The Complete Hunting Rifle Battery
By Chuck Hawks
"I have a suggestion for an article for your site." That is how an e-mail from Guns and Shooting Online reader Graham Hopley began. He went on to say, "I think an article about what an ideal, cohesive, extensive and specialized hunting gun collection would look like if one had the opportunity to build it from scratch using a large, but not unlimited budget, would make for some good reading and food for thought." Graham then went on to list 11 categories of game animals and purposes for which he thought an appropriate rifle should be included in a complete hunting rifle battery. He also asked for a brief description of the purpose for which each rifle is intended, the appropriate game and type of hunting.
Whew. I knew it would take a while to pull such an article together, but it sounded like a valid suggestion. I took the liberty of changing Graham's proposed categories slightly and adding one (Travel Rifles). You are reading the result.
All of the cartridges, rifles, scopes and game animals mentioned in this article have been covered in depth on Guns and Shooting Online and you can find those articles and reviews on the appropriate index pages. These include Rimfire Guns and Ammo, Scopes and Sport Optics, Rifle Cartridges, Rifle Information and Product Reviews. The Guns and Shooting Online internal Google search engine on each index page can help you find the relevant Main Site articles. (It doesn't work for the Member Side articles, though.)
As usual, the cartridges mentioned in each category are representative choices, not a complete listing. Unmentioned cartridges with similar ballistics are equally acceptable.
To illustrate appropriate rifles and riflescopes in each category, I will use examples from my personal battery. There are certainly other, and arguably better, choices. However, these are rifles and scopes I have spent my hard earned money to own.
I have avoided recommending custom built rifles, as they are a very personal matter and usually quite expensive. Nothing, however, can beat the pride of ownership that comes with a rifle built to your specifications.
At the same time, I recommend avoiding economy rifles. In the long run, cheap rifles are never a good investment. If you think you need a rifle with a synthetic stock, avoid the cheap injection molded stocks supplied on bottom of the line rifles. Pay enough to get a good composite synthetic stock or a laminated hardwood stock. Either provides a far superior and more rigid bedding platform for the barreled action. Good walnut, of course, remains the premium stock material of choice.
The same advice to avoid economy models applies to telescopic sights. Mid-line or better scopes are the way to go for the long haul. Bushnell Elite 3200, Leupold VX-2 and Sightron S-II are examples of good scopes that won't break the bank. For upscale rifles, upscale scopes, such as the Bushnell Elite 4200, Leupold VX-3 and Sightron S-II Big Sky lines are well worth the additional expense. You can't hit what you can't see.
Small game (CXP1) usually means rabbits, squirrels and similar size animals taken for the pot and they are very widely distributed. Because they are edible, high power cartridges that create a "red mist" effect are not desirable for small game hunting. Ranges are short, usually less than 75 yards, with 25 to 50 yards being typical.
The odds-on choice in small game cartridges is the venerable .22 Long Rifle. That is the easy part of choosing the small game rifle for your hunting rifle battery, since the .22 LR was designed for the purpose and nothing is better. Copper plated LHP hunting ammo is the way to go. Alternative choices would include the .17 HMR (20 grain) and .22 WMR (40-45 grain). Both of the magnum rimfires require head shots, as they are prone to do excessive damage to edible small game animals with body shots.
Choosing a small game rifle is a pleasant task, because there are so many and they come with all types of actions. You can hardly go wrong with a name brand single shot, bolt action, lever action, pump action, or autoloading .22 hunting rifle. Choose whatever rimfire hunting rifle strikes your fancy. My personal choice in .22 LR is the venerable Marlin Model 39 lever action. I prefer the M-39 versions with a 20" barrel. My .22 Magnum small game rifle is a Henry Lever Octagon, also with a 20" barrel.
A fixed power 4x rimfire scope is all you need for small game hunting. If you prefer, a variable with a moderate power range is perfectly acceptable. I use both. I have an old Redfield 4x rimfire scope on my .22 LR Marlin 39M and a Weaver Classic Rimfire 2.5-7x28mm variable on my Henry .22 WMR small game rifle.
Varmints are nuisance rodents in the CXP1 category. Typically, these include rats, gophers, ground squirrels, marmots (ground hogs, rock chucks, wood chucks, etc.) and similar small pests that are not usually hunted for food. Such creatures are found on every continent.
The two rimfire magnums, the 17 HMR and .22 WMR, are the most viable rimfire varmint cartridges. The .22 Magnum hits harder out to about 125 yards; beyond that distance, the .17 HMR is superior in every way. Either, of course, can deliver clean kills from the muzzle to its maximum point blank range (MPBR), or a little beyond.
For use in semi-populated areas and at distances out to 165-200 yards, I know of no better varmint cartridge than the .17 HMR. It is brilliantly accurate, economical, quiet and offers a maximum point blank range (MPBR) of approximately 165 yards, (+/- 1.5") with 17 grain boat-tail spitzer (tipped) bullets. This amazing little rimfire has completely replaced the centerfire .22 Hornet, which serves approximately the same purpose, among the Guns and Shooting Online staff. We have written extensively about the .17 HMR and its rifles on the Rimfire Guns and Ammo page.
RIMFIRE RIFLES AND SCOPES
Practically all rimfire rifle makers chamber for the .17 HMR, with bolt, lever and single shot actions being the most common. All action types are usually very accurate in .17 HMR. A 4-12x variable power scope seems ideal for a .17 HMR varmint rifle. My favorite .17 HMR varmint rifle is an Anschutz 1717 DKL bolt action repeater, which currently wears a Bushnell Yardage Pro 4-12x42mm Laser Riflescope.
For longer ranges and windy conditions, the centerfire varmint cartridges take the spotlight. Current cartridge offerings from the major ammo manufacturers include the .17 Hornet, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Remington, .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington. These extend the MPBR compared to the .17 HMR and buck the wind better. They are also noisier, cost more and kick more. For most purposes, the best selling .223 is very effective. It is noticeably milder to shoot than the larger-cased cartridges and will suffice for about 90% of varmint hunting. For these reasons, the .223 is, numerically, the most popular centerfire varmint cartridge among the Guns and Shooting Online staff. Most of us are shooting 50-55 grain bullets in our .223's.
For maximum range varminting, the .22-250, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington come into their own. The .24's, with appropriate varmint bullets, are probably the best choice in windy conditions. However, the .220 Swift is still the highest velocity .22 varmint cartridge in North America and it offers a flatter trajectory than the .24's. I like 55-60 grain boat-tail spitzer bullets in the .220, as they buck the wind better than the higher velocity 45-50 grain bullets. All of these cartridges are noisy and less fun for volume shooting than those based on the .222 and .223 cases.
CENTERFIRE RIFLES AND SCOPES
My heavy varminter is the G&S Online / Savage Custom Shop Model 12 bolt action, single shot rifle. You can read about this rifle on the Product Reviews page and, if you wish, order one from the Savage Custom Shop for yourself. It now wears a Nikon Laser IRT 4-12x42mm riflescope. This is the most consistently accurate rifle I own.
My very long range varmint rifle is a Ruger KM77VT Mk. II Varmint/Target bolt action. It is topped by a Bushnell 6-18x50mm AO riflescope. I consider these rifles and scopes typical for their respective purposes.
Predator hunting has increased in popularity as the coyote's range has spread across North America. Coyotes are more numerous in most areas than foxes and bobcats and, because they hunt in packs, do far more damage. Although bigger than the small game animals and varmints that constitute their natural prey, none of these predators are large animals. An average adult male coyote weighs about 35 pounds and even a very large coyote weighs less than half the live weight of even small CXP2 game animals.
At moderate range, say out to about 125 yards, the .17 HMR and .22 WMR rimfire cartridges will drop small predators, as long as the hunter gets the bullet into the vitals. At greater distances, any of the centerfire varmint cartridges mentioned above will suffice for killing small predators. The most popular predator cartridge in North America is the .223 Remington. Varmint type bullets provide the quickest kills and are least likely to ricochet.
Many predators are shot as targets of opportunity, especially in the West, by feral hog, deer, pronghorn antelope and other big game hunters. I have bushwhacked small predators with just about everything from the .350 Rem. Magnum on down, as long as there was a safe back stop.
RIFLES AND SCOPES
I am not an inveterate predator hunter and seldom specifically target small predators. Most folks who are prefer reasonably portable firearms (as opposed to heavy varmint rifles). Medium weight bolt action, single shot and autoloading rifles are the most popular choices for predator hunting. I prefer single shot predator rifles, because they are shorter and handier than repeaters of the same barrel length. A break-open NEF Synthetic/Stainless Handi-Rifle with a Leupold Mark AR 3-9x40mm scope is my dedicated small predator rig. When conditions warrant, my very accurate Browning 1885 Low Wall in .243 Winchester offers superior striking power and wind resistance. This premium falling block rifle is paired with a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm riflescope.
Medium Game in the Woods
By far, the most common CXP2 game animals in North American woods are deer. Deer are also found in Asia, Europe and New Zealand. Our most common deer species are the whitetail, Columbian blacktail and mule deer. All three species can be found in open country or in the woods, but the whitetail and blacktail are commonly thought of as woods loving species. Overlapping most deer range is the black bear. Many black bear are killed in the woods every year as targets of opportunity by deer hunters.
In the days of black powder rifle cartridges, the .44-40 Winchester was the top woods cartridge and it accounted for no end of deer. It has been adapted to smokeless powder and is still in use today. Similar in concept to the .44-40 are the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum revolver cartridges, as adapted to lever action rifles. These are all short range (100 yard zero) deer cartridges.
However, after the introduction and widespread acceptance of smokeless powder rifle cartridges, the classic woods cartridges for CXP2 game became the .25-35, .30-30, .300 Savage, .32 Winchester Special and .35 Remington. More recently, we have added the .307 Winchester, .308 Marlin Express, .338 Marlin Express, .356 Winchester, .375 Winchester and .444 Marlin. All of these, except the .35 Remington, are primarily lever action rifle cartridges with rimmed cases. The Marlin 336 and Winchester Model 94 lever guns are the best selling deer and black bear rifles in history.
It is said that more deer and black bear have been killed with the .30-30 than any other cartridge and it remains among the top selling centerfire rifle cartridges. An additional advantage is that the recoil of a .30-30 is moderate, considerable less than high intensity cartridges, such as the .308 and .30-06, yet it kills almost as well. It would be hard to go wrong by choosing a .30-30 woods rifle.
Many 21st Century shooters consider the .30-30 a short range (100 yard) cartridge, but this is not actually true. With a 150 grain flat point bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2390 fps (a typical .30-30 factory load), the MPBR (+/- 3") is 225 yards. With Hornady's LeverEvolution ammunition, which is loaded with a 160 grain boat tail tipped bullet at 2400 fps, the .30-30's MPBR is extended to 232 yards. The point is that the .30-30 and similar woods cartridges are really medium range cartridges with MPBR's in excess of 200 yards. Zeroing these cartridges dead on at 100 yards is a waste of their potential.
Well known woods cartridges for bolt action, pump and autoloading rifles include the 6.8mm SPC, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British, 8x57mm Mauser, .35 Remington and .358 Winchester. The .308, .30-06, .303 and 8x57 are also considered "all-around" rifle cartridges, suitable for a wide variety of game and hunting conditions, depending on the specific load chosen. The fact is that any adequate CXP2 game cartridge, from the .243 Winchester on up, can be used for woods and brush country hunting. Among these, the .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 7mm-08 and 7x57 Mauser are particularly favored by the Guns and Shooting Online staff in bolt action and single shot rifles.
The quintessential North American woods rifles are the Winchester Model 94 and Marlin Model 336 lever actions. They are reliable, accurate, compact, lightweight, handle great and offer fast repeat shots. With the popular 20" carbine length barrel, they are very handy in the woods. I own a couple of each. Where I live, Western Oregon, it rains a lot and the stainless steel and walnut Model 336SS .30-30 is just about a perfect woods rifle.
An alternative woods rifle that is favored by several of the Guns and Shooting Online staff is the Ruger No. 1A Light Sporter. This is a falling block, single shot rifle with a 22" barrel and a catalog weight of 7.25 pounds. It measures about 3.5" shorter than a standard Ruger M77 bolt action with the same length barrel.
A fixed power scope in the 2x to 3x range will serve well on a woods rifle. Alternatively, a low power variable in the 1-4x or 2-7x range is entirely suitable. I equipped my Marlin 336SS with a Leupold VX-2 1-4x20mm variable, while my Ruger K1A wears a Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x32mm variable scope. I carry these rifles with their scopes set at about 2.5x in the woods.
Medium Game on the Plains
CXP2 plains game, such as our North American pronghorn antelope and numerous similar size species around the world, tends to rely on its eyesight to spot threats at a distance. For this reason, long range rifles and cartridges are favored, although a great deal of plains game has historically been taken with medium range cartridges on the order of the .25-35 and .30-30 Winchester.
Modern plains game cartridges are typically long range numbers shooting medium weight for caliber bullets. A perfect example is the .270 Winchester with a 130 grain spitzer bullet. I like to think of typical plains game cartridges as those between .24 and .28 (7mm) caliber with a MPBR (+/- 3") of about 300 yards. Examples of appropriate calibers and bullet weights would include the .243 Winchester/95 grain, 6mm Remington/100 grain, .240 Weatherby/100 grain, .25-06/100-115 grain, .257 Weatherby/100-120 grain, 6.5mm Rem. Magnum/120 grain, .264 Win. Magnum/140 grain, .270 Winchester/130 grain, .270 WSM/130-140 grain, .270 Weatherby/130-140 grain and .280 Remington/125-140 grain. Of course, the 7mm Magnums and .300 Magnums will also qualify in terms of trajectory, but these cartridges generate unnecessarily high levels of recoil and muzzle blast. Most hunters can shoot more accurately with standard cartridges.
The most popular plains game calibers with the Guns and Shooting Online staff are .243 Winchester, .257 Weatherby Magnum and .270 Winchester. Offhand, I cannot think of member of our staff who does not own a suitable plains rifle in at least one of these three calibers.
Plains rifles tend to be longer and heavier than woods rifles or mountain rifles, but lighter than varmint rifles. 24" and 26" barrels are popular to maximize velocity. Bolt action repeaters and falling block single shots dominate the field. The Ruger No. 1B Standard Rifle, Winchester Model 70, Weatherby Vanguard and Weatherby Mark V are popular choices among the Guns and Shooting Online staff. Perhaps my personal favorite plains rifle is a Weatherby Mark V Deluxe in .257 Wby. caliber.
Even medium size big game animals are substantial targets. Giant target/varmint scopes are not required. A 6x fixed power hunting scope will do and a variable in the popular 3-9x or 3-10x range is a good choice. I would not want to burden any big game rifle with a scope larger than 4-12x40mm. My aforementioned .257 Weatherby Deluxe wears a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm variable power riflescope.
Medium Game in the Mountains
The typical CXP2 North American mountain game includes wild sheep, mountain goats and (in some areas) mule deer. Similar size animals are hunted at high altitude around the world. Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, was an avid sheep hunter and, more than anyone else, he popularized the concept of the modern mountain rifle.
Mountain game is occasionally shot at long range, although (contrary to popular myth) long range shots are the exception, not the rule. A MPBR (+/- 3") of 250 yards for a mountain rifle cartridge and load is adequate and 275 yards is ideal. In terms of killing power, acceptable cartridges start with the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts +P and cartridges of similar power. The .25-06, .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 6.5mm Rem. Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7x57mm and 7mm-08 are excellent. The .308 Winchester (150 grain) and .30-06 (150 grain) represent the practical upper power level. Magnum cartridges that require 24" or 26" barrels are not only unnecessary, they are a handicap.
Perhaps the most famous mountain rifle cartridges are the .270 Winchester and 7x57mm Mauser. Either remains a top choice today. Here at Guns and Shooting Online, those two cartridges plus the 6.5x55, .260 and 7mm-08 are staff favorites.
The Mannlicher-Schoenauer full stock carbine was perhaps the first popular, bolt action, Alpine rifle and many of these fine rifles are still in use. To this day, lightweight bolt action and single shot mountain rifles predominate. The salient fact about hunting CXP2 game in the mountains is that you have to climb to get to them. That tends to preclude long barreled, heavy rifles, despite their other advantages. The wise hunter should select his or her mountain rifle accordingly. A mountain rifle needs to be reliable, accurate for at least one to three shots from a cold barrel and chambered for a reasonably flat shooting cartridge that won't kick the hunter out from under his hat when fired from a lightweight rifle and uncomfortable positions.
Jack O'Connor wrote extensively about sheep hunting and mountain rifles. He didn't like long or heavy mountain rifles. His ideal sheep rifle was a relatively lightweight Winchester Model 70 bolt action with a 22" barrel in .270 caliber and he was a big proponent of modern classic style stocks, which he had custom built to his specifications. Winchester listened and the Model 70 Featherweight (22" barrel) was the result. It remains a fine example of a bolt action mountain rifle, along with the CZ 550 FS (20.5" barrel), Steyr Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine (20" barrel), Ruger M77RSI International (18.5" barrel), Kimber Model 84M (22" barrel), Remington Model 700 Mountain Rifle (22" barrel) and Remington Model Seven CDL (20" barrel). All of these have full size adult stocks with a normal length of pull; they are not "compact" rifles with a shortened length of pull.
Single shot rifles, lacking the long receiver of a bolt action, can be made about 4" shorter in overall length (with the same length barrel) as a bolt action. This makes a good single shot an excellent mountain rifle. The falling block Ruger No. 1A Light Sporter (22" barrel), Blaser K95 Stutzen (19.7" barrel) and Merkel K3 Jagd Stutzen (19.7" barrel) are examples of fine single shot mountain rifles. I prefer a single shot mountain rifle and my go-to mountain rifle is a stainless steel Ruger No. K1A Light Sporter in 6.5x55mm.
The Ruger No. K1A Light Sporter is a limited production special (only 250 were produced in 6.5x55) made for Lipsey's, the big Baton Rouge, Louisiana firearms distributor. The K1A features a stainless steel barreled action for weather resistance. Otherwise, it is identical to standard No. 1A rifles.
Mountain rifle scopes should be modest in size and weight, as befits a lightweight rifle. A 4x fixed power scope or a 2-7x variable will do nicely. I have a Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x32mm variable scope on the Ruger K1A and I consider it an excellent combination.
All-around Big Game Rifle
The allure of an all-around rifle, suitable for both CXP2 and CXP3 game, is undeniable. With such a rifle, one can hunt the most popular big game animals around the world and engage in mixed bag hunts; mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk, for example, or African plains game. Of course, there is no free lunch and a rifle/cartridge combination optimum for 150 pound deer will not be optimum for 500 pound elk and vise-versa. In addition, unless you are willing to re-zero your rifle each time you switch from CXP2 to CXP3 game (obviously impractical on a mixed bag hunt), the bullet weight you choose for your all-around rifle must also be a compromise.
There are many rifle cartridges that have all-around capability. My article "All Around Rifle Cartridges" examines over two dozen of them in terms of five major criteria. To cut to the chase, the final "short list" of all-around cartridges that satisfy all of the criteria are the .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield. These four cartridges are among the best selling of all big game hunting cartridges, for good reason. For mixed bag hunts and to maximize versatility without changing loads, I prefer a 140 grain bullet in .270, 150-154 grain bullet in 7mm Magnum, 165 grain bullet in .308 and 180 grain bullet in .30-06.
All-around cartridges are available in single shot, lever and pump action rifles, but the most popular action choice is the ubiquitous bolt action repeater. The rifle choices are extensive in terms of brand, stock material, finish and stainless or ordinance steel barreled actions; far too numerous to detail in an article of this type. The best advice is to choose the configuration that you prefer. Among the Guns and Shooting Online staff, most of us own more than one all-around rifle in at least a couple of the four calibers mentioned. Favorite models include the bolt action Weatherby Vanguard, Weatherby Mark V and Winchester Model 70, along with the Ruger No. 1 falling block single shot rifle. One of my personal favorites is a Winchester Model 70 Super Grade in .30-06 caliber.
A 4x fixed power riflescope is the traditional choice for an all-around rifle. More popular today are variable magnification scopes in the 2-7x, 2.5-8x, 3-9x and 3-10x ranges. A 40mm objective lens provides all the illumination that is required for a scope with 9x or 10x maximum magnification. My aforementioned Model 70 Super Grade rifle wears a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scope.
Inclement Weather All-around Big Game Rifle
Sometimes you can anticipate a hunt in prolonged inclement weather and a rifle just for such conditions makes sense in a complete rifle battery. Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of synthetic stocks for most purposes, but I will admit that composite versions are good for special purposes, such as a dedicated inclement weather rifle. Ditto laminated hardwood stocks.
It makes sense to purchase a dedicated inclement weather rifle in an all-around (CXP2/CXP3) caliber. (No point in having more ugly rifles than necessary in your gun cabinet.) As previously mentioned, the cartridges that made the short list of all-around calibers are .270 Winchester, 7mm Rem. Magnum, .308 Winchester and .30-06. I chose .30-06 for my go-to inclement weather rifle. This venerable cartridge has an enviable record on both CXP2 and CXP3 game, especially with 180 grain bullets when a crack at CXP3 game is likely.
Practically every rifle manufacturer in the world offers some sort of stainless/synthetic or stainless/laminated hunting rifle. In fact, such rifles usually outnumber more traditional walnut stocked models. The great majority of these are bolt action repeaters, but single shots, lever actions and autoloaders are also available. There are far too many alternatives to list in an article of this type. Visit your local firearms retailer to see a selection of suitable inclement weather hunting rifles.
Among the Guns and Shooting Online staff, the Marlin XLR lever action, Remington Model 700 XCR II bolt action, Weatherby Mark V AccuMark bolt action and Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless/Synthetic bolt action seem to be the favorites.
A 4x fixed power riflescope is the traditional choice for an all-around rifle. Variable magnification scopes in the 2-7x, 2.5-8x, 3-9x and 3-10x ranges are equally suitable. I chose a Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9x40mm scope with RainGuard for my Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless/Synthetic rifle. This combination ensures that both scope and rifle are as weather resistant as possible.
I added this category, because a couple of takedown travel rifles can be a definite asset in a well rounded hunting battery. Chances are that the hunter avid enough to assemble a complete rifle battery will do a fair amount of traveling to hunting locations beyond the reach of the family car. Wherever one might live and hunt, the lure of a new hunting challenge is powerful. Having lugged long, hard rifle cases through airports, I have learned the value of rifles that can be taken down and stowed in fitted attaché type cases. Well, okay, large attaché cases.
My thinking is that two dedicated travel rifles, a versatile small bore chambered for a general purpose CXP2 game cartridge and a medium bore intended for hunting CXP3 game, are sufficient for most purposes. Unfortunately, the number of takedown rifles on the market is severely limited. Break-open action rifles can usually be taken down, but most of these are frightfully expensive and not very accurate double barreled rifles or drillings. However, there are some viable options for the traveling hunter.
RIFLES AND SCOPES
There are a few break-open single shots that can serve as travel rifles. A couple versions are even available as a cased set with a quick detachable scope and mount. The Franz Jager break-action Merkel K3 Stutzen and the very similar Blaser K95 Stutzen, both made in Germany, come to mind. From U.S. manufacturers we have the H&R/NEF Hand-Rifle and Thompson/Center Encore and G2 Contender break-open actions. You will have to modify your own travel case for these.
In addition, there are a few lever and bolt action takedown rifles. Examples include the Blaser R8 bolt action, Browning BLR Takedown lever action, Dakota Traveler bolt action, Merkel KR1 Stutzen bolt action and Wild West Guns Co-Pilot lever action. Most of these takedown rifles are available in a selection of calibers.
Based on availability, convenience and personal preference, I chose a Merkel K3 Stutzen Jagd in 7mm-08 caliber for my general purpose travel rifle. I took advantage of the Merkel USA option that included a quick detachable Swarovski AV-SR 3-10x42mm riflescope and a fitted travel case. This is a lightweight, single shot rifle with a 19.7" barrel.
For a medium bore travel rifle, I chose a Browning BLR Lightweight Takedown with pistol grip stock in caliber .358 Winchester. Because this rifle's barrel separates from the receiver, I eschewed a conventional receiver-top scope mount. To avoid changes in impact when the rifle is taken down and reassembled, I decided to use a scout-style scope mount that attaches the scope to the barrel. I chose a Leupold FX-II 2.5x28mm intermediate eye relief scope in Leupold quick detachable rings. I am happy to report that both the Merkel and Browning rifle/scope combinations maintain their point of impact after repeated disassembly and reassembly.
CXP3 Big Game Rifle
These are large animals, such as elk and moose in North America, red stag and moose in Europe and kudu and eland in Africa. All-around rifles and cartridges will suffice for any of these creatures, especially with relatively heavy for caliber bullets (150 grain in .270 and 180 grain in .30-06, for example). However, it is the medium bore calibers that are ideal for these large animals.
Medium bore cartridges are those between .33 and .37 caliber (.338" to .375"). Of course, there are some rather modest, relatively low pressure, cartridges within those limits, such as the .35 Remington and .38-55 Winchester. Despite their fat bullets, these are essentially medium game (CXP2) cartridges. For hunting large (CXP3) game, the discussion should be limited to high intensity medium bore cartridges that are capable of launching bullets with a sectional density (SD) of at least .250 at a muzzle velocity of 2350 fps or faster.
There are quite a few cartridges that can meet or exceed these specifications. Examples that should be at least somewhat familiar to regular Guns and Shooting Online readers include the .338 Marlin Express, .338 Federal, .338-06, the .338 Magnums, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Remington Magnum, .358 Norma Magnum, 9.3x62mm, 9.3x64mm, 9.3x74R and the .375 Magnums. Most of these have MPBR's (+/- 3") in the 225-275 yard range. Here at Guns and Shooting Online, the most popular medium bore calibers are .338 Win. Magnum, .358 Winchester, .350 Rem. Magnum and 9.3x62mm. Technically big bores, but with 100 yard killing power similar to the medium bores, are the .450 Marlin and .45-70 +P. The most popular and best known medium bore cartridges around the world are the .338 Win. Magnum, 9.3x62mm, 9.3x74R and .375 H&H Magnum. It would be hard to go wrong with any of these calibers for hunting CXP3 game.
CXP3 animals are big, but not generally dangerous. Even if wounded, they are unlikely to charge the hunter with evil intent. Therefore, single shot rifles in any of the high intensity medium bore calibers are a valid option, as are autoloading, lever and bolt action repeaters. The most popular action type is the bolt action.
Practically all rifle manufacturers offer satisfactory medium bores. Among our staff favorites are the Browning BAR Mk. II autoloader, Ruger No. 1 single shot, Browning and Marlin lever actions and bolt actions from Browning, CZ, Ruger, Weatherby and Winchester. My personal go-to elk and general CXP3 big game rifle is a Ruger M77 Mk. II bolt action in .350 Rem. Magnum.
CXP3 animals are very large targets, so low to medium power riflescopes are all that is required. A 2.5x to 4x fixed power scope will do well, as will a 1-4x or 2-7x variable power scope. My current .350 Magnum Ruger M77 carries a Leupold VX-2 1-4x20mm scope, while an earlier Remington Model 600M rifle in the same caliber was equipped with a Bushnell 2.5x fixed power scope.
Thin-skinned Dangerous Game
Thin-skinned dangerous game refers to the big predators, principally bears, big cats and (in some situations) wolves. Polar bears live all across the Arctic. Grizzly/brown bears are found in Russia and North America. Black bears are widespread in North America and parts of Europe. Of the big cats, cougars live in North America and jaguars are found in South America. Lions and Leopards are found in Africa. Tigers and leopards are thinly distributed across much of Asia, particularly India. Wolves range across parts of North America and Eurasia.
Bears, wolves and big cats (especially the cats!) are highly intelligent and will outsmart you if they can. Do not underestimate their intelligence, especially if you irritate or wound them. Man eating big cats have been known to rack up hundreds of kills.
Cougar and black bear are normally timid and not inclined to molest hunters. In areas where they are protected, however, they lose their fear of man and may become aggressive. Either is equipped to prey on animals the size of deer and human beings, so the potential for danger (although remote) is there.
The grizzly/brown bear is a fearsome predator and should not be taken lightly. A normal male grizzly may average 700 pounds live weight. That is twice the size of an adult male lion! In coastal Alaska, brown bears grow to enormous size, reaching 1000 pounds or more. All big predators are quick and strong, but big bears are in a class by themselves.
An individual grey wolf is about half our size (75 pounds) and timber wolves are considerably larger. However, wolves hunt in packs and because of this can become a serous threat in certain conditions. Cougar and leopard are about our size (150 pounds) and an adult male jaguar averages about 200 pounds. Adult male black bear average around 300 pounds, twice the size of a cougar or leopard.
The big predators are ideally shot at ranges between 50 yards and 150 yards, so although some of the magnums (particularly the .338's) offer trajectory akin to a .300 Magnum, a flat trajectory is not essential. Get close enough to be 100% certain of your shot; never risk wounding a big predator.
Wolves, cougar and black bear are easily killed by ordinary deer rifles. The .270, .30-30, .308 and .30-06 are adequate black bear, wolf and cougar medicine. In terms of the animal's physical size and rifle killing power, the same is true of leopard and jaguar. However, leopards and jaguar are much more aggressive than cougar and black bear and far more dangerous to hunt. Consequently, a .30-06/180 might be considered the minimum satisfactory caliber/load, as it is for grizzly bear.
Most experienced hunters would prefer a powerful medium bore rifle. The same calibers mentioned for use on CXP3 game are good choices for hunting large predators. In Alaska, the .338 Win. Magnum is the queen of grizzly, brown and polar bear calibers and it is equally deadly on any of the big cats. In Africa, the 9.3x62 and .375 H&H are considered serious lion calibers.
The difference between rifles for normal CXP3 game and the big predators is repeat shot capability and maximum reliability. Single shot rifles are fine for hunting elk, but undesirable for hunting large predators. The Browning BAR Mk. II Safari grade autoloader, particularly in .338 Win. Magnum, offers interesting possibilities. Otherwise, the overwhelming popular choice in rifles is the controlled feed bolt action, with a few double rifles thrown in.
Bolt actions offer greater cartridge capacity than two shot doubles, but tests and long experience has shown that if charged, the hunter will have time for one shot; if he or she is very fast and a bit lucky, a second shot might be possible. After that, the predator will be on you. Greater cartridge capacity is therefore less important than it might at first seem. However, circumstances do vary and a couple of extra shots without reloading can't hurt. Dangerous predator hunting ranges are not long, but the bolt action is undeniably more accurate than the double rifle. Part of the double's mystique is faster handling, because of its shorter overall length, and point shooting at very close range (like a shotgun). However, the great majority of modern shooters can shoot faster and more accurately using a scope and bolt actions are better scope platforms. For most of us, the deciding factor is price. Bolt action safari rifles are expensive; double barreled safari rifles are prohibitive.
Among bolt action rifles, the debate is between controlled feeding and push feeding. The latter means that the bolt simply pushes the cartridge from the magazine and into the chamber. Only gravity (assuming the rifle is help upright) keeps the cartridge in line with the chamber. Hold the rifle on its side with the ejection port down as you operate the action and the cartridge can simply fall to the ground. Whirl to the left (with a right handed bolt action) while stroking the bolt and the cartridge may be thrown from the action. The chances of these things happening are very small and generally inconsequential, unless you are hunting dangerous game. In that case, you want to eliminate all possible errors.
The extractor in a controlled feed action grabs the case rim as the bolt pushes the cartridge from the magazine. Such an action will feed reliably on its side or in any orientation, including upside down, because the bolt controls the cartridge all the way into the chamber. That is why controlled feeding rifles are preferred for hunting dangerous game, whether thin or thick-skinned. Examples of controlled feed actions include the Browning/FN Mauser 98, CZ 550, Dakota Model 76, Kimber Caprivi, Mannlicher-Schoenauer, Mauser 98, Remington Model 798 (a Zastava Arms Mauser action), Ruger M77 Mk. II and Hawkeye, Winchester Model 70 (pre '64, Classic and current versions) and Zastava Arms Mausers.
Various members of the Guns and Shooting Online staff own rifles using most of these actions. Probably the most common here at G&S Online are the classic Mannlicher-Schoenauer, pre-'64 Model 70 and various Mauser 98's, as well as the currently produced CZ 550, Ruger M77 and Winchester Model 70. They all work fine. My CZ 550 Safari Classic Express Rifle is chambered for the 9.3x62mm cartridge.
Fixed magnification 2.5x scopes are excellent. Low power variables in the 1-4x and 1.5-5x ranges are also fine, as long as they are carried with the magnification turned down. High magnification and the resulting restricted field of view can get you killed in the event of a sudden charge from close cover. My CZ Safari Classic Express Rifle wears a Zeiss Victory Varipoint 1.1-4x24mm scope.
Thick-skinned Dangerous Game
These are large and potentially dangerous beasts. In North America we have bison. Northern Australia has wild water buffalo. Water buffalo and Yak are found in Asia. These are all bovine species. Africa offers the greatest selection of thick-skinned game, including elephant, rhino, hippo and Cape buffalo.
You can take any of the bovines with a .30-06 and 180-220 grain bullets. However, in situations where the animal might charge, and all bovines (even domestic species) are unpredictable, it is better to be safe than sorry. A powerful medium bore caliber launching a bullet with a sectional density (SD) of at least .300 is good insurance. In terms of killing power, I would start with the 9.3x62mm/286 grain load (about 3500 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy) and work up to the various .375 Mag./300 grain loads (around 4000 ft. lbs. ME in the case of the .375 H&H Magnum). The SD's of the 286 grain 9.3mm and 300 grain .375 bullets are the same at .305.
In Africa, acceptable cartridges for CXP4 game start with the 9.3x62mm and .375 H&H Flanged. For rhino, hippo and elephant, or to turn a Cape buffalo charge, big bores are preferred. The .404 Jeffery, .416 Ruger, .416 Rem. Magnum, .416 Rigby, .416 Wby. Magnum, .458 Win. Magnum, .458 Lott and .460 Wby. Magnum are well known examples of big bore elephant cartridges suitable for use in bolt action rifles. These deliver muzzle energy approaching or exceeding 5000 ft. lbs. (Considerably higher in the case of the big bore Weatherby Magnums.) Even larger caliber cartridges are offered in double barreled rifles, but the price of these monsters, not to mention the cost of ammunition, is prohibitive to all but the most affluent hunters.
The rifles recommended for hunting thick-skinned dangerous game are the same as those mentioned in the section on hunting thin-skinned dangerous game, principally controlled feed bolt actions. (See the "Rifles" section immediately above.) In big bore and safari calibers, current offerings include the CZ 550 Safari Classic, Dakota Model 76 African, Kimber Caprivi, Ruger M77 Hawkeye African, Winchester Model 70 Safari Express and Zastava Arms Mauser.
Fixed magnification 2.5x scopes are excellent. Low power variables in the 1-4x and 1.5-5x ranges are also good, as long as they are carried with the magnification turned down. High magnification and the resulting restricted field of view can get you killed in the event of a sudden charge from close cover. My old .458 Win. Magnum Browning/FN Safari Grade rifle wears a Leupold Vari-X 1-4x20mm variable.
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