The Bread and Butter Rifle Battery
Sometimes you just may want to simplify. Today's avid hunters and shooters have an overwhelming variety of cartridges/rifles to choose from to fill any conceivable need. Each new reloading manual gets larger and larger, with new powders, bullets and loads. Every periodical touts new models of rifles. It can confuse the beginning shooter and bring nights of insomnia to the gun aficionado who wants to play with all of them.
I got to wondering if anything in this array could initiate beginning shooters with an entry-level cartridge and rifle that would cover 95% of their hunting requirements, yet also satisfy the obsession for variety with which most of us gun nuts are plagued? What if, instead of different rifles chambered in different cartridges, a hunter could choose one cartridge chambered in different types of rifles to meet the basic hunting conditions? Namely woods hunting, plains hunting, mountain hunting, and all-around hunting conditions? I decided to test this hypothesis with the cartridge I used the most, and the rifles I have purchased to meet different needs.
I call this the "Bread and Butter Battery"; four rifles, all chambered in one cartridge that will meet the vast majority of my big game hunting needs. The reader could create their own Bread and Butter Battery around the type of game they themselves mostly pursue. I am making the assumption that the game hunted will be primarily CXP2 game with some CXP3 game (elk and/or moose) thrown into the mix.
The governing criteria for the bread and butter battery are that there be a variety of types of rifles available along with suitable factory ammunition for CXP2 and CXP3 game. The choice of the cartridge is fundamental, as huge demands will be placed on it, ranging from the hunting of pronghorn antelope to Shirris moose.
The cartridge would need to be an all-around cartridge (see the articles on "All-Around Cartridges") with enough available factory loadings to adequately dispatch deer and elk size animals. Factory ammunition is less of a concern for the reloader, although a factory load suitable for each class of game should be selected as back-up ammo, unless you NEVER forget or lose your ammunition.
I selected the .308 Winchester as my bread and butter cartridge, although the .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum or other "all-around" cartridges could also be viable choices. It is my opinion that the .308 Win. is as good as it gets for the bread and butter concept. The .308 with 150-165 grain bullets will do what a 30/06 will do, and it is a solid performer on elk with premium 180-200 grain bullets.
There are 70 different factory loadings from Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, Norma, PMC, Remington, and Winchester listed in the 2005 Shooter's Bible. These range from Remington's 125 grain Managed Recoil load to the Norma 200 grain Vulkan. (Personally, I miss the 200 grain Winchester Silver-tip load!) That does not count a number specialty and foreign ammunition manufacturers. There is a .308 Winchester factory load for any and all CXP2 game and a huge chunk of CXP3 game, which is exactly what the bread and butter concept calls for. For the reloader the playing field is even greater!
Now let's examine some rifle choices for hunting the woods, plains, mountains, and all-around conditions, plus some of my selected loads for each. These are my personal choices, and are discussed in their order of purchase over the last 10 years. This is an average low to mid-range budget selection ($500-$700 per gun), as my funds never seem to equal my taste for fine firearms
The all-around rifle should be the first rifle purchased, with the other rifles being added as one's budget allows. It will be eventually be used as back up to the other three rifles in the Bread and Butter Battery. (Hunters need two rifles on any hunt, regardless.) The "back-up rifle" concept became a serious reality two seasons ago when I forgot the magazine for my Remington 7400 primary rifle.
The all-around rifle is also the rifle you should choose if you are faced with owning only one rifle. It might be a fine custom gun, if the budget allows, that would reflect pride of ownership and be great example of the gun crafter's art. Or it may be a utilitarian hunting rifle, but it is the workhorse of the bunch. While not perfect for hunting the woods, plains or mountains it will do, in a pinch, for all. For the new hunter, two factory loads should be chosen, one for deer (CXP2 game) and one for elk (CXP3 game). For the reloader, developing full-spectrum loads for this gun would be a joy. This rifle and ammo should go along on every hunt.
My personal all-around rifle is very utilitarian. It is a fully camouflaged Remington 700 with a Burris 1 3/4-5x variable power scope. The barrel, action, and stock are painted a very durable Mossy-Oak Bottomland pattern, produced in limited quantities in the early 1990's. Since this rifle is now relegated to "back-up" status, twenty rounds loaded with the excellent 165 grain Speer Grand Slam accompany this rifle in its hard case at all times. I have used this rifle in Western Washington in pouring rain as well as in the heat of the Idaho Southwest. It is still shows very little wear. Any standard, medium weight, production rifle with a 22-24" barrel would make a suitable all-around rifle.
The next rifle I added to the Bread and Butter Battery was a lightweight mountain rifle. It is a 99% condition Remington Model 600 carbine that I picked up at a gun show in 1997. I keep applying for a special mountain goat permit here in Washington, and this gun was purchased specifically for that task.
Mountain hunting involves hiking the high country. It is where sheep and mountain goats live. Lightweight and portability are the key characteristics. Your rifle must not feel awkward or cumbersome, and it must be capable of adequately anchoring mountain game such as mule deer, sheep, and goats. The little Model 600 only has an 18.5" barrel, but the laminated wood stock makes shooting it manageable. Believe me, the more your lungs burn and the more your legs scream as you spend a couple of hours trying to side-hill back and forth up a timbered canyon after an elk herd, the LIGHT and HANDY mountain rifle will be your favorite rifle in all the world.
I shoot a 130 grain Barnes XLC bullet at 2832 fps from this little rifle. I know this bullet will shoot flat enough to 300 yards to hit a mountain goat, and the Barnes bullet will always give superb penetration on any game this size. Jack O'Connor once noted, ". . . a bullet that gives adequate penetration does not have to be heavy to kill well."
My Model 600 wears a Leupold Compact 6x scope. If the mountain quarry were elk, I would switch to my CXP3 load, using the 180 grain Nosler partition at 2425 fps or the 165 grain Barnes X-Bullet at an honest 2647 fps. Even in the short little Model 600 these loads have plenty of punch for elk.
I came to understand woods hunting after stalking Columbian black tail deer in the coastal forests of Western Washington and Oregon. Brush pines, alders, and ferns can be thick beyond thick. There may be only a couple seconds to shoot should you move a black tail from it's bed or a buck suddenly appear in an opening in the trees, only to disappear just as quickly.
Ranges less than 100 yards are the norm. Only very rarely does a 200 yard shot offer itself and then only across a clear cut. The woods rifle should be quick to access and immediately on target when shouldered. I know that quick second or third shot capability is over emphasized, but the one time I needed fast repeat shots, it was worth having the right gun.
I personally chose a Remington Model 7400 semi-auto for my woods rifle. It has a synthetic stock and is as rain proof, glare proof, and scratch proof a gun as you could want. I had the barrel cut to 20", re-crowned, and the front sight reinstalled.
I mounted a Bushnell 3200 1.5-4.5x variable scope with the illuminating Firefly reticle.
It makes this gun extremely fast on target. It points like a shotgun, is easy to carry, and it's handy in the brush.
Use the right lubricant, understand its operating characteristics, and the 7400 will function perfectly. I've had mine in some wet, nasty places and it works flawlessly. The 7400 requires no user actions to operate the rifle other than to release the safety and squeeze the trigger. This allows the hunter's focus to remain on the quarry when shooting.
Where I live this is the gun that gets the most use. My load for this rifle is the factory 180 grain Remington Core-Lokt round nose soft point. Yes, there are still places where this is the best bullet choice. It has lots of exposed lead, gets through light brush dependably, starts to expand on contact, and will get through to the vitals of any whitetail or black tail deer around. I really haven't had to reload for this rifle as this load shoots more accurately than I can ever hold for off-hand deer hunting.
Zero the woods load at 100 yards and you will never over shoot. The Remington Core-Lokt at 2600 fps still makes hitting a deer at 225 + yards easy should the need arise. Since the bread and butter battery is an exercise in specialization, I'm suggesting that the woods rifle be a fast handling, quick pointing semi-auto, pump, or lever gun in .308 Winchester that shoots a relatively heavy bullet for brush busting and deep penetration.
Finally, there is the plains rifle. A whitetail or mule deer across a wheat field, an elk across a ravine, or an antelope way off in the sage brush requires a different kind of specialization. This is the rifle to go to when 200+ yard shooting is the norm. This should be a precision rifle. Barrel length should be at least 22", and 24" to 26" is better. Accuracy and maximum ballistic performance are the main criteria.
For this purpose, I recently acquired a Ruger 1-B single shot in .308. I had a Hicks Accurizer installed, topped it with a 4-12x Swift scope, and installed a Harris bi-pod.
I worked up a load using the 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet at 2987 fps out of the 26" barrel of the # 1. This load will shoot 2" groups at 300 yards from a bench rest. Most of us don't think of the .308 Winchester as a long range cartridge, but don't tell the military snipers that. My CXP3 load for this rifle is the 165 grain Barnes-X bullet at 2823 fps.
A possible alternative would be any of the current heavy barreled, bolt action "bean field" or "sendero" rifles. A Savage 12 series in .308 can be had for around $500.
I think shooters owe it to themselves to play with a heavy barreled .308 at least once in their life. Mine was a Ruger M77V that I owned in the 1970's. These rifles really shoot; they will impress you. Whichever type you choose, the plains rifle will be your long-range rig. It will compel you practice and shoot and shoot and practice. But there-in lies the fun!
My Bread and Butter Battery, then, consists of a Remington 7400 synthetic for woods hunting, a Ruger 1-B for plains hunting, a Remington Model 600 carbine for mountain hunting, and a Remington Model 700 bolt action as the all-around/back-up rifle. All are chambered for the .308 Winchester. One cartridge, four rifles. All of my big game hunting needs have been met.
Should I decide to hunt varmints or dangerous beasts then at least two other rifles would be necessary to round out the rifle battery, but the above choices have been sufficient to my purposes for many years. They are my bread and butter hunting rifle battery.
Beginning shooters have a secure, uncomplicated place to start hunting, using an all-around rifle and cartridge, knowing that ammunition will always be varied and plentiful. Other rifles can be added as they gain experience and as their budget allows. At the same time, experienced reloaders and gun enthusiasts can spend countless hours in our garages or shops and at the range or in the field experimenting and playing to our hearts content. It is simplicity at its best.
Be safe! Have fun! Keep shooting!
Copyright 2005 by Glenn Harmaning. All rights reserved.