The Column, No. 100:

Firearm Needs vs. Wants

By David Tong

I have had some long discussions with other members of the Guns and Shooting Online crew regarding my predilections favoring a large bore anything. Being an American, typically it does not bother me that firearms, cars and motorcycles, to name just three things, may have "too much power" for rational application.

Pertaining to guns, I will always prefer a .45 ACP pistol to a 9x19mm. I will enjoy a 12 gauge more than a 20 gauge. I will favor a .375 H&H over a .270 Winchester.

Some of my bias is historical and some of it is sheer preference. All of us have these desires. Why does someone buy a $20,000 Winchester Model 21 double instead of a $550 Remington 870 pump?

How would I quantify need? In the strictest sense, say you need a self-defense handgun. You evaluate your skill level, your strength of arms and hands, how and where you want to use it and the maximum amount you are willing to spend to both acquire the arm and its ammo. You choose from what fits those criteria.

Likewise, for deer hunting in most of North America you do not need anything more powerful than what Chuck Hawks suggests in his article The 200-yard Deer Cartridge. Of course, "want" is another thing. I have long found medium and large bore rifles nearly as interesting as large bore handguns and, fortunately, I can deal with the recoil.

I use the vaunted .375 Holland & Holland Belted Rimless Magnum as my personal yardstick, because of my over 20 years of experience having fun with one, despite its recoil being far beyond what most people are comfortable shooting. I also spent some time with the .416 Rigby in an 11 pound Ruger M77 Safari Magnum and the .458 Winchester Magnum in a 10 pound Ruger M77 Mk. I, but it was the .375 H&H that I preferred. The .375 H&H, although totally overpowered for North American game (besides, perhaps, the great bears and bison), strikes me as a nearly perfect all-around rifle for large game.

Indeed, the Holland and Holland technicians designed it for just that purpose. This is why the original Kynoch ammunition trust loaded 235 grain, 270 grain and 300 grain bullets in a variety of types, so that it could be used for Class 2 to Class 4 game. It might not be optimum for either size extreme, but it will work.

The lens through which I nearly always look at firearms is one of historical and romantic bias. I think about all those intrepid, politically incorrect souls who used firearms over the past century-plus in places where my feet have not trod. Of course, these days a decent .375 safari rifle costs as much as two or three regular deer rifles. However, given this mindset, what price does one pay if one can afford such a thing and does not buy it?

I am talking intangibles here, while others of a more practical nature may use functionality as the sole determinant when choosing a hunting rifle. I do not think that one point of view necessarily precludes the other. Sometimes, we do what we must, due to circumstances. It is reasonable to get a practical hunting rifle that you can actually afford. However, you can also save the butter and egg money for the rifle you really want.

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Copyright 2015 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.