Thursday, July 24, 2014

Will Ohio's deer hunters embrace the new straight-walled rifle caliber option?

With an ever-swelling quiver of weaponry being made available, Ohio's deer hunters will have unparalleled options to choose from this autumn.

Whether these hunters will eagerly embrace going afield with a rifle firing one of 27 different strait-walled cartridges or head out with a handgun, use a crossbow/longbow/compound bow, a muzzleloading rifle or stick with a tried-and-true slug-firing shotgun remains an unanswered deer-camp question.

Yet letting history be something of a guide, few of these hunters will heft a handgun and fewer still will succeed using some form archery tackle, let alone spending hundreds of dollars for a high-power rifle to add to their stock-in-trade.

And statistics is what properly fuels how the agency's deer-management program and its sub-routines function. Just ask the Wildlife Division's officials whose job it is to make the tough decisions.

As it stands, the 2013 general firearms deer-hunting season saw only 277 deer killed by longbows, 483 with crossbows, and 805 with handguns. Even muzzle-loading rifles accounted for just 11,093 deer shot during the 2013 general firearms deer-hunting season.

That leaves the bulk of that season's deer popped by the use of shotguns, be they firing the old-style Foster-type rifled slugs or the much more popular sabot-encasing slugs. This form of projectile accounted for 62,750 deer, says Mike Tonkovich, the Wildlife Division's deer management administrator.

So whether or not Ohio's newly approved adoption of the designated set of 
straight-walled rifle calibers will send more state resident hunters into the field, such is not likely to occur, says Tonkovich.
“There is a mountain of data that strongly suggests hunters will simply swap out one implement for another; a 'this for that,' exchange,” Tonkovich says.

As to if the addition of allowing straight-walled rifle cartridges will prick the interest of non-residents who otherwise took a pass on hunting Ohio because of its shotgun rule, “that's a great question but not an easy one to answer,” Tonkovich also says.

Bolstering his belief that non-residents probably won't plant their deer-hunting flag in Ohio simply because of expanded firearms usage opportunities, fully 60 percent do so during the state's archery deer-hunting season, says Tonkovich.

Consequently, the minority of Ohio's non-resident deer hunters are afield during either the statewide muzzle-loading season or else the general statewide firearms deer-hunting season.

Thus, Tonkovich simply does not see a legion of non-residents coming here because Ohio will allow the use of a couple dozen straight-walled rifle calibers. 
Some of which, by-the-way,  are so obscure that one may wonder how long they've been laid to rest in the graveyard of blackpowder rifle caliber history. Among the approved calibers that leave some dedicated gun cranks scratching their heads are the .45-110, the .50-70 and the .50-90.
Of course some oldies remain goodies. With modern-era rifles being crafted from 
modern-era metals capable of handling more robust smokeless powders, several of these gray-beard calibers take a back seat to no one.

Take the .45-70 as one such example. Early handicapping suggests this caliber may very will be the most popular straight-walled caliber seen afield this coming firearms deer-hunting season. Surprising in no small measure given that the .45-70 was adopted by the federal government way back in 1866.

And this caliber has undergone some considerable tweaking. The Hornady LeverRevolution brand is a perfect illustration of such an enhancement. This particular brand includes a 325-grain bullet whose pointed snout is plastic (the better to be used in tubular magazines).

At 100 yards a .45-70 LeverRevolution cartridge has a speed of 1,729 feet per second and arm-wrestles with 2,158 foot pounds of energy. Out to 200 yards and those figures are 1,450 and 1,516, respectively.

Even the LeverRevolution's .45-70 product drops only 4.10 inches at 200 yards.

But the .45-70 must share the podium with several modern-era calibers. The .500 Smith and Wesson, the .478 Linebaugh each possess impressive ballistics.

Still, the statistics generated by the ever-evolving stable of sabot rifled slugs available today in every shotgun gauge from the 12 on down to the .410 are nothing to sneeze at either.

A shotgun slug's high weight retention, speed and energy (Hornady's popular 12-gauge SST's 100-yard ballistics of 1,641 feet per second and 1,793 foot-pounds of energy) all rival or sometimes can exceed those provided by the approved straight-walled rifle calibers.

Neither are the bullets launched from today's muzzle-loading rifles any kind of wall flower when it comes to whacking a deer.

Fueled with 150 grains of TripleSeven blackpowder substitute, PowerBelt's .50-caliber, 270-grain Platinum Aero-Lite bullet is still traveling 1,828 feet per second at 100 yards with 1,855 foot pounds of energy.

So who likely will and who likely won't convert from the knowns of shotgun/muzzle-loaders for the unknowns of straight-walled rifle cartridges?

Depends on who you ask, even within the hierarchy of the Wildlife Division.

No, I don't believe I will,” said Scott Zody, the Wildlife Division's chief when asked if he plans to buy and use a rifle chambered for one of the approved straight-walled calibers.

Instead, Zody says he'll stick with his muzzle-loading rifle, even during the state's general firearms deer-hunting season.

Not needing to reconsider is Tom Rowan, one of the Wildlife Division's assistant chiefs.

A gun crank of the highest order, Rowan was a component of the group that rifled through the maze of potential calibers to come up with the current assembly of approved picks.

Among other partners in the caliber selection process were members associated with the Buckeye Firearms Association and members of the Cowboy Action community; each person seeming to have a rational reason for suggesting a caliber or two.

I want to harvest my first Ohio deer with a rifle by using my .38-55,” Rowan said, adding that particular chambering is found in a commemorative lever-action firearm he owns.

Although Rowan's admits that while his caliber of choice is a bit outside the orbit of more commonly known and approved straight-walled versions, several others are not. Beside the .45-70 other likely popular calibers very well may include the .44 Magnum and two of the list's true heavyweights: The .375 Winchester and the .444 Marlin, says Rowan.

I really think you'll also see a lot of .357 Magnums being used by kids during the youth-only gun season,” Rowan said. “If shots are kept to around 50 yards several of the smaller approved calibers will get the job done.”

As to whether hunters who will go afield with a particular form of rifle, Rowan believes that lever-action rifles will dominate. That is a belief typically shared by firearms dealers I contacted in an informal poll.

Virtually to a dealer these business people said they're seeing an increased interest by potential buyers for a rifle though almost to a person those inquiries are for lever-action rifles.

Sadly then while my newly acquired .45-70 H&R Buffalo Classic and its old-timey style of peep and globe sighting system stands tall in the accuracy department, I appear to be largely alone in my selection of a single-shot rifle.

Even so, the last volley regarding what possible other straight-walled calibers will find approval has yet to be heard. It is more than plausible the list may see growth in the years ahead, said Rowan.

Leaping ahead into the unknown, is the speculation that allowing AR-style semi-automatic rifles chambered in equally powerful straight-walled calibers;  well, one step at a time, says Rowan.

We have to move conservatively,” Rowan said, deflecting for now the question as to whether Black Rifles will one day find their way into Ohio's deer-hunting woods.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.


  1. I hope they approve the Winchester 351 SL and the 401 SL. Two classics.

  2. Think outside the case. Are we concerned about the longer range of so-called "high powered" rifles? How about an "almost" straight-walled cartridge, like the .35 Remington? That one packs a good wallop for the game, but certainly poses no more danger to surroundings than the .45-70 or the .444 Marlin. Just a thought.

    1. I agree, the 35 rem. is one of the best deer calibers for deer at close ranges ever. Because of its case capacity it cannot be suped up. It certainly would bring more hunters into the woods

  3. I vote for an "almost" straight-walled cartridge, the .35 Remington. It has ballistics more comparable to a .44 than a .45-70, IIRC. Except for teaching the game wardens how to spot what's okay and what's not, there is no good reason to exclude it, and probably others with not-quite-flat brass.

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