Meditations on Big-Game Hunting

The .458 Lott (right) beside the perennially popular .416 Rigby. When it comes to hammering dangerous game, almost nothing beats the .458’s 500-grain bullet. We say “almost” because presumably Zeus has some lightning bolts in reserve.

by David E. Petzal

For something like three decades, every summer I would go and visit for a long weekend with Jim Carmichel. We would swap lies, swat flies, shoot groundhogs, and admire his gun collection which, trust me, was worth admiring. One year, he had a sheep hunt coming up shortly, and I asked him which rifle he planned to use. 

“Whatever I’ve loaded ammo for,” he said. That was the end of the discussion. He ended up taking his Clayton Nelson-stocked .280 and killed a sheep with it. Jim had long previously discovered the first truth about successfully shooting animals, which is:

Any real difference in cartridges, on game, exists only in in gun writer copy or your fevered imagination.

In 50 or so years of writing about guns and hunting, I have fervently looked for some sort of magic among our kaleidoscope of cartridges, and come up with almost nothing. Bullets, yes. I’ve come across a fair number of genuinely rotten bullets, and a handful that are superb. But cartridges? Go away. Leave me alone.


Tough bullets are better than squishy bullets.

Above all things, you want penetration. If your bullet comes apart, you better know how to track.


Premium bullets are worth the money. 

If you would like to see your PH’s care-worn face light up with joy, tell him you’re shooting Swift A-Frames. 


Disregarding my earlier precept, the .338 is the most effective big game cartridge I’ve ever used.