A 270 Winchester whitetail hunt about eight years ago reinforced my opinion that knockdown energy is not what it’s cracked up to be.
This Nebraska buck took a pair of 130-grain Power Max bonded bullets to the heart and kept on rutting. Here’s how it happened…
The 270 Winchester Whitetail Defends His Doe
We were filming for Winchester World of Whitetail (You can watch the episode here) on a cold, mid-November morning. The Niobrara River slipped and hissed over its wide beds of sand a quarter mile north of the sandhills on Laughing Water Ranch. Blocks and ribbons of red cedar and deciduous woods intersected grain and alfalfa fields. Optimum whitetail habitat. We were seeing bucks nosing and chasing does, including one heavily antlered specimen that, in the dim dawn light, showed promise. He appeared to be focused on one comely doe. We went after him.
As the videographer and I stalked and crawled around the cedars to close the gap, a smaller buck walked toward the big one’s doe. The videographer couldn’t set up in time to capture this action, but it explains the subsequent behavior of the buck I shot. As the deer, ears back, hair flared, played their ancient roles upon the autumn stage, I cleared the branches and arranged myself behind a Bogpod tripod rest. Steady as she goes. The rangefinder showed 370 yards, but our target buck is coming closer, clearly focused on walking his competition out of his intentions.
270 Winchester Whitetail Blames Another Buck for Heart Shot
By the time the smaller buck retreats, the big one is at 330 yards. When he turns his full attention back to the doe, it is time to shoot. I hold the Bushnell scope reticle about 6 inches above the heart to compensate for the Power Max bullet’s drop at that range. When the Mossberg 4×4 rifle barks, 1,500 foot-pounds of kinetic energy slam into the buck. His hide ripples. He jumps forward, spins around, head down, antlers sweeping as if fending off an attack.
“Did you see that?” I stage whisper to the videographer.
“Yeah! He thought that other buck sneaked up and hit him!”
“Exactly what it looks like!”
“Better shoot him again.”
Here’s a part the video doesn’t show because, I’m guessing, the producers did not want to show the need for a second shot. (As host of the show I did not have creative control over what footage hit the cutting room floor.) Maybe the producers were being sensitive to the audience, maybe to Winchester, wanting to show its ammunition as one-and-done deadly. I understand this, but reality is often quite different from “reality” TV. A rifle, cartridge, and bullet can perform perfectly. Deer, however, are unpredictable.
So, when this one, energized and high on testosterone, yet already heart shot, turns back toward that doe, I shoot again, same hold as the first shot. Another 1,500 foot-pounds plows through his vitals, but he does not fall, does not stumble, tip, or waver. This buck will not be distracted from Nature’s mandate to pass his genetics to another generation of Nebraska whitetails.
For several seconds after that hit the buck continues walking, determined to catch up to the doe. I wish I had the original video to count elapsed time from the first shot to the buck falling. I’m guessing it was ten, perhaps as many as 20 seconds. Regardless the exact number, when he runs out of gas, he wobbles, spins, and falls as millions of heart-shot whitetails had done before him. That fall is what the producers jumped to in the finished show.
Post mortem showed two holes through the heart three inches apart, top to bottom.
Moral of the Story…
Moral of the story: don’t expect perfectly heart-shot deer to collapse on the spot. It sometimes happens, but usually doesn’t. The heart’s job is to pump oxygenated blood to the brain to keep essential cells alive. Those cells can survive for about 10 minutes without this renewal. But when hemorrhaging causes blood pressure to drop, the struck animal loses consciousness. That’s the stumbling we usually see as hit deer flee.
“Knockdown power” is more about where the bullet lands than how many foot-pounds of kinetic energy it is carrying when it gets there.
The author has shot whitetails with everything from 22-250 Remingtons to 50-caliber muzzleloaders. None has exhibited consistent “knockdown power.” Tissue tearing and hemorrhaging are what do the trick.