Beware the man with one rifle — he likely knows how to use it.
Part of the allure of shooting is the variety of rifles, actions, sights and cartridges. It’s fun shooting a pump-action one day, a lever the next and an autoloader after that. It’s a treat to plink with a .17 rimfire and get rocked by a 375 H&H Magnum.
But it’s not consistent training.
Just as a baseball pitcher doesn’t practice by shooting baskets and kicking field goals, a hunter/shooter doesn’t perfect his performance by switching guns. If you really, really want to hone your shooting actions, make them almost instinctive, stick with just one rifle for everything. But if this seems onerous (who wants to shoot tree squirrels with a 338 Win. Mag?) there’s a better option: build a system.
A rifle system means using the same basic action and set-up in all your rifles. If you shoot a pump-action 270 Winchester for deer and elk, then get a 22 Long Rifle pump action for bunnies and squirrels. If your deer rifle is a lever-action, your 22 rimfire should be, too. Even if they are of different weight and length, you’ll at least operate them the same way, and that can help in your training and muscle memory.
If, like many shooters, you’re going to experiment with several calibers/cartridges over the years (fun!), consider which actions/styles accommodate those you’re likely to want. The bolt-action, most common these days, is an easy choice. You can find bolt-action repeaters chambered for every cartridge from 22 Long Rifle through .458 Lott. Lever-actions aren’t quite as versatile, but they’re made from rimfires up to 300 Win. Mag. and a few big thumpers like 45-70 Govt., 405 Winchester and .50 Alaskan.
Pump-actions are falling out of favor, even though they are one of the slickest, fastest cycling styles ever invented. The straight-line action makes them easy to keep on target for follow-up shots. They’re still made in 22 Long Rifle through some pretty potent elk rounds, but selection is limited.
Autoloaders are the growing thing. More and more AR-platforms are being chambered for rimfires and big centerfires up to 338 Win. Mag. These are all generally heavier and bulkier than other action types, but if you like autos, you’ll find them.
Switching between a bolt-action and lever-action for hunting is fun, but keeping all your gun actions the same type makes it easier to shoot quickly, instinctively and accurately.
Don’t overlook single-shots. Whether break action or falling block, they’re elegant, accurate and often extremely versatile. Break actions usually let you swap out barrels, so you can convert to virtually any caliber.
While you’re setting up your rifle system, consider sticking with the same kind of stocks (don’t go from thumbhole to pistol grip to straight grip) and sights. All peep or all scope, for instance.
And keeping the scopes all the same helps, too. I once had a scope that turned counterclockwise to increase magnification. All my other scopes turned clockwise. In a rush to target a distant bighorn, I blindly and instinctively reached up and turned the scope from 6X down to 3X instead of up to 9X! I still made the shot, but my brain was reeling when the ram looked even tinier than it had at first.
Consistency is the name of the game. Practice with a rimfire that functions like your big game rifle and you’ll perform better when seconds count.
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Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He’s written seven books, hunted on six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He’s currently rifles’ editor at “Sporting Classics,” Travel columnist at “Sports Afield,” Field Editor at “American Hunter” and “Guns & Ammo” — Optics Columnist at “North American Hunter,” Contributing Editor at “Successful Hunter,” Senior Writer at “Gun Hunter,” and TV host of “Winchester World of Whitetail.” He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.