THE VERSATILE LEVER-ACTION? By Craig Boddington

The lever-action is part of our heritage, as American as apple pie, motherhood, and John Wayne. In rifle tastes, many of us have gravitated to super-accurate, flat-shooting rifles; others to adaptable, fast-shooting (and also accurate) semiautomatics. I’m okay with these, but as I grow older, I find myself circling back to lever-actions! 

A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.
A very good blacktail buck, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308 Winchester. Though not designed for lever-actions, the .308 has been chambered to a number of lever-actions…and there are few things that can’t be done with a .308.

The Winchester 1894 and Marlin 336 alone account for ten million rifles! The majority of these, thus the majority of lever-actions, were chambered to .30-30. Although mild by today’s standards, the .30-30 remains a fine deer cartridge! 

No lever-action is an extreme-range platform. Depending on which action or model, lever guns are hampered by some combination of pressure limitations, action length, two-piece stocks, tubular magazines, and sight restrictions. Over time, many of these problems have been solved, or at least mitigated: All Henry, Marlin, Mossberg, and Savage lever-actions can easily be scoped, as can all Winchester 1894s since 1982, when “Angle Eject” came in. Historically, blunt-nosed bullets with poor aerodynamics had to be used in tubular magazines. Hornady’s Flex-Tip bullet with compressible polymer tip solved this, instantly improving ballistics. 

Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.
Boddington used a Winchester M88 in .358 Winchester to take this Shiras moose on a tough-to-draw Wyoming permit. Although definitely not fast, the little .358 is a powerful cartridge that hits hard with little recoil.

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Last fall I took my Kansas buck with a Mossberg 464 lever-action .30-30. The rifle wore an Aimpoint red-dot sight, and I used Hornady’s 140-grain Monoflex bullet (homogenous alloy with the Flex Tip). So, my setup wasn’t exactly the lever-action grandpa might have used. 

For three seasons we’ve known about a mature “cow-horn” spike, but he eluded all efforts to get him out of the gene pool. Last fall, on opening morning, “Old Spike” presented himself broadside 40 yards from my tree-stand. For that shot, neither optical sights nor the modern load mattered much, and the .30-30 performed perfectly. However, no matter how sighted or loaded, a .30-30 is, at best, a medium-range rifle, and ideally limited to deer-sized game. 

This black bear was taken in Manitoba with a Browning BLR in .358 Winchester. The BLR is available in a wide range of high-performance cartridges…and is also the last factory rifle still chambered to the .358…a great cartridge that never became popular.
This black bear was taken in Manitoba with a Browning BLR in .358 Winchester. The BLR is available in a wide range of high-performance cartridges…and is also the last factory rifle still chambered to the .358…a great cartridge that never became popular.

Over the years, numerous attempts have been made to increase both the power and range of lever-action rifles. The former is easy: Just get a bigger hammer, usually a bigger action capable of housing larger and more powerful cartridges! First Marlin (M1881) and then Winchester (M1886) developed actions capable of housing big cartridges like the .45-70. The big-bore lever-action, today often called “guide gun,” remains popular today. With the right loads in a strong action you can hunt very large game with such a rifle…up close. Extending the effective range of the lever-action and making it a truly versatile hunting rifle is another story, but, going back a full century, there have been and are options. 

This Texas hog dropped in its tracks to a single 200-grain Hornady FTX from a vintage Winchester M71 in .348 Winchester. Like most M71s, this rifle is iron sights only…so the cartridge is more versatile than the rifle.
This Texas hog dropped in its tracks to a single 200-grain Hornady FTX from a vintage Winchester M71 in .348 Winchester. Like most M71s, this rifle is iron sights only…so the cartridge is more versatile than the rifle.

The John Browning-designed M1895 Winchester included .30-06 in its chamberings, and its box magazine under the bolt allowed use of then-new spitzer bullets. However, like all top-eject lever-actions, the 1895 pretty much defies over-the-receiver scope mounting. Back then, nobody envisioned a time when riflescopes were in universal use, or the pressures and velocities we now take for granted were normal. 

Even so, Arthur Savage apparently had a pretty good crystal ball. From the start, Savage lever-actions were suitable for sharp-pointed bullets, and in 1915 the .250 Savage (.250-3000) was the first factory cartridge to break 3000 fps. All Savage lever-actions can be scoped, but in the 1950s the Savage 99 was the first production rifle drilled and tapped for scope mounts as “standard.” The .250 Savage is fast and versatile, but most hunters judge it too light in bullet weight and caliber for game larger than deer. 

Boddington had been after this horrible “cow-horn” spike for three seasons, finally taking him in 2019 with a Mossberg .30-30 using a 140-grain Hornady Monoflex bullet. The stand was in deep woods where shots would be close, ideal conditions for a .30-30.
Boddington had been after this horrible “cow-horn” spike for three seasons, finally taking him in 2019 with a Mossberg .30-30 using a 140-grain Hornady Monoflex bullet. The stand was in deep woods where shots would be close, ideal conditions for a .30-30.

In 1920 Savage introduced the .300 Savage, approximating .30-06 performance of the day. As propellants improved and velocities crept upward, the .300 Savage has lagged behind…but not by all that much! With a 150-grain bullet at over 2700 fps, the .300 Savage remains fast enough and flat enough to do anything most of us need to do. Although no longer chambered in new rifles, the .300 Savage remains in common use. I figure it’s the first of the few general purpose cartridges chambered to lever-actions. 

Left to right: .300 Savage, .308 Winchester, .338 Marlin Express, .348 Winchester, .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester. These are just a few cartridges that extend either power or range—or both—in lever-action platforms.
Left to right: .300 Savage, .308 Winchester, .338 Marlin Express, .348 Winchester, .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester. These are just a few cartridges that extend either power or range—or both—in lever-action platforms.

Based on a shortened .30-06 case, you could say the.300 Savage was the forerunner to the .308 Winchester. Introduced in 1952, the .308 was not designed for lever-actions…but there are plenty of lever-action .308s, and the.308 is a very great hunting cartridge. The Savage 99 was quickly adapted to .308, and was the most popular chambering in the 99’s later years. The .308 was also the most popular chambering in the Winchester M88. The 88, Sako Finnwolf, Browning’s BLR, and Henry’s Long Ranger are all box-magazine rifles, allowing spitzer bullets and easily scoped; and .308 was (or is) a common chambering. 

Some groups with Boddington’s “new” M71 .348 with low-power scope. The rifle is top-ejecting, so the scope is slightly offset to the left to preclude interference with ejection.
Some groups with Boddington’s “new” M71 .348 with low-power scope. The rifle is top-ejecting, so the scope is slightly offset to the left to preclude interference with ejection.

Okay, the .308 is not my concept of a long-range cartridge: Accurate and effective but just not fast enough. However, the .308 Winchester is hard-hitting and versatile. Between new manufacture and the rich used rifle market, .308 lever-actions are plentiful.  

Sadly, other versatile lever-action options are limited for the same old reasons: Action length or strength, plus tubular magazines or sight limitations. However, there have been numerous attempts! In 1955 Winchester necked up the .308 cartridge and created the .358 Winchester, powerful for its size…but not very fast. 

Introduced in 1920, the .300 Savage replicated .30-06 performance of the day…in the Savage lever-action. There are many thousands of .300 Savage rifles still in use, still a viable choice for most North American hunting.
Introduced in 1920, the .300 Savage replicated .30-06 performance of the day…in the Savage lever-action. There are many thousands of .300 Savage rifles still in use, still a viable choice for most North American hunting.

 In 1963, the .284 Winchester offered “.270-like” performance in the M88 lever action. Both the .284 and .358 were chambered in the Savage 99 and Sako Finnwolf but, oddly, neither cartridge caught on. I’ve had M88s, Savage 99s, and BLRs in .358, a wonderful medium-range cartridge…I wish I’d kept them all! The BLR is the last factory rifle chambered to .358. I should probably get one while I still can! 

The .338 Marlin Express was brand new when Boddington used it to take this Colorado elk in 2008 at about 200 yards. Sadly, the .338 ME didn’t take off, but Boddington describes it as the most versatile cartridge ever designed for lever-actions.
The .338 Marlin Express was brand new when Boddington used it to take this Colorado elk in 2008 at about 200 yards. Sadly, the .338 ME didn’t take off, but Boddington describes it as the most versatile cartridge ever designed for lever-actions.

Concerned over flagging lever-action sales, in 1982 Winchester introduced the .307 and .356 Winchester cartridges in a beefed-up version of the M1894. In semi-rimmed cases, they duplicate .308 and .358 Winchester performance…at the muzzle. Neither were popular; Hornady’s Flex Tip bullet technology didn’t yet exist so both the .307 and .356 suffered the old tubular-magazine curse of flat-tipped bullets that lose velocity fast. 

In 2007, using new FTX bullet technology, Hornady teamed up with Marlin to create the .308 Marlin Express, following up in 2009 with the fatter-cased .338 Marlin Express. These were (and are) the most versatile cartridges developed for tubular-magazine rifles. With spitzer FTX bullets, the .308 ME essentially duplicates .308 Winchester performance. The .338 ME, based on Hornady’s .376 Steyr case, pushes a 200-grain bullet at 2565 fps, slightly faster than the old .348 Winchester. Coupled with its aerodynamic FTX bullet, downrange performance is better. 

Boddington used a .338 Marlin Express when he drew a Shiras moose tag in Colorado in 2009.
Boddington used a .338 Marlin Express when he drew a Shiras moose tag in Colorado in 2009.

Sadly, timing was poor: Production and lever-action sales were down, Marlin was being sold, and a great cartridge languished. I never messed with the .308 ME, but I used the .338 ME quite a bit. I reckon it the most versatile cartridge ever developed for a tubular-magazine lever action. Three inches high at 100 yards is dead-on at 300…with plenty of power when it gets there.  

This Marlin in .338 Marlin Express was the most accurate tubular-magazine lever-action Boddington has encountered. Sighted three inches high at 100 yards, it would be dead-on at 300 yards, both powerful and versatile.
This Marlin in .338 Marlin Express was the most accurate tubular-magazine lever-action Boddington has encountered. Sighted three inches high at 100 yards, it would be dead-on at 300 yards, both powerful and versatile.

The .338 ME test rifle I had was the most accurate tubular-magazine rifle I’ve ever had my hands on. It accounted for a good bull elk at something over 200 yards, and a big Shiras moose on a Colorado mountain. That .338 ME is one of many test rifles I wish I’d kept. Lever-actions are seeing a resurgence, and I hope Marlin gives it another chance. 

I don’t consider the .338 Federal (.308 case necked up to .33) a “lever-action” cartridge, but in the BLR it certainly could be. The .348 Winchester is a lever-action cartridge. Developed in 1936 for the Winchester M71, the last iteration of the big 1886 action, the .348 is (at least arguably) the most powerful factory cartridge ever housed in a tubular-magazine lever gun. The 200-grain bullet at something over 2500 fps was most popular. For larger game, a 250-grain load at 2350 fps definitely hit harder! 

I’ve had at least one M71 .348 since the mid-1970s. I love the .348, but it has the Lever-Action Curse times two: Its tubular magazine requires blunt-nosed bullets that lose velocity fast. And: The top-eject M71 is pretty much relegated to open or aperture sights, so downrange cartridge potential is almost a moot point. 

These have been dilemmas throughout my long love affair with the M71 and its .348 cartridge! There was a time when I could resolve aperture sights well enough for 250-yard shooting, but those days are over. Last year, Hornady introduced a LeveRevolution .348 load with a spitzer 200-grain FTX bullet at 2560 fps…but, with iron sights, who cares? Well, I guess I cared enough to buy another M71, this one with an old Pachmayr side mount and a vintage Weaver2.5X scope! 

Honest, I don’t think of the .348—or, for that matter, any lever-action—as an open-country setup. The primary exception is the Browning BLR, uniquely chambered to a slew of modern cartridges all the way up to belted and short magnums! However, I tend to use my lever-actions in situations where I can predict shots and keep them within about 200 yards. With this scoped M71, I have that capability…and it will thump hard when the bullet arrives. 

Why not a .270?

Here’s a riddle: What cartridge is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than a 6.5mm Creedmoor…with similar recoil? And, is chambered to more rifles, with a wider selection of factory loads and component bullets? 

270 lineup-light: Left to right: .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .270 Winchester. All of these are great deer cartridges, but the .270 is far and away the fastest, most powerful, and most versatile of the group.

At the moment, it’s not true to say that everybody wants a 6.5mm Creedmoor. Right now, everybody wants whatever is ideal (or marginally suitable) for defending the hearth and home against virus-ridden zombie hordes. But I have to believe both happy and sane times will return, and we’ll spend more time thinking about hunting seasons past and looking forward to seasons ahead. I assume the Creedmoor Craze will continue, and everyone who wants a new hunting rifle will be longing for that amazing phenomenon, the 6.5mm Creedmoor. 

.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.
.270-general purpose: Left to right: .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum. All of these are acceptable elk cartridges, with the .270 and 7mm-08 good minimal choices, but fully adequate at moderate ranges.

It is a wonderful little cartridge, accurate and mild-mannered. It was introduced in relative obscurity in 2007, and rolled along quietly for a few years. Then, amazingly, it took off, and has become a dominant force in both new rifle and ammunition sales. Folks considering a new rifle, both friends and strangers, often ask for an opinion. Somewhere in the discussion, they’re almost certain to say, “Should I get a Creedmoor?” 

Bighorn-mt-1994: This Montana bighorn was the first wild sheep Boddington took with a .270. At the time he questioned his choice, but he was wrong: The .270 is an ideal choice for mountain game, fully adequate under any conditions.
Bighorn-mt-1994: This Montana bighorn was the first wild sheep Boddington took with a .270. At the time he questioned his choice, but he was wrong: The .270 is an ideal choice for mountain game, fully adequate under any conditions.

 If there’s time, I like to ask about their intentions. Target shooting? Hunting? What kind of distances? Somewhere in the discussion, I’m almost certain to throw out, “What about a .270?” Because: The 95-year-old .270 Winchester is faster, more powerful, and shoots flatter than the 6.5 Creedmoor…with similar recoil. And is chambered in most production rifles, and offered in a much wider array of factory loads and component bullets. This last is a matter of longevity.

Donna sticks-270: Donna Boddington on sticks with her MGA .270. This rifle weighs less than six pounds with scope so recoil is significant, but not appreciably more than a 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Donna sticks-270: Donna Boddington on sticks with her MGA .270. This rifle weighs less than six pounds with scope so recoil is significant, but not appreciably more than a 6.5mm Creedmoor.

The .270 Winchester has been popular since its introduction in 1925. The 6.5mm Creedmoor certainly outpaces it in new gun sales, but there are a lot of .270s out there. Until recently (when the Creedmoor came riding in), you couldn’t give away a 6.5mm in North America. Bullet and load development take time; it will be years before the .264-inch bullet diameter (or any 6.5mm cartridge) can eclipse the .270. 

DSC_6968: When Boddington drew his once-in-a-lifetime Arizona desert sheep tag he chose a .270 without hesitation. The shot was about 250 yards…which is pretty close to Boddington’s lifetime average for shots at mountain game.
DSC_6968: When Boddington drew his once-in-a-lifetime Arizona desert sheep tag he chose a .270 without hesitation. The shot was about 250 yards…which is pretty close to Boddington’s lifetime average for shots at mountain game.

As for speed and power, these are mathematics, not hype. The typical 6.5mm Creedmoor load propels a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps. Loads for the .270 Winchester have greater variance (because there are more of them!), but fairly standard are: 130-grain bullet at 3060 fps; 140-grain bullet at 2950 or so; and 150-grain bullet at 2850. 

IMG_0141: This .270 on a left-hand Carl Gustav action was built many years ago by gunmaker Joe Balickie. It groups well with just about anything, easily producing a sub-MOA five-shot group with a random handload recipe using IMR 4831 and a 140-grain Swift Scirocco bullet.

Because velocity squared is a key component in deriving bullet energy, the .270 produces more energy across the board. Recoil energy (equal and opposite reaction) uses the same formula. So, in real terms, the .270 kicks a bit more than the Creedmoor. However, they are in the same general range, and this is mitigated by the fact that, since the .270 requires a longer (.30-06-length) and thus heavier action, .270s average a bit heavier than Creedmoors, which are usually built on short actions, which are lighter. 

IMG_7712: A fine Cape hartebeest, taken in Namibia with the Joe Balickie .270, one shot at about 350 yards. Although more a North American than African cartridge, the .270 is adequate for the full run of African plains game…with the exception of eland.
IMG_7712: A fine Cape hartebeest, taken in Namibia with the Joe Balickie .270, one shot at about 350 yards. Although more a North American than African cartridge, the .270 is adequate for the full run of African plains game…with the exception of eland.

Now it comes down to your intended purpose, and there are pluses and minuses on both sides. The Creedmoor was designed as a long-range target cartridge, using the superior aerodynamics of the long-for-caliber 6.5mm bullets to remain supersonic as far out as possible, yet with minimal recoil. The .270 was intended as a hunting cartridge but, for whatever reason, has rarely been considered a target cartridge in any discipline. This leads to the commonly-held belief that the .270 is not an especially accurate cartridge. I’m not so sure about that.

NM elk 270: This New Mexico elk was taken with the longest shot Boddington has made on an elk, 400 yards. The rifle is a Dakota M76 in .270, using a handloaded 150-grain Nosler Partition. The bull was down on the spot, with perfect bullet performance.
NM elk 270: This New Mexico elk was taken with the longest shot Boddington has made on an elk, 400 yards. The rifle is a Dakota M76 in .270, using a handloaded 150-grain Nosler Partition. The bull was down on the spot, with perfect bullet performance.

Although I have less experience with the Creedmoor, I’ve never seen a Creedmoor that shot poorly…but I’ve never had accuracy issues with the .270, either. In fact, all three of the .270s we currently have consistently produce better groups than any of the several 6.5mm Creedmoors I’ve messed with. Except: A Ruger Precision Rifle (RPR) in 6.5mm Creedmoor was spectacular! The rest, multiple makes and models, shot fine…but, on average, no better than the many .270s I’ve targeted. 

O’Connor Stone sheep: Jack O’Connor, famous for promoting the .270, with one of his last wild sheep, a Stone ram, taken with his famous “No. 2” .270 by Al Biesen on a Model 70 Featherweight action. O’Connor’s rifles have a lot of value, but there are hundreds of good “O’Connor-vintage” .270s on the market…as well as plenty of new rifles.
O’Connor Stone sheep: Jack O’Connor, famous for promoting the .270, with one of his last wild sheep, a Stone ram, taken with his famous “No. 2” .270 by Al Biesen on a Model 70 Featherweight action. O’Connor’s rifles have a lot of value, but there are hundreds of good “O’Connor-vintage” .270s on the market…as well as plenty of new rifles.

There is one area where the 6.5mms win. From inception, the .270 has long been considered primarily a hunting cartridge. Hunting bullets in .277-inch diameter are rich and varied, but since it has not been considered a target cartridge, the .270 lags behind in development of the extremely aerodynamic projectiles so popular today. This is changing, but slowly. Hornady now offers a 145-grain ELD-X. Berger offers “low-drag” .270 bullets in 130, 140, 150, and 170-grain weights, and Sierra offers .277-inch match bullets. 

Pronghorn .270 Steve Johnson: Steve Johnson with a fine pronghorn, taken with a Ruger No. One .270. Among its many purposes, the .270 is absolutely perfect for pronghorn: The power isn’t really needed, but the target is small so a flat-shooting cartridge helps.
Pronghorn .270 Steve Johnson: Steve Johnson with a fine pronghorn, taken with a Ruger No. One .270. Among its many purposes, the .270 is absolutely perfect for pronghorn: The power isn’t really needed, but the target is small so a flat-shooting cartridge helps.

Now it comes down to your intended purpose. If you’re a target shooter, then the Creedmoor gets the nod…that’s what it was designed for! If you’re a deer hunter it’s kind of a tossup. The mild 6.5mms, not just the Creedmoor but also the .260 Remington and 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, are all marvelous for deer-sized game. Likewise, milder 7mms (7mm-08 and 7×57 Mauser). So is the .270, which is faster and more powerful than any of these. And, being faster, it shoots flatter. At extreme range, the aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets hold up better, but at normal hunting ranges, out to a quarter-mile or so, the mild 6.5mms aren’t fast enough to compete with the .270. 

Tx wt Donna 270: Donna Boddington used her MGA .270 to take this Texas whitetail. Throughout North America, there are no deer hunting situations where the .270 doesn’t fit in well.
Tx wt Donna 270: Donna Boddington used her MGA .270 to take this Texas whitetail. Throughout North America, there are no deer hunting situations where the .270 doesn’t fit in well.

Mountain game, sheep and goats, are in the “deer class” for size. I’ve never needed to make an extreme range shot on either a ram or a billy. Honestly, given the difficulty, effort, and expense of getting there, I wouldn’t take a chancy long shot and I never have. However, mountain hunting is such that terrain dictates the shot, and mountain animals rely on their eyes. Getting close is often difficult, and there are times when shooting at 400 yards and beyond is necessary.

For a serious mountain hunt, I wouldn’t use any of the mild 6.5mm or 7mm cartridges. They just don’t shoot flat enough. I would use the .270 Winchester…and I have, and will again. Pretty much like gun-writing great Jack O’Connor always told us: The .270 Winchester is a near-perfect mountain cartridge…which, by implication, suggests it’s ideal for a lot of purposes! 

When I say “larger game” I’m pretty much thinking elk, but you could include red stag, perhaps moose, and some of the larger African antelopes. Regardless of bullet diameter, a good 140-grain bullet starting at 2700 fps is adequate…but it depends on the distance. I think the milder 6.5mms and 7mms are marginal for elk, especially past 200 yards. Honestly, I don’t think the .270 is overly generous on elk-sized game…but it has the ability to propel aerodynamic 150-grain bullets at meaningful velocity. 

A century ago, early 6.5mms like the 6.5×55 “made their bones” with long-for-caliber 156 and 160-grain bullets, as did the 7×57 with 175-grain bullets. At close range these extra-heavyweights work like gangbusters, but they are invariably round-nose bullets with poor aerodynamics, ill-suited to open-country use. The longest shot I’ve ever made on an elk was just over 400 yards with a .270 Winchester.

I had hand-loaded 150-grain Nosler Partition spitzers to 2900 fps, checked over a chronograph. The day was dead still, one ridge to another. I held just a bit of daylight over the top of the shoulder. The bullet broke the on-shoulder, penetrated through the top of the heart, broke the off-shoulder, and exited. The bull tried to take a step, and went over backwards. Such a shot could be made with a milder cartridge…but I’d just as soon not try! 

The .270 is still chambered in virtually all bolt-action rifles, single-shots, the few slide-actions, some long-action semi-autos, and even Browning’s long-action BLR. And the used gun market is rich with good .270s. Jack O’Connor was the long-time champion of the .270, but he and the Winchester Model 70 are also inextricably linked.

My stepson, Jim, in law enforcement, is mostly a shooter, not a major hunter, but some time back we picked up a 1950s (“O’Connor vintage”) pre-’64 M70 at a good price. The metalwork was sound, but the stock was a mess so we put it in a synthetic stock…and it shoots. Nice rifle. Just for fun, I checked Gunbroker. Right now, they have a bunch of Model 70 .270s of all vintages. After all, in the 27 years of pre-1964 Model 70s, the .270 was the second-most popular chambering (after the .30-06). There are lots of them…and tens of thousands more .270s of all makes and models. 

Unfortunately, right-handed bolt-actions don’t do left-handed me much good, and there were no left-hand M70s until 1997 (and then not many!). With my left-hand affliction, I’m always on the lookout. Joe Balickie is a great custom maker, long retired. I always wanted one of his rifles, but when he was working I couldn’t afford one. A couple years ago he got hold of me and offered a rifle he’d made decades earlier. It was based on a left-hand Carl Gustav action in .270.

I couldn’t resist. Balickie was known for awesome stock work, and it’s one of the nicest rifles I’ve ever owned. It came with a vintage 2-7X Leupold, so my first instinct was to update the scope. I took it to the range, and the first group, with Hornady GMX, measured just over a quarter inch. I left the scope alone! There are lots of gems like that out there…and plenty of excellent brand new .270s as well. Most of us probably don’t need another rifle, but if you’ve got the itch, ignore all the horse-pucky going around and ask yourself, “Why not a .270?” 

UNDERSTANDING THE .17’S By Craig Boddington

Legend has it that the .17s originated in Australia, during a time when they were overrun with non-native foxes, in pestilence plenty, but still with value on the fur market. The advantage to the .17 was, on fox-sized animals, the tiny, frangible bullet, pushed fast, would enter, do its work…but not exit, leaving the pelt intact except for one tiny hole.

The African Cape fox is similar in size to American foxes. All of the .17s are excellent for this class of game because the light, frangible bullets rarely exit and do little pelt damage. The rifle is a Marlin in .17 HMR, the rifle Boddington keeps handy on his Kansas farm.
The African Cape fox is similar in size to American foxes. All of the .17s are excellent for this class of game because the light, frangible bullets rarely exit and do little pelt damage. The rifle is a Marlin in .17 HMR, the rifle Boddington keeps handy on his Kansas farm.

The idea migrated to North America in the 1960s, with American wildcatters developing numerous .17-caliber cartridges on various small cases. In 1971 Remington necked down the 223 Remington case to create the 17 Remington. It is still the fastest factory cartridge, propelling a 20-grain bullet at 4250 fps.

Continue reading “UNDERSTANDING THE .17’S By Craig Boddington”

In Praise Of Older Rifles By Craig Boddington

In this Wholesale Hunter Blog Craig Boddington discusses older rifles and compares the quality and value of older rifle Vs newer ones.

Crown recut: This inexpensive Remington .30-06 turned out to have a lop-sided crown, right group. We re-cut the crown at the range, a simple process (if you have the tools). Using the same factory ammo, it turned into a real tack-driver, center group.

Modern factory rifles are amazing, complete, reliable, and more accurate than ever before. In today’s dollars, basic bolt-actions, are more inexpensive than ever before. There are dozens of good models under $600, and some excellent new bolt-actions available for little more than half that. Almost invariably, most basic bolt-actions wear synthetic stocks, free-floated barrels, rust-resistant metal, and push-feed actions. No problem, they work and shoot well. And, of course, I shoot them, hunt with them, and write about them.

This custom .270 Winchester by Joe Balickie, on a left-hand Carl Gustav action, groups pretty well with everything…but it really likes the 130-grain GMX, top right. Naturally, that’s what Boddington uses to hunt with this rifle
This custom .270 Winchester by Joe Balickie, on a left-hand Carl Gustav action

However, my personal tastes run much more to good old walnut, mated and carefully fitted to blued steel. These features are available in new rifles of all action types. But you’ll pay more for them. It comes down to manufacturing costs. Synthetic is less costly than wood…and requires less hand-fitting and final finishing. Other action types, whether lever, semiauto, etc., are generally more expensive than basic bolt-actions; and controlled-round-feed (Mauser-type) bolt-actions are costlier than push-feed actions. Again, manufacturing costs: Number of parts, raw materials, and both machining and assembly time. Just the way it is!

A vintage .300 Savage on the California Central Coast. Rifle choices are somewhat regional; the Savage 99 was extremely popular on the West Coast and are seen on most used-gunracks. Used Marlins may be more common in the Upper Midwest.
A vintage .300 Savage on the California Central Coast. Rifle choices are somewhat regional; the Savage 99 was extremely popular on the West Coast and are seen on most used-gunracks. Used Marlins may be more common in the Upper Midwest.
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RIFLE ACCURACY WITH DIFFERENT LOADS By Craig Boddington

Today’s factory rifles are, on average, more accurate than I thought possible when I started shooting. American hunters and rifle shooters have long been obsessed with raw rifle accuracy, probably more today than ever before because of the growing fascination with long-range shooting. How much accuracy is really needed depends entirely on what you intend to do. Bench-rest and thousand-yard competitors need all they can get, and so do varmint hunters. Most big-game hunters probably have more accuracy than is truly necessary—but it’s a wonderful confidence builder to know that your rifle is capable of producing teeny, tiny groups! 

257 Roberts group: There’s no telling exactly what load a given rifle will shoot best…and it may not be the load you prefer to use. So far, Boddington’s Dakota .257 Roberts produces its best groups with Remington 100-grain round-nose Core-Lokt, not the most ideal hunting load for a flat-shooting cartridge. This rifle needs handloading and will get it!
257 Roberts group: There’s no telling exactly what load a given rifle will shoot best…and it may not be the load you prefer to use. So far, Boddington’s Dakota .257 Roberts produces its best groups with Remington 100-grain round-nose Core-Lokt, not the most ideal hunting load for a flat-shooting cartridge. This rifle needs handloading and will get it!

That’s a valid reason to demand extreme accuracy—and it’s amazing how many of today’s basic, inexpensive factory rifles deliver. I think this is because, with modern manufacturing, factory tolerances are tighter than ever, with more consistent barrels. When I was a kid, we figured a factory bolt-action that produced 1.5-inch 100-yard groups was pretty darned good. Rifles shooting one inch and better were cause for bragging. Today it’s amazing how many factory bolt guns retailing for less than $500 will consistently produce one-inch 100-yard groups. 

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308 Win OR 30-06 Springfield? By Craig Boddington

Right now, the 6.5 Creedmoor is gathering all the headlines and glory. Fifty years ago, the 7mm Remington Magnum was America’s darling, for some years the world’s most popular cartridge to carry a “magnum” suffix. Both, to me, are anomalies. America is .30-caliber country!

308 blacktail: An excellent blacktail from northern California, taken with a Winchester M88 in .308. The 88 is one of several lever-actions chambered to the .308. Able to fit into short actions, the .308 offers a much larger choice of both rifles and actions than the .30-06.

It started in 1892 with the .30-40 Krag, and continued in 1895 with the .30-30, now 125 years old and still selling well. Introduced in 1906, the powerful .30-06 became the American standard. Introduced in 1963, the .300 Winchester Magnum was at first reviled: Too short in the neck, caught up in Winchester’s catastrophic pre-’64/post-’64 shift, and designed to replace the revered .300 H&H. The .300 Winchester Magnum did not take off well. However, the sun, moon, and stars realigned. Over time the .300 Winchester Magnum, a proper American .30-caliber, booted the 7mm Remington Magnum as the most popular magnum cartridge.

308 Dad M70: My Dad, Bud Boddington, took most of his game with this Winchester M70 .308. Dating to the 1950s, it has been shot little since Dad passed 20 years ago—but it still groups extremely well…like most .308s.
308 Dad M70: My Dad, Bud Boddington, took most of his game with this Winchester M70 .308. Dating to the 1950s, it has been shot little since Dad passed 20 years ago—but it still groups extremely well…like most .308s.

It remains to be seen if the 6.5mm Creedmoor will retain its current popularity, but I believe order will return to the universe and we will again become a .30-caliber nation, as we have been since the dawn of smokeless powder. However this plays out, two great and versatile .30-caliber cartridges will remain among our most popular choices. They are, of course, the .308 Winchester (aka 7.62×51 NATO) and the .30-06 Springfield (aka .30 U.S. Government, Model of 1906).

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IN PRAISE OF PUMP GUNS! By Craig Boddington

Most upland and waterfowl seasons are over. Spring turkey season is coming up fast, so for many of us this is time to shop for a new turkey gun. Fine, but shotgunning is really about familiarity and fit (probably in that order). Turkey hunting is a bit different than most shotgunning because the birds are (more or less) stationary and you aim, but any time you invest in a new shotgun, it’s wise to also expend time and a bunch of shells in practice. Although they taste terrible, there are no bag limits on clay targets. Clays vary widely in speed, angle, and difficulty, but it really doesn’t matter if you shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, or hand-thrown targets: Every clay you shoot at (and especially every target you hit!) will make you more effective with that new shotgun.

1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.
1979 AZ quail: Warner Glenn and Boddington in 1979 after a great morning on Arizona desert quail. Warner has a very early straight-gripped Model 12; Craig’s is his factory skeet Model 12, made in the 1950s. In ‘79 he’d had the gun for a decade, and it had seen a lot of use.

I am probably best-known as a “rifle guy,” not so much as a shotgunner, and definitely not a turkey hunter. The latter is valid: I hunt turkeys, but I am no turkey expert! Shotgunning in general is a slightly different story. The Kansas I grew up in had few deer and zero turkeys, but we had oceans of bobwhites and lots of pheasants.

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44 Magnum: Not just for handguns!

Nobody said it better than Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan: “The 44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world.” At that time this was true, but the .44’s reign as the most powerful handgun cartridge has long since ended. Today it is surpassed in power by several factory cartridges, including the 454 Casull, 480 Ruger, and both the .460 and .500 S&W. However, these cartridges also surpass the .44 Magnum in recoil.

44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.
44 handguns: The .44 Remington Magnum, designed as a handgun cartridge, has been chambered to numerous pistols and revolvers. Boddington’s T/C Contender with .44 barrel and his S&W Classic Hunter are shown with Garrett’s 310-grain super-hard-cat “Hammerhead” load…which will not cycle in all lever-action carbines.

The big .44, properly the .44 Remington Magnum, is a handful in a handgun! Some find it difficult to master, but in a heavy revolver it’s really not that bad. It remains my favorite handgun hunting cartridge, very accurate and plenty powerful enough for anything I desire to hunt with a handgun! For years gunwriter Elmer Keith had been experimenting with heavy handloads for the old .44 Special, using that case because the brass was thicker and stronger than standard cases for the .45 Colt.

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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.

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.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.

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