Refining a Hunting Rifle Battery
By Chuck Hawks
I am, first and foremost, a recreational shooter and gun crank. Some guys like to bowl or play golf or tennis; I like to shoot. And I enjoy owning fine firearms. As the Owner/Managing Editor of Guns and Shooting Online, I am constantly exposed to neat new guns. So, it's easy to accumulate more firearms than I really need--at least it is for me!
I am often asked about my most useful rifles. The other day I got to wondering which I'd keep if I had to drastically reduce my rifle inventory. Say that, hypothetically, for some reason I had to make do with a half dozen rifles. Maybe I had to sell a bunch of guns to remodel my house or something. (Lots o' luck!) Which ones would I keep? Which of these fine rifles do I really need to maintain a good, general purpose rifle battery and which could I live without?
I don't compete formally. Most of my shooting is done at a rifle range (informal target shooting) or in the hills (plinking). But I think that I can reasonably justify owning a battery of hunting rifles that allows me to hunt pretty much anything, as the spirit moves me. And it is my various hunting rifles that I enjoy shooting at the range or when plinking in the hills.
It seems to me that the first logical step would be to list the calibers of my various rifles and the primary purposes for which I use them. At the moment, such a list would look like this:
Working from that list, it is clear that some calibers could be eliminated. For instance, as much as I have always enjoyed small game hunting with a .22, the advent of the .17 HMR cartridge has made the .22 LR nearly obsolete for my purposes. The .17 simply does everything I want a rimfire cartridge to do better than the .22 LR. I could get by with one rimfire rifle if it was a .17 HMR, especiallly a nice one such as my Meister Grade Anschutz 1717 DKL.
At the other end of the spectrum, I do not hunt with the .50 muzzleloader. My Savage 10ML-II is strictly a plinker. Oregon game laws regarding muzzleloading hunting are controlled by a "buckskin" lobby that insists on laws allowing only traditional flintlock and open ignition percussion rifles shooting round ball or conical bullets. No optical sights, no fire sights, no inline rifles, no sabots, no jacketed bullets or any other modern muzzleloading improvements are allowed. These guys want to dress up and play like they are Davy Crockett in the woods. I don't mind that, to each his own, but I do kind of mind that they have manipulated the legal system so that anyone with a different view of muzzleloading hunting is barred from participation. Anyway, the result is that I could live without a muzzleloader if I had to.
As much fun as my Uberti 1873 replica and Henry Big Boy .38 Spec./.357 Magnum lever guns are to shoot, these pistol cartridge rifles are basically plinkers. They serve no purpose as hunting rifles that cannot be accomplished as well by other calibers on the list. I would miss them, but I could live without them.
There are three powerful medium bore calibers on my list, the .338 Federal, .338 Win. Mag. and the .350 Rem. Mag. The .338 Mag. is an autoloading Browning BAR rifle, the .350 Mag. is a lighter, handier, Ruger M77 bolt action and the .338 Federal is an ultra-light Kimber 84M Classic bolt action. If push came to shove, I could get by with just the .350 Ruger M77R.
There are also two big bore calibers on my list, the .45-70 and .458 Magnum. Practically speaking, I really don't need two big bores. I can handload the .45-70 up in power (my rifle is a strong single shot) to cover most big bore chores, although ultimately it can never equal the power of the .458. On the other hand, I can also handload the .458 down to .45-70 levels, but retain the capability to use full power magnum loads should the need arise. And my bolt action Browning Safari rifle is a better choice for dangerous game than even the best single shot rifle. I'd go with the .458 Magnum and let the .45-70 slide.
Another duplication is the all-around rifles in .270 Win., .308 Marlin, .308 Win., .30-06 and 7mm Rem. Mag. All are capable all-around calibers. The .270 is a deluxe custom-built rifle, the .308 is an elegant Ruger M77 International carbine, the .30-06 is a Remington Model 798 Mauser and the 7mm Mag. is a particularly lovely blue/walnut Weatherby Vanguard VGX Deluxe. The .308 Marlin is a stainless/laminate Marlin XLR and serves as my inclement weather all-around rifle. As useful as all of these rifles are, the 7mm Mag. Weatherby Vanguard is my "go to" all-around rifle. As they say, it shoots as flat as a .270 and hits as hard as a .30-06. If I could only have one, that would be the rifle I would retain. (If I could keep two, the .308 Marlin would be my second choice for use in inclement weather.)
The 6.5x55 and 7x57 calibers serve the same purpose and both fire a 140 grain bullet at a MV of around 2700 fps. They are verstile calibers with excellent killing power that do not kick the shooter out from under his hat and I am a big fan of both. In my case the two individual rifles are quite different, however. The 6.5x55 is a stainless/walnut, limited edition Ruger K1A single shot while the 7x57 is a custom-built bolt action. Both are lovely rifles, but since I went with a blue/walnut rifle in the paragraph above, I'd better go with the Ruger K1A and its stainless steel barreled action here.
The one area where there is no conflict is the .223 Rem. It is the only dedicated, centerfire varmint caliber on the list and my Custom Shop Savage Model 12 is the most accurate rifle I own. It's definitely a keeper.
Those are the obvious choices, decisions that are painful, but not actually too difficult to make. That leaves us with these calibers (the five entries in bold type have made the cut):
There is room for only one CXP2 rifle in my self-imposed limit of six hunting rifles. There are four CXP2 calibers remaining on the list and here there is considerable overlap in capability. The rifles for those calibers are the ones that actually get the most use in the field. And I like all of them. The .257 Wby., 6.5x55 and .30-30 are calibers that will humanely take all CXP2 game (and, in a pinch, most CXP3 game). The .243 Win. is a little more limited in application as regards hunting CXP2 game, so it should probably give way to the more versatile numbers. This would then be the list of remaining calibers:
Crunch time. The .30-30, in the form of the handy Marlin and Winchester lever action carbines, has the shortest maximum point blank range (+/- 3"), about 235 yards, while the .257 Wby. has the longest, in excess of 300 yards. On the other hand, the Weatherby Mark V rifle in which the .257 Mag. is chambered is the longest, heaviest and least handy in the group. So, reluctantly, both will have to go; the .30-30 because the other two rifles out range it and the .257 Weatherby because the 6.5x55 Ruger K1A is handier to carry. The latter will also serve as the inclement weather rifle in the reduced battery. Thus, my final list looks like this:
The result of this hypothetical exercise is a tight, versatile, battery of hunting rifles. And now, having seriously thought about it, I can answer the question, "Which are your most useful rifles?"
Copyright 2005, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.