As I have more than a few times analysed my psyche as to motives for choosing a particular big-game rifle, I’ve settled on the following reasons in this order: (1) being the highest priority and (10) the lowest priority, most of the time. However, as already pointed out, my initial motive might be that it was a very good deal that I could have some experience with and then later turn it into something that I really wanted. The “deal” would make what I wanted more affordable.
Nonetheless, the following represents all other motives most of the time, though all 10 might not be in play on a particular rifle, or in this particular order. On the whole, however, over the long haul, they are in play. I’ll list them and then make some comments and examples on each.
(1) Ballistic capability.
(2) Versatility based on the cartridge and available handloading components.
(3) Function: Reliability based on strength and quality.
(4) Consistent accuracy potential and reputation.
(5) Handling and handiness.
(6) Ergonomics contributing to comfort and recoil management.
(7) Economics and resale value.
(8) Efficiency: Ratio of powder consumption to ballistics.
(10) One I can attach my persona to.
So let’s get with it:
Notice that Pride of Ownership has not been mentioned, but I’m certain that somewhere in this mix it has a place — but certainly never one of my main reasons for owning rifles. That’s not to suggest that pride of ownership is always wrong — but it could become a trap in some cases.
Top priority: BALLISTIC CAPABILITY
As big-game rifles go, my first was based on economics, condition and ballistic reputation. That was the Brazilian Mauser in 7 X 57 that was still in it’s grease with the straight bolt handle, and it was the most beautiful rifle I’ve ever owned. When I bought it, however, it looked quite ugly due to all that grease. But it was a military rifle, not a hunting rifle, that I couldn’t bring myself to hack, saw and chop into some semblance of a “hunting rifle”, so it went back to the dealer for a very used M98 (military) that was rebarreled to .30-06 on which I could mount a scope. As mentioned previously, it was the first rifle for which I developed handloads. It functioned well enough that it became my first big-game rifle. Not long after, it was traded on a slightly used, purpose built hunting rifle in Winchester M70 in .30-06. But both of those military rifles were chosen for economic reasons, but also on ballistic reputation.
From there it was uphill all the way to magnums, mediums and Big Bores. A lot of that had to do, as told recently, with disappointments over my performance using a right-handed bolt-action from my left side, and poor performance of some rifles. When I eventually learned, however, that I could quite handily manage “magnum recoil”, curiosity and lust for power took over. I’ve never regretted it and I’m glad for that experience. I suppose it has sometime to do with the psyche of a mountain climber.
(The following series of three pics are all from the same area that I know very well. It’s only about 50 miles — as flies the crow — from my home. To the front of where I stand is a huge bog-marsh. You couldn’t cross it because not far into it you’d get “bogged down”. But to shoot a mature bull moose, angling away or toward me, on the far side, I need a magnum — a .300 at least. This is typical country where I’ve done the major part of hunting over the past 25 years or so. That explains, at least in part my motives in going big, or fast, flat and big! To my left — facing east — is one end of the bog at 400 – 450 yards. To the far right is the western end of the bog terminating in a small feeder lake about 1/2 mile away. There are trails to the other side on both ends. This is habitat for moose, bear, deer, wolf, coyote, fox, otter, fisher, beaver, birds and other small stuff. The rifle on my shoulder is the Tikka in 9.3 X 62. I was scouting for various game signs with a wolf/coyote tag in my wallet.)
Also, eventually, I came to realize that “bigger was better” if you could manage it as well as “smaller being ideal for smaller things” like groundhogs and other varmints. That’s why I basically abandoned the .30-06 in favor of the .300 magnums, the Winchester in particular. Whatever the .30-06 can do, the .300 Winchester can do at 150 yards further, and it can more readily handle bigger and meaner stuff. You can make a .300 magnum into a .308 or .30-06 if you care to, but not the inverse. And whatever a .300 magnum can do, a .338 WM or Weatherby can do better if you are confident and capable enough to manage that kind of power. And I discovered that I was both, even though it didn’t start out that way. There was a learning curve involved, and arrogance had nothing to do with it. So, if you can (or I can) ultimately learn to drive a NASCAR at 200 mph and compete at that level, why not go for it? That’s the same mind set.
I came to know a competitive shooter at our range about 20 years ago. He travelled the circuits competing. He enjoyed doing that but his profession was an anesthesiologist at a local hospital. He couldn’t understand me shooting a boomer in .45-70 that weighed 8 lbs and getting MOA at 100 yards from bullets nearly 1/2″ in diameter while he was shooting special built single-shot 11 pound .223 Remingtons (or .308 Win) at 300 that made tiny little holes that you needed at least a 30X optic to see! The holes made by the .45-70 could almost be seen at 100 without a scope!
Neither choice was wrong! He chose the right calibers for competitive shooting and the choice of a .45-70 for big game is never a bad one as long as you are a handloader and limit matters to reasonable ranges. Incidentally, he has more recently become a hunter!
My second son, Phil, has just received his ordered .17 Hornet rifle, a purpose-built Savage for target shooting and varmints. It’s not been weighed, but with a big scope I think it weighs as much as my former CZ550 in .458 Win Mag! It’s not your typical big-game rifle for brush hunting! But it’s perfect for his purposes. The cartridge looks like a miniature .222 Remington. It pushes a 20gr Hornady out the muzzle at 3650 fps (claimed)! Phil, like his father, also has a Ruger No.1 in .45-70 that will send off a 500gr with enough thump to kill an elephant! But he’s not likely to attempt a shot at 300 yards with that load on a gopher!
So ballistics and the choices we make in rifles are usually based on what we intend to do with them.
For myself, ballistics is therefore number one in priority.
Second:Versatility based on cartridge and available handloading components.
Still, I’ve owned a couple of .223 Remingtons. One had a 22″ barrel in a Savage and the other was a Model Seven Remington with a short 18.5″ barrel. Both were purchased as dedicated varmint rifles. I should have learned after the first one (the Savage) that all challenges had been met (In those days we had thousands of groundhogs in our area — not so any longer. They were killed off by coyotes, farm dogs, poison and the use of vacant farm land for new crops that could produce various oils and Ethanol.)
Anyway, at that time I had the option of buying a 7-08 Remington in the exact same rifle, and that would have been by far the better choice as it could have easily become a dual purpose rifle — sometimes we live but don’t learn anything! I did later own a 7-08 in a Winchester Featherweight. It was one of those “investments” that was simply too hard to pass on.
The story line is this: There was a gun shop that I used to visit from time to time as the manager was young and very friendly. He was also a very good salesman. Each time I visited he’d try to sell me something. I did buy a special scope — I was looking for one — and eventually a 7-08 Remington in the Winchester Featherweight with the short action (longer than the Remington 7 short action). The scope I still have. It’s a Burris Silver Safari 4X by 20mm. It’s been on a lot of different heavy hitters and still functions just fine.
The young manager ordered in a special scope for a client and they sent the wrong one. I was looking for one and the manager said I’ll make you a deal on this one (pointing to it in a glass enclosure). The tag price was about $350 and he offered it for $275. Later, he tried to sell me the 7-08 that someone with ten thumbs had bought new and tried to improve on by “free floating” the barrel. First he offered it for $450. The next time in, for $400, and the third time all the way down to $300. I had looked it over a couple of times previously and thought “When he gets to $300, I’ll bite because I can clean it up a bit and sell it for $400 – $450.” Well, that’s what happened, except I didn’t sell it but traded it for another rifle — a nearly new Remington stainless synthetic mountain rifle in .270 Winchester — which caliber I didn’t want but knew that it could be traded for something I really wanted. And that third rifle was a spotless, nearly new Remington 700 BDL in 7mm Remington Magnum in LH!! But in the meantime I learned that the 7-08 was an excellent rifle cartridge, very versatile and accurate with just about any load I put through it. It went deer hunting. The .270 Winchester was an excellent rifle and a versatile, accurate cartridge that I took deer hunting as well — and was surprised by its ballistics (22″ barrels on both rifles.) The .270 plus a 150gr could make 3000 fps from a good helping of RL-22, and the 7-08 could make about 3000 fps from 140’s using — not what the books recommended (H414) — but IMR4064!
In that rifle, that proved to be, by far, the best powder! So I wouldn’t have known all that except through experience. In sum, I learned that the 7-08 was in all respects the equal of the .270 Win, and I’d personally choose it as a medium game rifle over the .270 due to a wider choice of bullet weights, while burning about 10 grains less powder! And I prefer 7mm over .270 for that reason, making it more versatile. If I were to choose a medium-game cartridge today, it would likely be based on the .308 cartridge, and if not the .308 itself then it would likely be a 7-08 Remington. And that would make a pretty decent and efficient varmint and small game rifle as well.
And for any who might be learning and/or interested, I have informally surveyed and ranked the most popular (based on sheer numbers) new rifles/cartridges in the largest gun emporium in Ontario — and maybe Canada. It’s quite apparent that the .30-06 is first, the .308 second, the .270 third and the 7-08 is fourth, or very close. The .243 ranks quite high but in my view isn’t a big game cartridge and is marginal for larger medium game under certain conditions. The .300 Winchester Magnum and WSM together rank very high, and the 7 Rem Mag is always close behind the .300’s. The .280 Remington is rarely mentioned in the list of “new rifles” or the “used” list. I’d personally prefer the .280 Remington over the .270 as it is a 7mm. But above any of those “standard” choices, I’d opt for a 7mm magnum, and have in a Remington and Weatherby.
(That’s the 7 Wea. Mag. that took this bear at 65 yards. The load was a 175gr NP at 3000 fps MV. The bear never moved an inch from where it was standing in a quartering-away position. The bullet impact on it’s right side went through lungs and heart and made exit in front of left shoulder.)
In the Big Bore category the .45-70 is still out-selling anything else by at least 10 to 1. It may be of further interest to you to note that all ten of the Big Bores I’ve owned have been in .458-caliber — eight in .45-70 and two in .458 Winchester Magnum. Furthermore, I’ve never lost an animal to any of those — and usually it’s a one shot and done! The only other rifle cartridges coming close to those numbers are the .300 magnums. Finally, the “mediums” — .338-cal to .375-cal are third in personal choices.
More to come…
Happy Easter: “If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, chapter 10, verse 9.