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.

Getting a Tune-Up with Field Practice

Some of us are smart enough to service our vehicles regularly to forestall problems. Others, unfortunately like me, are constantly late with scheduled maintenance. It’s a testament to good design and manufacturing that I don’t have more mechanical problems than I do.

target shooting, steel targets, Weatherby Magnum
Boddington working out on steel targets, shooting over a pack with the rifle and scope he used in Mongolia, a Blaser R8 in .300 Weatherby Magnum with Zeiss 4-16x50mm scope.

Shooting is a bit like that: Constant maintenance, meaning practice, really is essential to keeping your shooting skills honed. I’m pretty sure all competitive shooters, in all disciplines, and at all levels from beginner to distinguished would agree. Practice is essential not just to get better, but to maintain skill levels.

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Benchrest Shooting Tips

Serious benchrest shooting is one of the most demanding shooting disciplines. It’s essentially a scientific search for ultimate accuracy. I don’t pretend it’s my game. I’m primarily a hunter, and my preference is to get away from the bench and spend as much practice time as possible shooting from field positions.

However, shooting from the bench is essential for achieving the desired zero, as well as determining the level of accuracy your rifle delivers and which loads produce optimum accuracy. So, although I have never been and probably never will be a benchrest competitor, I do a lot of benchrest shooting.

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Smart Summer Shooting

Learn how to make the most of your summer practice sessions on the range or in the field.

The summer doldrums are passing by quickly! We can start to look forward to fall hunting seasons, but there’s still plenty of time for some good shooting practice. If you’re a serious accuracy freak, improving your bench shooting may be a good goal in itself. That’s probably not a productive goal for hunters, however—there aren’t many benchrests in any game country I’ve seen! For hunters, then, it’s important to spend at least some of that range time shooting the way you’re likely to shoot in the field, including trying some new positions and techniques to steady yourself.

Summer varminting is really the best practice for field shooting. The real secret, however, is to consciously seek field shooting positions. You won’t hit as many…but you’ll learn a lot more.

Varmint Hunting is Great Practice for Larger Game

Honestly, if you have any access at all, I think summer varmint hunting is the very best training for field shooting. My friend, Gordon Marsh (the proprietor of this website, Wholesale Hunter,) just got back from his annual prairie dog shoot in Wyoming. I’m a bit jealous—I haven’t made time to go prairie dog hunting in quite a while! This type of hunt offers training (and a lot of shooting!) that’s hard to replicate on any range.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re an eastern woodchuck hunter or a western prairie dog, ground squirrel, or rockchuck shooter. Few situations are better for teaching you how to read wind, and when you become confident that you can hit small rodents, big-game animals don’t seem quite so daunting. If you can go varmint hunting, take advantage of it, but don’t spend all your time shooting over sandbags. Spend some time trying new positions and techniques, such as lying down over a pack or shooting off bipods and tripods. You probably won’t hit as many targets, but you’ll improve your versatility in the field, and that’s an invaluable skill to have when you’re hunting larger game.

At the range it’s a good idea to practice the way you intend to shoot. An attached bipod is a great tool, but some rifles will change zero when a bipod is attached. Better check it out!

Mimicking Field Shooting on the Range

If you don’t have an opportunity to go varmint hunting, don’t worry—you can replicate field shooting on the range. First and foremost, get away from the bench and practice from real field shooting positions. Do at least some shooting from all four of the classic “NRA” positions of prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. Standing in particular is important, because it’s by far the most difficult position. Given any choice of a steadier position, only an idiot would take a standing, unsupported shot at a game animal, but sometimes, as in a fast-breaking close encounter, standing and shooting may be your only option. It’s better to practice your technique and never need to use it in the field than to be unprepared in a tough situation.

In the field the last and worst option is to take a standing unsupported shot…but in fast close-range encounters sometimes that’s all there is. You hope you never have to use it, but standing unsupported is a position that should be practiced a lot!

Donna and I use shooting sticks a lot, so we always take them to the range and spend at least some time shooting over sticks in both standing and kneeling positions. One of my favorite field positions is to rest over a pack, an extremely common situation in mountain hunting. Donna isn’t familiar with that scenario, though, so in preparation for a goat hunt, she practiced on the range by lying down over packs and rolled-up jackets at various heights.

In preparation for a mountain hunt Donna Boddington spent a lot of time on the range building various rests with packs and jackets. Note that she’s doing this with an old Kimber bolt-action .22…practice doesn’t have to hurt to be effective.

Range rules can vary widely, and you obviously have to work within the constraints of them, but you should be as creative as your imagination and your range allow. There aren’t any bullseyes, squares, or diamonds on game animals, so animal-shaped targets are more useful for field practice. Printed targets can be expensive, though, so I recommend interspersing your animal target-shooting with “paper plate drills.” A standard paper plate is a pretty good replica of a deer’s vital zone. I vary my paper plate drills and practice them standing, off sticks, and in a variety of field positions. Tiny little groups off the bench are confidence-builders, but from less steady field positions, “paper plate accuracy” is what you really need to achieve.

Paper plate drills are great: A paper plate is about the same size as the vital zone of deer-sized game, there is no precise aiming point, and they’re cheap alternatives to printed targets. They’re awesome for practice from field positions, and if you can consistently center the plate you’re ready for hunting season.


Build Good Habits: Practice with a .22 Rimfire

Earlier I said “practice smart,” and I meant it. As hunting seasons draw near, it’s essential to spend at least some range time with your hunting rifle. Avoid excessive practice with your favorite rifle—centerfire ammo is expensive and centerfire barrel life is limited. Most of the practice I’m talking about can be done with equal effectiveness with the good old .22 rimfire: little noise, no recoil, lower cost, and a whole lot less time wasted waiting for barrels to cool. In a perfect world, your .22 will be of the same action type and have similar scope or sights, but any and all rimfire shooting is good.

There’s no such thing as too much practice, but there is definitely such a thing as too much recoil. This is also where the .22 comes in. Range time is precious, and it’s tempting to try to cram in as much shooting as possible when you’re on the range. However, it’s a bad idea to overdo it; it’s all too easy to acquire a flinch or other bad habits that are all but impossible to shake off. The solution? Ration your recoil. Take it in sensible doses and mix in some plinking with your .22.

Donna Boddington practicing sitting behind a shortened tripod, a wonderfully steady option. In summer we don’t wear heavy jackets, so when shooting centerfires it’s a good idea to pad up. A folded towel helps, but the PAST Recoil Shield she’s wearing is better.

I can’t tell you how much recoil is too much because we all have different thresholds, but once you reach “too much,” it’s too late to turn back. With hard-kicking rifles, even ten shots in one range session can be over the limit. So, for instance, you’re very comfortable with a .270 or .30-06, but you’ve got a brand-new .375 or perhaps a real big-bore you’re itching to play with. Once again, the bench is a necessary evil for zeroing and testing accuracy. Pad yourself well, but shoot off the bench as little as possible. Shoot from sticks and offhand, so the body can give, and be patient. It’s impossible to get used to a new level of recoil in one range session, so plan your time. After a few shots with a big boomer, it’s a good idea to run a few magazines through a .22. This will reinforce good shooting habits and subconsciously remind you that shooting doesn’t hurt.

Donna is “working out” with a 9.3x74R double on paper plates. This light Sabatti shoots well but it has a bite…after a very few shots it’s time to run a couple of magazines through a .22!

If you do overdo it, don’t try to fight your way through it; you might create bad habits or hurt yourself. Instead, go back to the good old .22; concentrate on breathing and trigger control, and stick with it until your muscle memory is cleansed. Centerfire rifles, from varmint rifles to deer rifles, are by far my favorite tools, but the .22 rimfire remains the great teacher, and none of us are too old to keep learning. There’s always a .22 handy during my summer practice sessions!

Shooting sticks are marvelous but they take a lot of practice to get used to. It isn’t necessary to burn expensive ammo or absorb a lot of recoil: practicing with a .22 is just as effective!

Take-Away Tips for Practicing Smart Shooting

So as you continue your summer prep for hunting season, remember:

1) Varmint hunting is great practice for larger game, but you can replicate field shooting on the range with paper plate drills.

2) Practice different shooting positions to increase your versatility.

3) You should get some practice time in with your hunting rifle, but don’t overdo it. A .22 rimfire is just effective for practice drills as your favorite centerfire rifle.

4) If you worry you’re developing a flinch, take a break. Pick up your .22 and focus on breath control, trigger control, and other fundamentals. Don’t try to fight through a bad set—you can create bad habits that are hard to break.

Craig Boddington is one of today’s most respected outdoor journalists. He spent the past forty years exploring our natural world as a hunter and sharing his knowledge and experiences in dozens of books and through thousands of published articles and essays. He’s a decorated Marine, an award-winning author, and continues to be a leading voice for conservation and ethical hunting around the world. 

For autographed copies of Craig’s books please visit

Shooting Groups in Summertime

Summer is the Perfect Season to Improve Your Accuracy and Technique by Shooting Groups

Turkey season—and its ridiculously early mornings—is finally behind us, so it’s time to catch up on sleep! Unfortunately for hunters, just about all other hunting seasons are behind us as well. Fishing may be good, but for me, the summer doldrums offer a good time to get some serious shooting done.

It doesn’t matter much where your interest lies; all shooting is good practice, and all shooting is fun. Whether you’re into rolling cans, punching paper, ringing steel, or breaking clays, it’s all good! The summer is also a great time to take your kids to the range—with school out, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to teach them how to be safe shooters and to show them how much fun shooting can be.

I particularly enjoy summer shooting sessions. The long daylight hours let me take my time, and in the summer I’m usually not in a big rush to get a rifle ready for a hunt. I can work on loads and take my time shooting groups, and in between I can plink with a .22, bone up on handgun skills, and throw some clays. This month, I’m going to show you how you can make the most of your summer at the range by shooting groups.

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