Following my "TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS" thread I typed this one in hopes that it may assist a new hunter in selecting a rifle. I'm in hopes that I can sort of chronical my expiriences as I start back in to hunting. If someone finds it useful my day is made. If not, I'm trying.
This is my journey back in to hunting, after a long time away.
Even though I have been away from hunting, and the pursuit of game, I have not been away from the outside environment, nor firearms. Most of my rifle and shotgun usage has been with issued firearms as of late, or my personally owned versions of the issued firearms, which are more bipedal aggressor in nature. That has led me on a journey to seek a hunting rifle.
I will state up front that I am a toy collector of sorts, in that when I think I have found “the gun” I soon find something else I like and want. Given my nature of never settling for one, I knew I had my work cut out for me when it comes to selecting a battery of hunting armament. I could just decide to get a 30-06 and be done with it, but what would the fun be in that? I knew I wanted one rifle to accommodate 90% of what I may encounter. Given that I am in the desert southwest the largest animal I would likely encounter would be an elk, but I will primarily hunt deer and antelope, as well as mountain lion and bear.
I used to use a .243 on deer, and it works without issue if one places their shot well on elk. It makes a good caliber to loan to a new shooter, like my spouse, for their first deer or antelope hunt. I used to hunt with a .243, but knew I wanted more than that, but also wanted more than one caliber just to have some choices. That led me to the .308 Winchester. It is capable of being accurate at distance, has the power to take a deer at longer ranges, and can, with good bullet placement and bullet construction, take almost any animal that the 30-06 can take. I also like that being a short action allows one to keep their cheek on the stock while working the bolt. Hence, it is faster to manipulate for that second shot if needed. So now I’m faced with finding a platform that I like.
This led to my trying various manufacturers, and deciding what features I like and want. Being that I sometimes shoot left-handed, I knew I wanted a safety that was easy to manipulate with either hand. I found that Ruger seemed to have the features I was looking for in a safety. The Three Position Safety also allows one to lock the bolt so that it can’t be manipulated. This can be handy when working their way across a scree slide. I also like the Mauser Bolt. There is nothing wrong with other manufacturers, as it’s all personal choice and deciding what will work best for themselves.
My last hunting rifle was a Lever Action .243 in a carbine configuration. As I looked at various rifles I remembered how easy my Lever Action was to swing on targets in brush. It also seemed to balance better, and being that I am on the short side, wasn’t as tall as I was. Give me a rifle with a 26” barrel and you would think I was holding a Kentucky Rifle like those pictures in the magazines. That led me to a compact version. I was happy with my personally owned 16” AR, but much prefer the shorter barreled issued rifles at work.
I have always liked Col. Cooper’s version of a “General Purpose Rifle”. Weight is a consideration when hunting, but it comes at a price, recoil. I wanted something light enough to pack around, but still of sufficient weight to dampen recoil. Col. Cooper had settled on the weight limit of seven pounds or so, and this, or slightly heavier, was acceptable to me. Having dropped a rifle a time or two, and busting a scope, or having the batteries go out on my EO Tech has made me see the advantage of a secondary sight system. I have back-up iron sights on my AR, so it made sense to have them on my hunting rifle.
As for the stock, I wasn’t much concerned. I did know that I was going to have to get either a Youth Model, or have a Gunsmith shorten the length of pull for me. There are plenty of good stocks out there, from wood to Kevlar. Each has some advantages over the other, and one has to select what will work best for them. Being that I’m in an arid environment, humidity isn’t much of an issue for me, and a wood stock would be fine if that’s what I ended up with.
So I set about reading the various magazines, talking to people whose opinion I trust, having conversations in the gun and hunting forums, and handling a wide variety of rifles at my local gun store, which my wife calls, “The Big Boy Toy Store.” I liked various features of different rifles, and knew that I had to select one. That became an adventure in and of itself, with a lot of second guessing. I would think I had one selected, when along would come another that deserved serious consideration. Being that there is no “one size fits all” I finally was forced to make a decision.
I selected what I think offered the most features I was looking for, and offers me the most versatility, without going custom. Maybe someday I’ll get a custom rifle, but right now I’m sticking with factory. I didn’t want to pour a bunch of money in to something and not be able to recoup my expenditures. I wanted acceptable accuracy out of the box, a safety like I already mentioned, back-up iron sights, acceptable weight, and of a caliber sufficient to take most game that I may encounter, at the distances I would likely encounter game. If my longest shot was likely to be at 100 Yards, then I’d have just gone with a 30-30 and been done with it.
Those were my major considerations, and they will be different for every hunter. Sometimes one wants power at the expense of pinpoint accuracy, like for Cape Buffalo and sometimes one wants pinpoint accuracy at the expense of power. Too often we, I’m as guilty as the next guy or gal, dream of hunts we would like to do instead of the hunts we will likely do. That can lead to buying too much rifle, or at least one that is far less than optimal for what one will encounter. I had a very dear friend, and someone that has hunted all over the world suggest that if I ran in to a hunt where I needed a larger caliber I either buy a rifle for THAT hunt, or borrow one, and use my general purpose hunting rifle for everything else. “You’ll get more use out of a reasonable caliber with decent accuracy than you ever will out of some large bore or specialized rifle.”
OK, so I knew my primary game would be deer and antelope, and hopefully a mountain lion. Distance was likely to be out to 400 yards. Anything further, while the rifle may be capable, I’m not. That means I will have to work on my spotting and stalking skills. There are lots of choices out there, and it can be overwhelming when it comes time to make a selection. My unsolicited advice is to look at what game one is going to hunt 75% or more of the time, and make their selection based on that for a first large game rifle. For most of us that will be deer most likely. The good thing is, a good rifle for deer will also work well on other game. It isn’t until one starts getting in to those specialized situations that one needs to start shopping for a second rifle. Me, my second rifle will be a .300 Win Mag, but that’s a topic for another discussion. That leaves me the .22 LR for small game, my AR in 5.56/.223 for coyotes, bobcats, and other pest, and the .308 for the larger game I plan to hunt.