At the tender age of eighty-seven, I still get excited over a box of shiny new bullets… especially for a new gun! I love making new loads, testing them at the range for MV and accuracy. And, once that’s settled, driving to my favorite hunting areas in hope of spoting legal game.
I’ve settled on hunting loads for the .458, 9.3 x 62 and .35 Whelen. Now it’s the .375 H&H’s turn. I’m sure you’ll agree that “variety IS the spice of life”! No hunter needs four distinct rifles for hunting the same three or four big-game animals under, more-or-less, the same conditions. But the alternative to boredom at any age is… what? Golf? TV? Gourmet food? Shuffle Board? Chasing skirts? Reading books? Knitting? …. on forever? NOT for a true-blue outdoors person in relatively good health!
< 300gr Barnes TSX in .375″ seated over 77 grs of RL-17, new Remington brass with a WLRM primer to be fired in my Zastava M70 with a 22″ barrel. Plus in the green box are three loaded with CFE 223 behind the 235gr TSX, three more loaded with CFE 223 under the 250gr Sierra, and finally three loaded with the 270gr TSX on top of a full load of CFE 223. All to be ignited with WLRM primers.
Want to guess what the results might be? Write it down so you’ll remember and I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks, God willing.
Plus, I’ve a mind for trying new “things” or making old “things” better!
Another “plus”: I’ve lost interest in small bores and sub-mediums, i.e – sub- .338 caliber. And since handloaded .45-70s left an indelible impression on my psyche that far surpassed anything less, I’ve adopted .458-caliber as my one-and-only true BIG BORE!
As per my last blog, the natural step down from big-bore rifles are mediums that include rifles from ~ .338-cal to .375-cal, and capable of ~ 4000 ft-lbs minimum at the muzzle from handloads. As with the .45-70 and .458 Win Mag, mediums offer the greatest possible versatility in ballistics from today’s handloading components.
We’ve gotten impressions from certain “gun writers”, whom we’ve respected for their experiences, honesty and astute judgments of the rifles and cartridges they’ve personally owned and employed in field use. But when a “gun writer” is testing a manufacturer’s rifle and/or ammo, and expected to personally shoot some suitable game with it, and give a positive report, we already know his analysis will not reflect any negatives on either the ammo or rifle. That’s a given…
That’s one major reason why I like to do my own handloads, test them at the range for velocity, consistency and accuracy, then, when and where possible, test them in media and only then go to my hunting areas.
A lot of time, diligence and effort is involved in that process, plus killing some game for any analysis to be complete and trustworthy. The results seen in the three pics following were from the same rifle and load.
< Three 250gr Nosler AccuBonds from my 9.3 x 62 made this group at 100 yds. C to C is 0.44″.
One shot killed this bear at 85 yds
At this muzzle velocity + 9 fps for correction to MV
And this is the rifle after the muzzle brake was added
At this stage, all I can and will do, God permitting, is try new loads, test them for MV and accuracy (and perhaps in media), go to the hunting areas, not expecting to shoot truck loads of game, but maybe, if I’m lucky, to shoot another bear or wolf before I’m done…
But my real interest is in finding out the potential of a particular rifle through the application of acceptable handloads. And there’s a certain consumption of time and money involved in that… no way around it!
Of course, the functionality of the rifle itself must be taken into consideration and evaluated. Needless to say perhaps, but often that may involve the replacement of a trigger (or work on it by self if qualified, or by a gunsmith) and free floating the barrel by the removal of some wood, plastic or other materials. Sometimes that also involves bedding the action – again by self or a competent smith.
Then what about the handling comfort of the rifle in maneuvers while carrying and shooting ? Hence, there are multiple factors involved in a particular rifle’s “friendliness”…. its “likeability”. And does it perform as expected with grace?
So those are just some of the more obvious characteristics that make a particular rifle endearing. Then for a certain few, the artful looks of a rifle is what gives it a permanent home in their safes or gunroom. Otherwise, it may never see the light of day except for photo ops or handling by invitation only. Obviously, I’m not one of those. To me, function is primary, and fashion is secondary.
< A final check of the area before “closing up shop” for the season. Everything that was not natural to the land had to go… this was private property, and that was my lever-action Marlin in .45-70.
In recently reading on rifles for hunting on the Internet, an OP asked what rifle would they recommend as a general purpose rifle for anything from hogs to moose for a friend of his who had been a big game hunter using a bow only to that point in time. The brand and model of rifle was of particular interest more than its chambering. So there was a division among the respondants: some recommended choosing the rifle first as any number of cartridges could suffice as a general purpose big-game rifle. Others said, no, choose the cartridge (stated as “caliber”) then find the “right” rifle.
For myself, what I found most interesting was the single recommended rifle that outnumbered all others together was the Tikka T3X, which is an “improved version” of my own Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62, which at the time (12 years ago) was considered “cheap”! And BTW, as I’ve mentioned more than a few times in my writeups, it’s one of few that I’ve had without a single problem, and if not the MOST accurate I’ve ever owned, it certainly is among the Big Bores and Mediums! And it’s very lite for toting and getting in and out of a tree stand! In fact, at this stage in a post-war with arthritis, it has become a bit too lite so I’ve added a brake and reduced it’s main hunting load by a couple of grains to 68 grs of RL-17, that still is MOA at 2583 fps/4237 ft-lbs. And recoil with the brake plus reduced load and eight cartridges (3 in the clip, 1 in chamber and 4 in a buttstock cartridge holder) is only 8 lbs total weight). The brake reduces calculated recoil by 20% claimed – and I believe that claim having shot those loads with the brake on. So compaired to 48 ft-lbs recoil from the 286gr at 2640 fps, recoil should be ~ 34 – 35 ft-lbs, or only 72% of the former 286gr load! My current goal is to keep every load for each rifle not over 40 ft-lbs. So far, if expectations go as foreseen for the .375 H&H, all handloads should be around that number. You’ll understand, of course, that I have enough experience with multiple rifles and their chamberings to know that 40 ft-lbs from one rifle will not “feel” the same as another rifle producing 40 ft-lbs recoil. Many factors are involved, including speed of recoil and fit of rifle to the shooter as well as so-called “free recoil”. But to have a calculated number in mind based on physics is nonetheless a suitable plan at this juncture of my life.
The biggest variable is the shooter himself/herself. We have different body shapes, weights, sensibilities, perceptions and reactions to pain that can be mitigated by several means: the clothes we wear may have greater or lesser padding in the right or wrong places. Our stance in offhand shooting. Do we pull the rifle tightly into the shoulder or not? At the bench: do we sit up straight or slouch? Elevation of scope over bore. Some say they like to “weld” their cheek to the stock… on a heavy “kicker” that’s a good way to loosening some teeth or at least some fillings. That’s “bench rest” style -NOT RECOMMENDED for the likes of a .458 Win Mag! For something like that: GET OFF THE BENCH AS SOON AS YOU HAVE YOUR LOAD AND SIGHTED IT WHERE WANTED! Practice offhand at the range (where permitted) or in a safely wooded area. Don’t tell the “Greens”, but I “kill” a lot of trees where I hunt. But they’re not DRT! Then there are some DRT trees that make for good realistic practice at variable ranges and angles.
< A practice shot from my Ruger No.1H in .458 Win Mag in a favorite hunting area of Crown Land. That’s the exit hole made from a 350gr Hornady RN.
So when a bunch of supposedly “experienced and knowledgeable” hunters/shooters make loud noises over the use of “Lite” or “Super Lite” Tikkas for anything more than a 7-08 Rem the hair on the back of my neck stands to attention! Of course……… IF someone opts to spend their time, energy and $$ on toys like .243s and 6.5s, should we expect they’ll “like” the recoil of something like a .338 Win Mag? But IF a .338 Win Mag is the WEAKEST of a gunroom full of numbers like: a .338-378, .416 Rem, .500 NE, .458 Win Mag, etc, will they complain over the recoil of a 9.5 lb .375 H&H? Not if they’ve just had an enjoyable day at the range developing loads for their .375 Weatherby!
So this matter of “kick” needs some practical, balanced and honest thinking before someone potificates over “a .338 Win Mag is horrible in recoil”, as one poster stated it. My first .338 Win Mag was a Sako FS with a 20″ barrel. It was a beautiful rifle that I owned for several years and put just about every available .338″ projectile down its short barrel. Not even once did I feel uncomfortable from its “kick”. I was heavier and in better physical condition than today, but I’m sure I could deal with it’s recoil as well today as when 50! Indeed, it’s recoil was calculated at about 40 ft-lbs from a variety of loads. But I also owned a lever-action 1895 Marlin in .45-70 that ALSO was producing around 40-42 ft-lbs of recoil… and in a Marlin that’s more like 60 ft-lbs from a bolt-action repeater. The difference is in stock shape. But I got used to it also and carried that gun in hunting areas more than any other for several years.
As repeated over and over and over again…. how we deal with the recoil of a particular rifle, and handle it under challenging conditions it more related to mental conditioning than physical – which is NOT to suggest that the physical aspects are insignificant – far from it – but you could be a NFL linebacker and still whine over the “kick” of a .30-06 whereas the daughter of Phil Shoemaker in Alaska totes a .416 Rem Mag when guiding clients in big-bad bear Alaskan country! Weight and physical strength have little to do with it, but training, experience and mindset is at least 75% of it!
So, LOAD ‘er UP and go shoot something big and bad! Your adrenaline will be so high, you’ll not remember the recoil… if you’re at least a normal hunter!
But IF we develop some bad habits at the bench… and then complain about the “kick” of such and such, why shouldn’t we just improve our bench style and attitude instead of blaming the cartridge and rifle?
That was my CZ550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. Notice how far I’m from the scope – it had a good eye relief – and I was holding down on the forearm. Don’t let it bounce and it’ll come straight back. I never found that rifle painful to shoot, even with 500s at +2200 fps. Then, I never fired over ten or twelve rounds per session… always, I brought a second rifle to give a break from the .458. So I never feared that rifle, but I had a deep respect for it. It has been replaced by my current Ruger No.1H in .458 Winchester Magnum. Pic on the header at top of page.
On the other mitt, if most of our bench shooting and hunting involves numbers like .223, .243 and 6.5 cartridges, are we justified in being critical of cartridges over .40-caliber and those who shoot them?
And if some hunter only shoots less than a half-box of .308 Winchester 150s per annum while hunting, then chooses to go “bigger” with a .300 Winchester Magnum… he may need some dental work after his first session at a bench!
Till the next…