Choosing an Inclement Weather Deer Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
Okay, I give up! I have written for years now that a blue steel, walnut stocked rifle is entirely suitable for hunting in rainy weather. I have used such rifles for decades. However, probably due to unrelenting advertising pressure, rifles with synthetic stocks and dull metal finishes continue to be hot selling items all over North America.
To be sure, such rifles require somewhat less care than rifles made from more traditional materials, but they are, to my mind, mostly soulless implements of little redeeming aesthetic value. Or so I have long believed. However, in the name of practicality, the time has come to put aside my prejudice and get down to the serious business of choosing an inclement weather rifle for hunting deer (and other CXP2 class game).
A weather resistant stock usually means a synthetic or laminated hardwood stock. A wanlut stock with a modern synthetic finish, such as the Mar-Shield finish used by Marlin, will also qualify. As synthetic stocks go, "composite" stocks (often fiberglass and graphite) are functionally superior to injection-molded plastic stocks.
Of course, a good inclement weather rifle needs more than a relatively rain proof stock. Most important is a weather resistant barreled action, which these days normally means stainless steel.
Since this is to be a general purpose deer and CXP2 class game rifle, I will concentrate on rifles available in what I consider to be appropriate calibers. Basically, that means from .243 Winchester to 7mm-08 in power, with a maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of at least 200 yards. Less powerful than .243 is too light for the purpose and more powerful than the 7mm-08 kicks too hard for a lightweight still hunting (stalking) rifle. Among the reasonably popular potential calibers are .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts, .25-06 Remington, .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 7mm-08 Remington, 7x57 Mauser and .30-30 Winchester.
"General purpose" means that the rifle must be adequate for hunting deer and most other CXP2 game under a variety of conditions. "Lightweight" means a rifle that weighs about seven pounds or less (bare). That would mean about 8 pounds with a scope, which is still light enough for most hunters to carry easily. Ultra-light rifles should be avoided, as they not only increase recoil, they are hard to hold steady for accurate shooting.
Speaking of recoil, our inclement weather deer rifle should slap the shooter with no more than about 15 ft. lbs. of recoil energy when shooting standard factory loads for whatever cartridge it fires. This means, for example, that a Weatherby Ultra-Lightweight rifle, which has a catalog weight of only 5.75 pounds in standard calibers (figure 6.75 pounds scoped), is acceptable in .243 Winchester, but over the recoil limit in the .240 Weatherby Magnum, .25-06, and 7mm-08 cartridges for which the Ultra-Lightweight is also chambered. Such is the penalty for ultra-light weight.
Barrel length should be no shorter than 20", to preserve some semblance of ballistic efficiency. The rifles listed below do not exceed 42.5" in length overall (LOA). If a bolt action rifle is chosen, it should have either a hinged magazine floor plate or a detachable magazine to facilitate unloading.
Most of the rifles that fit our requirements are bolt actions. I know of only a couple lever actions and single shot rifles that meet the basic parameters already enumerated.
Remember that this is to be a hunting rifle, not a target rifle. A reliable, versatile, high quality commercial rifle of a size and weight that complements the cartridge selected is the ticket. Economy models like the Tikka T3, Remington 710, Stevens 200, or converted military rifles are not the best choices. Since the rifle will be scoped, mounts and rings must be widely available.
Here are some examples of rifles in calibers that meet these basic specifications:
The specifications listed above are for short action calibers.
All models are provided with detachable sling swivel studs. Most have adjustable triggers, an important factor in today's lawyer driven environment where most hunting rifles come with triggers set far too heavy at the factory. Marlin lever actions do not have adjustable triggers.
All but two of the rifles listed above come with synthetic stocks, so for the person who insists on a wooden stock, the choice is simplified. Everyone else will have to do more shopping to determine the rifle that best fits his or her needs. At least, having read this article, you have a leg up on the research. For further information consult the Product Review and Rifle Information pages, where many of these brands are reviewed and/or compared.
Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.