If you need a centerfire hunting rifle for putting deer, elk, pronghorns, bear, and moose in the freezer, don’t get carried away.
To many new hunters let advertisements, magazine articles, You Tube videos, and hyper-ventilating friends convince them they need the newest $2,000 338 Tact Blitzerator to terminate a whitetail.
I’m sure the Blitzerator could handle it, but so can your run-of-the-mill .270 Win., 7mm-08 Rem. or .243 Win.
The thing about hunting rifles is that you have to carry them to the location of the animal. Sometimes that involves walking 10 miles a day, 50 a week. Or climbing 2,573 feet before lunch. This is not fun with a 12-pound Blitzerator strapped to your back!
And sometimes you have to whip your hunting rifle off your shoulder and fire it at your target faster than a leaping buck. There are a lot more reasons for choosing a light, lively, balanced rifle than a heavy, slow, unbalanced one.
Hunters have figured all this out over the past 150 years or so, which is part of the reason hunting rifles have shrunk from the 13-pound, 56-inch behemoths of 1830 to the 7-pound, 42-inch tools of today. If the shorter, lighter rifle brings home the bacon, why torture yourself carrying anything heavier?
Muzzleloaders needed to be long and heavy in order to produce game-killing energy from black powder and big, slow lead projectiles. Smokeless powders and modern bullets are much more efficient. Parked in the right place, a 50-grain bullet from a .223 Remington is more than adequate for converting a 1,200-pound moose into steaks and burger. But something a mite bigger is more sensible.
Here’s the truth: most big game is taken inside of 200 yards. Most “ordinary” bottlenecked, non-magnum cartridges are capable of killing them beyond 500 yards. Most off-the-shelf, medium-weight bolt-action rifles are capable of directing those bullets into a pie plate beyond 500 yards, too. You just have to hold and fire them properly, and that’s a lot more easily done with a light-to mid-weight rifle than a heavy magnum.
Don’t worry about knockdown power. It’s largely a myth. Whether the bullet carries 2,000 foot-pounds of energy or 5,000 f.p., you still have to part it in the critter’s vitals for it to die. And whether the bullet stays inside the body cavity to disperse all its kinetic energy or passes out the far side, you still have to pass through the vital organs to do the job. That’s why a .223 Rem. or arrow can kill a moose. Heart, lungs, spine, brain. Vital organs. Accuracy over power.
This is fortunate because massive power results in massive recoil, and that leads to flinching and inaccurate bullet placement, exactly what does NOT bring home the bacon.
The U.S. Army long ago figured out the average American male could remain reasonably accurate with the recoil generated by a .30-06 Springfield cartridge fired from an 8.5-pound rifle. They determined later he could be even more accurate by powering down to the .308 Winchester. Those are two of the most successful big game cartridges in the world, used to kill just about everything, including more than a few elephants. Those two cartridges throw 150-grain to 180-grain bullets about 2,800 fps. That’s fast enough to shoot “flat” to about 275 yards. This means the bullets, aimed at the center of a 10-inch circle, will not rise above or fall below it.
In the same ball park are rounds like .270 Win., .280 Rem., .260 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Rem., 7x57mm Mauser, and many others. Pick one chambered in a bolt-action weighing from 6- to 7.5 pounds, learn to shoot it well with proven performance bullets, and you’ll be ready to hunt and cleanly take any horned or antlered game in North America. Barrels should be 20-inches to 24-inches long with 22-inches the perfect compromise. Stocks should be simple, slim through the grips, stable and feature high, straight combs. Thumb holes and steep pistol grips aid bench shooting precision slightly, but are slower to operate in the field.
Bolt styles don’t matter much. Two lugs, three lugs, six or nine. They all work. Short action or long doesn’t matter. We’re talking fraction of a second differences in cycling speed, and if you shoot right the first shot, who needs more? Push feed or controlled round? Both have worked well for decades. Don’t worry about it. Do worry about training and practicing so you can shoot as well as your rifle. That’s the biggest secret to successful shooting.
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