High-Velocity Shooting: Pros and Cons

With every decade, cartridges get bigger and muzzle velocities get higher. Maybe it’s time to ask why. Now it’s true … Continued

High Velocity Shooting: Pros and Cons
High velocity is an advantage when shooting at very long distances, but there are plenty of downsides, too. photo from Windigo Images

With every decade, cartridges get bigger and muzzle velocities get higher. Maybe it’s time to ask why.

Now it’s true that you can kill a tiger with a .22 Long Rifle (and I will come to visit you in prison), but it is a stunt. High velocity by itself does not kill anything faster than standard velocity.

I started out believing devoutly in lots of speed, but 40 years later, having shot creatures of all sizes with just about everything that goes bang, I’ve never been able to find any correlation between bullet speed and sudden animal demise.For 15 years, I hunted whitetails in South Carolina, where you can shoot lots and lots of deer, so I had the ability to draw some valid comparisons. The smallest cartridge I used was the .257 Roberts; in other years I used the .270 Winchester, .257 Weatherby, and 7mm Weatherby. None of them killed anything any faster or deader than any other cartridge.

Same with the .338, .340 Weatherby, and .338 Remington Ultra Magnum, all of which I have used a lot. The latter two give anywhere from 250 to 300 fps more than the former, which is a bunch, but the beasts do not go down any quicker. In addition, consider the following:


A high-velocity-loaded rifle can generate 28 to 40 foot-pounds of recoil, which is tolerable only to experienced shooters and the criminally insane. In addition, muzzle blast also rises proportionately.


When you get bullets traveling at 3,000 fps and more (sometimes way more), even the strongest and slowest-expanding of them makes a mess of whatever it hits unless the shot is long enough to let some of the velocity drain off. If you like wild meat and are disturbed by the waste of same, it is a problem.

Barrel Life

It’s considerably shorter for the super-speed than it is for standard-velocity loads. A well-cared-for .30/06 (60 grains of powder per cartridge) will give you about 5,000 rounds of first-class accuracy. Any of the super .30s (80 grains of powder) will get perhaps 1,500 before they start to deteriorate. This gets expensive fast.

Okay, so why does velocity keep getting higher and horrific super loads keep appearing? Because nothing makes hitting at long distances easier than a good dose of feet per second. If you think you will ever need to take a shot at 300 yards and more, high velocity is your very best friend.

However, it’s also the case that speed alone will not solve all your problems in hitting at long range. You also need resistance to wind drift and momentum, or the ability to sustain velocity way out there. The way you get it is by going not to light bullets that give the highest initial velocity, but to the heavier slugs in a given caliber, and to bullets that are streamlined.

For example, if you have a 7mm Magnum, you want 160-grain bullets in preference to 140- or 150-grain. If your rifle is one of the real 7mm monsters, you may find that 175-grainers are the way to go. In .30 caliber, look for nothing lighter than 180-grain, and so on. As for bullets, you want sharp points (preferably polycarbonate) and boattails, both of which increase a slug’s ballistic coefficient.

The truth about high velocity is that it is a mixed blessing. But when your target is a dot in the distance, it is the deadliest thing since cholera.