Use enough scope…but not too much!


Craig Boddington

When I was young, the fixed 4X scope was the standard riflescope for hunting big game. Fixed-power scopes of higher magnification existed, but they were primarily used for varmints and
target shooting. Most of us figured a fixed 4X would handle just about any hunting chores. Variable-power scopes existed back then but were widely distrusted because zero shifts were common as magnification changed. The variable-power scope wasn’t completely perfected until the 1970s, so I did my early hunting with fixed 4X. My first variables were 3-9X. Older shooters
grumbled that “a fixed 4X was all the scope any hunter needed.” I did not agree. Wow, the image size at 9X was wonderful.

Boddington is not anti-magnification. Without question, high magnification makes shooting tight groups easier. These were shot with a Sabatti Saphire .300 Win Mag, topped with a Vector Optics Continental 3-18x50mm scope.
Boddington is not anti-magnification. Without question, high magnification makes shooting tight groups easier. These were shot with a Sabatti Saphire .300 Win Mag, topped with a Vector Optics Continental 3-18x50mm scope.

For years, about three-times-zoom (as in 3-9X) was the technological limit. The thing is, no matter what you’re hunting, not all shots are far. So, with any variable scope, it’s important to have a low-end magnification setting low enough to keep you out of trouble for close shots. Up close, too much magnification, and all you’re likely to see is a wall of hair. Today we have four, five, six, and even eight times zoom capability. This changes the game. A 1-8X scope would seem the ideal setup for a versatile big-bore like a .375. Variables of 2.5-20X or 4-32X would seem to satisfy just about any shooting situation: Extreme magnification for distance; a low-end that’s low enough to allow following up a wounded animal.

Boddington’s Winchester M88 lever-action wears a Leupold 2.5-8X scope. Trim, enabling low scope mounting, yet powerful enough to enable shooting as tight groups as the rifle is capable of.
Boddington’s Winchester M88 lever-action wears a Leupold 2.5-8X scope. Trim, enabling low scope mounting, yet powerful enough to enable shooting as tight groups as the rifle is capable of.

Maybe, but there are other practical considerations. You will always pay more for higher magnification and for scopes with the highest zoom ratio. And the scopes will be larger, bulkier, and heavier. The style today is toward bigger scopes. Fine if you need the capability, but I don’t like to add unnecessary weight. Also, bigger scopes must be mounted higher. Adjustable combs and strap-on cheekpieces fix this problem. However, some (most) of my hunting rifles handle just fine with a smaller scope mounted low. So, instead of charging into the big-scope culture, how about evaluating how much magnification you really need?

If you’re part of the growing long-range group, you need high magnification. Doesn’t matter if you’re ringing steel, shooting prairie dogs, or reaching out on big game. My varmint rifles wear big glass. Love to ring steel, too. On game, I’m not an extreme-range shooter. However, with the equipment we have today I’m comfortable shooting farther than when I was young.

This Alberta black bear was taken with a Mossberg Patriot .350 Legend, topped with a Swarovski Z8i 1-8x24mm scope. Reasonably compact, the eight times zoom gives this scope tremendous capability for short to medium-range hunting.
This Alberta black bear was taken with a Mossberg Patriot .350 Legend, topped with a Swarovski Z8i 1-8x24mm scope. Reasonably compact, the eight times zoom gives this scope tremendous capability for short to medium-range hunting.

Trust me, I embrace magnification. Over the years, I’ve stepped up…but only to a point. When Leupold came out with a 4.5-14X, I got one immediately, used it for a lot of open-country hunting. Today I’ve stepped up a bit farther. On my current open-country rifles, I’ve used several 4-16X and 3-18X scopes. I’ve tried more powerful scopes, but for my hunting, I just don’t need more magnification. Rarely use all that I have, because with high magnification at my fingertips,it’s important to keep the scope turned down. The higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view, thus the slower and more difficult to acquire a distant target.

Now 15 years old, Donna’s light MGA .270 Winchester has work a Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm scope since new, a light, trim scope with plenty of capability. This is her favorite rifle and scope, including for mountain hunting.
Now 15 years old, Donna’s light MGA .270 Winchester has work a Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm scope since new, a light, trim scope with plenty of capability. This is her favorite rifle and scope, including for mountain hunting.


When deciding on a scope for a certain rifle, I like to consider the capability of that rifle…and what I’m likely to use it for. A prairie dog rifle needs a lot of scope. So do the rifles I might take sheep hunting. A rifle for mule deer needs a bigger scope than a rifle for hunting my Kansas whitetails, where few shots exceed 150 yards. My lever-action .308 wears a trim 2.5-8X scope.
My .375s usually wear a 2-7X or 3-9X, this is because the cartridge is more versatile than the low- range variables (such as 1.75-5X) we typically put on a .375. Great for bears and buffaloes, not enough scope for plains game. And, yes, I have a good 1-8X that I’ve moved back and forth to several rifles. Awesome capability, love it…but it’s larger and heavier than ideal for the short-
range rifles I’ve been using it on.

: A dial-up turret on a hunting rifle simply must have a goof-proof zero stop. Leupold’s zero stop on their Custom Dial System (CDS) is rock-solid and highly visible.
: A dial-up turret on a hunting rifle simply must have a goof-proof zero stop. Leupold’s zero stop on their Custom Dial System (CDS) is rock-solid and highly visible.

With optics, quality counts most. You want a scope that’s edge-to-edge clear, and you also want a scope that gathers enough light to enable the dawn and dusk shots critical in so much hunting. You’ll pay for scopes with higher magnification, and you’ll also pay for scopes with high-quality glass and the best coatings. The best scopes are expensive. Boddington’s First Law of Optics: Generally, you get what you pay for. Now, with the best, premium glass, it may be difficult to easily see the upgrade you’re paying for; you may not realize the advantage until a last-light opportunity comes along.


Fortunately, there’s a lot of excellent medium-priced glass. Larger companies often offer different “grades” of optics at ascending price points. I’m nervous about the lowest-price optics,but the middle lines are usually pretty good. Hunting buddy Gordon Marsh, who happens to be the proprietor of the LG Outdoors and Wholesale Hunter sites turned me on to the Vector scopes that he carries, just one example of excellent medium-priced glass. We all know that most rifles shoot better than their owners. I’m constantly amazed at how well today’s basic bolt-actions shoot. If on a budget, scrimp on the rifle and invest more in the scope.

With six times zoom and 30mm tube, Vector Optics’ Continental line is a good example of excellent medium-priced glass. From top: 3-18x50mm, 2-12x50mm, 1-6x24mm.
With six times zoom and 30mm tube, Vector Optics’ Continental line is a good example of excellent medium-priced glass. From top: 3-18x50mm, 2-12x50mm, 1-6x24mm.

I still do a lot of my hunting with medium-range variables in the good old 3-9X class. Still a wonderfully versatile power range, very adequate for longer—if not extreme—shots. Maybe you need more than that, maybe you don’t. Give it some thought. Rather than springing for high magnification, maybe you’d be better served by a higher-quality scope with less magnification or
a lower zoom range.


I also use a lot of scopes with good old one-inch tubes. They are lighter and more compact, and size of the tube does not speak to the quality of the glass. However, Americans are increasingly going to the larger 30mm tubes, long the European standard. We are also seeing more 36mm tubes. Again, bigger and heavier. There are two advantages to larger tubes. First, they admit more light. If quality is equal, a 30mm scope will be brighter than a one-inch scope. Second, they offer a greater range of adjustment, important for shooting at a distance.

Boddington’s 2034 Kansas buck was taken with a Ruger-Marlin .30-30 topped with a Leupold Rifleman 3-9x40mm. 3-9X remains an extremely useful power range. The Rifleman is Leupold’s least costly scope line, a good basic hunting scope. eight-times-zoom and tremendous versatility, from close to as far as anyone needs to shoot.
Boddington’s 2034 Kansas buck was taken with a Ruger-Marlin .30-30 topped with a Leupold Rifleman 3-9x40mm. 3-9X remains an extremely useful power range. The Rifleman is Leupold’s least costly scope line, a good basic hunting scope.

Larger objective lenses also admit more light. The drawback is scopes with big objectives must be mounted higher to clear the barrel. We got big objectives from the Europeans, who generally don’t have “legal shooting hours” like we do. Over here, predator and hog hunters also often don’t have shooting hours, so you may need a 30mm scope with a big 56mm objective. I generally don’t. Most of my one-inch-tube scopes have objectives of 42mm or less, while my
30mm scopes usually have 44mm or 50mm objectives. Low rings, never, but sometimes I can get away with medium rings.

The popularity of long-range shooting has changed the game with scope turrets. Tall turrets for dialing the adjustments add bulk to the rifle but are essential for long-range work. On rifles I use for close to medium-range shooting, I don’t need dial-up turrets. Again, depends on what you’re
doing. With dial-up turrets on any rifle you might hunt with, one cardinal rule: Make certain your scope has a solid, goof-proof zero stop!

Boddington on the bench with his Jarrett .300 Win Mag. Today this is his go-to mountain rifle, here topped with a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope. Boddington figures this is about all the magnification he needs and has rarely zoomed it all the way up.
Boddington on the bench with his Jarrett .300 Win Mag. Today this is his go-to mountain rifle, here topped with a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope. Boddington figures this is about all the magnification he needs and has rarely zoomed it all the way up.

Scopes above about 10X in magnification need parallax adjustment, most commonly a third turret, again adding weight and bulk to scope and thus rifle. That’s another nice thing about the good old 3-9X scope: External parallax adjustment is not necessary, keeping the scope slimmer
and trimmer.


Reticles have changed a lot, with most companies offering various options. For open-country use, I like a reticle with multiple aiming points or stadia lines. At medium distances, I’m more likely to use the reticle and hold for elevation, only dialing at longer ranges. Since I’m neither an extreme-range shooter nor a competitive shooter, I prefer simpler reticles, rather than Christmas
tree reticles, some of which now have all manner of ornaments on the tree. Depends on your purposes, and how you train.

his is the Nightforce 2.5-20x50mmF1, a top-quality modern “big scope” with eight-times-zoom and tremendous versatility, from close to as far as anyone needs to shoot.
his is the Nightforce 2.5-20x50mmF1, a top-quality modern “big scope” with eight-times-zoom and tremendous versatility, from close to as far as anyone needs to shoot.

Above all, I want a highly visible crosshair intersection that draws my eye. Recently, I’ve messed with a couple of test scopes that had reticles with just a tiny cross in the center. So small that, when shooting groups, I struggled to see it. An illuminated reticle generally solves this problem. I love illuminated reticles, especially valuable for low-light shots.

In June ’23 Boddington took this fine Eastern Cape kudu with a long shot in failing light, using a Nightforce 2.5-30x50mmF1 scope on a Remington 7mm Rem Mag. The scope was fantastic, but Boddington didn’t like the first focal plane reticle on this particular scope.
In June ’23 Boddington took this fine Eastern Cape kudu with a long shot in failing light, using a Nightforce 2.5-30x50mmF1 scope on a Remington 7mm Rem Mag. The scope was fantastic, but Boddington didn’t like the first focal plane reticle on this particular scope.

Some companies offer reticles in choice of first or second focal plane (FFP or SFP). In FFP, the reticle shrinks as magnification is reduced, and enlarges as magnification is increased. With SFP, the reticle stays the same size. Long-range shooters insist FFP is best because windage and elevation hash marks or stadia lines are valid at all magnification settings. In SFP, in-scope
markings are only valid at one magnification usually the highest.

This is problematic if you like to use your reticle for elevation and windage, rather than dialing. Even so, for hunting, I much prefer SFP. At lower settings, for close shots, where you want a bold reticle, the reticle may be so small that it’s hard to see. Last year, In Africa, I used a night force 2.5-20x50mmF1, wonderful glass. Nightforce offers a choice of focal plane; F1
indicates FFP. I fought the reticle constantly, especially on fast, close shots.



Craig Boddington

Yes, that title will upset some folks. Funny thing about the .25-caliber cartridges, bullet diameter .257-inch: Those who love ‘em tend to be passionate about their “quarter-bores.”. Those who don’t love .25s probably don’t hate them, just ignore them.

This big feral hog dropped in its tracks to a single 100-grain Interlock from a Savage 1899 in .250 Savage. The old .250 Savage isn’t fast, but it’s as effective on deer-sized game today as it was a century ago.

The .25-caliber is a uniquely American bullet diameter, rarely seen in Europe, equally uncommon in Africa. I’m told the .25-06 has some following in South Africa, but I’ve rarely seen a .25 in use on safari.

Over here, the quarter-bores have a rich history, going back to the dawn of smokeless powder. The .25-20 was created by necking down the .32-20 case to .25-caliber, first by Marlin, then by Winchester, and chambered in their popular 1892 lever-action. Initially loaded with blackpowder, the .25-20 quickly transitioned to smokeless. Although occasionally used for deer, the little .25-20 was a common small game and varmint cartridge, popular among trappers.

On a Kansas deer stand with a Winchester M94 .25-35, made in 1906. Because of iron sights, Boddington is careful which stands he chooses, but he does a “sit” or two with this rifle most deer seasons.

Winchester’s .25-35 was the first .25 designed for smokeless powder. The .25-35 and .30-30 use the parent same case, and were introduced together in 1895, so were the first sporting cartridges designed for smokeless propellent. Although hampered by round-nose bullets in tubular magazines, the .25-35 shoots flatter than the .30-30 with a less recoil. The .25-35 was a common alternative to .30-30, plenty of gun for deer-sized game. Jack O’Connor’s outfitter in Sonora in the 1930s, Charlie Ren, used nothing but a Savage 1899 in .25-35. O’Connor famously quoted Ren as saying it was “all he needed.” Lord knows how much game that rifle accounted for.

In 1915, Arthur Savage engaged early cartridge genius Charles Newton to develop a high-velocity cartridge for his lever-action. Newton’s project for Savage resulted in the .250-3000 (.250 Savage), the first commercial cartridge to break 3000 feet per second. The Savage lever-action was stronger than the Winchester, and its box magazine could use sharp-pointed bullets. The .250 Savage was popular for decades…and a real thorn in Winchester’s side.

Gunwriter Gary Sitton was another huge .25-06 fan. He used his Dakota M10 .25-06 to take this fine buck on John Wootters’ South Texas ranch, “Los Cuernos.”

In 1920, Savage introduced the M20. Essentially a scaled-down Springfield action, it was not only America’s first commercial bolt-action; it was the world’s first short bolt-action, sized specifically to the .250 Savage case. In our Kansas deer season just past, Ryan Paul brought a cherry M20 and shot does with it, first M20 I’ve ever seen in the field.

The only way the .250 Savage could reach 3000 fps was with its original light-for-caliber 87-grain bullet. 1915 expanding bullets worked when they worked, but most hunters learned that the .250 Savage performed better with 100-grain bullets at about 2800 fps.

Wyoming gunwriter Bob Milek in the field with one of his beloved .25s. Milek used both the .257 Roberts and .25-06 for game up to elk. Boddington doesn’t believe the .25’s have enough bullet weight or frontal area for larger game, but with proper shot placement, they surely work.

Gunwriter Ned Roberts necked the 7×57 case down to .25-caliber, creating the .257 Roberts, adopted by Remington in 1934. Its longer case enabled heavier bullets at higher velocity than possible with the .250 Savage. Until the .243 came along, the .257 Roberts was the standard “crossover” varmint/big game cartridge. Although rarely chambered in new rifles today, it was extremely popular, and remains an important cartridge.

The .25-06 was developed at Frankford Arsenal during WWI as a military experiment. After the war, it remained a common and popular non-standard wildcat. Amazing to me none of the majors picked it up sooner, but it wasn’t adopted as a commercial cartridge until 1969, as the .25-06 Remington. To this day, the .25-06 is the most popular .25-caliber. With heavier bullets, it is fast, flat-shooting, powerful, and awesome on deer-sized game. With lighter bullets, the .25-06 is probably the largest and most powerful cartridge that could sensibly be used for varminting.

Boddington used his Dakota .257 Roberts with 117-grain SST to take this weird Kansas “management” buck. The buck went down so fast and hard it seemed to bounce.

The .257 Weatherby Magnum was one of Roy Weatherby’s original cartridges, introduced in 1944, based on a necked down and shortened .300 H&H case. It is one of the fastest and flattest-shooting of all commercial cartridges and was Roy’s personal favorite. It’s not especially popular; a limitation is that it has remained a Weatherby proprietary, thus limited sources.

In recent years there have been few new .25-caliber cartridges. An exception was the short-lived .25 WSSM. Great little fireplug of a cartridge, about the same performance as the .25-06, yet from a much shorter case, fitting into short actions. Several of the short, fat magnums introduced at the turn of the millennium have fallen by the wayside. Mostly, I put this down to “too many, too fast.” Too many new cartridges for the market (us) to accept. The “super short” magnums were so short that feeding problems occurred in some platforms.

For the record, I’m not a huge .25-caliber fan but I neither hate them nor ignore them. I have a long history with .25s. In the early ‘70s, on a cougar hunt, the houndsman handed me a Colt Lightning slide-action .25-20. Since then, I’ve hunted with all of them, even tried the .25 WSSM when it was new. I had a super-accurate .25-06, used it a lot, have had a couple of .257 Weatherby Magnums. As a lever-action buff, I’ve had a succession of .250 Savage rifles, have a good one now, made in 1920. Also have a 1906 M94 in .25-35. My current favorite .25, however, is a Dakota M76 in .257 Roberts, accurate and sweet-shooting.

This blacktail was taken with a .257 Weatherby Magnum. By far the fastest commercial .25-caliber, the .257 Wby shoots flat and hits hard.

I admit that I’m not passionate about .25s, but friends that I’ve respected have been. Great gunwriter, friend, and mentor Bob Milek was a quarter-bore guy. He loved the .257 Roberts and .25-06 equally. Gary Sitton, one of our greatest gunwriting talents, was also a .25-06 guy. My longtime boss at Petersen’s HUNTING, Ken Elliott, was a .257 Weatherby Magnum guy, thought it was the cat’s pajamas. So did Robert E. “Pete” Petersen, founder of Petersen Publishing. Sadly, all these guys are gone. Scott Rupp, one of the best Editors I currently work for, is still with us. He’s a quarter-bore guy.

Tastes in cartridges are often somewhat reginal. Usually, this is driven by game hunted, and by local hunting conditions. Texas is the great stronghold of the .25-06. Hard to find a Texas deer camp where somebody isn’t toting a .25-06. Medium-sized deer, shots often on the longer side. More than that: A common landform there is long, open cuts between brushlines, the famous Texas senderos. Here’s the thing about hunting a sendero: They’re narrow with few reference points. When a buck steps out he may not stop for long. No time to mess with a rangefinder, quick look at antlers and shoot. A flat-shooting .25 is a near-perfect choice.

In 2023, Ryan Paul brought a Savage M20 to Kansas, first time Boddington has seen an M20 in the field. An aperture-sight rifle, Paul used it to take does, using a scoped rifle for his buck.

In Central California, we hunt small-bodied blacktail deer. The .25-06 is popular here today, but, historically, I think the .250 Savage was a top gun. I say this because, for years, it was easy to find Savage 99s in .250 on almost any used-gun rack. In the .250 Savage’s heyday, we didn’t yet have feral hogs, and in our tight canyons, shots on our blacktails are rarely long. The .250 Savage was an ideal choice.

For me, the .25s are excellent for pronghorns and deer-sized game, questionable for larger game. Others disagree. Bob Milek used his .257 Roberts or .25-06 for elk almost every year. Milek was a Wyoming resident, usually looking for a fat cow or young bull for the freezer, rarely seeking (or taking) mature bulls. In that context, fine. For all-around elk hunting, I draw the line. Can work just fine, with caution, but I don’t think the .25s offer either the bullet weight or frontal area for general use on game larger than deer.

A nice Central Coast blacktail, taken with a .25-06 on a Ruger M77 action. Accurate and flat-shooting, the .25-06 is the most popular .25-caliber cartridge, a great choice for deer-sized game.

If there’s a fly in the .25-caliber ointment, it’s a bullet problem. Like our traditional .270 cartridges, the .25s have always been considered hunting cartridges. Historically, there have been almost no match-grade bullets or loads in .25-caliber. Today, with the rage for range, little development of modern, low-drag .257 projectiles. As with older .270s, part of this is a rifling twist issue. Since the 1920s, standard rifling twist for .25-caliber cartridges has been 1:10, stabilizing bullets from about 70 to 120 grains. Maximum G1 Ballistic Coefficient (BC) for the most aerodynamic 120-grain .257 bullets is about .400. Not bad, but not in the same league as the modern low-drag bullets with BCs well over .600.

We need longer, heavier .257 bullets to get there, but our 1:10 barrels won’t stabilize them, and many of the actions on our .25-caliber rifles won’t house them. There are some options out there. Berger makes a 133-grain .257 bullet, and Hornady has a new 134-grain .257 ELD-Match with G1 BC of .645. Undoubtedly, these choices will grow. However, none of my .25s will stabilize these bullets. I’m not interested in rebarreling. Same story as my pet .270 Winchesters regarding the new, heavier .277 bullets.

Two different approaches to varmint rifles. Left, a Savage .22-250. Right, a .25-06 on a Ruger M77 action, both with adequate accuracy for any varminting. Boddington believes the .25-06 is the most powerful cartridge that makes sense for varminting.

Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not an extreme-range guy. My .25s shoot well enough and flat enough for my purposes. Happy to keep them in their box as awesome, light-recoiling choices for deer-sized game, at shooting distances I’m comfortable with.



Craig Boddington

In America, above .30-caliber, cartridge popularity drops like a thrown rock. This is as it should be. Little on this continent that can’t be done with a .30-caliber and good bullets. Millions of American deer hunters don’t even need a .30, filling their freezers and trophy walls just fine with lighter calibers.

Boddington and Jack Atcheson Jr. with a Montana mule deer taken with a .338 Win Mag. Atcheson is a huge .338 fan, rarely using any other cartridge…anywhere. For deer-sized game, Boddington usually uses lighter cartridges. But, as Atcheson says, the .338 “numbs them.”

Still, we do have larger game: Elk, moose, the big bears. Hunters who pursue them—and those who dream of such hunts—love to argue around the campfire about the best and most perfect cartridges. Calibers and cartridge choices are legion. I’ve had long affairs with 8mms, diameter .323. Few cartridges and, ultimately, not enough bullets. Friend and mentor Colonel Charles Askins was the ultimate 8mm guru. Askins begged for a 250-grain 8mm bullet, but 220 grains has been the limit. Whether .325 WSM, 8mm Remington Magnum (or one of Askins’ myriad 8mm wildcats), a fast 8mm with 220-grain bullet is a wonderful thumper on elk. However, in my opinion, available bullets aren’t heavy enough for the largest bears.

Pound for pound, Boddington doesn’t believe moose are as tough as elk, but moose are much bigger. This bullet was taken at about 300 yards with a .338 RUM, firing 250-grain Swift A-Frame.

I also love the .35s. There are bunches of older .35s: .35 Remington; .348, .358, .356 Winchester. Also new: .350 Legend and .360 Buckhammer. Great for black bears and feral hogs, but either marginal in power for larger game, or not enough velocity for versatility in open country. The .35 Whelen and .350 Rem Mag are almost there in both power and velocity. Wonderful for elk and moose, just a bit on the mild side for anything bigger. Oddly, there have been almost no fast .35s. The .358 Norma Magnum is rare; the .358 Alaskan (7mm STW necked up) never made it into factory form.

In October ’23 Boddington used a .338 Win Mag barrel on his Blaser R8 on a brown bear hunt on the Alaska Peninsula. Didn’t get a bear, but he was ready.

Tough to make a case for bigger. The 9.3mms (.366-inch) are popular in Europe, used for driven boar, also by Africa-bound Europeans as alternative to .375. The two most popular—the rimless 9.3×62 in bolt-actions and rimmed 9.3x74R in single-shots and doubles—are just slightly less powerful than the .375 H&H, so plenty for North America’s largest game…but maybe don’t shoot as flat as optimum for our conditions. The faster .370 Sako and 9.3×64 Brenneke are similar to the .375 H&H in bullet weight, velocity, energy, and trajectory. Like the .375s themselves, this means they are overpowered for almost everything in North America except our biggest bears.

I’ve used various 9.3s on African buffalo, and in North America for hogs and black bear. Over here, I’ve used .375s for elk and moose, and for big bears. Awesomely effective…but more powerful than absolutely necessary. Truth is, for North American hunters on home turf, there’s little justification for a 9.3mm, .375, or larger. Fun to own, limited utility.

Left to right .325 WSM, .8mm Rem Mag, .338 Win Mag, .338 RUM, .340 Wby Mag. As a group, the “medium magnums” are extremely effective on game larger than deer. Boddington has hunted with all these and more but believes the .338 Win Mag is the most useful: Fast enough, without excessive recoil, and available in the greatest variety of loads.

If you’re looking for a cartridge with more knockdown power for North America’s large—and largest—game, it seems to me the caliber to pick is .338. Bullet selection is rich, standard at about 180 to 250 grains. There are numerous good cartridges using this bullet diameter at various velocity levels, including: .338 Federal, .338 Marlin Express, .338-06, .338 Ruger Compact Magnum (RCM), .338 Weatherby Rebated Precision Magnum (RPM) .338 Winchester Magnum, .340 Weatherby Magnum, .338 Remington Ultra Magnum (RUM), .338 Lapua Magnum, and .338-378 Weatherby.

All are adequate for elk and moose, and all are fast enough for at least medium ranges. However, if we include the biggest bears—and want the utmost in versatility—then we probably want a cartridge with enough case capacity to propel heavy bullets at meaningful velocity. I think the place to start is in the middle of that cartridge list, with the .338 Winchester Magnum.

Boddington has found most .338s to be accurate and non-finicky. His .338 Win Mag barrel for the Blaser R8 is simply amazing, producing sub-MOA groups with 250-grain bullets

 Winchester started their line of .30-06-length belted magnums in 1956 with the .458. In 1958 the family grew with two new cartridges in versions of their beloved Model 70 bolt-action: The .264 Win Mag in the “Westerner;” the .338 Win Mag in the “Alaskan.” The .338 Win Mag was intended for the largest Alaskan game, which includes elk, moose, and our biggest bears. Most common factory loads are 200, 225, and 250-grain bullets. Respectively, velocities are around 2950, 2800, and 2650 fps, all producing about 3900 ft-lbs of energy.

.33-caliber has deeper roots among British cartridges. The .333 Jeffery, available in both rimless and rimmed (.333 Flanged) versions, was loaded with 250 and 300-grain bullets. The .318 Westley Richards was more popular. Its designation comes from the inconsistent British convention of naming cartridges by the smaller land vice groove diameter: The .318 uses a .330-inch bullet, so also a .33. In the days before caliber minimums were instituted, both the .333 Jeffery and the .318 WR were used to take game up to elephant (with non-expanding solids). WDM “Karamoja” Bell, best known for preferring the .275 Rigby (7×57), wrote that his largest one-day bag of elephants was taken with a .318, using 250-grain solids.

PH Cliff Walker and Boddington with a Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, taken with a .338 RUM. Although not especially common in Africa, all the faster .338 cartridges are adequate for the full run of large African antelopes.

Gunwriter Elmer Keith (1899-1984) hailed from Idaho and hunted elk in black timber. He became a lifelong believer in larger calibers with long, heavy bullets. Working with Charles O’Neil and Don Hopkins, he used the .30-06 case and .333 Jeffery bullets to create the wildcat .333 OKH.

Winchester’s .338 used a literal .338-inch bullet. In 1902 Winchester introduced the .33 Winchester in their M1886 lever-action, using a 200-grain .338-inch bullet at 2200 fps. The .33 predated the British cartridges, but why Winchester chose the .338-inch diameter isn’t known. Although Winchester quit loading .33 Win in 1940, it’s natural that Winchester used the same diameter for their .338 Win Mag. All “.33s” that have followed, including Elmer Keith’s later wildcats, use .338-inch bullets.         

The .264 and .338 Winchester Magnums were introduced together in 1958. The .264 debuted in a version of the Winchester Model 70 called “Westerner;” the .338 was brought out in an M70 dubbed “Alaskan.”

Like most new cartridges, the .338 got a lot of buzz, but initial sales were slow. Probably because the word spread about sharp recoil. Duh! Although the lighter bullets kick less, you cannot produce nearly 4000 ft-lbs of energy without recoil, and not everyone needs this level of power. Over time, those who do discovered the .338 is wonderfully effective on large game. Lighter cartridges work fine on elk, but elk are tough, and many hunters want more. The .338 has become a standard “big gun” for elk, excellent for moose, and a sensible, fully adequate minimum for our largest bears.

Although lighter cartridges certainly work, Boddington believes the several .33-caliber cartridges are ideal for elk. This Roosevelt elk was taken with a .338 Win Mag using a 210-grain Nosler Partition.

Let’s go back to that list of current .33-caliber cartridges. The .338 RCM and Weatherby’s new .338 RPM are ballistically about the same as the .338 Win Mag, with more modern case design: The short, fat, unbelted RCM is a short-action cartridge; the RPM is unbelted. Despite its out-of-fashion belted case, the primary advantage of the .338 Win Mag is its greater popularity, offering a wider selection of loads from more manufacturers.

The last four cartridges on that list–.340 Wby Mag, .338 RUM, .338 Lapua, and .338-.378 Wby Mag—all have greater case capacity and are considerably faster than the .338 Win Mag. Energy yields approach or exceed 5000 ft-lbs.  Trajectories are flatter, thus extending effective range. These are valuable attributes, but it depends on what you need, and how much recoil you’re comfortable with. I haven’t spent much time with either the .338 Lapua or .338-.378 Wby Mag…and probably won’t. I used the .338 RUM when it was new, also did a lot of hunting with the .340 Wby Mag. Both were wonderfully effective, hard-hitting and flat shooting.

Donna Boddington used a Proof Research .338 Win Mag and a single 225-grain InterBond to take this big Alaskan brown bear on Admiralty Island.

I took the .340 to Africa a couple of times. I’m not especially sensitive to recoil, but that’s where I learned my limit. In the context of shooting plains game almost daily, I decided the .340 was more fun than needed. I circled back to the .338 Win Mag. It kicks, but I’m comfortable with that level of recoil. The faster .33s come back a bit too hard and too fast for my taste, especially on a sustained basis. Like everything else, they can be tamed with muzzle brakes. I prefer not to use brakes because of the blast and, anyway, I’m not an extreme-range shooter on game. The .338 Win Mag shoots flat enough for my purposes, with acceptable recoil.

A good black bear from southeast Alaska, taken with a Proof Research .338 Win Mag. There are many great cartridges for black bear, but the .338 is adequate for the largest bears that walk.

My old friend Jack Atcheson Jr. is a major .338 fan. Great sheep hunter and Montana elk hunter, he uses almost nothing else…all over the world. On deer-sized game the fast .33s speak with authority, but they are needlessly powerful. Trajectories are flat enough for great versatility, but I prefer lighter, faster cartridges for mountain game. For me, the .33s are fantastic for elk and moose, devastatingly effective on our largest black bears, and fully adequate for the largest bears. Perhaps oddly, I’ve used the .338 relatively little in Africa. Not sure why. It is unquestionably fully adequate for the full run of large plains game. I’ve often stated that a .338 matched up with a .416 makes the most perfect African battery.

For big bears, moose, and in Africa, I’ve usually loaded up with 250-grain bullets. It’s important to understand that the 250-grain .338 bullet has slightly higher Sectional Density (SD) than 300-grain .375 or 400-grain .416 bullets. So, if construction and velocity are similar, it will penetrate at least as well as these famous bullets. For elk and smaller game, I usually use lighter bullets from 200 to 225 grains, increasing velocity, flattening trajectory, and reducing recoil. Not everyone needs a .338, but if you want more power for larger game, I’m convinced a fast .33 is the way to go.



Craig Boddington

Like most kids, my first shooting was with a single-shot .22, but, absent a modern Kansas deer season, we were shotgunners, no need for centerfire rifles. Couple hundred miles southeast, Warsaw, Missouri, had a sign proclaiming it “Gunstock Capitol of the World,” home to both the E.C. Bishop and Reinhart Fajen gunstock companies. There, my Dad’s friend Jack Pohl, owner of Bishop’s, was an avid benchrest shooter, big-game hunter, and handloader.

As a youngster, Boddington did almost all of his hunting with handloads, secure in the belief he could build a better cartridge than he could buy. His first “good” mule deer was taken in 1978 with a Ruger .30-06 using 180-grain Nosler Partition and a near-max charge of IMR 4350. The shot was about 450 yards, a very long poke back then.

Mr. Pohl was enlisted to introduce us to the centerfire rifle world. I was probably 12. The deal: He’d take us to the range, and woodchuck shooting. As a graduation exercise, we’d join him on a pronghorn and deer hunt in Wyoming. Big stuff! First, I had to learn how to handload. We started on his bench, then got a basic setup in our basement. Dad knew how to supervise his young son, but I did all the loading. I loved it, spent countless hours with that green RCBS press. Sixty years later, it’s not my only press, but I still use it.

Back then, there were two primary rationales for handloading. First, save money. Second, more important: It was an article of faith that you could load better ammo than you could buy.

Going back 60 years, Boddington has spent countless enjoyable hours at the loading bench. This is his new bench with new Hornady tools, but he still has—and uses—a lot of the reloading equipment he’s had since he was a teenager.

Today, both arguments hold less water. Ammo was cheaper back then, so were the basic tools and components. Even then, you had to do a lot of shooting to amortize the equipment. Of course, handloading drives you to shoot more, not a bad thing. You must try this load and that and keep searching for a better combination.

Today, I’m shocked at the cost of factory ammo. However, reloading components and equipment have also gone up (like everything else). Buying in bulk, especially powder and primers, reduces the per-cartridge cost. Still, it takes a lot more shooting to break even.

This is Boddington’s lifetime-best group, .052-inch with an 8mm Remington Magnum and a carefully-worked up handload. Groups like this are uncommon with anything, but most attainable through careful, precise handloading.

I started handloading in the Sixties. By the Nineties, factory ammo was so good, and so varied, that it was no longer a given it could be beat…depending on your purpose, and how serious you are. For ultimate accuracy, such as benchrest, long-range, and precision shooting, carefully concocted handloads usually win.

No matter how good, any factory load is just one assemblage of the four components: Case, primer, propellent, projectile. Changing any of them can make a difference in any rifle. In handloading, you can vary all of them, almost endlessly. Different brands and strengths of primers. Even cases vary among the brands. When I was young, our primary choices in bullets were Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, and Speer. More brands today, more weights and shapes. Back then, we might have had two dozen propellants to choose from, including pistol, rifle, and shotgun powders. Today, into the hundreds, new ones all the time.

The .348 Winchester is one of Boddington’s favorites. Into the 1980s, components were relatively available with multiple choices. Today both ammo and .348-inch bullets are scarce; handloading is the only sensible option for uncommon cartridges.

I’ve always been a lazy handloader. My searches for perfect loads have rarely been exhaustive. I tend to use the cases I have (and, today, the primers I can get), and there are plenty of bullets and powders I’ve never tried. Still, I work up loads for my rifles. I experiment with different powders and bullets, varying charge weight and seating depth. As good as factory ammo is today, I can usually build a more accurate load than I can buy…if I care to try.

I don’t always try. Maximum accuracy isn’t always essential. I’m not a competitor, mostly a hunter, and some of my rifles, older lever-actions and double rifles, are specialized in purpose and limited in range. I can beat factory loads, but not by enough to increase performance.

This Uganda buffalo was taken with a .470 made in 1906, firing a handloaded 500-grain Hornady DGX-Bonded. Since volume is low, factory ammo is currently scarce for most big-bore cartridges.

By the Nineties, factory ammo had gotten so good, and the choices so varied, that I wasn’t loading much anymore. A few years later, not at all. For some years my loading gear was boxed up. Thank God, I kept it!

I restarted mostly because I missed my time at the bench. Cost and performance aside, my single greatest reason for handloading: It’s fun! It is a mindless exercise, except you must stay focused. Do that, inspect constantly, use common sense (and loading manuals), and you can’t get into too much trouble. The results are wonderfully satisfying. I get a huge kick out of shooting a nice, tight group. Even better when it’s a load I cooked up. As a hunter, I still get the same old thrill from taking an animal. Rifles matter to me, so it’s better with a special rifle. Better still with a load I’ve worked up for that rifle and hunt.

Son-in-law Brad Jannenga used Boddington’s Savage 99 in .300 Savage with handloaded Swift Scirocco to take this big Axis buck. Tens of thousands of .300 Savage rifles are still in use…but the majors haven’t done runs of ammo in several years. Handloading is the best answer for many older cartridges.

As we know, things have changed. I didn’t foresee the late-teens ammo shortages, and for sure I didn’t anticipate that nasty little virus. My loading bench kept me sane through the pandemic…and still keeps me in business. Supplies are getting better, but still aren’t right. I’ve been out of standard large rifle primers for months, using magnum primers and dropping the load a wee bit. For sure I can’t always find the exact bullet or propellent I want.

Fortunately, there are lots of choices, usually something out there will work. Just the other day, I shopped this site, found two of three propellant I needed (not bad), and bullets I’d been looking for. Things are getting better…depending on what you shoot. On the shortages: I am not a conspiracy theorist. I put it down to increased demand. Millions of new shooters buying ammo, and that’s a good thing. Also, panic buying and hoarding. I believe the ammo makers are doing their best to catch up. However, it costs gazillions and takes time to gear up for unprecedented demand. This must be done with caution…because peak demand has already subsided.

Boddington isn’t a blackpowder guy but needed to work up loads for his son-in-law’s .500 Black Powder Express, made in 1885. This hog was taken with a 440-grain Hawk bullet with smokeless equivalent load…and lots of Dacron pillow stuffing to keep the powder down on the primer.

The biggest problem for many of us: The catchup process has focused on cartridges with the highest demand and deepest backorders. Outlets are awash in .223, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 ammo. I shoot them, but I also shoot older cartridges. Plenty rifles still out there, but factory ammo is scarce because the majors haven’t done runs in years: .250 and .300 Savage, .257 Roberts, .303 British, .348 Winchester.

Handloading has been my salvation. I also use several large-caliber cartridges: .405 Winchester, .450/.400-3”, .450 and .470 Nitro Express. Now we’re down to limited suppliers…and few or no recent runs. PHs all over Africa are dying for ammo (almost literally). So am I. I have great faith in my handloads, no qualms about hunting with them. Except, on dangerous game I prefer to use fresh factory ammo. If something bad happens, just as soon the post-mortem does not suggest it was my handload’s fault. In ’21 I wanted to use a new-to-me but very old .470 on a buffalo hunt in Uganda. Couldn’t find any fresh .470 factory ammo to save my soul. No problem, I’ve had dies since 1980. Getting a double rifle’s barrels to shoot together can be tricky. Got lucky, this rifle responded to a standard recipe. Took two nice bulls with my handloads, great performance and extra fun.

With double rifles, the challenge is getting the barrels to group together. This 1895 double in .303 British has been a treat. Regulated with 215-grain bullets, it also prints well with lighter bullets at the same velocity. These pairs represent changes in sight elevation.

As a lazy handloader, I’ve generally resisted complex projects. This is my primary reason for avoiding wildcat or non-standard cartridges. Slothfulness aside, I think we have enough standard factory cartridges to choose from. However, with shortages and interrupted supplies, sometimes handloading is the only solution. Gotta have dies, but even with non-standard cartridges, custom dies can be made (extra-simple if you have fired cases from the chamber)

Again, I try to stay out of this game, but recently I’ve had some unusual handloading projects. I bought a .50-115 Sharps from a dying friend. No factory ammo for that one, but the rifle came with cases, dies, and a bullet mold. That one has been fun. I’m not a blackpowder guy, nor a cast bullet guy, but it shoots well with a 515-grain cast bullet and Tin Star, a blackpowder-equivalent propellent that I’d never even heard of before.

The .348 Winchester is one of Boddington’s favorites. Into the 1980s, components were relatively available with multiple choices. Today both ammo and .348-inch bullets are scarce; handloading is the only sensible option for uncommon cartridges.

Although scarce today, the .303 British isn’t rare. My rifle is a very old double, regulated for the old 215-grain bullets. Woodleigh in Australia still made them, but their factory had a major fire. I found a supply, am hoarding them. Took some work, but I have loads that regulate well with 150 and 174-grain Hornady as well as the 215-grain Woodleigh. In May, I shot a nice Alberta black bear with the old double and 215-grain handloads. Awesome penetration, sort of double the fun!

A nice Alberta bear, taken with double in .303 British, firing a handloaded 215-grain Woodleigh. This was the original .303 bullet weight, so this hundred-year-old rifle was regulated with that bullet weight.

The biggest recent project: My son-in-law bought an 1885 exposed hammer double in .500 Black Powder Express (BPE). Of course, no ammo, but there are bullets, and case dimensions are the same as for .500 Nitro Express. This one has been a nightmare, but we’ve got both barrels shooting together with a mild charge of smokeless IMR 4198 and about 15 grains of Dacron pillow stuffing on top of the powder. Between poor light and my fading eyes, it took several outings, but I finally pounded a wild hog with it. If there’s an ammo problem, handloading can almost always solve it…and it’s fun!



Craig Boddington

A writer friend was in black bear camp this past spring, shooting a .30-06. At the sight-in range, younger hunters gathered to admire his rifle. They’d heard of the .30-06…insisted they’d never seen one.

By about 1930 the .30-06 reigned as America’s most popular hunting cartridge, holding this position for at least 40 years. Times change, but I’m shocked there are grownup hunters who have never seen or given passing consideration to the .30-06.

46 years after his first safari, Boddington still believes the .30-06 is among the best and most versatile choices for Africa’s non-dangerous game. This fine waterbuck was taken in 2019, using a left-hand Ruger M77 with 180-grain Hornady Interlock.

In 1903 the United States military adopted the Springfield bolt-action rifle, mated with a rimless bottleneck cartridge firing a .30-caliber (.308-inch bullet). Rifle and cartridge were so close to Peter Paul Mauser’s designs that Uncle Sam paid Mauser a royalty until WWI. The original 1903 cartridge used a 220-grain round-nose bullet. In 1906 the case was modified slightly, the bullet changed to a lighter spitzer with greatly improved aerodynamics. The new cartridge was called “Caliber .30 US Government Model of 1906.” We soon shortened that to .30-06.

The first sporting use of the .30-06 doesn’t seem recorded. Well-known is that Theodore Roosevelt swore by his Springfield throughout his epic nine-month 1909 safari. At that time the lever-action was America’s most popular sporting rifle. There were no domestic civilian bolt-actions at all until 1920.

.30-06 velocities vary considerably among manufacturers. With 165-grain bullet, Hornady’s Superformance load yielded 3016 fps…that’s edging into .300 magnum velocity.

The Savage M20 was America’s first bolt-action sporter, Sort of a mini-Springfield, it was sized for the short .250 and .300 Savage cartridges and could not house the .30-06. The first American sporter that could was Remington’s M30 in 1921, based on the big 1917 US Enfield action. Winchester followed in 1925 with the M54, forerunner to the M70 (1936).

Shortage of commercial rifles didn’t deter the .30-06. Surplus US Enfields and Springfields were cheap and available. The supply from both world wars lasted through the Sixties. My own first centerfire, purchased in 1964, was a surplus ‘03 Springfield. I think it cost $39.95. I didn’t hunt with it until years later, but I shot it a lot, and lovingly “sporterized” it.

We hear about new cartridges being inherently accurate, but don’t sell the ’06 short. This lightweight Kimber Terminal Ascent produced sub-MOA groups right out of the box with the first load tried, Federal 180-grain Trophy Tip bonded bullet.

Starting in 1925, the flatter-shooting, softer-kicking .270 gave the .30-06 competition but never overtook it. Even Jack O’Connor, high priest of the .270, conceded that the .30-06 was more versatile. The first magnum craze of the Fifties and Sixties eroded the .30-06. I bought into that stuff; I had a .264 and a .300 Winchester Magnum before I hunted with a .30-06.

Although she later switched to a .270, Donna Boddington did most of her early hunting with a left-hand Ruger M77 .30-06. She used a 180-grain Hornady Interlock to drop this excellent Mozambique sable with one shot at sundown.

I read my Roosevelt, and my Hemingway, and my Ruark, so when planning my first African hunt I knew I had to have a .30-06. I trotted down to the PX and bought a Ruger M77 and worked up handloads with 180-grain Nosler Partitions. Even though I’d been a confirmed magnum maniac (“magniac”), I was amazed at how well the .30-06 performed. All ranges, all sizes of plains game. Became, and have remained, a .30-06 fan.

The flood of unbelted magnums at the turn of the millennium gave us new choices. Recent cartridges designed for maximum efficiency (PRCs, Noslers, Westerns) give us more options. Today we have plenty cartridges to choose from. It’s easy to overlook the .30-06.

The .30-06 probably isn’t an ideal mountain cartridge, but it shoots flat enough. Grancel Fitz took his first sheep, a Dall sheep in Alaska, in 1935 with his Griffin & Howe Springfield. 20 years later, he was the first person to take all varieties of North American big game…all with this same .30-06.

Old, but not tired. The .30-06 is a powerhouse. Standard issue for our forces for 50 years, the .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge adopted by a major military. Not as fast as our many magnums, it is not slow. Standard velocity for a 180-grain bullet is 2700 fps. In perspective: The same speed as the 6.5mm Creedmoor…with a 140-grain bullet. With 180-grain bullet, the .30-06 offers 28 percent more bullet weight…with .044-inch more frontal area. There is no comparison in hitting power.

Wife Donna did her early hunting with a Ruger M77 .30-06. Not the same one. I was doing a lot of hunting with a left-hand action M77 .30-06. Also a lefty, she’s shorter, so I took a sliver off the butt and reset the recoil pad so we could both shoot it comfortably.

Sadly, not all new rifles are chambered to .30-06. This is Chapuis’ new ROLS straight-pull, made in France…with .30-06 among its many chamberings. So far, out of the box accuracy is about one MOA…not unusual for good rifles in .30-06.

Now, let’s be clear. The .30-06 is not a low-recoil option. Generations of recruits complained about the brutal recoil. They were not wrong. Donna is one of those people who is uniquely impervious to recoil. In general, I don’t recommend the .30-06 for youngsters, for women of smaller stature, or for anyone with aversion to recoil.

To this day, the (nominally) 2.5-inch of the .30-06 defines “standard-length” actions and cartridges. Factory cartridges based on the ’06 case include, left to right: .30-06, .270 Win, .280 Rem, .25-06, .35 Whelen, .370 Federal, .280 AI. Boddington believes the .30-06 is still the most versatile of all.

The .30-06 is a big gun, needlessly powerful for any deer hunting. It is a far better elk cartridge than deer cartridge! I still have magniac tendencies. I see the medium magnums, typified by the .338 Winchester Magnum, as the most ideal elk cartridges. Yes, but the .30-06 is plenty of gun for any elk, especially with today’s great bullets. I’ve taken as many bull elk with the .30-06 as with magnums. None have gone farther, most down in their tracks. Because of heavier bullets with more frontal area, I think the .30-06 is more effective on elk than any of the 7mms.

One of the advantages to the .30-06 is lots of loads…and lots of handload recipes. This Savage 110 .30-06 grouped variously with different loads…and then shot quarter-inch groups (bottom center) with Federal factory with 180-grain Barnes.

The .30-06’s strongest suit is versatility. Awesome for larger game, such as elk and moose. I still can’t think of anything better for the full run of non-dangerous African game. The .30-06 kicks but lacks the bone-jarring recoil velocity of the fast magnums…and it works.

Versatility isn’t just about size of animals. Today’s newest cartridges use faster rifling twists with extra-heavy bullets with super aerodynamics. The .30-06’s traditional 1:10 twist stabilizes bullets from 150 to 220 grains. How much versatility do you need? For deer, a 150-grain bullet zips along at 3000 fps. For elk, and for Africa’s variety, I’ve always been a 180-grain bullet guy. I’m not keen on using the .30-06 for big bears, but more grizzlies and brown bears have fallen to the .30-06 than all the rest put together. Old-timers relied on the long, heavy 220-grain slug, which can be loaded to 2550 fps, credible velocity for such weight, offering wonderful penetration. I also don’t recommend the .30-06 for extra-large beasts. However, in the days before minimum legal calibers, the .30-06 with 220-grain solids had a great reputation for reliable penetration all the way up to elephant.

The .30-06 is probably needlessly powerful for deer…and also dramatically effective. This big Colorado buck was dropped in its tracks by a single 180-grain Fusion bullet from an ’06 made by Kenny Jarrett.

Maybe it’s also not the best choice for mountain game. As with deer, .30-caliber bullet weight and power aren’t essential for sheep and goats. I’ve taken both with the .30-06, but I’ve usually chosen cartridges that shoot flatter. Not because I needed them, but because they seemed a better “fit.” Once you get to the point where you must either hold over or start dialing your turret for range, trajectory is just a number. Know the number and you can solve the problem.

I’ve done a lot of 1000-yard shooting on steel with various .30-06 rifles and loads…as have long-range competitors for 120 years. Once you start adjusting, a few more clicks is a matter of knowing how many. I’m not an extreme range shooter on game. If I were, then there are better tools. However, because that’s what I was carrying—and because I knew the trajectory—I’ve made some of my longer shots in the field with the .30-06.

Boddington believes the .30-06 is a wonderful elk cartridge…and better for elk than deer. This bull dropped in its tracks to a single 180-grain Barnes TSX at about 150 yards.

Many of our newer cartridges offer great versatility on game, at varying levels of recoil, and are often touted for accuracy. Cartridge design matters, but rifle, barrel, and ammo are more important. It’s an article of faith that the .308, with its shorter, more efficient case, is more accurate. Maybe, but the margin is slim. I’ve rarely seen accuracy problems in a .30-06 rifle. With higher velocity, the .30-06 is more powerful, thus more versatile.

So many choices, so many conflicting and confusing cartridges. Here’s one good reason why the .30-06 may be worth your consideration. Availability. Everybody loads .30-06. It is no longer our most popular centerfire…but it’s still in the top handful. There are hundreds of factory loads, from all manufacturers, throughout the world…offered with just about any bullet you can think of. No, these days, we can’t get them all. But the .30-06 is not a one-company wonder, as new cartridges must be until they catch on. For handloaders, we have a century of loading data to fall back on. Can’t get this powder or that bullet? Plenty of choices.

Willem van Dyk, trackers, and Boddington with a big fringe-eared oryx, taken in Kenya in 1977 on Boddington’s first African hunt. This was the first time Boddington hunted with the .30-06; impressive performance made him a lifelong fan.

Just yesterday, I went to the range with a new Chapuis ROLS, a fine, state-of-the-art straight-pull rifle. Made in France…chambered to .30-06. Finding the best load for this rifle is still a work in progress, but the loads I grabbed randomly from my garage grouped within one MOA. That’s performance I expect—and usually get—from a good .30-06. 

Not all great new rifles are chambered in .30-06. I suppose that’s a sign of the times. Explains why some younger folks consider it a curiosity. For sure, it’s not as sexy as the hot new numbers. It’s still an accurate, powerful, and versatile choice. And the .30-06 is still out there, hundreds of loads, jillions of rifles…of all vintages.



Craig Boddington

I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will. And its First Corollary: At the worst possible time. Mr. Murphy lies in wait for the unwary and unready. In our worlds of shooting and hunting, there are all kinds of things that go wrong. Much can be prevented by preparation but, even with the most careful planning, stuff can still happen.

A cull buck taken on the last day of the ’21 Kansas whitetail season. Boddington missed a much better buck a few days earlier because the elevation turret—with no zero stop—got spun taking the rifle out of a soft case.

Sometimes we do it to ourselves. There’s something to be said for the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid. With shooting at longer ranges so popular today, most of us have gone to “dialing holdover” using our elevation turrets. No question, this is the best and most precise way to adjust for distance. With today’s wonderful optics, more consistent than any reticle system.

However, dialing the range is fraught with human error. Can anybody who “dials” a lot honestly say that he/she has never dialed incorrectly? Or, forgotten to return to zero after firing a shot? As common and more dangerous, forgetting to return to zero after not firing a shot?

On this hunt in New Zealand, Boddington chambered a round in his .300 H&H, worked the bolt, and found the bullet stuck in the lands and the magazine packed with propellant granules. Just one reason why it’s essential to run cartridges through the magazine before a hunt.

Not all of today’s great scopes have a solid zero stop. Probably not so critical in competition, but in my view essential on a hunting scope…because stuff happens. In Alaska a couple years ago, young Josh Mayall came into caribou camp with a few days of the season left. He’d be packing during the follow-on brown bear season, but he had a caribou tag. He had the outfitter’s .375, but he’s left-handed like me. I’d just shot a fine caribou, knew my 6.5-.300 Weatherby was zeroed, so I offered it to him, fortunately with plenty of ammo.

Josh and Peter Mayall with Josh’s amazing caribou, taken with Boddington’s 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum. After the first shot, the turret dial got spun going through willows; an anti-Murphy miracle that they got this marvelous bull.

Hunting with his father, Pete Mayall, their first afternoon they saw a giant caribou. Josh hit it, then couldn’t hit it again. After the first shot, the caribou and hey needed to cross a thick willow bottom to reposition. All we can figure: Crawling through brush, the elevation turret caught on a branch and spun. Fortunately, the caribou was hit hard; they finally got close enough for a finishing shot. Stuff happens.

Case head separation with a Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Inspection of brass will usually reveal potential cracks…but not always. The only solution on this rifle is to discard cases after one reload.

Happened to me in the ’21 Kansas whitetail season. Easy shot at close range, clean miss. Checked zero, two feet low at 50 yards. That dial got spun hard. I’d had the rifle in a soft case in the four-wheeler that morning, dial must have spun when I took it out of the case in the dark. Depending on the scope, you can usually figure out how much it spun and bring it back to zero. This one had spun a complete revolution. Unlikely, but stuff happens.

Boddington believes a hunting scope needs a solid zero stop on dial-up turret. The current generation of Leupold’s CDS Turret has one of the best turret stops, solid and high visible.

The only real solution is to find a target immediately and make sure. This just happened to me in Africa, good scope with tight turret clicks. Again, spun taking it out of a soft case. Only a few clicks, could have been a full revolution. We went straight to the camp range.

Mr. Murphy lies in wait, but much of the stuff he loves to pounce on is preventable. We can harp on checking screws and straps and such until the cows come home, but we don’t always do it.  Ever had a sling break or a sling swivel stud strip out? I’ve had both. Depends on where and when it happens. Can make the rifle a fulcrum, almost certain damage to rifle, scope, or both.

There’s no predicting what load a certain rifle will group best with…until you try. This particular 7mm-08 likes Hornady’s inexpensive American Whitetail load, with plain old 139-grain Interlock bullet.

How carefully do you check your ammo? For hunting, it’s downright dumb to not run every cartridge you’re taking in and out of your chamber. I must not have done that at least once. I was far up on a mountain in New Zealand with a .300 H&H, charged with handloads that shot quarter-inch groups. Accuracy didn’t mean much when I chambered a round, didn’t fire, cleared the rifle, and had a bullet stuck in the lands and a magazine full of propellent. The latter was a matter of dumping and swabbing. The former was a real issue, not like we had a cleaning rod on the mountain. After much experimentation and trimming, I finally crafted a long, straight sapling that could be used as a ramrod.

It was a day past the last day when Boddington took his Wyoming bighorn. Nothing went wrong on this hunt. Just to make sure, after this ram was spotted the previous day, Boddington insisted on checking zero on a rock.

Factory loads are not free of issues, but handloads are more likely to cause ammo problems, for lots of reasons. Just now, I was in South Africa with a gent shooting a .300 WSM. Some of his handloads had been made from full-length-sizing and trimming .325 WSM cases. Sound enough, but he’d held the resizing die a few thousandths loose. Intermittently, some of his cases were refusing to extract. Basically, his rifle became a single-shot…and somebody needed to carry a ramrod on every stalk.

On arrival in Georgia deer camp Boddington opened his gun case to find the stock of his .30-06 snapped off at the wrist. Glue and duct tape, and the rifle was still in perfect zero.

My reloading stuff was packed away for years, back up today with a new reloading shed. I’m loving it, shooting mostly handloads again. I trust my handloads, don’t shoot anyone else’s. However, inspection is constant and continuous. All cases stretch during firing, but cases in rear-locking actions (most lever-actions) are especially notorious. Stretching reduces case life. Properly, we examine fired cases for a “ring” that suggests incipient case head separation. Unfortunately, that ring isn’t always obvious. I was taking my .300 Savage to the range for one more check before a hunt. If there was a tell-tale ring, I didn’t see it. Doesn’t matter, because on firing only the base of case ejected; the rest of the case remained in chamber. No damage but getting the rest of the case out required trip to a gunsmith. That rifle didn’t go on that hunt. In future, I’ll only hunt with that rifle with maximum once-fired brass. 

Larry Tremaine brought his suppressor to Kansas deer camp and used it on Boddington’s Mossberg 7mm PRC. Fine, suppressors can be switched back and forth…but it’s essential to check zero.

Although the paperwork is draconian, suppressors are wonderful tools. Provided threads are the same, you can switch a suppressor from one gun to another, handy. Except, almost like switching a scope, you must remember to check zero. I was on a whitetail hunt in Nebraska when my hunting partner missed what might have been the buck of the season. He’d switched his suppressor to a lever-action .45-70 and had forgotten to check zero. Murphy loved it!

In many rifles best accuracy is obtained by seating bullets just off the lands. Important to carefully check Cartridge Overall Length (COL) to make sure cartridges aren’t too long for magazine or chamber. At the range, double-check to make sure.

Hopefully, we all know it’s essential to check a rifle on site or in camp at the start of any hunt. We’ve all failed to do this, but that’s inviting Murphy to join the party. In our Kansas camp, we ask hunters to arrive early afternoon the day before, and I have our range all set up. Last year, just one of my hunters declined to check. Well, you can lead your horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. First morning he missed what he described as “the biggest buck he’d ever seen.”

Too late, we checked his rifle. It was off a couple of inches. Not really enough to cause a miss at the distance he shot, but I like to have things perfect at the start of a hunt.

Before a hunt, Boddington likes to clean at the range…and then fire two fouling shots. This is a good time to run every cartridge you’re taking through the magazine and into the chamber, making sure of smooth chambering and feeding.

Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but once in a while everybody misses. Usually, I know what I did wrong, but if I’m not sure I like to check zero, just to be certain. Last month, in South Africa, I got into camp early enough to check zero that afternoon. Shooting at plates was a mistake. Always better to shoot a proper target but seemed okay. First day I missed an impala, PH Fred Burchell calling the strike to the left. Hmm, longish shot, felt like I could have been high or low, but to the left didn’t make sense. So, we repaired to the range. Sure enough, the rifle was shooting a bit left.

This Weatherby 6.5-.300 was in perfect zero for a caribou hunt and dropped Boddington’s bull with a 300-yard shot. Boddington then loaned it to a friend and Murphy stepped in. The elevation turret lacked a zero stop and got spun while going through brush.

Stuff happens, and you never know when—or why—a scope might shift zero. On longer hunts, and especially on tough hunts, I like to check zero every few days, just so I don’t unwittingly invite Mr. Murphy to join me. Some hunts are tougher than others. I got my Wyoming bighorn on the eleventh day of a ten-day horseback hunt. The previous afternoon outfitter Ron Dube finally glassed up a mature ram. He was far away, no way we could get on him that afternoon. No way I wanted to mess this up after ten days of tough sledding. I insisted we stop and shoot at a rock, just to be sure. The rifle still in zero, we slept on the mountain that night and shot the ram late the next morning.

Other stuff can happen. Twice I’ve opened gun cases to find stocks broken off at the wrist. I’ve seen two other stocks break in vehicles, and one more from recoil. In case you have any question about which is stronger, wood or synthetic, all five were walnut. Laminate is probably the strongest of all, although the heaviest. Years ago, I got into deer camp in Georgia to find the stock snapped off on my then-favorite .30-06. No spare rifles available, just one more use for duct tape. I fitted it together, wrapped it in duct tape, and went out to check zero. Murphy was there, but I got the last laugh. The rifle was still in perfect zero, shot two nice whitetails with it.


Midsummer, hunting season a long way off. That makes it a good time to dust off Old (or New) Betsy and try her out with some different loads.


Craig Boddington

Midsummer, hunting season a long way off. That makes it a good time to dust off Old (or New) Betsy and try her out with some different loads. It’s never been a good idea to wait until just before Opening Day before getting in some serious range work, far worse today. Supplies are better today, but there are still shortages and back-orders.

There’s no predicting what load a certain rifle will group best with…until you try. This particular 7mm-08 likes Hornady’s inexpensive American Whitetail load, with plain old 139-grain Interlock bullet.

So, maybe you can’t find the brand you’re looking for. Any factory load is just one assemblage of its four components: One bullet, propellant charge, primer, and case. Factory ammunition is wonderful today, but there’s no predicting if any one load will shoot well in your rifle. 

So, for accuracy, you try this and that. If you shoot a popular cartridge, something like 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester, or .30-06, you’ll get old or go broke before you try every load. You’ll quit when you find a load accurate enough for your purposes. I have stacks of partial factory boxes, because, after just one group, I knew my rifle didn’t like that load.

For utmost accuracy, serious handloaders use advanced techniques, such as weighing each case and discarding anomalies.

Handloaders have a huge advantage. Oh, we can’t always get the specific bullet, primer, powder, or brand of case we’re used to, but we can surely find components that will work. Then we can put them together…and vary the recipe infinitely.

I’m a lazy handloader. I start with a bullet I like, usually a favorite powder, primers I’m used to…and whatever once-fired cases I have. To save range time (and components), I’ll load just five, then another five with a grain or two more powder, and so forth. If I weren’t so lazy, or if I was in search of utmost accuracy, then I’d weigh cases and bullets for consistency, vary seating depth, and other tricks. Usually, I’m thinking about hunting ammo, so my goal is to find a load that produces the level of accuracy I need to hunt with that rifle…with a bullet that has the performance characteristics I’m looking for.

The four components of all self-contained metallic cartridges are: Case, primer, propellant, projectile. A factory cartridge is just one assemblage, while handloaders can vary all four to find the perfect recipe.

With factory loads, we can only vary powders, primers, and cases by changing brands. At least with popular cartridges, we can usually vary bullets. Most manufacturers load several different bullets. Again, there’s no telling what bullet or load a given rifle might shoot best. Some rifles are finicky, others or not. I had a Remington M700 Mountain Rifle in .280 Remington, usually an accurate platform…and usually an accurate cartridge. At that time, Remington was the primary source for .280 Rem. One of my better editors once commented, “Remington rifles tend to shoot well with Remington ammo.” Though about it and agreed, but this darn rifle didn’t shoot anything well. With all existing factory loads, it fired shotgun patterns, not groups. By this time, I had dies and plenty of once-fired cases. I looked up a random recipe and loaded up some Nosler AccuTip bullets. Good Lord, instant MOA groups.

That degree of finicky is unusual. Also unusual to get an exponential accuracy increase just by changing loads. Usually, differences between loads and bullets are very incremental. Since it’s impossible to try everything, we usually limit experimentation to bullets that suit our purposes.

Keep in mind that, ultimately, it’s the bullet that does the work. Lots of brands, lots of weights, shapes, and styles, and different types of internal construction. With today’s precise manufacturing, I don’t think there are any bad bullets out there. Modern bullets do what they’re supposed to do, but performance characteristics vary. When choosing bullets, it’s important to know the performance you want. Then, you must cut through the hype and understand what a given bullet was designed to do.  

All-copper bullets aren’t perfect, but are probably the toughest and deepest-penetrating expanding bullets, especially useful for larger game. This muskox was taken with a single 130-grain Barnes TSX in .270 Winchester, not a big gun for such a large animal.

If I wanted maximum accuracy, I’d start with match bullets…understanding that, in some rifles, they may not be as accurate as some hunting bullets. Some match bullets are non-expanding “solids,” thus illegal for hunting in many jurisdictions. Many match bullets are hollowpoints, a design proven for accuracy, and hollowpoints expand, thus always legal for hunting. However, match hollow-points are designed purely for accuracy, not for terminal performance on game. Some hunters swear by them, but I fear them. When they work, they often drop game like lightning, but performance on game can be erratic. Match bullets are simply not designed for consistent penetration and expansion on game animals.

The more popular the cartridge, the more robust the selection of factory loads…and the more likely you’ll find a superstar. These are just a few of the options in .375 H&H, far and away the world’s most popular large-caliber cartridge.

Historically, the most common .30-caliber match bullet was a 168-grain boattail. Today, we have .30-caliber match bullets up to 250 grains. This illustrates a key point in bullet selection: Bullet weight overcomes shortcomings in bullet construction. If your accuracy standards are such that you simply must use match bullets for hunting, then use heavier bullets.

Hunting bullets must be adequately accurate for the game and shooting distances but are designed first and foremost for consistent terminal performance on game. On impact, expanding hunting bullets are supposed to upset or “mushroom,” creating larger wound channels.  However, a hunting bullet must penetrate at least to the vitals on the size of game it is intended for.

Some rifles group extremely well with all-copper bullets and, like anything else, some do not. Boddington’s 40-year-old Joe Balickie .270, built before copper bullets existed, is one that does. The top right group was fired with 130-grain Hornady GMX

Here’s where it gets complicated. Expansion is the enemy to penetration: The more a bullet expands, the more resistance it encounters. Thus, the more quickly it slows and must come to rest. Also, velocity is the enemy to bullet performance. Staying with a .30-caliber example, the .30-30 propels a 150-grain bullet at about 2400 fps. The fastest .30-caliber magnums might be 1200 fps faster. No bullet can perform equally across that velocity range. Obviously, bullets slow at greater distances. By about 500 yards, even the fastest .300 magnum has dropped to .30-30 velocity. Out there, you’ll probably get reliable and consistent performance…with less expansion. With fast cartridges, I start with a tough bullet that will hold up at the highest velocity, lest it come unglued if you draw a close shot.

Absent design feature(s) to keep them together, lead-core bullets usually have at least some of the lead wipe away. Not all bullets are intended to hold together and retain weight. Varmint bullets are designed for rapid, explosive expansion, for maximum damage on rodents, and to reduce ricochet. Big game bullets must hold together well enough to penetrate to the vitals.

If you like to recover beautifully mushroomed bullets from game, then your best choices are all-copper bullets, top; or bonded-core bullets, bottom. Multiple brands are present in both groups.

Provided I have confidence adequate penetration is certain, it doesn’t bother me if a bullet isn’t recovered showing a near-perfect, intact mushroom, or if loses 30 or 40 percent of its weight. Generations of hunters have been happy with the performance of good old lead-core bullets: Core-Lokt, GameKing, Hi-Shok, Interlock, Power Point. They often aren’t pretty, but they work.

More frangible yet are simple lead-core bullets with polymer tips, such as AccuTip and SST. Such bullets tend to be exceptionally accurate, but expansion is rapid. In my experience, these bullets drop deer-sized game like lightning. However, at extreme velocity they can come apart. Again, bullet weight matters, but I avoid such bullets for close shots in fast magnums, and rarely use them on game larger than deer.

Properly testing loads for accuracy takes concentration, good bench technique, and lots of time. Long summer daylight helps, but in warm weather much time is lost to waiting for barrels to cool.

Polymer tips increase aerodynamics and prevent battering in the magazine. Upon impact, the polymer tip is driven down into the bullet, initiating expansion. If you like to recover pretty bullets “against the hide on the far side,” then go to bonded-core bullets, which may or may not have polymer tips. The core is chemically bonded to the copper jacket, an additional process that increases cost. Just about everyone has them now: AccuBond, Core-Lokt Bonded, InterBond, Terminal Ascent, Trophy Bonded Tip, Swift A-Frame and Scirocco, more. Bonded-core bullets offer big mushrooms with high weight retention, often above 90 percent.

For hunting bullets, bonded must be the way to go, right? Maybe, but it’s never that simple. Bonded-core bullets are rarely the most accurate, or the most aerodynamic, and upset decreases at lower velocities. So, bonded-core bullets may not be the best choices at longer ranges.

For sheer accuracy, match bullets are the logical place to start. This .308 Winchester group was fired with Nosler Match Grade. The only thing: Match bullets are designed for accuracy, not for consistent performance on game.

For years, the Barnes X (series) was the lone expanding all-copper (copper alloy) bullet. Today there are many: Copper Impact, CX, GMX, Trophy Copper, more. All copper bullets are hollowpoints, with a skived nose around a frontal cavity, the nose peeling back in petals to the limit of the cavity. Unless a petal breaks off, weight retention approaches 100 percent. Expansion is not as wide as with lead-core bullets, so copper bullets are deep penetrators. If you like through-and-through penetration with exit wounds, you’ll love them…but you won’t recover very many. 

Expansion decreases along with velocity. And, since, copper is lighter than lead, aerodynamics cannot quite reach the off-the-charts BCs of today’s low-drag bullets such as Berger and ELD. As with all bullets, some rifles love them, others don’t produce their best groups with all-copper. You never know until you try. I use a wide variety of bullets, depending on my immediate purpose…and what works best in a given rifle. Even with today’s limited availability, there are lots of good options. Even though I’m lazy, I don’t give up experimenting with different loads, a perfect pastime for these long summer days at the range.



Craig Boddington

We live in an age of specialization…in almost all things. Instead of gunwriters, today we mostly have handgun writers, rifle writers, shotgun writers; few among us do it all. The gunwriters I grew up reading were more versatile. Elmer Keith was highly skilled with all three tools, and wrote about them almost equally. My old friend Colonel Charles Askins equally so: Multiple times national pistol champion, renowned live pigeon shooter, successful competitor in various rifle disciplines. Jack O’Connor is best remembered as a rifleman, but his work included the excellent The Shotgun Book. O’Connor did comparatively little handgun writing, but he did a lot of handgun shooting, including in competition.

Great shotgunning writer the late Nick Sisley, in the middle of a covey rise. You can bet he exhaled—sharply—when the birds erupted, and he’s taken an extra half-second to square his position and plant his feet while the shotgun is coming up.

That was a common thread for that generation: Most gunwriters competed in various disciplines. In part, this was a product of their time. Games like three-gun, combat pistol, cowboy action, sporting clays, didn’t exist. Competitive disciplines were set-piece and formal, but that shooting was available.  Across most of the country, game numbers were down, but targets are always in season. So, the gunwriting greats of yesteryear did a lot of target shooting with rifles, handguns, and shotguns.

Sporting clays: Any and all clay target shooting is good training for wingshooting. Sporting clays is probably the best, because the variety of distances and shot angles varies infinitely from course to course.

Some of my peers and colleagues pursue modern games, such as PRC, three-gun, and various handgun disciplines. A few make the annual pilgrimage to Camp Perry for the most traditional disciplines. Me, I haven’t actively competed for ages. When I was young, various shooting games were all-consuming. I grew up shooting American trap, some skeet, was good (never great). In college, I competed in smallbore, both rifle and pistol, and shot service rifle and pistol in the Marines. Again, I was good (never great), but I have trophies, medals, and badges won with rifles, handguns, and shotguns. Honestly, with all the great hunting opportunity we have today, I haven’t compete for years. I still practice (a lot), but all this gave me a pretty good all-around background.

I’ve been mostly pigeonholed as a rifle writer. Wasn’t always that way. I once did a lot of shotgun writing because that was what I knew best. Today, the publications I write for don’t use much shotgun content, so scattergun assignments are infrequent.

Running boar target: Because of the popularity of driven hunts, European hunters have access to “running game” targets on most ranges. Because of this, they have no fear of moving game and tend to be good at it. For Americans, Boddington believes shotgunning is the best teacher for moving targets

As a young writer, I also did a lot of handgun stuff. The magazines I started with used a lot of handgun content, and economics and experience were also factors. A story—handgun, rifle, or shotgun—requires only visits to an appropriate range and time taking photos. Hunting stories require time in the field. Doesn’t have to be costly. Hunting deer behind your house can produce material as valuable as any exotic hunt. However, it takes time to gain enough experience to write authoritatively and credibly about most hunting situations.      

This outgoing target was centered on a sporting clays course. Whether birds or clays, hitting flying targets is mostly about keeping your head on the stock, swinging smoothly, and pressing the trigger at the proper instant.

Regular practice is essential for consistent shooting performance. However, shooting is like riding a bicycle or driving a car; once you have basic skills, you don’t have to relearn from ground zero. All shooting is about eye-hand coordination and concentration. So, shooting is shooting, and all shooting has at least some value for all other shooting. However, there are some radical differences among our three basic firearms.

Today, I lay no claim to being as versatile as the long-gone greats. Handguns are my weakest suit. In large part, because I have the least interest in them. I shoot handguns enough to maintain personal defense skills, and at one time I did a fair amount of handgun hunting. However, I’m not as fascinated by pistols and revolvers as by the intricacies of rifles and shotguns. As a result, my skill sets are weaker than with long guns.

Donna Boddington on the range with a SIG-Sauer P365 subcompact 9mm, demonstrating most current stance and hand position for fast steel target games.

The competitive pistol shooting I did in my youth was formal one-hand shooting. “Bullseye” competition is still done, but the popularity of steel target games has changed handgunning styles. In the Marines they taught two-handed shooting, but preferred grip and stance have changed. I’ve done some catching up, but I’m a bit behind the times with handguns.

Eastman jackrabbit: The late gunwriter Chub Eastman retrieves a jackrabbit. Where possible, shooting running jackrabbits is the best practice for hitting running game…with rifle or handgun. Absent plentiful jackrabbits, clay targets with a shotgun teaches the needed skills.

Handgun and rifle shooting in common rely heavily on the basics, especially breath control and trigger press. I still like the acronym from the Marines, the BRASS rule: Breathe, Relax, Aim, check Sight alignment, Squeeze. Shooting positions, distances, and capabilities vary hugely between rifles and handguns, but the basics are similar and transferable.

Shotgunning is different…but not always. I recently wrote that my Dad had a terrible time hitting turkeys. Pop was a great wingshooter, not a rifleman. For point targets, whether a turkey or a deer taken with slug or buckshot (or a steel target in Three Gun), the shotgun becomes like a short-range rifle. You must know where it shoots, and aim at the precise spot you need to hit. The good old  BRASS rule applies.

Wingshooting and hitting clay targets are different. Everything is moving: Upper body, your arms, the shotgun…and the target. Except feet and legs. Stance is of critical importance; one of the biggest mistakes in fast upland shooting is to not take the half-second needed to firmly plant your feet. Breathing remains important; you exhale when calling for a target, and when a pheasant explodes under your feet…while you’re bringing the gun up. No time to Relax! You do Aim the shotgun, swinging with the target, establishing the required lead. The swing needs to be smooth and continuous. Stopping the swing is a fundamental error—we all do it now and again.

Many years have passed since Boddington was serious about shotgun competition, but he can still handle a shotgun. On this day in 2007 he won high shooter at the Grand National Quail Hunt in Enid, Oklahoma.

So, no time double-check Sight alignment, either. When the shotgun bead is in proper relation to—and moving with and ahead of—the target, the shotgun is fired. The trigger is not Squeezed, no time for the deliberate, steady increasing pressure as in a rifle or handgun. I think my preferred wording—trigger press, rather than “squeeze”—still works, but it’s a sharper, faster pull. Shotgunners often describe it as “slapping” the trigger. I don’t care for that because it implies a violent action, which can disrupt your aim as surely as jerking a handgun or rifle trigger. When everything looks right, you simply press the trigger hard enough to fire the shotgun in that instant.

Follow-through is equally critical with all three tools. No shot is complete until the projectile hits (or misses) its target. On flying targets, the swing continues through the target breaking or the bird falling. With a rifle or handgun, you stay on the trigger through the shot; it’s a mistake to instantly release it, because of potential to disrupt the shot while the bullet is still in the barrel.

Shooting off the bench is about removing as much human error as possible. The gun is rested as steadily as possible, allowing the shooter to concentrate on breathing and trigger press.

Same with shotgunning except: In wingshooting you continue to swing with the bird, but in case of a miss you must quickly correct for another shot…while the bird is still in range. Preparing for additional shots is the same with handguns and rifles. Flicking your finger off the trigger as the gun fires is a bad habit; Instead, it’s essential to smoothly reset for the next shot (and work the action if required). Lifting your head to admire a shot is another common bad habit…with all three tools. There must be slight forward finger movement to reset the trigger, but the head needs to stay down on the stock or behind the handgun’s sights, ready to fire again.

As with Dad and his several missed turkeys, relatively little in shotgunning is fully transferable to rifles and handguns. Except for one thing: Shooting at moving targets.

This is controversial, as some folks believe shooting at moving animals is unethical. My friend and mentor John Wootters once commented that he’d like to invent a cutoff-switch that prevented firearms from discharging if an animal was moving, this to reduce wounded game. Wootters wasn’t alone; some outdoor TV networks won’t air footage if an animal is moving when shot. Jack O’Connor believed differently, writing that game animals are “just as big moving as standing still.”

AR offhand: With all shooting it’s essential to follow-through: Stay on the trigger until the shot is complete. With repeating actions, forward trigger finger movement is necessary for the trigger to reset, but it should be smooth and minimal.

While I don’t believe in risky running shots, I lean to the O’Connor school on this. Game animals don’t always stop. At closer distances, and always depending on angle and speed, properly placing shots on moving targets is practical with both rifles and handguns…if you know what you’re doing. In O’Connor’s Arizona days, jackrabbits were legion, offering marvelous rifle practice for running game. I’ve never lived where jackrabbits were plentiful enough to offer that opportunity.

Position vary widely, but in rifle shooting breath control and trigger press are always critical.

However, I grew up doing so much shotgunning that I’ve never been daunted by moving shots. The principles are the same: Swing smoothly, keep swinging, establish lead, press the trigger. The only real difference: You use sights or crosshairs instead of the shotgun bead. So, if your shooting or hunting with rifles and handguns includes fast-breaking opportunities at moving targets, spend more time shooting clays. Both trap and skeet are wonderful games, but sporting clays teaches how to handle the greatest variety of shots. Of the three, sporting clays is far the best preparation for wingshooting.


Throughout most of the country April is prime time for turkeys. I am not an expert turkey hunter, and a mediocre turkey caller…on my best days.


Craig Boddington

Throughout most of the country April is prime time for turkeys. I am not an expert turkey hunter, and a mediocre turkey caller…on my best days. No way I will write the definitive “how to” story on turkey hunting. However, given a chance, I’ve been pretty good at shooting turkeys.

When a gobbler is coming in, Boddington likes to keep his knees up so he can rest his elbows and get steady. Of course, a bird come in from any direction. Boddington is left-handed, but he practices shooting right-handed…just in case.

Not perfect. (Talk about that later.) Wife Donna hasn’t taken as many turkeys and, theoretically, isn’t as good with a shotgun. Even so, she is 100 percent on bagging all turkeys she has shot at. She took her first Eastern gobbler in Georgia last Saturday, so her experience now includes three varieties, with some multiples.

The Mossberg 940-Pro Boddington used in Georgia in ’23 was borrowed, but he checked the pattern on a target. Aiming at the center orange dot, this 25-yard pattern with Apex No. 8 tungsten is fantastic: About the right height above aim, and wonderfully dense.

On the other hand, my Dad was the best and fastest wingshooter I ever knew on quail and pheasants. Dad had been a successful fighter pilot in WWII and had off-the-charts vision. Despite these advantages, he couldn’t figure out how to hold a shotgun on a stationary bird and center a turkey’s head. His native Kansas had no turkeys for most of his life, so a wild turkey was one of few creatures he really wanted to take. I can’t recall how many turkeys he shot over until he finally took his first with a .22 Hornet (in Texas, where rifles are legal).


Most shotguns are stocked to center the pattern a bit high for rising birds, so you can see the clay or the bird above the rib or bead. Some shoot “dead-on,” but few modern shotguns pattern below point-of-aim. Dad’s problem: A fast shooter on rising birds, he liked his shotguns to shoot high and wasn’t used to a stationary target. This exaggerates the effect of a high-shooting gun, and he couldn’t make himself place the bead far enough down on the neck to account for both the stationary target and the rise of the pattern.

An excellent Gould’s turkey, taken with a favorite turkey gun, a left-hand Moaaberg 12-gauge pump, using three-inch No. 6 lead shot.

You can check this with a pattern board, and you should. Checking “zero” and verifying patterns with a shotgun from a steady rest isn’t pleasant. Heavy turkey loads kick like hell, but it’s essential preparation.

What you want to see on a target: Most of the pattern just above the aiming point. Then, when a bird presents with a more-or-less vertical neck, you can place the bead about where the feathers stop and the naked, red neck starts. Remember, you’re dealing with a pattern, not a single bullet. The majority of the pattern should catch the entire head and neck.

This gobbler is in a near-perfect position: Not too far, not too close, head erect. Boddington would hold on that wrinkle in the neck just above where the feathers stop…and let a slightly high pattern do its work.

Depending on what a target has revealed, you are probably okay aiming where the neck joins the body (Dad would have been). Height of comb varies; my turkey shotguns don’t shoot as high as my trap guns or quail guns. The main point: Don’t aim precisely at the head. With most shotguns, this is asking to shoot over the top. You must hold a bit low, down on the neck.

On April 1st, opening day in Georgia, we had a disappointing morning. Minimal distant gobbling shut off at dawn, and we never saw a bird. Nearly noon, set up in a different spot, a big gobbler came in completely silent. Just out of range but clearly eyeing our decoys, he started to strut—never gobbled—then advanced cautiously.

I always carry a rangefinder and check distances when I set up, so I’ll have a good idea when a gobbler is close enough. With the shotgun I carried, he’d probably been in range for a while, but he was strutting in weeds that almost covered him. Silent, obviously checking our set, but not comfortable. I was sure he was within 40 yards when he stood erect and stretched his neck.

When strutting, a gobbler tucks his head tight against his chest. A body shot can work, but is risky and will mess up a lot of meat. Better to wait him out and let him extend his neck.

On a stationary target, a high pattern keeps getting higher as range increases. I rested the Mossberg over my knee, held well down on the long neck, and pressed the trigger. The bird dropped into the weeds, gone, but he was right there, a last few wingbeats as I approached.


Years ago, I was hunting in Missouri with a borrowed Browning BPS 10-gauge, awesome shotgun. A big bird came straight to us, strutted, and I pasted him head-on at 25 yards with a 3 ½-inch shell, 2.5 ounces of shot. The bird dropped to the shot and flopped behind a big oak. My partner and I ran to it…and the bird was gone. No trace, never seen again.

Doesn’t matter what you’re shooting. Body shots on turkeys with shotguns are unreliable. Tough birds, thick feathers, heavy breast protecting the vitals. When in strut, the head is tucked in, and the temptation is to shoot for that big, black mass. Big mistake that I’ll never make again. Wait until the head extends, and aim for the head and neck

With a shotgun, you’re shooting a pattern, with no control over exactly where pellets land. Essential to be mindful of other birds, and make sure a chosen turkey is absolutely clear.

Drives purists insane, but some states still allow rifles. That’s a different deal; the head is too small a target, and often moving. Purists, please ignore this: Where legal, I get a huge kick out of sniping turkeys with a small rifle, .17 or .22 Magnum, .22 Hornet. Wait for the broadside shot and aim where the wing butt joins the body. Doesn’t mess up much meat, and effective. If you have that shot with a rifle, you also have the head shot with a shotgun.

The tricky part: If the head is extended horizontally, while the bird is gobbling, then you have only the head as a very small point target. Better know exactly how high your gun shoots, otherwise there’s increased risk of passing the whole pattern just over the top. I shot a big Gould’s turkey in Sonora with his neck stretched out, remembered to hold a bit low. Killed the bird—doesn’t take all that many pellets in the head—but most of the pattern went high.

Donna Boddington’s first Eastern gobbler, taken in Georgia on April 1st, 2023. She used a left-hand Benelli 20-gauge with No. 9 tungsten shot.

The shot I much prefer is to have the neck erect. Still not a big target, but bigger. Ideally, you want pellet strikes in both head and neck. No one can say exactly how many strikes are needed. Where pellets impact is random, but you want multiple strikes—with penetration—in spine and brain. There are “golden pellets”: The one strike that centers the brain, but let’s not count on that.


Depending on range, shells, shot, and pattern, anything can work. I’ve taken turkeys with my Model 12 skeet gun, but it’s not a turkey gun. For years I used a short-barreled Spanish side-by-side 10-gauge with screw-in chokes. Lots of shot, should have been perfect, but tt was rarely as devastating as it should have been. Not much development in 10-gauge shells. The pattern board eventually showed me that, with available ammo, the pattern had holes a turkey could fly through. Cool gun, but I got rid of it. Tight chokes are best, but even patterns more important.

Today, we have better shells, better shot, and better chokes. The great turkey hunter, Dr. Warren Strickland, was the first guy I talked to who was killing his turkeys with a .410. Today, a lot of serious turkey addicts, with great shells and awesome chokes, use small gauges.

Boddington’s Dad, Bud Boddington, used a .22 Hornet for his first turkey, taken in Texas. An avid quail hunter, he liked high-shooting shotguns…and shot over multiple toms before resorting to the rifle.

Sorry, I don’t. I’m neither a good enough caller, nor a confident enough turkey hunter, to bank on the small gauges. I mostly use a 12-gauge, but both Donna and I have taken numerous turkeys with 20-gauge guns. In 12-gauge, I’m comfortable with 2 ¾ or 3-inch shells; in 20-gauge, we use 3-inch loads.

I have also downsized on shot. Historically, I’ve usually used lead No. 5 or 6 for the first (preferably head) shot, backed up with No. 4 for a follow-up body shot if needed. New shot has changed the game. I was stunned when I heard about experienced hunters—like Dr. Strickland—shooting turkeys with shot as small as No. 9. Depends on the pattern, and the shot. This year, our Georgia gobblers were taken with No. 8 tungsten shot in Mississippi-loaded Apex shells. Tungsten is denser than lead, more small pellets in the pattern, with better penetration per pellet.

You can definitely get the gun up while a bird is gobbling, but all you have to shoot at is the head; it’s essential to know exactly how high your gun patterns and aim a couple inches low.

Remember, velocity is much the same from gauge to gauge, thus pellet energy the same. Performance is thus largely about choke and payload, which dictate range. With turkeys, the important things are to check point of impact and pattern with your gun and your load.


Then, focus on that bright red head…and keep your shots within the distance your pattern density guarantees multiple head-neck strikes.

With the shells and chokes we have today, effective ranges have increased. For me, I don’t push the range envelope. Given a choice, I also don’t let birds get too close. Easy to miss when all you have is a ball of shot the diameter of your barrel. My ideal distance is 20 to about 40 yards. In that window, I have a good pattern to work with…and a bit of standoff to bring the gun to bear without spooking the bird.

This gobbler is awful close; instead of a pattern, there will be a tight ball of shot. Do-able, but with the bird looking right at you, he might spook before you can get the gun up.

Unlike most shotgunning, turkeys are usually taken by aiming precisely at a point, stationary target, as in rifle shooting. I prefer a gun with a rib to sight down, and a highly visible front bead. My Mossberg pump has rudimentary rear sight with fiber optic front, awesome.

Just once, I put a low-power magnifying scope on a turkey shotgun. I didn’t like the tunnel-vision effect, and found magnification unnecessary at turkey-shooting distance.  I have experimented more with reflex (red-dot) sights. They are extremely effective, especially for older eyes, with increasing trouble resolving the front bead. If your shotgun has sights of any type, then it’s essential to, literally, check zero, adjusting the sight to ensure your pattern is exactly where you want it.



Craig Boddington

Magnifying riflescopes saw some use in the American Civil War, and were preferred by a few bison hunters, including the famous Col. William Dodge. However, it wasn’t until after WWII that scopes were truly perfected and came into general use.

Today, the centerfire rifle world is dominated by magnifying riflescopes. They simplify shooting: Larger image to shoot at, easy to adjust, and so reliable that we trust them completely I’m as guilty as anyone. I started shooting in the 1960s. My first centerfire, a surplus 1903 Springfield, wore open military sights. I didn’t hunt with it back then; my first hunting rifle was a scoped .243. Many years passed before I did any hunting with iron sights.

The biggest limitation to an aperture sight isn’t either range or accuracy, but light. His Winchester 94 .30-30 with Lyman aperture sight is exceptionally accurate for this type of rifle

Folks of my generation might have taken their first bucks with grand-dad’s passed-down .30-30, but many are like me; started with scopes, stayed with scopes…or went to a scoped rifle as soon as affordable. Younger shooters may not have any exposure to iron sights at all. My daughters are good shots and keen hunters, but neither have had much exposure to iron sights. That’s my fault; I started them with scopes, bypassing important lessons. Iron sights make you appreciate the importance of precise sight alignment. Never too late but, trust me, it’s easier to go from iron sights to a scope than vice versa!

Qual day” at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton. Aperture sights were standard on America’s service rifles from WWII until recently. Using an aperture sight, Boddington qualified Marine Corps “expert” throughout his career, not so difficult, and great experience.

Why would you want to? Well, not all field shooting is at distance. There are many situations where the magnified image offered by a scope isn’t needed, and a few where the larger image and the scope’s tunnel-vision effect just gets in the way. Also, under all circumstances, the scope adds weight, bulk, and vegetation-snagging projections.

Savage 1899 hog: A flip-up tang aperture was also a common option on Savage lever-actions. This Model 1899 .250 Savage, made in 1920, wears a flip-up tang sight, used to take this excellent boar.

Sometimes, iron sights do everything that needs to be done. There are two primary types of irons: Open sights, and the aperture or “peep” sight. With both, there is a front sight near the muzzle, usually a blade or a bead. The open variety has a rear sight, typically affixed to the barrel just ahead of the action, usually a horizontal bar with an open notch, commonly shaped as a “U” or a “V.” The idea is to optically center the rear sight in that notch, then superimpose it on your aiming point. The primary problem with open sights: The eye must work in three focal planes: Rear sight, front sight, and target.

The aperture sight has a rear sight with a circular opening, mounted far back, close to the shooting eye, on the rear of the receiver. Also often called a “receiver sight,” it is far superior to the open sight because the eye naturally centers the bead or tip of the blade in that opening. The peep sight reduces the eye’s work from three focal planes to two. You don’t look at the rear sight; you look through the hole, center the front sight, and superimpose it on your aiming point. The aperture sight is more precise, and more forgiving as our eyes grow older, less flexible, and less able to rapidly focus back and forth.

Boddington used his R.F. Sedgley Springfield .30-06 with aperture sight to take this Colorado elk, one shot at about a hundred yards.

The scope further reduces the eye’s work to just one focal plane: Focus on the target only, and put the scope’s reticle on the aiming point. So, and especially for older shooters (like me), a scope or reflex (red dot) sight is optically superior to an aperture. I will not tell you that open sights are necessarily sturdier or less prone to breakage than a modern scope properly set in good mounts. Not always true. Over the years, I’ve had more front sights and rear sights bend, break, or come loose than trouble with scopes. Especially today, open sights on many factory rifles are flimsy afterthoughts; put there for looks, with apparent confidence the customer is certain to mount a scope and will never actually use the irons.

Before riflescopes became common, the best bolt-actions were often adorned with aperture sights. This 1930-vintage R.F. Sedgley Springfield was amazingly accurate with its aperture sight. Boddington admits he couldn’t duplicate this group today, but that’s not the rifle’s fault.

However, open sights, and especially securely-mounted aperture sights, still have a place. Accuracy is not limited or reduced, but depends somewhat on visual acuity. In my day, the service rifle wore no optical sight; I qualified Marine “expert” throughout my career with aperture sights. No problem, but the 300-meter slow fire bullseye looked pretty small. So does a game animal, but such shooting is quite possible, limited only by what you can see. Twenty years ago, I could produce MOA groups with aperture sights on accurate rifles. Those days are over, followed by a period when I had increasing difficulty resolving front sights. I was almost out of business with all iron sights. Fortunately, a good ophthalmologist has me corrected and I’m again confident using iron sights for short-range hunting situations.

On sticks with a Winchester M94 .30-30 with Lyman receiver aperture sight. Aperture sights take practice, but over time it’s amazing how fast and accurate they become.

Before riflescopes were perfected, the aperture sight was the precision hunting sight. Jack O’Connor did his early hunting, including desert sheep and Coues deer, with apertures. Ernest Hemingway did almost all of his hunting with the aperture sight on his famous Springfield.

I love the simple, low profile of an aperture-sighted rifle, and they go well with certain platforms I like. While I don’t trust myself with apertures in open country, I use them for a lot of hog and black bear hunting, even some elk and whitetail hunting, and I’ve used them in Africa for stalking in thornbush.

Again, I won’t harp on the ruggedness versus a scope, and I also won’t make a case for their enhanced speed. Years ago, with gunwriters John Wootters and Finn Aagaard, we did “stopwatch” tests comparing apertures, open sights, and low-power scopes. Starting in down position, from “go” to aimed shot at close targets, the aperture proved faster than open sights, but the scope was consistently faster and more accurate than any iron sight.

Front sight size is a compromise: The smaller the bead (or blade), the more precise the aim, but also the less visible and slower to acquire. For fast field shooting, Boddington prefers a bold bead of 3/32-inch diameter.

Any iron sight is also a handicap in poor light. There is no light-enhancing advantage offered by good optics. Open sights are worse for light than apertures, but even younger shooters with perfect vision will lose shooting light more quickly than with scopes. Older hunters are at increasing disadvantage in bad light.

To a degree, we can increase speed and low-light capability by using a larger and more visible front sight; and a larger aperture. This is a trade-off. The smaller the bead or thinner the tip of the blade front sight, the more precise the aiming point. My preference has long been a bold 3/32-inch front bead, a nice combination between size and visibility. I like a traditional white front bead, but today’s tritium and fiber-optic sights are even better.   

The Skinner ghost-ring aperture is an excellent modern sight, factory-supplied on Big Horn Armory’s top-eject M89 lever-actions. Elevation is adjusting by twisting the aperture up or down, then locking it into place with a set-screw.

Likewise, the smaller the aperture, the more precise the aim. The target aperture sights used when I was shooting smallbore competition had an opening like a pinhead. Very precise, but also slow to acquire.

The opposite is a very large opening. Older aperture sights, such as the Lyman, often came with multiple screw-in interchangeable apertures, small for target use, larger for faster shooting. You can also unscrew the aperture altogether, and simply sight through the opening. “Papa” Hemingway left us multiple references to unscrewing his aperture…and then blowing through the hole to eliminate droplets from precipitation or dew.

This Redfield M25 was a common and favorite receiver-mounted aperture, shown on a 1945 M65 Reising .22 training rifle. With all aperture sights, for adjustment you move the sight the direction you wish to move the strike of the bullet.

The remaining opening, on older Lyman and Redfield apertures I have, measures about .200-inch diameter. This creates what is called a “ghost ring” aperture. Because the rear sight is close to the eye, no effort is made to focus on the sight fixture; it fuzzes out to almost invisible. The eye ignores the sight, concentrating on looking through the opening and focusing on the front sight.

For everyday use in dangerous-game country, I’ve never known an African PH who carried a scoped rifle. Most common is the simple “express” open sight with a shallow “V” rear. Not precise, but as fast as open sights get and, once properly affixed to the barrel, as bulletproof as an open sight can be. This is the traditional sight most PHs rely on for backup, but I’ve known several who preferred ghost-ring apertures, faster and more precise.

Certain models of the recent and current Marlin lever-actions are factory-supplied with Picatinny rail strip, mounted with an adjustable ghost-ring aperture from XS. This is a great sight for a short-range lever-action. This is a recent Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum with 100-yard target.

The ghost ring aperture was long popular among America’s big woods hunters, and it’s making a comeback, wonderfully common on the big lever-actions we now call “guide guns.” Whether for a guide for backup, or for wilderness wanderers preparing for bear problems, the concept is perfect. The shot will be close, and must be fast. I greatly admire the Skinner ghost-ring apertures, elevation adjustment accomplished by turning the aperture up and down. Recent and current Marlin .45-70 “guide guns have been factory-equipped with an adjustable XS ghost ring on a rail mount, also excellent. Big Horn Armory supplies Skinner ghost rings on their top-eject M89 lever-actions, a perfect match. These are not long-range precision sights, but the rifles they are most commonly used on are not long-range platforms.

A nice South Texas whitetail, taken at about 90 yards with a short-barreled Winchester Trapper .30-30, using aperture sight.

The aperture sight isn’t just for proof against big, bad bears. Today, I consider it a sound option for shots up to roundabout 100 yards. Farther if you can see better. That does me just fine for most of hog hunting, and covers all likely shots from several of my favorite deer stands. I get great pleasure from hunting with apertures. My biggest limitation is light: I will lose the first and last ten minutes (at least). Better plan accordingly.