REMINGTON’S BIG SEVEN By Craig Boddington

I’m on the record as stating (more than once!) that the 7mm Remington Magnum isn’t one of my favorites. It’s a popular cartridge so this always brings howls from its many fans. More importantly, at least to me, is that it’s not good journalism—or business—to contradict myself. Since I’ve been writing about this stuff for 40-odd years I think it’s possible (and allowable) for my opinions to change over time. But this opinion has not changed: The 7mm Remington Magnum is not among my all-time favorite cartridges.

7 mag line-up: Left to right: 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Mag, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Shooting Times Westerner, 7mm Remington Ultra Mag. The 7mm Remington Magnum is hardly the only “fast 7mm,” and certainly not the speediest—but it is by far the most popular and most available, a world-standard hunting cartridge.

My reasons are simple: There are lots of excellent cartridges, and it’s impossible to love them all equally. I love the .270 Winchester because it shoots just as flat as the 7mm Remington Magnum…but burns less powder, has less recoil, does fine in a 22-inch barrel, and can be built into a lighter rifle. If I feel I might need (or just want!) more power I’ve generally stepped up to a fast .30-caliber, which can offer more bullet weight and frontal area with similar velocity…albeit with more recoil.

7mm 50th: This 2012 Remington M700 BDL was the 50th Anniversary edition of both the M700 and the 7mm Remington Magnum. This rifle produced half-inch groups, straight out of the box with factory ammunition.

It is possible other folks feel much the same. For some years the 7mm Remington Magnum was the world’s most popular cartridge to bear the “magnum” suffix. This is no longer true; the .300 Winchester Magnum has surpassed it in overall popularity. I don’t have the data to support a hypothesis that the .270 is currently more popular than the 7mm Remington Magnum, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The .270 seems to keep rolling along, and it is fact that Remington’s Big Seven is not as popular as it was 20 years ago.

1984 Dall sheep Alaska: In 1984 I took my first Dall sheep with a beautifully restocked left-hand M700 in 7mm Remington Magnum. At the time this was one of my only rifles; I used it a lot with perfect results.

That said, the Big Seven is a powerful, versatile, and effective hunting cartridge, and I have a lot of experience using it. Over the years I’ve used it in a lot of test rifles, some I hunted with and some not. However, for two periods I used it a great deal because that was the chambering of two favorite rifles. In the early 80s, living in LA and working at Petersen Publishing, I had multiple burglaries and lost almost all my firearms. A fellow lefty in the LA SCI chapter suffered a severe injury to his left eye, had to switch to right-handed shooting, and sold some rifles. Being a bit short of rifles at the moment I bought two: A pre-’64 Model 70 .375 converted to left-hand bolt, a rifle I used for years and should have kept; and a left-hand Remington 700 in 7mm Remington Magnum in gorgeous wood with a left-hand cheekpiece and rollover comb.

2000 Bishop mtn nyala: My old friend Joe Bishop used a battered Sako in 7mm Remington Magnum for all his mountain hunting, including for this mountain nyala in the high country of Ethiopia.

I used that rifle a lot, but a few years later I had a chance at a gorgeous David Miller rifle I couldn’t resist, also on a left-hand M700 rifle. Just by chance it happened to be chambered to 7mm Remington Magnum. Honest, that wouldn’t have been my choice, but the rifle wasn’t made for me and the price was right. For deer-sized game and African plains game it was my “go to” rifle for years. The cartridge performed flawlessly…as it has since introduced in 1962.

Using a new left-hand M700 X Custom, these are all five-shot groups fired with 168-grain Barnes LRX and 162-grain Hornady ELD-X. Both loads averaged under one inch for five-shot groups. I believe this “medium” weight range gives the 7mm Remington Magnum its greatest versatility for both hunting and long-range target shooting.

The fact that it might not have been my first choice has nothing to do with its utility—and it has been the first choice of many experienced hunters. Legendary sheep hunter Bert Klineburger (1926-2017) was a 7mm guy; he used his 7mm Remington Magnum to open much of the Asian sheep hunting available today. My old friend Joe Bishop, who left us early this year, was another staunch 7mm fan. He had a marvelous collection of fine guns—but he did his mountain hunting with a much-battered Sako in 7mm Remington Magnum.

At the SAAM shooting ranges at FTW Ranch in Texas the M700 X Custom in 7mm Remington Magnum, dialing a Swarovski scope, marched out 1000 yards with little difficulty. Much shooting at SAAM was done with a suppressor, a very pleasant experience.

Like most of the “belted magnums,” it’s based on a .375 H&H case, shortened and necked down to 7mm. In 1962 it was immediately seen as more versatile than Winchester’s .264, with the ability to use heavier bullets. Although it shoots very flat, it is not ridiculously fast. Light 140-grain loads average about 3200 fps; 160-grain bullets run about 2950 fps; and the 175-grain heavyweight is standard at 2860.

In Tanzania in 2010 I used a Dakota M10 single shot in 7mm Remington Magnum. Here, Jaco Oosthuizen and I are set up waiting for a sitatunga to step into the clear. He was nearly 300 yards out in the swamp; we waited more than an hour before getting a shot.

If I were hunting elk, I might step up to 175-grain bullets, but in truth I’ve almost never used 7mm bullets over 165 grains…and I’ve done little elk hunting with this or any other 7mm! When I was shooting the 7mm Remington Magnum a lot I generally used 160-grain Nosler Partitions, Hornady 162-grain, and 165-grain Sierra, trying to compromise between velocity/trajectory and the high Sectional Density (SD) of these medium-weight bullets. To my thinking this is a very good bullet range for a fast 7mm. Bullets of 140 to 150 grains are fast and work just fine…but .270 bullets of the same weight are only slightly slower and have higher SD. In the 7mm Remington Magnum, medium-weight bullets are superior in weight, velocity, and SD than anything you can fling out of a .270…and have higher SD than 180-grain .30-caliber bullets…with less recoil.

Although rarely for elk and never for moose or big bears, I used these medium 7mm bullets to take a lot of deer, some sheep and goats, caribou, a wide assortment of African antelopes, and the occasional black bear.

This Dakota M10 single shot in 7mm Remington Magnum was as accurate as pretty. This is a good East African sitatunga, taken in Tanzania in 2010.
This Dakota M10 single shot in 7mm Remington Magnum was as accurate as pretty. This is a good East African sitatunga, taken in Tanzania in 2010.

I predict neither the demise nor a huge resurgence for the 7mm Remington Magnum. Modern shooters are discovering that unpleasant recoil isn’t necessary for reasonable performance, witness the runaway success of the 6.5mm Creedmoor and the slow, steady increase of the 7mm-08’s popularity (which also uses. 284-inch bullets). However, also witness the gradual ascendancy of the .300 Winchester Magnum and other fast .30s.

On a recent caribou hunt John Boseman took the best bull in camp with a long shot from his 7mm Remington Magnum. Remington’s “Big Seven” isn’t as popular as it once was, but it’s still a popular and extremely effective hunting cartridge.
On a recent caribou hunt John Boseman took the best bull in camp with a long shot from his 7mm Remington Magnum. Remington’s “Big Seven” isn’t as popular as it once was, but it’s still a popular and extremely effective hunting cartridge.

Here’s the deal: You can take your pick and name your poison. The 7mm Remington Magnum is only slightly more powerful than the .270 Winchester and .280 Remington (both great cartridges). However, it is significantly more powerful, more capable, and more versatile than the mild 6.5mms and 7mms. It is less powerful, less capable, and less versatile than the fast .30s…but it also kicks a lot less. What you need depends largely on what and where you hunt and performance you’re most confident in, but the current interest in long-range shooting continues to increase development in more aerodynamic bullets…and the 7mm Remington Magnum has benefited.

This Remington M700 X Custom is the first 7mm Remington Magnum rifle I’ve owned in more than a decade. Recoil is considerably milder than the fast .30-calibers, and with modern aerodynamic bullets just about as effective.
This Remington M700 X Custom is the first 7mm Remington Magnum rifle I’ve owned in more than a decade. Recoil is considerably milder than the fast .30-calibers, and with modern aerodynamic bullets just about as effective.

Perhaps oddly, I haven’t owned a 7mm Remington Magnum for years. However, regardless of how I feel about it, as a gunwriter and as a hunter who often uses “camp rifles,” it’s an unavoidable cartridge, a world standard—and it performs. In 2010, in Tanzania, I used a gorgeous Dakota M10 single shot in 7mm Remington Magnum. It was an awesome rifle, as accurate as it was pretty. I wanted to buy it, but somebody else spoke first. In 2012, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Remington M700 and the Big Seven, I had in for test a simple and very “retro” M700 BDL in 7mm Remington Magnum. That rifle was astonishingly accurate, producing half-inch groups right out of the box. I should have bought it, but it was a right-hand action, so I sent it back.

So far this is the best five-shot group I’ve gotten from the M700 X Custom, about four-tenths of an inch with Hornady’s 162-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter load.
So far this is the best five-shot group I’ve gotten from the M700 X Custom, about four-tenths of an inch with Hornady’s 162-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter load.

Right now, I have a new version of the M700 from the Custom Shop, left-hand action with Shilen barrel and McMillan stock. I haven’t hunted with it yet, but I used it at the FTW Ranch in Texas, home of the SAAM training courses, and I’ve spent a lot of time with on my range. Using Swarovski Z8i scope with their Ballistic Flex Turret it went straight to 700 yards with no hiccups, and then on to 1000 yards with little difficulty. So far, my best accuracy has been with 168-grain Barnes LRX and Hornady 162-grain ELD-X. The Barnes LRX has a high Ballistic Coefficient (BC) of .550, velocity over 2900, and consistent five-shot-group average under an inch. The 162-grain ELD-X has an off-the-charts BC of .630 and Hornady’s Precision Hunter load averaged 3030 fps. This load also holds a five-shot-group average under an inch. As hunting bullets, the properties of these two bullets are different…but there isn’t much you couldn’t do with either of them.

For years this gorgeous left-hand David Miller rifle in 7mm Remington Magnum was my “go to” rifle for medium-sized game. This is my best-ever pronghorn, taken in west Texas with a tough shot from a sitting position at about 250 yards.
For years this gorgeous left-hand David Miller rifle in 7mm Remington Magnum was my “go to” rifle for medium-sized game. This is my best-ever pronghorn, taken in west Texas with a tough shot from a sitting position at about 250 yards.

As has been the case since 1962, the 7mm Remington Magnum is plenty powerful for the entire deer-sheep-goat class of game at all sensible ranges; and fully adequate for elk and the full run of African plains game, perhaps excepting only eland. With modern bullets, it’s even better than ever. After years of doing most of my long-range shooting with fast .30s and bullets from 180 to 200-grains, I found the Big Seven much more pleasant to shoot. I don’t think the cartridge will ever be among my all-time favorites, but it’s a fine hunting cartridge. It’s been a while since I’ve gone through a 7mm Remington Magnum phase, but this rifle could send me into another one!

.204 RUGER: THE BEST VARMINT CARTRIDGE? BY CRAIG BODDINGTON

It was a perfect setup for prairie dogs; we had a big shade tree to our left, three of us in line on portable benches, with a big colony stretching away before us. Stephen Shen was on the left, Gordon Marsh in the middle, me on the right. Interestingly, all three of us were shooting the .204 Ruger cartridge: Stephen a Savage 116, while both Gordon and I were shooting Ruger No. Ones, his in blue/walnut and mine stainless/laminate.

Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,
The .17s run from very fast to “medium” and all are useful but, in common, the light .17-caliber bullets hold up poorly in wind. Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,

It wasn’t universal; Bill Green was off the right, popping away and having a ball with a semi-auto .17 HMR . This was Gordon and Bill’s annual prairie dog shoot out of Cheyenne, hunting with Craig Oceanak and Nick of Timberline Outfitters. It was my second shoot with them; for Stephen, CEO of Vector Optics, his first ever. We had other rifles, .223s and .22-250s. However, except for Bill, who clung to his .17 HMR and walked in some amazing shots, the .204s did the majority of the work.  There are many excellent varmint cartridges, so it struck me as unusual that three among our foursome were shooting .204s…but I think we made good choices.

The various .22 centerfires are the classic varmint cartridges—but only a few have become popular. Left to right: .22 Hornet (1930); .222 Remington (1950); ,220-250 (1965); .220 Swift (1935); .223 WSSM (2002).
The various .22 centerfires are the classic varmint cartridges—but only a few have become popular. Left to right: .22 Hornet (1930); .222 Remington (1950); ,220-250 (1965); .220 Swift (1935); .223 WSSM (2002).

When I say “varmint cartridge” I’m thinking rodents that eat grass and dig burrows, and thus cause problems for farmers and ranchers. Woodchucks in the East; prairie dogs, rock-chucks, ground squirrels and gophers in the West. Developing cartridges and rifles for this class of pest is primarily an American phenomenon, and we’ve been doing it for a long time.

The .204 Ruger is readily adaptable to the AR action and is chambered by numerous manufacturers. This super-accurate AR in .204 Ruger was made by MGA in Spring, Texas.
The .204 Ruger is readily adaptable to the AR action and is chambered by numerous manufacturers. This super-accurate AR in .204 Ruger was made by MGA in Spring, Texas.

The requirements are simple: Accuracy, range, and minimal recoil. Accuracy because we’re dealing with small targets. A ‘chuck is comparatively large, but an upright prairie dog is only a couple inches across. A “one-MOA” rifle is thus a 200-yard prairie dog gun. One-half MOA is really the starting point. Ranging capability does depend on how you go about it. The rim-fires are great fun for short-range work…and stalking the edges and shooting from field positions with center-fires is excellent training. But if you set up from deliberate shooting positions and try to reach out several hundred yards, fast, flat-shooting cartridges are essential.

My Ruger No. One .204 Ruger in stainless and laminate regularly turns in half-inch group with both 32 and 40-grain loads. Although a bit slower, I prefer the 40-grain load because the heavier bullet holds up better in wind.
My Ruger No. One .204 Ruger in stainless and laminate regularly turns in half-inch group with both 32 and 40-grain loads. Although a bit slower, I prefer the 40-grain load because the heavier bullet holds up better in wind.

In a big ‘dog town you might shoot steadily all day, with numerous breaks to cool and clean barrels. When I was a kid, I did a lot of prairie-dogging with a .264 Winchester Magnum—but it’s silly to take that much pounding. The 6mms and .25s remain excellent crossover cartridges: Varmints with lighter bullets, big game with heavier bullets. Power is not an issue; at close range the .22 LR is plenty good for the job.

We all have our favorites, but without question these are the three most popular centerfire varmint cartridges, all made by numerous manufacturers and readily available: Left to right: .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington
We all have our favorites, but without question these are the three most popular centerfire varmint cartridges, all made by numerous manufacturers and readily available: Left to right: .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington

However, the biggest problem with cartridges above the .22 center-fires is even that modest amount of recoil makes it impossible to call shots through the scope. This is especially important in the windy West. As range and wind effect increase, not every shot will hit. The ideal situation is to observe the strike through the scope and correct. You can’t do this while you’re lost in recoil! I’ve often said that prairie dogs are great teachers, both for precise shot placement and for calling wind. The buddy system works, taking turns spotting and shooting—but you’ll learn more if you can call shots through the scope and make your own corrections.

Velocity is important in a versatile varmint cartridge, but extreme speed isn’t everything! Few factory loads break 4000 fps, mostly with lighter bullets. Left to right, these are most of the modern 4000 fps merchants: .17 Remington (25 gr.); 204 Ruger (34 gr.); .22-250 (40 gr.); .223 WSSM (40 gr.); 220 Swift (40 gr.); .243 Winchester (55 gr.).
Velocity is important in a versatile varmint cartridge, but extreme speed isn’t everything! Few factory loads break 4000 fps, mostly with lighter bullets. Left to right, these are most of the modern 4000 fps merchants: .17 Remington (25 gr.); 204 Ruger (34 gr.); .22-250 (40 gr.); .223 WSSM (40 gr.); 220 Swift (40 gr.); .243 Winchester (55 gr.).

We have multiple choices, and the arguments for one cartridge versus another are actually pretty thin. The little .22 Hornet, introduced in 1930, was probably the first center-fire intended for varminting. It retains a following and I love it—but with modest velocity it’s limited in range. Introduced in 1935, the .220 Swift was the first commercial cartridge to break 4000 fps—and it’s still among few that do. Accurate as well as fast, the Swift still has fans, but for many years the .22-250 has been the most popular fast .22 center fire.

Gordon Marsh marks a prairie dog for Stephen Shen. Spotting for your buddies is half the fun of a prairie dog shoot, but the learning curve is steeper if you can call your shots through the scope. The .204 Ruger allows this; the fastest .22 centerfires have a bit too much recoil.:

In the 1930s there were several wildcats based on the .250 Savage case necked down to .224-inch. The most common was a 1937 version called “.22 Varminter,” legitimized by Remington in 1965 as the .22-250 Remington. The .22-250 isn’t as fast as the Swift, but close, and is very accurate. Other fast .22s have included the .224 Weatherby Magnum, .225 Winchester, and .223 WSSM, but the .22-250 is today’s preferred long-range varmint cartridge.

Wholesale Hunter’s Gordon Marsh on the bench with his Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. A great varmint rifle isn’t just the action and cartridge! Also needed is a good, clear scope with plenty of magnification and a sweet trigger. Marsh modified this Ruger with a crisp, light Jard trigger
Wholesale Hunter’s Gordon Marsh on the bench with his Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. A great varmint rifle isn’t just the action and cartridge! Also needed is a good, clear scope with plenty of magnification and a sweet trigger. Marsh modified this Ruger with a crisp, light Jard trigger

If there’s a problem with the .22-250, it’s simply that, unless gun weight is fairly extreme, there’s just too much recoil to call shots through the scope. So, over the years, many of us have consciously sacrificed velocity and range and used milder .22 center-fires. Developed by Remington’s Mike Walker as a bench-rest cartridge back in 1950, the mild and super-accurate .222 Remington filled this niche perfectly. Its lack of popularity today is coincidental. In the late 1950s the U.S. Army was looking for a smaller-caliber military cartridge. The .222 Remington didn’t have quite the velocity they wanted, so the .222 Remington Magnum was created with a longer case. It wasn’t popular as a civilian cartridge and wasn’t adopted by the military, losing out to the .223 Remington.

: I like to spend at least part of my time in a prairie dog town shooting from field positions. Misses increase, but the training is invaluable! Here, I’m shooting sitting with the .204 over a tall bipod
: I like to spend at least part of my time in a prairie dog town shooting from field positions. Misses increase, but the training is invaluable! Here, I’m shooting sitting with the .204 over a tall bipod

The .223 (5.56x45mm) is also based on the .222 Remington, with a lengthened case and shorter neck. We could argue that the .222 Remington is the more accurate cartridge, and the .222 Remington Magnum is faster. But what’s the point? As our military (and NATO) cartridge, the .223 Remington/5.56x45mm is today’s most popular center-fire cartridge, and it’s a marvelous varmint cartridge.

Vector Optics’ Stephen Shen on a portable bench with his Savage 116 in .204 Ruger, of course with a Vector high-range variable scope. Inexpensive, accurate, and with a great trigger, Savage offers several variations of excellent heavy-barreled varmint rifles.
Vector Optics’ Stephen Shen on a portable bench with his Savage 116 in .204 Ruger, of course with a Vector high-range variable scope. Inexpensive, accurate, and with a great trigger, Savage offers several variations of excellent heavy-barreled varmint rifles.

With a 55-grain bullet at about 3300 fps it’s effective on small varmints to at least 300 yards, and even in a fairly light-barreled rifle it’s mild enough to call shots through the scope. New contenders such as the .22 Nosler and Federal’s .224 Valkyrie will also run through the AR15 platform and offer more velocity. We could also argue that they are “better” cartridges…but it remains to be seen if they can approach the .223’s popularity.

Stephen Shen of Vector Optics, Boddington, and Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter on a fine Wyoming morning with a huge prairie dog town stretching away behind us! All three of us used the .204 Ruger as our primary rifles, in my opinion one of our very best varmint cartridges.
Stephen Shen of Vector Optics, Boddington, and Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter on a fine Wyoming morning with a huge prairie dog town stretching away behind us! All three of us used the .204 Ruger as our primary rifles, in my opinion one of our very best varmint cartridges.

Australian fox hunters created .17-caliber center-fires because the light bullet wouldn’t exit, thus minimizing pelt damage. In 1971 Remington necked down the .222 Remington Magnum to create the .17 Remington, a 4000 fps-cartridge with bullets up to 25 grains. The .17s are useful, and today we have choices, from rim-fires up through the .17 Hornet, .17 Remington Fireball, and the granddaddy .17 Remington. Accuracy can be astounding and there’s plenty of power for prairie dogs and such, although I question the milder .17s on coyotes. The big problem: The .17-caliber’s light bullets just don’t hold up in wind!

The .20-calibers, bullet diameter .204-inch, are a recent development, spawned by good old American wildcatters in the 1990s. There are a number of wildcat and proprietary .20-caliber cartridges, but the .204 Ruger is the only factory .20-caliber. Introduced in 2004 as a joint project between Hornady and Ruger, the .204 is based on the .222 Remington Magnum case.

The theory is to split the difference between the .17s and .22 center-fires…and the actual result, to me, offers the best of all worlds. Again, we’re talking the specialized world of varmint cartridges. The .20-caliber doesn’t offer the heavy-bullet flexibility of the .22 center-fires for larger game. They are certainly effective on fur-bearers up to coyotes, but don’t minimize pelt damage like the .17s. Also, the faster .17s are prone to rapid fouling; the .20s are not.

The .204 Ruger took off fast. All major manufacturers load it, with bullet weights from 24 to 45 grains. At about 34 grains and lighter the .204 Ruger reaches or exceeds 4000 fps. I’m not usually quick to pick up on a new cartridge—especially in an unfamiliar bullet diameter! My usual mantra is (grumble, grumble): “We’ve got enough calibers and cartridges!” A Ruger No. One in .204, stainless and laminate in heavy-barrel configuration, came in as a test rifle. I was impressed enough to buy it and, nearly 15 years later, it remains my go-to prairie dog rifle.

Here’s what I like about the .204: Accuracy is consistently good with all loads. My preference is the 40-grain load, not the fastest at 3900 fps, but with that heavier bullet it holds up in wind better than the faster, lighter bullets. More importantly, it seems to perform about as well as the .22-250 at similar velocities with varmint bullets from 50 to 55 grains. Most important: With the lighter bullet and heavier barrel (smaller bore equals more steel for equal barrel diameter) it has less recoil than a .22-250, so I can easily call shots through the scope.

Requirements for an ideal varmint cartridge are simple: Accuracy, velocity, shoot-ability. If I had to cut down to just one, it’s the .204 I’d hang onto!

CLASSIC CARTRIDGES ON SAFARI By Craig Boddington

We American riflemen (and women) traditionally crave velocity…whether we need it or not. There’s a long-standing belief among African hunters, not just professionals, but experienced sport hunters, and meat hunters, that performance on game is actually better at moderate velocities.

It’s obvious that, given equal bullet aerodynamics, higher velocity flattens trajectories, and also increases energy yield. The “extreme range” fad, primarily (but not exclusively) an American phenomenon, generally adds to the thirst for speed. With the amazing array of great modern hunting bullets that we have today, I’m not convinced that performance is “better” at lower velocities, although bullets may perform more consistently. For sure, higher velocities increase recoil and muzzle blast. And, despite all the hype, not everybody shoots at long range.

This is the .275 Rigby presented to Jim Corbett in 1907 after he killed the infamous Champawat maneating tiger. Dan Baker’s .275 Rigby follows the pattern exactly…but Baker’s .275 has much more embellishment and is fitted with a scope in detachable rings.

Shooting game at seriously long distances is frowned on in Africa, where making a careful stalk to close or moderate range is considered part of the art. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, the standard rule in Africa is one drop of blood equals a license filled and a trophy fee payable. So, it behooves one to get close enough to be sure of the shot!

Dan Baker and Gladys Taggart with the largest-bodied zebra I have ever seen, certainly more than 800 pounds. A Hartmann’s mountain zebra, this big stallion dropped on the spot to a single 156-grain Norma Oryx bullet from Dan’s .275 Rigby (7×57).

Even so, over the past 40 years the “light rifle” in my African battery has often been a fast cartridge with significant ranging ability…whether I needed the capability or not. Favorite choices have been fast 7mms and .30-caliber magnums, and a few times a 6.5mm or 8mm magnum. I’ve also often used the .270 Winchester and .30-06, both with consistently excellent results. Neither of these old-timers are considered “fast magnums”—but they cannot be considered “slow.”

I just got back from a two-week hunt in northwestern Namibia’s Kaokoland with Jamy Traut, followed by a few days near Kimberley in South Africa’s Northern Cape with Mike Birch. Both areas are fairly open, where visibility is good and long shooting is certainly possible. Interestingly, we didn’t have any fast magnums…and the most recent cartridge in use was a .270 Winchester (1925), in Jamy’s “camp rifle” in case we needed a spare. The other three cartridges in use were older and slower.

In South Africa with Mike Birch, we wanted to get his daughter Kayleigh her first gemsbok. She drew a tough shot, about 250 yards with a lot of wind. She was shooting a Sako 6.5×55 with 140-grain Nosler AccuBond…plenty of gun and bullet if the shot is well-placed.

In Namibia I accompanied Dan Baker and Gladys Taggart, who had purchased Jamy’s donated safari at the SCI auction in Reno. They shared a gorgeous .275 Rigby on the pattern of Jim Corbett’s famous .275, except Dan’s rifle was magnificently engraved and was topped with a

Swarovski V6 2-12X scope. .275 Rigby is the British designation for 7×57 Mauser, introduced in 1892; John Rigby “anglicized” it to .275 Rigby in 1899, but the .275 Rigby and 7×57 Mauser are identical and completely interchangeable. Dan and Gladys were using Norma’s 156-grain Oryx bonded-core 7×57 load, velocity about 2500 fps.

Jamy Traut verifies bore-sight with Dan Baker’s gorgeous .275 Rigby, on the pattern of Jim Corbett’s famous .275…but this is a very special rifle even for a Rigby, with gorgeous wood and much embellishment. It became the workhorse rifle of the safari!

I brought a Montana Rifles Model 99 in 9.3x62mm Mauser, topped with a Leupold 1.75-6X scope. The 9.3x62mm is another classic Mauser cartridge introduced in 1905, with similar case dimensions to the .30-06 necked up to 9.3mm. The 9.3mm, caliber .366, is the European equivalent to the .375, still popular in Africa and widely used for driven boar in Europe. The traditional bullet weight is 286 grains, but I was using Hornady’s 250-grain GMX homogenous-alloy bullet, a bit faster at about 2500 fps.

Jamy Traut and Gladys Taggart with a fine kudu bull, taken cleanly with the .275 Rigby and 156-grain Norma Oryx bullets. This was a really tough shot, just a small window on a brushy hillside, taken fast off of sticks and placed perfectly.

My South African stopover was short, really just a visit. I still had my 9.3×62 and used it, but Mike needed to do some culling, so he had a favorite “camp rifle” on hand: A Sako in 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. Adopted by the Swedish military in 1894, the 6.5×55 is very similar to the currently popular
6.5mm Creedmoor
in ballistics, although it pre-dates the Creedmoor by 114 years. Mike was also using a very modern 6.5×55 load, a 140-grain Nosler AccuBond at 2660 fps.

 Jamy had a couple of young American interns in camp, recent college graduates in hard science disciplines, who had never hunted. We took them to the range with Jamy’s .270, which had a suppressor to reduce recoil and blast. They caught on fast, at the time I departed each had taken zebras with the .270 using Hornady’s 140-grain American Whitetail load…no problem. Among the three older cartridges I think about 15 animals were taken, an eclectic mix of gemsbok, hartebeest, kudu, springbok, warthog, and zebra.

Dan Baker and Gladys Taggart with two exceptional Kalahari springboks, taken just a few minutes apart, sort of a “his and hers” double with the .275 Rigby.

A couple of animals required follow-up shots that might not have been necessary. Only one, a zebra I shot with the 9.3mm, required tracking. In my defense, the animal took a step as the shot went and I knew the hit was a bit far back. It was, but the big bullet exited and we followed a clear trail for a couple hundred yards and found it dead. All other animals were either down on the spot or went down in sight.

Since the Namibian hunt was Dan and Gladys’s safari, the majority of this work was done with the .275 Rigby. Southern Africa, especially Namibia, is hard-hit by drought this year, so country that’s normally fairly open was wide-open: There was no “long grass,” and flats that are normally grassy looked like the Sahara instead of the Serengeti. With minimal vegetation stalking was difficult, but both areas have lots of rocky hills, ideal for glassing but also good for stalking.

This Hartmann’s zebra was taken with a single 250-grain GMX from the Montana Rifles 9.3×62. With shot placement where it’s supposed to be, many cartridges and bullets will work…but so far I’ve taken a half-dozen large animals with this load. All bullets have exited!

As always, what constitutes “short” or “long” depends on one’s perspective. We did no long shooting at all, but due to lack of cover close shots were hard to come by. I’d call most of our shots “medium,” from 150 yards to 300 yards. All three “old and slow” cartridges proved perfectly capable for such shooting: On pronghorn-sized springbok, where precision is essential; and on large, tough animals like zebra, where shot placement and penetration come to the fore.

One of the longest and most difficult shots was on an unusually big-bodied gemsbok bull, 250 yards in a vicious crosswind, made with the 6.5×55 by 13-year-old Kayleigh Birch, her first gemsbok, anchored nicely on the spot.

On this safari I used Hornady’s 250-grain GMX in the 9.3×62. This bullet is a bit lighter and faster than the standard 286-grain load, but recoil is less and performance was awesome. In case a rogue elephant happened along I also carried a few 275-grain Norma solids, but had no occasion to use them.

Perhaps the prettiest shot was made by Gladys Taggart on a mountain zebra one afternoon just past sunset. Zebras are large, heavy, and tough; taking a zebra at last light is worrisome, but on that afternoon, we badly needed a zebra for leopard bait, and that was our chance. The shot was about 200 yards, facing, always a tough shot off sticks. Gladys was sure…and the little .275 Rigby dropped it in its tracks. Straight down!

As with the tortoise and the hare, the race isn’t always to the swift! Velocity isn’t a bad thing, but shot placement and bullet performance are more important. Those same African hunters who believe in moderate velocities also tend to believe in bullet weight, which sacrifices speed, but also enhances penetration. This is mitigated by bullet design, but all of the bullets we used were fairly heavy: By definition a 140-grain 6.5mm bullet, whether in the old 6.5×55 or new Creedmoor, is fairly heavy for caliber. A 140-grain .270 bullet is at least “medium,” likewise a 140-grain 7mm bullet. Today the 7×57 (.275 Rigby) is fairly standard with a 140-grain bullet.

Mike Birch uses 140-grain Nosler AccuBond in his 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. Classic cartridges benefit from today’s excellent hunting bullets…and so do our modern cartridges

That’s the bullet weight I usually use in my 7x57s and I would have had no qualms about using the 140-grain load on any shot taken on this safari. Even so, I was very impressed by the performance of the heavier 156-grain bullet on zebras and larger antelopes. A difference of 16 grains in bullet weight is a ten percent increase and the effects were noticeable. As for my 9.3×62, well, it isn’t fast, but that’s a big, heavy bullet with a lot of frontal area, a horse of a different color. I have yet to recover one of those 250-grain GMX bullets.

This Rigby Highland Stalker in .275 Rigby grouped very well with both Hornady’s 140-grain .275 Rigby load, left; and with Norma’s 156-grain Oryx 7×57 load. The heavier bullet is a bit slower, but performance on large plains game was awesome.

A dozen or so animals proves absolutely nothing. However, mild, soft-recoiling cartridges like those we used have been performing well for generations—and with modern bullets, they perform even better. Velocity is fine if you need it. On this safari—and in many hunting situations—you don’t need to reach out. There are similar modern cartridges that are equally effective, including 6.5mm Creedmoor and 7mm-08 Remington…but the old classics still work just fine!

Kayleigh Birch, left, and her Dad, PH Mike Birch, with Kayleigh’s first gemsbok, a huge-bodied old bull with thick horns, taken cleanly with a suppressed Sako 6.5×55 and 140-grain Nosler AccuBond. Suppressors are in common use in southern Africa, excellent for reducing recoil as well as muzzle blast.

HOW ABOUT A .30-30? By Craig Boddington

It’s often said that the .30-30 Winchester has “taken more deer than any other cartridge.” Axioms like this are hard to prove and I can’t prove this one. Over the years, I’ve taken deer with numerous different cartridges…but only a handful with a .30-30.

Even so, I think it’s probably true. Introduced in 1895, the .30-30’s original 160-grain load barely hit 2000 feet per second, slow by today’s standards…but faster than any black powder cartridge. Compared to the large-cased cartridges of the day, the .30-30 was a tiny little thing. Early users quickly learned that its new smokeless propellant harnessed a lot of power and flattened trajectory. The .30-30’s also-new jacketed bullet penetrated well and offered a new dimension to bullet performance: Expansion.

In the euphoria over this newfound velocity the .30-30 was often used for large game, elk, moose, and even big bear. Undoubtedly, it still is, and with perfect shot placement (and, in its traditional lever-action platform, with fast repeat shots) it will get the job done. However, in 1895 and today, deer are America’s most widespread and popular big game. The .30-30 was quickly found extremely effective on deer-sized game…and remains so today. No one can estimate how many millions of deer have fallen to .30-30s. Winchester has made 7.5 million Model 94s, most of them in .30-30, and millions still in use. Add in hundreds of thousands of lever-action .30-30s from Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage; a few slide-actions, and a major sprinkling of single-shots. The .30-30’s rimmed case is probably best-suited to traditional tubular-magazine lever actions, but it was chambered to a surprising number of early bolt-actions!

Bruce Duncan with a big Idaho tom mountain lion and his battered Model 94 .30-30 carbine, short, light, easy to carry, for generations the odds-on choice for houndsmen.

Despite the many cartridges that are faster, shoot flatter, and harness more power, the .30-30 remains among our best-selling cartridges. Perhaps more surprising, it remains among the top cartridges in reloading die sales. Admittedly, this is partly because there are so many .30-30 rifles out there. However, I think it’s also partly because the .30-30 remains a useful hunting cartridge, with relatively light recoil and deer-killing efficiency.

Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo has greatly increased the versatility of the .30-30. Left, 140-grain MonoFlex and 160-grain FTX; far right, a standard 150-grain round-nose load. Traditional blunt-nosed bullets are very effective at short range, but Hornady’s spitzer bullets with flexible polymer tips extend effective range to at least 200 yards.

Nobody ever said the .30-30 was a long-range cartridge…but not everyone needs to shoot at longer ranges. On our Kansas farm most of our whitetails are taken at less than 100 yards…and only a couple of stands offer even the potential for a shot beyond 200 yards. If you’re sitting over Southern soybean fields or endless expanses of Canadian wheat farms, then that’s a different story. But, across the continent the .30-30 shoots flat enough for most whitetail hunting…and hits plenty hard.

Although I’ve taken few deer with a .30-30, I’ve used it a lot for wild hogs. In Texas and the south, most hogs are taken from stands; as with whitetails, the most likely shooting distances are known. Alternatively, a fair amount of hog hunting is done with hounds. In all dog hunting shooting distances are very close. Whether for hogs, black bears, or mountain lions, almost every experienced houndsman I’ve ever known has a short, fast-handling, and much-battered .30-30 carbine. Most of my hog hunting has been along California’s Central Coast. Dogs are legal, baiting is not, but most of my California pig hunting is glassing and stalking.

John Stucker, Boddington, and Doug Mangham with some hogs taken on Doug’s and John’s deer lease in the Texas Hill Country. Our rifles ran the gamut: Stucker used his Sabatti .450/.400 double; Boddington used a .257 Roberts…and Doug used a Marlin 336 in .30-30 with a Skinner aperture rear sight!

In spot-and-stalk hunting you have no idea what kind of shot you might get! Pigs have keen noses and excellent hearing, but either they can’t see very well or use their eyes only as a tertiary defense. Get the wind right and move quietly, and in our mixed cover an approach can usually be made. As with deer, I’ve taken hogs with a lot of different cartridges. In the 25 years I’ve lived on the Central Coast our year-around hog hunting has served as my cartridge-bullet-rifle test lab. Longer shots are surely possible, but over the years I’ve taken just a couple of hogs beyond sensible .30-30 range—and I’ve never had any reason to suspect the .30-30 was anything less than plenty of gun.

Mind you, wild hogs can be larger than any deer, and although the whitetail is very tough, I think a big boar is tougher. But not tough enough to withstand a well-placed bullet from a .30-30. Despite mild paper ballistics, the .30-30 has a lot going for it. In 1895 Winchester chose the .308-inch bullet diameter of our then-new military cartridge, the .30-40 Krag, adopted in 1892 A few years later we moved to a larger-cased rimless cartridge that we came to know as the .30-06. The .30-06 is faster and more powerful than the .30-30, but here’s the point: Since the 1890’s we have known that a .30-caliber is a big bullet on deer-sized game. Within a cartridge’s effective range, a .30-caliber hits harder than a bullet of smaller diameter. With a century and a quarter of experience, we also know that, at .30-30 velocities, .30-30 bullets perform well, expanding reliably and providing deep penetration.

Almost all current .30-30 rifles accept either scopes or red-dot sights, significantly extending range…especially in low-light conditions. This is a Mossberg M464 .30-30 mounted with an Aimpoint red-dot sight.

A century or so back the .30-30’s original 160-grain load was replaced by 150 and 170-grain loads, which remain standard .30-30 fodder. As smokeless propellants improved velocities were also increased; the 150-grain load is standard today at 2390 fps; the heavy 170-grain load at about 2225 fps. The .30-30 rifle I have the most experience with is a short-barreled Model 94 Trapper. It grouped especially well with Winchester’s old 170-grain Silvertip load, so that’s what I’ve usually used. Historically, the tubular magazine lever guns are limited to flat- or round-nosed bullets, with aerodynamics sort of like thrown rocks. In my 16-inch barrel my actual velocities are lower than advertised, but who cares. That slow 170-grain bullet consistently delivered through-and-through penetration on both deer and wild hogs, and I don’t think I’ve taken a shot beyond 100 yards with that rifle.

Today we have newer, game-changing options. Introduced in 2005, Hornady’s LEVERevolution line incorporates sharp-pointed aerodynamic bullets with flexible polymer tips that are safe to use in tubular magazines. New propellants allowed slightly increased velocity. LEVERevolution now offers two .30-30 loads with spitzer bullets: 140-grain homogenous-alloy MonoFlex bullet at a zippy (for the .30-30.) 2465 fps; and a 160-grain FTX (Flexible Tip eXpanding) at 2400 fps. Sight either load about three inches high at 100 yards and you’re dead-on at 200 yards. So stoked, the .30-30 is thus perfectly viable beyond 200 yards on deer-sized game.

Kansas neighbor Chuck Herbel on the bench with his favorite “truck rifle,” a Winchester 94 .30-30. He recalls that he bought it when he was a young beat patrolman in Wichita…at a retail price of 60 bucks!

Depending on where and how we hunt, many of us don’t need to shoot even that far. So, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Hornady’s new bullets expand well and penetrate reliably. However, blunt-nosed bullets, especially flat-points, tend to deliver a heavy initial blow, and typically, blunt-nosed bullets initiate expansion more rapidly than sharp-pointed bullets. Those of us who crave ranging abilities have damned blunt-nosed bullets since the 1900’s. However, I submit that the .30-30’s tremendous reputation as a deer cartridge is based, at least somewhat, on those hard-hitting traditional blunt-nosed slugs.

Historically, most of my hunting with a .30-30 has been with iron sights. This sharply limits my range anyway, so I’ve mostly used traditional flat-points and round-noses, and I’ve been perfectly happy with the results. Today, with iron sights getting a bit fuzzy, I’ve gone to either scopes or red-dot sights. With extended capability, I’m using Hornady’s spitzer bullets, also perfectly happy with these results…but if you know your shots will be close, don’t overlook the traditional blunt-nosed slugs. Everybody, including Hornady, still offers them.

Boddington admits that he can no longer resolve open sights as well as he once could…but his M94 Trapper still passes the “paper plate test” easily, adequate accuracy for short-range work on deer and wild hogs.

With so many brave new cartridges we tend to think of the .30-30 as mild and unassuming, but let’s not sell it short. The formula that derives kinetic energy in foot-pounds uses the square of velocity, while bullet weight is taken “as is” and bullet diameter (frontal area) is not considered at all. Slower cartridges cannot win the foot-pounds race, but most experienced hunters agree that paper ballistics don’t tell the whole story. Hornady’s FTX 160-grain load (not a light bullet!) at 2400 fps develops 2046 foot-pounds of energy, over a ton. This is theoretically adequate for elk, more than plenty for deer, and enough for most anything between deer and elk. The amazingly popular 6.5mm Creedmoor, with a 140-grain bullet at 2700 fps, develops about 2200 foot-pounds. With foot-pounds, velocity always wins, so this is more kinetic energy than any .30-30 load can deliver…but not by all that much! No scientific formula exists to properly factor in bullet weight, frontal area, and bullet performance.

My experience suggests that a .30-caliber (.308-inch) bullet hits harder than a 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet. Certainly it delivers more energy on impact and makes a bigger hole! If you need to shoot at longer ranges Lord knows we have plenty of choices…but for short to very medium ranges don’t overlook the .30-30…it’s still the deer-slaying machine it has always been!

Your First Overseas Hunt – Craig Boddington

It’s a big world out there with almost limitless opportunities. Transportation has never been faster and remains fairly affordable. It’s a fact that many international hunts are beyond the financial reach for many of us. However, it’s also fact that a lot of amazing adventures lie within the reach of average working folks. To some extent this is a matter of priority, and we’re all entitled to our own hunting dreams. Honestly, good old North America is a pretty cool place, with a wide variety of habitats and game animals. Also, because of our vast public lands, North America offers the greatest opportunity in the world for DIY hunting.

African sunset: Yes, the African sunset is just as magnificent as you’ve heard!

It’s okay with me if you’re content hunting close to home. North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, but according to surveys, most American hunters rarely hunt far from home. Your hunting goals are your business. Hunting is hunting and hunters are hunters; it doesn’t make you less skilled if you prefer to do all of your hunting in your back 40. In fact, I humbly submit that good old American “DIY” public land hunters are among the world’s most skilled.

Because, North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, we dominate the market, and although the percentage is small, we also have the world’s largest group of traveling hunters, tens of thousands annually, including both veterans and first-timers.

Every year on the convention circuit, I run into hundreds of hunters who dream of expanding their horizons. Some are serial dreamers, folks I talk to year after year, still thinking about a long-range hunt, but they just haven’t gotten around to it. Trust me, there are always good reasons: kids in college, job took a downward turn, illness in the family, you name it. Making an international hunt is discretionary: nobody’s going to make you do it, and there are always other things to be done with money. So, it seems to me that the first hurdle is deciding you want to do it badly enough…and, by God, this year (or next) you’re going to get it done!

The larger hunting conventions such as Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club are great places to meet outfitters face-to-face.

As to whether it’s worth it or not, well, I’m the worst person to ask! In my 20’s, I worked three jobs and saved every penny I could so I could get to Africa just once! Like all first safaris, it was a life-altering event that I’ve never regretted. However, one’s first costly international hunt is sobering and, let’s be honest, a little bit frightening. For me, every hunt has been worth every penny, every drop of sweat, and every tingle of fear. But that’s a personal judgment that can only be made in retrospect.

In many destinations, and definitely in Africa, trophy fees are a major portion of the hunt cost. It’s important to study the animals available in the area you’ll be hunted and find out which interest you. This is a red Cape hartebeest, widespread in both Namibia and South Africa.

I can say this: I have never met a hunter who regretted investing in new horizons. Odd choice of word? No! The investment is in your book of life; the dividend in your memories. As a gun-writer, I justify this stuff as “business” which it is. But I do not delude myself that I can purchase a safari and expect to directly amortize the cost against articles sold (at outdoor publication rate, really?). Fortunately, I’ve never been afraid to invest in myself, and the memories and photos are still there, often used for articles and book chapters a decade down the road. And, if not, they’re still there.

Sticks in field: Although luck is always a factor, how well you shoot has much to do with overall success. Shooting sticks are almost universal in Africa…get a set and practice with them frequently before your safari.

Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of friends who left us with “bucket list” hunts unfulfilled. For some it was the “one big hunt” he or she wanted to do; for others it was one of many, but an important goal left unfulfilled. Amid the mysteries that await us beyond we cannot know if it matters, but as my own time grows shorter, I am increasingly convinced that we should try to acquire memories we desire to possess while we can, before it’s too late.

As for the trepidation factor, trust me, it’s there when you embark on a first international hunt…and on any trip to an unfamiliar destination. In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt said, “nothing to fear but fear itself.” When traveling internationally apprehensions are normal. I would never say there are no reasons for concern…but in the insulated world of international hunting, which almost universally means an outfitted hunt, worries are remote. On arrival you will be greeted by your outfitter and escorted to a safe camp, and you will have a wonderful experience.

Camp options range from comfortable tent camps to amazing lodges…decide what you want before booking your hunt and shop accordingly.

This principle applies across the worldwide spectrum of outfitted hunts. I’ve done a dozen hunts in Central Asia. Is this a stable and “safe” region for Westerners? Of course not! Would I grab a backpack and go hiking alone? Are you nuts? As a visiting hunter, however, I’ve never felt threatened.

Actual risks are minimal, and in the most common hunting destinations almost nil. When considering a first international adventure most hunters probably look to Africa, where 20 countries offer organized hunting for visitors. Namibia and South Africa have the two largest safari industries and are the most likely choices for first-timers. In either country a typical “plains game safari” is, in my view, the best bargain in the hunting world! Some animals are more difficult than others, and it always depends on straight shooting, how selective you are, and how your luck runs. On a seven or ten-day hunt in good country most hunters will average about one animal per day.

The most typical pricing is a daily rate plus “trophy fees” for game taken. Trophy fees depend on local availability and “desirability,” so a kudu commands a higher price than common antelopes such as blesbok and impala. Some outfitters, especially those who own the land they operate on, offer inclusive “packages” which can be good deals. Costs vary among outfitters and depends on game taken, but very good plains game safaris including a good selection of animals range from around $5000, similar to a basic guided deer hunt. Not included are usually tips, trophy shipping, taxidermy, and travel, all of which must be factored in as you do your planning.

Boddington and Frederick Burchell with a southern greater kudu bull taken in southern Namibia. The greater kudu is plentiful in both Namibia and South Africa, and is at the top of many hunters’ “wish list” on plains game safaris in both countries.

You can expect comfortable camps, great food, and the time of your life, but don’t expect that a first safari will get this out of your system once and for all. Most hunters find themselves planning a return even before they get on the plane home. Now, let me throw out another idea. On a first overseas hunt it’s common to think of Africa first…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Every continent save Antarctica has a wide variety of hunting destinations, but two other areas strike me as very good options to start with: Argentina and New Zealand.

Outfitter Chris and Caroline Bilkey and Craig Boddington with Caroline’s red stag, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps above the Rangitata River Valley. As in Argentina, red stag is the premier game species in New Zealand, but most areas offer about a half-dozen varieties of big game.

Both are extremely safe and “user friendly” beautiful countries with good outfitters operating from excellent camps and lodges. Neither country vies with Africa for variety, but it always depends on what game interests you the most. Costs for basic hunts are similar to a plains game safari, and both countries need to be on your “bucket list.”

Once you’ve made the decision to take the plunge the hard part is choosing exactly where to go and picking your outfitter. This can get confusing, since there are lots of great outfitters. Word-of -mouth is always a good referral, but keep in mind that nobody knows all the good outfitters and we are all limited by our own experience. The major hunting conventions offer good opportunities to walk around and meet outfitters face to face. Just keep in mind that their purpose for being there is to sell their hunts.

No outfitter can control weather or game movement, but they can control food and lodging, and good outfitters the world over take good care of their clients. In South Africa, eland steaks on the grill…the best game meat in the world

Donated hunts are often offered for auction at fundraisers for various conservation groups. These sometimes go for ridiculously low prices, which breaks my heart. Depending on the group, these hunts may or may not be well-vetted, but are donated for a good cause. That’s why I hate to see them go cheap, but it takes at least two bidders to make an auction.

Just read the fine print carefully and make sure you know exactly what you’re bidding on! Booking agents are also a good source, and are especially useful for first-timers because they’re available to answer questions while outfitters are in the field. The limitation is booking agents only represent certain outfitters, and some outfitters don’t use agents.

I am not an agent, but I have a network of Craig Boddington Endorsed Outfitters (CBEO), in the outfitter section on my website (www.craigboddington.com). Our limitation is CBEO is restricted to folks I know and recommend to my friends, but we have members in all the likely areas for a first-time hunt.

By whatever means, locate an outfitter who appeals to you, do a “google” search, get references, and call them! Understand that most references will be satisfied and successful clients, so don’t just focus on their hunts. Ask about other hunters in camp, and about hunting conditions and “what a typical hunting day is like.”

The good news, there are very few bad apples in the outfitter barrel! Try to get a handle on the experience you’re looking for, not just the animals. Do your due diligence as if booking your hunt is a business transaction! It’s exactly that for the outfitter, while it’s dream fulfilment for you. Put emotions aside, know what you want, and check things out carefully. With just ordinary caution chances are very good that your hunting dreams will come true!

Judging Speed Goats

Judging Speed Goats: Nick Oceanak

You’ve drawn a license for the fastest land animal in North America, the Pronghorn! Well that’s great but how do you know what to look for in a mature buck? The pronghorn is one of the most difficult animals to judge in all North America. I’m speaking in terms of antler size of course! Even after being a professional big game hunting guide in Wyoming for seventeen years I still misjudge pronghorn on the hoof. Now pronghorn are not antelope but are often referred to as such because they closely resemble the true antelope in Africa. So, I will use both terms as I refer to them in this article. We regularly call them “speed goats” as well (because of their similar features to goats and notorious speed).

A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow.
A mature pronghorn buck harvested with a longbow. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So why are pronghorn so hard to judge? First, their antlers aren’t very large to begin with. Therefore, a difference of twelve inches and fourteen inches is hardly anything at 800 yards but a world of difference up close. Due to the far distances from which you will be looking at antelope, you’ll need to know what to look for. I’m a firm believer that score means very little and that the trophy is in the eye of the beholder. However, to better help you understand what to look for in the antlers of a mature pronghorn I’ll be talking about SCI scoring a little bit. It’s also a good way to convey relative size to other people. You get one length measurement on each side starting from the base and ending at the tip. Then you divide that number by four to find where you will take your four mass measurements. Finally, you get one prong measurement on each side. (ex. figure below)

How to measure a pronghorn horn
Pronghorn horn scale

Mass is the most important factor when it comes to score. Now, you’ll see in the figure that two mass measurements fall below the prong and two above. If the third mass measurement spot falls below the prong you are getting a much bigger score than if it is above, so keep that in mind. When judging a buck, you’ll be critiquing three main things: mass, length and prong size.

OK, so how does one take this basic knowledge to the field and successfully judge a goat at 1,000 yards!? I’ll give you a couple quick, handy tricks to do so.

  1. Look at where the height in which the prong comes off the main antler. If it’s below the ear, then it is most likely a younger buck. If it’s equal the height of the ear or higher then you’re looking at a mature buck.
  2. Study each buck and make sure you get a good look from every angle possible. This will help you judge the three main aspects discussed earlier. The most important angle is the side or profile. This way you can determine relative mass, length, overall antler curl and prong size. Every buck is unique so the more angles the better. It’s easy to look at a buck from straight on and say, “oh that’s a big one!” But don’t fall for it! He may not have much mass, or he may not curl making him look taller that he is, or he may not have much for prongs.
  3. Think about all other factors at play. Is the buck alone during the rut? If so, did he get run off by a bigger buck? Are you looking at a buck among a big group of bucks during the rut? If so, he may be a younger buck hanging with other young bucks because they can’t get close to the does. Has it been a good year in terms of habitat? Is it an area known for producing big bucks?
The prongs come off the antler below the ear, so we are looking at a young buck. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

Body size can help in some cases when looking at comparable bucks at great distances. Look for a stout block body with a thick neck and a big belly. Sometimes older bucks are lighter in color, but I’ve found that color varies greatly and doesn’t always indicate a bucks age.

A very mature pronghorn buck. Notice how high above the ear the prong comes off. Block body, large neck and lighter colored cape indicate an older animal. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

So, let’s recap on the three main aspects of the antlers: mass, length and prong size.

Mass is the most important attribute in terms of overall antler size. Look at the eye in respect to the size of the antler from the side. If the antler is as wide as the eye or wider you know you’re looking at some decent mass. Big bucks will have a circumference at the base of 6 inches and more.

This beautiful antelope buck is extremely tall. If you were to put the ear up against the antler that would be approximately 6 inches up. You can see this buck has a lot of length past that. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

2. Length is perhaps the first thing we notice and the most impressive part in the overall “look” of a buck. Some bucks have huge curls that make them look cool (I love the heart-shaped ones). Some bucks don’t curl much which makes them look taller and that can be neat as well. Mature bucks range from 12 inches to 16 inches and up. When looking at a profile view try to estimate how many inches the tip of the antler is above the ear.

This buck was “massive” with over 7-inch bases and weight that carried all the way up. 84 5/8 SCI

3. Prongs are the awesome features that make the pronghorn so unique! They can stick out, go up, go down, curl in, curl out, etc. They usually aren’t more than 5 inches, but some bucks get huge prongs that go 7 inches and over. The prong adds another big contribution to the “overall” look of a buck.

Pronghorn are unique in so many ways and they all differ from one another. The next time you’re out chasing “speed goats” remember the guidelines for field judging them but also remember the true trophy is in the eye of the beholder!

A very cool non-typical buck taken by a 14-year-old Timberline client. Photo credit Timberline Outfitters WY

To Travel With Firearms

TO TRAVEL WITH FIREARMS …
By: Craig Boddington

At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.
At the airport on the way to Argentina: Duffel bag, gun case, and carry-on. A gun case automatically means you’re traveling heavy; overweight baggage charges are part of the deal when you travel with firearms.

Just recently I got back from a “mixed bag” hunt in Argentina: where I did some wingshooting, deer, and water buffalo hunting. I took an over/under Blaser 12 gauge; and a Blaser R8 with .270 and .375 barrels. At this moment I’m on an airplane, headed toward Cameroon. I do not have a gun case in the cargo hold; I’ll be using a “camp gun.” In this article I will be discussing the pros and cons of flying with and without  firearms while traveling to hunt.

Mindsets vary. If you’re a hunter who views a firearm as an essential tool, then, so long as a suitable tool is available, it may not be important for you to bring a favorite firearm. On the other hand, if you’re a “gun guy,” it may be important for you to bring a firearm you consider perfect for game you’re hunting. Destinations vary. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to bring guns; other times it’s a major hassle, but still possible. And there are places where the hunting is great but it is not possible to bring a firearm. You simply must use whatever is available.

I’m both a hunter and a “gun guy.” Given a sensible choice I prefer to bring my own. However, I’ve hunted several places where bringing a firearm isn’t possible. That’s easy: I’ll use whatever is available! Where decisions get hard are situations where practicality and convenience enter in. Essential to consider: Game and hunting conditions; and what firearms are available?

ARGENTINA AND CAMEROON

Hunting partners Gary Wells and Heather Smith elected to use camp rifles and save the hassle. They did fine; Gary’s stag is a lot bigger than mine! This huge red stag was taken with outfitter Marcelo Sodiro’s McMillan .300 Weatherby Magnum…pretty good “camp gun.”
Hunting partners Gary Wells and Heather Smith elected to use camp rifles and save the hassle. They did fine; Gary’s stag is a lot bigger than mine! This huge red stag was taken with outfitter Marcelo Sodiro’s McMillan .300 Weatherby Magnum…pretty good “camp gun.”

My two situations, Argentina and Cameroon, although quite different, are good examples that led to different decisions. Argentina is the largest destination in the world, up to 20,000 foreign hunters per year. Their police and customs officials are no strangers to firearms. Foreign hunters can get temporary permits on arrival, or in advance at the nearest Argentinean consulate. It isn’t really a problem, but there are costs: Their government charges for the permit and your outfitter will probably charge to help expedite the permit. If you are flying to various places around Argentina, you must check the firearms in and out with the local airport police with every transition—much like South Africa. It is not a problem, but it’s a hassle. My hunting partners, Heather Smith and Gary Wells, elected to use camp firearms…and they had to wait for me in every airport!

I was filming, so using sponsor firearms was essential. But, absent compelling justification, there is no reason to bring firearms into Argentina! Outfitters there have good guns. Bird lodges have racks of shotguns, usually Benelli and Beretta. Big-game areas will have well-scoped bolt-actions in appropriate cartridges. I used my guns while Gary and Heather borrowed; at the end of the hunt we were all equally successful.

In Argentina I carried a .270 and .375 barrel for my Blaser R8. As expected, the .375 barrel was used just once to take this water buffalo. These water buffaloes are huge and I needed the .375…but in this camp they had sturdy CZ .375s available for use.
In Argentina I carried a .270 and .375 barrel for my Blaser R8. As expected, the .375 barrel was used just once to take this water buffalo. These water buffaloes are huge and I needed the .375…but in this camp they had sturdy CZ .375s available for use.

Cameroon is a different deal. I wanted to take the perfect rifle, and had my heart set on a 9.3x62mm from Montana Rifles. I could have…but the only way to get a gun permit is through their Washington embassy and I ran out of time. Outfitter, Phillippe Bernon suggested (politely) that they had three good scoped .375s available: A Blaser R93, a CZ, and a Sako. This is a forest hunt. The range will be close, a .375 is fine. I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight city hall. I don’t even know which of the three I will use…but it really doesn’t matter.

TRAVELING WITH FIREARMS…

A hard case has to be sturdy with all hinges intact…and all lock holes must be filled with locks. I disassemble my guns inside the case and add a gun lock…the idea is to make the security folks as comfortable as possible.
A hard case has to be sturdy with all hinges intact…and all lock holes must be filled with locks. I disassemble my guns inside the case and add a gun lock…the idea is to make the security folks as comfortable as possible.

Anywhere in the world the most important thing is to know the rules. Within the United States it’s simple: In checked baggage, sturdy gun case, unloaded, disassembled if possible, all lock holes in the case filled with locks. Ammunition cannot be in the gun case, but can be in other checked baggage. The magic litany: “In original factory containers, less than 5 kilograms (11 pounds).” Always check the airline’s website for any special rules, and for sure announce firearms and ammunition when you check in. Here’s the first caveat: The rules change! Some carriers will not carry firearms. Period, end of story. Make damn sure!

Traveling outside the U.S. is more complicated. Basic rules are similar, but the check-in agent has the obligation to ensure that your firearm can enter your destination country. So, if a temporary permit is needed, do it in advance and have a copy…or make certain it’s right there in black and white (in the airline regulations) that you can obtain a temporary permit on arrival (Argentina, Canada, Namibia, and South Africa are popular examples of this situation).

Inside the U.S. ammo can be in a checked bag separate from the guns but elsewhere in the world it’s more common to check it separately in its own lock case. I’ve used this lockable ammo can for years; it starts unlocked in my duffel bag but can be locked and checked when required.
Inside the U.S. ammo can be in a checked bag separate from the guns but elsewhere in the world it’s more common to check it separately in its own lock case. I’ve used this lockable ammo can for years; it starts unlocked in my duffel bag but can be locked and checked when required.

Ammo is another story. In the U.S. you can technically put ammo in checked baggage separate from firearms. In much of the world ammunition is checked separately in its own locked container. Here’s what I do: My ammunition is packed in a small “military-style” ammo can…with a hasp and padlock in the can to be used when needed. I start with the ammo can unlocked in my duffel…but I can lock it, and check it separately as needed. Checking ammo separately in a locked container is standard throughout much of the world.

This U.S. Customs Form 4457, obtained by bringing your (cased!) firearm to any Customs office. There is no record kept, but it serves as a “U.S. gun permit” elsewhere in the world. Previously this form was valid as long as you owned the firearm, but today most of them have expiration dates in the fine print in the upper right corner…a current 4457 is essential.
This U.S. Customs Form 4457, obtained by bringing your (cased!) firearm to any Customs office. There is no record kept, but it serves as a “U.S. gun permit” elsewhere in the world. Previously this form was valid as long as you owned the firearm, but today most of them have expiration dates in the fine print in the upper right corner…a current 4457 is essential.

The permit process differs radically in various countries, but your outfitter and a gun-savvy travel agent (highly recommended!) can help. The real magic lies in a little piece of paper called “U.S. Customs Form 4457.” Available at any U.S. Customs office, it’s the same form used to record jewelry, watches, or cameras you’re traveling with…to prove you didn’t buy them overseas. No record is kept, so it’s a silly form…but essential for firearms.

Elsewhere in the world, U.S. Customs Form 4457 generally serves as a “firearms permit” to obtain a temporary permit. The problem is the game is changing. Historically, that magical little form 4457 was good as long as you owned the firearm. Today’s forms are dated with an expiration, fine print, top right corner. So, it’s wise (and in some countries essential for a temporary permit) to get new forms.

Ah, one more caveat. You need to know the rules. Unfortunately, many airline employees and even TSA and U.S. Customs folks don’t know their own rules! Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee liked to say “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Honest, you can’t argue with these people. You can go through various levels of supervisors, but you cannot argue and must be polite! Just now, coming in from Argentina, I got a belligerent inspector who refused to accept a copy of my 4457. That’s a first; it’s a form that no one has a record of, and copies should be fine…but not with this guy. He also insisted they do not expire, so, on this form, he was quite surprised to see, in fine print, “Expiration Date 08/31/2019” in the upper right corner.

The discussion, now calm, got more interesting when I commented that this form served as a “international” throughout much of the world. He insisted that our Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) did indeed “register” firearms and I needed to obtain proper permits. Yes, for certain situations…but in these United States, thank God, we have no nationwide registrations process. You would think U.S. Customs officials would know this—but they do not, and this is not the first time I’ve encountered this. Be polite, get your 4457, make sure it’s current, make copies, and carry the original!

…AND WITHOUT THEM

In 2018 I hunted Congo, one of several places where hunting is good but rifles cannot be brought in. We checked ahead; the outfitter had two Ruger Hawkeyes in .375 Ruger with choice of Aimpoint or low-power scope. Even if we could, there was no reason to bring a rifle.
In 2018 I hunted Congo, one of several places where hunting is good but rifles cannot be brought in. We checked ahead; the outfitter had two Ruger Hawkeyes in .375 Ruger with choice of Aimpoint or low-power scope. Even if we could, there was no reason to bring a rifle.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to travel without firearms! It’s a relief not to have to schlep the gun case, clear its contents through various authorities…and worry about it! But that depends on where you’re going and what you’re doing. In several places I’ve hunted—Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Peru, Philippines—it’s been impossible to take a firearm so I’ve used what is there. Other times, like this hunt in Cameroon, it’s been too difficult. However, it depends on where you’re going. North America is rarely an issue; there are usually suitable firearms available. This is also true in Africa, Europe, South America, and South Pacific.

Firearms cannot be brought into Liberia. Rifles are generally illegal, but most of the hunting is at close range in thick forest so shotguns are perfect. On two different Liberian hunts I carried this well-used Mossberg 500…and it never failed. This is a zebra duiker, considered Liberia’s greatest prize.
Firearms cannot be brought into Liberia. Rifles are generally illegal, but most of the hunting is at close range in thick forest so shotguns are perfect. On two different Liberian hunts I carried this well-used Mossberg 500…and it never failed. This is a zebra duiker, considered Liberia’s greatest prize.

The biggest problem is Asia, largely mountain hunting where shots can be far. Flat-shooting, well-scoped, sporting rifles are rare throughout the region. I’ve done a couple dozen Asian hunts and, with just two exceptions, I’ve always brought a rifle. In the Philippines it was legally impossible; we borrowed a worn M14 from the local armory! But that was jungle hunting, where ranges are short. The last time I went to Pakistan I scrambled a hunt on short notice. Like this hunt in Cameroon, there wasn’t time to get a temporary permit, so I used the outfitter’s rifles. Mind you, before committing to the hunt I knew he had good rifles in camp and available.

Perhaps the weirdest “camp gun” I ever used was in the Philippines. Our outfitter had an arrangement with the local military and we “checked out” an M14 with military ball ammunition.
Perhaps the weirdest “camp gun” I ever used was in the Philippines. Our outfitter had an arrangement with the local military and we “checked out” an M14 with military ball ammunition.

No matter where you’re going, that’s a major key: If you choose not to bring your own guns, or you can’t, then you should find out what might be available for you to use. Honestly, you should do this anyway! Even with the best planning there is always the chance your baggage can go astray. Only rarely are guns permanently lost. This has never happened to me and, with heightened security, I think it’s extremely unlikely today. But delays happen and your hunt may be far from the airport; it’s good to know what’s on hand just in case.

The small tropical whitetail is the primary game in Peru. Rifles cannot be imported so “camp rifles” must be used and, for whitetails, must be accurate. This Model 70 in .270 Winchester was just perfect.
The small tropical whitetail is the primary game in Peru. Rifles cannot be imported so “camp rifles” must be used and, for whitetails, must be accurate. This Model 70 in .270 Winchester was just perfect.

Trust me, traveling with firearms is not getting easier! Recognizing this, smart outfitters the world over are “gearing up,” ensuring they have proper firearms to rent or loan. Heck, even though I’m completely left-handed, we keep a couple of decent right-handed rifles at the Kansas farm for hunters to borrow…and they see use every deer season!

Which is the Best Rifle Action for You?

Our beloved tradition of campfire arguments often centers around which cartridge we should choose. That’s always fun, but maybe by now you’ve gotten my oft-repeated message that, within broad parameters, it’s kind of silly. We all know that the 6.5mm Creedmoor is the hottest-selling cartridge right now, but is any deer or steel target likely to feel the difference (or lodge a formal complaint) if struck by a Creedmoor, a .270 Winchester, a 7mm-08, or any of dozens of cartridges we can think of?

I think not. Actually, so long as the projectile strikes the desired point, the launching platform also doesn’t make much difference. Although each has significant variations, there are essentially five rifle actions: semiautomatic, slide-action, lever-action, bolt-action, and single-shot. For completeness, I suppose one could add the double rifle. I like doubles in certain applications, but it’s fair to say that the double is mostly a break-open single-shot with a second barrel and firing mechanism.

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Roberts .257: A Quarter-Bore Worth a Comeback

The enclosed blind was warm, and it was still early; I was unlikely to see anything for a while. Truth is, I was wool-gathering… and when I glanced up there was a very large black boar standing broadside near the feeder. Oops! I raised the rifle, slowly got the barrel outside the window, and took a rest.

The distance was about a hundred yards; without further thought, I centered the crosshairs on the shoulder, a third up from the brisket. The shot felt good, but the pig lurched away, instantly lost behind some cedars. Now I needed to think about this. I’d taken the shot with a .257 Roberts and 117-grain Hornady SST. Hindsight being perfect, steady and at that distance, I could just as well have taken a head or neck shot, but I’d instinctively gone for my comfort zone, the shoulder shot, without considering that this was not a big gun for a large pig.

Well, done was done, and something else might come in. I waited until about 15 minutes after sundown, turned the scope down low, and went to check. The boar was every bit as big as I’d thought; he’d gone about 20 yards and was stone-dead. Impressive!

Wild Boar, Wild Hog, Texas Hunting
This big Texas hog took a 117-grain SST on the shoulder from the .257 Roberts and traveled about 20 yards.

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Vector Optics Continental Scopes: A Good Riflescope at Any Price!

A few weeks ago, my buddy Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter sent samples of the new Continental riflescope line from Vector Optics. In the sport optics business for more than a decade, Vector offers extensive lines of scopes, sights, rangefinders, red-dot sights, and more. Their new Continental riflescopes are their “top of the line” scopes, manufactured offshore (which keeps prices down) using good German glass. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be as satisfied or impressed as I am!

rifle scopes, vector optics
From bottom, Continental scopes in 1-6x24mm; 2-12-x50mm; and 3-18x50mm.

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