Big and Slow vs Small and Fast

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Feb 19, 2011
SW Idaho
This is a real question: I'm not trying to start a fight.

Why do the big and slow guys think theirs is better than small and fast?

And, apart from trajectory, why do the S&F guys think theirs is better than the B&S?

If you get more lbs of energy on an animal with the S&F why would you want something big and slow.

Please educate me...:confused:

Speed kills effectively, as does foot pounds and large holes. A 223 is plenty to kill deer, and a 45-70 is more than enough. I think that most folks can agree that somewhere in the middle is great. A 6.5mm on up through 7.62mm is a happy place for most applications.
They each have their place. In situation A small and fast wins. In situation B big and slow wins. In situation can intermediate wins. In situation SHTF big and fast takes it.
These are very general terms, and there are plenty of exceptions, but:

Light and Fast tends to wound with hydrostatic shock and / or rapid, violent, expansion - fragmentation.

Heavy and Slow tends to wound with deep penetration from momentum, and doesn't need to expand as quickly because it's already starting at a large diameter.

Heavy and Fast does both, but heavy and fast equals huge amounts of energy, and that leads to very heavy recoil. So, heavy and fast hurts to shoot or requires a really heavy rifle to tame the recoil. Heavy and fast is also way too much for most game other than true dangerous game like heavy African animals, Alaskan / Western Canadian Brown Bear, and perhaps the biggest Alaskan moose. On the other hand, if you want to hunt big things like Elk at really long ranges, get a .50 BMG rifle, join the FCSA (Fifty Caliber Shooters Association), and go have fun.
Oh gosh, this was settled over 100 years ago. Bigger and faster with proper bullet construction is better most of the time. Some jobs require fast accrate bullets with high energy like varmints. But big and slow is required for shotgun shooters and since some big cartridges will get the job done some guys like them. Cowboy shooters have boosted interest, history buffs and some of us just like old guns. Then there is the irrational idea that some moderate slow cartridges are anti tank guns and just right for Godzilla with bullet performance, the explosive power of high speed expanding bullets ignored. And thinking because a bullet makes a hole it kills.
In truth we need a lot less gun than we think. Russian hunters in Siberia, to my surprise carry SKS rifles in 7.62x39 and single shot shotguns. I would have guessed Mosins. They have the same brown bears as Alaska and they are plentiful. The Eskimos seem to favor AR rifles in .223 and shoot Brown and Polar bears with them as well as .243. In Africa the poachers kill a lot of elephants with AK-47s. SO shoot what you want. Just don't tell me your pistol cartridge the best cuse it ain't. That is my story and I am sticking to it.
I wonder about the value of a large subsonic round. Just thinking so far. The idea that a large slow round penetrates without lots of tissue damage has got me thinking. Good for meat hunters if well placed at close range. But then that is what millions of shotgun hunters do each year.
remaining energy at long distances. shooting varmints at 500 yards requires a bigger bullet to perform effectively.

The other thing fast gets you is better practical accuracy.

A flat trajectory makes range estimation much less critical. That slow, big slug and its rainbow trajectory require very good range estimation or misses high or low result.

Big and slow has the advantage of momentum, light and fast has kinetic energy. Momentum and a large diameter bullet makes a large diameter hole even if the bullet doesn't expand, and it will punch deep into the vitals or usually completely through. Light and fast can sometimes fail if the bullet fails to do the trick of imparting all that kinetic energy through expansion. So there's a simplicity advantage to big and slow. Historical evidence from the wholesale slaughter of the bison tells us a heavy 45 caliber bullet will kill a mighty big animal. I don't know that I would want to shoot a bison with my 257 Weatherby and a 90 grain GMX, but I would be much more willing to do so with my 444 Marlin and a 300 grain cast bullet.

On the other hand, last year I shot a doe at a measured 349 yards. I know I don't have the skills to calculate the considerable holdover needed to lob a slow mover across to the next hillside. With the 257 I just held dead on and the laser beam trajectory of a 3600 fps bullet meant it still landed in the vitals.

There are two distinct types of hunting on my farm: 75 yards visibility in the the deep woods or hillside to hillside sniping in the cleared pasture areas. For the deep woods you are likely to catch me with a 358 Winchester or 444 Marlin loaded with cast lead. For the pastures it will be a 257 Weatherby or 270 Win.

Horses for courses.
Broken body parts are what kills game, and that means deeper penetration.

Back in black powder days all loads were essentially the same speed. The only way to increase a bullets penetration was to go heavier. The only way to make a round ball heavier, was to make it larger in diameter.

When gun makers figured out how to make conical bullets they could make them heavier by keeping the same diameter and making them longer. This placed all the weight in a smaller area and really increased penetration and bullets effectiveness. I'm not convinced that bullet diameter is all that important. It is just easier to get heavier bullets the larger you go in diameter. You can only make a bullet so long.

The invention of smokeless powder meant much faster speeds were possible.

Ever since smokeless powder became the norm calibers have gradually gotten smaller, but early bullet technology couldn't take advantage of the speed. Early small fast bullets worked fine on smaller game, but would often fall apart before adequate penetration was reached on larger game.That problem was largely solved by the 1940's, and bullets have only gotten better over the years. But hunters and shooters are a very traditional bunch and are often slow to accept new technology. Many guys today are still trying to solve 21st century problems with 1800's science and technology.

Large slow bullets work just as well as ever. The momentum of the heavier bullets will give good penetration to drive deep to vitals. What many fail to understand is that todays better small light bullets no longer break up and will penetrate just as deep and cause just as much damage. And do it with far flatter trajectory and less recoil. A modern 243 will do the damage of a 1920's era 30-06 load.

Both methods work just fine. Large and heavy works with old school technology, but with increased recoil and arched trajectory. Small and fast works just as well, but depends on modern technology and bullets that in rare cases fail to work as designed. Or are misused by shooters who don't fully understand how they are designed to work.

I'm not convinced the hydrostatic shock actually "kills" any faster with light fast bullets. I believe the shock may well stun an animal and cause it to drop to the ground faster, But don't think it dies any sooner. It is the effects of the internal damage that kills it.
If you get more lbs of energy on an animal with the S&F why would you want something big and slow.
I think you have gotten your answers already, but if you are going to eat what you shoot there is significantly less meat wasted with big and slow.
Why would anyone limit themselves to a choice of either one or the other when you can have both choices available with a .30-06?:D
From a home defense perspective, there are many benefits to light-and-fast (and trajectory isn't even one of them):
  • Higher capacity
  • Lower recoil (faster follow-up shots and easier on the shoulder)
  • Less likely to overpenetrate through walls
Many here ignore the vast difference in wounds between slow and velocity expanding bullets. Hydrostatic shock or cavitation destroys much more tissue it can cause more damage to the cns. Shock radiates from the wound cavity instead of being confined to the wound channel and a small area close around it. This is a very well established fact. Those that only believe in penetration without radial damage do not shoot many critters with different guns and have no knowledge of accredited studies for over 100 years. A lot is said that has no basis in unbiased science. But if it works for you fine. Every type of animal has been killed with the old Black powder before high velocity was invented.
I started out shooting deer with a 30-30 because its what I could afford. I used 170 grain bullets to take 16 deer.After 25 years I was offered a deal on a friends Model 70 in .243.I've taken about 50 with it.Heaviest deer with both rifles were about 150 lbs.I had deer that dropped with both rifles.But I have had a higher percentage of drop on the spot kills with the .243.
I like either approach, but the small/fast at short ranges in the woods where I'm hunting now seems un-necessary. .30-30s are more popular around here than .30-06s, hands down! I kinda like my 50 caliber Wolf 209 primed front stuffer. It kills like lightening under 100 yards putting up big numbers, 385 grain bullet at over 1800 fps and it's very accurate.

First deer I ever killed 50 years ago was done with a .257 Roberts and, truth be told, it's all I really ever needed, though I own other rifles. I shot one this year, with it, 50 years after the first. Did it just for the anniversary. :D Shot was 50 yards with a 100 grain Sierra game king to the shoulder, muzzle velocity 3150 fps. DRT, just like the big 50.

Six of one, half dozen of the other. Use what floats your boat....I do. :D
Thanks guys, some of these were very good answers: I appreciate the thoughtful responses.

I have both, but for the most part like my S&F because I don't take enough time/money to get good with my 45-70 for longer than MPBR shots. I take it that my lack of skill is my fault not the caliber/rifle.

The main reason I started this thread was because I've read (I'm sure you have too) posts that believe in some mojo in the B&S rounds that doesn't exist in the S&F. No one here seemed to put that, so I'll just stick with the common sense approach here. I guess we've all got our favorite beliefs in the mojo of our favorite round. Kinda like the .357 mag is the greatest pistol round of all time in every situation ;).

Thanks again,
They all kill deer but I like to manage risk a little.

A lot of our shooting can be in very heavy brush to limit the effect of deflection slow and heavy has the edge. A lot of the bush shooting is sub 150yds so trajectory simply is not an issue.

I watch the boys with their .243's and .270 throwing more meat away than me, and as we pay for every thing we shoot the cost and time taken to butcher damaged meat is for me not worth it. We also pay full price for everything wounded and not recovered.

Some African antelope are notoriously tough and penetration is key.

I also like the knowledge that if the animal moves at the last minute and puts some heavy bone in the bullet path that I can smash through that as well and then get into the chest cavity.

It is also my personal experience that loads not at the max are more accurate in my rifles. Every time I have pushed the limit I tend to be all over the place the only exception is my .375 which is close to maxed out.
"Big & Slow" and "Small & Fast" as stand alone terms have no meaning whatsoever if we are not taking in consideration bullet construction, shape, SD and energy.

Mostly B&S and S&F are matter of opinion and preference too often with no real scientific/technical backing.

Hydrostatic shock has never been scientifically proven without doubt to contribute to quick death, small local hydrostatic shocks (and only in very high velocity rounds) have been observed, how they contributed to lethality is a very open question.

As we said in another thread before the only undisputable facts is that bullets kill destroying tissue along their path and penetrating enough to reach vital organs. The contributing factors are, bullet diameter, velocity/energy, bullet sectional density, shape and construction, all the rest is speculation.

Speed kills more indeed, all else being equal...nobody is going to dispute that a modern 45-70 loading at 2000 fps is more lethal than its original BP counterpart at 1300 fps, the first is considered a decent Arican load the second is not.

The real equation and question to think about is, when you fire a "big and slow" bullet compared to the "small and fast" in a specific scenario is what bullet is going to destroy more tissue and penetrate the most, the one that does that is the most lethal indeed.

So in that specific scenario if the small and fast bullet is going to espand to a larger diameter (sectional density constantly changes when a bullet expands) than the bigger pill and penetrates more, technically the small and fast is more lethal, period.

That said, finally, every shot at an animal is different and odd things happen sometimes.
RE hydrostatic shock: What about blunt trauma to the chest? There's no hole and no blood... just a bruised and damaged nonfunctional heart.

What about severe trauma to the brain, i.g. concussion resulting in death? No hole and no blood... just bruised and nonfunctional brain.

Kidnies... lungs... liver...
As has been pointed out tissue destruction is what makes the kill. You have to get a slug through to vital organs period. A big slug makes a big hole if of proper design. A flat nose, or, a bullet that expands a bit is a devastaing projectile. However, a large slow moving round nose that is too slow to expand doesn't do as much damage. Contrary to popular belief even fairly slow moving bullets cause some hydrostatic shock. Below a certain speed this goes away. Light and fast does cause more damage due to speed. Going too light can be a problem. Just because you can drive a 100 grain bullet out of a 30/06 at 3300 fps doesn't mean it is good for much. Even if made to big game standards it still will not penatrate very well due to lack of sectional density. The point of my ramblings is that you have to get a hole through something the animal can't live without. How you do it is up to you. Between family, friends, and personnel experiance I have seen or heard about several hundred big game animals being taken. All kinds of different calibers and slugs have been used. From this I have determined the old saying " it's where you hit them , not what you hit them with, that counts" is very true.
A slow-moving knife or other stabbing instrument penetrates and a fast-moving hammer smashes and bruises vitals. Finding an effective balance is all that matters. IMO, something that penetrates "nearly" all the way through and explodes the vitals during its journey (the innards between the usable meat) is the ultimate.
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