The Mystique of the Single Shot Rifle

By Ed Turner

Winchester 1885 High Wall Hunter
Winchester 1885 High Wall Hunter. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co.

There's something about hunting with a single shot rifle for big game that's kind of special and kind of different. Whenever you see a hunter uncase a single shot rifle as he or she is about to load and begin to hunt, you somehow know that they are confident and serious about their hunting. They have accepted that if they are not sure of a shot, it simply cannot be taken because another will be a long while in coming.

Sometimes this can be of no concern, but certainly, more times than not, it makes a huge difference in the possibility of a second shot, if needed. I find that particular point part of the allure of hunting with a single shot. They would not be the wisest choice for most hunting of dangerous game, but with a trusted friend or professional guide as a backup with a substantial rifle, it could be done safely.

Another aspect I like about single shots is the design of many of them; they are often rifle eye candy. I find the Ruger No. 1 in any configuration to be a very handsome rifle. The Merkel K1, Dakota Model 10 and 1885 Browning/Winchester single shots are gorgeous classics as well. These rifles and many other singles also serve utilitarian purposes. I own four single shot rifles, all purchased for deer hunting and they are all pleasing to the eye, except perhaps my T/C Encore. As nice a gun as it is and as much as I like it, it's pretty tough to call its oddball stock design attractive.

Even the Mossberg SSi that I purchased a while ago is a prettier gun, and that's saying something. I bought the Mossberg at a very low price, new, because it has some outstanding wood.

I think that the single shot rifle has never appealed to American shooters as much as it does to European shooters. This is probably because we have a different hunting tradition. Most American hunters are average people, hunting for meat and recreation on public land. In the U.S. hunting is not a hobby of the privileged, land owning class.

Many American hunters want, and perhaps need, the meat of wild game for sustenance. We here in the south, have different ideas of seasons and bag limits than do most other American hunters. In my county in the great state of Tennessee we have a 3 deer per day limit and a season that lasts over 100 days.

I can guarantee to you that some people here feast on venison year-round because they can legally collect 300 deer a season. Probably no one really shoots that many deer, but believe me that there are families here who enjoy our obviously generous bag limit for all the right reasons.

I have strayed a bit off the track here, but only to suggest why most American hunters eschew single shot rifles for deer hunting. I can tell you that from my point of view, as an avid deer hunter (perhaps 50 days a year), I make a conscious decision regarding when to take one of my "singles" on a day's hunt.

A few of the reasons might be as simple as the time of season or the weather at that time. I'd likely not use one on opening day when thinking I was in the bedroom of a very good buck and needing to be assured of dropping him on sight. I also won't take my fine singles out in a driving rain or on a snowy day. I have other rifles I'd prefer to use in inclement weather.

This leaves, for me, special considerations for using one of my singles and I'm fine with that. I can tell you honestly though, that at some point in my hunting career I would like to graduate to using single shot rifles exclusively. At that time, I might consider myself to be a "consummate" hunter. Note, please, not an "accomplished" one, but simply among the best of the "hunter" people.

I'll make no bones about my affection for and enjoyment in using a specific firearm because of its looks. I suppose that most fans of anything (classic cars and motorcycles, for example) do likewise. I can tell you that a rifle's ability to group 3 shots into 1/2 M.O.A. at 100 yards is much less important to me than it's looks, feel and ability to group 3 shots into a M.O.Deer at whatever range I am willing to shoot. Before you get your shorts in an uproar, I can assure you that the legions of men every year see deer beyond their sure kill range (no matter what rifle and cartridge they are using) and are MUCH more apt than I to something silly. You can take that to the bank, my friends.

Knowing when NOT to shoot is perhaps the biggest challenge to the modern hunter. Just because you are shooting a .300 Whizbang Mag. in a Deluxe Fluzy rifle doesn't mean you can, or should, let loose at Mr. Buck some 450 yards distant.

So my ideas are enjoy hunting as you please, but always give the game the respect it deserves. Practice, practice, practice (did I mention SHOOT). Consider at some point the concept of one good shot for one special animal.

To conclude on a personal note, as I stated above I'd like at some point like to do all my hunting with a single shot rifle. Not because I have lost my thirst to hunt, but because I consider the hunt more than blasting my way to a trophy. I'd never, ever say that all hunting should be done with single shot rifles. However, I would recommend using a single shot rifle if it makes the hunter feel more, yup, empowered to perform his special, lethal, deed--whether it be for trophy, meat or mostly to satisfy his ancient hunting urges--as long as it is done ethically and legally. Good luck, and squeeze very, very slowly.

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Copyright 2007, 2013 by Ed Turner and/or All rights reserved.