A Modern Jack O'Connor Woods Rifle
By Gary Zinn
The Proposed Rifle
A Henry Long Ranger lever action carbine in .338 Federal caliber with a 20 inch barrel, 1:10 twist rate. Estimated field weight of rifle 8.75 pounds, including riflescope and sling.
This rifle is an ideal choice, as it has a fast, smooth, rack and pinion action with a six lug, front locking, rotary bolt. The solid top receiver comes with Weaver type scope bases already mounted at the factory and eliminates the need for a front sight that can catch on brush and branches. Detachable, steel sling swivel studs and a contoured, effective recoil pad are standard equipment.
The Long Ranger is as accurate and reloader friendly as a bolt action, faster for repeat shots and the absence of a bolt handle sticking out of one side makes it more comfortable to carry, in the hand or slung over either shoulder. It balances between the hands and points naturally. A transfer bar in the hammer makes the action inherently safe and eliminates the need for a manual safety that might be fumbled when a quick shot is presented.
The Proposed Cartridge
.338 Federal using 200 to 225 grain hunting bullets. The cartridges should be loaded to ensure that the free recoil energy is less than 20 ft. lbs. in the Henry Long Ranger rifle described above.
Currently, the factory loads available in .338 Federal include 185, 200 and 210 grain bullets in the Federal Premium Vital-Shok, Power-Shok, American Eagle and Fusion brands. The published muzzle velocity data for these loads indicate they generate recoil that exceeds the 20 ft. lb. limit. Thus, new loads that meet the proposed recoil limitation should be developed. Here are examples of such loads using 200 and 225 grain bullets.
Load #1: 200 grain Hornady InterLock SP bullet (BC .361, SD .250); 45.0 grains of IMR 3031 powder; muzzle velocity 2550 f.p.s. (estimated for 20 inch barrel), muzzle energy 2880 ft. lbs.
Load #2: 225 grain Hornady InterLock SP bullet (BC .397, SD .281); 41.0 grains of IMR 3031 powder; muzzle velocity 2340 f.p.s. (estimated for 20 inch barrel), muzzle energy 2735 ft. lbs.
Note: This load data is from the Hodgdon Reloading Data Center website and uses Hornady bullets. Federal factory loaded ammunition would presumably be loaded with equivalent Federal, Fusion or Speer bullets.
The concept of a limited recoil, medium bore woods rifle is attributed to Jack O'Connor, the "Dean of American Gun Writers," and has been explored extensively by Guns and Shooting Online Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks. O'Connor's concept (as explained by Hawks in New Woods Cartridge: The .338x57 O'Connor) was for a .33 to .35 caliber cartridge loaded to drive a 200 grain bullet at 2400 - 2450 f.p.s. muzzle velocity. Experimentation had convinced O'Connor that such a cartridge, especially if loaded with flat point bullets, was a better "brush bucker" than higher velocity small bore (.30 caliber and smaller) cartridges.
O'Connor felt that this would be a very effective cartridge and load for hunting woodland game, such as deer, black bear and perhaps even elk at reasonable ranges. O'Connor proposed that the cartridge could be based on the 7x57mm Mauser case, which is shorter than the .30-06 case, and he chose the proposed bullet weight and MV in order to keep the recoil of the load below 20 ft. lbs.
O'Connor's concept predated the development and introduction of the short-action .308 Winchester cartridge and came long before introduction of the .338 Federal cartridge, which is based on a necked-up .308 Winchester case. The .338 Federal would seem to be the natural choice for implementing the O'Connor woods rifle concept, with cartridges meeting the approximate specifications outlined in the two loads suggested above.
Introduced in 2006, the .338 Federal cartridge has yet to catch fire in the marketplace. The only production rifles currently chambered for it are a handful of bolt action Savage Model 11 and Model 16 variants.
No lever action rifles are chambered for the cartridge, yet a short action lever gun would be an excellent choice for a woods rifle. The newly introduced Henry Long Ranger lever rifle is a natural choice for the .338 Federal, since it is designed to handle the .308 Winchester family of cartridges.
If Henry were to offer the Long Ranger in .338 Federal it could create a market niche advantage for the firm and the rifle. A Henry Long Ranger in .338 Federal could fire full power .338 Federal cartridges, of course, but the woods rifle concept would be best served by the development of medium velocity cartridges that meet the parameters suggested by the loads outlined above.
Since Federal has a vested interest in sustaining the .338 Federal cartridge, it would seem natural for that firm to develop loads that could be paired with the Henry Long Ranger rifle to make a medium bore woods rifle/ammunition package. Calling the rifle and cartridges the "Jack O'Connor Series" would be an innovative marketing hook that would attract the attention of many hunters.
Loads with 200 and 225 grain Speer bullets could be offered, essentially as detailed above. It is probably asking too much to hope that Speer would develop new 200 and 225 grain flat point bullets for the .338 Federal, although Jack O'Connor and Vernon Speer were good friends and today both Federal and Speer are part of the Vista Outdoor family of companies.
A more easily realized concept would be a Fusion Lite load using a 200 grain Fusion bullet at 2400 f.p.s. MV, the original ballistics suggested by Jack O'Connor. Such a load should reduce the recoil energy to less than 15 ft. lbs. in a Henry Long Ranger rifle, which would make the Jack O'Connor Woods Rifle suitable for once a year deer and elk hunters and still allow a MPBR (+/- 3 inches) in excess of 200 yards.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.