Craig Boddington


Shooting groups is all about determining a rifle’s accuracy, little to do with the shooter. That said, it’s essential to ensure your benchrest technique is sound. The platform (bench) must be rock-solid. There’s a reason why most ranges use massive, immobile cement benches. Good sandbags work well, but there’s no substitute for a solid, heavy adjustable rifle rest. Get the scope centered on target and make fine adjustments until it’s perfect. The idea is to settle into the rifle, gain your sight picture, and press the trigger without “muscling” the reticle onto the target.

This falling block .303 was showing vertical stringing, right. Increased pressure on the fore-end screw and a business card shim at the fore-end tip immediately changed the groups from vertical to round. With the right load, accuracy should improve.

Before firing, dry fire a few times, checking the rifle’s position—and your trigger press and breathing. When the trigger breaks there should be no movement at all. If there is, start over and re-adjust the rifle.

Raw accuracy is about the rifle, not the shooter, but first check your technique, and be certain you’re shooting from a rock-solid bench and a good shooting rest.

We’re going to assume you’ve checked all screws (action, scope mount, rings) and made sure all are tight. This is about determining your rifle’s accuracy. If you discover later that a screw was loose you’ve just wasted every shot. Who can afford that today?


A micro-photo of the inside of a barrel. Even the best new barrels will show tool marks and rough spots. The passage of bullets—and frequent cleanings—will smooth a barrel, usually (but not always) improving accuracy after 50 to 100 rounds.

Everybody has a different cleaning protocol. I’m not OCD about it; I definitely don’t clean a barrel every time I put a bullet through it. However, when shooting for groups, I start with a clean, cold barrel, and I clean it on the range after four or five groups. After cleaning I fire a couple of fouling shots. Cleaning invariably leaves some solvent or lubricant in the barrel, so the first shots may have a different point of impact before bullets have “scrubbed” the barrel. The difference is rarely dramatic, but the fouling shots should not be counted as part of a group. With slender barrels, this may mean waiting for the barrel to cool before shooting a group “for score.”

A free-floated barrel should allow free passage of fairly thick paper between barrel and channel.

Breaking in a new barrel is a different deal! Even the best new barrel has near-microscopic tool marks and rough spots. The passage of every bullet removes a bit of steel, polishing and smoothing the barrel (until, eventually, it’s “shot out”). Every experienced shooter has a personal protocol for a new barrel. Some fire one shot, clean…and then repeat ten times! Again, I’m not that guy, but I clean a new barrel much more frequently! Lapping a barrel is one way to short-cut the process, polishing the bore with a mild abrasive. One method I’ve tried (definitely saves ammo) is a hundred passes with JB Bore Cleaner, a mild abrasive paste.

Action bedding
True “drop-in” stocks are uncommon. The action must be held firmly and consistently in the stock to preclude movement. Even major manufacturers often use bedding compound to ensure secure bedding, especially around the recoil lugs and action screws.

Not all barrels need break-in. Some shoot as well as they ever will right out of the box, but this is rare. There is no magic number, but in my experience, most barrels need 50 or 60 shots (at least half-dozen cleanings) before they settle down. Until then, whether you’re impressed or depressed by your groups, don’t worry about it too much. Experiment with different loads…and don’t start hacking on the bedding! My current mountain rifle is a .300 Winchester Magnum by Kenny Jarrett. It should shoot, and it does, but this barrel was slow to break in, lackluster groups with much load-to-load variance. It wasn’t like it suddenly woke up and started to shoot. Average groups gradually improved…incrementally. Today, with a few hundred rounds down the barrel, it shoots well with any good load, awesome with some, and most of its barrel life lies ahead.


A rounded crown is most common on sporting rifles. The crown is surprisingly fragile and easily damaged; the greatest hazard is probably muzzle-down in a vehicle grinding against the grit and dirt on the floorboard.

The muzzle crown is the last thing the bullet touches as it leaves the barrel. It must be cut evenly and concentrically, 90 degrees to axis of bore. It’s not unusual to find an off-center crown and, even if the rifle left the factory perfect, the crown surprisingly fragile and easily damaged. Such as, by grinding muzzle-down amid the gravel and debris of a vehicle floorboard.

If a barrel just won’t shoot the way you think it should—or, if accuracy suddenly deteriorates—it’s amazing how often the culprit is a sloppy crown…even on new rifles. Any gunsmith can recut a crown, and tool sets are readily available; it’s a five-minute job. But, before you do that, it costs almost nothing (one cartridge) to check it out.

To check a muzzle crown, paint it with common typewriter whiteout and fire a shot. You will see blast marks where the rifling grooves meet the crown; they need to be consistent all the way around.

Carefully paint the muzzle, around the rifling, with typewriter “white-out.” Let it dry, and put one cartridge downrange. There will be black lines, “blast marks,” on the white where the rifling grooves meet the crown. In my experience, these blast marks are easier to see on recessed or “target” crowns, more difficult with rounded crowns; you may want to use a loupe to study the marks carefully. 

If the marks are concentric and similar adjacent to the grooves, probably not the crown.  but if one or more marks is smaller or different, repaint the crown and fire another shot. If the same, I’d recut the crown before I tried anything else. It’s amazing how often this proves the problem, with a properly-square crown dramatically shrinking groups.


A free-floated barrel should allow free passage of fairly thick paper between barrel and channel.

Bedding is mating action to stock, and barrel to barrel channel. Tightly and uniformly fitting action to stock is essential to preclude movement. Barrel bedding is a matter of dampening, or making consistent, barrel vibrations while the bullet passes through the bore. The several methods all work…but none work all the time on all barrels. In full-contact bedding, whether with carefully sculpted wood or a bedding compound (like fiberglass), the barrel makes full contact throughout the channel.

Full-contact bedding is the most difficult bedding technique. Free-floating is the opposite, essentially no bedding at all: The barrel makes no contact forward of the action, and the barrel is free to vibrate as it will. This is easiest and cheapest bedding techniques. It works well on some barrels…but no technique works on all barrels. In between full-contact and free-floating are several options. Many makers bed the first few inches of barrel, at the shank, then free-float the rest. Pillar-bedding is a popular variation of this.

To try a business card shim, just loosen the action screws, insert a business card between barrel and fore-end tip and retighten the screws. The purpose is to place a couple pounds of upward pressure on the barrel, which often has the effect of dampening barrel vibrations and making accuracy more consistent.

Then there’s pressure-bedding, building up a pad near the fore-end tip (usually with bedding compound), so that, with the action screws tight, a couple pounds of upward pressure are exerted on the barrel. Inexplicably, but demonstrably, this serves to dampen or make barrel vibrations more consistent. It was a favorite technique with pre-’64 Model 70s which, though often surpassed today, were often exceptionally accurate for their time.


I’m not big on hacking on bedding; you can drive yourself nuts, usually to no avail. A given barrel is only going to group so well, no matter how much you want it to do better. However, there are a couple of things you can check. If a barrel is supposed to be free-floated (all or part), run a piece of paper between barrel and channel. High spots, especially along the sides, will bear on the barrel and ruin accuracy. This is not uncommon with sloppy factory stocks, and must be relieved.

To try a business card shim, just loosen the action screws, insert a business card between barrel and fore-end tip and retighten the screws. The purpose is to place a couple pounds of upward pressure on the barrel, which often has the effect of dampening barrel vibrations and making accuracy more consistent.

The best trick I know is to try a business-card shim to replicate pressure bedding. I learned this in the 1970s from a pre-’64 Model 70 collector, and I’m still amazed at how often it works. Loosen the action (or fore-end) screw(s) so you can insert a business card between fore-end tip and barrel. Depending on space, it may take more than one, but, with the card in place and screws tightened, you can feel you’re putting just a bit of upward pressure on the barrel. You can also adjust the placement of the shim, but just behind the fore-end tip is the place to start.

Before and after: Right, a group fired from a barrel with a sloppy crown. Left, a group fired immediately after recutting the crown. With accuracy, results this dramatic aren’t common, but sometimes you get lucky.

This trick is especially good to reduce vertical stringing. Just now, I’ve been messing with Uberti’s Courteney Stalking Rifle, 1885 High-Wall action, one of the two .303 British rifles I mentioned. Lovely rifle but, despite a stiff barrel, it showed vertical stringing. I adjusted pressure on the fore-end screw, which helped. Two thickness of business cards changed the groups from vertical to round.

Boddington’s .300 Win Mag by Kenny Jarrett is especially accurate, but this particular barrel was slow to break in, really coming into its own after more than 100 rounds. Top left group is a final zero at 200 yards.

If this little trick doesn’t help, nothing lost. Remove the cards, tighten the screws. If it works, you can cut the cards to fit, then soak in oil to prevent rust from moisture absorption, or you can replace the cards with brass bar stock. I’ve done this once or twice, but I’ve got several rifles with permanent business card shims!

Couple years ago, I had a test rifle from a well-known maker that wouldn’t shoot like I thought it should. I shimmed the barrel with a business card and shrank the groups significantly. My mistake: I didn’t remove the shim before I returned the rifle. They discovered it and accused me of hacking on their bedding. That manufacturer hasn’t spoken to me since and probably won’t…but it still worked!


So, you want your rifle to deliver teeny, tiny groups? Sure, and people in hell want ice. The search for exceptional accuracy can be exhaustive and costly, so let’s start with one question and one reality.


Craig Boddington

So, you want your rifle to deliver teeny, tiny groups? Sure, and people in hell want ice. The search for exceptional accuracy can be exhaustive and costly, so let’s start with one question and one reality. Question: How much accuracy do you really need? Reality: Any given rifle has a finite level of accuracy it can deliver.

One 7×57: Boddington loves the Ruger No. One single shot but concedes that, especially with light barrels, they can be finicky. This 7×57 was all over the map and frustrating. Top right, it finally found a load it liked, and has remained consisted at about 1.5 MOA.

Colonel Townsend Whelen (1877-1961) wrote: “Only Accurate Rifles Are Interesting.” Warren Page (1909-1967), authored The Accurate Rifle. Like most gunwriters of the previous generation, both were accomplished competitive rifle shooters. They understood rifle accuracy, and both had much to do with the fixation American shooters have for raw rifle accuracy, whether needed or not. In their time, exceptionally accurate rifles existed, but were less common than today, the exception rather than the rule.

Today, we take for granted that every new rifle on the dealer’s rack will deliver those teeny, tiny groups right out of the box. This is more likely than ever before, and at less cost than ever before. But not all rifles will do it. Even if they will, not all shooters have the skill and technique to produce the best groups their rifles are capable of. And we don’t always care; it depends on our purpose. 

This .280 Remington, shown with a nice Coues whitetail, is the finickiest rifle Boddington ever owned. Groups were awful with all factory loads he tried, but the rifle instantly came alive with common handload recipes, shrinking groups well below one MOA


Most rifles deliver more accuracy than is needed! Minute of Angle (MOA) is the most common standard, expressed in terms of inches (or fractions) at 100 yards. At least in theory, a one-inch (one MOA) 100-yard group should naturally expand to two inches at 200 yards, three inches and 300 yards, and so forth on out. Please note: It is far more difficult to shoot a three-inch group at 300 yards than a one-inch group at 100 yards!

In .303 British, the “Courteney Stalking Rifle” from Uberti is just plain cool. Boddington used it during his Kansas rifle season, but ammo and bullets were scarce and two-inch groups were the best he could do with what he had. Not great, but very adequate for hundred-yard shots at whitetails.

We used to think a one-MOA rifle was very accurate. Still is and, to be honest, that’s more accuracy than I really need for most of my hunting. This week, I’m hunting whitetails on my son-in-law’s Texas property, using a 1950s Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Some days it will do better, but it’s really a two-MOA rifle. Some Savage 99s do better, but that’s typical “good” accuracy for any vintage lever-action, and plenty adequate for the shots I might take here, in thick oaks and mesquite. Last night, I shot a “management” eight-pointer at less than 40 yards, not a problem that the rifle wasn’t super-accurate by today’s standards.

Boddington loves his old lever-actions…and accepts their limitations. This 1950s .300 Savage will group 1.5 MOA with some loads, two inches with others. So long as he uses it in close-range situations, there’s no handicap. This last-light Texas buck was taken at 40 yards.

My Kansas country is quite different, thick oak ridges but, similarly, none of our stands offer potential for long shots. All through the ’21 Kansas rifle season I carried Uberti’s Courteney Stalking Rifle, new rifle on the old 1885 Browning falling-block action. In .303 British, it was also producing two-inch groups. I wouldn’t take either rifle sheep hunting, but both are adequate for my whitetail hunting (and hogs, black bear, and so forth).

Sometimes, I want more. Years ago, for a TV show, I went sheep hunting with an advertiser’s rifle that was a two-inch gun. Got the job done, but I was nervous. For mountain hunting, I want at least a one-MOA rifle. Better is nice but, at field distances I’m comfortable with, one MOA is good enough. Honestly, that’s good enough for any of my big-game hunting, but some shooters want more.

This .416 Rigby was exceptionally accurate right out of the box. That’s not uncommon with large calibers (if you can take the pounding), but it doesn’t really matter. For large game at close range, this level of accuracy is far more than needed.

Sometimes I demand less. Most scoped .375s and .416s are at least 1.5 MOA rifles (some much better), but double rifles are rarely that accurate. With open sights, I can’t resolve the front sight well enough to know how accurate the rifle might be. Nor do I care, provided it’s good enough for short-range use.

Some shooters demand…and need much more.   Whether for game or target, extreme-range shooters need all the accuracy they can get. Most competitive shooters want more, but it depends on the game. Cowboy Action is not raw-accuracy centric, while Benchrest competition is the most demanding of all. Much of our improvement in rifle accuracy have come from the benchrest community…who define just how small “teeny, tiny groups” really are! Varmint hunters need more accuracy than most deer hunters. Considering size of target and distance, for prairie dog shooting I want all the accuracy I can get. I figure consistent half-MOA groups are minimal, half that if I can get it! 

The 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum has a long, belted case and is over bore capacity. Modern pundits suggest that such an old-fashioned case can’t possibly group well. Good barrel, with sound bedding and assembly, are more important than case design. This 6.5-.300 breaks the rules.


These days, we go on and on about today’s great optics, better ammo, and more accurate rifles. All true, but not all rifles can deliver sub-MOA groups. Most that can will do it with some loads, not with others. If a rifle exists that will print one-hole clusters, all shots touching, with every load you might feed it, I want to see such a wonder! More on ammo later, but it seems to me the primary and most basic ingredient to rifle accuracy is a good barrel. Concentric action/barrel mating, sound bedding, and consistent ammo are also essential. We talk about the advantages of heavy, rigid actions. We also wax eloquent about the amazing accuracy of modern cartridge design with short, fat cases. Rigid actions and case design contribute but, without a straight, well-cut, precisely-chambered barrel, you’re done before you start.

Modern factory rifles can be amazing. Right out of the box, this Kimber Mountain Ascent .30-06 produced three .75-inch groups with the first load tried. That search is done; this rifle is accurate enough for anything Boddington is likely to do with a .30-06.

Thanks to modern manufacturing, average barrels are better than ever. But some barrels are better than others. If I wanted to build up a super-accurate rifle, I’d start with a match-grade, hand-selected barrel from a top brand. Such a barrel (barrel blank alone) might cost more than a complete basic bolt-action from Mossberg, Ruger, Savage, others. No way the factories can have fifty bucks invested in the all-important barrel. It’s amazing that current production rifles shoot as well as they do, and not surprising that rifles from “known” makers who guarantee accuracy can start about ten times more than perfectly serviceable basic factory guns. 

Today’s factory rifles are amazing, but not all will produce MOA accuracy, and there’s some luck involved in getting one out of the box that will cut that in half. Again, any given rifle is only capable of so much accuracy. Miracle cures do happen, but my experience is accuracy gains are incremental, rarely exponential. A rifle that produces two MOA at the start might, with work and some luck, cut that in half—with some loads. It would then produce enough accuracy for most purposes (for most people). But if you’re looking for one-hole groups, you’re unlikely to get there. The search for maximum accuracy should be exhaustive and can be continuous. For instance, you could spend a lifetime and never try all the load combinations. However, I don’t believe in tilting at windmills or hunting for unicorns. At some point, I accept the accuracy I have. If it’s good enough for my purposes (for that rifle), wonderful. If not, time to think about starting over: Rebarreling, or trading for something else.

A cartridge is comprised of four components: Primer, case, propellent, projectile. Variations in any impact barrel vibrations (harmonics), which impact accuracy. Any factory load is just one combination; handloaders can vary all four, for infinite combinations.


Right now, with all ammunition hard to find and expensive, this is tough. However, the simplest and easiest way to improve accuracy is to keep trying different loads. Based on past experience, I can make predictions likely ammo brands, bullets, and handload recipes. Sometimes I’m right, other times very wrong. There is no predicting what load(s) a given rifle is likely to shoot best. Some bullets are made for accuracy, others for terminal performance, but only your rifle knows what it likes. It can’t tell you until you try! Often, the differences are unknowable variations in barrel harmonics. Some barrels are very finicky, others tractable and forgiving. Sometimes what works best is surprising, but you can’t know until you shoot a few groups.

Left to right: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum. Newer cartridges (like the Creedmoor and PRC), with short, fat, unbelted cases are often accurate, but case design is a very distant factor in rifle accuracy.

Handloaders have a huge advantage, able to vary bullets, propellants and charge weights, even cases and primers. Users of factory ammo are in a pickle, especially right now. The worst of it, with factory ammo: You try a load, doesn’t shoot well, and then you have half a box of near-useless practice ammo left over!

Sorry, but I can’t help you with this. Supplies are terrible right now, and there’s no way to know until you try. The only good news I can give you: There’s no rush! When you see a brand or bullet you haven’t tried, pick up a box and see what happens. When you find a load that shoots well, note it carefully. In fact, considering today’s prices and irregular availability, measure groups and keep notes!

: Expectations should be realistic, but sometimes you get lucky. Despite featherweight barrel and walnut stock, this Jack O’Connor commemorative Model 70 in .270 Winchester produced sub half-MOA groups. Such accuracy is unusual in any brand or cartridge. A test rifle, Boddington should have kept this one. In right-hand only, he returned it…and is still kicking himself!

If a rifle doesn’t seem to shoot as well as you think it should, keep trying different loads. I had a .280 that printed shotgun patterns, not groups, with all the (few) factory loads I could find. I tried a “normal” handload recipe with 140-grain AccuBond. Groups shrank from over two inches to below one MOA. This was a rare case of exponential improvement. Don’t count on that, but before you give up, there are tricks you can try. I’ll save them for next month!




Craig Boddington

Buddy John Stucker sent me a photo of a Christensen rifle, new in the box, carbon-fiber barrel, synthetic stock chambered to 6.5 PRC, price sounded good. He asked, “Should I buy it?”

Christensen in 6.5 PRC
Boddington’s buddy, John Stucker, texted him this photo of a Christensen in 6.5 PRC asking, “should I buy it?” Stucker already had a Christensen .300 Win Mag, loves the rifle, had tried the 6.5 PRC and liked it. The price was right so, why not? But did he really need it?

Good Lord, you’re asking me? That’s like asking a fellow alcoholic to share a drink!

When it comes to buying guns, I’m the wrong person to ask! In some cases, my resistance is pretty good; I don’t buy many handguns, only one shotgun lately. Sporting rifles, well, I’m weak…especially with left-hand or ambidextrous actions! However, I have more guns of all types than I need, many that haven’t been out of the gun safe in a while.

We’ve only got so much space in the gun safe(s). That fact bolsters my resolve. I buy, sell, trade…and I’ve gotten ruthless about trimming the herd when safe storage gets crowded. However, I’m not a really smart wheeler-dealer; I’ve overpaid simply because I couldn’t resist!

Savage 99 .300
Boddington is always “looking.” In September ’21 he walked into Capital Sports in Helena, Montana…and saw the Savage 99 .300 Savage he’d been looking for. The price was good…better with their “military discount.” This one is a keeper…at least for a while!

It’s nice to say that “good guns never lose their value.” Probably true over the long haul, but fair value what it is. The bible is Blue Book of Gun Values, now in its 42d edition, an amazing reference! Condition is subject to interpretation, but the Blue Book is the standard reference.   A great deal is always suspect. Today, with so many firearms in short supply, overpaying a bit isn’t uncommon (same as vehicles and houses!). Just be sure and ask yourself: Do I want it that bad? Again, I’m the wrong person to ask, but I try to give myself a rational answer to three questions.


In my case the answer should always be “no.” But it’s often difficult to separate “need” from “want.” My guns are an eclectic array; I’m not building a collection and I don’t buy expensive collectibles but, heck, the kids are out of college. Not the end of the world if I buy a gun just because I want it, but budgets and needs vary.

Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70
This is one of the first Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70s. It’s a very nice rifle in all ways, but Boddington has big lever-actions and intended to send it back. Until he shot it: Accuracy is so exceptional for a lever-action that this one is a no-brainer “keeper.”

As a gunwriter, test guns come and go. Usually, we can buy them at a decent price…or send them back. Most often, I resist temptation and send them back. But not always. In November, I received one of the first RugerMarlins, an 1895 .45-70. Beautifully finished, smooth action. My intent was to do my work and send it back! I have an older Marlin .45-70…and other big lever-actions. No way that I “need” it! Then I shot it, MOA accuracy with five-shot groups. Gotta rationalize: My other 1895 has a long octagonal barrel. This one has a short barrel and Picatinny rail, easier to scope. It isn’t going back!

Needless to say, John Stucker bought that Christensen 6.5 PRC. (Why ask me?) His excuse makes more sense. He doesn’t have a bunch of rifles (yet). His “go to” has long been a Browning A-Bolt .280 Remington, good rifle and cartridge. Wanting a “modern” platform with (perhaps) more range and accuracy, he bought a Christensen .300 Win Mag.    On its maiden voyage, it accounted for an aoudad ram at 450 yards. He was sold!

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker with a big-bodied (and ancient) Georgia buck in October ’21, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. This was Stucker’s first experience with any 6.5mm cartridge. He liked the modest recoil and the way it dropped the buck; four months later he bought a Christensen in the same chambering.

In 2020, I used the new Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC and liked it. That one needed to be sent back, but I bought another, also in 6.5 PRC. In ’21, Stucker used that rifle on a Georgia whitetail hunt. He liked the light recoil, and the way the 6.5 PRC dropped a big buck in its tracks. Months later, he chanced on a Christensen in that chambering. Will it do anything his .280 can’t do? Probably not, and its only advantage over his .300 is less recoil. He didn’t really “need” it, but it’s a modern platform in a modern cartridge. I admit he “needed” it more than I “needed” the Springfield 6.5 PRC. I have a half-dozen rifles that will do everything it can do! The only rationalization I can offer: I don’t like to be left too far behind by new developments! It’s a thoroughly modern platform—and I like the new 6.5 PRC!

If you’re a new gun buyer, or shopping for specialized capability you don’t have (like an elk rifle or turkey gun), it’s easier to come up with genuine need. The millions of new gun owners who have joined us in the last few years have different needs. Many probably started with a firearm for home defense, but after a while learn shooting is fun. Some decide to try their hand at clay targets or join a friend on a deer hunt. These folks have genuine needs for firearms that guys like me satisfied decades ago. There’s a lot of hype out there and, for any imaginable purpose, dozens of firearms that suit the need. Talk to experienced shooters, and try to get a consensus on the type of gun you should look for…to suit your need. Don’t call somebody like me and ask, “Should I buy this gun?”  

Ruger-Marlin 1895
This is one of the first Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70s. It’s a very nice rifle in all ways, but Boddington has big lever-actions and intended to send it back. Until he shot it: Accuracy is so exceptional for a lever-action that this one is a no-brainer “keeper.”


This is a new concern! The big box stores rarely carry large variety, but well-stocked gunshops had, almost anything. It’s different today. Shortages and backorders are real, there aren’t as many Mom and Pop gunshops as there used to be, and shelves are shockingly bare. I am not a conspiracy theorist; I believe this is because of those millions of new gun owners…and old-timers like me purchasing more than we need. The manufacturers are churning out ammo as fast as they can, but the demand is unprecedented and unanticipated. As a sensible business decision, they are focused on the top-selling cartridges.

It’s better than it was six months ago; takes more looking, and prices are up, but you can get the more popular cartridges. Some of the arcane stuff I shoot, good luck! Ammo availability must influence buying decisions! I saw a nice1898 .30-40 Krag at a gunshop recently. Didn’t need it, but the price was great and I wanted it. No ammo, no loading dies. I didn’t buy it, mostly because I saw ammo headaches.

CZ Bobwhite in 20 gauge
Quail hunting in Arizona with the left-handed CZ Bobwhite in 20 gauge 3”. This is not exactly the only upland shotgun Boddington has, but a light, left-handed 20-gauge side-by-side was far beyond his weak impulse control.

Yesterday, same shop had a well-worn Savage 99 in .300 Savage, the hang-tag announcing “with three boxes ammo!” Dealers never used to care about ammo, didn’t want to mess with it when I sent a gun “down the road.” Today, a used gun in an older or obscure cartridge may be nearly useless. I handload, so that’s a partial solution, but you still must find dies, cases, and appropriate projectiles. I gave that Savage 99 a quick glance, and moved on. I have a Savage 99 in .300 Savage, with dies, cases, and ammo. Plan to keep it for a while!

In addition to popular numbers, ammo companies are also running new cartridges. Not fair, but also sensible business: New cartridges don’t have a chance if ammo isn’t available! So, although prices are too high, John will find 6.5 PRC ammo, and I’m seeing 6.8 Western and .300 PRC ammo around. For sure, there’s plenty of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo out there. I have one, in part because it’s so popular as to be inescapable! After initial shortages, there’s quite a bit of .223, .308, and .30-06 ammo. Likewise, 9mm, .38 Special, and .45 ACP…and both 12 and 20 gauge. But if you need ammo for unpopular numbers, you need to think about it. Maybe with an eye toward: How much ammo do I really need…and where can I get it? 

CZ Bobwhite 20 gauge
Boddington couldn’t resist this CZ Bobwhite 20 gauge a wonderfully complete and inexpensive upland shotgun…and this “southpaw” version had a left-hand-cast stock. He knows he didn’t need it, but who cares?


This is slightly different from need. Will you shoot it a lot? If so, better think even harder about ammo. I have a Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle test gun on hand. Chambered to .303 British, it’s a cool rifle, just love it. I have dies and adequate cases, but it’s oddball .312-inch bullets are scarce, and I can’t find fresh factory ammo at all. I want to buy this one, purely because I like it, but I gotta think about how to feed it!

Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle in .303 British.
On the bench with the Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle in .303 British. Great-looking rifle, and this one shoots very well. Boddington loves it, wants it…but doesn’t “need” it. Today, the .303’s .312-inch bullets are extremely scarce. Keep or return decision pending, but ammo availability is a concern.

Maybe you don’t want to shoot a certain gun at all, just squirrel it away for the grand-kids. Ammo resupply won’t be your problem, but try to stash a few boxes…and don’t shoot them up! I often pass up nice guns in obscure, obsolete, or wildcat cartridges. Almost all ammo problems can be solved, but lack of ammo magnifies expense and hassle. Provided even a few cartridges go with the gun, loading dies can be had or made…and any handloader can load it.

Beyond low impulse control, my left-handed affliction is a problem. I have a terrible time turning down left-handed or ambidextrous guns. I have too many left-hand bolt-actions, lever-actions, single-shots, and break-open guns…with redundant capabilities. That one recent shotgun: Last year I bought a CZ Bobwhite side-by-side 20 gauge with left-hand cast to the stock. Great little shotgun, great price! I didn’t need it, but how could I not? That’s the problem with being a lifelong gun guy…sometimes I don’t even try to come up with a reason!



Craig Boddington

The “standard” American riflescope has been based on a one-inch tube diameter (26mm) for most of my life. European scopes were more likely to be based on the larger-diameter 30mm tube, but until maybe the 1990s 30mm tubes were fairly uncommon in North America…and scope rings in that diameter were limited and hard to find.

Blaser optic
Blaser-two scopes: Boddington’s Blaser set up with two scopes. Bottom, a Zeiss 3.5-10x56mm. With the extra-large objective, a good example of a scope designed to maximize the poor light shooting European hunters are accustomed to. Top, a Leupold VX6 2-12x42mm, a very capable scope, but with a more modest objective lens.

I don’t think it’s yet true that 30mm scopes are more popular than one-inch tubes but, for sure, 30mm scopes are widely accepted, and there’s little difficulty finding mounts and rings. The current trend is toward larger and more powerful riflescopes. 30mm is not the limit; scopes with 34mm tubes have been available in Europe for many years, and are becoming more common over here.

Boddington’s Jarrett .300
Boddington’s Jarrett .300 Win Mag accounted for this Dall ram in Alaska. Mounted with a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope, the rifle weighs 8.5 pounds. For Boddington, that’s a comfortable weight, and an objective lens of this size can still be mounted low on the receiver.

Comparing and judging riflescopes is difficult. Regardless of diameter, the tube is just that: A metal tube, housing the internal mechanisms, with ocular and objective lenses affixed at each end (and usually housed in their own tubes, which we call “bells”). Sound construction is essential, but it’s always the quality of lenses and coatings that determine clarity of image. With riflescopes, the only real comparisons that can be made are “apples to apples.” Construction and quality of lenses and coatings must be more or less equal, otherwise you’re comparing apples to oranges!

Leupold’s 1.75-5x20mm scope
Leupold’s 1.75-5x20mm scope is probably the quintessential “dangerous game” scope. It serves its purpose but, even in high-quality scopes, the straight tube with small objective lens cannot be as bright as a scope of similar power with a larger objective.

Quality of lenses and coatings are also important in “brightness,” which is of critical importance to all hunters. Good glass with the most modern coatings admits more useable light into the scope tube. However, if these are similar, the diameter of the objective lens is the primary contributor to brightness. So, regardless of tube diameter, a “dangerous game” or “tactical” scope with a straight tube forward and a 24mm objective lens cannot be as bright as the same scope with a forward bell housing a larger diameter objective lens. Somewhere in the gun safes or shop I have riflescopes with 20, 24, 28, 33, 36, 40, 42, 44, 50, and 56mm objective lenses.

desert bighorn, taken with Donna Boddington’s MGA .270
: A gorgeous desert bighorn, taken with Donna Boddington’s MGA .270 with Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm scope. With a short stock and 22-inch barrel, the rifle is short, light, easy to carry, and has all the capability needed for the shots she is likely to take.

If all else is equal, bigger is usually brighter. I am told that there is a point of diminishing return; as in water down a hose, a scope tube can accept only so much light, so there’s no point in putting a huge 56mm objective on a one-inch-tube scope. There have been one-inch scopes with extra-large objectives, to me ungainly in appearance. Today, with most manufacturers also offering 30mm tubes, most one-inch-tube scopes have retreated to objectives of 50mm and less, resulting in a package that appears more balanced, plus doesn’t need to be mounted as high.

So, is the bigger tube “better”? In some ways, yes. The larger tube is not necessarily “brighter.” Again, this depends mostly on quality of glass, lens coatings, and size of objective. However, the water hose analogy holds: A larger tube admits more useable light. From a mechanical standpoint, the larger tube allows a greater range of adjustment. This doesn’t mean that all scopes with larger tubes are engineered to take advantage of this, but most top-quality scopes are. With today’s interest in extreme-range shooting, this is important: If you’re dialing elevation on your turret, you’re essentially done when you run out of adjustment!

The bigger the scope (and larger the objective lens)
The bigger the scope (and larger the objective lens), the higher the scope must be mounted for a good cheek weld on the comb. This Savage with fully adjustable “AccuStock” solves that problem with height of comb easily adjusted.

Not everyone, perhaps not even many of us, need or care about multiple revolutions of scope adjustment. I don’t, but here’s a strong argument for the 30mm tube: It’s here, and here to stay. The majority of new scope developments have gone to 30mm tubes. So, the best glass, the newest coatings, more adjustment, and all the bells and whistles, are most likely to be found on 30mm scopes.

So, if 30mm tubes are good, then 34mm scopes must be even better, right? Yes and no! The ability to utilize more light and the increased range of adjustment also apply. Many serious extreme-range shooters have gone to 34mm scopes. For many years variable scopes were stuck on “about” three times zoom, as in the popular 3-9X. Today variable scopes are available with six and even eight times zoom. There is advantage in the tactical arena: A 1-8X scope (eight times zoom) allows a true 1X (no magnification for close quarters, all the out to 8X for longer ranges. However, 34mm scopes are not yet common.

3 Scopes
Top to bottom: Riton 1-8x28mm, 34mm tube. Center, Leupold VX6 2-12x42mm, 30mm tube; Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm, one-inch tube. These scopes vary in magnification and size of objective lens, but scopes with larger tubes will be heavier and bulkier.

I tried one two years ago and had a terrible time finding mounts and rings for the rifles I wanted to try it on! With pandemic shortages and shipping backlogs, I doubt this has gotten better…but it surely will in time!

All that aside, I will always make two arguments against larger tubes and larger scopes. First is weight: The larger tube is heavier! Add in a larger objective lens and a big objective bell to house it, and you have more weight. The 34mm scope mentioned above happens to a Riton 1-8x28mm with straight forward objective. Designed as a tactical scope, with eight-times-zoom capability, I figured it would be an awesome scope for a .375, and it is. One of few mounting systems I could find in 34mm was a Blaser saddle mount. The scope we’ve been using on our Blaser .375 barrel is a Leupold VXR 2-7×33 with 30mm tube and a modest objective bell.

A heavy-bossed buffalo
A heavy-bossed buffalo taken with a Sabatti .450/.400 double topped with a Leupold VXR 1-4x20mm scope. For the purpose, this was all the magnification needed, but a straight-tube scope with small objective is always limited in brightness.

I weighed the two scopes. Including the steel Blaser mount, which is heavier than some, the 1-8x28mm scope with 34mm tube weighed just over two pounds. Also with Blaser mount attached, the 2-7×33 with 30mm tube weighed exactly half as much, just over a pound. Flip a coin: 1-8X magnification versus 2-7X for a full pound of extra gun weight?

The second primary argument against thicker tubes and larger objective lenses is bulk. For a foot hunter (and, for that matter, a foot soldier), the larger the scope, the more there is to catch on things and snag in brush. For all of us, the larger the objective lens, the higher the scope must be mounted to clear the barrel. Many modern rifles with adjustable cheek rests address this problem, but not all of us have them (or want them).

This vintage .270 is topped with an (equally vintage) Leupold 2-7X.
This vintage .270 is topped with an (equally vintage) Leupold 2-7X. The rifle shoots well enough to deserve a bigger scope. However, the stock fit is perfect with a small scope mounted low…and the rifle is just too pretty to mess up!

Ultimately, it depends on what you want to do. Larger-diameter scopes and large objective lenses were developed in Europe, where “shooting hours” as we American hunters know them are uncommon. Rarely do they use artificial lights or thermal imaging, but in Europe the hunt often continues far into the night, long after we’re back in camp enjoying a fire. They use moonlight (against snow when possible), and they need the brightest scopes available.

Like millions of other whitetail hunters, I understand the importance of those first and last minutes of daylight. For sure, I appreciate a clear, bright scope! However, I watch the clock: I won’t shoot until 30 minutes before sunrise, and I’m done at 30 minutes after sunset. For my deer hunting, I find a high-quality scope, whether one-inch or 30mm tube, with a medium-size objective, say 36 to 44mm, to be bright enough.

Vector “Continental” scopes
Although 30mm scopes are “in” today, many manufacturers still offer both one-inch and 30mm tube scopes, in a variety of magnifications and objective lenses. Top to bottom, three of the excellent Vector “Continental” scopes: 3-18x50mm, one-inch tube; 2-12x50mm, 30mm tube; 1-6x24mm, 30mm tube with straight forward tube.

For many, hog hunting has changed the game. Much of mine is done in California, where we don’t hunt at night. Across Texas and the Deep South, shooting hours usually don’t apply to feral hogs! Now you’re playing by European rules. Absent lights and thermals, you need the brightest scopes possible, large tubes and big objective lenses!

I have long since accepted 30mm tubes for much of my hunting, primarily because of their availability in high-quality scopes, with features I like, such as dial-up turrets and lighted reticles. However, they are heavier, bulkier…and costlier. Fine if you actually need the capability. Also fine if you just want it.

Right Riton 1-8x28mm with 34mm tube (photo 3087). Left, Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm with 30mm tube
Right Riton 1-8x28mm with 34mm tube (photo 3087). Left, Leupold VXR 2-7x33mm with 30mm tubeFor hunting purposes, the capabilities of these two scopes are similar…but the scope with the 34mm tube weighs twice as much.

It’s not something we can do all the time, but we do a fair amount of mountain hunting. Although I try to keep the weight down a bit, today I use 30mm scopes on my mountain rifles. My Jarrett .300 Win Mag wears a Leupold VX6 3-18x44mm scope with 30mm tube, not a giant scope at all, but plenty of capability. The rifle weighs 8 ½ pounds with scope, no lightweight, but weight I’m comfortable carrying. With calibrated CDS turret I can ring steel out to 1000 yards with no problem. This gives me plenty of confidence and capability for shots I might actually take at game, which is about half that distance.

26 Nosler topped with a Huskemaw 3-12LR, 30mm tube,
On the bench with a 26 Nosler topped with a Huskemaw 3-12LR, 30mm tube, set up with dial-up turrets for long-range work. Moderate in magnification with a modest objective lens, a good compromise between size, weight, and capability.

In recent years, Donna has taken more sheep and goats than I have (partly because it’s sort of her turn). Her go-to mountain rifle is a lot different from mine. She’s several inches shorter and a third lighter. She has no business carrying as heavy a rifle, and a long rifle bangs against her legs in steep country. Also, she won’t take shots quite as far as I might. Her go-to mountain rifle is an MGA .270 with Leupold VX3 3.5-10x40mm with one-inch tube. The light scope contributes to overall weight of less than six pounds. Realistically, the scope has enough magnification, and is plenty bright enough, for just about any of the hunting we actually do.

You may need (or want) much more scope: Higher magnification, the largest scope tube you can get, the biggest objective lens. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re probably going to pay more. And you’re going to have to carry it up the mountains and drag it through the brush.



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.

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.


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!


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!


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!  


More juice from the lemon?

Warm, sunny midday, we were tootling around Zack Aultman’s place in southern Georgia in a four-wheeler. A decent-sized boar jumped up on the forest verge and started jinking across a clear-cut, running at top speed like a champion broken-field runner. Zack was driving and there was an AR-15 between us. I knew it had a loaded magazine in the well, but I was a second slow on the uptake and the pig had already covered some ground before I got the rifle charged and up. The first shot felt good, but I guess the pig zig-zagged out of the way because there was no apparent effect.

Boddington and his friend Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog
Boddington and his friend Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog dropped in its tracks at about 200 yards with the .308 Arrow cartridge. Based on the 7.62x39mm with body taper removed, this cartridge seems to develop about as much bullet weight, velocity, and downrange energy as can be wrung out of the AR15 platform

I lost sight in some brush and figured I’d had my chance—and then the pig reappeared, still in the open and streaking off, now pushing 200 yards. Swinging hard, I got with the pig and a bit ahead. Lucky shots sometimes happen; at the second shot the pig somersaulted in a cloud of dust. The animal had gone down so fast—and so hard—that I assumed I’d broken the spine. Nope, by mysterious coincidence (or the pig’s incredibly bad luck), the bullet had struck center on the shoulder, and there was no exit.

My friend Zack enjoys a long deer season on his place, and has an ongoing problem with feral hogs. He’s also a bit of a rifle addict, so there’s no telling what he might have on hand. Other than to verify it was a “normal” AR with empty chamber and cartridges in the magazine, I hadn’t looked closely at the rifle when Zack handed it to me. Considering hogs are always in season and, knowing Zack, I assumed it was reasonably zeroed. Now we both paused and took a closer look, because the way this little rifle flattened that hog was impressive.

AR Bolt
Almost all rifle actions have limits on cartridge size. The standard AR15 bolt face is sized to the .223/5.56mm’s .378-inch rim diameter. The bolt face can be altered, but the AR15’s integral magazine well and magazine put a sharp limit on cartridge length.

Look, maybe that was a fluke…like my shot. No two animals react exactly alike upon receiving a bullet, and flukes can be both good and bad. So, when evaluating cartridge and bullet performance on game, it’s risky to make assumptions based on limited exposure. I make no definitive claim, but terminal performance gave us pause. The rifle was from Arrow Arms in nearby Macon, Georgia, and the cartridge was their proprietary .308 Arrow, propelling a 125-grain jacketed hollowpoint at 2814 feet per second.

The .308 Arrow, left, shown with its parent cartridge, the 7.62x39mm Russian.
The .308 Arrow, left, shown with its parent cartridge, the 7.62x39mm Russian. Essentially an “improved” version, the .308 Arrow increases velocity by removing body taper and using a sharper shoulder angle.

 There’s nothing magic about those numbers, slower than a .308 Winchester, also faster, and yielding more energy at 200 yards, than anything else I’ve shot out of an AR15 platform. The AR10 was developed for the 7.62×51 (.308 Winchester) cartridge. In the late 1950s, Gene Stoner and his team the AR10 scaled down the AR10 to create the AR15, lighter, handier, and intended for smaller, less powerful cartridges. The .223 Remington was essentially a parallel development, created in 1957 to fit the AR15 action.

Remington released the .223 Remington as a sporting cartridge in 1963, and in 1964 both the .223 (5.56mm) and M16 were adopted by the U.S. military. The .223 quickly became a popular varmint and target cartridge, but decades would pass before semiautomatic sporting versions of the AR15 achieved widespread popularity. During most of those decades, the AR15 and the .223 Remington (after 1980, 5.56x45mm NATO) were inextricably linked, with few other options.

During the last 20 years, much effort has been expended developing cartridges that increase, or significantly alter, performance from an AR15 action. Cartridges are often developed for specific actions…especially popular actions. And, most rifle actions have limitations. Over decades, Winchester developed several cartridges for their 1894 lever-action. Most were based on the .30-30 case because the ’94 needs a rimmed case…and the action has both pressure and cartridge dimension limitations.

The .300 AAC Blackout has become extremely popular.
The .300 AAC Blackout has become extremely popular. Although it offers the advantage of using standard AR magazines, it was at least partly designed for suppressed fire. Velocity is low, and Boddington considers it extremely marginal for hunting.

Even the versatile bolt-action has restrictions. Classic and current bolt-actions like the 98 Mauser, Winchester Model 70, Remington Model 700, and Savage 110 can be adapted to a wide range of cartridges, but cannot house the largest cartridges like the .338 Lapua and .378 Weatherby family (although there are extra-large bolt-actions that can).

Action length is always a consideration. As a detachable-magazine rifle with integral magazine well, the AR15 action is limited to cartridge length of 2.275 inches. This is a short centerfire rifle cartridge. Cartridge overall length specification is 2.825 inches for the popular 6.5mm Creedmoor. The Creedmoor (and the entire .308 Winchester-based family) fits easily into the AR10 action (because that’s the cartridge size it was designed for), but you simply cannot house that size of cartridge or that level of power into an AR15 action.

On the bench with a left-hand-eject AR from Wilson Combat.
On the bench with a left-hand-eject AR from Wilson Combat. The incredible popularity of the AR15 platform has led to much cartridge development. There are numerous options but, ultimately, the action size can yield only so much power.

There’s only so much juice to squeeze from a lemon. However, because of the incredible popularity of the platform, a lot of cartridges have been developed to squeeze just a bit more juice from the AR15. Cartridge length is the primary limiting factor. The .223 Remington case can be necked up or down, changing bullet diameter and weight, which dictates potential velocity. The .223/5.56mm rim diameter is .378-inch. Without altering bolt face, this is also a limitation, and you can’t alter the case shape much without going to cartridge-specific magazines.

chambering, ARs
Depending on chambering, ARs are suitable for a wide range of hunting. For sure, it’s a ball to use an AR for shooting prairie dogs!

Among others, the very fast .17 Remington is the .223 case necked down; the .300 AAC Blackout is the .223/5.56mm shortened and necked up, but designed so standard 5.56mm magazines can be used. The AR15 action can handle a wider or fatter case, which increases powder capacity. Winchester’s .350 Legend retains the .378-inch rim and, at 2.25 inches, is short enough. However, the rim is rebated (smaller than the base), and the base diameter is larger (.390 inches). Wider cases with rebated rims are also how they cram the .30 Remington AR and .450 Bushmaster into the AR15 action. Both of these use a rim diameter and bolt face of .473-inch, same as the .30-06. Performance is amazing from the little AR15 action. However, magazines must be modified (with a single-stack follower), and magazine capacity is greatly reduced.

Jason Morton and Boddington with a good Kansas whitetail
Jason Morton and Boddington with a good Kansas whitetail taken with a CZ 527 bolt-action in 6.5mm Grendel. AR15-compatible, the Grendel is a versatile hunting cartridge but, provided velocity is meaningful, no 6.5mm can hit as hard as a .30-caliber.

It’s probably not a coincidence of design that the AR15 action easily houses the 2.2-inch 7.62x39mm Russian. Propelling a 123-grain bullet at a bit over 2400 fps, the 7.62 Russian is obviously a long-proven military cartridge. It’s also a pretty good hunting cartridge, effective on deer and hogs at short to (very) medium range, with performance on game on par with the .30-30 (which is not damning with faint praise). With rim diameter of .447, the standard .223/5.56mm bolt face won’t work, and specific magazines are required, but the 7.62mm Russian is a fairly common and popular AR chambering. The 6.5mm Grendel, which I like very much, is simply the 7.62x39mm case necked down with body taper removed. It is much faster, propelling a 123-grain bullet 2650 fps. Now 20 years old, the 6.8mm SPC Remington is another option. Designed as a military cartridge to offer better terminal performance than the 5.56×45 yet with minimal reduction in magazine capacity, the 6.8 SPC is also an effective short to (very) medium range hunting cartridge. Based on the old .30 Remington, the 6.8 SPC has rim diameter of .422-inch. Although never widely adopted by the military, the 6.8 has its fans, but I never warmed up to it.

n Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel
An Alexander Arms 6.5 Grendel in a prairie dog town. With light recoil and the aerodynamic advantages of 6.5mm bullets, the Grendel is a wonderfully versatile AR cartridge…but the 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet doesn’t have the hitting power of a .30-caliber.

As a hunting cartridge, I considered the 6.5mm Grendel one of the most versatile options for an AR, and still do. Then, by chance, I ran into the .308 Arrow. It is nothing more, nor less, than the 7.62mm Russian case, blown out to remove body taper, with sharper shoulder, but retaining the .30-caliber bullet. It is thus essentially an “improved” version. A proprietary of Arrow Arms (, the improvement is considerable, with Hornady offering cases and dies.  Arrow Arms loads are rated: 125-grain bullet at 2814 fps; 130-grain bullet at 2739; and 150-grain bullet at 2545 fps. This is still far short of .308 Winchester velocity; that’s just not possible from the AR15 action. However, these are very credible velocities: Much faster than the .300 Blackout, 7.62 Russian, or .30-30, and in the ballpark with the .300 Savage (also not damning with faint praise).

hogs taken at sunset with a .350 Legend.
A couple of hogs taken at sunset with a .350 Legend. Although chambered in bolt-actions, Winchester’s .350 Legend is AR15-compatible, sharing the .223/5.56mm bolt face. In any action type, it’s a fine short-range hunting cartridge, but lacks the velocity to be effective beyond about 200 yards.

Unlike many of the AR cartridges, the .308 Arrow was not designed as an alternative military cartridge, nor for use with suppressor; it was designed as a hunting cartridge, to wring maximum .30-caliber performance from the AR15 platform. Again, it’s dangerous to reach conclusions based on limited exposure. However, like so many Americans, I believe in .30-caliber performance…and I believe in at least moderate velocity. We probably have all the cartridges we need (maybe too many), so I don’t predict huge popularity for the .308 arrow. Even so, it’s a sound cartridge that really does squeeze a bit more juice out of the AR platform. I’m going to spend a bit more time with it.

To Travel With Firearms

By: Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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Double Rifle Cartridges

What do you think of when someone mentions double rifles? For many, the double rifle conjures romantic thoughts of nostalgia and tradition. In the United States, we tend to think of the double rifle as a large caliber specialist, meant only for dangerous game. In Europe, however, double rifles are favored for driven game thanks to the fast second shot. There’s no reason why a double rifle (of the appropriate caliber, of course) couldn’t be effective in the US for black bear, wild hogs, or any close-cover hunting where shots beyond a hundred yards are unlikely.

Gordon Marsh shooting a Sabatti double rifle in Mozambique
Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter on the range in Mozambique with a scoped Sabatti double in .450/.40003”. This rifle accounted for three buffaloes over the next few days.

Although modern manufacturing techniques have lowered the costs of purchasing customizing a double rifle, they’re still generally more expensive. The double requires more hand-fitting, and getting both barrels to shoot together is a time-consuming process. The double is the least accurate action type, but it’s a short to very medium-range arm…and nothing is faster for delivering a second shot.

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Wyoming Mountain Goat: A Once in a Lifetime Hunt (Nick Oceanak)

I am standing on a ridge that was the last significant barrier for over 600 Nez Perce Indians during their flight for life from the U.S. Calvary in the fall of 1877. This breath-taking view is in Northwestern Wyoming among the Absaroka Range in the Shoshone National Forest. The history of our lands is fascinating and it’s amazing to be among the beauty and vastness of such places. Today, this land shares with me the opportunity to hunt the majestic and all mighty Mountain Goat!

Nick Oceanak - Shoshone National Forest Wyoming
Standing along the Absaroka Range in the Shoshone National Forest

I grew up the son of an accomplished outdoorsman in the great Cowboy State of Wyoming. My father, Craig Oceanak, started Timberline Outfitters in 1979, and our business stands for experience and credibility. I’ve been guiding professionally for 16 years and I’ve loved every minute of it. Well, perhaps not every minute, but trust me when I proclaim that I love my job! Needless to say, I have hundreds of hunting stories from guiding experiences alone, but this post is about one of my hunts—a once in a lifetime hunt.

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Matching the Scope to the Rifle

A couple of weeks ago I was at the range and I felt really silly. I was shooting a Marlin lever-action “guide gun”—very tricked up, but still a .45-70, and I had a big variable scope on it, 30mm tube with large objective. Before you judge, I had a reason for doing this: the rifle seemed to be accurate, so I put a powerful variable on it and turned it all the way up so I could see how well it grouped. I would never hunt with that much glass on such a rifle. Range work done, I took the big scope off, mounted an Aimpoint red-dot sight, and took it pig hunting.


Photo Courtesy of Craig Boddington
This Marlin “guide gun” has a very good ghost ring aperture sight, but as middle age advances all open sights are getting harder to see. As an alternative I mounted an Aimpoint red-dot sight, a truly excellent type of sight for shots out to perhaps 150 yards.

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