Make Mine a Medium Bore!

By Ed Turner

Rem. 673 Guide Rifle
Remington 673 rifle in .350 Rem. Mag. Illustration courtesy of Remington Arms Co. Inc.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by medium bore rifles. Not necessarily the medium bore magnums, but the medium bore deer rifles of the recent past as well as today's newbies. In my gun cabinet, as I write this, are rifles in .35 Rem., .356 Win., .358 Win., 35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Mag. and, though officially too large to call a medium bore, a .444 Marlin that is functionally equivalent. I also have a Savage 110 action being rebarreled to .338-06 at the gunsmith's as I write these words.

There just seems to be something about these calibers that says "deer rifle" to me. Most of my hunting for whitetails has been in the wooded, short to medium range areas they are most famous for inhabiting. So, the use of rifles such as those mentioned above seem like perfectly logical choices to this somewhat old fashioned fella.

I must say that the feel of some of them, the BLR and the two Marlins especially, is just what a deer rifle should be in the hands of a still hunter. Short and well balanced, and coming to the shoulder naturally. Those qualities can also be fully appreciated while sitting in a ground blind or tree stand as well. A well balanced carbine is never out of place in the hands of a deer hunter, although its caliber might be at some point in time.

Payton Miller, a frequent contributor to Guns and Ammo recently wrote an article about the latest medium bore to come out, the .338 Federal, and I quote him here: "Namely, if you need more than a standard .30 caliber, you probably need a bigger bullet." Some very wise words, I think.

I'd maybe modify them somewhat by saying "need or want" as some may simply want to use a heavier than necessary caliber due to personal preference, or for precautionary reasons. Let me elaborate a bit on that last point. Many of us, out of necessity, hunt on public lands or small private parcels surrounded by other land where we may not have permission to enter to retrieve a wounded deer that has run off "our" area, or property. It is illegal here and in many other states to enter onto private or posted land to retrieve even a dead deer without first securing permission from the landowner.

It might be disappointing to either leave a nice buck as you followed the letter of the law and tried to secure that permission, as well as embarrassing to be caught trying to ease over on posted land before doing so. Actual criminal charges can be brought for this. I think this might be a very good reason for an otherwise heavier than necessary caliber to be used by some hunters.

Of course, that rationale only applies if they can shoot it without ill effects from the added recoil. Otherwise they may well wound and lose more game than with a caliber that kicks less. That seems to be the most common reason, unacceptable recoil, for those who do not want any part of a medium bore deer rifle.

I'll say this about that subject: if you can shoot a medium bore on a par with a smaller caliber, then have at it. I shoot a lot of mediums, but try to mix it up a bit at the range while shooting them. I like to make sure I don't ever simply have a day of "heavy" calibers to shoot by themselves. I'll shoot, say, the .35 Whelen and then a .270. That way I try to prevent any flinching habits from forming. I can normally shoot any of these medium bore rifles for as much as 3 or 4 groups in a session with no ill effects.

Again the most important thing in using a heavier caliber is checking to be sure that it causes no problem with your shooting ability. I recently sold another .35 Whelen to a friend and I think he talked to some people who warned him about the recoil. I told him that it had never bothered me, and after shooting it, he agreed that it felt no worse than the .30-06 from which it was derived.

Of course, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. My experience with these calibers is that, all other things being equal, a well placed shot from a medium bore will drop a deer more quickly than one from a smaller caliber. Of course, a typical .270, .30-30, .308 and their equivalents will also drop a deer in it's tracks with the right shot, but I am saying that a lung shot deer many times will drop in it's tracks from a hit with a medium bore caliber. The .35 Whelen and .350 Rem Mag (basically ballistic twins) will simply hammer a deer with a shot in the vitals.

They simply cannot take the 3,000+ ft. lbs. of energy carried by a well placed, properly mushroomed .35 caliber bullet. It is too much shock to their system. Using these calibers has, however, possibly affected my tracking talents; every deer hit with these two calibers has gone down either in its tracks or very close by, in sight, with no tracking needed.

This factor can be huge when hunting where others are near by, and might be tempted to claim a deer lethally shot by you, but that has run one or two hundred yards from where it was hit. A well placed shot from any proper caliber and bullet combination from .243 Winchester and up will provide venison for the table of an experienced shooter/hunter, but the medium bores may prove successful with much less tracking.

We have a stand in a very good spot of a piece of land that we hunt here in Tennessee, where several deer have been shot. The only drawback for that stand is that the property we are allowed to hunt is only about 250 yards wide at that spot, and is surrounded by posted land on two sides. (There are, of course, no nearby houses.) I feel more comfy hunting from this stand with a true deer hammer in my hands. It just gives me added confidence.

Another rather controversial aspect of medium bore rifles is the "brush busting" capabilities they may or may not possess. I'll not argue that attribute one way or the other here, but rather say that I feel there is a possible difference, and I'll take any potential advantage offered. I do not suggest that one should blast away through a forest of limbs because you are using a medium bore, but rather that a small, unobserved branch would probably be better coped with by a 225 grain .35 caliber bullet than a 100 grain .243 enroute to your trophy buck.

You'll never hear an argument from me against someone using the rifle that they are most comfortable with, regardless of caliber (as long as it is adequate to the task, of course). But, I am merely saying that if you'd enjoy something different from the typical "calibers of the masses," go ahead and try a medium bore and see what you may have been missing. I have a feeling that I'll be adding at least one more to my list of favorites when that .338-06 gets back from the gunsmith's.

By the way, a semi-custom rifle such as this need not set you back a lot of money. I bought a barrel kit, including go-no-go gauges for only $150 and the used rifle itself ran me $125. Including the gunsmith's services I expect to have no more that about $350 tied up into what should be an awesome rifle. E.R. Shaw, Inc., a well known and respected barrel maker, manufactures the barrel kit.

Do a bit of research in the "Expanded Rifle Ballistics Table" found on the Guns and Shooting Online Tables, Charts and Lists page and see what you think. Maybe you'd prefer an alternative to "magnumizing" and enjoy a good medium bore rifle instead.

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Copyright 2007 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.