A Mountain Rifle for the Rest of Us

By Mike Were

You read a lot about mountain rifles. They are the perfect firearm for that long planned hunt into the mountains. There is no shortage of manufacturers offering the ideal rifle for your trip. They are often made lighter by the use of exotic (read expensive) materials, machined for reduced weight and offered in various flat shooting calibers. Is this really what most of us need?

Mountain hunts are generally for varieties of goat or sheep, smallish animals that dominate the higher altitudes. Part of their attraction is their inaccessibility, so reaching their habitat is as much of a challenge as the hunting. Because they have handsome heads, and because packing out meat for days across treacherous high ground is not universally appealing, most mountain hunts are for trophies rather than meat.

Shot placement is the key to bagging your trophy in the mountains. You need to drop the animal where it stands, not after an explosive lunge down an abyss, ruining the head you worked so hard to get. Or worse, having your trophy unrecoverable, or not being able to reach and track a wounded animal. The rifle you need for this is, above all else, dependably accurate and one with which you are familiar. Most of us already have one of those, and (pass the envelope please): it is your favourite deer rifle!

The crux of the above is familiarity. People who write articles on mountain rifles often seem to overlook this. Often they are gun writers or hunters with many years of solid experience, people intimately familiar with all manner of firearms and accessories. Give them a new rifle and scope and they will quickly be able to use the combination like the pros that they are. New caliber and ammunition? No problem. They can memorise the ballistics. How does that relate to the rest of us, mostly occasional weekend hunters?

Maybe it’s because I started hunting late in life that instant familiarity with a new gun eludes me. I fumble with its feel and fit, the location of the safety and how it works, operating the action quickly and smoothly, the magnification settings on the scope and so forth. Give me my tried and true deer rifle, with the cartridge and scope I know and understand, and I am comfortable. Perhaps it is a few ounces heavier than ideal for uphill packing. However, that extra weight helps steady the aim when, chest heaving after a long uphill scramble, that one chance for an accurate shot occurs. Familiarity with all aspects of the rifle and scope makes operator error or hesitancy much less likely.

What about that long-range, flat shooting caliber? Well, to shoot and safely recover an undamaged trophy, you should be as close as possible. However, Murphy is still alive and well in the mountain tops and inevitably, his law will dictate that things do not go as planned and you may be forced into a longer shot than you would ideally choose. Given that mountain game is typically about the size of a mule deer, your deer rifle caliber is likely to be more than enough gun. Further, being familiar with your favourite deer load’s ballistics, you will know how much it drops over various ranges.

Not having a super duper, flat shooting magnum means you’ll have to make hold over adjustments after an MPBR of maybe 285 yards instead of, say, 310 yards. 25 yards is not much of a bonus, given the extra recoil and lack of familiarity you will trade for it. In addition, in the thin air at higher altitudes your deer rifle’s MPBR will stretch a little. Ironically, many hunters in my part of the world add a bipod and a suppressor to mitigate the pointing disadvantages and extra recoil of a lightweight, flat shooting mountain rifle. Whoops! The weight reduction for which you paid handsomely has just disappeared.

As an aside, the term “flat shooting” confounds me. It is often used as an absolute, rather than a relative, description. Every bullet’s path looks like the parabola you see when you throw a football. It just does its dropping over a longer distance. No amount of magnum power avoids this. You must still understand the trajectory of even the flattest shooting caliber. Whatever that parabolic trajectory is, it is never flat.

Now, if you go along with me in the above trade off, you’ve not had to buy a new (expensive) lightweight rifle and, of course, a suitably pricey scope. Spend some of that saved money on a decent backpack; preferably, one with a scabbard that comfortably carries your rifle out of harm’s way and you won’t even notice its few extra ounces. As a bonus, you can clamber up the mountainside better balanced without a rifle awkwardly swinging from its sling and you will always have the use of both hands as you climb.

Weight saving is worth a final, uncomfortable look. Those who know advise that weight saved in the mountains is a huge bonus. That includes the total package of what you take up, most of which is in the weapon’s delivery system, which is YOU. Why obsess over a few ounces of rifle weight when statistics reveal that most of us are more than several pounds overweight?

Trade off number two is to spend the time you would researching and buying a mountain rifle and scope (and sighting it in, becoming familiar with its calibre, choosing its right load and practising) shedding a few pounds. Taking some sandbags for a ride uphill in your pack while wearing the boots you will hunt in is not a bad way. Having become fitter while dropping that weight means you have a more powerful engine driving you uphill to your trophy.

In conclusion, I believe that most of us already have the rifle we need for a mountain hunt of a lifetime. Of course, I would hate to spoil a reason to buy another rifle. If you must have one, spend the same amount to buy that perfect deer rifle of your dreams. Then take it along with a trimmer you into the mountains.

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Copyright 2011 by Mike Were and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.