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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

One Man's Passion for the .220 Swift Cartridge

I just finished reading a book loaned to me by a buddy, Dana Gould of Dayton, PA, titled One Man's Passion for the .220 Swift Cartridge by Vincent Dougherty. Here's a hunter who decided early in his life to shoot everything with that flat-shooting, high-speed, small-caliber cartridge. His book is full of lessons, and one of the lessons is that the smaller the cartridge you use on big game, the more you need to know what your bullet is doing when it impacts and penetrates the animal. This 570-page book on the .220 Swift probably represents more knowledge of a single cartridge than any book on any cartridge. If you're a small caliber shooter, you need to make it your own.

Many people say the only secret to killing big game animals is shot placement. Although I most certainly do not minimize shot placement (nor does Dougherty), I've never bought into that view. While shot placement is of utmost importance, it's definitely not the only thing that matters. Dougherty has killed everything from woodchucks to elephants with the .220 Swift, and if anyone should know about shot placement, he should. He does indeed believe shot placement is critically important, but shooting big game is about more than shot placement. Take it from Dougherty, on page 271:

"Yes, a lot of my success with the .220 Swift was the result of pretty good shot placement. But when folks visit our place and see the trophy rooms, it always kind of stirs me when, after hearing that I've taken all these fine animal trophies with a .220 Swift, the next comment is usually, "You must have placed your shots perfect." Often I just don't know what to say. Should I be sarcastic and say, 'Yeah, I always make a perfect shot — never miss or screw up.' I never do that — mainly because mostly these folks are nice, well-meaning people, but also because it isn't true."

Experienced hunters understand that every shot is different, and will have a margin of error. We're not always shooting at relaxed animals that give us the perfect shot. Slam-dunk shots don't come along very often — and even if we could depend on them most of the time human error will come into play sooner or later. So no one always makes the perfect shot. Dougherty is one expert in shots at a wide variety of game who admits that. (And he has taken a wider variety of shots at a wider variety of game using a small caliber cartridge than anyone who will read this.)

Even aside from margin for error, shooting at game is not just about shot placement. It's also about bullet weight and construction, too. And terminal ballistics. Would he use the .220 Swift on a hippopotamus? Yes. But would perfect shot placement of the 55-grain bullet commonly used in the Swift do the job? Theoretically it might, but shooting at live game is not the world of theory so Dougherty wouldn't take the chance. He he tried to leave nothing to error, so he chose bullets that will do the best job possible from the .22 caliber cartridge. He shot hippos and cape buffalo with an 80-grain JLK bullet. He shot an African lion and an eland with a 75-grain Scirocco bullet. He shot an elephant with a 70-grain solid bullet. He knows the .220 Swift, and he knows how to use it.

"Beware the man with one gun," as the saying goes. Here's a guy who kills everything with one gun (one cartridge platform anyway), and even he doesn't endorse shot placement as the only thing needed to kill any animal. Why? Because he's realistic. He's human, he knows it, and he understands that he is going to "screw up" once in a while. Attend any shooting competition and you'll quickly learn that the most expert shot sometimes messes up. When competition shooters mess up shooting at stationary targets with steady rests and plenty of time to shoot, certainly every hunter also does.

Screwing up may be a failure to know the animal's anatomy. It may be a misjudgment of the animal's posture, and how that positions his internal vital organs. It may be a refusal of the animal to give you the shot you want. So enough with "shot placement" as though it's the only thing that matters. No one ever makes a perfect shot every time, not even the hundred or two social media posters who always point to shot placement as though it should end every discussion about how to kill an animal.

Vincent Dougherty has hunted all over the world. He knows the risks of shooting the world's biggest critters with a small caliber cartridge. And he knows the rewards. He's a man with more experience than most of us ever will get. So if you can't take my word on the viewpoint that shot placement is not the only thing that matters, take his.

Or, go ahead and take your own word, but be honest. Would you shoot a moose with a .22 Hornet? Could you? Yes. But would you? I don't think so. If killing game animals was only about shot placement, and no hunter ever failed on the issue of shot placement, we wouldn't have dozens of different cartridges in the deer woods. A little .224 diameter bullet would be plenty.

If you're interested in Dougherty and what he has accomplished, a great starting point is the store he owns, Longshot Ammo & Arms at 660 Longview Road, Fairmount City, PA (in Clarion County, just up Route 28 from New Bethlehem). It's one of the most impressive shops I've been in and it's worth a visit. One room in his store is a museum that holds much of his collection of the animals he has taken with the .220 Swift. While you're there, pick up a copy of Dougherty's book, One Man's Passion for the .220 Swift Cartridge: Hunting Big Game Around the World.

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