THE PERFECT ZERO?

 By

Craig Boddington

Previously, this column discussed the process of “sighting in.” If you’re happy, then we’re done; it’s time to head for the deer stand! We’re going to assume we have enough accuracy to reliably hit a deer’s vital zone at whatever distance we might shoot. The vital zone of even a small deer offers about an eight-inch target, so extreme accuracy isn’t essential for much for field shooting.

Jarrett-300groups
Boddington’s Jarrett wears a Leupold scope with a CDS turret, calling for a 200-yard zero. The left-hand group was shot at 200 yards, ensuring a good starting point for dialing with a 180-grain SST load.

Hey, I love tiny groups because they instill confidence, and I love to ring steel at long range. However, I’m unlikely to shoot at a game animal much past 400 yards. Most of my shots at game are much closer, and many of us rarely need to reach past 200 yards. Theoretically, if your rifle is producing one-inch groups at 100 yards (one Minute of Angle or “MOA”), then it should produce two-inch groups at 200 yards, four-inch groups at 400 yards, and so on. Considering the size of the vital zone, one MOA is more accuracy than essential.

Boddington’s rifles wear iron sights
: Some of Boddington’s rifles wear iron sights…and a few have worn barrels. Either way, extreme accuracy isn’t possible…and unnecessary for a lot of field shooting. With excellent paper-plate accuracy at 50 yards, this old .300 Savage would be just fine to 150 yards…if Boddington could see the front sight well enough!

Actual groups usually get larger as distance increases, so I don’t mind having more accuracy than I really need, but let’s be reasonable and practical. Even today, with the best rifles, optics, and ammo ever, not all rifles can produce one MOA accuracy.

Tight groups instill
Tight groups instill great confidence, but sub-MOA groups aren’t essential for most field shooting. This Savage 100 .30-06 is more than field-ready: The excellent right-hand group is two inches high at l00 yards; the bullet will be “on” at about 200 yards

Not a train smash; 1.5 MOA is plenty for most field shooting. Most modern rifles will do at least this well, and that’s “good enough,” at least at normal field ranges. I have older rifles that are “two MOA” rifles.  Also not a problem. I hunt with them, but only in close-range situations! With such rifles, I usually do my zeroing on ten-inch paper plates. In that context, “paperplate accuracy” is good enough! Regardless of the accuracy you have to work with, and the ranges you might consider shooting, you still must decide exactly where to leave your rifle zeroed before you head afield.

TRAJECTORY CURVE

Traditionally, most of us leave a rifle zeroed slightly high at 100 yards, to take advantage of the bullet’s trajectory. Here’s how this works: There are two straight lines, line of bore and, slightly above, line of sight. Both are straight, but the path of the projectile is curved. Gravity starts working on any projectile as it leaves the muzzle, and air resistance slows it down. As distance increases, the projectile falls ever more quickly, eventually striking the ground.

: Gordon Marsh of LG Outdoors
Gordon Marsh of LG Outdoors at his bench, checking handload velocities with a Lab Radar, a wonderfully accurate tool that uses Doppler radar to measure bullet speed.

If line of bore and line of sight remain parallel, the bullet will never cross the line of sight and no zero can be achieved. Using sight adjustments, we actually zero so the line of bore and line of sight slightly converge. Line of bore remains straight, while the projectile’s path is curved. With line of bore tilted slightly upward relative to line of sight, the projectile’s curving path crosses line of sight twice, once at short range and again farther out. In between these points the projectile’s path will be above the line of sight. The point at which this distance above line of sight is greatest is referred to as “mid-range trajectory.”

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm
On the bench with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC. The scope is a Zeiss 2-12X; the big 56mm objective requires the scope (line of sight) to be considerably higher than line of bore. Height of the scope is a critical factor in good ballistics data and must be correct.

The steepness of the trajectory curve depends on velocity and projectile aerodynamics. In establishing final zero, we usually try to use that curve to best advantage, extending the ranges at which we can shoot without having to worry about holding off the target (above or below) to compensate for that curving trajectory.

There should be little mystery about the actual trajectory curve. For generations, printed ballistics charts have yielded this information, usually suggesting various sight-ins at 100 yards (the bullet’s first crossing of line of sight), and telling us greatest height of trajectory, and where the dropping projectile crosses line of sight again, and yielding bullet drop at various ranges as the decline accelerates.

On the bench with a Jarrett rifle
On the bench with a Jarrett rifle in .300 Win. Mag. Boddington’s California range is hot in summer, cool in winter, and always near sea level. When figuring ballistics data for open-country hunts, he estimates expected temperature and elevation. This works fine for the ranges he shoots at game, but guesswork isn’t good enough for extreme-range shooting.

Today, ballistics programs and smartphone apps yield the same information, and allow us to input altitude, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and more, all of which increase in importance as range increases. Printed data assumes a standard measurement of line of sight over line of bore (height of scope). Electronic data allows us to input this. With the larger (higher-mounted) scopes in vogue today, that measurement must be accurate.

PH Poen van Zyl and Texan John Stucker
PH Poen van Zyl and Texan John Stucker at the bench in Mozambique, checking zero on Stucker’s .375. With a crocodile hunt in the offing, we adjusted our zeros very carefully to be exactly dead-on at 50 yards.

All data, whether printed or electronic, assumes that the starting velocity is correct. Barrels vary in length, and there are “fast” barrels and “slow” barrels. For truly accurate data, it’s essential to use a chronograph to check the speed of your load in your rifle.

gnarly spike on his Kansas farm.
Boddington was delighted to take this ancient and gnarly spike on his Kansas farm. The rifle is a Mossberg 464 with AimPoint red-dot sight. The rifle was zeroed at 50 yards, the shot about the same distance

Fortunately, the vital zone of a big-game animal remains a large target! None of this stuff matters much if your goal is to shoot your buck from a favorite treestand, like in thick timber at my Kansas farm. When I’m setting up a rifle for an open-country hunt, you bet I measure height of scope and check velocity! Effects of altitude and climatic factors are less critical…until you get past normal shooting distance, or you have extreme variations. In preparation for fall hunts, I do my summer shooting in hot, low country. I make a guess on anticipated altitude and climatic factors, run the data, and zero accordingly. This has proven adequate for the ranges I shoot at game…but isn’t precise enough for extreme-range work!

DEAD-ON OR SLIGHTLY HIGH?

Whether at 25, 50, or 100 yards, a dead-on zero with a modern rifle cartridge is the first time the bullet crosses the line of sight. Farther on, it will be above the line of sight and, as the curve steepens, it will cross line of sight again somewhere downrange.

It is not true that “dead-on at 25 yards” will be close to “on” at 100 yards. This is possible with slower cartridges, and with iron sights or low-mounted scopes. With faster cartridges and higher-mounted scopes, I’ve found that a 25-yard zero will usually strike too high at 100 yards. A 50-yard zero comes closer, especially with low-mounted sights. I often zero iron-sighted rifles and scoped big-bores at 50 yards and call it done, knowing that I’m unlikely to use such rifles much past 100 yards. However, with today’s big scopes, I find that a 50-yard zero is usually three or four inches high at 100 yards. This puts the second crossing of the line of sight ‘way out there, and creates a mid-range trajectory as much as six inches above line of sight. For me, this increases risk of shooting over an animal (or hitting too high).

John Stucker and Boddington with Boddington’s Mozambique croc
John Stucker and Boddington with Boddington’s Mozambique croc, taken in September 2021 with a Blaser .375 H&H. The Nile crocodile must be taken with either a brain or spine shot. All rifles were zeroed dead-on at 50 yards; Boddington’s four-hunter group took four big crocs…anchored with one shot each.

For close-range work, there’s nothing wrong with a 100-yard zero. Depending on cartridge, “dead-on at 100” will be on again at 150 to 175 yards, with little mid-range-rise. More common is to zero a “couple of inches high” at 100 yards. You can study ballistics charts and programs, and you should. Depending on your cartridge (and load, and bullet), a zero of two to 2.5 inches high at 100 yards will put you dead-on somewhere between 200 and 300 yards. You shouldn’t have to hold low at closer range, and you shouldn’t have to hold over until nearly 250 yards. In my youth, Jack O’Connor was our greatest gunwriter. His consistent advice was to zero “two to 2.5 inches high” at 100 yards. I believe his formula remains sound, and that’s the way I usually zero for general-purpose use. Most important to me: I never establish a 100-yard zero any higher than that, because of the risk of shooting over at “medium” range!

DIALING THE RANGE

These days, dial-up turrets are all the rage, and they change the game. Some systems require either a 100 or 200-yard zero as the starting point. If you intend to dial the range, then I assume you may be shooting at some distance. I don’t like a 100-yard zero in open country, simply because you must start holding over (or dialing) at fairly close range. With today’s optics, dialing is precise, but fraught with human error: You must dial correctly and, if you don’t shoot, you must remember to dial back to zero. (Trust me, everybody forgets now and then!)

Leupold CDS
With a good scope, dialing the range or holdover is the most precise method, but the data must be correct and verified by shooting at actual distance. This CDS turret is for a .300 Weatherby Magnum load at a measured 3185 fps with 180-grain SST. The 6000 feet elevation and 30-degree F temperature reflect anticipated hunting conditions.

I’ve used several systems with good results, but a favorite is Leupold’s Custom Dial System (CDS), with turret calibrated to my load at a stated altitude and temperature. On these, again, I strike an average of most likely conditions. My CDS is based on a 200-yard zero. At 250 yards I’ll usually hold slightly high on the shoulder, keeping it simple and taking advantage of that large vital zone. I normally don’t consider dialing until about 300 yards.

If your system is based on a 200-yard zero, then you should check zero at the actual distance, so your starting point is verified as correct. Then, if you’re serious about shooting at longer ranges, you need to verify your data all the way out. This is a stumbling block for many who don’t have ready access to a “long” range. Sorry, whether published or electronically generated, data cannot be considered valid until verified by shooting at actual distance. The farther you might consider shooting at game, the more critical this becomes!

Rigby 7x57 groups
: This Rigby 7×57 groups about 1.5 MOA with this load, a 139-grain Interlock at 2700 fps. Zeroed two inches high at 100 yards, the bullet will be “on” at 200 yards, so a dead-on hold will work to about 225 yards.

Finally, if you’ve traveled some distance—by any means—it’s important to check zero when you arrive at your hunting destination. There’s no consistency about how much (or how little) rattling around may cause a shift in point of impact, so it’s always worth checking. On long, tough hunts, I’ll usually check zero every few days, for sure if the rifle has been dropped! I also recommend checking zero after an inexplicable miss. It’s terrible for the ego, but great for peace of mind to know for sure it was your fault! When planning ammo for a distant hunt, factor in enough to check zero about three times!  

TIME TO SIGHT IN! By Craig Boddington

With apologies, for some it’s too late! Rifle deer season opened in August in such diverse places as Alaska, California’s “coast zone,” and parts of South Carolina. I hope you were ready but, for most of us, deer season lies some weeks ahead. So now, as the summer doldrums persist, this is the time to get to the range and make sure your rifle is perfectly in zero and ready for the Blessed Opening Day!

 Fat_ wrench
Even on .22 rimfires, accuracy depends on all mount and ring screws being tight. Wheeler’s FAT Wrench is a great tool for both checking screws and mounting scopes. A setting of 25 inch-pounds is about right for most scope mounts and rings.

Human Nature being as it is, many of us wait until the last minute, trusting Old Betsy. If she responds as usual, not a problem. However, in these times of pandemic ammo shortages, it’s better than ever to plan ahead and get to the range early.

While it’s critical to be sure you’re properly zeroed, I try to expend as few rounds as possible! Here’s how I do it: 

GOT A SCREW LOOSE?

action_screws
While checking scope mount screws, also check action screws…good and snug, but not overtightened!

Saving ammo makes the first step even more important: Make sure all your screws are tight! A friend of mine in Kansas needed to zero his .243. It was a “package” rifle with an inexpensive scope. I’ve often had good results with inexpensive scopes of various brands, but, oddly, this scope was completely unmarked other than “3-9X”: No manufacturer or origin! Results were so erratic he ran out of ammo before he got it zeroed and suspected a bad scope. He left it with me, but I had no .243 ammo. I called around and neighbor Mark Woods found a couple boxes.

fat wrench
Proper tools save much time and frustration. The Wheeler FAT Wrench, an adjustable torque screwdriver, is a great tool for getting mount screws tight…without going too far and shearing off screws. 25 inch-pounds is a good setting for most scope-mounting systems.

I agreed, probably the scope but, rather than waste more ammo, I checked all the screws. The bases were tight, but ring screws could have been tighter. That doesn’t mean the scope was good or bad; with loose screws there’s no way to know! Rather than mess around, I dug into the safe and found an older Bushnell I could lend him, knowing it had held zero on other rifles.

Mounting a scope is more difficult than checking screws, but both are a whole lot easier with proper tools! I carry gunsmith screwdrivers and Allen wrenches just about everywhere, always regretting it when I leave my little kit behind! Wheeler’s FAT Wrench torque screwdriver is a wonderful tool; you want to get screws plenty tight…but not so tight that you shear them off. Absent specific manufacturer’s instructions (a worthwhile read!), I set the FAT Wrench at 25 inch-pounds.

If you’re shooting a bolt-action, don’t forget to check the action screws! A loose action screw plays havoc on accuracy. Over-tightening can be just as bad; it’s possible to literally suck the action down into the stock, creating a bind between action and barrel. Snug, but not cranked down with all your strength!

In the field, every shot depends on having the rifle zeroed exactly where you want it!

We still don’t know if the original “unmarked” scope is good or bad. We do know it wasn’t the gun! I got it on paper, adjusted to 50-yard zero, took it to 100 yards, and shot a one-third-inch three-shot group. Mission accomplished with seven rounds expended.

ON PAPER

on _ paper
With a 50-yard zero, a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC (with 3-18x50mm scope) shot a great first group at 100 yards, but four inches high. Boddington came down 12 clicks, and then left two clicks. This rifle is zeroed. Now comes practice and comparing loads!

Before you can establish zero, you gotta get on paper. If the rifle is an old friend, maybe you can start at 100 yards, but if it’s a new rifle, new scope, or screws were loose, you’ll save ammo by starting out with a good-sized target much closer!

In order to hit any target, the line of barrel and line of sight must be roughly aligned. Gun shops and many serious shooters use optical and laser bore-sighters. Being old and a bit old-fashioned—and not needing to zero rifles daily—I usually bore-sight by eye. I have seen anomalies with optical and lasers, and I can usually get about as close by eye. Doesn’t matter how, the goal is to get on paper!

So long as you start with a checked-and-empty rifle, you can bore-sight anywhere, but I prefer doing it at the range because you must have a steady rest and a good aiming point…like a paper target. Doing it by eye assumes you can get behind the rifle and look through the barrel, then lift your head and look through the scope or sights. With bolt-actions, remove the bolt. Bore-sighting is also easy with most single-shots. With ARs, I detach the lower receiver and remove the bolt, resting the upper and barrel. More on other actions later!

Rest the rifle securely so you can center the target through the barrel. Then look through the scope (or sights). With luck, you’re pretty close, but initial differences between line of bore and line of sight are common. With optical sights, keep the line of bore securely centered on the target. Look through the scope and use your windage and elevation turrets. You can see the reticle move relative to the target. Center the reticle on the target, and double-check to make sure line of bore and line of sight both remain centered.

russiawithlove
Doesn’t matter how far; if you travel to a hunt, always verify zero at your destination. In southern Russia, Joe Bishop and Boddington put shots side-by-side; they’re ready to start the hunt!

You are ready to fire a close-range sighter. Chances are the first shot won’t be perfect, but you should be on paper. If not, check bore-sight again. If it’s still looks good, move the target closer. This is not the time for ego; save ammo and get on paper!

Once on paper, adjustments are made normally, following the “left or right, and up or down” arrows on the turret or, with iron sights, moving the rear sight in the direction you need to move the bullet strike. For scopes, you’ll need some math. Most common with American scopes today is ¼ MOA, meaning each adjustment is supposed to move the strike about ¼-inch at 100 yards. Four clicks to the inch…at 100 yards. If you got on paper at 50 yards, double the clicks; at 25 yards, quadruple the clicks. Do not expect the clicks to be consistent; only very good scopes have perfect adjustments! Articles have been written about “three-shot-zeroing” and such, but these usually assume perfect adjustments, and that’s not the real world. This is why I start with a close-range zero!

: It doesn’t matter if the firearm is a short or long-range tool. Sighting in needs to be done from a dead-steady rest, removing as much human error as possible.

With guns that don’t allow removing the bolt (lever and slide-actions, muzzleloaders, some semiautos, most handguns) bore-sighting through the barrel isn’t possible. Love my lever-actions, but getting on paper can be more difficult. If you have access to an optical or laser bore-sighter, fine. If not, start close with a big target! We keep butcher paper on the range and mark an aiming point. With scoped bolt-actions, I usually start at 50 yards with a standard 12×12-inch target. I expect to be on paper with the first shot…but I’ve done this a lot! With other firearms, I start at 25 yards or use a larger target. You must get on paper. Once you have a starting point, adjusting the strike is pretty simple.

ZERO RANGE (AND ZERO)

Zero
Checking bore-sight in deer camp, always a good idea if a rifle is dropped or you suspect a problem. All you need is to get the rifle good and steady, and have a highly visible aiming point.

With rifles, there’s an urban legend that “if you’re on at 25 yards, you’ll be good at 100 yards.” This is possible with iron sights, where line of bore and line of sight are close together, but untrue with scopes because, the larger the scope and the higher the mount, the greater the distance between line of bore and line of sight. With scopes and high-velocity cartridges, if you’re “on” at 25 yards, your strike will be too high at 100 yards. At 25 yards, I adjust to an inch low. With larger scopes and fast cartridges, “dead-on” at 50 yards is usually still too high at 100. A half-inch low at 50 yards is often pretty close at 100.

Whether 25 or 50 yards, I establish an approximate close-range zero before I move out. The closer you are, the easier it is to be precise. Sighting in, and all benchrest shooting, is about removing human error and allowing the firearm to do its work.

sighting_in
Whether in the field or on the range, every time you make a scope adjustment, look at the arrows, moving the bullet strike in the direction of the arrow. All of us do it backwards now and then, wasting time and ammo!

What happens next depends on the firearm and its intended purpose. With iron sights, I zero at 50 yards and I’m done; I can no longer resolve open sights well enough to shoot meaningful groups at 100 yards! Likewise with specialized tools: Most slug guns and muzzleloaders; big bores for dangerous game.

For scoped rifles and handguns that have the capability, next stop is 100 yards. Before making adjustments, I’ll usually shoot a three-shot group, to see if the firearm will group with the load I’m using; and to see where the group prints. With reasonably accurate rifles and decent optics, there are often disparities, a bit right or left, or farther up/down than expected. 50 yards is too close! I start with a group, and then adjust to the desired point of impact. If the scope’s adjustments are accurate, this could take just one more shot.

Old friend and fellow writer Gordy Krahn made a perfect shot on this excellent blacktail at Steinbeck Vineyards during California’s August “coast zone” season. Most rifle seasons lie ahead, but Gordy had an early opportunity. He was zeroed and ready!

We haven’t practiced or compared different loads, but as far as sighting in, we’re done. With good bore-sighting and a bit of luck, seven to max ten rounds should do it! Where final point of impact should be depends on the firearm, scope, intended purpose…and personal preferences. This is actually a more complicated subject, so I think I’ll leave it until next month. That will still be ahead of most of our firearms big-game seasons!

TOP THREE AR CARTRIDGES

By

Craig Boddington

The two most popular actions in the U.S. must be John Browning’s Colt 1911 pistol…and Gene Stoner’s Armalite 15, long shortened to AR15 (which does not stand for “Assault Rifle”). Dozens and dozens of large and small firms make (and have made) firearms based on these actions. All self-loading actions have sharp limits on the size of cartridges they can accept. The .45 ACP cartridge was developed for and around the Colt 1911. Browning and his team must have done a good job because, 110 years later, the .45 ACP still rules the 1911 world. Although easily adapted to 9x19mm (and expanded to 10mm), the Colt 1911 frame has spawned few other pistol cartridges.

AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.
AR15 Rock River groups: Boddington’s “ranch rifle” is a left-hand Rock River AR in 5.56mm. It has served well from varmints to deer, and both availability and choices in ammo are strong suits of the .223/5.56mm.

The AR15 action is also not new. Developed in the 1950s, it is fast approaching retirement age. Formal acceptance of the AR15 and its “final” cartridge by the U.S. military came in 1963. That cartridge was “Cartridge 5.56mm Ball M193, already released to the public as the .223 Remington. Then and now, the .223 is a great cartridge. It is not as inherently accurate as the .222 Remington, but the military specs required more velocity. This led to the .222 Remington Magnum…which led to the .223.

Old-timers (including me!) lamented the loss of the M14 and its 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester), more powerful and offering greater range…at cost in rifle and ammo weight and recoil. Right or wrong, the deal was done, and for decades the AR15 platform and the 5.56mm/.223 Remington were inextricably linked. However, there has been much recent development in “AR-compatible cartridges.

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SHOT AT DEER- BY CRAIG BODDINGTON

Across the country, it’s deer season! For some the best of the season is behind us, but for most American hunters the best part of the season is yet to come. This depends on where you live, depending on the season. Which, in turn, depends on local weather, deer densities, and management goals. Limits are based on the same! My friends in the Deep South tend to have amazingly long and lavish seasons, usually with multiple bucks allowed and lots of doe tags.

Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!
Brad McCarty 2019: Brad McCarty took this old, downhill buck from a Texas-style tower blind in Boddington’s largest food plot. At about 175 yards, this was one of the longest shots of 2019’s charmed season. Using a 6.5mm Creedmoor, his buck was down on the spot!

In the West and Midwest, we’re usually not so blessed. Deer densities are lower and the populations are more fragile. A “one-buck” license is more common. Whether you’re in South Carolina (where, uniquely, some counties still have no limit on bucks). Or, in Kansas, where we are a strict one-buck state, it makes sense to make every buck tag count. But it really doesn’t matter: The odds are with the deer! Whitetail or mule deer, there is no hundred-percent deer hunting in North America!

Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7x57.
Dan Guillory 2019: Dan Guillory’s 2019 Kansas buck was the best of the season. Although genuine tracking was not required, this buck probably ran the farthest of any 2019 buck…despite a perfect lung shot with a 7×57.
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PIG POWER by Craig Boddington

Just after sunset we came around a bend in the trail. The pig was standing in deep shadow under an oak, good-sized, solitary, probably a boar. That’s about all we could tell, and that was enough. Donna’s shot looked good, but the pig rolled into a little depression just out of sight. Donna and our rancher friend, Tony Lombardo approached and immediately backed up…fast!

44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.
44 hog: This ugly hog was taken in a wild melee with dogs using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A big, open-sighted revolver is a great choice for hound hunting where shots are sure to be close, but not versatile enough in many situations.

The first shot was fine, but the pig didn’t accept that and was almost on top of them before it dropped to a quick second shot. It was not exactly a close call, but several exciting seconds! In fading light, we hadn’t appreciated that this was a really good boar, burly and heavy, with four inches of thick, sharp tusk showing above the gum line.  

AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
AG110923: A good-sized Texas porker, taken with a Winchester Model 71 in .348. Big-bore lever-actions are dramatically effective on hogs and fun to hunt with, but the aperture sight on this rifle limits range and, more importantly, becomes almost when the light goes.
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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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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.
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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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