Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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