinion, you should know what it actually is and when it is important and when it is not. Here is my quick opinion based on physics: muzzle energy is an important aspect of ballistics in certain situations, and other times it is not very important. However, lets actually dive in to see why and not just trust blind opinions across the internet.


 What Is Muzzle Energy?

In the most basic of terms, muzzle energy is the kinetic energy of the bullet as it is leaving the barrel. Kinetic energy is defined as ½ mass x velocity^2. So basically, this all depends on how heavy the bullet is and how fast it is going. Although, since the velocity is squared, that is the overpowering/most important term most of the time.

 

This term is used to describe how much energy a bullet will have once it leaves the barrel and, if you ignore some complicated physics, how much energy it will have once it reaches the target. This is also commonly known as “knockdown power”. 

For example, a 115 grain(gr) 9mm going 1300 feet per second(ft/s), has a muzzle energy(kinetic energy) of 432 foot-pounds. Whereas a heavier and faster .308 at 150 gr and moving at 2,820 ft/s has a muzzle energy of 2,648 ft-lbs. Now, obviously we would expect the rifle round to outperform the pistol round, but if you look closely you can see just how important velocity is in this calculation. After a 24% increase in weight and a 116% increase in velocity, we see a 513% increase in muzzle energy. If you were to use the same grain bullet and just increase the velocity, there is still a 370% increase in muzzle energy. 


The Difference at Range

So should we be focusing on muzzle velocity or start using bricks as bullets? Well, this all depends on how you are using your rifle. If you use a larger grain bullet, you will have more muzzle energy; however, if you are shooting at long ranges, you will have greater bullet drop. Plus heavier grain bullets tend to also move slower. There is a fixed amount of gunpowder that can fit inside a cartridge, so it is impossible to make a 175 grain .308 go faster than 125 grain .308. Sacrificing speed for weight does not make much sense at long range because speed is our overruling variable in kinetic energy. At farther ranges, a heavier bullet will slow down faster than a lighter one, less speed means less kinetic energy. 

The Effects of Aerodynamics

It also matters how the bullet is shaped. Anything moving at a fast rate through the air has two things that will lead to its inevitable stop, gravity, and air resistance(drag). Unfortunately, you can not counter gravity while shooting, but we can play with aerodynamics. If you want a bullet to go far, you need a shape that has a high ballistic coefficient. I know that sounds like a complicated term but it is really not. The ballistic coefficient simply tells us how well a particularly shaped bullet handles drag. The better it handles drag, the less drag slows down the bullet. 


Using a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient will allow you to have your bullet in the air going faster for a longer period of time. You can basically think of it like your bullet having a tiny parachute attached to it, slender pointy bullets(Like a G7) will have a tiny parachute and will go very fast and far. Bullets that are classified as GL have a blunt nose and in our analogy will have a huge parachute, slowing them down much faster. It is basically like the aerodynamic difference between a Lamborghini and a tractor-trailer truck.

When Muzzle Energy Actually Matters

Different types of game require us to use calibers that have different amounts of muzzle energy. The amount of muzzle energy required also depends on how we are hunting. For example, if you are squirrel hunting, you may want to use a 22 lr to shoot them at around 20-40ish yards. You would not want to use a 50 BMG for the same job, there would be nothing left. So you need to use a caliber that has an appropriate amount of muzzle energy for the game you are hunting. If you are deer hunting, a .308 would be more than sufficient out to 300-400ish yards, although many people use a higher muzzle energy 30-06 to deer hunt as well. This leads to more damage and the capability to shoot farther. 


Deciphering which calibers are perfect for a particular type of game is impossible and other hunters will debate it and tell you are wrong no matter what you pick. For example, if you are between a .270, .308, and 30-06, well these all have their advantages and different muzzle energies. However, if you are the average hunter and not shooting 400+ yards, it does not really matter that much. The biggest thing muzzle energy tells us is what type of game we should ethically be able to hunt with it. 

Conclusion

Muzzle energy can be a neat statistic to look at when comparing similar calibers, although it is not as important as it may seem. You can use this calculation to tell how far you can effectively shoot and what type of game you can ethically kill. Muzzle energy is not the end all be all, and for sports like deer hunting, using a .270 to hunt is going to end in the same result as a .308. Everyone will have their preferences, but with correct shot placement and appropriate distance, every caliber is capable of successfully taking down a target. 





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