The obvious answer is: It depends. Yes, and it depends on what is understood or implied by the question. So we’ll have to elaborate on the parameters. I could, for example, pose a slightly different question that has the same intent within a more narrow context that might give an idea of how far reaching the original question turns out to be.
For example: How much do we really know about America’s most common big-game rifle cartridge, the .30-06 Springfield? That’s one cartridge that “everyone” knows something about, but few have ever explored more than a few factory loads, or even very many handloads. Usually, contentment with a few is “more than enough”. And that’s one cartridge only! Do we know in practice what a good handloaded 220gr might be on a variety of big game at varied ranges and conditions? And what is meant by “a good handloaded 220gr” in the thousands of .30-06’s used annually during hunting seasons?
Therefore, when we begin to explore the full range of possibilities for this one favourite cartridge only, we begin to realize something about what we don’t yet know! It appears to me that knowing what we yet don’t know about what we thought we knew, might serve as a lesson in humility. Have we got the significance of the original question yet?
Instead of what we think we know, how about choosing a small handful of rifles that shoot different cartridges and become intimately familiar with them instead of going out to buy a “new rifle” just to say we have one of those also?
<I’ve owned a few 1895 Marlins in .45-70, not as a collection, but each one replaced another. There were legitimate reasons for that, but never “just to have one”. The first was chosen for a particular bear hunt, and all since have mostly been for the same reason, NOT for image sake or “I’ve got one of those too!”
That’s not to condemn buying a new rifle “just because”; God knows I’ve been guilty of that too, but hopefully we learn from mistakes and experience. Thankfully, I think that I can now say that as far as finding pleasure in a particular rifle is concerned, I want it to be a very good one (not necessarily estimated by dollar value), accurate, reliable, tough, accepting of variable loads and conditions, and non-offensive to the eye or shoulder. Over the years I’ve learned what I want in a BG rifle, and what I don’t want! It must take good glass and fit like a glove, and it must prove its companionship — I would like it around like a good friend who understands me… and accommodates our friendship. Sure, it can have a few blemishes as all friends do, like a few too many pounds or a bit underweight, but they go unnoticed because we fit comfortably together. But a 200 lb friend that should loose 20, is a mere 10%. Ten percent off of a 9.5 lb rifle is a mere 0.95 pounds, making it an 8.55 lb rifle. Would we reject it for that reason if all else was near perfection in our eyes? How much difference would that really make if it were only 90% perfect in weight? In recoil a loss of 1 lb would amount to 42 ft-lbs vs 38. Can your shoulder tell that difference? Not mine! Some prefer a heavier rifle to help with a bit too much felt recoil, while others prefer a lighter rifle for toting purposes — You know, “We carry more than we shoot” sort of thing. Two other things: It must still challenge me after a lifetime together – I’ll never get bored with a lifetime of friendship. And last, but not least, it must never let me down in a crisis situation.
How much do we really know about our rifles?
< I was 78 when this 6-footer was flattened by a 465gr hardcast from my NEF single-shot .45-70. It left the muzzle at about 1900 fps and impact velocity was over 1700 fps. Recoil was calculated at 47 ft-lbs from the 8-lb rifle with scope, one in the chamber and five on the stock in a cartridge holder. I was in a tree stand and the range was about 70 yards. The recoil was surprising but not hurtful.
That .338 WIN? Do we complain about its recoil, so it sits lonely in a safe?
That .223 Rem? Have we explored its full potential from all possible handloads, so that now we’re unhappy and want a 22-250?
Today, I’m left with two big-game rifles: the Ruger No.1 in .458 WIN that I need more time with to say “we’re friends”! And a 9.3 x 62 that satisfies many challenges for handloading, and has exceeded expectations in that department, but I’ll not live long enough to fully explore its potential. I’ve loaded bullets from 232gr to 320gr with fine accuracy. But, so far, only a 250gr AccuBond, a 286 NP and a 286 Hornady have tasted flesh and blood. In the hands of another, younger man, what could be its destiny? Well, there’s Africa and Alaska!
This is where I’m coming from when I asked the original question!
I’m certain, as I write this, that you have your favorite rifles. Why? That depends on what they have done in your hands: Are they reliable, sturdy, accurate, friendly and companions? Have you explored there full potential? Not likely. Not yet.
All of that depends on available resources, as well as time, money, other commitments, health and places in which to do it all. But depending on when, where and how, it takes time and availability to build friendships. How much that matters to us will determine our commitment to know and be known.
Currently, as you’re probably aware, the historic and still very healthy sixty-five year old .458 Winchester Magnum is again shining in the Sun… many of us feel that there is yet much to be learned about its versatility and prowess. Maybe you’d like to give one a try! It might become a lifetime friend as it can accommodate whatever we want from a good companion!
<Scouting for bear sign in October, 2020 with the Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag. The load was a 405gr Remington at about 2085 fps. That mimics a load I had used in an 1895 Marlin in shooting a bear at 100 yards from a ground blind. That 405gr was a pass-thru from left flank to behind the right shoulder and flattened the bruin on the spot.
As to commitment for my friendship with the Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag, I’ve put together what I deem a suitable black bear load: a 350gr Speer FT bullet at around 2350 fps. The goal is decent accuracy as I know that load is friendly in recoil and plenty in power for the largest of black bears within practical ranges. Physical recoil from the Ruger will be a modest 32 ft-lbs. But more importantly the velocity of recoil will only be 15 fps compared to an 8.5 lb .300 Win Mag firing a 180gr at 3150 fps creating 35 ft-lbs of physical recoil at a velocity of 16 fps. So all matters considered, the 350 Speer load would be similar to that .300 Win Mag load in physical effects, though a tad slower in ” felt recoil”. I’m not as young as when I was shooting thousands of rounds through various .300 Win Mags, but I found them to be mild in comparison to several others like a 340 Weatherby and various .45-70s. And I’ve already experienced what a CZ 550 in .458 can dish out in heavy recoil: like 500 grains at 2283 fps (66 ft-lbs of “free” recoil), so 32 is about half of that. The former Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT attained 77 ft-lbs from some loads, so 32 is still “mild” by comparison. Still, I’m not as young as I used to be in my 50s and 60s. And, I’m recouping from a serious setback from several months of severe arthritis. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody other than to myself!
Another projectile that’s become a project for acceptable accuracy in my Ruger No.1 in .458 WIN is a 465gr cast bullet at around 1400 fps. In my gun the recoil would be like 17 ft-lbs in physical recoil, but more of a mild push of about 10 fps. Say, is that good for a big bear of 600 lbs at 75 yards? TE = 93, and 73 TE at 200 yards. I’d have no reservations using that load on the biggest bears of Alaska at up to any reasonable range! For a charging big bear inside 50 yards there’s little doubt it would penetrate from frontal chest to the hams – and likely exit! I’m beginning to like that idea — little “kick”, and a bullet that will take down the largest game North America has to offer within the danger zone!
< Three years ago I fired a 54-caliber Hawkins BP for the first time. It belonged to a Vet of the Canadian military just a few years younger than I (I was 82 at the time). He was into vintage military stuff and BP. He wanted me to “give ‘er a try” to notice the “heavy recoil”. The ball was a conical 385gr cast at about 1100 fps. The Hawkins was relatively light for a 54-caliber, but “felt” recoil was very mild. My Ruger No.1 Tropical shooting the 465gr hardcast at 1400 fps will be a bit more in “felt recoil”, but not by much as it’s about 2 lbs heavier. At the time, I had just been introduced to my “new” to me Ruger No.1 Tropical firing 500s at around 2200 fps… hardly a comparison for the Hawkins!
I’m still making friends with my Ruger No.1 in .458 WIN. And that’s NOT to suggest it’s a difficult companion to like — on the contrary, I love the Ruger No.1s, especially in .458″ caliber – both in .45-70 and .458 WIN.
“Strange”, you say? No, what I find “strange” are hunters and shooters who stop trying something “new” or different when they reach 60 or 65 years, and are content not knowing what they don’t know, but could if they tried a 220gr in that .30-06 they’ve owned “forever”! I’m sure some Alaskans have, like Phil Shoemaker! I get it… you don’t guide or hunt Alaskan grizzlies or brown bears! Have you lost your imagination at 65? Go, shoot one of those 600 lb behemoth blacks of North Carolina! That would get the juices flowing again… and do it with a 220gr from your bored friend and faithful companion. She might surprise you!
Cartridge: .30-06 Springfield
Bullet: 220gr Nosler Partition; SD = .331; BC = .351
MV = 2600 fps/ 3302 ft-lbs
50 yds = 2485 fps/ 3016 ft-lbs/ 74 TE (Plenty good for a 600 pounder that’s “upset”)
100 yds = 2370 fps/ 2744 ft-lbs/ 67 TE (almost enough for that 1100 lb black bear killed in my home province way back in the “Dirty ’30’s”! — as long as it wasn’t charging!). And with recoil that’s only 40% more than my 465gr “big-bear” load from the Ruger No.1 in .458 Winchester Magnum! Yes, that was 40% more recoil, NOT less from a rifle that’s a mere 2 lbs lighter. I work out with a 15 lb weight in each hand in doing my exercises before retiring! That’s 30 lbs extra weight! Do you think I’m gonna consider an extra 2 lbs in rifles some kind of great “burden” when it reduces recoil by 40%! Well, maybe if I were climbing mountains all day! But that VERY MILD LOAD from the .458 Win Mag is potentially more effective at 200 yards than a max 220gr load from the .30-06 at 100!
Question: So, how much do we NOW KNOW that we didn’t when we thought we did?
Til next time