Just as currently there is a fascination with bullet speed, so there is an illogical fad for a light big-bore rifle. When these two elements converge in the same rifle, nothing in the universe could be more ill-contrived and unfriendly.
Light is right for Medium to Big Bores shooting relatively heavy bullets at moderate speeds. Let’s place some boundaries around what’s intended by such an idea: First of all, what is NOT intended would be something like a 7 lb .338 Lapua with a 20-inch ported barrel! Such a contraption would indeed be worthy of the above description: “nothing in the universe could be more ill-contrived and unfriendly”! Well, there might be others, such as a .460 Weatherby with an 18″ barrel that weighs 8 lbs ready to go! You get the drift…
From experience, in a medium bore I’m thinking something like a .35 Whelen sporting a 22-inch barrel that weighs a mere 8 lbs, all up, ready for a bull moose hunt shooting a quality 250gr pointed bullet with controlled expansion at a modest 2550 fps. Such an innovation would be a beautiful idea, and the basic parts would perhaps already exist in a reputable gunsmith’s shop. Or, premium 225s could be pushed along at 2700 to 2800 fps for the same chore, and even additional ones. Weight would not wear-out some 60-year old legs, and recoil would be middle-ground at about 31 ft-lbs. Those loads would be adequate to 400 yards on a 1200 lb bull with good shot placement. That’s about the same in recoil and potential results as a .300 Win Mag that will burn 15 grains more powder while in need of a 24″ tube, and weighing an additional 16 ounces or so. But, the .35 Whelen would be in a handier and lighter package. And that would also be an intelligent concept for any handloader who has visions of bear in his cross-hairs, and deer species larger than whitetails while inclusive of such. And what about the not-so-stupid thought of employing pistol slugs for vermin? And, close to 3000 fps from certain 200-grainers using the right “magic” powder was possible from a couple of 22″ barrels in my experience!
Now there’s a combo fit for anything from jack rabbits to the biggest moose that ever munched aquatic veggies in Alaska! And it wouldn’t wear you out in the mountains or cause some sort of neuroses over muzzle blast and savage recoil!
The .35 Whelen has been around longer than I have, and likely will continue to be a very practical and versatile rifle cartridge long after I’m gone! I don’t believe that will be said of a lot of the “hot” numbers that are proliferating today. Novelties? Yes! Needed? No! Brass will always be available for the .35 Whelen because the .30-06 isn’t going away anytime soon.
All that’s needed is a .30-06 size rifle with a .358-inch bore. It should weigh no more than 7 lbs bare. And a 2 – 7 x 35mm scope, four cartridges and a 1″ nylon sling, and you would be set for anything this continent (and most others) have to offer. It’s better than its parent, the famed .30-06, and better too on the bottom end than my favorite medium, the 9.3 x 62, but not quite as good at the top end for the most heavy stuff. And that’s not to doom it with faint praise. As mentioned on a few occasions, I was looking for another .35 Whelen when I came home with the 9.3 x 62.
Depending on what we hunt, where and how often should determine what rifle, or rifles, we choose and the caliber/cartridge. If we should want a one rifle do-it-all, kind of thing, or one rifle among several that is to become a favorite for most big-game hunting, then, in my view a medium-bore is the best choice if annual hunts are expected for elk, moose or bear. Then, if an African hunt for plains game is in our dreams, a medium is never a mistake as we will already have experience with it. For example, I would feel completely confident and at ease in using my 9.3 x 62 if I ever visited Africa again. Because of its earned reputation on African fauna, small and large, and my own domestic experience, I’d have zero qualms. It’s weight at 7.7 lbs ready is near ideal for long days afield. It has never been a burden to get in and out of tree stands, and I can walk for miles with it slung on my shoulder. Recoil gets “up there” at around 45 – 50 ft-lbs from maximum loads, and I’m fully acquainted with that level of ballistic response, but I also have a relatively mild load for deer and wolf that generates about 28 ft-lbs of back thrust. We carry a lot more than we shoot, so I prefer a relatively light rifle for most chores, but not so short that I’d have to endure an horrific blast. I’ve had one of those in a Marlin Guide Gun with the infamous ports. One shot without adequate protection would leave your
ears head ringing for several hours later! Even though it was in my favorite caliber, it went down the road never to have a welcome mat put out for it again!
But what about the weight of a true Big Bore? While I’ve owned four 1895 Marlins chambered in the potent .45-70, one being that infamous GG with porting, the others were excellent in every way except weight. With a very stout 22″ barrel, scope and four cartridges, they didn’t qualify as “lightweights”. Even those with the 18.5″ barrels are only 1/4 lb lighter. Having said all that, I consider the 1895 Marlin in .45-70 to be a practical rifle for deer, hogs, bear, moose and elk — when handloads are used, or the +P loads from Garrett, CorBon, etc. The metal lever, drop at comb to make the irons functional, and the hard butt pad, however, contribute to a feeling of unfriendliness in the recoil department when max loads are counted on to finish off a moose or elk at 300 yards. So, speaking personally, I preferred the excess weight in the barrel end to assist in the management of back-thrust when a 400-grain was leaving the muzzle at 2000+ fps! Even then, the overall heft of that firearm would be preferable to that of a .378 Weatherby, or even the typical .458 Win Mag. But, as already indicated, the M77 Ruger in .458 Win Mag with it’s standard-length action and 22″ heavy barrel, that I once owned, was near ideal for the errands expected of it on this end of the world. All up about 9.25 lbs. The Marlins went about 3/4 to 1-lb less. My Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT runs 8.6 lbs with its Nikon 2 – 7 x 32mm scope, nylon sling and 5 cartridges on the stock loaded with 350gr bullets. I find that weight ideal for that rifle when shooting 350s at about 2500 fps, and I can tote it all day without any sense of fatigue. A plus factor is its handiness at 38.25 inches (That one on the header).
The Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT comes very close to the ideal package for a Big Bore in my estimation. Its size, weight, power and ballistic versatility are about perfect if handloads are employed. Some might find it a bit too light when max loads are applied, but max loads are only “needed” on rare occasions. The most obvious downside, for those who believe that fast follow-ups are essential to success and even security, is that all Ruger No.1s are “single-shots”, so-called. Of course, that is a misnomer, and misleading, as one can fire just as many shots from a Ruger No.1 as from an AR-15! It’s just a matter of how quickly that could be done.
I’ve previously written on this theme a couple of times. In my estimation, and experience, if an ideal big-bore bullet is selected for a particular hunt, AND we’ve done enough realistic practice with it (a minimum of 60 rounds after the load has been selected and developed — the equivalent of three boxes of factory ammo), we shouldn’t lack confidence in using it on the game for which it has been selected. Moreover, that conviction should include the confidence of placing the first shot in a vital area of the beast — be it the brain, heart, shoulders and/or lungs. Rarely, have I ever NEEDED to fire a second shot, and rarely has the opportunity presented itself to do so. Occasionally, I’ve applied a finisher, but the time frame usually involved 30 seconds to a few minutes. That’s more than ample time for a reload, even from a BP musket!
My conclusion is: Since I’ve never lost a game animal, or predator, due to lack of “firepower”, a so-called single-shot would suffice for 90+% of my hunting activities. Ask yourself this question: Why is there a dramatic increase in the number and variety of BP rifles appearing in the market place? I have a good hunting friend who uses one for all his big-game hunts!
Of course, that’s not all there is to the issues involved; I have five live cartridges on the stock of my Ruger No.1 in addition to one in the chamber. And I could load a second (if needed) aim, and fire it within 4 seconds… much faster than any BP! Yes, NOT as fast as an aficionado using a bolt-action, BUT, how often have I witnessed on camera the pros (or those who think they are because they write about this stuff or produce TV shows) mess up with a JAM from their $10,000 Mauser 98 bolt-action (and its variants, as in M70s), even dropping reloads on the ground! Now, I’ll admit, there’s a sense of added security in a repeater, but it may turn out to be a “false sense”. A bolt-action repeater isn’t fool-proof! Neither are those who stake their lives (or their hunt) on them.
Security is not in action type, but in what’s “upstairs”! (Another topic for another day.)
But being able to manage the balance of recoil vs weight over the long haul of a serious hunt is at least as important as “firepower” — and in my view it has even greater relevance to the enjoyment of the hunt and perhaps the achievement of its ultimate goal. What is meant by that? Well, at least one major goal of a hunt is enjoyment, and it will be very difficult to enjoy the experience if the rifle is a burden, or we fear its recoil, no matter how many rounds are in the magazine. I realize that’s an individual thing — whatever we choose, it should fit us well and it needs to become an extension of who we are.
In today’s world of sporting rifles for big game that may also qualify for dangerous game, there seems no end of factory offerings, as well as potential custom jobs that cost just short of a fortune. So if one has deep enough pockets, whatever suits one’s fancy is obtainable — though that may consume up to thirty-six months! On the other hand, as to factory offerings, Ruger builds at least one with real potential. The .375 Ruger Hawkeye with a 20″ spout has become the darling of many resident hunters in Alaska. The claim by both Hornady (who makes the ammo) and Ruger is that ballistics equal to the .375 H&H with a “normal” 24″ barrel is attainable from the 20″ Ruger .375, no less. And all that from Hornady factory offerings! Perhaps…. but I’ve yet to see the actual results of that claim fulfilled in neutral tests. From published handloads in reloading manuals in my office, we find these results:
NOSLER #6 manual made use of a 26-inch Pac-Nor barrel, whereas Ruger’s longest in factory guise is 23″. But even that isn’t the average one chosen by buyers in Alaska! They like the 20-inch! So I find NOSLER to be no help at all in regard to the same loads from a 20″ Ruger .375. But even with the 26″ test barrel, it’s no better than the .375 H&H using an equal length barrel of 26-inches! I’ve attained exactly from my 26-inch .375 H&H what Nosler has published for the 26-inch .375 Ruger.
HORNADY #9 regurgitates for the .375 H&H what they published in their #7. From a 24″, they have “forever” published a max load for their 300s attaining 2500 fps, and 2700 fps for their 270s. No news there! When I started to reload for my first .375 H&H (a Winchester M70 with a 24″ barrel) I leaned heavily on Hornady since I was employing their projectiles. Back then — whenever that was — they were publishing 2500 fps as max for their 300s.
The difference in their 9th Edition is that they have added the .375 Ruger with a 20-inch barrel. And the test was done using a Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye. That makes sense! HOWEVER, they made 2700 fps from their 270s and 2550 fps from their 300s. I’ve no doubts about those results. But they still didn’t do the .375 H&H any favors! The .375 H&H can come very close, if not equal, those numbers from a 20″ with today’s best powders.Of course, the Hawkeye has a shorter action… Does that matter? To some it may. The other real advantage of the Hawkeye is that it’s more readily available… maybe in some places? But it would seem to me that H&H brass (and ammo) might be more readily available… maybe in some places, like Africa?
BARNES #4 shows results for each — the .375 Ruger and .375 H&H — from 24-inch test barrels. Apart from their solids, their 270gr TSX gives an advantage to the Ruger of ONE fps! 2837 vs 2836!!! As to the 300 TSX a slight advantage goes to the H&H: 2655 vs 2642. In each case, the Ruger uses a few more grains of powder. Those represent the top loads for each of the two .375-calibers.
As to any advantage? You could flip a coin, perhaps. The Ruger does come in a neat (but ugly) package. Yet I’d not want the muzzle break! On a 20-inch barrel that could cause some serious damage to hearing if fired with it on during a hunt! And a 20″ barrel won’t be pleasant burning 80 grains powder, either! If I ever wanted, or felt “I really must have” (for an unknown reason) a .375 Ruger, it would be in the 23″ barrel version. Even though aesthetics is not first on the agenda for my choice of rifles, it does factor in there somewhere. What I’ve seen in photos of the 20″ version, with the multi-colored stock, odd-looking butt-end and (yes) the screw-on muzzle break, it’s ballistics and “shortness” wouldn’t compensate for. Then, in my view, it’s too heavy for a medium. Ballistics from my TIKKA Lite in 9.3 x 62 is about on a par with the 20″ Ruger .375, and its weight (as mentioned) is a mere 7 lbs, 11 oz ready to hunt. It also burns 8 to 10 grains less powder, and brass can be found almost anywhere — hey, you could use .30-06 or .35 Whelen cases if need be.
(This is my idea of the perfect rifle – A SAKO 85 Black Bear with a 20.5-inch barrel and chambered in 9.3 x 62. It’s a little shorter and a little heavier than my TIKKA T3 Lite in the same chambering — that is also made by SAKO.)
So, my personal all-round, do anything, go anywhere rifle is chambered in 9.3 x 62. My only wish is that sooner than later one of our North American bullet-making firms would come up with a 210 to 225 grain premium bullet in 9.3mm. As an alternative — so I don’t get bored, and have some variety in my life — I’ll ALWAYS have a .458-caliber in a handy package that weighs not more than 8.75 – 9.25 lbs ready. Did I mention I already have that ? Yes, of course, even a few times.
(I’m not a fan of .416s, or any other Big Bore for that matter, due to the absence of suitable bullets for lesser game than the likes of Cape buffalo or eland on the Dark Continent, or brown bear and moose in North America — or such like. In a true Big Bore — .40-cal. and over — I would want to be able to sensibly use it as I might use a .45-70 or BP of .50-caliber.)
Till the next…
P.S. — This will likely be my last blog for the month of January. That’s because a week from tomorrow — Jan. 18 — I’ll be in a hospital for an angiogram that my Cardiologist thinks is necessary. That may result in a stint or more, so I may be out of action for a few days. Nonetheless, I’m not worried about it as I feel great and the Doc says I’m in good physical shape so there shouldn’t be any problems. Plus, as King David wrote in the Psalms “My times are in your hands, LORD.”