Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Patterning done right, walking the gun out.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



Craig Boddington


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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