Compact Bolt Action "Youth" Deer Rifles
By Gary Zinn
This is a supplement to the article Compact Bolt Action Deer Rifles. My focus in that article was on short action rifles suitable for hunting deer and other Class 2 game. I defined compact rifles as generally having 20 inch long barrels and weighing about seven or less pounds. The rifles I featured mostly had lengths of pull (LOP) in excess of 13 inches, meaning that they are sized for at least small adult shooters.
Along the way, I found several rifles with LOPs that were shorter than 13 inches. These are generally, but not always, labeled by the manufacturers as youth models, meaning that the LOP is suitable for young shooters, or unusually small statured adults. This article summarizes the current availability of these rifles, as offered by the major rifle manufacturers.
The rifles listed below are all bolt action models that are available in short action, non-magnum, .24 to .30 caliber cartridges. The cartridges for which they are chambered include the .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester. The 7mm-08 and .308 are fully suitable for all Class 2 game, but the .243 needs some further discussion.
Guns and Shooting Online Editor Chuck Hawks says this about The .243 Winchester:
"When using the .243 to hunt medium size big game animals, bullet selection is paramount. The varmint bullets will not give adequate penetration and must be avoided. On the other hand, rapid (but controlled) expansion is very important, as the small diameter 6mm bullet has little shocking power if it does not expand and expend its energy inside of the animal. Two bullets in the 90-100 grain weight range that have earned a good reputation on medium size big game animals are the Remington Core-Lokt and Nosler Partition."
The bottom line is that the .243 Winchester is capable of cleanly taking small to medium sized Class 2 game, provided that properly constructed hunting bullets are placed in the vital area of the quarry. Although I prefer larger bore rifles, such as the .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester, for hunting deer and other Class 2 game, I have known several hunters who swore by the .243 Winchester for deer hunting.
I include the .243 Winchester cartridge in this article, because it is mild shooting and thus is very suitable for beginning shooters and for anyone who is sensitive to recoil. Full power loads in 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester kick too hard for most young shooters, who need to be broken in gently to centerfire rifle cartridges.
Mossberg Patriot Youth Super Bantam, Thompson/Center Venture Compact and Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic Compact
I am lumping these three models together because they have so many essential similarities. All feature conventional push feed actions, 20 inch barrels, matte blued barreled actions and black synthetic stocks. The Mossberg is listed as weighing 6.5 pounds and the others 6.75 pounds.
The T/C and Weatherby rifles come with the stock LOP at a youth sized 12-1/2 inches (12 inches for the Mossberg) and all three come with a spacer that may be added to lengthen the LOP by about an inch. The Weatherby rifle is pictured above.
These three rifles are available in 7mm-08 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester. The Mossberg Patriot has a 2016 MSRP of $384, the Thompson/Center $537 and the Weatherby $599.
The bare weight of two of these rifles is 1/4 pound over my 6.5 pound ideal for this class of rifle, but I felt this was more than offset by the fact that they can be set-up with either a short or extended LOP. This makes them especially suitable as capable deer rifles for a young hunter to learn with and then continue to use as he or she grows.
Remington Model Seven Compact Synthetic
This variant of the popular Remington Model Seven rifle has an 18-1/2 inch barrel and a stock with a 12-3/8 inch LOP, one inch shorter than standard Model Sevens. The rifle has a matte blue barrel and receiver with a black synthetic stock. It weighs 6-1/8 pounds and is available in .243 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington, at a 2016 MSRP of $731.
The Model Seven has been in continuous production since its introduction in 1983, so it is a well established design. One cannot go wrong with a Model Seven. The push feed action is a slightly shorter version of the proven Model 700 short action, with dependable function and reliability.
The only criticisms that I can level at the Compact Synthetic are that I would prefer a 20 inch barrel, as the reduction in ballistic efficiency and increase in muzzle blast is substantial. In addition, there are no spacers provided to lengthen the stock.
The Ruger American Compact Rifle
This economy rifle comes with a matte black barrel and receiver, and a black synthetic stock. The stock has a 12.5 inch LOP and an 18 inch barrel. It weighs only six pounds. This rifle, with a push feed action designed for low cost manufacture, is made in 7mm-08 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester. It carries a $489 2016 MSRP. Shooting a full power 7mm-08 or .308 cartridge in a six pound carbine in no one's idea of fun and certainly should not be attempted by a young or beginning shooter. (See the section on "Reduced recoil ammunition" below.)
The Ruger American All-Weather Compact
This has the same barrel length, weight, stock, action and caliber choices as the Compact. The metal, however, is rust resistant matte stainless steel, hence the "all weather" monicker. Note that this model is available in both right and left handed versions. The 2016 MSRP is $629.
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye Compact
This Ruger offering comes with satin blued steel, American walnut stock and a 12.5 inch LOP stock. Sadly, this upscale, ultra-compact carbine comes with a 16-1/2 inch (!) barrel. It weighs six pounds.
All Hawkeye model rifles have Mauser-type controlled feed actions that are far superior to the "American" budget action. Offered in 7mm-08 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester, the 2016 MSRP is $979. Rebarrel with a 20 inch sporter contour tube and you'd have an excellent youth rifle.
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye Laminate Compact
This all-weather version of the Hawkeye Compact features a matte stainless steel barreled action and a laminated wood stock stained in black and gray tones. Barrel length and LOP are as for the Compact Hawkeye. Weight is quoted as six pounds for the .308 Winchester, 6.2 pounds for the .243 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington. Once again we have a superior action and stock handicapped by a too-short barrel. The 2016 MSRP is $1069.
Discussion of Ruger compact rifles
To me, the major virtue of the American Rifle is the version that is available for leftys. I am right handed, but I have observed the frustrations left-handed shooters experience and the rifle manipulation techniques they must use to cope in a right-handed world.
The price of the American Rifle models is budget friendly, but certainly the aesthetics of these guns reflect the economy price point. Whether the price also associates with poor performance or dependability remains to be proven.
I have a different concern with the higher quality M77 Hawkeye models. This is the 16-1/2 inch barrel, which implies both loud muzzle blast a short distance in front of the shooter and attenuated ballistic performance in calibers designed to perform most efficiently in barrels some 7-1/2 inches longer. (According to Remington figures, the MV of a standard factory load fired from a 16-1/2 inch barrel will be 150 f.p.s. or more slower than the same load from a 24 inch barrel.) The short barrel Hawkeyes might be just the ticket for wading into a sounder of wild hogs or sitting over a black bear bait, but I am not sold on them for more normal hunting situations.
Finally, none of the Ruger compact models come with spacers to increase LOP. The Ruger designers seem to have a disconnect here, for there are stock inserts or spacers that change the LOP for the Ruger American rimfire rifle and for the Ruger M77 Hawkeye Guide Gun. Ruger has the designs to provide LOP adjustments for their stocks, so I am disappointed that they do not do so for these compact rifle models.
In general, I have high regard for Ruger firearms (I own several), but I have issues with the Ruger compact rifles.
There are four subjects concerning youth rifles that merit further discussion. These are recoil and teaching neophyte shooters to handle it, reduced recoil ammunition, increasing the LOP when needed, and optics for these types of rifles.
Equipping any of the rifles listed above with a scope sight, sling and magazine of ammo will add roughly 1-1/4 pounds to the bare rifle weight, which means the field weight of the rifles would run from about 7-1/4 to 8 pounds. I will use these parameters to indicate the recoil energy that rifles in the three featured calibers will typically generate.
Rifles for young and inexperienced shooters need to be chambered for cartridges that do not kick too hard. Presumably (hopefully) these shooters have leaned to shoot with a .22 rimfire rifle and are now moving up from their .22 LR small game rifle to deer hunting and a centerfire rifle.
Rifles in this weight range (recoil is inversely proportional to rifle weight), firing 90 to 100 grain hunting bullets in .243 Winchester caliber, will generate about 11 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy. This is slightly less than the recoil levels of the .30-30 Winchester and .257 Roberts cartridges in rifles of typical weight. These two cartridges are widely recognized as being both very effective and ideal choices for recoil sensitive shooters. Thus, the .243 may be viewed as a very good cartridge for a neophyte hunter.
Rifles chambered in 7mm-08 Remington or .308 Winchester will generate much more recoil. A 7mm-08 rifle firing a 140 grain bullet will generate about 16 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, as well as increased recoil velocity, while the recoil of a 150 grain .308 Winchester load will be about 17.5 ft. lbs. Thus, a 7mm-08 will generate about 45 percent more recoil than a comparable .243 Winchester rifle, while the recoil of a .308 will be 59 percent greater. These are very significant differences.
Over the years, I have introduced a number of neophyte shooters to centerfire rifles. My first objective has always been to convince them that a high power rifle is not going to beat-up on them and the first key to doing this is having my shooters always wear efficient hearing protection. I am convinced that beginning shooters who flinch do so more because of the sharp sound of the gun firing than the actual recoil.
Beyond that, I usually start them out on a very low recoil centerfire rifle, such as a .222 or .223 Remington. Another thing I stress is holding the rifle firmly, but without tensing up. This is so the shooter will be conditioned to "roll" with the recoil when he or she begins using a more powerful rifle.
Once my pupils become confident about shooting a centerfire rifle, I move them up to a larger caliber. I do not make a big deal about the recoil of the heavier calibers and the shooters I have trained have taken it in stride. I have never had someone I trained in this incremental manner develop a flinch or other recoil related bad shooting habit.
One additional thing I always do when moving a shooter up to a rifle with significant recoil is to have them wear a strap-on shoulder pad recoil protector. Field weight shoulder protectors, such as the PAST field recoil shield or Limbsaver recoil shield, provide an extra measure of recoil dampening, while adding only about 3/8 inch of effective length of pull.
Reduced recoil ammunition
A relatively recent innovation in factory loaded ammunition are the reduced recoil loads offered by Remington, Federal/Fusion and Hornady. Using lighter bullets and reduced powder charges, these lighter factory loads are claimed to reduce the recoil of standard high intensity cartridges, such as the .308 Winchester and 7mm-08, to about the level of a .243, while remaining fully effective for shooting Class 2 game out to at least 100 yards. Remington Managed Recoil loads are offered in several calibers, including 7mm-08 and .308 Win. Fusion Lite loads are offered in .308 Winchester.
Hornady suggests specific percentages of recoil reduction for their Custom Light loads, which are offered in .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester, among other calibers. These percentages are: 35% for .243, 31% for 7mm-08 and 43% for .308 Winchester.
The Guns and Shooting Online staff has done some limited experimentation with reduced recoil factory loads and found that they perform as advertised. They are definitely much more comfortable to shoot than full power loads and have proven effective at harvesting Class 2 game. Reduced recoil ammunition is a real boon for new deer hunters and anyone who is recoil sensitive.
Length of pull (LOP)
As a young shooter grows, the LOP, which is measured from the face of the trigger to the end of the butt stock, of his/her rifle needs to be increased. In the article Compact Hunting Rifles, Chuck Hawks suggests that people 5 foot 2 inches to 5 foot 8 inches tall would typically find a stock with a 13 inch to 13-1/2 inch LOP about right, while tall individuals will likely need a LOP of 13-3/4 inches to 14 inches. Thus, the typical 12-1/2 inch LOPs of the rifles listed in this article need to be extended for the rifle to continue to fit young shooters as they grow.
As was already noted, the Weatherby, Mossberg and Thompson/Center rifles listed above come with spacers that increase the LOP by about an inch. The only criticism I have of this feature is that the spacers are single units. It would be better if there were two or three thinner spacers that could be added as needed to get smaller incremental increases in LOP.
For the Remington Model Seven or Ruger compact rifles, LOP can be increased by installing a thicker recoil pad, or adding custom made spacers between the stock and the recoil pad (or both). By means of these simple expedients, LOP can generally be increased by up to an inch or a bit more before things begin to look too weird.
Installing a new recoil pad or spacers can be a drag, as these are typically ground to fit, which must be done very carefully and patiently to get it right. (Been there and done that.) However, the results will be worth the hassle, if one needs to increase LOP for a growing shooter.
Turning to optics, I feel that a 2-7x32mm riflescope is ideal for the rifles and calibers covered in this article. The wide field of view at the low end of this magnification range is good for training at close range, getting new shooters comfortable with using scope sights and woods hunting, while the 7x magnification is sufficient for longer range practice and shots at Class 2 animals to around 300 yards.
A 2-7x32 scope will generally be somewhat lighter in weight than a 3-9x40mm or larger model and it will also mount lower on the rifle. These are significant advantages for any hunting scope and especially when used on a compact rifle.
I recommend a simple duplex reticle. Mil-dot, BDC and other complicated reticles just clutter the sight picture.
The number of youth-length LOP makes and models of bolt action deer rifles is not large, but there are enough of them to give one a choice of caliber, brand and price point. One lack in the offerings that stands out to me is that none of these rifles are currently offered in .260 Remington caliber. There is a wide performance and recoil gap between the .243 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington that the .260 would help to fill and Remington offers a Managed Recoil load in .260.
That said, any of these rifles in .243 Winchester caliber would be a good starter rifle for a young or small statured shooter, with the prospect of moving up to the more powerful 7mm-08 or .308 cartridges if hunting needs and recoil tolerance warrant.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.