A fairly common gun regulation that’s much less of a political talking point is the .24 caliber/1,000 ft-lb minimum for hunting cartridges. It’s imposed on big game hunting, meaning that a person can’t hunt certain animals using a firearm of less than .24 caliber (6mm) or with a cartridge with less than 1,000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.
In other words, a number of states say you can’t use your .223/5.56 chambered AR to hunt.
The laws vary by state; some impose the .24 caliber minimum, others the 1,000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and some – Colorado for instance – impose both. The nature of the caliber minimum also varies by state. Some impose it as a hard floor for pretty much anything larger than a coyote, and others are a little more flexible.
For instance, my home state of Washington imposes a .24 caliber minimum on all big game except “predators,” meaning coyotes and mountain lions, which can be hunted with centerfire cartridges no smaller than .22 caliber. Wyoming, by contrast, allows use of .22 caliber bullets that are at least two inches in overall length (meaning centerfire cartridges) with a 60-grain projectile for deer, antelope, mountain lions and gray wolves. All others require use of a .243 or bigger.
And so on and so forth.
The idea behind these regulations is ensuring an ethical harvest of an animal at distances where a modern rifle or hunting with a handgun would be employed, meaning beyond 100 yards or so. It’s felt that somewhere between 1,000 to 1,200 ft-lbs of energy is needed to reliably put down a deer-sized target.
Coyotes and mountain lions are smaller than deer and thus warrant a bit less consideration in this regard.
Granted, that doesn’t stop states that have those restrictions from having muzzleloader and archery seasons. Neither generates 1,000 ft-lbs of energy, though both require shots be taken at close range rather than at the sort of distances someone uses a rifle at. Additionally, these states don’t regulate shooting distance, as any rifle round will eventually dip below the 1,000 ft-lb minimum. How long that takes depends on the round in question; the traditional hunting bullets (.308, .270, 7mm Magnum, .30-06) usually don’t fall below it until 500 or more yards, depending.
Whether it’s necessary or not…is something of a sticky wicket, especially among the hunting crowd. Some think that the .24 caliber minimum is absolutely necessary, since marginal shot placement can result in mere wounding with a smaller bullet. Others, however, believe that the .223 is more capable than people give it credit for if used by someone who knows where to place it.
Hunting ethics have been undergoing some shifts in recent years. Ask a rifle hunter from 10 or 15 years ago about shooting at an animal at more than 400 yards and they’d tell you it was not only unethical, but irresponsible. Today, some guides bring shooting sleds for clients to take shots at animals at ranges of 500 yards or more. Whether that’s fair chase or not…well, that’s up to brighter minds.
What do you think though? Should there be caliber minimums? It it a reasonable matter of hunting ethics? Or is this all for the Fudds to work out while lounging around in their un-tacticool Buffalo plaid?