ENOUGH GUN FOR TURKEYS?

By

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.

SHOT PLACEMENT

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!

GAUGES

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.

CHOKES AND SHOT

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.

WHAT ABOUT SIGHTS?

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!

GROUP-TIGHTENING TIPS

By

Craig Boddington

BASICS

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?

SMOOTH THE BARREL

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.

CHECK THE CROWN

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.

BEDDING

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.

TRY A SHIM!

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!

THOUGHTS ON RIFLE ACCURACY

So, you want your rifle to deliver teeny, tiny groups? Sure, and people in hell want ice. The search for exceptional accuracy can be exhaustive and costly, so let’s start with one question and one reality.

By

Craig Boddington

So, you want your rifle to deliver teeny, tiny groups? Sure, and people in hell want ice. The search for exceptional accuracy can be exhaustive and costly, so let’s start with one question and one reality. Question: How much accuracy do you really need? Reality: Any given rifle has a finite level of accuracy it can deliver.

One 7×57: Boddington loves the Ruger No. One single shot but concedes that, especially with light barrels, they can be finicky. This 7×57 was all over the map and frustrating. Top right, it finally found a load it liked, and has remained consisted at about 1.5 MOA.

Colonel Townsend Whelen (1877-1961) wrote: “Only Accurate Rifles Are Interesting.” Warren Page (1909-1967), authored The Accurate Rifle. Like most gunwriters of the previous generation, both were accomplished competitive rifle shooters. They understood rifle accuracy, and both had much to do with the fixation American shooters have for raw rifle accuracy, whether needed or not. In their time, exceptionally accurate rifles existed, but were less common than today, the exception rather than the rule.

Today, we take for granted that every new rifle on the dealer’s rack will deliver those teeny, tiny groups right out of the box. This is more likely than ever before, and at less cost than ever before. But not all rifles will do it. Even if they will, not all shooters have the skill and technique to produce the best groups their rifles are capable of. And we don’t always care; it depends on our purpose. 

This .280 Remington, shown with a nice Coues whitetail, is the finickiest rifle Boddington ever owned. Groups were awful with all factory loads he tried, but the rifle instantly came alive with common handload recipes, shrinking groups well below one MOA

HOW MUCH ACCURACY?

Most rifles deliver more accuracy than is needed! Minute of Angle (MOA) is the most common standard, expressed in terms of inches (or fractions) at 100 yards. At least in theory, a one-inch (one MOA) 100-yard group should naturally expand to two inches at 200 yards, three inches and 300 yards, and so forth on out. Please note: It is far more difficult to shoot a three-inch group at 300 yards than a one-inch group at 100 yards!

In .303 British, the “Courteney Stalking Rifle” from Uberti is just plain cool. Boddington used it during his Kansas rifle season, but ammo and bullets were scarce and two-inch groups were the best he could do with what he had. Not great, but very adequate for hundred-yard shots at whitetails.

We used to think a one-MOA rifle was very accurate. Still is and, to be honest, that’s more accuracy than I really need for most of my hunting. This week, I’m hunting whitetails on my son-in-law’s Texas property, using a 1950s Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Some days it will do better, but it’s really a two-MOA rifle. Some Savage 99s do better, but that’s typical “good” accuracy for any vintage lever-action, and plenty adequate for the shots I might take here, in thick oaks and mesquite. Last night, I shot a “management” eight-pointer at less than 40 yards, not a problem that the rifle wasn’t super-accurate by today’s standards.

Boddington loves his old lever-actions…and accepts their limitations. This 1950s .300 Savage will group 1.5 MOA with some loads, two inches with others. So long as he uses it in close-range situations, there’s no handicap. This last-light Texas buck was taken at 40 yards.

My Kansas country is quite different, thick oak ridges but, similarly, none of our stands offer potential for long shots. All through the ’21 Kansas rifle season I carried Uberti’s Courteney Stalking Rifle, new rifle on the old 1885 Browning falling-block action. In .303 British, it was also producing two-inch groups. I wouldn’t take either rifle sheep hunting, but both are adequate for my whitetail hunting (and hogs, black bear, and so forth).

Sometimes, I want more. Years ago, for a TV show, I went sheep hunting with an advertiser’s rifle that was a two-inch gun. Got the job done, but I was nervous. For mountain hunting, I want at least a one-MOA rifle. Better is nice but, at field distances I’m comfortable with, one MOA is good enough. Honestly, that’s good enough for any of my big-game hunting, but some shooters want more.

This .416 Rigby was exceptionally accurate right out of the box. That’s not uncommon with large calibers (if you can take the pounding), but it doesn’t really matter. For large game at close range, this level of accuracy is far more than needed.

Sometimes I demand less. Most scoped .375s and .416s are at least 1.5 MOA rifles (some much better), but double rifles are rarely that accurate. With open sights, I can’t resolve the front sight well enough to know how accurate the rifle might be. Nor do I care, provided it’s good enough for short-range use.

Some shooters demand…and need much more.   Whether for game or target, extreme-range shooters need all the accuracy they can get. Most competitive shooters want more, but it depends on the game. Cowboy Action is not raw-accuracy centric, while Benchrest competition is the most demanding of all. Much of our improvement in rifle accuracy have come from the benchrest community…who define just how small “teeny, tiny groups” really are! Varmint hunters need more accuracy than most deer hunters. Considering size of target and distance, for prairie dog shooting I want all the accuracy I can get. I figure consistent half-MOA groups are minimal, half that if I can get it! 

The 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum has a long, belted case and is over bore capacity. Modern pundits suggest that such an old-fashioned case can’t possibly group well. Good barrel, with sound bedding and assembly, are more important than case design. This 6.5-.300 breaks the rules.

WHAT CAN YOUR RIFLE DELIVER?

These days, we go on and on about today’s great optics, better ammo, and more accurate rifles. All true, but not all rifles can deliver sub-MOA groups. Most that can will do it with some loads, not with others. If a rifle exists that will print one-hole clusters, all shots touching, with every load you might feed it, I want to see such a wonder! More on ammo later, but it seems to me the primary and most basic ingredient to rifle accuracy is a good barrel. Concentric action/barrel mating, sound bedding, and consistent ammo are also essential. We talk about the advantages of heavy, rigid actions. We also wax eloquent about the amazing accuracy of modern cartridge design with short, fat cases. Rigid actions and case design contribute but, without a straight, well-cut, precisely-chambered barrel, you’re done before you start.

Modern factory rifles can be amazing. Right out of the box, this Kimber Mountain Ascent .30-06 produced three .75-inch groups with the first load tried. That search is done; this rifle is accurate enough for anything Boddington is likely to do with a .30-06.

Thanks to modern manufacturing, average barrels are better than ever. But some barrels are better than others. If I wanted to build up a super-accurate rifle, I’d start with a match-grade, hand-selected barrel from a top brand. Such a barrel (barrel blank alone) might cost more than a complete basic bolt-action from Mossberg, Ruger, Savage, others. No way the factories can have fifty bucks invested in the all-important barrel. It’s amazing that current production rifles shoot as well as they do, and not surprising that rifles from “known” makers who guarantee accuracy can start about ten times more than perfectly serviceable basic factory guns. 

Today’s factory rifles are amazing, but not all will produce MOA accuracy, and there’s some luck involved in getting one out of the box that will cut that in half. Again, any given rifle is only capable of so much accuracy. Miracle cures do happen, but my experience is accuracy gains are incremental, rarely exponential. A rifle that produces two MOA at the start might, with work and some luck, cut that in half—with some loads. It would then produce enough accuracy for most purposes (for most people). But if you’re looking for one-hole groups, you’re unlikely to get there. The search for maximum accuracy should be exhaustive and can be continuous. For instance, you could spend a lifetime and never try all the load combinations. However, I don’t believe in tilting at windmills or hunting for unicorns. At some point, I accept the accuracy I have. If it’s good enough for my purposes (for that rifle), wonderful. If not, time to think about starting over: Rebarreling, or trading for something else.

A cartridge is comprised of four components: Primer, case, propellent, projectile. Variations in any impact barrel vibrations (harmonics), which impact accuracy. Any factory load is just one combination; handloaders can vary all four, for infinite combinations.

TRY DIFFERENT LOADS

Right now, with all ammunition hard to find and expensive, this is tough. However, the simplest and easiest way to improve accuracy is to keep trying different loads. Based on past experience, I can make predictions likely ammo brands, bullets, and handload recipes. Sometimes I’m right, other times very wrong. There is no predicting what load(s) a given rifle is likely to shoot best. Some bullets are made for accuracy, others for terminal performance, but only your rifle knows what it likes. It can’t tell you until you try! Often, the differences are unknowable variations in barrel harmonics. Some barrels are very finicky, others tractable and forgiving. Sometimes what works best is surprising, but you can’t know until you shoot a few groups.

Left to right: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum. Newer cartridges (like the Creedmoor and PRC), with short, fat, unbelted cases are often accurate, but case design is a very distant factor in rifle accuracy.

Handloaders have a huge advantage, able to vary bullets, propellants and charge weights, even cases and primers. Users of factory ammo are in a pickle, especially right now. The worst of it, with factory ammo: You try a load, doesn’t shoot well, and then you have half a box of near-useless practice ammo left over!

Sorry, but I can’t help you with this. Supplies are terrible right now, and there’s no way to know until you try. The only good news I can give you: There’s no rush! When you see a brand or bullet you haven’t tried, pick up a box and see what happens. When you find a load that shoots well, note it carefully. In fact, considering today’s prices and irregular availability, measure groups and keep notes!

: Expectations should be realistic, but sometimes you get lucky. Despite featherweight barrel and walnut stock, this Jack O’Connor commemorative Model 70 in .270 Winchester produced sub half-MOA groups. Such accuracy is unusual in any brand or cartridge. A test rifle, Boddington should have kept this one. In right-hand only, he returned it…and is still kicking himself!

If a rifle doesn’t seem to shoot as well as you think it should, keep trying different loads. I had a .280 that printed shotgun patterns, not groups, with all the (few) factory loads I could find. I tried a “normal” handload recipe with 140-grain AccuBond. Groups shrank from over two inches to below one MOA. This was a rare case of exponential improvement. Don’t count on that, but before you give up, there are tricks you can try. I’ll save them for next month!

SHOULD I BUY THAT GUN?

SHOULD I BUY THAT GUN?

By

Craig Boddington

Buddy John Stucker sent me a photo of a Christensen rifle, new in the box, carbon-fiber barrel, synthetic stock chambered to 6.5 PRC, price sounded good. He asked, “Should I buy it?”

Christensen in 6.5 PRC
Boddington’s buddy, John Stucker, texted him this photo of a Christensen in 6.5 PRC asking, “should I buy it?” Stucker already had a Christensen .300 Win Mag, loves the rifle, had tried the 6.5 PRC and liked it. The price was right so, why not? But did he really need it?

Good Lord, you’re asking me? That’s like asking a fellow alcoholic to share a drink!

When it comes to buying guns, I’m the wrong person to ask! In some cases, my resistance is pretty good; I don’t buy many handguns, only one shotgun lately. Sporting rifles, well, I’m weak…especially with left-hand or ambidextrous actions! However, I have more guns of all types than I need, many that haven’t been out of the gun safe in a while.

We’ve only got so much space in the gun safe(s). That fact bolsters my resolve. I buy, sell, trade…and I’ve gotten ruthless about trimming the herd when safe storage gets crowded. However, I’m not a really smart wheeler-dealer; I’ve overpaid simply because I couldn’t resist!

Savage 99 .300
Boddington is always “looking.” In September ’21 he walked into Capital Sports in Helena, Montana…and saw the Savage 99 .300 Savage he’d been looking for. The price was good…better with their “military discount.” This one is a keeper…at least for a while!

It’s nice to say that “good guns never lose their value.” Probably true over the long haul, but fair value what it is. The bible is Blue Book of Gun Values, now in its 42d edition, an amazing reference! Condition is subject to interpretation, but the Blue Book is the standard reference.   A great deal is always suspect. Today, with so many firearms in short supply, overpaying a bit isn’t uncommon (same as vehicles and houses!). Just be sure and ask yourself: Do I want it that bad? Again, I’m the wrong person to ask, but I try to give myself a rational answer to three questions.

DO I REALLY NEED IT?

In my case the answer should always be “no.” But it’s often difficult to separate “need” from “want.” My guns are an eclectic array; I’m not building a collection and I don’t buy expensive collectibles but, heck, the kids are out of college. Not the end of the world if I buy a gun just because I want it, but budgets and needs vary.

Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70
This is one of the first Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70s. It’s a very nice rifle in all ways, but Boddington has big lever-actions and intended to send it back. Until he shot it: Accuracy is so exceptional for a lever-action that this one is a no-brainer “keeper.”

As a gunwriter, test guns come and go. Usually, we can buy them at a decent price…or send them back. Most often, I resist temptation and send them back. But not always. In November, I received one of the first RugerMarlins, an 1895 .45-70. Beautifully finished, smooth action. My intent was to do my work and send it back! I have an older Marlin .45-70…and other big lever-actions. No way that I “need” it! Then I shot it, MOA accuracy with five-shot groups. Gotta rationalize: My other 1895 has a long octagonal barrel. This one has a short barrel and Picatinny rail, easier to scope. It isn’t going back!

Needless to say, John Stucker bought that Christensen 6.5 PRC. (Why ask me?) His excuse makes more sense. He doesn’t have a bunch of rifles (yet). His “go to” has long been a Browning A-Bolt .280 Remington, good rifle and cartridge. Wanting a “modern” platform with (perhaps) more range and accuracy, he bought a Christensen .300 Win Mag.    On its maiden voyage, it accounted for an aoudad ram at 450 yards. He was sold!

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker with a big-bodied (and ancient) Georgia buck in October ’21, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. This was Stucker’s first experience with any 6.5mm cartridge. He liked the modest recoil and the way it dropped the buck; four months later he bought a Christensen in the same chambering.

In 2020, I used the new Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC and liked it. That one needed to be sent back, but I bought another, also in 6.5 PRC. In ’21, Stucker used that rifle on a Georgia whitetail hunt. He liked the light recoil, and the way the 6.5 PRC dropped a big buck in its tracks. Months later, he chanced on a Christensen in that chambering. Will it do anything his .280 can’t do? Probably not, and its only advantage over his .300 is less recoil. He didn’t really “need” it, but it’s a modern platform in a modern cartridge. I admit he “needed” it more than I “needed” the Springfield 6.5 PRC. I have a half-dozen rifles that will do everything it can do! The only rationalization I can offer: I don’t like to be left too far behind by new developments! It’s a thoroughly modern platform—and I like the new 6.5 PRC!

If you’re a new gun buyer, or shopping for specialized capability you don’t have (like an elk rifle or turkey gun), it’s easier to come up with genuine need. The millions of new gun owners who have joined us in the last few years have different needs. Many probably started with a firearm for home defense, but after a while learn shooting is fun. Some decide to try their hand at clay targets or join a friend on a deer hunt. These folks have genuine needs for firearms that guys like me satisfied decades ago. There’s a lot of hype out there and, for any imaginable purpose, dozens of firearms that suit the need. Talk to experienced shooters, and try to get a consensus on the type of gun you should look for…to suit your need. Don’t call somebody like me and ask, “Should I buy this gun?”  

Ruger-Marlin 1895
This is one of the first Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70s. It’s a very nice rifle in all ways, but Boddington has big lever-actions and intended to send it back. Until he shot it: Accuracy is so exceptional for a lever-action that this one is a no-brainer “keeper.”

HOW AM I GONNA FEED IT?

This is a new concern! The big box stores rarely carry large variety, but well-stocked gunshops had, almost anything. It’s different today. Shortages and backorders are real, there aren’t as many Mom and Pop gunshops as there used to be, and shelves are shockingly bare. I am not a conspiracy theorist; I believe this is because of those millions of new gun owners…and old-timers like me purchasing more than we need. The manufacturers are churning out ammo as fast as they can, but the demand is unprecedented and unanticipated. As a sensible business decision, they are focused on the top-selling cartridges.

It’s better than it was six months ago; takes more looking, and prices are up, but you can get the more popular cartridges. Some of the arcane stuff I shoot, good luck! Ammo availability must influence buying decisions! I saw a nice1898 .30-40 Krag at a gunshop recently. Didn’t need it, but the price was great and I wanted it. No ammo, no loading dies. I didn’t buy it, mostly because I saw ammo headaches.

CZ Bobwhite in 20 gauge
Quail hunting in Arizona with the left-handed CZ Bobwhite in 20 gauge 3”. This is not exactly the only upland shotgun Boddington has, but a light, left-handed 20-gauge side-by-side was far beyond his weak impulse control.

Yesterday, same shop had a well-worn Savage 99 in .300 Savage, the hang-tag announcing “with three boxes ammo!” Dealers never used to care about ammo, didn’t want to mess with it when I sent a gun “down the road.” Today, a used gun in an older or obscure cartridge may be nearly useless. I handload, so that’s a partial solution, but you still must find dies, cases, and appropriate projectiles. I gave that Savage 99 a quick glance, and moved on. I have a Savage 99 in .300 Savage, with dies, cases, and ammo. Plan to keep it for a while!

In addition to popular numbers, ammo companies are also running new cartridges. Not fair, but also sensible business: New cartridges don’t have a chance if ammo isn’t available! So, although prices are too high, John will find 6.5 PRC ammo, and I’m seeing 6.8 Western and .300 PRC ammo around. For sure, there’s plenty of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo out there. I have one, in part because it’s so popular as to be inescapable! After initial shortages, there’s quite a bit of .223, .308, and .30-06 ammo. Likewise, 9mm, .38 Special, and .45 ACP…and both 12 and 20 gauge. But if you need ammo for unpopular numbers, you need to think about it. Maybe with an eye toward: How much ammo do I really need…and where can I get it? 

CZ Bobwhite 20 gauge
Boddington couldn’t resist this CZ Bobwhite 20 gauge a wonderfully complete and inexpensive upland shotgun…and this “southpaw” version had a left-hand-cast stock. He knows he didn’t need it, but who cares?

WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH IT?

This is slightly different from need. Will you shoot it a lot? If so, better think even harder about ammo. I have a Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle test gun on hand. Chambered to .303 British, it’s a cool rifle, just love it. I have dies and adequate cases, but it’s oddball .312-inch bullets are scarce, and I can’t find fresh factory ammo at all. I want to buy this one, purely because I like it, but I gotta think about how to feed it!

Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle in .303 British.
On the bench with the Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle in .303 British. Great-looking rifle, and this one shoots very well. Boddington loves it, wants it…but doesn’t “need” it. Today, the .303’s .312-inch bullets are extremely scarce. Keep or return decision pending, but ammo availability is a concern.

Maybe you don’t want to shoot a certain gun at all, just squirrel it away for the grand-kids. Ammo resupply won’t be your problem, but try to stash a few boxes…and don’t shoot them up! I often pass up nice guns in obscure, obsolete, or wildcat cartridges. Almost all ammo problems can be solved, but lack of ammo magnifies expense and hassle. Provided even a few cartridges go with the gun, loading dies can be had or made…and any handloader can load it.

Beyond low impulse control, my left-handed affliction is a problem. I have a terrible time turning down left-handed or ambidextrous guns. I have too many left-hand bolt-actions, lever-actions, single-shots, and break-open guns…with redundant capabilities. That one recent shotgun: Last year I bought a CZ Bobwhite side-by-side 20 gauge with left-hand cast to the stock. Great little shotgun, great price! I didn’t need it, but how could I not? That’s the problem with being a lifelong gun guy…sometimes I don’t even try to come up with a reason!

OPTICS: POWER AND LIGHT!

By

Craig Boddington

The December afternoon was unseasonably warm. Deer would come out late, so I wasn’t surprised that sunset came and went on an empty clearing. Five minutes later the first doe stepped out. No problem, plenty of time…and light. Ten more minutes, flash of antler in the trees. I was hoping for a “management” buck; this buck was a tall seven-pointer, reasonable mass, missing a tine on one side.

Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy…
Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy…but make shooting good groups a lot easier. This is the new Leica 2.5-15x50mm Amplus, a great scope with capability and versatility. Boddington put it on his old .264 Winchester Magnum to try out some new handloads…with awesome results.

First impression: Probably what the doctor ordered. I got the rifle rested, but I wanted to see the check his age, make sure he wasn’t a precocious youngster. He was slow coming out, but there was still plenty of time.

This clearing looks west; the sun had dropped behind trees, so the deer were in black shadow and the light was going fast. Another buck trailed the first, almost identical antlers, maybe a bit smaller…or a year younger? I checked my watch, five minutes shooting time remaining, but as they fed along, I could no longer tell them apart. I was done!

: Boddington’s ’21 Georgia buck was taken with a buddy’s rifle topped with a big 2.515x50mm Swarovski scope.
Boddington’s ’21 Georgia buck was taken with a buddy’s rifle topped with a big 2.515x50mm Swarovski scope. During the close encounter with this buck, he inadvertently turned the scope power up too much, saw nothing but hair, and had to quickly turn it back down.

Half-hour past sundown defines legal shooting hours in much of North America. Depending on cover and clouds, usually we can see fairly well that late. But not always. First and last light are magic times when clear, bright optics are essential. On that evening, with two days of Kansas rifle season left, I was under-scoped!

I was carrying Uberti’s “Courteney.” Single-shot on John Browning’s 1885 action, configured like a British stalking rifle, chambered in .303 British, and named after Frederick Courteney Selous, who loved single-shots. So do I! Plenty of gun in our woods, where most shots are close. The Courteney has exceptional open sights, plus a non-traditional integral Weaver base, simplifying scope mounting.

Boddington put a very small 1.5-4x20mm scope on the Courteney single shot
Boddington put a very small 1.5-4x20mm scope on the Courteney single shot. His choice was largely because it “looked good on the rifle,” but for whitetails he could have used more magnification and needed more brightness. It got the job done, but not before last-light opportunities were passed.

In our thick timber, the light comes late and leaves early anyway, but these days I lose the light sooner than in years gone by. I have certain stands I’ll hunt with iron sights, but it’s risky. Best mount a scope! So, in keeping with the rifle’s trim profile, I went minimalist, mounting a little Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4x20mm. Looked great on the rifle!

three one-inch scopes differ widely in capabilities
These three one-inch scopes differ widely in capabilities…and also in size and bulk. Top, 1.4-4x20mm; center, 3-9x40mm; bottom, 3-15x44mm. All are useful, but it depends on how far you need to shoot…and the likelihood of a tough shot in poor light.

For most purposes, I’m not crazy about the big, heavy scopes so much in vogue today. In most situations I don’t need high magnification or the brightness of a big, clunky objective. Especially with whitetails, we mustn’t underestimate the importance of those first and last minutes of shooting light…but that’s exactly what I’d done. Those deer were in the open, max 125 yards, but I had neither enough power, nor enough light, to make either positive ID or take the shot.

4X was plenty of magnification for that shot (and much farther). When I started hunting (mid-Sixties), variable-power scopes weren’t perfected. Fixed 4X was the most common hunting scope, and many hunters did fine with fixed 2.5X scopes.

Europeans don’t observe “shooting hours”
Europeans don’t observe “shooting hours” as we know them. It was pretty dark when I shot this roebuck in Hungary. The rifle is an Austrian single-shot in 7mm STW, topped with a big Swarovski scope with 56mm objective lens, pretty standard for serious European hunters.

I hunted happily with fixed 4X scopes through the late Seventies and didn’t know I needed more magnification. By then, reliable variables were taking over. The huge target image of my first 3-9X was amazing. I liked it! Since then, I’ve done most of my hunting with “medium-power” variables in the 2-7X, 3-9X, and 3.5-10X class. I shoot left-handed and am strongly left-eye dominant; I have no problem keeping both eyes open. At these magnification levels, most of my shots at game, even fairly close, have been with my scopes turned up to maximum power.

Greg Tinsley shot this fine California boar at daylight,
Like whitetails, hogs—especially big boars—are often taken in poor light. Greg Tinsley shot this fine California boar at daylight, still so dark they had to wait. His Lazzeroni rifle was topped with a big, bright scope, so he was ready to shoot the minute it got light enough.

As I was trying to age those bucks in poor light, I could have used more magnification…and more light! My 10×42 binocular gave me both but required too much movement!

The 1.5-4x20mm scope I used, one-inch tube with straight-tube 20mm objective, is one of the smallest and lightest of all scopes. Today’s typical “dangerous game” scope, maybe 1-6x24mm on 30mm tube, is also compact. Small and light scopes are seductive! The 30mm tube admits more light than a one-inch tube so, if quality is similar, will the brighter. However, a scope with a straight objective cannot be as bright as a scope of similar quality with a larger objective lens. In other words, in that 1.5-4x20mm scope, I was using about the “least bright” scope possible!

Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy
Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy…but make shooting good groups a lot easier. This is the new Leica 2.5-15x50mm Amplus, a great scope with capability and versatility. Boddington put it on his old .264 Winchester Magnum to try out some new handloads…with awesome results.

More magnification might make shots simpler, but in our area we have no stands that a 4X scope can’t handle. Being an optimist, and not looking for a big buck, I hadn’t anticipated a last-light shot, where I’d wish for just two more minutes of good visibility!

There is no “industry standard” for what constitutes an image size at 4X, 10X, or any other “X.” Brands vary, as do fields of view as magnification goes up and down. Brightness and optical clarity also vary, but these are more quality and pricing issues. With my first 3-9X scope, “three-times-zoom” was standard…and the limit of technology. Four-times-zoom isn’t new but today we have scopes with five, six, and even eight-times zoom.

Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy…
Larger, more powerful scopes have nothing to do with a rifle’s accuracy…but make shooting good groups a lot easier. This is the new Leica 2.5-15x50mm Amplus, a great scope with capability and versatility. Boddington put it on his old .264 Winchester Magnum to try out some new handloads…with awesome results.

This is good, because today’s bigger variable can still have a low setting that will keep you out of trouble if you follow a wounded animal into thick stuff. Depending on your ability to use a riflescope with both eyes open, the low setting on a hunting scope should probably be 2X or 3X, maximum 4X. With five, six, or eight times zoom, this puts the upper setting into the stratosphere, magnification once reserved for varmint and long-range target scopes.

I enjoying ringing steel at long range, but I’m not especially interested in the extreme-range shooting popular today, and I’m not going to shoot at game at a half-mile. If extreme range fascinates you, then you might need magnification into the high 20s and beyond. Thing is: With magnification, it’s not true that “if a little is good, a lot is better.” As magnification goes up, field of view goes down; at the highest magnification, there’s increasing difficulty finding a distant target.

Boddington put a very small 1.5-4x20mm scope on the Courteney single shot
Boddington put a very small 1.5-4x20mm scope on the Courteney single shot. His choice was largely because it “looked good on the rifle,” but for whitetails he could have used more magnification and needed more brightness. It got the job done, but not before last-light opportunities were passed.

If a scope is turned up too high, at close range you run the risk of seeing a blur of hair through the scope. I’ve never gotten in trouble with scopes up to 10X or so—but I try to remember to keep them turned down until I need more magnification. Just this year in Georgia, I was using my buddy’s rifle with a Swarovski Z6 2.5-15x50mm scope. Walking to my stand, I got caught flat-footed by a good buck chasing a doe. I dropped my pack and lay behind it, turning up the scope as I got into position. Guess I cranked it too far; when I got behind the rifle all I could see was brown. I cranked it back down and made the shot.

1978 Nevada mule deer
Boddington took this fine mule deer in Nevada in 1978, using a Ruger M77 .30-06 topped with the first variable scope he ever owned, a Redfield 3-9X. After years of hunting with fixed 4X scopes the 9X magnification literally opened his eyes

For my purposes, a variable with maximum power somewhere in the teens is all I need, even for shooting prairie dogs. The most powerful scope I own is an older 6-24X. I use it for varmints, awesome, but at higher settings the field of view is too narrow for big game. For open-country hunting, in recent years I’ve used 2-12X, 3-15X, 4-16X, and currently have VX6 3-18X on multiple flat-shooting rifles. All of these have (at least) all the magnification I want. Because of mirage and heat waves, there are many situations where magnification much above about 12X isn’t practical and, on big game, a 12X image is big enough at any distance I’m likely to shoot.

European hunters rarely use artificial lights but, with big scopes, they use moonlight
European hunters rarely use artificial lights but, with big scopes, they use moonlight and, when possible, snow background to hunt far into the night. This Austrian stag was taken late the night before and recovered at daylight.

As with magnification, current taste in objectives is also getting bigger. Other than weight, bulk, and cost, there’s no disadvantage to bigger objectives, and we usually accept what the manufacturer offers in the scope we want. I have scopes with big objectives, visibly bright. However, I prefer the trimmer profile of a 40mm, 42mm, or 44mm objective. Remember, as an American hunter, I’m generally held to “half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset.” Some feral hog and varmint hunting is legal at night, but I don’t do much of that.

Donna Boddington and Zack Aultman with a nice Georgia buck,
Donna Boddington and Zack Aultman with a nice Georgia buck, taken 20 minutes after sunset the night before. She used her .270 with 3-9x40mm scope. Such a scope is neither powerful nor especially bright, but powerful and bright enough for most North American hunting.

Europeans have a different situation. They rarely use artificial lights, but “shooting hours” are generally unknown. Over there, I’ve hunted deer and boar when, well, it was black dark and needed all the light a scope can possibly gather! Most of the places I hunt, I’m gonna quit 30 minutes after sunset. I don’t need the brightest—or most powerful—scope I can buy…but I sure needed more than I had!

The next night, about the same time, but in an east-facing meadow, much brighter at quitting time, I shot a tall 3.5-year-old forky with no eyeguards, perfect buck for me. I like the Courteney single shot and intend to do more hunting with it. So, as soon as I got home I replaced that 1.5-4x20mm scope with a Trijicon 3-9x40mm scope. Doesn’t look quite as perfect on the rifle, but I don’t want to run short of power and light again!

NEW (COVID) CARTRIDGES

By

Craig Boddington

New cartridges keep gunwriters going! Apparently, they keep manufacturers going, too. Too many times I’ve said that we have plenty of cartridge, but they keep coming.  New cartridges create buzz, which creates demand, which creates sales…and so forth.

During nearly two years of Dread Virus, demand hasn’t been an issue! Demand for firearms and ammunition, has been unprecedented, with many manufacturers are struggling to keep up. Lengthy back-orders prevent focus on new products. A small side effect to the long pandemic: In 40 years I have never seen a two-year period with such a slow trickle of new stuff! I haven’t even seen some of the new cartridges, but some have caught my eye!

AR CARTRIDGES

6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm PRC, 6.8 Western, 28 9480Nosler, .300 PRC.
Left to right: 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm PRC, 6.8 Western, 28 9480Nosler, .300 PRC. Not all of these are brand-new, but all are creating a lot of buzz among modern rifle shooters.

For decades the AR15 action was chambered almost exclusively to the 5.56x45mm (.223 Remington). During the past 20 years, the platform became amazingly popular among civilian shooters, with new cartridges developed to wring just a bit more performance. The problem: The action is sharply limited in cartridge length, Cases fatter than the .223 can be chambered to ARs, but either a larger bolt face must be used…or the rim must be rebated (smaller diameter than the base). Both solutions are commonly used with new AR cartridges. In many cases, cartridge-specific magazines must be used.

Heavier 5.56mm bullets with better long-range performance offer a partial solution. Our military started with a 55-grain bullet, switching to 62 grains in 1980. Today, we often use 5.56mm bullets up to 80 grains and more. Federal’s .224 Valkyrie offers better performance than the 5.56 with heavier bullets, and the .22 Nosler (with more case capacity) is faster. I haven’t warmed up to either, simply because the .223 still does most of what I need an AR to do, but both are probably “better” cartridges.

custom 6mm ARC
A custom 6mm ARC, used on a prairie dog shoot in Wyoming in July 2021. The 6mm ARC probably makes the most sense in an AR platform! It’s an impressive little cartridge, extremely accurate and prairie dog-capable to 400 yards and beyond

I was at the Remington seminar in 2002 when the 6.8 SPC was introduced. The 6.8 SPC (.277-inch diameter) is definitely a better deer/hog cartridge than the .223, but that’s another bandwagon I never jumped on. The .300 AAC Blackout, standardized by SAAMI in 2011, has become surprisingly popular, in part because of its performance suppressed, (with subsonic loads). Based on the 5.56mm case shortened and necked up to .30-caliber, it has been adopted by some of our special operations forces. I find it marginal for deer, and not enough gun for hogs. To me, a far better solution is the 6.5mm Grendel, which takes advantage of longer, more aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets. Designed by Bill Alexander back in 2003, the Grendel isn’t new, but it’s a great little cartridge.

In a favorite deer stand with a new Bergara in .300 PRC. Absent conventions and most events during the pandemic, it wasn’t until hunting season 2021 that Boddington had a chance to try out some of the newest rifles and cartridges.
In a favorite deer stand with a new Bergara in .300 PRC. Absent conventions and most events during the pandemic, it wasn’t until hunting season 2021 that Boddington had a chance to try out some of the newest rifles and cartridges.

At the other end of the spectrum, the .450 Bushmaster (straight case with rebated rim) packs about all the power one can wring out of an AR platform…at least at close range. It meets all requirements in the states that allow a “straight wall” centerfire cartridge (in lieu of shotguns). It’s one of the best choices to hunt black bear with an AR, and thus plenty powerful enough for deer and hogs. The only real drawback: Performance is similar to the .45-70, thus generating more recoil than many hunters are comfortable with.

John Stucker
John Stucker used a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC to take this old, downhill Georgia buck. The 6.5 PRC is a fine cartridge for deer-sized game under almost any conditions.

Which leads us to two new “AR cartridges” of the pandemic era. Hornady’s 6mm ARC (Advanced Rifle Cartridge) case is similar to the 6.5mm Grendel, but technically based on the .220 Russian. At first glance, I had little interest in the ARC, but changed my tune when I had a chance to use it on a prairie dog shoot last July. With its short, fat case, it’s efficient and allows use of new heavy 6mm bullets. The 6mm ARC propels a 108-grain bullet at 2750 fps. Grendel magazines and bolt face are compatible, and the ARC outperforms the Grendel at long range. I was shooting it in a bolt-action, and was impressed by the ARC’s accuracy and performance, no problem smacking prairie dogs out to 400 yards.

Georgia whitetail
This Georgia whitetail was Boddington’s first game with a .300 PRC. He admits to overkill with a 225-grain ELD-X Match…but the buck went down in his tracks.

Most “AR cartridges” have been designed for potential military use. Winchester’s .350 Legend, introduced in 2019, is an exception intended specifically to meet the “straight wall cartridge” criteria in traditional shotgun states. Propelling .35-caliber bullets of 160 to 180 grains at 2100 to 2200 fps, the Legend is ballistically similar the great old .35 Remington. However, the Legend is legal for deer under “straight wall” rules, and the bottleneck .35 Remington is not.

The Legend’s .357 diameter is a bit odd: Undersize for traditional .358-inch rifle bullets; and oversized for 9mm pistol bullets (usually .355-inch). Oversized bullets, even a thousandth, are not a good idea. Slightly undersize bullets aren’t like to group the best, but cause no pressure issues. 9mm pistol bullets are being loaded in .350 Legend for inexpensive practice ammo. Accuracy isn’t great in my rifle, but I’ve seen no evidence of keyholing.

Boddington’s friend, Zack Aultman
Boddington’s friend, Zack Aultman, is almost always certain to have something “interesting” in the gun rack at his Georgia deer camp. The first three, from left, are a Bergara and Alterra, both in .300 PRC; and a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC, new cartridges in very new rifle platforms.

I bought a Mossberg Patriot bolt-action in .350 Legend. I haven’t used it for deer (yet), but I’ve found it effective on hogs. It is NOT a long-range cartridge! I think of it as a 200-yard deer cartridge, with mild recoil. Performance is in spirit with the straight-wall-cartridge concept, and accuracy beats what most slug guns can deliver!

HUNTING AND TARGET CARTRIDGES

There haven’t been many of these, either! The 6.5mm PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) was slightly pre-pandemic. I almost missed this one because I have a good .264 Winchester Magnum I’m not willing to part with.

Ballistics are similar to the old .264, 140-grain bullet at about 3000 fps. However, the PRC uses a modern, unbelted case, based on the .375 Ruger case shortened. The short case allows it to be used in short actions with today’s longer, heavier, super-aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets. I haven’t abandoned my .264, but I’ve been using the 6.5mm PRC it in a Springfield Waypoint. Awesome rifle, with marvelous out-of-the-box accuracy.

Boddington on the bench
Boddington on the bench with a new Bergara in .300 PRC. The cartridge was impressive. So was the rifle, amazing out-of-the-box accuracy at a very modest price.

More recent is its big brother, the .300 PRC. I’m kind of in the same boat there: I have good, accurate rifles in several fast .30s and don’t need another. The .300 PRC was built for long-range accuracy with today’s long, heavy bullets and faster-twist barrels. It uses the full-length .375 Ruger case (2.5 inches). This allows it to be used in s.30-06-length actions with the most modern bullets.

Now and then I go to Georgia to hunt at friend Zack Aultman’s place, with a great range right outside his door. Being a long-gone rifle nut, he’s always got something new! We had a Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC, and both an Alterra and a Bergara in .300 PRC.

John Stucker checking zero
John Stucker checking zero with a Springfield 2020 Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC, prior to a Georgia deer hunt. Both Boddington and Stucker have taken whitetails with Springfields in 6.5 PRC, a great deer cartridge at any sensible range.

This was my first exposure to the .300 PRC! Neither rifle was more accurate than my fast .30s. However, the twist is faster, and both produced tight groups with 212, 225, and 230-grain bullets. A fast .30 with extra-heavy bullets isn’t needed for Southern whitetails…but it worked just fine. As with my .264, I’m not prepared to replace my magnum .30s…but if I were starting out from scratch, I’d give serious thought to a .300 PRC.

Not exactly new, but slow to catch on has been the 6mm Creedmoor, a simple necking down of the popular 6.5mm Creedmoor. With the short Creedmoor case, it is able to handle 6mm bullets up to at least 108 grains in a short action (with faster twist barrel). Because of accuracy and light recoil, it has become popular in long-range competition. Ballistically similar to the .243, I have described the 6mm Creedmoor as the “best” 6mm cartridge.

The Nosler family of proprietary cartridges has grown! The 26, 27, 28, 30, and 33 Nosler are all based on the Remington Ultra Mag (RUM) case shortened to 2.590 inches, allowing use in standard-length actions. Across the board, cartridge overall length (COAL) is specified at 3.340 inches, with shoulders moved as needed to preclude a larger caliber from being chambered in a smaller caliber chamber. I haven’t tried them all but, depending on your preferences in bullet diameter, plenty of choices! So far, I think the 28 Nosler has been the most popular. However, the 27 Nosler is the fastest cartridge using the .277-inch bullet. With faster-twist barrels, it is able to take advantage of the heaviest “low drag” .277-inch bullets just now becoming available.

.350 Legend
Despite its pandemic debut, the mild-kicking .350 Legend was quickly embraced in the formerly shotgun-only states that allow “straight-wall” centerfires for big game. Although all ammo is scarce right now, quick acceptance has led to a robust assortment of factory loads.

Winchester’s 6.8 Western is unabashedly all about such bullets! I’m a longtime .270 Winchester fan, and have had numerous flings with the .270 WSM and Weatherby. Great cartridges all, but traditional bullet weight has been limited to 150 grains, behind the times with today’s super-aerodynamic long-range bullets. Standard .270 rifling twists have always been 1:10, maxing out at about 150 grains. The 6.8 Western came out of the starting gate with bullets from 160 to 175 grains, rifles barreled with 1:8 twists.

The case is nothing new, the .270 WSM case shortened enough so the new long bullets can be used in a short bolt-action.  The 6.8 Western is still so new that I haven’t yet seen a rifle. Hell, in order to get a cartridge to photograph I had to buy a box of ammo! I don’t have a .270 Winchester I’m willing re-barrel in order to use the new bullets. So, I’m having a 6.8 Western built. I’ll let you know how I like it!

RIFLESCOPES: IS BIGGER ALWAYS BETTER?

By

Craig Boddington

The “standard” American riflescope has been based on a one-inch tube diameter (26mm) for most of my life. European scopes were more likely to be based on the larger-diameter 30mm tube, but until maybe the 1990s 30mm tubes were fairly uncommon in North America…and scope rings in that diameter were limited and hard to find.

Blaser optic
Blaser-two scopes: Boddington’s Blaser set up with two scopes. Bottom, a Zeiss 3.5-10x56mm. With the extra-large objective, a good example of a scope designed to maximize the poor light shooting European hunters are accustomed to. Top, a Leupold VX6 2-12x42mm, a very capable scope, but with a more modest objective lens.

I don’t think it’s yet true that 30mm scopes are more popular than one-inch tubes but, for sure, 30mm scopes are widely accepted, and there’s little difficulty finding mounts and rings. The current trend is toward larger and more powerful riflescopes. 30mm is not the limit; scopes with 34mm tubes have been available in Europe for many years, and are becoming more common over here.

Boddington’s Jarrett .300
Boddington’s Jarrett .300 Win Mag accounted for this Dall ram in Alaska. Mounted with a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope, the rifle weighs 8.5 pounds. For Boddington, that’s a comfortable weight, and an objective lens of this size can still be mounted low on the receiver.

Comparing and judging riflescopes is difficult. Regardless of diameter, the tube is just that: A metal tube, housing the internal mechanisms, with ocular and objective lenses affixed at each end (and usually housed in their own tubes, which we call “bells”). Sound construction is essential, but it’s always the quality of lenses and coatings that determine clarity of image. With riflescopes, the only real comparisons that can be made are “apples to apples.” Construction and quality of lenses and coatings must be more or less equal, otherwise you’re comparing apples to oranges!

Leupold’s 1.75-5x20mm scope
Leupold’s 1.75-5x20mm scope is probably the quintessential “dangerous game” scope. It serves its purpose but, even in high-quality scopes, the straight tube with small objective lens cannot be as bright as a scope of similar power with a larger objective.

Quality of lenses and coatings are also important in “brightness,” which is of critical importance to all hunters. Good glass with the most modern coatings admits more useable light into the scope tube. However, if these are similar, the diameter of the objective lens is the primary contributor to brightness. So, regardless of tube diameter, a “dangerous game” or “tactical” scope with a straight tube forward and a 24mm objective lens cannot be as bright as the same scope with a forward bell housing a larger diameter objective lens. Somewhere in the gun safes or shop I have riflescopes with 20, 24, 28, 33, 36, 40, 42, 44, 50, and 56mm objective lenses.

desert bighorn, taken with Donna Boddington’s MGA .270
: A gorgeous desert bighorn, taken with Donna Boddington’s MGA .270 with Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm scope. With a short stock and 22-inch barrel, the rifle is short, light, easy to carry, and has all the capability needed for the shots she is likely to take.

If all else is equal, bigger is usually brighter. I am told that there is a point of diminishing return; as in water down a hose, a scope tube can accept only so much light, so there’s no point in putting a huge 56mm objective on a one-inch-tube scope. There have been one-inch scopes with extra-large objectives, to me ungainly in appearance. Today, with most manufacturers also offering 30mm tubes, most one-inch-tube scopes have retreated to objectives of 50mm and less, resulting in a package that appears more balanced, plus doesn’t need to be mounted as high.

So, is the bigger tube “better”? In some ways, yes. The larger tube is not necessarily “brighter.” Again, this depends mostly on quality of glass, lens coatings, and size of objective. However, the water hose analogy holds: A larger tube admits more useable light. From a mechanical standpoint, the larger tube allows a greater range of adjustment. This doesn’t mean that all scopes with larger tubes are engineered to take advantage of this, but most top-quality scopes are. With today’s interest in extreme-range shooting, this is important: If you’re dialing elevation on your turret, you’re essentially done when you run out of adjustment!

The bigger the scope (and larger the objective lens)
The bigger the scope (and larger the objective lens), the higher the scope must be mounted for a good cheek weld on the comb. This Savage with fully adjustable “AccuStock” solves that problem with height of comb easily adjusted.

Not everyone, perhaps not even many of us, need or care about multiple revolutions of scope adjustment. I don’t, but here’s a strong argument for the 30mm tube: It’s here, and here to stay. The majority of new scope developments have gone to 30mm tubes. So, the best glass, the newest coatings, more adjustment, and all the bells and whistles, are most likely to be found on 30mm scopes.

So, if 30mm tubes are good, then 34mm scopes must be even better, right? Yes and no! The ability to utilize more light and the increased range of adjustment also apply. Many serious extreme-range shooters have gone to 34mm scopes. For many years variable scopes were stuck on “about” three times zoom, as in the popular 3-9X. Today variable scopes are available with six and even eight times zoom. There is advantage in the tactical arena: A 1-8X scope (eight times zoom) allows a true 1X (no magnification for close quarters, all the out to 8X for longer ranges. However, 34mm scopes are not yet common.

3 Scopes
Top to bottom: Riton 1-8x28mm, 34mm tube. Center, Leupold VX6 2-12x42mm, 30mm tube; Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm, one-inch tube. These scopes vary in magnification and size of objective lens, but scopes with larger tubes will be heavier and bulkier.

I tried one two years ago and had a terrible time finding mounts and rings for the rifles I wanted to try it on! With pandemic shortages and shipping backlogs, I doubt this has gotten better…but it surely will in time!

All that aside, I will always make two arguments against larger tubes and larger scopes. First is weight: The larger tube is heavier! Add in a larger objective lens and a big objective bell to house it, and you have more weight. The 34mm scope mentioned above happens to a Riton 1-8x28mm with straight forward objective. Designed as a tactical scope, with eight-times-zoom capability, I figured it would be an awesome scope for a .375, and it is. One of few mounting systems I could find in 34mm was a Blaser saddle mount. The scope we’ve been using on our Blaser .375 barrel is a Leupold VXR 2-7×33 with 30mm tube and a modest objective bell.

A heavy-bossed buffalo
A heavy-bossed buffalo taken with a Sabatti .450/.400 double topped with a Leupold VXR 1-4x20mm scope. For the purpose, this was all the magnification needed, but a straight-tube scope with small objective is always limited in brightness.

I weighed the two scopes. Including the steel Blaser mount, which is heavier than some, the 1-8x28mm scope with 34mm tube weighed just over two pounds. Also with Blaser mount attached, the 2-7×33 with 30mm tube weighed exactly half as much, just over a pound. Flip a coin: 1-8X magnification versus 2-7X for a full pound of extra gun weight?

The second primary argument against thicker tubes and larger objective lenses is bulk. For a foot hunter (and, for that matter, a foot soldier), the larger the scope, the more there is to catch on things and snag in brush. For all of us, the larger the objective lens, the higher the scope must be mounted to clear the barrel. Many modern rifles with adjustable cheek rests address this problem, but not all of us have them (or want them).

This vintage .270 is topped with an (equally vintage) Leupold 2-7X.
This vintage .270 is topped with an (equally vintage) Leupold 2-7X. The rifle shoots well enough to deserve a bigger scope. However, the stock fit is perfect with a small scope mounted low…and the rifle is just too pretty to mess up!

Ultimately, it depends on what you want to do. Larger-diameter scopes and large objective lenses were developed in Europe, where “shooting hours” as we American hunters know them are uncommon. Rarely do they use artificial lights or thermal imaging, but in Europe the hunt often continues far into the night, long after we’re back in camp enjoying a fire. They use moonlight (against snow when possible), and they need the brightest scopes available.

Like millions of other whitetail hunters, I understand the importance of those first and last minutes of daylight. For sure, I appreciate a clear, bright scope! However, I watch the clock: I won’t shoot until 30 minutes before sunrise, and I’m done at 30 minutes after sunset. For my deer hunting, I find a high-quality scope, whether one-inch or 30mm tube, with a medium-size objective, say 36 to 44mm, to be bright enough.

Vector “Continental” scopes
Although 30mm scopes are “in” today, many manufacturers still offer both one-inch and 30mm tube scopes, in a variety of magnifications and objective lenses. Top to bottom, three of the excellent Vector “Continental” scopes: 3-18x50mm, one-inch tube; 2-12x50mm, 30mm tube; 1-6x24mm, 30mm tube with straight forward tube.

For many, hog hunting has changed the game. Much of mine is done in California, where we don’t hunt at night. Across Texas and the Deep South, shooting hours usually don’t apply to feral hogs! Now you’re playing by European rules. Absent lights and thermals, you need the brightest scopes possible, large tubes and big objective lenses!

I have long since accepted 30mm tubes for much of my hunting, primarily because of their availability in high-quality scopes, with features I like, such as dial-up turrets and lighted reticles. However, they are heavier, bulkier…and costlier. Fine if you actually need the capability. Also fine if you just want it.

Right Riton 1-8x28mm with 34mm tube (photo 3087). Left, Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm with 30mm tube
Right Riton 1-8x28mm with 34mm tube (photo 3087). Left, Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm with 30mm tubeFor hunting purposes, the capabilities of these two scopes are similar…but the scope with the 34mm tube weighs twice as much.

It’s not something we can do all the time, but we do a fair amount of mountain hunting. Although I try to keep the weight down a bit, today I use 30mm scopes on my mountain rifles. My Jarrett .300 Win Mag wears a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope with 30mm tube, not a giant scope at all, but plenty of capability. The rifle weighs 8 ½ pounds with scope, no lightweight, but weight I’m comfortable carrying. With calibrated CDS turret I can ring steel out to 1000 yards with no problem. This gives me plenty of confidence and capability for shots I might actually take at game, which is about half that distance.

26 Nosler topped with a Huskemaw 3-12LR, 30mm tube,
On the bench with a 26 Nosler topped with a Huskemaw 3-12LR, 30mm tube, set up with dial-up turrets for long-range work. Moderate in magnification with a modest objective lens, a good compromise between size, weight, and capability.

In recent years, Donna has taken more sheep and goats than I have (partly because it’s sort of her turn). Her go-to mountain rifle is a lot different from mine. She’s several inches shorter and a third lighter. She has no business carrying as heavy a rifle, and a long rifle bangs against her legs in steep country. Also, she won’t take shots quite as far as I might. Her go-to mountain rifle is an MGA .270 with Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm with one-inch tube. The light scope contributes to overall weight of less than six pounds. Realistically, the scope has enough magnification, and is plenty bright enough, for just about any of the hunting we actually do.

You may need (or want) much more scope: Higher magnification, the largest scope tube you can get, the biggest objective lens. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re probably going to pay more. And you’re going to have to carry it up the mountains and drag it through the brush.

STUNG BY A HORNET

By

Craig Boddington

The rimfire .22 Long Rifle is essential. With lack of recoil, low report, and cheap ammo, there’s really nothing better for small game, plinking, and practice. For serious riflemen, a fast “varmint cartridge” between .17 and .22 caliber is almost as irreplaceable.

Depending on preferences, it might be a .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250, or one of a dozen others. This rifle will be used for small varmints and coyotes in more open country. Not to be ignored, it will also be used to shoot for accuracy, and to improve one’s shooting. Because: Cartridges in this group are capable of extreme accuracy and are easy to shoot.

Barry Burchell and son Frederick
At their ranch in Namibia, Barry Burchell and son Frederick whip up some .22 Hornet loads so hunter Harley Young can borrow their Anschutz .22 Hornet to hunt pygmy antelopes.

Not all of us want a bunch of rifles chambered to different cartridges, and certainly needs differ. Even so, there’s a place and purpose for a cartridge that splits the difference between the .22 Long Rifle and the fastest varmint rounds. Such a cartridge has more range and power than a .22, but is capable of handling somewhat larger game…yet without undue destruction on small game. There aren’t a lot of options in this niche, but the two most obvious are the .17 HMR and its parent cartridge, the .22 WMR (aka .22 Magnum), both great cartridges.

Ammunition is costlier than .22 Long Rifle, but cheaper than centerfires. Of the two, the .17 is faster and tends to be more accurate. However, the .17 HMR is marginal for coyotes, so its utility is limited. The .22 Magnum isn’t as fast, but is adequate for close-range coyotes.

A nice oribi
A nice oribi, taken with the CZ527 .22 Hornet. The oribi is an open-country antelope so, by both size and average shooting distance, approaches the upper end of proper use for the .22 Hornet.

Centerfire choices between the rimfires and fast varmint cartridges are also limited. Certainly, we could include the .17 Hornet and .17 Fireball, but the .17’s bullet is too light for game much larger than a fox. So, in order to get more bullet, we have to look at a couple of old cartridges: .22 Hornet and .218 Bee. Power levels are almost identical; the .218 Bee uses a 46-grain bullet at 2760 fps. The Hornet’s traditional load is a 45-grain bullet at 2690 fps, with modern loads a bit faster.

For handloaders, there’s little to choose between. However, I think the Hornet is the better choice, because of greater availability in rifles and loads. The .218 Bee was introduced in 1938 in Winchester’s Model 65 lever-action, attempting to breathe new life into the old 1892 action. Winchester still loads .218 Bee, but factory ammunition uses blunt-nosed bullets because of the M65’s tubular magazine. A few bolt-actions and single-shots have been chambered to .218 Bee, but it offers no meaningful advantage over the Hornet, and is less popular.

17 HMR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, .223 Remington.
It’s a tough call when you want to take small game or “small big game” cleanly without doing undue damage. A shotgun is often a good choice; with rifle cartridges it’s more complex. On right from top: .17 HMR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, .223 Remington.

The .22 Hornet is a different story! Although its popularity comes and goes, it’s a standard cartridge, consistently loaded by multiple sources, with a variety of bullet weights. Development is credited to Townsend Whelen and G.L. Wotkyns, with the case similar to the blackpowder .22 Winchester Center Fire (WCF). Introduced by Winchester in 1930, the .22 Hornet was the first centerfire varmint cartridge developed for smokeless powder…and it’s still a good one!

35-grain loads are now available that reach 3000 fps. Even so, the .22 Hornet isn’t impressive compared with the many faster .22 centerfires. On the other hand, it offers amazing performance from such a small case, with minimal recoil and good accuracy.

CZ M527
This is the CZ M527 .22 Hornet Boddington took to Mozambique in 2018. A light, slick little rifle, it shot particularly well with Nosler 35-grain Varmageddon loads. In Africa, that load accounted for a half-dozen animals, all one-shot kills, all with the bullet lodged under the hide on the far side.

On varmints such as prairie dogs, woodchucks, and marmots, the Hornet is plenty of gun, and shoots flat enough at least to a couple hundred yards. Coyotes are tough, but it’s powerful enough, with more range than can be wrung out of a .22 Magnum.

And, it has some specialized uses. Purist turkey hunters gnash their teeth and rend their garments over this but, after all, it is legal to use rifles on turkeys in several states. Doesn’t matter to me whether you approve or choose to participate. For those who do, the .22 Hornet is the perfect “turkey rifle.” Accurate enough for head shots, but powerful enough to anchor even the biggest gobbler with a well-placed body shot…without damaging much meat. My Dad was not a serious rifle guy and owned few. One was an early Oregon Kimber .22 Hornet. He loved to shoot prairie dogs with it. We still have it and, yes, Dad hunted turkeys with it. So have I!

Small varmint
Left to right: .17 HMR, .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet. The .22 Long Rifle is irreplaceable for small game. For somewhat larger game and more range the .17 HMR and .22 Magnum are extremely effective but, above small game and below long-range varminting, Boddington believes the .22 Hornet is a solid choice.

The .22 Hornet is legal for deer in some states (usually under an “any centerfire cartridge” rule). Generally speaking, I think this is a bad idea but, with perfect shot placement, I’ve seen the Hornet take grownup whitetails very cleanly. More appropriate, and an ideal niche for this great little cartridge, is the often-oddball class of what I think of as “small big game.” In North America we were cheated in this category, with few options. The Hornet is ideal for thin-skinned animals such as lynx and bobcat, so is a fine tool for trappers and houndsmen. And it’s perfect for javelina. Usually not difficult to locate or stalk, the javelina is a uniquely American animal and makes an awesome mount. Weighing maybe 50 pounds, I can’t imagine a more perfect javelina rifle than a .22 Hornet.

jackrabbit-sized dik diks
The several varieties of jackrabbit-sized dik diks are among the smallest African antelopes. Their skin is paper thin and bones fragile; bullet damage is a serious concern. Harley Young used a .22 Hornet to take this excellent Damara dik dik, perfect cartridge and perfect shot.

Elsewhere, the utility expands. Africa has a full suite of small predators, and is blessed with a wide variety of pygmy antelopes. In deep forest a shotgun is the preferred tool, but in more open terrain a scoped rifle is almost essential. These animals are thin-skinned, and the standard plains game rifle does too much damage. My long-time boss “Pete” Petersen loved his .22 Hornets. He used them widely at home for varmints (and sometimes deer), but he always took a .22 Hornet to Africa…not only for the tiny antelopes and small predators, but for camp meat up to impala and reedbuck. I haven’t always taken a Hornet to Africa, but I’ve often borrowed a page from Pete and taken a Hornet, especially when a “special” pygmy antelope was on the menu.

blue duiker
The blue duiker is the smallest of the several forest duikers. Found only in heavy cover, shotguns are usually used. Boddington found the .22 Hornet a perfect tool and, amazingly, the 35-grain bullet entered, expanded, and was against the hide on the far side.

Several times I took a Hornet barrel for a Thompson/Center Contender (perfect). Other times I’ve borrowed Hornets from outfitters. Although still fairly popular over here, .22 Hornets are common in southern Africa, simply because they’re so useful. A couple of years ago in Namibia, my friend Harley Young wanted to take a Damara dik dik and a klipspringer to complete his “Tiny Ten.” Outfitter Barry Burchell had a nice Anschutz .22 Hornet…but little ammo. No problem, we spent a couple hours at his loading bench, whipped some up, and after checking zero Harley made two brilliant shots. 

Coastal Mozambique is blessed with several uncommon pygmy antelopes: Suni, red duiker, and blue duiker in patches of thick forest; and lots of oribis in the open pans. In the thick stuff we usually use a camp shotgun, but I thought a Hornet might be better. With a rifle in close cover, you must find a hole to thread the bullet through, but with a low-power scope you often can.

Livingstone’s suni
A spectacular Livingstone’s suni, taken in Mozambique with the CZ527 in .22 Hornet. The shot was through a little gap at about 60 yards, perfect performance with Nosler’s 35-grain bullet.

In 2018 I took a little CZ 527 in .22 Hornet with a little Leupold 1-4X scope. I would have preferred the traditional 45-grain bullet, but that particular rifle grouped best with Nosler Varmageddon with a light, fast 35-grain bullet. It was magic! Finding a clear path to shoot through proved easier with the scoped rifle than with a shotgun, and performance was perfect. Even on suni and the tiny blue duiker, the little 35-grain bullet opened nicely and was consistently lodged against the hide on the far side, dramatic effect with almost no damage. In just a few days I took excellent suni and both blue and red duiker in the forest. The same load accounted for oribi and reedbuck in the open, but I kept the shots within 100 yards.

Kimber .22
Boddington used his father’s old Kimber .22 Hornet to take this ugly spotted hog. Such an animal is really too big for the Hornet, but at closer range with a good rest, its accuracy allows precise brain shots, well-executed on this hog.

Daughter Brittany has been keeping her grandfather’s Kimber .22 Hornet, but we took it out of mothballs this spring in the Texas Hill Country. I had every intention of shooting a javelina with it, but I couldn’t bring myself to; I couldn’t figure out what I might do with it! Wild hogs are another story; we were on Tom Hammond’s Record Buck Ranch, a place with a major pig problem. The challenge: The .22 Hornet isn’t really enough gun for hogs…you gotta be careful.

.22 Hornet
This young hunter is about to drop the hammer on a javelina. The collared peccary is just about the only “small big game” in the United States, not great to eat but a unique and interesting American game animal. The .22 Hornet is a near-perfect cartridge.

Houston Erskine and I stalked a deer feeder one morning and caught a couple of hogs. The ugliest spotted hog I ever saw was going at it eagerly, not a large pig but too big for a .22 Hornet…unless you’re careful. I got Dad’s Hornet on sticks at about 70 yards, and found the base of the ear in the crosshairs. At the shot the hog went over backwards and never moved. That’s being stung by a Hornet, what a wonderful little cartridge!

THE PERFECT ZERO?

 By

Craig Boddington

Previously, this column discussed the process of “sighting in.” If you’re happy, then we’re done; it’s time to head for the deer stand! We’re going to assume we have enough accuracy to reliably hit a deer’s vital zone at whatever distance we might shoot. The vital zone of even a small deer offers about an eight-inch target, so extreme accuracy isn’t essential for much for field shooting.

Jarrett-300groups
Boddington’s Jarrett wears a Leupold scope with a CDS turret, calling for a 200-yard zero. The left-hand group was shot at 200 yards, ensuring a good starting point for dialing with a 180-grain SST load.

Hey, I love tiny groups because they instill confidence, and I love to ring steel at long range. However, I’m unlikely to shoot at a game animal much past 400 yards. Most of my shots at game are much closer, and many of us rarely need to reach past 200 yards. Theoretically, if your rifle is producing one-inch groups at 100 yards (one Minute of Angle or “MOA”), then it should produce two-inch groups at 200 yards, four-inch groups at 400 yards, and so on. Considering the size of the vital zone, one MOA is more accuracy than essential.

Boddington’s rifles wear iron sights
: Some of Boddington’s rifles wear iron sights…and a few have worn barrels. Either way, extreme accuracy isn’t possible…and unnecessary for a lot of field shooting. With excellent paper-plate accuracy at 50 yards, this old .300 Savage would be just fine to 150 yards…if Boddington could see the front sight well enough!

Actual groups usually get larger as distance increases, so I don’t mind having more accuracy than I really need, but let’s be reasonable and practical. Even today, with the best rifles, optics, and ammo ever, not all rifles can produce one MOA accuracy.

Tight groups instill
Tight groups instill great confidence, but sub-MOA groups aren’t essential for most field shooting. This Savage 100 .30-06 is more than field-ready: The excellent right-hand group is two inches high at l00 yards; the bullet will be “on” at about 200 yards

Not a train smash; 1.5 MOA is plenty for most field shooting. Most modern rifles will do at least this well, and that’s “good enough,” at least at normal field ranges. I have older rifles that are “two MOA” rifles.  Also not a problem. I hunt with them, but only in close-range situations! With such rifles, I usually do my zeroing on ten-inch paper plates. In that context, “paperplate accuracy” is good enough! Regardless of the accuracy you have to work with, and the ranges you might consider shooting, you still must decide exactly where to leave your rifle zeroed before you head afield.

TRAJECTORY CURVE

Traditionally, most of us leave a rifle zeroed slightly high at 100 yards, to take advantage of the bullet’s trajectory. Here’s how this works: There are two straight lines, line of bore and, slightly above, line of sight. Both are straight, but the path of the projectile is curved. Gravity starts working on any projectile as it leaves the muzzle, and air resistance slows it down. As distance increases, the projectile falls ever more quickly, eventually striking the ground.

: Gordon Marsh of LG Outdoors
Gordon Marsh of LG Outdoors at his bench, checking handload velocities with a Lab Radar, a wonderfully accurate tool that uses Doppler radar to measure bullet speed.

If line of bore and line of sight remain parallel, the bullet will never cross the line of sight and no zero can be achieved. Using sight adjustments, we actually zero so the line of bore and line of sight slightly converge. Line of bore remains straight, while the projectile’s path is curved. With line of bore tilted slightly upward relative to line of sight, the projectile’s curving path crosses line of sight twice, once at short range and again farther out. In between these points the projectile’s path will be above the line of sight. The point at which this distance above line of sight is greatest is referred to as “mid-range trajectory.”

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm
On the bench with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC. The scope is a Zeiss 2-12X; the big 56mm objective requires the scope (line of sight) to be considerably higher than line of bore. Height of the scope is a critical factor in good ballistics data and must be correct.

The steepness of the trajectory curve depends on velocity and projectile aerodynamics. In establishing final zero, we usually try to use that curve to best advantage, extending the ranges at which we can shoot without having to worry about holding off the target (above or below) to compensate for that curving trajectory.

There should be little mystery about the actual trajectory curve. For generations, printed ballistics charts have yielded this information, usually suggesting various sight-ins at 100 yards (the bullet’s first crossing of line of sight), and telling us greatest height of trajectory, and where the dropping projectile crosses line of sight again, and yielding bullet drop at various ranges as the decline accelerates.

On the bench with a Jarrett rifle
On the bench with a Jarrett rifle in .300 Win. Mag. Boddington’s California range is hot in summer, cool in winter, and always near sea level. When figuring ballistics data for open-country hunts, he estimates expected temperature and elevation. This works fine for the ranges he shoots at game, but guesswork isn’t good enough for extreme-range shooting.

Today, ballistics programs and smartphone apps yield the same information, and allow us to input altitude, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and more, all of which increase in importance as range increases. Printed data assumes a standard measurement of line of sight over line of bore (height of scope). Electronic data allows us to input this. With the larger (higher-mounted) scopes in vogue today, that measurement must be accurate.

PH Poen van Zyl and Texan John Stucker
PH Poen van Zyl and Texan John Stucker at the bench in Mozambique, checking zero on Stucker’s .375. With a crocodile hunt in the offing, we adjusted our zeros very carefully to be exactly dead-on at 50 yards.

All data, whether printed or electronic, assumes that the starting velocity is correct. Barrels vary in length, and there are “fast” barrels and “slow” barrels. For truly accurate data, it’s essential to use a chronograph to check the speed of your load in your rifle.

gnarly spike on his Kansas farm.
Boddington was delighted to take this ancient and gnarly spike on his Kansas farm. The rifle is a Mossberg 464 with AimPoint red-dot sight. The rifle was zeroed at 50 yards, the shot about the same distance

Fortunately, the vital zone of a big-game animal remains a large target! None of this stuff matters much if your goal is to shoot your buck from a favorite treestand, like in thick timber at my Kansas farm. When I’m setting up a rifle for an open-country hunt, you bet I measure height of scope and check velocity! Effects of altitude and climatic factors are less critical…until you get past normal shooting distance, or you have extreme variations. In preparation for fall hunts, I do my summer shooting in hot, low country. I make a guess on anticipated altitude and climatic factors, run the data, and zero accordingly. This has proven adequate for the ranges I shoot at game…but isn’t precise enough for extreme-range work!

DEAD-ON OR SLIGHTLY HIGH?

Whether at 25, 50, or 100 yards, a dead-on zero with a modern rifle cartridge is the first time the bullet crosses the line of sight. Farther on, it will be above the line of sight and, as the curve steepens, it will cross line of sight again somewhere downrange.

It is not true that “dead-on at 25 yards” will be close to “on” at 100 yards. This is possible with slower cartridges, and with iron sights or low-mounted scopes. With faster cartridges and higher-mounted scopes, I’ve found that a 25-yard zero will usually strike too high at 100 yards. A 50-yard zero comes closer, especially with low-mounted sights. I often zero iron-sighted rifles and scoped big-bores at 50 yards and call it done, knowing that I’m unlikely to use such rifles much past 100 yards. However, with today’s big scopes, I find that a 50-yard zero is usually three or four inches high at 100 yards. This puts the second crossing of the line of sight ‘way out there, and creates a mid-range trajectory as much as six inches above line of sight. For me, this increases risk of shooting over an animal (or hitting too high).

John Stucker and Boddington with Boddington’s Mozambique croc
John Stucker and Boddington with Boddington’s Mozambique croc, taken in September 2021 with a Blaser .375 H&H. The Nile crocodile must be taken with either a brain or spine shot. All rifles were zeroed dead-on at 50 yards; Boddington’s four-hunter group took four big crocs…anchored with one shot each.

For close-range work, there’s nothing wrong with a 100-yard zero. Depending on cartridge, “dead-on at 100” will be on again at 150 to 175 yards, with little mid-range-rise. More common is to zero a “couple of inches high” at 100 yards. You can study ballistics charts and programs, and you should. Depending on your cartridge (and load, and bullet), a zero of two to 2.5 inches high at 100 yards will put you dead-on somewhere between 200 and 300 yards. You shouldn’t have to hold low at closer range, and you shouldn’t have to hold over until nearly 250 yards. In my youth, Jack O’Connor was our greatest gunwriter. His consistent advice was to zero “two to 2.5 inches high” at 100 yards. I believe his formula remains sound, and that’s the way I usually zero for general-purpose use. Most important to me: I never establish a 100-yard zero any higher than that, because of the risk of shooting over at “medium” range!

DIALING THE RANGE

These days, dial-up turrets are all the rage, and they change the game. Some systems require either a 100 or 200-yard zero as the starting point. If you intend to dial the range, then I assume you may be shooting at some distance. I don’t like a 100-yard zero in open country, simply because you must start holding over (or dialing) at fairly close range. With today’s optics, dialing is precise, but fraught with human error: You must dial correctly and, if you don’t shoot, you must remember to dial back to zero. (Trust me, everybody forgets now and then!)

Leupold CDS
With a good scope, dialing the range or holdover is the most precise method, but the data must be correct and verified by shooting at actual distance. This CDS turret is for a .300 Weatherby Magnum load at a measured 3185 fps with 180-grain SST. The 6000 feet elevation and 30-degree F temperature reflect anticipated hunting conditions.

I’ve used several systems with good results, but a favorite is Leupold’s Custom Dial System (CDS), with turret calibrated to my load at a stated altitude and temperature. On these, again, I strike an average of most likely conditions. My CDS is based on a 200-yard zero. At 250 yards I’ll usually hold slightly high on the shoulder, keeping it simple and taking advantage of that large vital zone. I normally don’t consider dialing until about 300 yards.

If your system is based on a 200-yard zero, then you should check zero at the actual distance, so your starting point is verified as correct. Then, if you’re serious about shooting at longer ranges, you need to verify your data all the way out. This is a stumbling block for many who don’t have ready access to a “long” range. Sorry, whether published or electronically generated, data cannot be considered valid until verified by shooting at actual distance. The farther you might consider shooting at game, the more critical this becomes!

Rigby 7x57 groups
: This Rigby 7×57 groups about 1.5 MOA with this load, a 139-grain Interlock at 2700 fps. Zeroed two inches high at 100 yards, the bullet will be “on” at 200 yards, so a dead-on hold will work to about 225 yards.

Finally, if you’ve traveled some distance—by any means—it’s important to check zero when you arrive at your hunting destination. There’s no consistency about how much (or how little) rattling around may cause a shift in point of impact, so it’s always worth checking. On long, tough hunts, I’ll usually check zero every few days, for sure if the rifle has been dropped! I also recommend checking zero after an inexplicable miss. It’s terrible for the ego, but great for peace of mind to know for sure it was your fault! When planning ammo for a distant hunt, factor in enough to check zero about three times!  

TIME TO SIGHT IN! By Craig Boddington

With apologies, for some it’s too late! Rifle deer season opened in August in such diverse places as Alaska, California’s “coast zone,” and parts of South Carolina. I hope you were ready but, for most of us, deer season lies some weeks ahead. So now, as the summer doldrums persist, this is the time to get to the range and make sure your rifle is perfectly in zero and ready for the Blessed Opening Day!

 Fat_ wrench
Even on .22 rimfires, accuracy depends on all mount and ring screws being tight. Wheeler’s FAT Wrench is a great tool for both checking screws and mounting scopes. A setting of 25 inch-pounds is about right for most scope mounts and rings.

Human Nature being as it is, many of us wait until the last minute, trusting Old Betsy. If she responds as usual, not a problem. However, in these times of pandemic ammo shortages, it’s better than ever to plan ahead and get to the range early.

While it’s critical to be sure you’re properly zeroed, I try to expend as few rounds as possible! Here’s how I do it: 

GOT A SCREW LOOSE?

action_screws
While checking scope mount screws, also check action screws…good and snug, but not overtightened!

Saving ammo makes the first step even more important: Make sure all your screws are tight! A friend of mine in Kansas needed to zero his .243. It was a “package” rifle with an inexpensive scope. I’ve often had good results with inexpensive scopes of various brands, but, oddly, this scope was completely unmarked other than “3-9X”: No manufacturer or origin! Results were so erratic he ran out of ammo before he got it zeroed and suspected a bad scope. He left it with me, but I had no .243 ammo. I called around and neighbor Mark Woods found a couple boxes.

fat wrench
Proper tools save much time and frustration. The Wheeler FAT Wrench, an adjustable torque screwdriver, is a great tool for getting mount screws tight…without going too far and shearing off screws. 25 inch-pounds is a good setting for most scope-mounting systems.

I agreed, probably the scope but, rather than waste more ammo, I checked all the screws. The bases were tight, but ring screws could have been tighter. That doesn’t mean the scope was good or bad; with loose screws there’s no way to know! Rather than mess around, I dug into the safe and found an older Bushnell I could lend him, knowing it had held zero on other rifles.

Mounting a scope is more difficult than checking screws, but both are a whole lot easier with proper tools! I carry gunsmith screwdrivers and Allen wrenches just about everywhere, always regretting it when I leave my little kit behind! Wheeler’s FAT Wrench torque screwdriver is a wonderful tool; you want to get screws plenty tight…but not so tight that you shear them off. Absent specific manufacturer’s instructions (a worthwhile read!), I set the FAT Wrench at 25 inch-pounds.

If you’re shooting a bolt-action, don’t forget to check the action screws! A loose action screw plays havoc on accuracy. Over-tightening can be just as bad; it’s possible to literally suck the action down into the stock, creating a bind between action and barrel. Snug, but not cranked down with all your strength!

In the field, every shot depends on having the rifle zeroed exactly where you want it!

We still don’t know if the original “unmarked” scope is good or bad. We do know it wasn’t the gun! I got it on paper, adjusted to 50-yard zero, took it to 100 yards, and shot a one-third-inch three-shot group. Mission accomplished with seven rounds expended.

ON PAPER

on _ paper
With a 50-yard zero, a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC (with 3-18x50mm scope) shot a great first group at 100 yards, but four inches high. Boddington came down 12 clicks, and then left two clicks. This rifle is zeroed. Now comes practice and comparing loads!

Before you can establish zero, you gotta get on paper. If the rifle is an old friend, maybe you can start at 100 yards, but if it’s a new rifle, new scope, or screws were loose, you’ll save ammo by starting out with a good-sized target much closer!

In order to hit any target, the line of barrel and line of sight must be roughly aligned. Gun shops and many serious shooters use optical and laser bore-sighters. Being old and a bit old-fashioned—and not needing to zero rifles daily—I usually bore-sight by eye. I have seen anomalies with optical and lasers, and I can usually get about as close by eye. Doesn’t matter how, the goal is to get on paper!

So long as you start with a checked-and-empty rifle, you can bore-sight anywhere, but I prefer doing it at the range because you must have a steady rest and a good aiming point…like a paper target. Doing it by eye assumes you can get behind the rifle and look through the barrel, then lift your head and look through the scope or sights. With bolt-actions, remove the bolt. Bore-sighting is also easy with most single-shots. With ARs, I detach the lower receiver and remove the bolt, resting the upper and barrel. More on other actions later!

Rest the rifle securely so you can center the target through the barrel. Then look through the scope (or sights). With luck, you’re pretty close, but initial differences between line of bore and line of sight are common. With optical sights, keep the line of bore securely centered on the target. Look through the scope and use your windage and elevation turrets. You can see the reticle move relative to the target. Center the reticle on the target, and double-check to make sure line of bore and line of sight both remain centered.

russiawithlove
Doesn’t matter how far; if you travel to a hunt, always verify zero at your destination. In southern Russia, Joe Bishop and Boddington put shots side-by-side; they’re ready to start the hunt!

You are ready to fire a close-range sighter. Chances are the first shot won’t be perfect, but you should be on paper. If not, check bore-sight again. If it’s still looks good, move the target closer. This is not the time for ego; save ammo and get on paper!

Once on paper, adjustments are made normally, following the “left or right, and up or down” arrows on the turret or, with iron sights, moving the rear sight in the direction you need to move the bullet strike. For scopes, you’ll need some math. Most common with American scopes today is ¼ MOA, meaning each adjustment is supposed to move the strike about ¼-inch at 100 yards. Four clicks to the inch…at 100 yards. If you got on paper at 50 yards, double the clicks; at 25 yards, quadruple the clicks. Do not expect the clicks to be consistent; only very good scopes have perfect adjustments! Articles have been written about “three-shot-zeroing” and such, but these usually assume perfect adjustments, and that’s not the real world. This is why I start with a close-range zero!

: It doesn’t matter if the firearm is a short or long-range tool. Sighting in needs to be done from a dead-steady rest, removing as much human error as possible.

With guns that don’t allow removing the bolt (lever and slide-actions, muzzleloaders, some semiautos, most handguns) bore-sighting through the barrel isn’t possible. Love my lever-actions, but getting on paper can be more difficult. If you have access to an optical or laser bore-sighter, fine. If not, start close with a big target! We keep butcher paper on the range and mark an aiming point. With scoped bolt-actions, I usually start at 50 yards with a standard 12×12-inch target. I expect to be on paper with the first shot…but I’ve done this a lot! With other firearms, I start at 25 yards or use a larger target. You must get on paper. Once you have a starting point, adjusting the strike is pretty simple.

ZERO RANGE (AND ZERO)

Zero
Checking bore-sight in deer camp, always a good idea if a rifle is dropped or you suspect a problem. All you need is to get the rifle good and steady, and have a highly visible aiming point.

With rifles, there’s an urban legend that “if you’re on at 25 yards, you’ll be good at 100 yards.” This is possible with iron sights, where line of bore and line of sight are close together, but untrue with scopes because, the larger the scope and the higher the mount, the greater the distance between line of bore and line of sight. With scopes and high-velocity cartridges, if you’re “on” at 25 yards, your strike will be too high at 100 yards. At 25 yards, I adjust to an inch low. With larger scopes and fast cartridges, “dead-on” at 50 yards is usually still too high at 100. A half-inch low at 50 yards is often pretty close at 100.

Whether 25 or 50 yards, I establish an approximate close-range zero before I move out. The closer you are, the easier it is to be precise. Sighting in, and all benchrest shooting, is about removing human error and allowing the firearm to do its work.

sighting_in
Whether in the field or on the range, every time you make a scope adjustment, look at the arrows, moving the bullet strike in the direction of the arrow. All of us do it backwards now and then, wasting time and ammo!

What happens next depends on the firearm and its intended purpose. With iron sights, I zero at 50 yards and I’m done; I can no longer resolve open sights well enough to shoot meaningful groups at 100 yards! Likewise with specialized tools: Most slug guns and muzzleloaders; big bores for dangerous game.

For scoped rifles and handguns that have the capability, next stop is 100 yards. Before making adjustments, I’ll usually shoot a three-shot group, to see if the firearm will group with the load I’m using; and to see where the group prints. With reasonably accurate rifles and decent optics, there are often disparities, a bit right or left, or farther up/down than expected. 50 yards is too close! I start with a group, and then adjust to the desired point of impact. If the scope’s adjustments are accurate, this could take just one more shot.

Old friend and fellow writer Gordy Krahn made a perfect shot on this excellent blacktail at Steinbeck Vineyards during California’s August “coast zone” season. Most rifle seasons lie ahead, but Gordy had an early opportunity. He was zeroed and ready!

We haven’t practiced or compared different loads, but as far as sighting in, we’re done. With good bore-sighting and a bit of luck, seven to max ten rounds should do it! Where final point of impact should be depends on the firearm, scope, intended purpose…and personal preferences. This is actually a more complicated subject, so I think I’ll leave it until next month. That will still be ahead of most of our firearms big-game seasons!