For most of us, a day at the range is just plain fun. Sure, most of us have an agenda: Improve skills, group loads for accuracy, check zero for an upcoming hunt.


Craig Boddington

For most of us, a day at the range is just plain fun. Sure, most of us have an agenda: Improve skills, group loads for accuracy, check zero for an upcoming hunt. For some, banging away is pure pleasure, because shooting is fun. It’s fun for me, too; I go to the range for all those reasons.

Range Day starts with loading the truck…and making darned sure nothing that might—possibly—be needed is left behind.

And more, because range day is also serious work. As a gunwriter, I’m always fighting (and juggling) deadlines. Some articles are hunting stories. Others are gun stories, and many, with hunting guns, are a mix. Whichever, range time is important, and precious.

Reasonable weather is almost essential, a big problem in many parts of the country, sometimes impossible on winter days in Kansas. I’m often asked why we haven’t pulled out of California completely. Grand-kids are good reasons, and I often cite the year-around hog hunting that I love. Range days are more good reasons. The range I use, on a friend’s ranch not far from town, is up a deep canyon, cold in winter and blistering hot in summer, but protected from most winds. Except for infrequent rainy days, I can shoot in at least marginal comfort throughout the year. Honest, the ability to get in a range day almost any time I need to has much to do with how I’ve been as prolific and productive as a gunwriter all these years.

Boddington prefers to clean at the range…which means cleaning gear must be hauled. Usually shooting multiple calibers, he brings his full cleaning kit, ensuring he has all the brushes, jags, and patches needed.

Now, it isn’t like stepping out the back door and shooting, as I can do at the Kansas farm (when weather allows). The range is too far from the house to run back and forth. I have to be organized, and make sure I have everything I need.

Often, I take a half-dozen firearms to the range. A couple I need to run through their paces for articles. Always, a .22 to practice with while barrels are cooling. Maybe a favorite hunting rifle to check zero, or to group a new handload recipe. At least one pistol or revolver, just to keep my hand in. Oh, sure, I’ve gotten to the range and realized I forgot to grab ammo for one or another, or maybe I forgot a spare scope in case I want to make a switch.

Boddington’s “range” tool kit is small and simple, including a small set of gunsmithing screwdrivers and bits, and multi-tools.

If I forget something for a gun I need to write about, that’s an expensive waste of time. So, I try to be organized. I make lists—guns, ammo, gear—and I check them off while I’m loading the truck. As for gear, I don’t need to haul everything. We have a little range house that holds targets, rests for the bench, shooting sticks, staple gun with lots of staples.


Most of what I need to bring stays in my Range Bag. Hunting buddy Gordon Marsh, proprietor of this site, and our mutual friend, Bill Green, spent a lot of time creating the “Boddington Gear” (www.boddingtongear.com) you’ll find on this site: Soft gun cases, range bags, and more. Available in good waxed cotton and excellent buffalo leather, I’m really happy with these products. The real point is: A great deal of thought went into the design.

The Boddington Gear range bag, available in buffalo leather or waxed cotton, is roomy enough to hold almost anything needed, including range spotting scope with bench tripod.

Good soft cases are essential to protect and safely transport valuable firearms, but my writing business truly depends on the range bag. I designed it large, because I haul a lot of stuff back and forth to the range. Side and end pockets are roomy enough to hold handguns in rugs…and a staple gun. I carry a spare in the range bag, ‘cause I’ve had them quit just when I needed to change targets.

Most of us who care about accuracy save targets, either to compare or brag about. I’m big on this, because when testing firearms, I have protocols to meet, as in “five five-shot groups with multiple loads.” I must save targets, so I can measure groups and photograph them later. I have two options. The range bag has a built-in file folder, not just for targets, but for instructions and other printed info. And, I have my buffalo leather target case, a cylindrical tube that allows me to roll up targets and save them with no damage. (Don’t save targets? It’s also a perfect fit for a straight-ocular-lens spotting scope.)

Good soft cases are essential for transporting and protecting valuable firearms. Boddington put a lot of thought into his soft gun cases and likes the results.

Now, regardless of what range bag you prefer, here’s the stuff I cram into mine for almost every range day. A small set of gunsmith tools, so I can tighten up screws or switch out an optic on the range as needed. A PAST recoil shield, used religiously for shooting off the bench with almost anything from .30-caliber up. Our Marine Corps mantra was: “Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.” Sorry, but we shoot better when recoil doesn’t hurt, so at the bench I sissy up. Light, beanbag sandbags, so I can get my benchrest support exactly right. Also, a big leather “competition” shooting glove for the supporting hand. In my case, the right hand, because I’m left-handed. I use it on the bench, and in prone, to snuggle the butt against my shoulder, and to make fine elevation adjustments, keeps the rear sling swivel stud from barking my hand.

Naturally, shooting glasses and earmuffs! A spare left-hand strap on cheekpiece so, as needed, I can get the cheek-weld just right, often essential with unfamiliar test rifles, especially with today’s ever-larger scopes that must be mounted higher. And, down deep in one of the pockets, spare batteries—for any device you carry that might need a battery!

On the range with the MagnetoSpeed chronograph, measuring bullet speed with electromagnetic impulses. This is it; the case is underneath the monitor. Light, compact, fast to assemble and easy to use, this chronograph lives in the range bag, and can be taken anywhere.

Since part of my range days involve “test guns,” I carry a digital trigger pull gauge. Mine is from Lyman, stores multiple tests and yields the average. A chronograph is another essential device, invaluable for handloaders and long-range shooters, and a required work tool for me. The Oehler 35P has long been the gold standard; I’ve had one for 40 years, love it because it yields all needed data on a printout. However, the Oehler is bulky, stores in its own separate hard gun case, and takes time to set up. A few years back, I got a Crony, compact and easy to use, range-bag compatible. My buddy, who owns the ranch and thus the range, also has a Crony, keeps his in the range house, so it’s available on that range. The Oehler and Crony operate off skyscreens, detecting the passage of the bullet. The Oehler is absolutely accurate, but skyscreens are finicky in some light conditions.

The range Boddington uses most frequently has various rest options for the bench, but he keeps several lightweight “beanbag” sandbags in his range bag so he can adjust for a perfectly steady rest.

Recently, I got a MagnetoSpeed, measuring speed with electromagnetic sensors. The MagnetoSpeed Sporter now lives in my range bag. Inexpensive, weighs little over a pound, and folds up into its 12×3-inch case, about the size of a cigarette carton. It attaches to the barrel in seconds, stores up to 12 shots in a string, and yields High. Low, Average, Extreme Spread (ES), and Standard Deviation (SD). Mostly a rifle guy, MagnetoSpeed does almost everything I need, and can even go on hunts, to verify velocity and thus long-range data as atmospherics change.


Note that I said “almost.” MagnetoSpeed cannot be used with suppressors. And, since it attaches to the barrel, is not compatible with semiauto pistols with full-length slides. I just ordered a LabRadar, awesome device, measuring speed with Doppler radar. It will work on almost anything…except shotguns (multiple pellets confuse the radar).

Although fairly compact, LabRadar is a bit large for my range bag, so I’ll carry it separately when I need it. That’s not the only thing I carry separately. My camera(s) go in my daypack, along with binocular, or in a camera bag. The range spotting scope has a small tripod that fits handily in the bag, but if I intend to do some “setup” shots, I take a tripod for camera use.

Boddington keeps a PAST recoil shield in his range bag, and also carries an extra strap-on cheekpiece, invaluable for adjusting comb height…especially with the larger scopes used today, which must be mounted higher.

I like to clean at the range, either when finished, or between series of groups. For most of us, the range bag easily holds a jointed rod and everything else, but since I’m usually hauling multiple firearms in various calibers, I usually throw in my big Tipton cleaning set, about the size of a large toolbox. If I have it, I know I have all the right-size brushes and jags.

Most of us have calm, relatively focused range sessions with just a couple of firearms. The range bag probably has adequate room for all the ammunition needed, but my life doesn’t work that way. On my range days, I may have firearms chambered to a half-dozen different cartridges…with multiple loads for each. I put all my ammo in a separate box or bag, so I can keep it sorted, use one at a time…and then put back when I’m finished with that firearm. However you do it, there’s one cardinal rule: Just one caliber/cartridge on the bench at any time!


The last few weeks I’ve been carrying and shooting the straight-pull Austrian Strasser RS14 Evolution rifle, beautiful, and beautifully made. Stocked in good walnut with matte metal, I have two barrels, 6.5mm PRC and .375 Ruger.


Craig Boddington

The last few weeks I’ve been carrying and shooting the straight-pull Austrian Strasser RS14 Evolution rifle, beautiful, and beautifully made. Stocked in good walnut with matte metal, I have two barrels, 6.5mm PRC and .375 Ruger. With this combination, there isn’t much in the world I couldn’t do. I’ll come back to the switch-barrel feature and concept, but let’s first focus on straight-pull bolt operation.

The Strasser RS14 Evolution, with left-hand bolt, 6.5 PRC barrel installed, and extra barrel in .375 Ruger. The detachable trigger group holds a hex wrench to detach the fore-end; the fore-end holds an extension tool used to loosen and secure the barrel-tightening clamp, center.

At this writing, the Blaser system, both the older R93 and newer R8, are the world’s most popular straight-bull bolt-actions. With 30 years history, the straight-pull Blaser is very popular in Europe, but it’s not alone. The Strasser was introduced in 2014; other modern straight-pulls include Browning’s Maral, Heym SR30, Mauser M1996, and Merkel Rx Helix. I’ve shot most of these and have hunted with several, although I have far the most experience with Blaser. Just a few weeks ago, at the Beretta Gallery in Dallas, I was introduced to the Chapuis ROLS, yet another top-quality European straight-pull.

A typical European shooting platform for a driven wild boar hunt. The driven hunt is used as a management tool, to harvest surplus animals. Shooting is fast and sometimes furious, usually at moving game, which is why the fast straight-pull rifles are so popular in Europe.

Straight-pull acceptance has been slow in the US. In part, this is because the traditional rotating bolt-action has been dominant for generations. I suspect it’s also a price-point issue; European straight-pulls are costlier than many domestic bolt-actions.

Savage’s Impulse may change that, but it’s too new to gauge acceptance. At first glance, the Impulse looks like a conventional turnbolt, but is straight-pull, with the unique feature that the bolt handle can be removed, adjusted for angle, and switched from right to left (clever!). The Impulse is costlier than most basic bolt guns, but very medium in price. This is not a fair comparison: The Blaser, Chapuis, and Strasser are fine guns, well beyond standard factory rifles. The Impulse is a production rifle, priced accordingly.

Savage’s new straight-pull Impulse on the bench. The Impulse is the first American straight-pull centerfire in more than a century. Here, the bolt is configured for right-hand shooting. Uniquely, the bolt handle is detachable, adjustable for angle, and can easily be switched to the left side.

Explaining the straight pull advantage needs just one word: Speed. Instead of the up, back, forward and down motion of a traditional rotating bolt, the straight pull requires only back and forward. Less overall movement, less arm movement.

The proper way to operate any bolt-action is to work the bolt with the shooting hand, keeping the rifle to cheek and shoulder, and maintaining sight picture. How many of us actually shoot a bolt-action this way? Most of us probably take the rifle at least partway down to gain enough leverage to work the bolt, almost essential with a stiff action. The straight pull makes this easy.

Top-quality European straight-pulls are amazingly modular and interchangeable. On a Mozambique hunt, Boddington took the left-hand bolt and scope from his Blaser in .300 Wby Mag and used them in a right-hand “camp rifle” in .416 Rem Mag and shot a buffalo. In this case, no scope adjustment was needed, but better not count on that.

Almost unknown over here, Browning’s Maral uses the BAR receiver, straight-pull bolt replacing semiauto feeding. Savage’s literature describes the Impulse as “combining the confidence and accuracy of a traditional bolt action with the speed of a semi-automatic.” The straight pull isn’t quite that fast but, once you get the hang of it, straight-pull is faster than any rotating bolt.

In the US, if we really need speed, we can get an AR or a BAR. Semiautos aren’t allowed in some countries, but speed is more important to European hunters. This is because, in much of Europe, the most common technique for big game is the driven hunt. Drives are well-organized and, especially for wild boar, shooting can be fast and furious, usually at moving game. Quick follow-up shots can save the day. There are other obvious options. Many Europeans use double rifles for driven hunts, guaranteeing a second shot. Krieghoff’s slide-action Semprio was designed for driven shooting, but both slide- and lever-actions are uncommon over there.

A typical European shooting platform for a driven wild boar hunt. The driven hunt is used as a management tool, to harvest surplus animals. Shooting is fast and sometimes furious, usually at moving game, which is why the fast straight-pull rifles are so popular in Europe.

The straight-pull has gained wide acceptance in Europe because it is faster, with less disturbance to the aim, so a smoother follow-through. This takes practice, but most European ranges have “running game” targets. Avid European hunters get very good at moving targets. Just before the pandemic I did a driven boar hunt in Sweden. On the last day, shooting a Blaser with Aimpoint sight and .270 barrel, I had a big pig come from behind, so it was already streaking away by the time I got on it. Didn’t want to go down, so I hit it three times. Maybe the first shot would have done the job, but even with a left-hand turnbolt, I’d only have gotten the first shot off. 

Most of us have never seen this rifle, and many have never heard of it. It’s a Canadian straight-pull Ross Sporter in .280 Ross, made in 1910, and used by Larry Tremaine to take his Kansas buck. No giant, but when he got a close shot with the original aperture sight he didn’t hesitate.


There is a learning curve with a straight-pull. First time I tried the Blaser I didn’t care for it. In part this is because it was right-handed, and I’m left-handed. A straight-pull on the wrong side is even more awkward than operating a right-hand bolt left-handed. Both the Blaser and Strasser easily go southpaw by switching bolts. I returned that first Blaser test rifle, then the older R93, as soon as I could.

In 2009, when the R8 was new, I had a chance to try one with a left-hand bolt. It wasn’t love at first shot, but I understood the advantage. In 2010 I took a left-hand Blaser on a sheep hunt in Nepal. After two weeks in the Himalayas, I liked it well enough that I bought it; it’s been a “go to” rifle ever since. Don’t always need the speed, but there are times. I did some lucky shooting on wolves in Alberta, three for three. With a rotating bolt I’d have had just one shot. 

On the bench with the Strasser RS14 Evolution, with 6.5 PRC barrel installed. Strong, accurate, and interchangeable, the Strasser has an exceptional trigger.


I was watching video clips of the new Savage Impulse. Two young pundits gravely informed me that it was the first American straight-pull rifle. Uh, no. In 1896 Winchester got a contract for 10,000 straight-pull M1895 Lee Navy rifles (Savage’s website does cite the Lee rifle.) The Lee’s service life was short, but Marines used them successfully in combat in Cuba, the Philippines, and in the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Used properly, with practice, the speed of a straight-pull action is amazing. Two of three Alberta wolves taken by Boddington with three shots from a Blaser R8…in about that many seconds. Lucky shooting, for sure, but impossible with a rotating bolt.

Canada isn’t the US, but certainly part of North America, so let’s not overlook the Canadian straight-pull Ross rifle, used by Canadian troops in WWI. Just this year, Larry Tremaine brought a 1910 Ross straight-pull sporter to my Kansas farm and took his buck with it. When the bolt-action was still new, there were other straight-pull designs. Austria fought WWI with the straight pull M1895 Mannlicher. The Swiss forces used successive improvements of the straight-pull Schmidt-Rubin rifle from 1889 to 1958. So, the straight-pull concept is hardly new, although rarely seen in sporting rifles until Blaser’s R93 just 30 years ago.


The switch-barrel concept is also more popular in Europe. Some countries impose restrictions on numbers of firearms; a receiver with multiple barrels may count as just one. With straight-pull, engineering switch-barrel is simpler than with a rotating bolt. Typically, straight-pull lugs are held flush in a full-diameter bolt, then cam outward when the bolt is closed, locking into matching recesses in a barrel shank, the lugs retracting when the bolt is opened.

Lug arrangements vary widely. The Blaser has essentially a collet or circular lug. The Strasser has four locking lugs; the Savage Impulse locks with six ball bearings. A strength issue may have existed with some WWI straight-pulls. Today, the rumor that straight-pulls aren’t strong is just a myth. Actual bearing surface exceeds Mauser’s dual-opposing locking logs, able to withstand absurdly high pressures.

At an introduction in Dallas, Boddington gets a first look at the Chapuis ROLS, perhaps the newest of the European straight-pull rifles. Chapuis is an excellent French gunmaker; like the Blaser and Strasser, the ROLS is a fine rifle, not to be compared with standard production models.

We have several Blaser barrels. With the Blaser system, the scope clamps to the barrel with a detachable mount. I switch them back and forth all the time, typically without perceptible zero shift. The Strasser system is opposite; the scope mounts via an integral receiver rail, so stays with the receiver (or can be switched out for another scope). For Americans, with few restrictions on gun ownership, the switch-barrel advantage isn’t as urgent. Still, it’s handy to have one familiar stock and action that can be configured to various purposes. As with Blaser, Strasser bolt heads and magazines fit “families” of cartridges, and can be switched out.

Friends Bill Green and Gordon Marsh joined me in Mozambique last month, bringing a Strasser with 6.5 PRC and .416 Ruger barrels. Depending on what they were going after, they switched barrels back and forth, using the .416 barrel for buffalo, the 6.5mm for various plains game.

Gordon Marsh took this gorgeous Mozambique sable antelope with a Strasser using 6.5 PRC barrel.


I had hoped to borrow their Strasser a couple days in Mozambique, but we were always going different directions. The rifle I ordered, 6.5 PRC and .375 Ruger barrels, came in after I got home, so I got it zeroed, then used it to help manage whitetails on my son-in-law’s Texas ranch. (Uh, never mind how many deer were “managed.”)

Boddington used the Strasser in 6.5 PRC to take several “management” whitetails on his son-in-law’s Texas ranch. The 6.5 PRC is an effective and versatile hunting cartridge, and especially deadly on deer-sized game.

Haven’t had a proper use for the .375 barrel yet, but the 6.5 PRC barrel is a tack-driver, and that’s a “drop in their tracks” cartridge on whitetails. I like the detachable trigger group, and love the adjustable trigger, three settings from 2.5 to 3.6 pounds. If you don’t like any of these, it’s also a single-set trigger with a feather-light release. It’s not true that no tools are required to switch barrels, but you don’t have to carry tools. The trigger assembly has a hex wrench to remove the fore-end. Within the fore-end is an extension tool, providing leverage to release and tighten the barrel lock. Good system, good rifle but, like anything new and unfamiliar, I need to spend more time with it. Better pack up my range bag and go do some shooting!


I was just hunting Cape buffalo in Mozambique with buddy Gordon Marsh, proprietor of this site. Gordon brought his CZ 550, chambered to the huge .500 Jeffery. Propelling a 535-grain bullet at over 2500 fps, the .500 Jeffery was long our most powerful sporting cartridge.


Craig Boddington

I was just hunting Cape buffalo in Mozambique with buddy Gordon Marsh, proprietor of this site. Gordon brought his CZ 550, chambered to the huge .500 Jeffery. Propelling a 535-grain bullet at over 2500 fps, the .500 Jeffery was long our most powerful sporting cartridge.

Boddington is flanked by great gunwriters Gary Sitton and John Wootters, both now gone. Wootters lost the sight in his right eye due to a detached retina. Although it didn’t happen while shooting, he came to believe that heavy recoil may have cumulative effect and increase the risk of detached retina.

Surpassed in 1957 by the .460 Weatherby, the .500 Jeffery, yields over 7000 foot-pounds, a real powerhouse. It and the .460 are among few cartridges that, with ideal shot placement, might drop a Cape buffalo…and keep him down. Gordon proved this on his bull.

He also proved he’s one tough SOB. He suffered two severe scope cuts and had his front scope mount loosen under recoil. Gordon put the rifle (and himself) back together, re-zeroed, shot a one-inch group, then went on to flatten his buffalo and shoot a hippo.

Prone is one of the worst positions for recoil; the body has nowhere to go, plus the head must be cocked forward, increasing chances for scope cuts. This scope has plenty of eye relief, so it’s not going to hit him

Recoil is the embodiment of Newton’s Third Law of physics: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The action is the projectile traveling down the bore; opposite is recoil, in which the firearm becomes the projectile.

Proper stock fit matters greatly, and there are actually two primary factors to recoil: Energy and velocity. In the US, we speak of recoil energy in foot-pounds, and recoil velocity in feet per second. Because of the force required to move a heavy firearm, both are much lower than projectile energy and velocity. Fast magnums and light rifles seem to hit us faster…because they do. This is why cartridges that are large, powerful, and fast, such as .338 Lapua Magnum and .378 Weatherby Magnum, seem to produce especially violent recoil. They hit hard and fast, on both ends.

Slower big-bore cartridges, such as .458 Win Mag and all the old Nitro Express rounds, at around 2150 fps, produce lower recoil than cartridges like the .500 Jeffery and .460 Weatherby, which are 20 percent faster. At these levels, we’re splitting hairs between recoil velocity and energy; the effect is brutal.

Boddington takes a serious bash with a .700 Nitro Express from Bill Jones’ collection. This is more than 150 ft-lbs of recoil, note the “catch team” in case he loses control of the valuable rifle. Boddington no longer does this kind of thing for fun.

Thanks to the Internet, actual recoil figures are at our fingertips. Some examples for comparison:  A 7.5 pound .243 with 100-grain bullet produces about nine ft-lbs of recoil energy. No problem, right? A 6.5 Creedmoor kicks about a dozen ft-lbs, a .270 Winchester in the upper teens. An eight-pound .30-06 with 180-grain bullet kicks just over 20 ft-lbs, while a .300 Wby Mag goes up a third, over 30 ft-lbs.

This .375 Wby Mag was fine in the states in winter with a jacket on, but needed a bit more eye relief in shirtsleeves in Cameroon. After multiple scope cuts Boddington gave up and removed the scope and used iron sights, the only time he has ever traded a functioning scope for irons.

More powerful rifles are usually heavier. This is a good thing, because sheer gun weight is always the easiest way to mitigate recoil. A nine-pound .375 H&H will stay below 40 ft-lbs. With practice, most shooters can learn to handle this level. The .378 Wby Mag jumps to over 70 ft-lbs of recoil. At 11 pounds, my double .470 kicks in the high 60s. With similar bullet weight at higher velocity, the .460 Wby and .500 Jeffery reach 100 ft-lbs, a lot of kick…for anyone.

A good shock-absorbing recoil pad helps a lot, but adding gun weight is often the simplest way to reduce recoil. The Break-O mercury recoil reducer adds weight, plus the heavy mercury acts as a piston under recoil, slowing the impulse.

I used to think I was impervious to recoil. I was wrong! Some years back I had a .600 Nitro Express “double” on me while shooting an elephant. Not my rifle, so I don’t know if it was a malfunction that fired both barrels when I pressed the front trigger. Or, if, after firing the first barrel, recoil caused me to inadvertently hit the rear trigger. Doesn’t matter, 300 ft-lbs of recoil, no desire to shoot it again to find out. The elephant dropped. So did I. I was briefly stunned, sore for a few days, but no apparent damage until, weeks later, I lost a major tendon in that shoulder.

Possibly repairable if I were a pro athlete, not worth it for me. No residual pain, no loss of motion. But I can’t risk drawing a bow on that side, and I take more care in the recoil I subject myself to. At that time, I’d already started to ration recoil, but for an entirely different reason: Risk of detached retina.

Boddington and Bill Jones with the only buffalo Boddington has taken with the .500 Jeffery. From Jones’ collection, this famous rifle belonged to Fletcher Jameson. Effect was devastating, but Boddington decided this is too much recoil.

John Wootters was our star writer when I was Editor of Petersen’s HUNTING magazine, an invaluable mentor. John suffered a detached retina while on the NRA’s “Great American Hunters” speaking tour. He didn’t get to an eye surgeon quick enough and lost sight in his right eye, transitioning to left-hand shooting in his 60s.

Wootters did a lot of research. Severe recoil can contribute to detached retina. My old friend Bert Klineburger experienced a detached retina while checking zero on his .460 Weatherby in Central Africa. He knew what had happened, caught a plane to Paris, got it repaired, and hunted for another 30 years. Wootters came to believe that recoil effect can be cumulative: After untold thousands of 12-gauge, shells, veteran competitive shotgunners frequently experience it. And, all too many older gunwriters have suffered detached retinas.

The .470 produces about 68 ft-lbs of recoil. That’s plenty, but the other three are much faster and kick at about 100 ft-lbs, an awful lot of recoil. Despite shorter case, the .500 Jeffery is loaded a bit hotter and is slightly more powerful than the huge .505 Gibbs.

Scared by Wootters’ experience and trusting his research, by the time that .600 doubled, I’d slowed down, avoiding shooting big guns for fun. Mind you, I still believe in the right gun for the job at hand. Usually, I find myself well above minimums, but I avoid maximums.

Gordon Marsh at the bench in Mozambique, checking zero on his CZ 550 in the mighty .500 Jeffery. The bench is one of the worst positions for felt recoil because the body has little give.

I shot exactly one buffalo with a .500 Jeffery. It was Fletcher Jameson’s famous rifle, featured in John Taylor’s African Rifles and Cartridges, and part of Bill Jones’ collection. Quartering-to, aiming for the point of the on-shoulder, the first shot slammed the bull down so hard that my PH and I agreed I must have hit too high. Likely to get back up, better hit him again. No further reaction, so I worked the bolt and we advanced. Halfway there, I realized my left (shooting) arm was completely numb from shoulder to wrist. Good thing the bull was dead; no way could I have fired again! This was just a year after my shoulder got ruined, so I don’t know if this was residual effect, or if the .500 Jeffery is too much gun for me.

Donna Boddington on sticks, watching a pig trail into a vineyard. Note the clearance between cap bill and ocular lens; almost impossible for the scope to hit her.

Either way, I have no intention to find out!  We all have different recoil “thresholds” that we can withstand without ill effect, and without acquiring hard-to-cure bad habits…like flinching. Everybody is different, and experience counts, but we all have recoil limits that we exceed only at peril. Trust me, it’s not a matter of toughness or male machismo. Obviously, a youngster or 110-pound woman is likely to withstand less recoil than a 220-pound man. However, this is not locked in stone. Everybody is different, so in my experience it’s more of a nervous system tolerance. There is no formula for “how much is too much,” but this I know: When you push yourself to uncomfortable recoil, accuracy will suffer.

Muzzle brakes are extremely effective for reducing recoil and generally have no impact on accuracy. They work, but Boddington avoids them for hunting because of the increased muzzle blast.

There are options. Muzzle brakes work. Systems vary, depending on how the gas is vented, but at least 40 percent recoil attenuation can be reached. That said, I no longer have any rifles with muzzle brakes, because of increased blast. My thinking: I’m already deaf enough! I carry Walker Game Ears while hunting, but I know that, sooner or later, I’m going to forget to put them on. Also, I hunt a lot in Africa, where trackers and PHs are close by. I don’t want to blow out their ears so, despite unquestionable benefit, I avoid muzzle brakes. If a rifle kicks so hard that I can’t handle it, I’ll add lead in the butt and fore-end channel, or mercury recoil reducers. If that doesn’t work, time to drop down to a lighter cartridge. While this is my answer, hunters who hunt primarily alone may be well-served by modern brakes.

The worst scope cut Boddington ever got was on this Nevada mule deer, shooting a very familiar .30-06 from a hasty prone position across a canyon at long range. It happens, usually more a matter of hasty or weird shooting position than too much recoil

I mentioned Gordon’s scope cuts, accepted with sheepish grins. Sooner or later, most of us get them. Usually, it isn’t a matter of excessive recoil, but weird shooting positions. The worst scope cut I ever got was from a familiar .30-06. I lay prone on a rimrock for a cross-canyon shot, got the buck…and a nasty cut. Prone is bad, but any hasty position is suspect.

Adequate eye relief is critical, and a bit extra helps. In 2004 I took a .375 Wby Mag to northern Cameroon. Shot great on my range, wearing a light jacket in our mild winter. In shirtsleeves in Equatorial Africa, I couldn’t stay away from the scope, deeper cut with every shot. Most unpleasant. At the tail end of the safari, I gave up. This was the only time I’ve removed a functional scope in favor of iron sights.

Brittany Boddington instructing shooting off sticks at one of her She Hunts skills camps. Women aren’t particularly sensitive to recoil, but don’t like scope cuts. Brittany’s trick is to wear a baseball cap. If the hat brim clears the ocular bell, then there’s enough eye relief to make a scope cut highly unlikely.

Women usually have higher pain thresholds than men, but are less jocular about facial scars. Daughter Brittany has a great trick she shows the ladies at her “She Hunts” skills camps. Wear a baseball cap. If the forward edge of the brim clears the rear of the ocular lens, then a scope cut is highly unlikely.

For me, I still shoot big guns when and as I need to. This means I practice with them, but at the range I wear a PAST “Recoil Shield.” I still believe in the adage to “use enough gun,” usually with power to spare. But I’m not as tough as Gordon Marsh. I no longer shoot big guns for fun!


Creating a new cartridge is complex and expensive; it is simpler and cheaper to modify existing cases. Performance characteristics can be changed by necking the case up or down, changing shoulder angle and body taper, and by shortening or lengthening the case. Such modifications create “families” of cartridges based on a parent case.


Craig Boddington

Creating a new cartridge is complex and expensive; it is simpler and cheaper to modify existing cases. Performance characteristics can be changed by necking the case up or down, changing shoulder angle and body taper, and by shortening or lengthening the case. Such modifications create “families” of cartridges based on a parent case.

This awesome group was fired from a .300 WSM when the cartridge was first introduced. Short, fat case design is conducive to accuracy, but good barrels and consistent ammo is more important. The short, fat concept is really more about efficiency

Peter Paul Mauser created an extensive family of cartridges based on his 1888 7.92x57mm cartridge. Our .30-06 has a longer case, but rim and base diameter are suspiciously similar to Mauser’s case. (Actually, our 1903 Springfield action was so similar to the Mauser that Uncle Sam paid Mauser a royalty until WWI.) To this day, the majority of unbelted rimless cartridges are based on the .30-06’s .473-inch rim and base diameter. These include .270, .35 Whelen, and Hornady’s 6.5mm (and 6mm) Creedmoor.

Since its introduction in 1912, the .375 H&H Magnum case, with .532-inch rim and belt, has served as the parent for almost all belted cartridges. The only exceptions have been Weatherby’s smallest cartridges (.224 and .240 Wby Mag); and their largest cartridges, based on the big .378 Wby Mag with .582-inch rim and belt.

Proving that short and fat isn’t everything and extreme velocity can produce accuracy, this group was fired with a Lazzeroni 7.82 (.308) Warbird, 4000 fps with a 130-grain Barnes X bullet.

Earlier cartridges tended to have a lot of body taper and gently sloping shoulders. With new smokeless powder pressures, both features were thought essential for smoother feeding and reliable extraction. One of the most archaic of all case designs still around is the .300 H&H. Introduced in 1925 by necking down the .375 H&H case, the .300 uses the full 2.850-inch case, lots of body taper, and a long, gentle 8.5-degree shoulder. From today’s perspective, we reckon there’s no way it will shoot well or fast. Except it does both. The .300 H&H became popular when Ben Comfort used it to win the 1000-yard Wimbledon match in 1935. With good handloads, velocity is surprising, and that long, tapered case literally flies into the chamber.

 Boddington took this javelina in 2002 with a .243 WSSM, when the WSSM cartridges were introduced. Fast and efficient, they do what they’re supposed to do, but didn’t become popular and have nearly vanished…perhaps because of feeding issues in many platforms.

By this time, gun tinkerers had discovered that powder capacity and efficiency could be enhanced by removing body taper and sharpening shoulder angle…with little impact on feeding and extraction. The resulting non-standard cartridges were called “wildcats.” P.O Ackley (1903-1989) was one of the most prolific experimenters. He messed with every known case and bullet diameter but, rather than reinvent the wheel, his cartridges were mostly “improved” by removing body taper and sharpening shoulder angle, thus increasing velocity.

Ackley’s rule for an “improved” cartridge: Standard factory ammo could still be used, the result a fire-formed case. The .280 Ackley Improved has been his most popular, now loaded by several companies. Based on the .280 Remington with sharp 40-degree shoulder, the .280 AI duplicates 7mm Rem Mag performance, but in a more compact case while burning less powder.

In the 1990s John Lazzeroni got the majors thinking with his fat-cased Lazzeroni Magnums. His long cartridges are perhaps best-known, but it was his short, fat cartridges that got things going. Left to right: 7.21 (.284) Spitfire; 7.82 (.308) Patriot; 10.57 (.416 Maverick).

Roy E. Weatherby (1910-1988) also started as a wildcatter. Weatherby’s initial cartridges were based on the .300 or .375 H&H case, necked this way and that, sometimes shortened, always with body taper removed to increase powder capacity and velocity. His flagship cartridge, the .300 Wby Mag, wasn’t the first but, since it used the full-length case, it was essentially just one of various “improved” versions of the .300 H&H. The Weatherby difference is Roy’s distinctively curved “double Venturi” shoulder. The effect of this is still debated but, for sure, the Weatherby Magnums were, by bullet diameter, the fastest cartridges out there.

Boddington and noted Ruger collector Lee Newton with a fine Kansas whitetail, taken with Ruger No. One in .280 Ackley Improved. The most popular of P.O. Ackley’s many cartridge designs, his .280 AI has become extremely popular.

In fact, the only the way to get higher velocities is to use a bigger case. Problem is, you quickly get into over bore capacity. This can be likened to a water hose. A hose can only pass so much water. You can increase pressure, but at some point you reach diminishing returns and not much more water comes out of the hose. In a rifle barrel, that point of diminishing return is over bore capacity. You can use a bigger case and burn more propellant, but you can’t get much more velocity. You’ll start to see this with unburned granules of powder spewed in front of the muzzle, but the real problem is throat erosion and reduced barrel life.

So long as we use nitrocellulose-based propellants, we can’t get much faster than Weatherby’s 1940s velocities. Nitrocellulose expands (burns) at about 5000 fps. This sets a practical limit, but you can’t get there because of friction. The .220 Swift broke 4000 fps in 1935. To this day, only a handful of commercial cartridges exceed 4000 fps, none by much, and all with short barrel life.

Boddington took this javelina in 2002 with a .243 WSSM, when the WSSM cartridges were introduced. Fast and efficient, they do what they’re supposed to do, but didn’t become popular and have nearly vanished…perhaps because of feeding issues in many platforms.

So, no matter how much superheated gas you pour down your barrel, unprecedented velocity is not the result. You can, instead, go for efficiency, and that’s a primary concept behind today’s short, fat cartridges. We learned from tank cannons that burning efficiency is achieved when the primer flame can access a greater percentage of the propellant charge. Burning efficiency is conducive to accuracy. More important: More energy per grain of powder burned. For instance, with a 180-grain bullet, the .300 Wby Mag needs 70.9 grains of IMR4350 powder to reach 2900 fps. The .300 WSM needs just 62.1 grains of the same powder. That’s ten percent more propellant—more heat, more recoil—to reach the same result.

The .308 Win is based on the .30-06 case shortened from 2.494 inches to 2.015 inches. At some point case capacity tells; the .308 is not as fast as the .30-06. However, it’s only about seven percent slower…while burning 20 percent less propellant.

For sheer efficiency, the perfect cartridge case is as wide at the base as it is long. No such cartridge exists because no known action can feed such a thing. However, there are fatter cartridge cases. A longtime favorite has been the .404 Jeffery case, an unbelted rimless cartridge with a .543-inch rim and base. The .416 Rigby case is even fatter, with a .590 rim and base.

Hornady’s growing PRC family, all based on the .375 Ruger case. Left, the just-released 7mm PRC, case shortened to house the longest bullets in standard actions. Center, the original 6.5 PRC, suitable for short actions. Right, the .300 PRC, possibly suitable for standard actions, but requiring a full-length action for the longest .308 bullets currently in use.

In the late Eighties Tucson wildcatter John Lazzeroni started developing fat-cased wildcat cartridges, creating parallel lines of long and short-cased Lazzeroni Magnums. Most use similar dimensions to the .416 Rigby, but some use the .404 Jeffery. As Roy Weatherby did in the 1940s, Lazzeroni made the big boys nervous.

Manufacturers liked the concept and the performance, but most production bolt-actions cannot house the big Rigby case. So, the big boys did their own things. Remington struck first with the long Remington Ultra Mags, based on the .404 Jeffery case. First the .300 RUM in 1998, then 7mm, .338, and .375 RUM two years later. Good and fast cartridges, all needing .375 H&H-length actions. Winchester struck back with the .300 Winchester Short Magnum, 2.1-inch case for short actions. The RUMs have a .550 base, with the rim slightly rebated to .534. Winchester’s WSM case is similar, but not the same: .555-inch base, rim rebated .535.

Remington quickly added 7mm and .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Mags, sized to fit their little Model Seven action. Soon we had four RUMs, two RSAUMs, and four WSMs…plus three Winchester Super Short Magnums (WSSMs). To my thinking, this was a large and confusing array of new cartridges. The .300 WSM has become the most popular, but several of these cartridges are languishing and the WSSMs vanished quickly. The short, fat cartridges are efficient, but remember my comment about actions for the ideal “triangular” cartridge?  All the short, fat cartridges show feeding issues in some platforms, and I believe this is what killed the WSSMs, too short and fat for many actions.

: This huge feral hog was taken with a Lazzeroni 10.59 (.416) Maverick. Maybe too much gun, but the proprietary Lazzeroni short magnums are still the fastest in their class.

In 2007 Hornady introduced the .375 Ruger. It was successful, but its case design is brilliant: .532-inch rim and base, same as the rim and belt of the .375 H&H but, absent belt, more case capacity. Also, easy to manufacture: Same bolt face as a belted magnum, and untroubled feeding in most actions.

The .375 Ruger case quickly spawned the .416 Ruger and, shortened, .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums (RCMs). These have not been especially popular, but recently, the .375 Ruger case was used for Hornady’s PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridges). Specified for faster-twist barrels and intended for use with modern extra-heavy, extra-long, super-aerodynamic bullets, there are now three PRCs: 6.5, .300, and the just-released 7mm PRC. 

The three PRCs are designed for maximum efficiency and to avoid over bore capacity. Interestingly, case lengths are different. 6.5 PRC is a short-action cartridge. .300 PRC uses the full (2.5-inch) .375 Ruger case. With the longest and heaviest bullets, it really needs a full-length action. The 7mm PRC splits the difference with a 2.280-inch case, allowing it to be housed in standard (.30-06) actions with extra-heavy 180-grain 7mm bullets.

Nosler cartridges: The Nosler family of cartridges, now 26, 27, 28, 33, and 35 Nosler, are all based on the RUM/.404 Jeffery case. The 26 (6.5mm) Nosler was first. So far, the 28 (7mm) Nosler has been most popular, now loaded by multiple major manufacturers.

The PRCs aren’t alone in being specific to actions lengths and bullets. Starting in 2012 with the 26 Nosler, Nosler’s family has now grown to five siblings: 26, 27, 28, 30, and 35 Nosler, all based on the RUM (.404 Jeffery) case shortened to 2.5 inches. all intended as standard-length-action cartridges. Most popular so far has been the 28 Nosler, calling for faster rifling twist, and now loaded by multiple manufacturers,

Winchester’s 6.8 Western takes a different approach. Based on the .270 WSM case shortened, it is designed for short actions, so is sort of an extension of the WSM family. Except: It calls for fast-twist barrels, and is designed for the new, extra-heavy .277 bullets up to 175 grains.

In 2022, the somewhat fatter (and sometimes short) case is still in vogue, but current cartridge design is more specific to actions, bullets, and rifling twists than ever before.



Craig Boddington

If you’re of the right-handed majority, they probably don’t matter much to you at all, but I want you bear with me and give this some thought.

One of my all-time favorite “crazy” letters went something like this: “Boddington, I’m sick of hearing you whine about scarcity of left-handed firearms. You should blame your mother; she should have made you right-handed like normal people…I can assure you, if you were born in Germany in the 1930s you’d be shooting right-handed.”

Any question about which eye is dominant? Perform this simple test, sighting on a small object and closing one eye, then the other. At 65, left-handed and long left-eye dominant Boddington was shocked to learn that his eye dominance had shifted to the right eye!

Nobody knows the exact percentage of left-handed people, but we’re a small minority, estimated between 10 and maximum 15 percent. Not all manufacturers offer left-handed models. Most that do offer limited variations and chamberings but, compared to when I was young, today there’s a pretty good selection. Honest, if were a firearms manufacturer, I’m not certain I’d tool up for the left-handed market. Partly because it’s small, and also because many lefties don’t buy left-handed guns. They make do with right-handed guns…like always.

For centuries, lefties were forced to be right-handed, too awkward for tactics with swords and shields. I’m not sure when our military allowed left-handed shooters, but I trained as a lefty 50 years ago. Whether you consider preference for the southpaw side natural or an abomination, there are other considerations.

: Veteran gunwriter John Wootters and Boddington with a nice Rio Grande turkey gobbler. Lifelong right-hander Wootters lost his right eye to a detached retina. He successfully made the shift to left-handed shooting but, in his 60s then, it wasn’t easy.

 In addition to physically favoring one side, most humans have a stronger or dominant eye. Unlike many activities that rely heavily on our binocular vision, shooting (especially with sights), requires aiming with just one eye. For most people, it’s easier to learn to shoot with the dominant eye.  Eye dominance often follows hand preference…but not always. As toddlers, we announce “handedness” by reaching for toys and spoons with one hand or the other. This may be established before eye dominance is determined.

Handgunning is different. Almost all semiautos eject to the right, not a problem at arms’ length, and revolvers are ambidextrous. That arms’ length distance also offers multiple options for solving cross-eye dominance.

Cross-eye dominance (right-handed, but with left eye dominant; or vice-versa) is not uncommon. Interestingly, cross-eye dominance is more common among women than men, with some studies showing a significant percentage of cross-eye dominance in females. Not a problem in many sports, but a big deal in archery and shooting. Especially today, with women forming the fastest-growing segments in almost all shooting sports.

So, you are right-handed and right-eye dominant. You don’t care. Fine, but as the kids and ladies in your life learn to shoot, are you sure they’re starting out on the proper side? There are simple remedies to improve shooting with cross-eye dominance but, from learning to shoot is faster with the dominant eye. The shooting shoulder and trigger hand should be on that side.


Easiest thing in the world. In a large room, pick out a small object like a light switch. Stand with arms outstretched, palms away. Bring your hands together, overlapping fingers and thumbs so that you create a small hole between the webs of your thumbs. Focus on the object through the hole and close one eye. If the object remains stationary, your open eye is dominant. Without moving your head, close both eyes and open the other eye. The object should jump, either out of view behind your hand or to the side. That is not your dominant eye!

Springfield LH conversion: Before LH actions were common, bolt-actions were often converted, switching the bolt handle and reversing bolt rotation. This is a converted Springfield by R.F. Sedgely, fast to operate, but the shooter’s face remains in peril if there’s a catastrophic failure. Mirror-image actions that eject to the left are much safer!

Stuff happens. I’ve been left-handed and left-eye dominant most of my life, but our eyes change as we age. About five years ago, I started having trouble resolving iron sights and shotgun ribs. Worse than that: I was clearly seeing two front sights and front beads. I was shocked to discover my eye dominance had shifted from left to right…no wonder I was having trouble! Prescription shooting glasses have mostly fixed the problem so, no, I’m not switching from left to right, too much muscle memory and too many left-handed guns.

Injuries are impartial. Forty years ago, when lefty actions where scarce, I bought two of my first from a lefty in the local Safari Club who had lost his left eye and needed to switch sides. John Wootters, great gunwriter and friend, was right-handed all his life…until he lost sight in his right eye to detached retina. In his 60s, the transition to left-hand shooting wasn’t easy, but it can be done. Likewise, injuries to the strong-side hand, arm, or shoulder can force shooters to switch.

Ruger No. One buffalo: Cartridge selection is a problem with most left-hand rifles. The Ruger No. One has been chambered to more cartridges than any other factory rifle, and is totally ambidextrous. Left-handed Donna Boddington used a No. One in .450/.400-3” to take this awesome Zimbabwe buffalo.


Most right-handers probably believe that left-handed guns are for convenience or speed. Suck it up, right? No. It’s really a matter of safety. It is a right-handed world, so most repeating actions are designed to eject to the right. And, in the case of a catastrophic failure, like a ruptured case head, the hot gases and shrapnel are directed to the right, away from the right-handed shooter’s face and eyes.

Now, put that right-hand-ejecting longarm on the left shoulder and experience the same catastrophe. Now the bad stuff is vented straight into the shooter’s face; serious injury is almost unavoidable.

Rock River LH AR: Boddington taking a field rest for prairie dogs with a mirror-image AR from Rock River. There are now several manufacturers offering left-hand ARs, far the safest and most pleasant-shooting for lefties.

Many firearms are more or less ambidextrous in operation, including most lever-actions, pumps, and semiautos.  However, if ejection is to the right side, the same safety hazard exists. And, vice versa, it also exists in the rarer cases of right-handers shooting mirror-image left-hand firearms.

There are truly ambidextrous actions. All break-open actions, most single-shots, and top-eject lever-actions are even-handed, and bottom-ejecting slide-actions and semiautos are totally ambidextrous. Placement of the mechanical safety can be awkward for lefties. Tang safeties work both ways, and most push-button safeties can be reversed, but this is convenience and training; the safety issue comes from being on the wrong side of the action if something goes badly wrong.

Whether falling block or break-open, almost all single-shots are very ambidextrous. This is Uberti’s Courteney stalking rifle in .303 British, on John Browning’s patent.

This is primarily an issue with long guns, because the shooter’s head is close to the action. Revolvers are ambidextrous, and virtually all semiauto pistols eject to the right. Neither are a concern because handguns are fired from arms’ length.

So, how real is the danger? Remote, but it only takes once.  I’ve seen five blowups in my life, mostly on ranges, people I didn’t know, thus from unknown causes. Four resulted in minor injuries…because they were right-handed and shooting right-handed guns. All would have been more serious if experienced by a lefty. The fifth was mine, a right-handed bolt-action, shot from the left shoulder. It was a .270 WSM, and there was a 7mm WSM cartridge in the box. Shouldn’t have chambered, but it did. And fired, swaging a .284-inch bullet down a .277-inch bore. The case head let go, and all the bad stuff came out the right side…like it’s supposed to. I was wearing shooting glasses, so minimal damage, burns and brass fragments on the right side of my nose and a red raccoon ring around my right lens. Absent eye protection, could have been bad!

Savage has long been a stalwart in offering left-hand options, especially in their M110 bolt-action line. This Colorado bull was taken with a Savage 110 in .30-06, one shot and done.

Look, I’m a gunwriter. Catastrophic failures are unusual, uncommon, unlikely. Of course, I shoot right-handed guns off my left shoulder. Good eye protection (and maybe a bit more caution in inspecting ammo) mitigates the risk, but it should not be altogether ignored. Wife Donna is also left-handed and (still) left-eye-dominant. Our personal guns are mirror-image left hand or ambidextrous. She doesn’t do this stuff for a living, so her exposure to right-hand long guns is minimal. The kids are all right-handed and have their own right-handed guns. They can also shoot my “almost ambidextrous” right-hand-eject guns, but they don’t shoot our mirror-image guns from the wrong side.

A friend was a dental surgeon, left-handed and commonly shooting right-hand bolt-actions (like so many lefties). Figuring his hands and right eye were worth a lot more than mine, I convinced him to switch to left-hand actions. I try to do the same with friends who have left-handed kids coming up, usually with success. Give it just a little of thought, and it makes sense: Why accept any unnecessary risk?

In recent years, Ruger has become a strong bastion for left-hand shooters. This left-hand 10/22 is the first-ever mirror-image left-hand semiauto .22.

I don’t actually whine about availability of true, safe-as-can-be left-hand guns, because there are so many more than ever before. In the old days, it was common to switch bolt handles and reverse rotation on bolt-actions. This simplified and speeded operation, but did nothing about the safety issue. Today we have mirror-image bolt-actions from Browning, CZ, Ruger, Savage, Weatherby, and more. John Browning’s bottom-eject slide-action shotgun has been around for a century, variously manufactured by Browning, Ithaca, and Remington. Benelli, Franchi, and Winchester offer mirror-image semiauto shotguns. Ruger now has a mirror-image left-hand 10/22, and Browning still offers the bottom-eject SA22, another John Browning design. There are break-open and falling-block single-shots, and plenty of break open doubles (over-under and side-by-side). Heck, there are even several options for mirror-image ARs. Truly ambidextrous lever-actions are scarce, as are classic control-round-feed bolt-actions, certainly on an affordable basis, but the selection is there.

So far, none of our grand-kids have turned up left-handed, and we haven’t identified cross-eye dominance. Odds are, we’ll have to cross one of those bridges. If we do, and they show interest in shooting, this is the selection of safe and sensible firearms for them. It’s not all that bad!

READY FOR FALL? Trust me, it’s not too early! By Craig Boddington

For some of us, hunting season is right around the corner. Here on the California Central Coast, our archery deer season is already open, with rifle season starting the second Saturday in August.

For some of us, hunting season is right around the corner. Here on the California Central Coast, our archery deer season is already open, with rifle season starting the second Saturday in August. For most, hunting season is still months away, but it really doesn’t matter. Time has a way of slipping past, so the dog days of summer offer a good time to get some practice in—and make sure your equipment is up to snuff.

Flanked by Tony Lombardo and Clint Wiebe, John Stucker used Boddington’s Winchester 88 in .308 to take this California hog. It worked perfectly, but a week later Murphy’s Law applied and this rifle went to the gunsmith.

I’ll start with the latter. The physical law that “a body in motion tends to stay in motion” was proposed by Sir Isaac Newton clear back in 1687. Sporting firearms are a bit like that. If they work, then with just a bit of maintenance they should continue to work…for many years. However, anything made by man can fail, and all firearms have moving parts, subject to wear.

I agree with Newton, but accept Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong surely will.” Also, Murphy’s First Corollary: “…at the worst possible time.” A firearm will probably keep functioning until it doesn’t, absent warning signs. I’ve had guns go down in the field, which is the worst possible time, but for me it usually happens on the range.

A nice California hog taken with 1950s Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Boddington’s hand is covering it, but at this moment the fore-end is held in place with duct tape. Weeks later, this rifle is still in the shop. Right now, parts—especially for older guns—can be hard to find.

Probably because I do more shooting on the range than afield. With every shot taken on the range, you are also function-checking. Funny, I haven’t had a failure in years, but this summer began I’ve taken three rifles to our local gunsmith. All three happen to be lever-actions, but I think this is mostly coincidence; I have several lever-actions, and some are old.

It started with my Savage 99 in .300 Savage, a 1950s rifle. At the range, I noticed the fore-end was rattling. I thought I got the screw tight, but I failed to remove the fore-end and inspect. Sure enough, a few days later I was scrambling up a slope after a once-hit hog when the fore-end came off in my hand. Got the pig and, for the moment, found yet another use for duct tape. Dumb. I knew there was a problem and I ignored it.

Although he doesn’t always use it, Boddington has been carrying the light Javelin bipod the last couple of years. In Tajikistan in February ’22 it was the salvation for a tough uphill shot at an ibex.

In 2019 I did some deer and hog hunting with my Mossberg 464 lever-action .30-30, but haven’t used it since. I loaded up some California-legal flat-tipped Barnes bullets, so I took it to the range.  This one violated all the rules, because the rifle was essentially a body in motion: It functioned perfectly the last time I fired it, no reason to suspect otherwise. Big surprise: The extractor was broken, no duct-tape cure here!

Boddington’s 2019 Kansas buck was taken with his Mossberg .30-30. It was working perfectly after that season. Taken to the range in the summer of ’22, the extractor was broken. Parts give out on their own schedule, not yours.

Third one, just don’t know. An old friend had a gorgeous reworked M88 Winchester .308, a rifle I’ve sought for a long time. I had just a few factory Barnes Vor-Tx; it produced a one-inch group and came perfectly into zero. Buddy John Stucker came out to visit, so I handed it to him with my half-dozen remaining California-legal cartridges. First evening, he made a perfect head shot on a nice hog. Week later, I sat down to the bench, different load. Third shot I had sticky extraction, couldn’t get the lever to open. The 88 is among few lever-actions ever made with forward-locking bolt, strong action for high-pressure cartridges. With much hand pressure, I got the action open, but then the lever wouldn’t close. Too nice a gun to force.

Prone with bipod is about as steady as it gets, but terrain and vegetation will often preclude its use. Good position to practice, but not good to get married to.

Straight to local gunsmith Jason Cardinale. In due time, maybe I’ll know what happened. For sure, I’ll start over with light handloads and work up. Jason now has three of my rifles, and gunsmithing isn’t an overnight fix like getting a tire repaired…especially if parts are needed. It’s not like I’m disarmed, but this fall I hope to hunt with all three. Here’s the point: Don’t wait ‘til the last minute. This weird rash of gun problems occurred with plenty of time to react.

On the range, an upended bin can replicate a boulder or log, using pack and jackets to cushion the rifle and adjust the height.

So, let’s start now. If you cleaned your rifle after last season, clean it again, get the gunk out of the bore. While you’re at it, check all the screws (sort of like I should have been doing on that pesky fore-end screw). Freshly cleaned, your zero may be off and, if screws needed more tension, it probably will be. Taking nothing for granted, you’re going to get good and steady on the bench and check zero first. While you’re doing that, run some cartridges in and out of the magazine to check functioning. This process revealed the broken extractor on my .30-30. That rifle hasn’t been fired for two years, so I will never know how, when, or why, but parts can fail…preferably not at the worst possible time.

The Javelin bipod system uses a fixture that replaces the front sling swivel stud, using a strong magnet to attach the bipod when desired. Standard sling swivels can be used at the rear of the fixture.

Let’s hope you don’t encounter the same problems; your rifle is working perfectly, and zero is where you want it. Now’s the time to get away from the bench and do some real practice. Wife Donna has a hunt coming up before I do, a tough mountain hunt. Her pet .270 hasn’t been out of the safe for months. She can clean it, but I had other rifles to tend to, so I scrubbed her barrel, checked everything, and we took it to the range. Couple fouling shots, slight adjustment, left it 1.3 inches high at 100 yards with the load this rifle really likes: Hornady’s Plain-Jane American Whitetail, 130-grain Interlock, clocking 3030 fps in her 22-inch barrel.   

I get lazy. It’s simple and convenient to zero at 100 yards, less human error, half the back-and-forth to check targets. This time we wanted it just right, so I put up a new 200-yard frame. Off sandbags it was fine, just like the charts said. Donna has trained with a bipod, but doesn’t like the extra weight, or the appendage on the rifle. Makes sense because her little MGA .270 weighs 5.7 pounds with VX3 3.5-10X scope.

Donna Boddington “building her house” for a prone shot using both bipod and pack

Okay, but summer is a good time to try new wrinkles. I feel pretty much the same about bipods. Very steady, but nothing works in every situation, and, weight aside, I don’t like junk on the rifle. So, as I’ve often written, my go-to is finding a way to rest over a pack. But, even at my age, I’m willing to learn new tricks, and summer shooting, absent imminent pressure, is a good time to experiment. Lately, I’ve been using the Javelin bipod system from Spartan, light, strong carbon fiber. Instead of attaching to the forward sling swivel stud (or a rail), the Javelin fixture replaces the forward stud. The bipod attaches instantly by a strong magnet; until needed it can go on your belt or in a pack pocket.

Not only light, it’s not even there until needed. I don’t use it all the time, but I’ve been carrying it. In Tajikistan earlier this year, it saved my bacon on a tough uphill shot at an ibex. I thought Donna might like it; if she didn’t, no harm done: That’s what summer shooting is all about.

Boddington isn’t OCD about gun cleaning, but if a firearm has been stored for some time it’s good to start by getting any old solvent or oil out of the bore. Thereafter, Boddington likes to clean his barrels after about 20 shots.

Donna is brilliant off sticks, steadier than me, and good off a pack, but she doesn’t like the bench. Don’t blame her; that light .270 bounces hard. She shoots well with a bipod, too, just hates to carry one. The light Spartan system intrigued her, so she started with it on the bench, sandbag under the butt. No benchrests in the field, but I was curious to see if she could hold her 200-yard zero with the bipod. Oh, yeah, she put the first three within an inch and a quarter, spot on, just favoring an inch to the right.

Now it’s time to get serious…and leave the bench behind. I put a tarp on the gravel, and she took a few shots prone, using the bipod and a pack. Then I upended a storage tub, replicating a boulder or log, augmented with pack or rolled-up jacket to get the height right. Groups are going to open up from such genuine field positions, but who cares? If you’re really prepping for field shooting, “minute of vital zone” is what you care about.

In between centerfire sessions, the Boddingtons “work out” with .22s, always a painless to get good position training for field shooting.

Hunting season is not an exam you can cram for. Shooting often is to the good, but shooting a little bit now and again is better than overdoing it, especially with centerfire rifles. In between various positions, our drill is to use a .22, off the same positions, or from sticks. With a .22, just use a smaller target. On our range we’ve got miniature metallic silhouettes, challenging at 25 yards. Recently, we added got a Birchwood Casey “target tree” with swinging gongs. Fun, no pain, invaluable practice. We’re not ready for hunting season yet; we’ll do this a few more times. Great way to pass a summer morning, before it gets too hot and the barrels heat up too fast.


The phrase was made famous by author Robert Ruark (1915-1965). Actually, his memory, because Use Enough Gun is a posthumous collection. Naturally, we assume the admonition applies to large and dangerous game.


Craig Boddington

The phrase was made famous by author Robert Ruark (1915-1965). Actually, his memory, because Use Enough Gun is a posthumous collection. Naturally, we assume the admonition applies to large and dangerous game. So, let’s be clear: This story is not about animals that might gore, trample, bite, or eat you.

The greater kudu is a large African antelope, not as big as fully mature elk, but similar in size to a three-year-old five-point bull. Like elk, shots can come at any range. “Enough gun” at 200 yards is one thing, and quite another at twice that distance.

I’ve written those articles (and entire books), but that’s a simple subject. Most African jurisdictions have game laws that tell us what constitutes “enough gun.” In some countries, these are broad, such as “minimum .375 for all dangerous game.” Other areas have more specific rules, sometimes including minimum energy standards. Rather than guidelines, these are enforceable statutes. We can disagree and exceed the standards, but if our chosen rifles and cartridges don’t meet the minimums, we’re breaking the law.

Most US states that allow rifle hunting have a minimum legal caliber. Today, thanks to the widespread popularity of the AR platform, most jurisdictions now allow .223s, at least for deer. Some elk states maintain a higher standard but in most areas, we can now legally hunt deer and wild hogs with .22 centerfires.

“Enough gun” for dangerous game is subject to much debate but is simplified by minimum standards in most African jurisdictions. Widespread belief is the .375 H&H is the usual legal minimum, but it’s more commonly the European equivalent 9.3mm (.366-inch), with either the 9.3x74R or 9.3×62 Mauser usually legal.

On mature bucks and big boars, I’m not convinced this is a great idea, but many of us do it (me included). Light recoil and accuracy make shot placement easy. For brain and neck-shot specialists, the .223 is plenty of gun, and it doesn’t much matter what bullet is chosen. Folks like me, who prefer body shots, are better served by tough, heavy-for-caliber bullets designed for larger game.

Still may not be the best choice. Entrance holes are tiny and exits are unlikely. On larger deer, definitely on hogs, my experience is recovering game shot with .22 centerfires requires more tracking…and there isn’t much trail to follow.

This Texas hog was taken with a brain shot from a little .22 Hornet. Definitely not enough gun, but careful close-range hunters who specialize in brain shots can be a bit more flexible in cartridge choices.

Whether you’re one of the guys who “only does brain shots,” or, like most of us, you usually take the biggest, surest chest shot, when hunting big game with .22 centerfires the bottom line is the same. You must get close. In the first instance, because the head shot is a tricky target; 100 yards is a long brain shot. In body shots with .22 centerfires, you don’t have much bullet energy anyway, and you need all you have. Faster cartridges like the .22-250 offer more range, but when I hunt deer with a .223 I figure about the same 100-yard maximum. 

Now, it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much gun is “enough.” No two shots are exactly alike, with nuances of angles, distances, shot placement, and bullet performance. There are no absolutes. Ideal shot placement—with a bit of luck—may mask inadequacy…until it doesn’t. And the reverse: Make a bad shot, and one’s natural impulse is to blame the cartridge or bullet. There’s no precise formula, but our vast array of cartridges offers plenty of good choices.

Boddington and Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog, rolled with a body shot from a .22 centerfire AR. Although many use .223s for hogs, this is a bit of a false reading: .22 centerfires aren’t enough gun for body shots on big hogs…and this isn’t a very big hog!

Recognizing “enough gun” for dangerous game may be the easiest of all. Nobody takes long shots at big bears or buffaloes, so there’s little concern about trajectory or residual energy. What you start with better be enough. Everything else is more difficult, especially with today’s fascination with shooting at longer ranges. We really need to think about two criteria: Enough velocity, energy, and bullet weight for the close shot we might get; and enough for the long shot we might want to take. These are not exactly the same.

In North America, elk is a major animal that sparks the “enough gun” debate. Boddington used a .270 to take this New Mexico bull, very cleanly with one shot. The .270 is the lightest cartridge he has used for elk, but believes the faster 6.5mms are enough gun…but not at longer ranges.

I like the 6.5 Creedmoor, but I don’t credit it with magical powers. Its 140-grain bullet is not heavy, and its 2700 fps velocity is not fast. Past 300 yards it starts to drop quickly…as does residual energy. A young writer friend who did credit the Creedmoor with magical properties was convinced it’s a 400-yard elk cartridge. At that distance, his elk was wounded and lost. Sometimes we get away with folly, sometimes we don’t, but the Creedmoor is well below the line for elk-sized game at longer ranges.

Boddington used his .264 Winchester Magnum to take this excellent Wyoming mule deer. Ballistically identical to the 6.5 PRC, faster 6.5mms are ideal for deer-sized game at any sensible range, but perhaps a sound minimum for elk-sized game, and not at extreme range

Ringing steel with the Creedmoor at 1000 yards is easy and fun, but that isn’t the same as shooting at game. The steel target doesn’t care how hard or soft the strike; it’s going to ring. My longest shot on game with a Creedmoor was a whitetail at 325 yards. On deer-sized game, the Creedmoor has power and performance beyond that, but you must do things right. We mis-ranged the buck, adjusting for 300 yards vice 325. Doesn’t sound like much, but I needed two more clicks up and hit the buck low. The rangefinder probably caught an unseen branch, not uncommon. I corrected, held higher and hit him again. A flatter-shooting cartridge would have eliminated an almost-miss.  

With perfectly steady position, John Stucker is about to shoot a zebra at 400 yards with his Christensen 6.5 PRC with 143-grain ELD-X.

 I like the awesome downrange performance of the 6.5mm’s long, aerodynamic bullets, so I’m becoming a fan of the 6.5 PRC. With 140-grain bullet at 3000 fps, it is 300 fps faster than the Creedmoor, delivering more energy and shooting much flatter. There’s no magic in this formula; the old .264 Winchester Magnum does the same, as do the 6.5/.284 Norma and the new 6.5 Weatherby RPM. I have a good .264, but the 6.5 PRC, with modern case design, is better-suited for today’s longer, heavier “low drag” bullets. Although I’m new to the 6.5 PRC, I’ve taken a lot of game with the .264: Deer, sheep, goats, African plains game. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the size of game this level of 6.5mm was “enough gun” to handle. For sure, I considered it elk-adequate to considerable distance, if not extreme range.

B oddington and John Stucker with Stucker’s Burchell’s zebra, taken at 400 yards with a 6.5 PRC. Maybe it would have worked perfectly if the first shot had been two inches left…and maybe not. Collective summation: Not quite enough gun for large, tough animals at that distance

My buddy John Stucker has a Christensen Ridgeline in .300 Winchester Magnum, accurate, powerful, a wonderfully versatile rifle. Last year in Georgia, John used a borrowed 6.5 PRC and flattened a big-bodied buck in its tracks. He liked the cartridge so much that he bought another near-identical Christensen in 6.5 PRC.

This year we had a South African plains game hunt planned with Carl van Zyl’s John X Safaris. Stucker had an obvious choice in his Christensen .300. However, he was focused on smaller antelopes often taken at longer ranges: Vaal rhebok, klipspringer, steenbok, mountain reedbuck, nothing “big” on his wish list. He decided to take his 6.5 PRC and, for sure, I agreed 100 percent.

Boddington’s son-in-law, Brad Jannenga with a nice axis deer (similar in size to mule deer), taken with an old .300 Savage lever-action. For deer-sized game there are dozens of adequate cartridges. On larger game, more thought should be given to cartridge adequacy

Africa’s pygmy antelopes often mean difficult shooting. Obviously, the 6.5 PRC was plenty of gun, and Stucker was on a roll. With great shooting and good luck, he was done early, so he added zebra and maybe a kudu to his list. An average kudu bull is much the same size as maybe a youngish five-point or raghorn elk. At possibly 800 pounds, a zebra is as big, and as tough, as a big bull elk. John’s .300 would have been perfect, but we had no reason to question his 6.5. His PH, “Stix” Hoole, an astute “gun guy,” was also in agreement. Should be fine.

Left to right: 6.5×55 Mauser, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington. These 6.5mms are almost identical in ballistics: 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps. They are awesome for deer-sized game, but adequate for elk only at closer ranges…with excellent shot placement.

Here’s where nuances of shot placement, distance, and luck come into play. John got a shot at an older, big-bodied kudu bull with terrible horns, a “management” bull. One 143-grain ELD-X crumpled the bull, perfect shoulder shot at 380 yards. We were all stoked and gratified; the 6.5 PRC was obviously plenty of gun.

Unfortunately, the zebra told a different story. John’s first shot was just over 400 yards. The way folks tell it these days, that’s not far, right? From a steady position with data well dialed-in, very do-able. However, from muzzle energy of 2782 ft-lbs, residual energy at 400 yards was 1800. Again, nuances. Maybe the animal was quartering a few degrees, or maybe the first shot was a couple inches too far forward. Whatever. The first shot on the shoulder didn’t do the job. Nor did additional shots, apparently perfectly placed despite increasing distance. The animal went down, but when we approached it jumped up and needed a close-range finishing shot.

Faster 6.5mms flatten trajectories and deliver more downrange energy. These 6.5mms all deliver 140-grain bullets at about 3000 fps, left to right: .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5-.284 Norma, 6.5 PRC, 6.5 Weatherby RPM. All are fully adequate for elk, but their relatively light bullets suggest caution at longer ranges

I can’t tell you how many more feet per second in velocity, how many more foot-pounds of energy, or how many more grains of bullet weight we should have had for that zebra. Nor, precisely, can anyone else. I don’t even know for absolute certainty that we didn’t have enough. Maybe if the first shot had been two inches farther left we’d still be congratulating each other on a great shot, made with a perfect choice of cartridge and bullet. But I don’t think so, because the lesson isn’t new. The last time I used my .264 in Africa (140-grain bullet at 3000 fps, so ballistically the same as Stucker’s 6.5 PRC), I remember thinking that larger, tougher antelopes—and zebra—traveled a bit farther with well-placed hits than would have been the case with 7mm or .30-calibers with heavier bullets. The problem with using “enough gun” is that nobody can say exactly what that is for various sizes and types of game. It only becomes obvious when you don’t have quite enough!


Introduced in 2018, the 6.5 PRC got in under the wire before Covid struck. It jumped on the 6.5mm bandwagon, and made significant inroads before the world shut down. Formally introduced at SHOT Show in 2019, its sibling .300 PRC had less fortunate timing.


Craig Boddington

Introduced in 2018, the 6.5 PRC got in under the wire before Covid struck. It jumped on the 6.5mm bandwagon, and made significant inroads before the world shut down. Formally introduced at SHOT Show in 2019, its sibling .300 PRC had less fortunate timing.

I try to keep up on new developments, but the .300 PRC was nearly out of diapers before I laid eyes on a cartridge! And it didn’t much matter: Couldn’t get a rifle to play with and, even if I could, no ammo! I first saw the 6.5 PRC in the fall of ’19, but didn’t hunt with it until the following season. I was slower yet to gain experience with the .300 PRC. In the fall of ’21 I hunted with two borrowed .300 PRCs, but just now got my hands on a rifle I can spend quality range time with.

Hornady’s Neil Davies, sighting in his GA Precision .300 PRC in Tajikistan. Of four hunters in the party, two used .300 PRCs and two used .300 Win Mags, clearly a split decision between old and new.

Despite similar names, the 6.5 and .300 PRCs are quite dissimilar cartridges. Both are based on the .375 Ruger case, jointly developed by Hornady and Ruger in 2006. It follows the “model” of shorter, wider, unbelted case design. However, instead of a much fatter case, which causes a bolt face mismatch—and feeding problems in many actions—the .375 Ruger uses the same .532-inch rim and base of standard belted magnums, without a belt. The .375 Ruger quickly spawned the .416 Ruger and, shortened, the .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums (RCMs).

PRC stands for “Precision Rifle Cartridge,” after the Precision Rifle discipline. The 6.5 PRC is actually based on the .300 RCM case necked down to 6.5mm (.264-inch bullet), short enough to fit into a short action. Despite supply challenges, the 6.5 PRC seems to have caught on nicely. This is almost certainly because, at long last, the 6.5 Creedmoor made American shooters aware of the ballistic advantages of the long, aerodynamic 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet.

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker borrowed a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC to take this ancient ’21 Georgia buck. He was impressed enough that, within weeks, he bought a 6.5 PRC.

The .300 PRC uses the full-length .375 Ruger case (2.580 inches), necked down to take a .308-inch bullet. So far, it has not been as popular as its 6.5mm little brother. This may be pandemic timing, but there are other factors. The shooting world fell in love with the efficient, light-kicking 6.5 Creedmoor, but folks are asking it to do more than it should. It is a wonderful long-range target cartridge. In my view it is not a long-range hunting cartridge, and at best a marginal elk cartridge. About 300 fps faster, the 6.5 PRC shoots flatter and delivers more energy. It has more recoil than the Creedmoor, but remains pleasant to shoot.

The 6.5 PRC’s performance, 140-grain bullet at roundabout 3000 fps, is not new. That’s what the .264 Winchester Magnum has offered since 1958, and the 6.5-284 Norma comes close. All three are credible long-range hunting cartridges and fully adequate for elk. Faster 6.5mm cartridges deliver more, but they are over bore capacity. Powder selection is limited, and barrel life is reduced. I think the 6.5 PRC is in the 6.5mm “sweet spot.”

On the range with a new Bergara in .300 PRC.
On the range with a new Bergara in .300 PRC. The Bergara shoots extremely well, and is an amazingly affordable rifle

I love my .264, but let’s face it: The cartridge is nearly obsolete. There are no flies on the 6.5-284. However, despite a cult-like following, the 6.5-284 has been chambered to few factory rifles, the .264 now to almost no new rifles. Actual cartridge performance depends on loads and pressure, but case capacity offers a ballpark gauge. The 6.5 PRC has a case capacity of 68.8 grains. The .264 Win Mag’s case capacity is 84.1 grains, while the 6.5-284 has case capacity of 68.3 grains. Since velocities are much the same, obviously the PRC and 6.5-284 have more efficient case designs.

John Stucker on the range with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker on the range with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. The Springfield, with carbon-fiber barrel and adjustable stock, is a wonderfully modern platform, offering much rifle for the price.

Wit sleek, modern case, the 6.5 PRC was designed around the increasingly long, high BC “low drag” projectiles. SAAMI specifications call for a fast 1:8 twist, but many shooters building 6.5 PRCs use faster twists. Virtually all .264s, and many early 6.5-284s, are barreled with 1:9 twists. I’m not re-barreling my .264, and I doubt staunch 6.5-284 fans are abandoning their babies, but the 6.5 PRC is coming on fast, chambered to more platforms, with growing ammo sources. Haven’t given up on my .264, but I bought a 6.5 PRC, the excellent (and excellently priced) Springfield 2020 Waypoint.

So far, the .300 PRC has not come on as strong. We Americans love our .30s but, unless we need the capability, we aren’t crazy about .30-caliber recoil!  With or without the word, the .300 PRC is a full-up magnum cartridge, and we already have plenty of fast .30s. It’s a crowded field, the .300 PRC going head-to-head against the world’s most popular magnum, the .300 Win Mag.

Boddington borrowed Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC
Boddington borrowed Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC to take his 2021 Georgia buck, using a 212-grain ELD-X. Truthfully, “fast .30” power isn’t necessary for deer hunting, but the results were decisive!

With similar case length, the .300 PRC’s wider case has slightly more case capacity than the .300 Win Mag: 77 grains for the PRC; 72.7 for the Win Mag. This suggests it’s capable of more velocity. Also, it was specified for higher pressure: 64,000 psi for the Win Mag; 65,000 for the PRC. Raw powder space is one thing, but how it’s utilized depends on bullet seating depth, and how far out bullets can be seated and still fit in magazine boxes. As with the 6.5 PRC, the .300 PRC was designed to take advantage of long, heavy bullets.

It is a standard-action-length cartridge…sort of. The .300 PRC case was SAAMI-specified for a much great maximum overall length than the Win Mag: 3.7 inches vice 3.34 inches. So, competition shooters going to the .300 PRC are often using full-length (.375 H&H) actions so they can use the longest, heaviest bullets seated out, taking greater advantage of the case capacity. Similarly, some shooters are also putting the 6.5 PRC in a standard (.30-06 action), rather than a short (.308 action).

.300 PRC Groups
These days you can’t squander ammo. Initial groups from the Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC are promising, but the barrel needs to be broken in and additional loads must be tried.

That’s one beauty of the PRCs: As new cartridges, they are chambered in the most modern platforms. Depending on the bullets you intend to use, the .300 PRC can also call for a faster twist. Most .30-caliber cartridges use a 1:10 twist. With the heavier—and especially longer—bullets currently in vogue, this isn’t fast enough. The .300 PRC is SAAMI-specified for a faster 1:8 twist, able to stabilize the long .30-caliber match bullets up to 250 grains.

Velocity suffers with heavy bullets, but that’s also what the PRCs are about: Getting those long bullets out there where they can do their work. Honestly, if you want to shoot standard 180-grain (to maybe 200-grain) hunting bullets in a fast .30-caliber, the .300 PRC offers no appreciable advantage over established fast .30s. The PRC is faster than some, not as fast as others, but comes into its own with long, heavy, high-BC bullets.

Georgia hog was flattened with by Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC.
This Georgia hog was flattened with by Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC. This was Boddington’s first use of a .300 PRC, impressive!

So far, if you want a fast 6.5mm that really struts 6.5mm capability, the 6.5 PRC is the clear winner. The .300 PRC is not such an obvious choice. Better with heavy bullets, for sure, but I doubt it will become as popular as the .300 Win Mag, and it brings the full complement of fast .30-caliber recoil, not needed by everyone.

Oh, did I forget accuracy? If unprecedented accuracy were assured, then all old favorites would be discarded. Reality: Maximum accuracy is not dependent on case design. The modern wider, unbelted cases are conducive to accuracy, but quality of barrel, sound assembly and bedding, and good ammo are more important to accuracy than case design. So far, my experience with the PRCs is limited: Four each in 6.5 and .300. Most have been “high end” rifles from Allterra, Christensen, Gunwerks, and Springfield. Expected them to shoot, and they did. So did a wonderfully inexpensive Bergara in .300 PRC!

.300 PRC Groups
These days you can’t squander ammo. Initial groups from the Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC are promising, but the barrel needs to be broken in and additional loads must be tried.

Just yesterday, I took a new Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC to the range. Awesome rifle. I suppose I expected a miracle, but you rarely get one on the first try. First two five-shot groups were 1.5 inches. Not exceptional, but a good start from a brand-new barrel, and at the moment I only have one load to try. After break-in, and fiddling with loads, all the PRCs I’ve shot have grouped much better. I’m certain this one will, looking forward to seeing just how well it groups. However, let’s get real: Two of my pet rifles happen to be a Jarrett .300 Win Mag; and a .264 with an exceptional Obermayr barrel. I have yet to see a 6.5 PRC that groups as well as my .264; or a .300 PRC that groups as well as my Jarrett. They’re out there, but exceptionally accurate rifles—in any chambering, old or new—are tough to beat…and cannot automatically be beaten by case design alone.

Boddington and Zack Aultman with a fine Georgia buck, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
Boddington and Zack Aultman with a fine Georgia buck, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. Popular among competitors, the 6.5 PRC is a fine cartridge for deer-sized game.

I’m not rebarreling either of them just to get a modern case—or to shoot heavier bullets. Now, if I were starting from scratch and I wanted a versatile, fast 6.5mm, I’d go with the PRC. And, if I wanted a fast .30, I’d take a hard look at the .300 PRC. Understanding, if will be a long time, if ever, before it’s as available as the .300 Win Mag.



Craig Boddington

Gobblers were going crazy just over a little rise. I duckwalked to the crest, peered over. Sure enough, a nice gobbler was right there. I held the bead where neck feathers ended and saw him down hard. Awesome! Another gobbler rushed in from the right, probably to pounce on this one. Swinging hard, I used the second barrel. Two fine Merriam’s gobblers…and the only “double” I’ve ever gotten on wild turkeys. At least on purpose…more about that later.

I wasn’t hunting turkeys; I was up there on a spring black bear hunt. While sitting over baits, I heard a lot of gobblers. The season was open, so I went to town and bought tags. I didn’t have a turkey gun with me, but I did have a Krieghoff 20-gauge sporting clays gun in the truck.   

This is a shot you don’t want to take, in strut with the head tucked tight against the body. Wait until the head is raised or extended and aim in the center of the neck, much more reliable and much less meat ruined.


There were few turkeys in Kansas when I started hunting, so experience came long and slow.  I still consider myself among the world’s worst turkey callers but, today, at least I have a fair amount of experience shooting turkeys.

About 30 years ago, before I’d ever taken an Eastern gobbler, I hunted in southern Missouri with a borrowed Browning BPS 10-gauge pump gun. Awesome shotgun, but I didn’t know the gun. We had a big gobbler strutting across a clearing, not 25 yards, but trees and brush between us. Believing a max-load 10-gauge could do anything, I pasted him square in the center of the chest.

He dropped and rolled behind a big oak. We ran forward and saw…nothing. No feathers, no indication which way he had gone. We walked lines in every direction, and never found a trace.

The bird on the left is in an ideal presentation, head erect. Boddington’s preferred aiming point is where the neck feathers end, then let the pattern do its work. The bird on the right is a bit too close, better to wait and let them separate a little more!

I had made fundamental mistakes. I’m pretty good with a shotgun but, although many have, I’ve never taken a turkey on the wing; all of my gobblers have been on the ground. This is different from most shotgunning; you must aim, rather than point and/or swing!

Targets shot with a T/C 20-gauge, Full choke with Winchester 3-inch

Have you taken your turkey gun to the range and aimed at a point target, to see exactly where your pattern lands in relation to the bead? You might be surprised at the results. Many shotguns high, others dead flat. Less commonly, a bit low, or even off to one side.  Few of us are dumb enough to go deer hunting without checking a rifle on a target, but too many hunters get handed a shotgun and go turkey hunting. A shotgun charge is different than a single bullet, so we trust the pattern…without knowing exactly where the barrel directs it.

A pattern target quickly tells you what you are dealing with. These targets were shot at 25 yards with 12-gauge 3-inch. Top two with Mossberg M500 with Full choke: Top left, Remington No. 5 HD. Okay, not great. Top right, horrible, with Kent No. 7 tungsten: Too much choke for these shells in this gun! Bottom two with Franchi Affinity, Full choke, same two shells! Bottom left, Remington No. 5 HD, awesome; bottom right, Kent No. 7 tungsten, devastating!

A turkey-hunting expert (which I am not), would never make such a mistake. Nor would he (or she) make the same basic shot-placement error. We can argue all day about gauges, shells, and chokes, but the turkey is a big, strong bird. Beyond point-blank range, no gauge, shell, or shot size can concentrate enough pellets to reliably take down a turkey with a body shot.

In these days of ammo shortages nobody has a wide selection of turkey loads! Loads Boddington has, and has been using, include, left to right: Hornady No. 5 nickel-plated shot; Remington Nitro No. 5 HD (tungsten); and Kent No. 7 tungsten, all in 3-inch 12-gauge.

A facing presentation requires the greatest penetration. What I know now (and didn’t know then): You never shoot a strutting turkey with head down! You’re banking on a couple of “golden pellets” into the head and neck. If you don’t get them, there is little guarantee of getting enough penetration through feathers and flesh into the chest cavity. Side shots are only slightly better. The turkey is our “big game bird” and shot placement is essential. The proper shot is with the head and neck extended, the aiming point at the head, if horizontal; and where the neck joins the body if vertical. Then you can let the pattern do its work!


It’s really not a matter of how much shot (gauge and shot charge). It’s really a matter of choke, matching the load to the gun, and putting the charge in the right place. Expert turkey hunters (which I am not) are now having great fun—and success—head-shooting turkey with .410s, and 28 gauges, enabled by wonderfully advanced loads and chokes.

Patterning done right, walking the gun out.

Absolutely can be done, but I have not opened that window. I’m not a good enough caller—or patient enough hunter—to go there. I went through my 10-gauge phase, but found that chokes, patterns, and shells weren’t as advanced—or as available—as for the popular 12 and 20 gauges. I’ve taken numerous turkeys with 20-gauges guns, plenty of gun…especially with the right shells in good chokes. However, I’m mostly a 12-gauge guy for turkeys.

Boddington’s son-in-law, Brad Jannenga, with a Rio Grande gobbler, taken with his Benelli Nova in 3.5-inch 12-gauge. The 3.5-inch 12-gauge has about the same shot charge weight at a 10-gauge, definitely an ultimate turkey gun…but also a great deal of recoil.

With the shells, shot, and chokes we have today, I can’t imagine a shot I might take that a 12-gauge 3-inch load can’t handle. Son-in-law Brad Jannenga uses a Benelli Nova slide-action 3.5-inch 12-gauge, theoretically as effective as my old 10-gauge. Devastating…on both ends. Left-hand 3.5-inch 12-gauge guns being scarce, I’ve never used one. I don’t push the range, and my experience is the shorter shells, albeit with smaller shot charges, often deliver better patterns.

Taken in April ’21, this is the heaviest Rio Grande gobbler Boddington has ever taken. Using a left-hand Franchi Affinity, a Kent No. 7 tungsten shot load proved extremely effective.


Taking turkeys cleanly isn’t about gauge or weight of charge, but pattern density. This is all about chokes! These days, interchangeable chokes are almost universal with new guns (even the side-by-side 10-gauge I used for years had choke tubes). Older guns, of course, have fixed chokes. Typically, you want a tight choke for turkeys but, depending on shot size and material (lead, bismuth, tungsten, steel), the tightest choke may not yield the tightest patterns in your gun. It’s important to know your pattern is tight and even, and that requires shooting at a target. Turkey loads are spendy and we don’t have a lot of shells to waste on paper. But, out of a 10-shell box of turkey loads, we can expend a couple, verifying point of impact and pattern.

The flexibility of interchangeable choke tubes is almost universal in new shotguns today. Depending on shot size and material, the tightest choke may not deliver the tightest or most even pattern. It’s essential to pattern on paper so you know what you’re dealing with

For several years, my “go to” turkey gun has been a camouflaged Mossberg 500 12-gauge 3-inch left-hand pump gun. I’ve shot a bunch of turkeys with it, mostly with lead No. 5 or 6 shot. I was curious how it might pattern with tungsten, so I started with the Full choke tube I’ve been using. We know from using steel shot on waterfowl that, with extra-hard shot, we usually use more open chokes to achieve uniform density and avoid blowing the pattern.

My long-reliable Mossberg didn’t look great with Remington 3-inch No. 5 HD (tungsten). It looked worse with a Kent load of tungsten No. 7, lots of deep-penetrating pellets…but they still must land in the right place. I was over-choked with tungsten; the No. 7 load had a classic “hole in the pattern,” centered on the head of a life-size turkey target!

Boddington used this American Arms short-barreled side-by-side 10-gauge for years. He abandoned it because 10-gauge shells became difficult to find…and available loads weren’t as advanced as for the more popular 12 and 20-gauges

If I had shells to burn, I’d have changed chokes and tried again but, these days, who does? Conserving ammo, I tried the same two loads in a left-hand Franchi Affinity with Full choke tube. OMG, not shells or gun, just the choke! Remington’s No. 5 HD looked great, over 40 pellet strikes in head and neck at 25 yards. Kent’s No. 7 tungsten was even better; I couldn’t count the pellets in head and neck on the target!

As for shot size, personal preference. Today, some serious hunters are using shot as small as No. 9, relying on maximum pattern density for head shots only. I don’t go that small! I’ve taken a lot of turkeys with No. 6 shot (lead or bismuth) for head/neck shots, but I like No. 5 better, good pattern density, with greater pellet energy/penetration.  Often, I’ll load No. 4 in the magazine or second barrel for a rarely-used follow-up.

A fine Gould’s turkey from northern Mexico, taken with Boddington’s left-hand Mossberg 500, using Winchester Long Beard 12-gauge 3-inch with No. 5 lead shot. Turkey loads have come a long way, but it’s essential to match the choke to the load

Tungsten shot is a recent experiment for me. Denser than lead, penetration should be better for like shot sizes. Theoretically, No. 7 tungsten should penetrate about as well as lead No. 6. That Kent load is slow at 1000 fps, but carried an amazing 2.5 ounces of No. 7 tungsten pellets! It looked great on a target, and that week the Franchi, same choke with Kent No. 7, accounted for the heaviest Rio Grande gobbler I’ve ever taken.   

Donna Boddington and Fred Eichler with a beautiful Merriam’s gobbler. Donna had a Red Ring “red-dot” sight on her 20-gauge Krieghoff. Since turkeys are taken by precise aiming, open sights or red-dots make a lot of sense on turkey guns.


Since we aim at turkeys, sights are obviously good…to a point. The shot is rarely perfectly static, so it’s a mistake to get fixated on precision; you’re still working with a pattern, not a single projectile.

I had a red-dot sight on that Krieghoff 20-gauge for a while, and both Donna and I shot turkeys with it. Awesome! My Mossberg has a rudimentary rear sight on the rib, in conjunction with the fiber-optic front bead. Also wonderful, but if you use sights, don’t forget to check zero!

Just once, I put a low-power magnifying scope on a turkey gun. Seemed amazing, but there is a tunnel-vision effect to riflescopes. I shot a great gobbler, the big red head almost glowing through the scope. When I went to recover, there was another equally great gobbler stone-dead in thigh-high grass 10 yards farther! Two-bird area, so not a train smash, but definitely not my intention. Through the scope, with reduced peripheral vision, I never saw the bird behind mine. Open sights and red dots, good idea because turkey hunting is about shot placement…but that’s the only time I used a magnifying riflescope for turkeys!



Craig Boddington


Shooting groups is all about determining a rifle’s accuracy, little to do with the shooter. That said, it’s essential to ensure your benchrest technique is sound. The platform (bench) must be rock-solid. There’s a reason why most ranges use massive, immobile cement benches. Good sandbags work well, but there’s no substitute for a solid, heavy adjustable rifle rest. Get the scope centered on target and make fine adjustments until it’s perfect. The idea is to settle into the rifle, gain your sight picture, and press the trigger without “muscling” the reticle onto the target.

This falling block .303 was showing vertical stringing, right. Increased pressure on the fore-end screw and a business card shim at the fore-end tip immediately changed the groups from vertical to round. With the right load, accuracy should improve.

Before firing, dry fire a few times, checking the rifle’s position—and your trigger press and breathing. When the trigger breaks there should be no movement at all. If there is, start over and re-adjust the rifle.

Raw accuracy is about the rifle, not the shooter, but first check your technique, and be certain you’re shooting from a rock-solid bench and a good shooting rest.

We’re going to assume you’ve checked all screws (action, scope mount, rings) and made sure all are tight. This is about determining your rifle’s accuracy. If you discover later that a screw was loose you’ve just wasted every shot. Who can afford that today?


A micro-photo of the inside of a barrel. Even the best new barrels will show tool marks and rough spots. The passage of bullets—and frequent cleanings—will smooth a barrel, usually (but not always) improving accuracy after 50 to 100 rounds.

Everybody has a different cleaning protocol. I’m not OCD about it; I definitely don’t clean a barrel every time I put a bullet through it. However, when shooting for groups, I start with a clean, cold barrel, and I clean it on the range after four or five groups. After cleaning I fire a couple of fouling shots. Cleaning invariably leaves some solvent or lubricant in the barrel, so the first shots may have a different point of impact before bullets have “scrubbed” the barrel. The difference is rarely dramatic, but the fouling shots should not be counted as part of a group. With slender barrels, this may mean waiting for the barrel to cool before shooting a group “for score.”

A free-floated barrel should allow free passage of fairly thick paper between barrel and channel.

Breaking in a new barrel is a different deal! Even the best new barrel has near-microscopic tool marks and rough spots. The passage of every bullet removes a bit of steel, polishing and smoothing the barrel (until, eventually, it’s “shot out”). Every experienced shooter has a personal protocol for a new barrel. Some fire one shot, clean…and then repeat ten times! Again, I’m not that guy, but I clean a new barrel much more frequently! Lapping a barrel is one way to short-cut the process, polishing the bore with a mild abrasive. One method I’ve tried (definitely saves ammo) is a hundred passes with JB Bore Cleaner, a mild abrasive paste.

Action bedding
True “drop-in” stocks are uncommon. The action must be held firmly and consistently in the stock to preclude movement. Even major manufacturers often use bedding compound to ensure secure bedding, especially around the recoil lugs and action screws.

Not all barrels need break-in. Some shoot as well as they ever will right out of the box, but this is rare. There is no magic number, but in my experience, most barrels need 50 or 60 shots (at least half-dozen cleanings) before they settle down. Until then, whether you’re impressed or depressed by your groups, don’t worry about it too much. Experiment with different loads…and don’t start hacking on the bedding! My current mountain rifle is a .300 Winchester Magnum by Kenny Jarrett. It should shoot, and it does, but this barrel was slow to break in, lackluster groups with much load-to-load variance. It wasn’t like it suddenly woke up and started to shoot. Average groups gradually improved…incrementally. Today, with a few hundred rounds down the barrel, it shoots well with any good load, awesome with some, and most of its barrel life lies ahead.


A rounded crown is most common on sporting rifles. The crown is surprisingly fragile and easily damaged; the greatest hazard is probably muzzle-down in a vehicle grinding against the grit and dirt on the floorboard.

The muzzle crown is the last thing the bullet touches as it leaves the barrel. It must be cut evenly and concentrically, 90 degrees to axis of bore. It’s not unusual to find an off-center crown and, even if the rifle left the factory perfect, the crown surprisingly fragile and easily damaged. Such as, by grinding muzzle-down amid the gravel and debris of a vehicle floorboard.

If a barrel just won’t shoot the way you think it should—or, if accuracy suddenly deteriorates—it’s amazing how often the culprit is a sloppy crown…even on new rifles. Any gunsmith can recut a crown, and tool sets are readily available; it’s a five-minute job. But, before you do that, it costs almost nothing (one cartridge) to check it out.

To check a muzzle crown, paint it with common typewriter whiteout and fire a shot. You will see blast marks where the rifling grooves meet the crown; they need to be consistent all the way around.

Carefully paint the muzzle, around the rifling, with typewriter “white-out.” Let it dry, and put one cartridge downrange. There will be black lines, “blast marks,” on the white where the rifling grooves meet the crown. In my experience, these blast marks are easier to see on recessed or “target” crowns, more difficult with rounded crowns; you may want to use a loupe to study the marks carefully. 

If the marks are concentric and similar adjacent to the grooves, probably not the crown.  but if one or more marks is smaller or different, repaint the crown and fire another shot. If the same, I’d recut the crown before I tried anything else. It’s amazing how often this proves the problem, with a properly-square crown dramatically shrinking groups.


A free-floated barrel should allow free passage of fairly thick paper between barrel and channel.

Bedding is mating action to stock, and barrel to barrel channel. Tightly and uniformly fitting action to stock is essential to preclude movement. Barrel bedding is a matter of dampening, or making consistent, barrel vibrations while the bullet passes through the bore. The several methods all work…but none work all the time on all barrels. In full-contact bedding, whether with carefully sculpted wood or a bedding compound (like fiberglass), the barrel makes full contact throughout the channel.

Full-contact bedding is the most difficult bedding technique. Free-floating is the opposite, essentially no bedding at all: The barrel makes no contact forward of the action, and the barrel is free to vibrate as it will. This is easiest and cheapest bedding techniques. It works well on some barrels…but no technique works on all barrels. In between full-contact and free-floating are several options. Many makers bed the first few inches of barrel, at the shank, then free-float the rest. Pillar-bedding is a popular variation of this.

To try a business card shim, just loosen the action screws, insert a business card between barrel and fore-end tip and retighten the screws. The purpose is to place a couple pounds of upward pressure on the barrel, which often has the effect of dampening barrel vibrations and making accuracy more consistent.

Then there’s pressure-bedding, building up a pad near the fore-end tip (usually with bedding compound), so that, with the action screws tight, a couple pounds of upward pressure are exerted on the barrel. Inexplicably, but demonstrably, this serves to dampen or make barrel vibrations more consistent. It was a favorite technique with pre-’64 Model 70s which, though often surpassed today, were often exceptionally accurate for their time.


I’m not big on hacking on bedding; you can drive yourself nuts, usually to no avail. A given barrel is only going to group so well, no matter how much you want it to do better. However, there are a couple of things you can check. If a barrel is supposed to be free-floated (all or part), run a piece of paper between barrel and channel. High spots, especially along the sides, will bear on the barrel and ruin accuracy. This is not uncommon with sloppy factory stocks, and must be relieved.

To try a business card shim, just loosen the action screws, insert a business card between barrel and fore-end tip and retighten the screws. The purpose is to place a couple pounds of upward pressure on the barrel, which often has the effect of dampening barrel vibrations and making accuracy more consistent.

The best trick I know is to try a business-card shim to replicate pressure bedding. I learned this in the 1970s from a pre-’64 Model 70 collector, and I’m still amazed at how often it works. Loosen the action (or fore-end) screw(s) so you can insert a business card between fore-end tip and barrel. Depending on space, it may take more than one, but, with the card in place and screws tightened, you can feel you’re putting just a bit of upward pressure on the barrel. You can also adjust the placement of the shim, but just behind the fore-end tip is the place to start.

Before and after: Right, a group fired from a barrel with a sloppy crown. Left, a group fired immediately after recutting the crown. With accuracy, results this dramatic aren’t common, but sometimes you get lucky.

This trick is especially good to reduce vertical stringing. Just now, I’ve been messing with Uberti’s Courteney Stalking Rifle, 1885 High-Wall action, one of the two .303 British rifles I mentioned. Lovely rifle but, despite a stiff barrel, it showed vertical stringing. I adjusted pressure on the fore-end screw, which helped. Two thickness of business cards changed the groups from vertical to round.

Boddington’s .300 Win Mag by Kenny Jarrett is especially accurate, but this particular barrel was slow to break in, really coming into its own after more than 100 rounds. Top left group is a final zero at 200 yards.

If this little trick doesn’t help, nothing lost. Remove the cards, tighten the screws. If it works, you can cut the cards to fit, then soak in oil to prevent rust from moisture absorption, or you can replace the cards with brass bar stock. I’ve done this once or twice, but I’ve got several rifles with permanent business card shims!

Couple years ago, I had a test rifle from a well-known maker that wouldn’t shoot like I thought it should. I shimmed the barrel with a business card and shrank the groups significantly. My mistake: I didn’t remove the shim before I returned the rifle. They discovered it and accused me of hacking on their bedding. That manufacturer hasn’t spoken to me since and probably won’t…but it still worked!