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December 29, 2008

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Petzal: The Problem With Guesswork

I’ve written before that the only ballistic information you can believe is what comes out of your barrel and hits your targets. This was driven home yet again last week when I ran some drop tests on my beloved 6.5x55 New Ultra Light Arms rifle. I use two loads in it: the first is Norma factory rounds firing 156-grain Oryx bullets at 2,508 fps; the second is a handload that shoots the sensuous, attractive 130-grain Swift Scirocco at 2,750. I sight in the Oryx loads  (of which I am fond because they don’t punch dinner-plate-sized holes through 90-pound deer) to hit 1.5 inches high at 100 yards; this is fine for 90 percent of the shots you get at whitetails. The Swifts print 3 inches high, and if I think I may get a long shot I use those.

However, until last week I was relying on guesswork to figure how much the two slugs actually dropped, so I went to the range and found out. The Scirocco was no surprise; it dropped 7 inches below the point of aim at 300 yards. The surprise was the Oryx. I first tried it at 200 yards, and it dropped only 2 inches below the point of aim which is odd because it has a low ballistic coeficcient, not much velocity, and is zeroed pretty low.

“What ho,” thinks I, “maybe I can use this sumbitch at 300 yards,” so I tried it, and it fell off the paper. Going by the holes in the backstop, the Oryxes dropped 17 inches from the point of aim, which means it is a dandy 200-yard bullet, but no farther. 

So now I know, rather than assume, and there is a world of difference between the two.


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Happy New Year Dave. May the Angel of Accuracy visit your gun room and bless your firearms with first shot hits.


news tip - I've located the happy hunting ground and it is only 2 miles from my house - Shawnee Mission Park in Shawnee/Lenexa Kansas. This 1200 acre park is home to nearly 400 deer, most of which will let you walk within 20 yards of them:


even more amazingly, this park has put a spell on newspaper editorialists. It has infected them with a new found bloodlust which causes them to encourage people to kill some deer:



Hope you had a merry Christams Mr. Petzal. I certainly did.

Completely off the topic of this blog entry, but I would like to tell a cautionary tale. About eleven days ago I had my wisdom teeth taken out. Being an avid deer hunter I was not about to let this keep me from spending my Christmas break hunting. On this past Friday I climbed down from my stand about thirty minutes after dark and loaded everything up in the golf cart I had parked about two hundred yards away. The cart has a rack in the back, but somehow my rifle got bumped out, and crashed hard on the ground. Everything was appeared fine, but I was sure that the scope was probably at least a little off now. So this past Saturday I decide I need to at least shoot it a couple of times to make sure it is still on.

I set up a portable bench and made a makeshift target out of a political sign. The first shot just about split the cut- stiches and all- completely open. Blood was all over the place. Now I may have to have new stiches put in. It has also caused a lot of pain as one might expect.

So now I'm in pain, my relatively new Zeiss scope and stainless steel barrel both have blood on them, and I feel like a complete f'in idiot for thinking I was ready to shoot a rifle. Don't be stupid, if you've recently had surgery-no matter how minor-don't shoot until you are completely healed. It's just not worth it.

BTW, this was with a fairly mild round, the 7mm/08 (which is, in my mind, a near perfect round for whitetail deer in my area of the country).

Dave Petzal

To alabamahunter: My finest moment with a rifle came in 1988 as the result of shooting right after surgery. However, the story is so gross that I doubt I can tell it even here. By the way, the 7mm/08 is a perfect whitetail round in any part of the country.

Dr. Ralph

Dave you really are a masochist aren't you? The "I took the muzzlebreak off my Weatherby 30-378 just to see how hard it kicked" was the first clue. Hope your surgery was sans anesthesiologist just so you could enjoy it. So do those 6.5X55 Norma's exit the deer? My 7X57's have not yet made an exit wound but have dropped every deer.

I sight my rifle in for whatever round I am using dead on at 100 and then shoot it at 25,50,75 yards at clay pigeons. If I don't see what the weapon can do I don't know what the weapon can do. Assuming is for.... well I guess everyone knows. ASS/U/ME...

Walt Smith

If you're shooting 90 pound deer couldn't you honestly get away with a 22Hornet or maybe a massive .222?

Jim in Mo

I wish the range I go to would be set up with a chronograph dedicated to one booth where shooters would pay an extra deposit if they hit the skyscreen, and let them test their rifles with factory loads or their pet handloads. I'll bet alot of guys would be quite surprised at the reality of things.


Dave, as they say...once it leaves the barrel everything is out of your control.....
alabama hunter, I have fond memories stalking in hardwoods next to the Alabama River with a Rem Model 7 7-08 it is a very handy rifle


I wish I had land to hunt towards the Alabama River. The black belt produces some huge deer. The land we own is about a mile from the Tallapoosa River. Some fertile soil, but not exactly the black belt.

The Man

Thanks Dave, i wanted a multi tool for cristmas but didnt know what to get. Thanks to your reccomendation in the 20 greatest knives ever I got the leatherman wave. I think it will be a great choice

Del in KS

B isn't kidding about Shawnee Mission park. I have trout fished in the park lake many times and it is lousy with deer. In the summertime you can really see the browse line anywhere there are trees. Wouldn't be much fun to hunt 'cause the deer are semi-tame.


Happy new year to all ,..
May the coin Gods smile on your wallet's and the accuracy elves sprinkle fairy dust on your rifles.
If you have family serving in harms way ,.. a special prayer for their saftey .. and another a prayer to all who are.

As one female I am aquainted with says "she gets all gushy and goey over stuff like diamonds and shoes,. that cost more than my first car.
She is,.. while quite intellegent a rather shallow woman ,. but alas she has other off setting attributes,.(yuk yuk ) so to speak.

I get all gushy and gooey,..
when I here of someone shooting a 6.5 x 55 ,..
or 7 x 57 or 8 x 57 etc etc .
As stated here in earlier
I have predispositon for metric rounds.
Thusly after reading Ralph's responce to Mr Petzals tale of the drop tables vs actual drop .

To witt: My 2 cents

Have a WWII vintage 98,.. Burno Armory.It was still full of cosmoleen ( sp?) when I bought it at Montgomery wards in 1965.
It was new ,..never been fired.
It now wears Italian walnut stock, polihed bolt reworked all over ,.. (my pet thunder stick) in the 8x57,.. it regularly shoots pretty small groups.

I have experianced very similare results to Mr Petzals 156 gr Norma out of 6.5 x 55 ,..with the Norma 196 gr.out of the 8 x 57.
I agree both are two hundred yard rounds,..if Im carefull.
meaning I dont shoot as mch as Mr petzal so i assume he's a better shot.

Did for a while use Norma 159gr ,.
which in my humble opinion is 250 yd round,( maybe a litle more,.. if Im carefull ) but that bullet tears em up so bad its a little believable

So if Im not shooting handloads
I use the heaver (Norma ) ammo ,. they go through ,.. but dont tear em up so much.

Realiziong this sounds just a tad far feched ,. let me assure you a good part of my life has been such.
Not the norm shall we say.
It has been suggested that i actually write a book about my travels especially those "younger years "so to speak ,.. but I would need to wait for a numbr of people to die before I did that YUK YUK

That said in the early 80's in The Baraboo Bluffs in south Central wi
Looking down a rather steep bluff,.. at about 60 yds.
I saw the chance to take two, with one round,.right or wrong something i always wantd to do
( i know, I know ,..never did it again but that time i did ) two medium does ,.
The shot was good and two piled up ,.. what I handnt bargened for was a yearling laying down which I didnt see ,.. the third one ,.. 196 Norma went through two and took the yearling in the neck ,.. looked for the bullet couldnt find it .
We had enough tags ,.but my brothers were less than thrilled.

Cost me a large bottle of some rather pricey "stump blower" and one "h" of a lot of ribbing.

Best to all.


"I wish the range I go to would be set up with a chronograph dedicated to one booth where shooters would pay an extra deposit if they hit the skyscreen, and let them test their rifles with factory loads or their pet handloads. I'll bet alot of guys would be quite surprised at the reality of things."

As much money as we all spend on gear, there is no excuse for not having a $70 chronograph as a reality check. I bought mine this year after finding it on Wal-Mart's Site-to Store website. I got my eyes opened on how much difference there is between the reloading manuals and whats coming out of my barrels. Example: the manual says my mid-range 55GR .223 load should be almost 3000FPS - but out of my 16" AR I'm actually getting 2585FPS. Not a big deal if you're punching paper; major issue if you want to introduce yourself to a feral hog...

$70 well invested.

dale freeman

To Buckstopper & Petzal;
I am a retired 37 yr. Policeman and have hunted all my life.
No telling how many rifles and shotguns has passed thru my gun cabinet(13 at the present) but I have found the sweetest rifle I,ve ever owned.
The Ruger Hawkeye in 7mm-08.
Try it, you'll like it.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and all that too...


I hope a lot of folks read and pass along this post, Senor Petzal! There are simply way too many people hunting out there who really believe they can zero a rifle at 1.5" high at 100 yards, and they're somehow dead on at any number of distances (depending on who you're talking to) from 250 to 400 yards... all based on personal theories about bullet trajectory or whatever it says on the back of the box.

If you've never shot at targets that far, you danged sure shouldn't be shooting at animals that far.

Dr. Ralph

And if you really want a reality check try shooting off hand at 100 yards. I don't think many of us have sand bags in the woods so why is it we always use them at the range? My off hand shooting is done with an old RWS airgun and when I got good with that I was good with everything. You really have to have trigger control to shoot those things. Try it, you'll find yourself dropping squirrels, blackbirds, sparrows and having a good time while you make yourself a much better shot.


Mr. Petzal,
I have been reading some information that S & W has had consistent quality control problems through the past, and their management cannot be trusted to produce a solid firearm. Is this information historically true? I am going to purchase a .357 magnum in the next two weeks and I would love your recommendation or a medium body .357 revolver. Thank you for your help. God Bless and good shooting...


Dr. Ralph I agree with you 100% on the exit wounds.

Jim in Mo

Chet, you didn't ask me but I've owned an S&W J frame Mod 60 for four years and no problems shooting .357's or .38's. I also have an SW Chiefs Special in .40 cal. for eight years, no problems. Also when SW says they have a full liftime warranty they mean it.
If someone has been blowing smoke trying to influence you towards something else I'd ignore them.
BTW, I've had as good a product back-up from Ruger as I've had from SW. Both excellant.


I can't believe Dave mentioned A story that he referred to as his finest moment with a rifle and nobody is trying to pry the story out of him. Come on Dave give us the gory details!

WA Mtnhunter

You didn't ask me either, but I will tell you that I have never had a bit of trouble with any of my S&W wheelguns. I have put thousands of rounds through M-19, M-28, and M-10's. Never a malfunction or wornout piece. Find yourself a like new Model 19 and be happy for a long time. They are discontinued, but still can be had since there are lots on the used market, many in NIB condition.

Happy New Year!

Dave Petzal

To Chet: I haven't heard any complaints about S&W handguns. The most recent one I own is a Model 41 that is, I guess, about five years old, and I've shot the tar out of it without a single problem. On the other hand, if you can find a nice 30- or 40-year old specimen that doesn't cost a fortune, I'd go for that.


Only bad thing I've heard about S&W (other than they wussed out to Clinton and the gun lawsuit crowd) was sideplate screws coming loose while firing, but some removable (Blue) Loc-tite should solve that.

Skip Rood

Good article. I was at a party recently and one BS artist was talking about the new soft-tip ammo for lever rifles with tubular mags and how this revolution in ammunition has turned his 35 Rem into a 300 yard rifle. I must be getting wise in my old age because I just smiled and nodded and kept my mouth shut. Three hundred yards with a 35 Remington! I don't think so.

Jim in Mo

Skip, I have a 35Rem and have shot everything thru it and no it is not a 300yd gun no matter what ammo used unless you like rainbows. The new Hornady ammo does seem to have more velocity than even my handloads but it doesn't seem near as accurate as the normal factory loads.

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