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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.