The Hunting Rifle Battery
By Chuck Hawks
Rather than select individual rifles and cartridges to form a hunting rifle battery, as is typical for most articles of this type, I am going to recommend a type (or types) of rifle for each general hunting application, and a few popular and appropriate cartridges. I will occasionally mention some of my personal favorites. You, gentle reader, can take it from there.
Naturally, there are always perfectly adequate possibilities that will not be mentioned here. There are, after all, a large number of cartridges and rifles available today.
My general advice is always to buy the best quality hunting rifle that you can possibly afford, regardless of purpose, caliber or action type. A good rifle is a lifetime investment, and retains its value. Cheap rifles usually end up being replaced, and they don't hold their value nearly as well.
This article is intended as a general guide, and opinions do differ, but here are my suggestions.
1. Small Game (CXP1)
Small game usually means rabbits, squirrels, and similar size animals taken for the pot.
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 it was designed for the purpose and nothing is better.
The hard part is choosing a small game rifle, 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 (my personal choice), pump action, or autoloading .22 hunting rifle. Use any high quality .22 hunting rifle that strikes your fancy.
2. Varmints (CXP1)
Varmints are small animals, mostly rodents, that are shot to thin their numbers rather than for food. Typical examples are marmots, rats, sand rats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and the like. Varmint rifles are also often used to shoot small predators such as coyotes and foxes.
Reasonable choices for shooting varmints at ranges out to about 125 yards include the rimfire .17 HMR and .22 WMR. For medium ranges, say 100-200 yards, the .17 HMR, .222 Remington, and .223 Remington are good choices. For long range varmint shooting, in excess of 200 yards out to as far as you can hit them, the .22-250 Remington is the most popular cartridge.
My personal favorites are the .17 HMR and .223 Remington. You should choose the cartridge that best fits your anticipated range requirements. Remember that the less powder a cartridge burns the more fun it is to shoot, so the most powerful cartridge is not the best choice unless you really need the extra range.
The premium is on accuracy, so bolt action and single shot rifles predominate. Either is a good choice. Heavy barrels are the norm for varmint rifles. Barrel lengths of at 20" to 24" are typical for the rimfire calibers, and centerfire varmint rifles usually come with 24" or 26" barrels. A good trigger is particularly important in a varmint rifle. Most of the rifle manufacturers offer models specifically designed for varmint hunting.
3. Medium Game, Deer (CXP2)
By far the most popular CXP2 game animals in North America are deer. In Africa they are various species of antelope. Other reasonably common CXP2 game animals include wild sheep and goats. Such creatures probably weigh from about 75 to 350 pounds on the hoof, with around 125-150 pounds being about average.
Because CXP2 is the most common class of big game hunted all over the world, there are many perfectly acceptable cartridge choices. Good choices include cartridges on the order of the .243 Winchester, .257 Roberts, .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 7mm-08 Remington, 7x57 Mauser, and .30-30 Winchester. All of these will get the job done to beyond 200 yards with minimum fuss and recoil with appropriate bullets and loads.
Choose the cartridge that best fits your specific hunting conditions. If long range shots are typical, the .243 and .257 are good choices. The .30-30 is the best woods cartridge. The 6.5mm and 7mm calibers fall somewhere in-between.
The action type is not critical. Bolt, lever, pump, autoloading, and single shot rifles are all appropriate. Barrel lengths of 22" are about right, depending on the cartridge. (20" barrels are usually standard on .30-30 rifles.) These are not hard kicking cartridges, so rifles for them can be moderate in weight. Between 7 and 8 pounds, including a scope and mount, is about right.
4. All-around Rifles and Cartridges
These are arms appropriate for both CXP2 and CXP3 class game. They are as close as it gets to a general purpose rifle for big game hunting. Every rifle battery should include at least one all-around rifle, if for no other reason than to serve as back-up for both the CXP2 and CXP3 game rifles.
In reality, the all-around rifle is usually the first rifle selected to begin building a big game hunting rifle battery. It is the most sensible choice for combination deer and elk hunts.
I have written extensively about all-around cartridges, so I will just summarize here. For recoil sensitive shooters the .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 7x57 Mauser, and 7mm-08 Remington are probably the best choices. All are acceptable, but on the low side of the all-around category in both power and recoil.
The optimum all-around calibers include the .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .308 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield. All are versatile, popular, and will get the job done.
Once again, there are acceptable rifles of bolt action, lever action, autoloading, pump, and single shot persuasion. Personally, I tend to favor the bolt action for an all-around rifle.
Rifles for the standard all-around cartridges should weigh at least 8 pounds with a scope and mount. A 7mm Magnum rifle should weigh at least 8.5 pounds. 9 pounds is about the maximum weight for an all-around rifle; beyond that it becomes a burden for most shooters to carry. Barrel lengths for standard calibers should be 22" to 24", and 24" for the 7mm Magnum.
5. Large Game (CXP3)
Typical examples of CXP3 game would be elk in North America, kudu in Africa, and alg (Scandinavian moose) in Europe. These are large animals, probably averaging 500 pounds or more in live weight, and the recommended cartridges will reflect that fact.
Any of the all-around cartridges mentioned in the previous section will do. Also widely recommended are the .300 and 8mm Magnums, and most of the medium bore cartridges.
In standard high intensity cartridges the .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .338 Federal, .358 Winchester, and .35 Whelen are good choices. In Magnum cartridges the 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, and .350 Remington Magnum are suitable.
Personally, I prefer medium bore cartridges (.338 to .375 caliber) for this class of game. It is what they were designed for. For dangerous game such as the big cats and great bears, medium bore cartridges are especially recommended! The .338 Win. Mag. is the most popular North American medium, and the .375 H&H is probably the most famous African medium. Both are fine dangerous game cartridges, and both--with the right loads--can handle CXP4 game in a pinch.
Rifles for the medium bore cartridges should weigh at least 8.5 pounds scoped, and 9 pounds is better, particularly for the magnums. Rifles for standard cartridges and the .350 Rem. Mag. will do fine with a 22" barrel and rifles for the other magnum cartridges should wear 24" to 26" tubes. Bolt action rifles predominate because they are simple and very strong, but there are some lever, autoloading, and single shot options.
6. Heavy, Dangerous Game (CXP4)
CXP4 game includes bison, buffalo, rhino, and elephant. These are animals that average 1000 pounds or more in live weight. This is the province of the most powerful medium and big bore calibers (9.3mm and larger), usually offered in specialized "safari" rifles.
The most popular medium bore cartridge for CXP4 game is the .375 H&H Magnum. Also popular is the big bore .458 Winchester Magnum, and this caliber is the standout among the big bores for North American shooters. It has the sterling virtue of working in standard (.30-06 length) actions.
Dangerous game rifles should be doubles or very reliable repeaters. The latter are far more popular, and the most popular type of repeater is the bolt action. My personal safari rifle is, in fact, a bolt action. Barrel lengths are typically 24" for these big boomers, and safari rifles should be heavy to soak up some of the outsized recoil. 10 to 12 pounds is probably about right for a .375 or .458 Magnum rifle.
So there you have it. A half dozen rifles for a rifle battery suitable for hunting game from squirrels to elephants, and everything in-between. Since most hunters do not hunt CXP4 game and therefore have no need a safari rifle, the typical battery totals 5 rifles. Three of those are for hunting big game, and those can back-up each other so that there are always 2 rifles available for any hunt. Neat!
Copyright 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.