The Myth of “Knockdown Power”

Shot animals go down from lack of oxygen to the brain or damage to the spine, not from bullet impact.

I had an interesting and reasonably testy exchange with someone recently who claimed that his .300 Winchester Magnum, loaded with bullets that I’d recommended, didn’t “wallop” African game the way he liked. He had to shoot multiple times, and nothing dropped in its tracks. But on the other hand, every critter expired, and he didn’t lose a one.

I told him that you don’t wallop anything in Africa, or here for that matter; that animals go down from lack of oxygen to the brain or damage to the spine, and not from bullet impact. Here are a couple of cases in point:

The first day of a safari, your PH will say something like: “Let’s go collect an animal for dinner, bwana.” But what he’s really saying is, Let’s see how well you can shoot. This is your debut, and how the safari is conducted will depend largely on how competent or otherwise you prove yourself to be.

So in 1987, in Zambia, I had a PH named Abie DuPloy, and we went through this drill, and presently came on a herd of puku, which are stocky, tough antelopes that weigh about 400 pounds. I was shooting a .338, which has plenty of wallop, whatever that is, and put the crosshairs on an attractive bull and pulled the trigger.

I hit her right in the lungs with 2 1/2 tons of bullet energy, and she did a mad dash for 100 yards before piling up. Was she walloped? Probably not.

We heard the bullet hit, but the bull showed no interest in the proceedings at all, and the herd closed in around him, so I couldn’t shoot again. Abie and the trackers gave me the hairy eyeball, and I sat there sweating, wondering how the hell I had missed when I was sure it was a good shot.

Five minutes went by—I timed it on my watch—and then the bull shivered and collapsed, deader than truth in government. He was shot right through the shoulders, dead on his feet, and no sign of it. Was he walloped? Probably not.

On that same trip I shot a zebra at 75 yards with a .458, shooting the old Bear Claw 510-grain bullets. I hit her right in the lungs with 2 1/2 tons of bullet energy, and she did a mad dash for 100 yards before piling up. Was she walloped? Probably not.