< That was my .340 Wby in hand.
Even a .22LR is used for hunting, as well as a .17 Hornady, so we’ll start there and go all the way up to my favorite, a .458 Winchester Magnum in a Ruger No.1H. There are, of course, some beyond that with which I’ve no experience. But the first “real” firearm I owned, that burnt powder, was a single-shot .22LR, and I currently reserve and use two for hunting and target shooting.
At the top end is my Ruger No.1H in .458 Win Mag. In between those two are about thirty (without counting) other cartridges that have been handloaded for hunting purposes in a variety of rifles – mostly in magnums, mediums and big bores – and in more than a single rifle per cartridge for a majority of them. That doesn’t make me an “expert”, but should reveal that I may have some “expertise” about “Managing A Hunting Rifle”.
Rather than random comments, we’ll break it down this way:
The RIFLE -P1
A – Its Purpose
B – Its Production
C – Its Personality
D – Its Power
The HUNTER – P2
A – His/Her Purpose
B – His/Her Personality
C – His/Her Progress
D – His/Her Power
That’s the carcus that goes into the oven, now for the stuffing…
The HUNTING RIFLE’S PURPOSE
Note the emphasis on HUNTING rifle in contrast with a TARGET rifle or just a “shooting rifle”. Those are distinct purposes. But many who are members at ranges may ascribe all three activities to their generic rifles. My observation: after +30 years as a member of the same range, a majority of those in attendance on a given day are NOT dedicated hunters, but casual to dedicated “shooters” who want to determine how accurate their rifles are in using particular handloads. Those using factory big-game hunting loads don’t show up every week, but a few times yearly and are firing their rifles in practice for an upcoming hunt.
The hunting rifle may be used, and often is, for developing a variety of loads to see what they “can do” under differing circumstances, but usually end up with a “hunting load” for a particular hunt. That’s a handloading-hunter who’s main purpose is to use its best loads for specific animals.
Its PRODUCTION is usually (but not exclusively) made by a particular manufacturer of rifles, such as Winchester, Ruger, Savage, Remington, Browning, etc, including some foreign models. Some hunters are particular about the brand while others are more particular in looking for a certain rifle-cartridge combo with an excellent reputation and readily available components for handloads. Like all manufactured machinery that’s mass produced today, barrels and other rifle parts are turned out on CNC equipment where specs can be both more tightly controlled and consistent. That’s good news as in times past such was the lucky hunter that came home with what he hoped would be both an accurate and a strong rifle. However: In my experience (as recently reported) most NEW in box rifles had to have work performed on them by gunsmith VonAtcheson, or myself, to make them function as intended, or ultimately returned to the dealer who had to do what he had to do… And the only brands spared those comments were Savage, Tikka, Ruger, Traditions (so far) and one .300 Win Mag custom built on a military Mauser 98 action.
Some faults were minor while others were major, and a custom creation wasn’t necessarily “better than” some run-of-the-mill rifles either!
What do such matters have to do with “Managing a Hunting Rifle”? Well, enough that could cause misfires, no-fires, lever-actions refusing to raise cartridges into battery, sights falling off, stocks splitting, bores off center, weak firing springs, trigger pulls of 10+ lbs, poor fit of stock, poor fit of action to stock…. want more?
THE POINT: before going afield to shoot game (of any species) we need to be certain that both AMMO and RIFLE are ready and SAFE to do so! When I was about to unload my CZ 550 in .458 Win Mag at the end of a long day, I pointed it at a gravel/dirt embankment eight feet away, took off the safety and it went BOOM! The safety had to be moved forward to the “off” position in order for the action to be opened!
< No flaws in this one that I’ve owned since 2011. It’s a TIKKA T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62.
Or character. As with humans, rifles have character or personality. How so? In looks/appearance. Black hunting rifles were anathema not too long ago! But today? I only have two rifles with wood on them. The X-generation and younger have made black military-style rifles popular and functional. Personally speaking, I don’t like the looks of ARs, as I never was in a military uniform. In Canada, enlistment is voluntary and for development of certain skill sets after completion of a number of set years. So I was never exposed to a military environment, though two of my BG rifles have black polymer stocks. Yet they have other redeeming qualities. And wood is as wood does. Over the years I’ve owned several with walnut or birch stocks – some were very attractrive, and others… well, not so!
But character is deeper than external appearances in rifles as well as in humans. “Safe Queens” see the light of day when we want them to impress art lovers. But rarely are they ever “thrown” (or dropped purposely) into the bottom of a canoe or back of a pickup! What are the rifles (or rifle) we gravitate to naturally for a tough or rugged hunt? Character speaks of dependability, toughness, security and compatibility! Artful rifles may have character, but if they are “Safe Queens”, who knows?
Again, as in humans there are “styles”, and names have been given to us: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholy, etc. So also for rifles: “Ole Ugly” as an appearance name for a famous .458 Win Mag belonging to a legend: Phil Shoemaker, Alaskan Master Guide, author, pilot and hunter.
The name chosen for my Ruger No.1H in .458 Win Mag is “Grace”. In appearance that’s it! But don’t let appearances fool you, as in “Ole Ugly”.
< Phil, with “Ole Ugly” in his left hand and a new “Ugly” under his right hand!
But personality, character and style are mostly what we have come to appreciate in the rifles that have “stuck”… we still have ’em! They are like part of the family! They’ll be the last to go, and with regrets. They have become not just a reflection of us, but an extension of us.
We’ve become true companions, and we know how they “feel” in certain environments and under particular circumstances. And… they seems to know how we are feeling in certain situations, and do their best to calm our fears and fulfill our goals.
Those are signals that a rifle has taken on a personality.
From pipsqueaks like the .17 Hornady to armbreakers like the .458 Winchester Magnum, we need to know what niche they are designed to fill and for what reasons we possess them. No one takes a .17 Hornady on safari to shoot warthogs, or a .458 Win Mag as a squirrel gun (though I’m sure it’s been done!). Each rifle cartridge was created for a purpose, even if only to sell more rifles! Many have become obsolete, some obsolescent, but many remain, or are newly created, for serviceable purposes.
Ergo: We need to know what our rifles are best suited for in hunting action. As recently pointed out, some are powerful enough for dangerous bears at relatively close ranges, but lack punch at longer distances for larger game. On the other hand, some sub-mediums, with modern powders and bullets are capable elk cartridges at over 300 yards, but not recommended for dangerous game up close. A 6.5 Creedmoor might be one example.
So we depend on knowledge, experience (of self and/or others), reports, recommendations and commonsense in our decision making process of what rifle-cartridge to use on a particular hunt.
Knowledge: knowing the ballistics of a rifle and load.
Experience: knowing from an objective evaluation.
Reports: Reading, researching.
Recommendations: by those WHOM WE TRUST with knowledge and experience.
Commonsense: don’t try to invent a square wheel!
Generally, there are six classes of game: non-dangerous small, non-dangerous medium, dangerous medium, non-dangerous large, dangerous large and pachyderm. As to suitable cartridges, many are crossovers, and some are not. A crossover is one that can adequately deal with several classes of game, such as: non-dangerous medium, dangerous medium, and non-dangerous large. But we should ALWAYS keep in mind – and therefore be prepared – that most any wild animal (and some domestic ones) can become dangerous under particular circumstances – such as a rabid fox.
AND: there are great variances of range: Short, close, medium, long and far.
Short: in your face, 10 yards or less!
Close: less than 100.
Medium: +100 to about 250.
Far: 500 to 700, or more.
< A 9.3 x 62 loaded cartridge for my TIKKA T3. The bullets are the 250gr Nosler AccuBond that leave the muzzle of the 22.44″ barrel at 2700 + fps.
It’s my studied opinion (In general, I rarely rely on opinions – even my own as with more time and experience they may change or be modified!) that medium-class cartridges are best as crossovers. That would involve numbers like – but NOT exclusively – the .338 Win Mag, .35 Whelen, .350 Rem Mag, 9.3 x 62 and .375 H&H at the upper end. In other words: capable of ~ 4000 ft-lbs at the muzzle. They can be tempered by handloads or used full force, and the rifles need not be too bulky and heavy for general purpose work.
Attempting to shoot a trophy bull elk (800 lbs) at 250 yards with a good 140gr projectile is one case, and attempting to do the same thing at 600 yards is totally another from the same rifle and load! KEEP SUCH IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS FIRMLY IN MIND WHEN GOING AFIELD for any game! In other words: we need to know our practical limits as well as that of the rifle and load.
Finessing shots is NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE in the real world, and RARELY POSSIBLE for the average hunter. Terminal shots on large game like elk and moose at long range are rarely staged – that’s “rarely”, not never. A hunter who has the time, economics and right equipment, must spend ALL to qualify for pulling the trigger on one at +600 yards! We hear about it, but from only “the few” (who love to reveal their expertise).
Championship shooting of targets by pros at 1000 yards from a rifle capable of +4000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy from a medium to large bore is as uncommon as a new teen driver having just received keys from his daddy to drive the family 2L non-turbo Nissan and the next day qualifying for a LeMans track race! There are reasons for each related to MANAGEMENT or CONTROL of power! There are a rare few, especially trained and experienced .338 Lapua Magnum shooters who can pull it off, but usually have a military background as a sniper… More or less the same idea for a racecar driver who competes at LeMans and wins!
<At the Mosport International Racetrack, 50 km to the south of us, (a 2.5 mile road circuit) multiple types of races are conducted annually, including a 12hr LeMans in which this racecar has participated. Because of its potential speed, it was restricted to about 200 mph. I talked with the manager of the team and he filled me in on the details of it’s construction (European) and motor (supertuned Corvette). It won two races in it’s class.
So is finesse the answer or power… or a certain combination of each?
And whatever the rifle we take afield, it must fully qualify for its task, and we are to manage it without questions or doubts as to its CHARACTER or OUR OWN!
Till the next: The HUNTER and intimacy with his/her rifle.