The Relevancy of the Army Rifle for Hunting

By David Tong

In the Western world, it is apparent that most countries that still allow hunting use some form of rifle derived originally from a military design. For most, this is the repeating, turnbolt action, to be more specific, some form of modified Mauser ’98.

This design was the watershed moment in the development of the bolt action for sporting use, a front locking, dual lug, 90-degree bolt lift action adaptable to a wide range of cartridges. Notably, the Czech firm CZ has an entire lineup of appropriately scaled M98 type actions that take rounds from varmint to elephant calibers.

The scoped bolt action is the most popular type of hunting rifle in the 21st Century. Mostly, this is matter of manufacturing economy, although the M98 in particular and bolt actions in general are also renowned for functional reliability.

Any student of firearms history will know that the 20th Century was a hotbed of technological development of repeating firearms. Military forces have employed self-loading firearms since the 1940's and five generations of retired troops have trained on them.

In the U.S., we have always had an admiration and fondness for military rifles. Americans tend to be independent cusses and we don’t like being told what we can or cannot do. Many of these older shooters gravitate toward the rifles they know so well for recreational purposes. Witness the “AR-15” phenomenon of the past fifteen years. I would expect that this type of firearm has outsold all others during this time.

Mostly used for varmint hunting due to its diminutive caliber, commercial firms such as Knight’s Armament of Florida have developed larger .308 chambered versions of the basic platform that have sold well to civilians. Thus, it is entirely possible to go deer hunting with a rifle similar to what one trained on in one’s youth, just as generations of American fighting men have always done.

To be blunter, these are this generation’s 1903 Springfield. Is it wrong to think of them this way? There is a philosophical, as well as legislative, bias against the use of the self-loading rifle in the hunting field. Many hard-core traditionalists turn their noses up at anyone who would challenge the M98 orthodoxy, yet must this be?

Despite the AR-15 type rifle’s well known issues digesting sand overseas, the much less demanding arena of hunting means that this rifle system performs adequately. Properly assembled, it is sufficiently accurate for big game hunting. Yet the detractors in the halls of government think that such rifles don’t have a “sporting purpose.” “They are only useful for killing people,” anti-gun politicians cry. The sporting purpose phrase has been used by BATF and certain legislators to propose bans on scoped bolt-action “sniper rifles,” let alone self-loaders with appropriately abbreviated capacity magazines for hunting. The state of Pennsylvania, among others, will not allow self-loading rifles for deer hunting. Pennsylvania is typically number one in terms of the number of deer hunting licenses sold each year.

What I would like is for everyone to step back from the rhetoric a moment. The “black rifle” is here to stay, yet some people want to ban them entirely, or disallow their use for hunting, simply because they do not like the way they look. I suspect the generation of men who used the Trapdoor Springfield 140 years ago probably had the same thoughts about the “ammo wasting” repeating bolt action!

For the more recoil sensitive among us, the gas operated autoloading rifle makes some sense. The Remington 7400 series or the Browning BAR Mark II are good hunting rifles that can shoot appropriately powerful cartridges with significantly less felt recoil. Unfortunately, these rifles are often lumped together with the military derived weapons by law or political bias.

I would not choose to carry a scoped, 12 pound Springfield M1A for deer hunting, although I have no problem with those who do. Before we let our prejudices color our judgment, let us remember that the freedom to do what we want within the social compact is how our country so substantially differs from all others. Do we, as hunters, want to grow our ranks, or continue on a path that isolates us from potential newcomers to our sport?

We should look upon any self-imposed division within our ranks as destructive, similar to legislative fiat and treat it accordingly. We have enough on our hands just keeping the latter at bay. Divided, we will be conquered.

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Copyright 2011 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.