Three Winning Combinations

By Jon Y. Wolfe


I greatly enjoy trying out different rifles, scopes and different loads. I put together a few rifles a year, and test them extensively. I typically stick to medium and low priced offerings with only a few exceptions. In the past few years I've put together 3 rifles and was impressed enough with three of them to write this article in the hope that the reader can benefit from my failures and successes.

Following is a list of rifles and scopes and their respective factory loads.

  • Browning A-Bolt Hunter .30-06 with Bushnell Elite 3200 4-12x40 using Hornady 150 gr. Interbond Light Magnum
  • Winchester 94E .30-30 with Weaver Grand Slam 1.5-5x32 using Winchester 150 gr. Power Point Plus
  • Tikka T3 Lite in 7mm-08 with Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x40 using Hornady 139 gr. SP Light Magnum

Browning A-Bolt Hunter .30-06

I won't comment extensively on each of these three rifles, as they have been covered already in the rifle review section. What I do wish to explore for the reader is the combination of rifle, cartridge and scope that gives life to the complete shooting system. As many hunters know, the complete package is greater than the sum of its parts. A rifle that shoots predictably, a bullet weight that matches the game, and has the right sectional density, ballistic coefficient and expansion characteristics, and finally a scope that has accurate adjustments, holds its zero and is matched to the cartridge and rifle to which it is mounted.

I had been looking for nearly two years for the perfect .30-06. I purchased a Browning A-Bolt Hunter, which is a wood stocked, low-luster blued rifle with a shorter length of pull and more compact feel than the Hunter Classic. It's a fine rifle that is representative of the quality products produced by Browning. These rifles are fairly easy to find, but are typically priced in the $600 price range as they have an MSRP of $705. However, I bought mine for significantly less as it was the display model and was also on sale.

I mounted a Bushnell Elite 3200 4-12X40 scope using Leupold STD bases and medium height rings. These are the dove tail front and wind drift adjustable rear mounts. I did an extensive amount of research for the right ammunition and decided on the Hornady 150 gr. Interbond Light Magnum. It had a high ballistic coefficient and has more downrange energy at 100, 200, and 300 yards than the equivalent Hornady Light Magnum load in the .270. The traditional caparison between these two always comes down to the fact that the .270 shoots flatter. However, using Hornady light magnum loads, the .30-06 shoots as flat with greater energy up to about 360 yards. See chart below. Note that the .30-06 requires only a .2 inch increase at 100 yards to zero at 200.

.270 Hornady 130 gr. Interbond Light Magnum (BC .460, SD .242)

    Yards - Velocity/Energy:

    Muzzle - 3215/2983
    100 - 2998/2594
    200 - 2792/2249
    300 - 2595/1943
    400 - 2406/1671

    Trajectory:

    -1.5" at muzzle, +1.2" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, 5.7" at 300 yards, -16.5" at 400 yards

.30-06 Hornady 150 gr. Interbond Light Magnum (BC .415, SD .226)

    Yards - Velocity/Energy:

    Muzzle - 3100/3200
    100 - 2867/2736
    200 - 2645/2330
    300 - 2434/1973
    400 - 2233/1660

    Trajectory:

    -1.5" at muzzle, +1.4" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -6.4" at 300 yards, -18.6" at 400 yards

The point of all this is that after shooting a .270 for many years because of its flat shooting characteristics, I am finally giving the .30-06 a new look, and I am very excited about the coming season, albeit a few months away. At the range the A-Bolt performed flawlessly, as expected. Within 5 shots I was zeroed 1.8 inches high at 100 yards and shooting consistent groups, even with a warm barrel.

I also shot a 5 shot group at 300 yards using a zero hold; that is I was aiming at the center of the bull's eye. The result was a 5 inch group that averaged 8 inches low. That's very acceptable performance and with a slight adjustment I can extrapolate that I have about a 290 yard maximum point blank range.

For those of you considering a new rifle and scope combination, I can only say that the above combination will allow one to hunt any game in North America at reasonable ranges given a well placed shot. My rifle with sling weighs in just above 9 pounds, field ready. I expected more recoil, but this rifle is right in line with what I call manageable. Next year, this will be my first choice hunting rifle for most of my hunting except for one location I hunt that has a maximum shot of about 50 yards. For that I'll use my handy Winchester 94E in .30-30.

Winchester 94E .30-30

I use a climbing tree stand quite a bit and do a lot of walking in thick cover to get to the area I hunt. In many of these places on public land the shots never exceed 100 yards and are usually 30-50 yards. I put this rifle together with the idea that I wanted to use a low power, wide field of view scope. I chose the Weaver Grand Slam 1.5-5X32. I used see through Weaver mounts so if I had to, I could use the iron sights. The scope is mounted higher than I would like, but it carries well.

As many of you know, when you are in a stand or blind and the animal that you are trying to shoot is right in front of you, a rifle that has a shorter length of pull and shorter overall length is a lot easier to get into position than a cannon with a 26 inch barrel. So, needless to say, I use this rifle often and it sees a lot of use in close cover and when I climb.

We do "man drives" at the end of the season and very often we have to take running shots. For this, I like the wide field of view of this scope and ease of pointing due to its short overall length. The Weaver Grand Slam is one scope I have been extremely impressed with and I think it's a great scope with very clear optics, precise adjustments and good looks.

This complete rifle weights roughly 7.4 pounds, field ready. I use the Winchester 150 Power Point Plus and the new Hornady 160 polymer tipped LeverEvolution loads. For a .30-30 this is a great choice for deer and other CXP2 class game. I took a large doe this year at 40 yards with this gun and a .30-30 still does a fine job, effectively and humanely.

The Tikka T3 Lite

I bought the Tikka in 7mm-08 because I wanted a short action rifle that was easy to carry, lightweight and easy to shoot. I also wanted something that shoots flat. The 7mm-08 fit the bill. The fine user adjustable trigger and two position safety make the rifle a real pleasure to maintain and operate.

The T3 Lite is very handy, a light weight rifle with a 22.3 inch barrel and an exceptional trigger and smooth bolt. When putting this gun together I hand in mind a backup rifle that could shoot flat if I was hunting the bean fields and was easy to carry and shoot if I was in the woods. I mounted a Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x40 scope. The rings that are supplied with Tikka rifles will accommodate up to a 42mm objective. The factory load I am using is Hornady's 139 gr. SP Light Magnum at an advertised velocity of 3000 fps. This little rifle really jumps when I pull the trigger as the recoil velocity is up there because of the light weight. The overall weight of the rifle is only 7.3 pounds, field ready.

I'm not sure this rifle likes the Hornady SP, as my groups are not really where they need to be. I'm going to try the Hornady SST and see if the lower drag bullet makes a difference. The SST bullets have a longer ogive and engage the rifling differently than the Spire Point, and that just might do the trick. Plus they have a plastic tip, which is purported to be a little more uniform. I've had such good results with the traditional hunting bullets from Hornady that I have been hesitant to change.

Of the three rifles above, if I had to choose one, I would say that the ultimate combination is the Browning A-Bolt--with a scope change. I'd top the Browning with a 2-7x variable power scope because of the extreme versatility of the .30-06 cartridge.

In fact, I recently did some experimentation with a 170 grain round nose Nosler Partition in the .30-06 cartridge using 35.8 grains of Accurate 5744. This reduced charge load is extremely accurate and performs well in heavy cover. The recoil is manageable and at 2530 fps it fits the bill for a close in shot with plenty of knock down power. As an added bonus, the above mentioned loads for the Browning A-Bolt shoot to the same point of aim at 100 yards. This allows me to used two different loads for one gun without any major adjustments. The high velocity Hornady Light Magnum load for long range work and the reduced recoil load for close-in and heavy cover shots.




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Copyright 2007 by Jon Y. Wolfe. All rights reserved.



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