Craig Boddington

Yes, that title will upset some folks. Funny thing about the .25-caliber cartridges, bullet diameter .257-inch: Those who love ‘em tend to be passionate about their “quarter-bores.”. Those who don’t love .25s probably don’t hate them, just ignore them.

This big feral hog dropped in its tracks to a single 100-grain Interlock from a Savage 1899 in .250 Savage. The old .250 Savage isn’t fast, but it’s as effective on deer-sized game today as it was a century ago.

The .25-caliber is a uniquely American bullet diameter, rarely seen in Europe, equally uncommon in Africa. I’m told the .25-06 has some following in South Africa, but I’ve rarely seen a .25 in use on safari.

Over here, the quarter-bores have a rich history, going back to the dawn of smokeless powder. The .25-20 was created by necking down the .32-20 case to .25-caliber, first by Marlin, then by Winchester, and chambered in their popular 1892 lever-action. Initially loaded with blackpowder, the .25-20 quickly transitioned to smokeless. Although occasionally used for deer, the little .25-20 was a common small game and varmint cartridge, popular among trappers.

On a Kansas deer stand with a Winchester M94 .25-35, made in 1906. Because of iron sights, Boddington is careful which stands he chooses, but he does a “sit” or two with this rifle most deer seasons.

Winchester’s .25-35 was the first .25 designed for smokeless powder. The .25-35 and .30-30 use the parent same case, and were introduced together in 1895, so were the first sporting cartridges designed for smokeless propellent. Although hampered by round-nose bullets in tubular magazines, the .25-35 shoots flatter than the .30-30 with a less recoil. The .25-35 was a common alternative to .30-30, plenty of gun for deer-sized game. Jack O’Connor’s outfitter in Sonora in the 1930s, Charlie Ren, used nothing but a Savage 1899 in .25-35. O’Connor famously quoted Ren as saying it was “all he needed.” Lord knows how much game that rifle accounted for.

In 1915, Arthur Savage engaged early cartridge genius Charles Newton to develop a high-velocity cartridge for his lever-action. Newton’s project for Savage resulted in the .250-3000 (.250 Savage), the first commercial cartridge to break 3000 feet per second. The Savage lever-action was stronger than the Winchester, and its box magazine could use sharp-pointed bullets. The .250 Savage was popular for decades…and a real thorn in Winchester’s side.

Gunwriter Gary Sitton was another huge .25-06 fan. He used his Dakota M10 .25-06 to take this fine buck on John Wootters’ South Texas ranch, “Los Cuernos.”

In 1920, Savage introduced the M20. Essentially a scaled-down Springfield action, it was not only America’s first commercial bolt-action; it was the world’s first short bolt-action, sized specifically to the .250 Savage case. In our Kansas deer season just past, Ryan Paul brought a cherry M20 and shot does with it, first M20 I’ve ever seen in the field.

The only way the .250 Savage could reach 3000 fps was with its original light-for-caliber 87-grain bullet. 1915 expanding bullets worked when they worked, but most hunters learned that the .250 Savage performed better with 100-grain bullets at about 2800 fps.

Wyoming gunwriter Bob Milek in the field with one of his beloved .25s. Milek used both the .257 Roberts and .25-06 for game up to elk. Boddington doesn’t believe the .25’s have enough bullet weight or frontal area for larger game, but with proper shot placement, they surely work.

Gunwriter Ned Roberts necked the 7×57 case down to .25-caliber, creating the .257 Roberts, adopted by Remington in 1934. Its longer case enabled heavier bullets at higher velocity than possible with the .250 Savage. Until the .243 came along, the .257 Roberts was the standard “crossover” varmint/big game cartridge. Although rarely chambered in new rifles today, it was extremely popular, and remains an important cartridge.

The .25-06 was developed at Frankford Arsenal during WWI as a military experiment. After the war, it remained a common and popular non-standard wildcat. Amazing to me none of the majors picked it up sooner, but it wasn’t adopted as a commercial cartridge until 1969, as the .25-06 Remington. To this day, the .25-06 is the most popular .25-caliber. With heavier bullets, it is fast, flat-shooting, powerful, and awesome on deer-sized game. With lighter bullets, the .25-06 is probably the largest and most powerful cartridge that could sensibly be used for varminting.

Boddington used his Dakota .257 Roberts with 117-grain SST to take this weird Kansas “management” buck. The buck went down so fast and hard it seemed to bounce.

The .257 Weatherby Magnum was one of Roy Weatherby’s original cartridges, introduced in 1944, based on a necked down and shortened .300 H&H case. It is one of the fastest and flattest-shooting of all commercial cartridges and was Roy’s personal favorite. It’s not especially popular; a limitation is that it has remained a Weatherby proprietary, thus limited sources.

In recent years there have been few new .25-caliber cartridges. An exception was the short-lived .25 WSSM. Great little fireplug of a cartridge, about the same performance as the .25-06, yet from a much shorter case, fitting into short actions. Several of the short, fat magnums introduced at the turn of the millennium have fallen by the wayside. Mostly, I put this down to “too many, too fast.” Too many new cartridges for the market (us) to accept. The “super short” magnums were so short that feeding problems occurred in some platforms.

For the record, I’m not a huge .25-caliber fan but I neither hate them nor ignore them. I have a long history with .25s. In the early ‘70s, on a cougar hunt, the houndsman handed me a Colt Lightning slide-action .25-20. Since then, I’ve hunted with all of them, even tried the .25 WSSM when it was new. I had a super-accurate .25-06, used it a lot, have had a couple of .257 Weatherby Magnums. As a lever-action buff, I’ve had a succession of .250 Savage rifles, have a good one now, made in 1920. Also have a 1906 M94 in .25-35. My current favorite .25, however, is a Dakota M76 in .257 Roberts, accurate and sweet-shooting.

This blacktail was taken with a .257 Weatherby Magnum. By far the fastest commercial .25-caliber, the .257 Wby shoots flat and hits hard.

I admit that I’m not passionate about .25s, but friends that I’ve respected have been. Great gunwriter, friend, and mentor Bob Milek was a quarter-bore guy. He loved the .257 Roberts and .25-06 equally. Gary Sitton, one of our greatest gunwriting talents, was also a .25-06 guy. My longtime boss at Petersen’s HUNTING, Ken Elliott, was a .257 Weatherby Magnum guy, thought it was the cat’s pajamas. So did Robert E. “Pete” Petersen, founder of Petersen Publishing. Sadly, all these guys are gone. Scott Rupp, one of the best Editors I currently work for, is still with us. He’s a quarter-bore guy.

Tastes in cartridges are often somewhat reginal. Usually, this is driven by game hunted, and by local hunting conditions. Texas is the great stronghold of the .25-06. Hard to find a Texas deer camp where somebody isn’t toting a .25-06. Medium-sized deer, shots often on the longer side. More than that: A common landform there is long, open cuts between brushlines, the famous Texas senderos. Here’s the thing about hunting a sendero: They’re narrow with few reference points. When a buck steps out he may not stop for long. No time to mess with a rangefinder, quick look at antlers and shoot. A flat-shooting .25 is a near-perfect choice.

In 2023, Ryan Paul brought a Savage M20 to Kansas, first time Boddington has seen an M20 in the field. An aperture-sight rifle, Paul used it to take does, using a scoped rifle for his buck.

In Central California, we hunt small-bodied blacktail deer. The .25-06 is popular here today, but, historically, I think the .250 Savage was a top gun. I say this because, for years, it was easy to find Savage 99s in .250 on almost any used-gun rack. In the .250 Savage’s heyday, we didn’t yet have feral hogs, and in our tight canyons, shots on our blacktails are rarely long. The .250 Savage was an ideal choice.

For me, the .25s are excellent for pronghorns and deer-sized game, questionable for larger game. Others disagree. Bob Milek used his .257 Roberts or .25-06 for elk almost every year. Milek was a Wyoming resident, usually looking for a fat cow or young bull for the freezer, rarely seeking (or taking) mature bulls. In that context, fine. For all-around elk hunting, I draw the line. Can work just fine, with caution, but I don’t think the .25s offer either the bullet weight or frontal area for general use on game larger than deer.

A nice Central Coast blacktail, taken with a .25-06 on a Ruger M77 action. Accurate and flat-shooting, the .25-06 is the most popular .25-caliber cartridge, a great choice for deer-sized game.

If there’s a fly in the .25-caliber ointment, it’s a bullet problem. Like our traditional .270 cartridges, the .25s have always been considered hunting cartridges. Historically, there have been almost no match-grade bullets or loads in .25-caliber. Today, with the rage for range, little development of modern, low-drag .257 projectiles. As with older .270s, part of this is a rifling twist issue. Since the 1920s, standard rifling twist for .25-caliber cartridges has been 1:10, stabilizing bullets from about 70 to 120 grains. Maximum G1 Ballistic Coefficient (BC) for the most aerodynamic 120-grain .257 bullets is about .400. Not bad, but not in the same league as the modern low-drag bullets with BCs well over .600.

We need longer, heavier .257 bullets to get there, but our 1:10 barrels won’t stabilize them, and many of the actions on our .25-caliber rifles won’t house them. There are some options out there. Berger makes a 133-grain .257 bullet, and Hornady has a new 134-grain .257 ELD-Match with G1 BC of .645. Undoubtedly, these choices will grow. However, none of my .25s will stabilize these bullets. I’m not interested in rebarreling. Same story as my pet .270 Winchesters regarding the new, heavier .277 bullets.

Two different approaches to varmint rifles. Left, a Savage .22-250. Right, a .25-06 on a Ruger M77 action, both with adequate accuracy for any varminting. Boddington believes the .25-06 is the most powerful cartridge that makes sense for varminting.

Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not an extreme-range guy. My .25s shoot well enough and flat enough for my purposes. Happy to keep them in their box as awesome, light-recoiling choices for deer-sized game, at shooting distances I’m comfortable with.



Craig Boddington

In America, above .30-caliber, cartridge popularity drops like a thrown rock. This is as it should be. Little on this continent that can’t be done with a .30-caliber and good bullets. Millions of American deer hunters don’t even need a .30, filling their freezers and trophy walls just fine with lighter calibers.

Boddington and Jack Atcheson Jr. with a Montana mule deer taken with a .338 Win Mag. Atcheson is a huge .338 fan, rarely using any other cartridge…anywhere. For deer-sized game, Boddington usually uses lighter cartridges. But, as Atcheson says, the .338 “numbs them.”

Still, we do have larger game: Elk, moose, the big bears. Hunters who pursue them—and those who dream of such hunts—love to argue around the campfire about the best and most perfect cartridges. Calibers and cartridge choices are legion. I’ve had long affairs with 8mms, diameter .323. Few cartridges and, ultimately, not enough bullets. Friend and mentor Colonel Charles Askins was the ultimate 8mm guru. Askins begged for a 250-grain 8mm bullet, but 220 grains has been the limit. Whether .325 WSM, 8mm Remington Magnum (or one of Askins’ myriad 8mm wildcats), a fast 8mm with 220-grain bullet is a wonderful thumper on elk. However, in my opinion, available bullets aren’t heavy enough for the largest bears.

Pound for pound, Boddington doesn’t believe moose are as tough as elk, but moose are much bigger. This bullet was taken at about 300 yards with a .338 RUM, firing 250-grain Swift A-Frame.

I also love the .35s. There are bunches of older .35s: .35 Remington; .348, .358, .356 Winchester. Also new: .350 Legend and .360 Buckhammer. Great for black bears and feral hogs, but either marginal in power for larger game, or not enough velocity for versatility in open country. The .35 Whelen and .350 Rem Mag are almost there in both power and velocity. Wonderful for elk and moose, just a bit on the mild side for anything bigger. Oddly, there have been almost no fast .35s. The .358 Norma Magnum is rare; the .358 Alaskan (7mm STW necked up) never made it into factory form.

In October ’23 Boddington used a .338 Win Mag barrel on his Blaser R8 on a brown bear hunt on the Alaska Peninsula. Didn’t get a bear, but he was ready.

Tough to make a case for bigger. The 9.3mms (.366-inch) are popular in Europe, used for driven boar, also by Africa-bound Europeans as alternative to .375. The two most popular—the rimless 9.3×62 in bolt-actions and rimmed 9.3x74R in single-shots and doubles—are just slightly less powerful than the .375 H&H, so plenty for North America’s largest game…but maybe don’t shoot as flat as optimum for our conditions. The faster .370 Sako and 9.3×64 Brenneke are similar to the .375 H&H in bullet weight, velocity, energy, and trajectory. Like the .375s themselves, this means they are overpowered for almost everything in North America except our biggest bears.

I’ve used various 9.3s on African buffalo, and in North America for hogs and black bear. Over here, I’ve used .375s for elk and moose, and for big bears. Awesomely effective…but more powerful than absolutely necessary. Truth is, for North American hunters on home turf, there’s little justification for a 9.3mm, .375, or larger. Fun to own, limited utility.

Left to right .325 WSM, .8mm Rem Mag, .338 Win Mag, .338 RUM, .340 Wby Mag. As a group, the “medium magnums” are extremely effective on game larger than deer. Boddington has hunted with all these and more but believes the .338 Win Mag is the most useful: Fast enough, without excessive recoil, and available in the greatest variety of loads.

If you’re looking for a cartridge with more knockdown power for North America’s large—and largest—game, it seems to me the caliber to pick is .338. Bullet selection is rich, standard at about 180 to 250 grains. There are numerous good cartridges using this bullet diameter at various velocity levels, including: .338 Federal, .338 Marlin Express, .338-06, .338 Ruger Compact Magnum (RCM), .338 Weatherby Rebated Precision Magnum (RPM) .338 Winchester Magnum, .340 Weatherby Magnum, .338 Remington Ultra Magnum (RUM), .338 Lapua Magnum, and .338-378 Weatherby.

All are adequate for elk and moose, and all are fast enough for at least medium ranges. However, if we include the biggest bears—and want the utmost in versatility—then we probably want a cartridge with enough case capacity to propel heavy bullets at meaningful velocity. I think the place to start is in the middle of that cartridge list, with the .338 Winchester Magnum.

Boddington has found most .338s to be accurate and non-finicky. His .338 Win Mag barrel for the Blaser R8 is simply amazing, producing sub-MOA groups with 250-grain bullets

 Winchester started their line of .30-06-length belted magnums in 1956 with the .458. In 1958 the family grew with two new cartridges in versions of their beloved Model 70 bolt-action: The .264 Win Mag in the “Westerner;” the .338 Win Mag in the “Alaskan.” The .338 Win Mag was intended for the largest Alaskan game, which includes elk, moose, and our biggest bears. Most common factory loads are 200, 225, and 250-grain bullets. Respectively, velocities are around 2950, 2800, and 2650 fps, all producing about 3900 ft-lbs of energy.

.33-caliber has deeper roots among British cartridges. The .333 Jeffery, available in both rimless and rimmed (.333 Flanged) versions, was loaded with 250 and 300-grain bullets. The .318 Westley Richards was more popular. Its designation comes from the inconsistent British convention of naming cartridges by the smaller land vice groove diameter: The .318 uses a .330-inch bullet, so also a .33. In the days before caliber minimums were instituted, both the .333 Jeffery and the .318 WR were used to take game up to elephant (with non-expanding solids). WDM “Karamoja” Bell, best known for preferring the .275 Rigby (7×57), wrote that his largest one-day bag of elephants was taken with a .318, using 250-grain solids.

PH Cliff Walker and Boddington with a Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, taken with a .338 RUM. Although not especially common in Africa, all the faster .338 cartridges are adequate for the full run of large African antelopes.

Gunwriter Elmer Keith (1899-1984) hailed from Idaho and hunted elk in black timber. He became a lifelong believer in larger calibers with long, heavy bullets. Working with Charles O’Neil and Don Hopkins, he used the .30-06 case and .333 Jeffery bullets to create the wildcat .333 OKH.

Winchester’s .338 used a literal .338-inch bullet. In 1902 Winchester introduced the .33 Winchester in their M1886 lever-action, using a 200-grain .338-inch bullet at 2200 fps. The .33 predated the British cartridges, but why Winchester chose the .338-inch diameter isn’t known. Although Winchester quit loading .33 Win in 1940, it’s natural that Winchester used the same diameter for their .338 Win Mag. All “.33s” that have followed, including Elmer Keith’s later wildcats, use .338-inch bullets.         

The .264 and .338 Winchester Magnums were introduced together in 1958. The .264 debuted in a version of the Winchester Model 70 called “Westerner;” the .338 was brought out in an M70 dubbed “Alaskan.”

Like most new cartridges, the .338 got a lot of buzz, but initial sales were slow. Probably because the word spread about sharp recoil. Duh! Although the lighter bullets kick less, you cannot produce nearly 4000 ft-lbs of energy without recoil, and not everyone needs this level of power. Over time, those who do discovered the .338 is wonderfully effective on large game. Lighter cartridges work fine on elk, but elk are tough, and many hunters want more. The .338 has become a standard “big gun” for elk, excellent for moose, and a sensible, fully adequate minimum for our largest bears.

Although lighter cartridges certainly work, Boddington believes the several .33-caliber cartridges are ideal for elk. This Roosevelt elk was taken with a .338 Win Mag using a 210-grain Nosler Partition.

Let’s go back to that list of current .33-caliber cartridges. The .338 RCM and Weatherby’s new .338 RPM are ballistically about the same as the .338 Win Mag, with more modern case design: The short, fat, unbelted RCM is a short-action cartridge; the RPM is unbelted. Despite its out-of-fashion belted case, the primary advantage of the .338 Win Mag is its greater popularity, offering a wider selection of loads from more manufacturers.

The last four cartridges on that list–.340 Wby Mag, .338 RUM, .338 Lapua, and .338-.378 Wby Mag—all have greater case capacity and are considerably faster than the .338 Win Mag. Energy yields approach or exceed 5000 ft-lbs.  Trajectories are flatter, thus extending effective range. These are valuable attributes, but it depends on what you need, and how much recoil you’re comfortable with. I haven’t spent much time with either the .338 Lapua or .338-.378 Wby Mag…and probably won’t. I used the .338 RUM when it was new, also did a lot of hunting with the .340 Wby Mag. Both were wonderfully effective, hard-hitting and flat shooting.

Donna Boddington used a Proof Research .338 Win Mag and a single 225-grain InterBond to take this big Alaskan brown bear on Admiralty Island.

I took the .340 to Africa a couple of times. I’m not especially sensitive to recoil, but that’s where I learned my limit. In the context of shooting plains game almost daily, I decided the .340 was more fun than needed. I circled back to the .338 Win Mag. It kicks, but I’m comfortable with that level of recoil. The faster .33s come back a bit too hard and too fast for my taste, especially on a sustained basis. Like everything else, they can be tamed with muzzle brakes. I prefer not to use brakes because of the blast and, anyway, I’m not an extreme-range shooter on game. The .338 Win Mag shoots flat enough for my purposes, with acceptable recoil.

A good black bear from southeast Alaska, taken with a Proof Research .338 Win Mag. There are many great cartridges for black bear, but the .338 is adequate for the largest bears that walk.

My old friend Jack Atcheson Jr. is a major .338 fan. Great sheep hunter and Montana elk hunter, he uses almost nothing else…all over the world. On deer-sized game the fast .33s speak with authority, but they are needlessly powerful. Trajectories are flat enough for great versatility, but I prefer lighter, faster cartridges for mountain game. For me, the .33s are fantastic for elk and moose, devastatingly effective on our largest black bears, and fully adequate for the largest bears. Perhaps oddly, I’ve used the .338 relatively little in Africa. Not sure why. It is unquestionably fully adequate for the full run of large plains game. I’ve often stated that a .338 matched up with a .416 makes the most perfect African battery.

For big bears, moose, and in Africa, I’ve usually loaded up with 250-grain bullets. It’s important to understand that the 250-grain .338 bullet has slightly higher Sectional Density (SD) than 300-grain .375 or 400-grain .416 bullets. So, if construction and velocity are similar, it will penetrate at least as well as these famous bullets. For elk and smaller game, I usually use lighter bullets from 200 to 225 grains, increasing velocity, flattening trajectory, and reducing recoil. Not everyone needs a .338, but if you want more power for larger game, I’m convinced a fast .33 is the way to go.



Craig Boddington

A writer friend was in black bear camp this past spring, shooting a .30-06. At the sight-in range, younger hunters gathered to admire his rifle. They’d heard of the .30-06…insisted they’d never seen one.

By about 1930 the .30-06 reigned as America’s most popular hunting cartridge, holding this position for at least 40 years. Times change, but I’m shocked there are grownup hunters who have never seen or given passing consideration to the .30-06.

46 years after his first safari, Boddington still believes the .30-06 is among the best and most versatile choices for Africa’s non-dangerous game. This fine waterbuck was taken in 2019, using a left-hand Ruger M77 with 180-grain Hornady Interlock.

In 1903 the United States military adopted the Springfield bolt-action rifle, mated with a rimless bottleneck cartridge firing a .30-caliber (.308-inch bullet). Rifle and cartridge were so close to Peter Paul Mauser’s designs that Uncle Sam paid Mauser a royalty until WWI. The original 1903 cartridge used a 220-grain round-nose bullet. In 1906 the case was modified slightly, the bullet changed to a lighter spitzer with greatly improved aerodynamics. The new cartridge was called “Caliber .30 US Government Model of 1906.” We soon shortened that to .30-06.

The first sporting use of the .30-06 doesn’t seem recorded. Well-known is that Theodore Roosevelt swore by his Springfield throughout his epic nine-month 1909 safari. At that time the lever-action was America’s most popular sporting rifle. There were no domestic civilian bolt-actions at all until 1920.

.30-06 velocities vary considerably among manufacturers. With 165-grain bullet, Hornady’s Superformance load yielded 3016 fps…that’s edging into .300 magnum velocity.

The Savage M20 was America’s first bolt-action sporter, Sort of a mini-Springfield, it was sized for the short .250 and .300 Savage cartridges and could not house the .30-06. The first American sporter that could was Remington’s M30 in 1921, based on the big 1917 US Enfield action. Winchester followed in 1925 with the M54, forerunner to the M70 (1936).

Shortage of commercial rifles didn’t deter the .30-06. Surplus US Enfields and Springfields were cheap and available. The supply from both world wars lasted through the Sixties. My own first centerfire, purchased in 1964, was a surplus ‘03 Springfield. I think it cost $39.95. I didn’t hunt with it until years later, but I shot it a lot, and lovingly “sporterized” it.

We hear about new cartridges being inherently accurate, but don’t sell the ’06 short. This lightweight Kimber Terminal Ascent produced sub-MOA groups right out of the box with the first load tried, Federal 180-grain Trophy Tip bonded bullet.

Starting in 1925, the flatter-shooting, softer-kicking .270 gave the .30-06 competition but never overtook it. Even Jack O’Connor, high priest of the .270, conceded that the .30-06 was more versatile. The first magnum craze of the Fifties and Sixties eroded the .30-06. I bought into that stuff; I had a .264 and a .300 Winchester Magnum before I hunted with a .30-06.

Although she later switched to a .270, Donna Boddington did most of her early hunting with a left-hand Ruger M77 .30-06. She used a 180-grain Hornady Interlock to drop this excellent Mozambique sable with one shot at sundown.

I read my Roosevelt, and my Hemingway, and my Ruark, so when planning my first African hunt I knew I had to have a .30-06. I trotted down to the PX and bought a Ruger M77 and worked up handloads with 180-grain Nosler Partitions. Even though I’d been a confirmed magnum maniac (“magniac”), I was amazed at how well the .30-06 performed. All ranges, all sizes of plains game. Became, and have remained, a .30-06 fan.

The flood of unbelted magnums at the turn of the millennium gave us new choices. Recent cartridges designed for maximum efficiency (PRCs, Noslers, Westerns) give us more options. Today we have plenty cartridges to choose from. It’s easy to overlook the .30-06.

The .30-06 probably isn’t an ideal mountain cartridge, but it shoots flat enough. Grancel Fitz took his first sheep, a Dall sheep in Alaska, in 1935 with his Griffin & Howe Springfield. 20 years later, he was the first person to take all varieties of North American big game…all with this same .30-06.

Old, but not tired. The .30-06 is a powerhouse. Standard issue for our forces for 50 years, the .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge adopted by a major military. Not as fast as our many magnums, it is not slow. Standard velocity for a 180-grain bullet is 2700 fps. In perspective: The same speed as the 6.5mm Creedmoor…with a 140-grain bullet. With 180-grain bullet, the .30-06 offers 28 percent more bullet weight…with .044-inch more frontal area. There is no comparison in hitting power.

Wife Donna did her early hunting with a Ruger M77 .30-06. Not the same one. I was doing a lot of hunting with a left-hand action M77 .30-06. Also a lefty, she’s shorter, so I took a sliver off the butt and reset the recoil pad so we could both shoot it comfortably.

Sadly, not all new rifles are chambered to .30-06. This is Chapuis’ new ROLS straight-pull, made in France…with .30-06 among its many chamberings. So far, out of the box accuracy is about one MOA…not unusual for good rifles in .30-06.

Now, let’s be clear. The .30-06 is not a low-recoil option. Generations of recruits complained about the brutal recoil. They were not wrong. Donna is one of those people who is uniquely impervious to recoil. In general, I don’t recommend the .30-06 for youngsters, for women of smaller stature, or for anyone with aversion to recoil.

To this day, the (nominally) 2.5-inch of the .30-06 defines “standard-length” actions and cartridges. Factory cartridges based on the ’06 case include, left to right: .30-06, .270 Win, .280 Rem, .25-06, .35 Whelen, .370 Federal, .280 AI. Boddington believes the .30-06 is still the most versatile of all.

The .30-06 is a big gun, needlessly powerful for any deer hunting. It is a far better elk cartridge than deer cartridge! I still have magniac tendencies. I see the medium magnums, typified by the .338 Winchester Magnum, as the most ideal elk cartridges. Yes, but the .30-06 is plenty of gun for any elk, especially with today’s great bullets. I’ve taken as many bull elk with the .30-06 as with magnums. None have gone farther, most down in their tracks. Because of heavier bullets with more frontal area, I think the .30-06 is more effective on elk than any of the 7mms.

One of the advantages to the .30-06 is lots of loads…and lots of handload recipes. This Savage 110 .30-06 grouped variously with different loads…and then shot quarter-inch groups (bottom center) with Federal factory with 180-grain Barnes.

The .30-06’s strongest suit is versatility. Awesome for larger game, such as elk and moose. I still can’t think of anything better for the full run of non-dangerous African game. The .30-06 kicks but lacks the bone-jarring recoil velocity of the fast magnums…and it works.

Versatility isn’t just about size of animals. Today’s newest cartridges use faster rifling twists with extra-heavy bullets with super aerodynamics. The .30-06’s traditional 1:10 twist stabilizes bullets from 150 to 220 grains. How much versatility do you need? For deer, a 150-grain bullet zips along at 3000 fps. For elk, and for Africa’s variety, I’ve always been a 180-grain bullet guy. I’m not keen on using the .30-06 for big bears, but more grizzlies and brown bears have fallen to the .30-06 than all the rest put together. Old-timers relied on the long, heavy 220-grain slug, which can be loaded to 2550 fps, credible velocity for such weight, offering wonderful penetration. I also don’t recommend the .30-06 for extra-large beasts. However, in the days before minimum legal calibers, the .30-06 with 220-grain solids had a great reputation for reliable penetration all the way up to elephant.

The .30-06 is probably needlessly powerful for deer…and also dramatically effective. This big Colorado buck was dropped in its tracks by a single 180-grain Fusion bullet from an ’06 made by Kenny Jarrett.

Maybe it’s also not the best choice for mountain game. As with deer, .30-caliber bullet weight and power aren’t essential for sheep and goats. I’ve taken both with the .30-06, but I’ve usually chosen cartridges that shoot flatter. Not because I needed them, but because they seemed a better “fit.” Once you get to the point where you must either hold over or start dialing your turret for range, trajectory is just a number. Know the number and you can solve the problem.

I’ve done a lot of 1000-yard shooting on steel with various .30-06 rifles and loads…as have long-range competitors for 120 years. Once you start adjusting, a few more clicks is a matter of knowing how many. I’m not an extreme range shooter on game. If I were, then there are better tools. However, because that’s what I was carrying—and because I knew the trajectory—I’ve made some of my longer shots in the field with the .30-06.

Boddington believes the .30-06 is a wonderful elk cartridge…and better for elk than deer. This bull dropped in its tracks to a single 180-grain Barnes TSX at about 150 yards.

Many of our newer cartridges offer great versatility on game, at varying levels of recoil, and are often touted for accuracy. Cartridge design matters, but rifle, barrel, and ammo are more important. It’s an article of faith that the .308, with its shorter, more efficient case, is more accurate. Maybe, but the margin is slim. I’ve rarely seen accuracy problems in a .30-06 rifle. With higher velocity, the .30-06 is more powerful, thus more versatile.

So many choices, so many conflicting and confusing cartridges. Here’s one good reason why the .30-06 may be worth your consideration. Availability. Everybody loads .30-06. It is no longer our most popular centerfire…but it’s still in the top handful. There are hundreds of factory loads, from all manufacturers, throughout the world…offered with just about any bullet you can think of. No, these days, we can’t get them all. But the .30-06 is not a one-company wonder, as new cartridges must be until they catch on. For handloaders, we have a century of loading data to fall back on. Can’t get this powder or that bullet? Plenty of choices.

Willem van Dyk, trackers, and Boddington with a big fringe-eared oryx, taken in Kenya in 1977 on Boddington’s first African hunt. This was the first time Boddington hunted with the .30-06; impressive performance made him a lifelong fan.

Just yesterday, I went to the range with a new Chapuis ROLS, a fine, state-of-the-art straight-pull rifle. Made in France…chambered to .30-06. Finding the best load for this rifle is still a work in progress, but the loads I grabbed randomly from my garage grouped within one MOA. That’s performance I expect—and usually get—from a good .30-06. 

Not all great new rifles are chambered in .30-06. I suppose that’s a sign of the times. Explains why some younger folks consider it a curiosity. For sure, it’s not as sexy as the hot new numbers. It’s still an accurate, powerful, and versatile choice. And the .30-06 is still out there, hundreds of loads, jillions of rifles…of all vintages.



Craig Boddington

I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will. And its First Corollary: At the worst possible time. Mr. Murphy lies in wait for the unwary and unready. In our worlds of shooting and hunting, there are all kinds of things that go wrong. Much can be prevented by preparation but, even with the most careful planning, stuff can still happen.

A cull buck taken on the last day of the ’21 Kansas whitetail season. Boddington missed a much better buck a few days earlier because the elevation turret—with no zero stop—got spun taking the rifle out of a soft case.

Sometimes we do it to ourselves. There’s something to be said for the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid. With shooting at longer ranges so popular today, most of us have gone to “dialing holdover” using our elevation turrets. No question, this is the best and most precise way to adjust for distance. With today’s wonderful optics, more consistent than any reticle system.

However, dialing the range is fraught with human error. Can anybody who “dials” a lot honestly say that he/she has never dialed incorrectly? Or, forgotten to return to zero after firing a shot? As common and more dangerous, forgetting to return to zero after not firing a shot?

On this hunt in New Zealand, Boddington chambered a round in his .300 H&H, worked the bolt, and found the bullet stuck in the lands and the magazine packed with propellant granules. Just one reason why it’s essential to run cartridges through the magazine before a hunt.

Not all of today’s great scopes have a solid zero stop. Probably not so critical in competition, but in my view essential on a hunting scope…because stuff happens. In Alaska a couple years ago, young Josh Mayall came into caribou camp with a few days of the season left. He’d be packing during the follow-on brown bear season, but he had a caribou tag. He had the outfitter’s .375, but he’s left-handed like me. I’d just shot a fine caribou, knew my 6.5-.300 Weatherby was zeroed, so I offered it to him, fortunately with plenty of ammo.

Josh and Peter Mayall with Josh’s amazing caribou, taken with Boddington’s 6.5-.300 Weatherby Magnum. After the first shot, the turret dial got spun going through willows; an anti-Murphy miracle that they got this marvelous bull.

Hunting with his father, Pete Mayall, their first afternoon they saw a giant caribou. Josh hit it, then couldn’t hit it again. After the first shot, the caribou and hey needed to cross a thick willow bottom to reposition. All we can figure: Crawling through brush, the elevation turret caught on a branch and spun. Fortunately, the caribou was hit hard; they finally got close enough for a finishing shot. Stuff happens.

Case head separation with a Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Inspection of brass will usually reveal potential cracks…but not always. The only solution on this rifle is to discard cases after one reload.

Happened to me in the ’21 Kansas whitetail season. Easy shot at close range, clean miss. Checked zero, two feet low at 50 yards. That dial got spun hard. I’d had the rifle in a soft case in the four-wheeler that morning, dial must have spun when I took it out of the case in the dark. Depending on the scope, you can usually figure out how much it spun and bring it back to zero. This one had spun a complete revolution. Unlikely, but stuff happens.

Boddington believes a hunting scope needs a solid zero stop on dial-up turret. The current generation of Leupold’s CDS Turret has one of the best turret stops, solid and high visible.

The only real solution is to find a target immediately and make sure. This just happened to me in Africa, good scope with tight turret clicks. Again, spun taking it out of a soft case. Only a few clicks, could have been a full revolution. We went straight to the camp range.

Mr. Murphy lies in wait, but much of the stuff he loves to pounce on is preventable. We can harp on checking screws and straps and such until the cows come home, but we don’t always do it.  Ever had a sling break or a sling swivel stud strip out? I’ve had both. Depends on where and when it happens. Can make the rifle a fulcrum, almost certain damage to rifle, scope, or both.

There’s no predicting what load a certain rifle will group best with…until you try. This particular 7mm-08 likes Hornady’s inexpensive American Whitetail load, with plain old 139-grain Interlock bullet.

How carefully do you check your ammo? For hunting, it’s downright dumb to not run every cartridge you’re taking in and out of your chamber. I must not have done that at least once. I was far up on a mountain in New Zealand with a .300 H&H, charged with handloads that shot quarter-inch groups. Accuracy didn’t mean much when I chambered a round, didn’t fire, cleared the rifle, and had a bullet stuck in the lands and a magazine full of propellent. The latter was a matter of dumping and swabbing. The former was a real issue, not like we had a cleaning rod on the mountain. After much experimentation and trimming, I finally crafted a long, straight sapling that could be used as a ramrod.

It was a day past the last day when Boddington took his Wyoming bighorn. Nothing went wrong on this hunt. Just to make sure, after this ram was spotted the previous day, Boddington insisted on checking zero on a rock.

Factory loads are not free of issues, but handloads are more likely to cause ammo problems, for lots of reasons. Just now, I was in South Africa with a gent shooting a .300 WSM. Some of his handloads had been made from full-length-sizing and trimming .325 WSM cases. Sound enough, but he’d held the resizing die a few thousandths loose. Intermittently, some of his cases were refusing to extract. Basically, his rifle became a single-shot…and somebody needed to carry a ramrod on every stalk.

On arrival in Georgia deer camp Boddington opened his gun case to find the stock of his .30-06 snapped off at the wrist. Glue and duct tape, and the rifle was still in perfect zero.

My reloading stuff was packed away for years, back up today with a new reloading shed. I’m loving it, shooting mostly handloads again. I trust my handloads, don’t shoot anyone else’s. However, inspection is constant and continuous. All cases stretch during firing, but cases in rear-locking actions (most lever-actions) are especially notorious. Stretching reduces case life. Properly, we examine fired cases for a “ring” that suggests incipient case head separation. Unfortunately, that ring isn’t always obvious. I was taking my .300 Savage to the range for one more check before a hunt. If there was a tell-tale ring, I didn’t see it. Doesn’t matter, because on firing only the base of case ejected; the rest of the case remained in chamber. No damage but getting the rest of the case out required trip to a gunsmith. That rifle didn’t go on that hunt. In future, I’ll only hunt with that rifle with maximum once-fired brass. 

Larry Tremaine brought his suppressor to Kansas deer camp and used it on Boddington’s Mossberg 7mm PRC. Fine, suppressors can be switched back and forth…but it’s essential to check zero.

Although the paperwork is draconian, suppressors are wonderful tools. Provided threads are the same, you can switch a suppressor from one gun to another, handy. Except, almost like switching a scope, you must remember to check zero. I was on a whitetail hunt in Nebraska when my hunting partner missed what might have been the buck of the season. He’d switched his suppressor to a lever-action .45-70 and had forgotten to check zero. Murphy loved it!

In many rifles best accuracy is obtained by seating bullets just off the lands. Important to carefully check Cartridge Overall Length (COL) to make sure cartridges aren’t too long for magazine or chamber. At the range, double-check to make sure.

Hopefully, we all know it’s essential to check a rifle on site or in camp at the start of any hunt. We’ve all failed to do this, but that’s inviting Murphy to join the party. In our Kansas camp, we ask hunters to arrive early afternoon the day before, and I have our range all set up. Last year, just one of my hunters declined to check. Well, you can lead your horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. First morning he missed what he described as “the biggest buck he’d ever seen.”

Too late, we checked his rifle. It was off a couple of inches. Not really enough to cause a miss at the distance he shot, but I like to have things perfect at the start of a hunt.

Before a hunt, Boddington likes to clean at the range…and then fire two fouling shots. This is a good time to run every cartridge you’re taking through the magazine and into the chamber, making sure of smooth chambering and feeding.

Hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but once in a while everybody misses. Usually, I know what I did wrong, but if I’m not sure I like to check zero, just to be certain. Last month, in South Africa, I got into camp early enough to check zero that afternoon. Shooting at plates was a mistake. Always better to shoot a proper target but seemed okay. First day I missed an impala, PH Fred Burchell calling the strike to the left. Hmm, longish shot, felt like I could have been high or low, but to the left didn’t make sense. So, we repaired to the range. Sure enough, the rifle was shooting a bit left.

This Weatherby 6.5-.300 was in perfect zero for a caribou hunt and dropped Boddington’s bull with a 300-yard shot. Boddington then loaned it to a friend and Murphy stepped in. The elevation turret lacked a zero stop and got spun while going through brush.

Stuff happens, and you never know when—or why—a scope might shift zero. On longer hunts, and especially on tough hunts, I like to check zero every few days, just so I don’t unwittingly invite Mr. Murphy to join me. Some hunts are tougher than others. I got my Wyoming bighorn on the eleventh day of a ten-day horseback hunt. The previous afternoon outfitter Ron Dube finally glassed up a mature ram. He was far away, no way we could get on him that afternoon. No way I wanted to mess this up after ten days of tough sledding. I insisted we stop and shoot at a rock, just to be sure. The rifle still in zero, we slept on the mountain that night and shot the ram late the next morning.

Other stuff can happen. Twice I’ve opened gun cases to find stocks broken off at the wrist. I’ve seen two other stocks break in vehicles, and one more from recoil. In case you have any question about which is stronger, wood or synthetic, all five were walnut. Laminate is probably the strongest of all, although the heaviest. Years ago, I got into deer camp in Georgia to find the stock snapped off on my then-favorite .30-06. No spare rifles available, just one more use for duct tape. I fitted it together, wrapped it in duct tape, and went out to check zero. Murphy was there, but I got the last laugh. The rifle was still in perfect zero, shot two nice whitetails with it.


Throughout most of the country April is prime time for turkeys. I am not an expert turkey hunter, and a mediocre turkey caller…on my best days.


Craig Boddington

Throughout most of the country April is prime time for turkeys. I am not an expert turkey hunter, and a mediocre turkey caller…on my best days. No way I will write the definitive “how to” story on turkey hunting. However, given a chance, I’ve been pretty good at shooting turkeys.

When a gobbler is coming in, Boddington likes to keep his knees up so he can rest his elbows and get steady. Of course, a bird come in from any direction. Boddington is left-handed, but he practices shooting right-handed…just in case.

Not perfect. (Talk about that later.) Wife Donna hasn’t taken as many turkeys and, theoretically, isn’t as good with a shotgun. Even so, she is 100 percent on bagging all turkeys she has shot at. She took her first Eastern gobbler in Georgia last Saturday, so her experience now includes three varieties, with some multiples.

The Mossberg 940-Pro Boddington used in Georgia in ’23 was borrowed, but he checked the pattern on a target. Aiming at the center orange dot, this 25-yard pattern with Apex No. 8 tungsten is fantastic: About the right height above aim, and wonderfully dense.

On the other hand, my Dad was the best and fastest wingshooter I ever knew on quail and pheasants. Dad had been a successful fighter pilot in WWII and had off-the-charts vision. Despite these advantages, he couldn’t figure out how to hold a shotgun on a stationary bird and center a turkey’s head. His native Kansas had no turkeys for most of his life, so a wild turkey was one of few creatures he really wanted to take. I can’t recall how many turkeys he shot over until he finally took his first with a .22 Hornet (in Texas, where rifles are legal).


Most shotguns are stocked to center the pattern a bit high for rising birds, so you can see the clay or the bird above the rib or bead. Some shoot “dead-on,” but few modern shotguns pattern below point-of-aim. Dad’s problem: A fast shooter on rising birds, he liked his shotguns to shoot high and wasn’t used to a stationary target. This exaggerates the effect of a high-shooting gun, and he couldn’t make himself place the bead far enough down on the neck to account for both the stationary target and the rise of the pattern.

An excellent Gould’s turkey, taken with a favorite turkey gun, a left-hand Moaaberg 12-gauge pump, using three-inch No. 6 lead shot.

You can check this with a pattern board, and you should. Checking “zero” and verifying patterns with a shotgun from a steady rest isn’t pleasant. Heavy turkey loads kick like hell, but it’s essential preparation.

What you want to see on a target: Most of the pattern just above the aiming point. Then, when a bird presents with a more-or-less vertical neck, you can place the bead about where the feathers stop and the naked, red neck starts. Remember, you’re dealing with a pattern, not a single bullet. The majority of the pattern should catch the entire head and neck.

This gobbler is in a near-perfect position: Not too far, not too close, head erect. Boddington would hold on that wrinkle in the neck just above where the feathers stop…and let a slightly high pattern do its work.

Depending on what a target has revealed, you are probably okay aiming where the neck joins the body (Dad would have been). Height of comb varies; my turkey shotguns don’t shoot as high as my trap guns or quail guns. The main point: Don’t aim precisely at the head. With most shotguns, this is asking to shoot over the top. You must hold a bit low, down on the neck.

On April 1st, opening day in Georgia, we had a disappointing morning. Minimal distant gobbling shut off at dawn, and we never saw a bird. Nearly noon, set up in a different spot, a big gobbler came in completely silent. Just out of range but clearly eyeing our decoys, he started to strut—never gobbled—then advanced cautiously.

I always carry a rangefinder and check distances when I set up, so I’ll have a good idea when a gobbler is close enough. With the shotgun I carried, he’d probably been in range for a while, but he was strutting in weeds that almost covered him. Silent, obviously checking our set, but not comfortable. I was sure he was within 40 yards when he stood erect and stretched his neck.

When strutting, a gobbler tucks his head tight against his chest. A body shot can work, but is risky and will mess up a lot of meat. Better to wait him out and let him extend his neck.

On a stationary target, a high pattern keeps getting higher as range increases. I rested the Mossberg over my knee, held well down on the long neck, and pressed the trigger. The bird dropped into the weeds, gone, but he was right there, a last few wingbeats as I approached.


Years ago, I was hunting in Missouri with a borrowed Browning BPS 10-gauge, awesome shotgun. A big bird came straight to us, strutted, and I pasted him head-on at 25 yards with a 3 ½-inch shell, 2.5 ounces of shot. The bird dropped to the shot and flopped behind a big oak. My partner and I ran to it…and the bird was gone. No trace, never seen again.

Doesn’t matter what you’re shooting. Body shots on turkeys with shotguns are unreliable. Tough birds, thick feathers, heavy breast protecting the vitals. When in strut, the head is tucked in, and the temptation is to shoot for that big, black mass. Big mistake that I’ll never make again. Wait until the head extends, and aim for the head and neck

With a shotgun, you’re shooting a pattern, with no control over exactly where pellets land. Essential to be mindful of other birds, and make sure a chosen turkey is absolutely clear.

Drives purists insane, but some states still allow rifles. That’s a different deal; the head is too small a target, and often moving. Purists, please ignore this: Where legal, I get a huge kick out of sniping turkeys with a small rifle, .17 or .22 Magnum, .22 Hornet. Wait for the broadside shot and aim where the wing butt joins the body. Doesn’t mess up much meat, and effective. If you have that shot with a rifle, you also have the head shot with a shotgun.

The tricky part: If the head is extended horizontally, while the bird is gobbling, then you have only the head as a very small point target. Better know exactly how high your gun shoots, otherwise there’s increased risk of passing the whole pattern just over the top. I shot a big Gould’s turkey in Sonora with his neck stretched out, remembered to hold a bit low. Killed the bird—doesn’t take all that many pellets in the head—but most of the pattern went high.

Donna Boddington’s first Eastern gobbler, taken in Georgia on April 1st, 2023. She used a left-hand Benelli 20-gauge with No. 9 tungsten shot.

The shot I much prefer is to have the neck erect. Still not a big target, but bigger. Ideally, you want pellet strikes in both head and neck. No one can say exactly how many strikes are needed. Where pellets impact is random, but you want multiple strikes—with penetration—in spine and brain. There are “golden pellets”: The one strike that centers the brain, but let’s not count on that.


Depending on range, shells, shot, and pattern, anything can work. I’ve taken turkeys with my Model 12 skeet gun, but it’s not a turkey gun. For years I used a short-barreled Spanish side-by-side 10-gauge with screw-in chokes. Lots of shot, should have been perfect, but tt was rarely as devastating as it should have been. Not much development in 10-gauge shells. The pattern board eventually showed me that, with available ammo, the pattern had holes a turkey could fly through. Cool gun, but I got rid of it. Tight chokes are best, but even patterns more important.

Today, we have better shells, better shot, and better chokes. The great turkey hunter, Dr. Warren Strickland, was the first guy I talked to who was killing his turkeys with a .410. Today, a lot of serious turkey addicts, with great shells and awesome chokes, use small gauges.

Boddington’s Dad, Bud Boddington, used a .22 Hornet for his first turkey, taken in Texas. An avid quail hunter, he liked high-shooting shotguns…and shot over multiple toms before resorting to the rifle.

Sorry, I don’t. I’m neither a good enough caller, nor a confident enough turkey hunter, to bank on the small gauges. I mostly use a 12-gauge, but both Donna and I have taken numerous turkeys with 20-gauge guns. In 12-gauge, I’m comfortable with 2 ¾ or 3-inch shells; in 20-gauge, we use 3-inch loads.

I have also downsized on shot. Historically, I’ve usually used lead No. 5 or 6 for the first (preferably head) shot, backed up with No. 4 for a follow-up body shot if needed. New shot has changed the game. I was stunned when I heard about experienced hunters—like Dr. Strickland—shooting turkeys with shot as small as No. 9. Depends on the pattern, and the shot. This year, our Georgia gobblers were taken with No. 8 tungsten shot in Mississippi-loaded Apex shells. Tungsten is denser than lead, more small pellets in the pattern, with better penetration per pellet.

You can definitely get the gun up while a bird is gobbling, but all you have to shoot at is the head; it’s essential to know exactly how high your gun patterns and aim a couple inches low.

Remember, velocity is much the same from gauge to gauge, thus pellet energy the same. Performance is thus largely about choke and payload, which dictate range. With turkeys, the important things are to check point of impact and pattern with your gun and your load.


Then, focus on that bright red head…and keep your shots within the distance your pattern density guarantees multiple head-neck strikes.

With the shells and chokes we have today, effective ranges have increased. For me, I don’t push the range envelope. Given a choice, I also don’t let birds get too close. Easy to miss when all you have is a ball of shot the diameter of your barrel. My ideal distance is 20 to about 40 yards. In that window, I have a good pattern to work with…and a bit of standoff to bring the gun to bear without spooking the bird.

This gobbler is awful close; instead of a pattern, there will be a tight ball of shot. Do-able, but with the bird looking right at you, he might spook before you can get the gun up.

Unlike most shotgunning, turkeys are usually taken by aiming precisely at a point, stationary target, as in rifle shooting. I prefer a gun with a rib to sight down, and a highly visible front bead. My Mossberg pump has rudimentary rear sight with fiber optic front, awesome.

Just once, I put a low-power magnifying scope on a turkey shotgun. I didn’t like the tunnel-vision effect, and found magnification unnecessary at turkey-shooting distance.  I have experimented more with reflex (red-dot) sights. They are extremely effective, especially for older eyes, with increasing trouble resolving the front bead. If your shotgun has sights of any type, then it’s essential to, literally, check zero, adjusting the sight to ensure your pattern is exactly where you want it.



Craig Boddington

Magnifying riflescopes saw some use in the American Civil War, and were preferred by a few bison hunters, including the famous Col. William Dodge. However, it wasn’t until after WWII that scopes were truly perfected and came into general use.

Today, the centerfire rifle world is dominated by magnifying riflescopes. They simplify shooting: Larger image to shoot at, easy to adjust, and so reliable that we trust them completely I’m as guilty as anyone. I started shooting in the 1960s. My first centerfire, a surplus 1903 Springfield, wore open military sights. I didn’t hunt with it back then; my first hunting rifle was a scoped .243. Many years passed before I did any hunting with iron sights.

The biggest limitation to an aperture sight isn’t either range or accuracy, but light. His Winchester 94 .30-30 with Lyman aperture sight is exceptionally accurate for this type of rifle

Folks of my generation might have taken their first bucks with grand-dad’s passed-down .30-30, but many are like me; started with scopes, stayed with scopes…or went to a scoped rifle as soon as affordable. Younger shooters may not have any exposure to iron sights at all. My daughters are good shots and keen hunters, but neither have had much exposure to iron sights. That’s my fault; I started them with scopes, bypassing important lessons. Iron sights make you appreciate the importance of precise sight alignment. Never too late but, trust me, it’s easier to go from iron sights to a scope than vice versa!

Qual day” at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton. Aperture sights were standard on America’s service rifles from WWII until recently. Using an aperture sight, Boddington qualified Marine Corps “expert” throughout his career, not so difficult, and great experience.

Why would you want to? Well, not all field shooting is at distance. There are many situations where the magnified image offered by a scope isn’t needed, and a few where the larger image and the scope’s tunnel-vision effect just gets in the way. Also, under all circumstances, the scope adds weight, bulk, and vegetation-snagging projections.

Savage 1899 hog: A flip-up tang aperture was also a common option on Savage lever-actions. This Model 1899 .250 Savage, made in 1920, wears a flip-up tang sight, used to take this excellent boar.

Sometimes, iron sights do everything that needs to be done. There are two primary types of irons: Open sights, and the aperture or “peep” sight. With both, there is a front sight near the muzzle, usually a blade or a bead. The open variety has a rear sight, typically affixed to the barrel just ahead of the action, usually a horizontal bar with an open notch, commonly shaped as a “U” or a “V.” The idea is to optically center the rear sight in that notch, then superimpose it on your aiming point. The primary problem with open sights: The eye must work in three focal planes: Rear sight, front sight, and target.

The aperture sight has a rear sight with a circular opening, mounted far back, close to the shooting eye, on the rear of the receiver. Also often called a “receiver sight,” it is far superior to the open sight because the eye naturally centers the bead or tip of the blade in that opening. The peep sight reduces the eye’s work from three focal planes to two. You don’t look at the rear sight; you look through the hole, center the front sight, and superimpose it on your aiming point. The aperture sight is more precise, and more forgiving as our eyes grow older, less flexible, and less able to rapidly focus back and forth.

Boddington used his R.F. Sedgley Springfield .30-06 with aperture sight to take this Colorado elk, one shot at about a hundred yards.

The scope further reduces the eye’s work to just one focal plane: Focus on the target only, and put the scope’s reticle on the aiming point. So, and especially for older shooters (like me), a scope or reflex (red dot) sight is optically superior to an aperture. I will not tell you that open sights are necessarily sturdier or less prone to breakage than a modern scope properly set in good mounts. Not always true. Over the years, I’ve had more front sights and rear sights bend, break, or come loose than trouble with scopes. Especially today, open sights on many factory rifles are flimsy afterthoughts; put there for looks, with apparent confidence the customer is certain to mount a scope and will never actually use the irons.

Before riflescopes became common, the best bolt-actions were often adorned with aperture sights. This 1930-vintage R.F. Sedgley Springfield was amazingly accurate with its aperture sight. Boddington admits he couldn’t duplicate this group today, but that’s not the rifle’s fault.

However, open sights, and especially securely-mounted aperture sights, still have a place. Accuracy is not limited or reduced, but depends somewhat on visual acuity. In my day, the service rifle wore no optical sight; I qualified Marine “expert” throughout my career with aperture sights. No problem, but the 300-meter slow fire bullseye looked pretty small. So does a game animal, but such shooting is quite possible, limited only by what you can see. Twenty years ago, I could produce MOA groups with aperture sights on accurate rifles. Those days are over, followed by a period when I had increasing difficulty resolving front sights. I was almost out of business with all iron sights. Fortunately, a good ophthalmologist has me corrected and I’m again confident using iron sights for short-range hunting situations.

On sticks with a Winchester M94 .30-30 with Lyman receiver aperture sight. Aperture sights take practice, but over time it’s amazing how fast and accurate they become.

Before riflescopes were perfected, the aperture sight was the precision hunting sight. Jack O’Connor did his early hunting, including desert sheep and Coues deer, with apertures. Ernest Hemingway did almost all of his hunting with the aperture sight on his famous Springfield.

I love the simple, low profile of an aperture-sighted rifle, and they go well with certain platforms I like. While I don’t trust myself with apertures in open country, I use them for a lot of hog and black bear hunting, even some elk and whitetail hunting, and I’ve used them in Africa for stalking in thornbush.

Again, I won’t harp on the ruggedness versus a scope, and I also won’t make a case for their enhanced speed. Years ago, with gunwriters John Wootters and Finn Aagaard, we did “stopwatch” tests comparing apertures, open sights, and low-power scopes. Starting in down position, from “go” to aimed shot at close targets, the aperture proved faster than open sights, but the scope was consistently faster and more accurate than any iron sight.

Front sight size is a compromise: The smaller the bead (or blade), the more precise the aim, but also the less visible and slower to acquire. For fast field shooting, Boddington prefers a bold bead of 3/32-inch diameter.

Any iron sight is also a handicap in poor light. There is no light-enhancing advantage offered by good optics. Open sights are worse for light than apertures, but even younger shooters with perfect vision will lose shooting light more quickly than with scopes. Older hunters are at increasing disadvantage in bad light.

To a degree, we can increase speed and low-light capability by using a larger and more visible front sight; and a larger aperture. This is a trade-off. The smaller the bead or thinner the tip of the blade front sight, the more precise the aiming point. My preference has long been a bold 3/32-inch front bead, a nice combination between size and visibility. I like a traditional white front bead, but today’s tritium and fiber-optic sights are even better.   

The Skinner ghost-ring aperture is an excellent modern sight, factory-supplied on Big Horn Armory’s top-eject M89 lever-actions. Elevation is adjusting by twisting the aperture up or down, then locking it into place with a set-screw.

Likewise, the smaller the aperture, the more precise the aim. The target aperture sights used when I was shooting smallbore competition had an opening like a pinhead. Very precise, but also slow to acquire.

The opposite is a very large opening. Older aperture sights, such as the Lyman, often came with multiple screw-in interchangeable apertures, small for target use, larger for faster shooting. You can also unscrew the aperture altogether, and simply sight through the opening. “Papa” Hemingway left us multiple references to unscrewing his aperture…and then blowing through the hole to eliminate droplets from precipitation or dew.

This Redfield M25 was a common and favorite receiver-mounted aperture, shown on a 1945 M65 Reising .22 training rifle. With all aperture sights, for adjustment you move the sight the direction you wish to move the strike of the bullet.

The remaining opening, on older Lyman and Redfield apertures I have, measures about .200-inch diameter. This creates what is called a “ghost ring” aperture. Because the rear sight is close to the eye, no effort is made to focus on the sight fixture; it fuzzes out to almost invisible. The eye ignores the sight, concentrating on looking through the opening and focusing on the front sight.

For everyday use in dangerous-game country, I’ve never known an African PH who carried a scoped rifle. Most common is the simple “express” open sight with a shallow “V” rear. Not precise, but as fast as open sights get and, once properly affixed to the barrel, as bulletproof as an open sight can be. This is the traditional sight most PHs rely on for backup, but I’ve known several who preferred ghost-ring apertures, faster and more precise.

Certain models of the recent and current Marlin lever-actions are factory-supplied with Picatinny rail strip, mounted with an adjustable ghost-ring aperture from XS. This is a great sight for a short-range lever-action. This is a recent Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum with 100-yard target.

The ghost ring aperture was long popular among America’s big woods hunters, and it’s making a comeback, wonderfully common on the big lever-actions we now call “guide guns.” Whether for a guide for backup, or for wilderness wanderers preparing for bear problems, the concept is perfect. The shot will be close, and must be fast. I greatly admire the Skinner ghost-ring apertures, elevation adjustment accomplished by turning the aperture up and down. Recent and current Marlin .45-70 “guide guns have been factory-equipped with an adjustable XS ghost ring on a rail mount, also excellent. Big Horn Armory supplies Skinner ghost rings on their top-eject M89 lever-actions, a perfect match. These are not long-range precision sights, but the rifles they are most commonly used on are not long-range platforms.

A nice South Texas whitetail, taken at about 90 yards with a short-barreled Winchester Trapper .30-30, using aperture sight.

The aperture sight isn’t just for proof against big, bad bears. Today, I consider it a sound option for shots up to roundabout 100 yards. Farther if you can see better. That does me just fine for most of hog hunting, and covers all likely shots from several of my favorite deer stands. I get great pleasure from hunting with apertures. My biggest limitation is light: I will lose the first and last ten minutes (at least). Better plan accordingly.


For most of us, a day at the range is just plain fun. Sure, most of us have an agenda: Improve skills, group loads for accuracy, check zero for an upcoming hunt.


Craig Boddington

For most of us, a day at the range is just plain fun. Sure, most of us have an agenda: Improve skills, group loads for accuracy, check zero for an upcoming hunt. For some, banging away is pure pleasure, because shooting is fun. It’s fun for me, too; I go to the range for all those reasons.

Range Day starts with loading the truck…and making darned sure nothing that might—possibly—be needed is left behind.

And more, because range day is also serious work. As a gunwriter, I’m always fighting (and juggling) deadlines. Some articles are hunting stories. Others are gun stories, and many, with hunting guns, are a mix. Whichever, range time is important, and precious.

Reasonable weather is almost essential, a big problem in many parts of the country, sometimes impossible on winter days in Kansas. I’m often asked why we haven’t pulled out of California completely. Grand-kids are good reasons, and I often cite the year-around hog hunting that I love. Range days are more good reasons. The range I use, on a friend’s ranch not far from town, is up a deep canyon, cold in winter and blistering hot in summer, but protected from most winds. Except for infrequent rainy days, I can shoot in at least marginal comfort throughout the year. Honest, the ability to get in a range day almost any time I need to has much to do with how I’ve been as prolific and productive as a gunwriter all these years.

Boddington prefers to clean at the range…which means cleaning gear must be hauled. Usually shooting multiple calibers, he brings his full cleaning kit, ensuring he has all the brushes, jags, and patches needed.

Now, it isn’t like stepping out the back door and shooting, as I can do at the Kansas farm (when weather allows). The range is too far from the house to run back and forth. I have to be organized, and make sure I have everything I need.

Often, I take a half-dozen firearms to the range. A couple I need to run through their paces for articles. Always, a .22 to practice with while barrels are cooling. Maybe a favorite hunting rifle to check zero, or to group a new handload recipe. At least one pistol or revolver, just to keep my hand in. Oh, sure, I’ve gotten to the range and realized I forgot to grab ammo for one or another, or maybe I forgot a spare scope in case I want to make a switch.

Boddington’s “range” tool kit is small and simple, including a small set of gunsmithing screwdrivers and bits, and multi-tools.

If I forget something for a gun I need to write about, that’s an expensive waste of time. So, I try to be organized. I make lists—guns, ammo, gear—and I check them off while I’m loading the truck. As for gear, I don’t need to haul everything. We have a little range house that holds targets, rests for the bench, shooting sticks, staple gun with lots of staples.


Most of what I need to bring stays in my Range Bag. Hunting buddy Gordon Marsh, proprietor of this site, and our mutual friend, Bill Green, spent a lot of time creating the “Boddington Gear” ( you’ll find on this site: Soft gun cases, range bags, and more. Available in good waxed cotton and excellent buffalo leather, I’m really happy with these products. The real point is: A great deal of thought went into the design.

The Boddington Gear range bag, available in buffalo leather or waxed cotton, is roomy enough to hold almost anything needed, including range spotting scope with bench tripod.

Good soft cases are essential to protect and safely transport valuable firearms, but my writing business truly depends on the range bag. I designed it large, because I haul a lot of stuff back and forth to the range. Side and end pockets are roomy enough to hold handguns in rugs…and a staple gun. I carry a spare in the range bag, ‘cause I’ve had them quit just when I needed to change targets.

Most of us who care about accuracy save targets, either to compare or brag about. I’m big on this, because when testing firearms, I have protocols to meet, as in “five five-shot groups with multiple loads.” I must save targets, so I can measure groups and photograph them later. I have two options. The range bag has a built-in file folder, not just for targets, but for instructions and other printed info. And, I have my buffalo leather target case, a cylindrical tube that allows me to roll up targets and save them with no damage. (Don’t save targets? It’s also a perfect fit for a straight-ocular-lens spotting scope.)

Good soft cases are essential for transporting and protecting valuable firearms. Boddington put a lot of thought into his soft gun cases and likes the results.

Now, regardless of what range bag you prefer, here’s the stuff I cram into mine for almost every range day. A small set of gunsmith tools, so I can tighten up screws or switch out an optic on the range as needed. A PAST recoil shield, used religiously for shooting off the bench with almost anything from .30-caliber up. Our Marine Corps mantra was: “Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.” Sorry, but we shoot better when recoil doesn’t hurt, so at the bench I sissy up. Light, beanbag sandbags, so I can get my benchrest support exactly right. Also, a big leather “competition” shooting glove for the supporting hand. In my case, the right hand, because I’m left-handed. I use it on the bench, and in prone, to snuggle the butt against my shoulder, and to make fine elevation adjustments, keeps the rear sling swivel stud from barking my hand.

Naturally, shooting glasses and earmuffs! A spare left-hand strap on cheekpiece so, as needed, I can get the cheek-weld just right, often essential with unfamiliar test rifles, especially with today’s ever-larger scopes that must be mounted higher. And, down deep in one of the pockets, spare batteries—for any device you carry that might need a battery!

On the range with the MagnetoSpeed chronograph, measuring bullet speed with electromagnetic impulses. This is it; the case is underneath the monitor. Light, compact, fast to assemble and easy to use, this chronograph lives in the range bag, and can be taken anywhere.

Since part of my range days involve “test guns,” I carry a digital trigger pull gauge. Mine is from Lyman, stores multiple tests and yields the average. A chronograph is another essential device, invaluable for handloaders and long-range shooters, and a required work tool for me. The Oehler 35P has long been the gold standard; I’ve had one for 40 years, love it because it yields all needed data on a printout. However, the Oehler is bulky, stores in its own separate hard gun case, and takes time to set up. A few years back, I got a Crony, compact and easy to use, range-bag compatible. My buddy, who owns the ranch and thus the range, also has a Crony, keeps his in the range house, so it’s available on that range. The Oehler and Crony operate off skyscreens, detecting the passage of the bullet. The Oehler is absolutely accurate, but skyscreens are finicky in some light conditions.

The range Boddington uses most frequently has various rest options for the bench, but he keeps several lightweight “beanbag” sandbags in his range bag so he can adjust for a perfectly steady rest.

Recently, I got a MagnetoSpeed, measuring speed with electromagnetic sensors. The MagnetoSpeed Sporter now lives in my range bag. Inexpensive, weighs little over a pound, and folds up into its 12×3-inch case, about the size of a cigarette carton. It attaches to the barrel in seconds, stores up to 12 shots in a string, and yields High. Low, Average, Extreme Spread (ES), and Standard Deviation (SD). Mostly a rifle guy, MagnetoSpeed does almost everything I need, and can even go on hunts, to verify velocity and thus long-range data as atmospherics change.


Note that I said “almost.” MagnetoSpeed cannot be used with suppressors. And, since it attaches to the barrel, is not compatible with semiauto pistols with full-length slides. I just ordered a LabRadar, awesome device, measuring speed with Doppler radar. It will work on almost anything…except shotguns (multiple pellets confuse the radar).

Although fairly compact, LabRadar is a bit large for my range bag, so I’ll carry it separately when I need it. That’s not the only thing I carry separately. My camera(s) go in my daypack, along with binocular, or in a camera bag. The range spotting scope has a small tripod that fits handily in the bag, but if I intend to do some “setup” shots, I take a tripod for camera use.

Boddington keeps a PAST recoil shield in his range bag, and also carries an extra strap-on cheekpiece, invaluable for adjusting comb height…especially with the larger scopes used today, which must be mounted higher.

I like to clean at the range, either when finished, or between series of groups. For most of us, the range bag easily holds a jointed rod and everything else, but since I’m usually hauling multiple firearms in various calibers, I usually throw in my big Tipton cleaning set, about the size of a large toolbox. If I have it, I know I have all the right-size brushes and jags.

Most of us have calm, relatively focused range sessions with just a couple of firearms. The range bag probably has adequate room for all the ammunition needed, but my life doesn’t work that way. On my range days, I may have firearms chambered to a half-dozen different cartridges…with multiple loads for each. I put all my ammo in a separate box or bag, so I can keep it sorted, use one at a time…and then put back when I’m finished with that firearm. However you do it, there’s one cardinal rule: Just one caliber/cartridge on the bench at any time!


The last few weeks I’ve been carrying and shooting the straight-pull Austrian Strasser RS14 Evolution rifle, beautiful, and beautifully made. Stocked in good walnut with matte metal, I have two barrels, 6.5mm PRC and .375 Ruger.


Craig Boddington

The last few weeks I’ve been carrying and shooting the straight-pull Austrian Strasser RS14 Evolution rifle, beautiful, and beautifully made. Stocked in good walnut with matte metal, I have two barrels, 6.5mm PRC and .375 Ruger. With this combination, there isn’t much in the world I couldn’t do. I’ll come back to the switch-barrel feature and concept, but let’s first focus on straight-pull bolt operation.

The Strasser RS14 Evolution, with left-hand bolt, 6.5 PRC barrel installed, and extra barrel in .375 Ruger. The detachable trigger group holds a hex wrench to detach the fore-end; the fore-end holds an extension tool used to loosen and secure the barrel-tightening clamp, center.

At this writing, the Blaser system, both the older R93 and newer R8, are the world’s most popular straight-bull bolt-actions. With 30 years history, the straight-pull Blaser is very popular in Europe, but it’s not alone. The Strasser was introduced in 2014; other modern straight-pulls include Browning’s Maral, Heym SR30, Mauser M1996, and Merkel Rx Helix. I’ve shot most of these and have hunted with several, although I have far the most experience with Blaser. Just a few weeks ago, at the Beretta Gallery in Dallas, I was introduced to the Chapuis ROLS, yet another top-quality European straight-pull.

A typical European shooting platform for a driven wild boar hunt. The driven hunt is used as a management tool, to harvest surplus animals. Shooting is fast and sometimes furious, usually at moving game, which is why the fast straight-pull rifles are so popular in Europe.

Straight-pull acceptance has been slow in the US. In part, this is because the traditional rotating bolt-action has been dominant for generations. I suspect it’s also a price-point issue; European straight-pulls are costlier than many domestic bolt-actions.

Savage’s Impulse may change that, but it’s too new to gauge acceptance. At first glance, the Impulse looks like a conventional turnbolt, but is straight-pull, with the unique feature that the bolt handle can be removed, adjusted for angle, and switched from right to left (clever!). The Impulse is costlier than most basic bolt guns, but very medium in price. This is not a fair comparison: The Blaser, Chapuis, and Strasser are fine guns, well beyond standard factory rifles. The Impulse is a production rifle, priced accordingly.

Savage’s new straight-pull Impulse on the bench. The Impulse is the first American straight-pull centerfire in more than a century. Here, the bolt is configured for right-hand shooting. Uniquely, the bolt handle is detachable, adjustable for angle, and can easily be switched to the left side.

Explaining the straight pull advantage needs just one word: Speed. Instead of the up, back, forward and down motion of a traditional rotating bolt, the straight pull requires only back and forward. Less overall movement, less arm movement.

The proper way to operate any bolt-action is to work the bolt with the shooting hand, keeping the rifle to cheek and shoulder, and maintaining sight picture. How many of us actually shoot a bolt-action this way? Most of us probably take the rifle at least partway down to gain enough leverage to work the bolt, almost essential with a stiff action. The straight pull makes this easy.

Top-quality European straight-pulls are amazingly modular and interchangeable. On a Mozambique hunt, Boddington took the left-hand bolt and scope from his Blaser in .300 Wby Mag and used them in a right-hand “camp rifle” in .416 Rem Mag and shot a buffalo. In this case, no scope adjustment was needed, but better not count on that.

Almost unknown over here, Browning’s Maral uses the BAR receiver, straight-pull bolt replacing semiauto feeding. Savage’s literature describes the Impulse as “combining the confidence and accuracy of a traditional bolt action with the speed of a semi-automatic.” The straight pull isn’t quite that fast but, once you get the hang of it, straight-pull is faster than any rotating bolt.

In the US, if we really need speed, we can get an AR or a BAR. Semiautos aren’t allowed in some countries, but speed is more important to European hunters. This is because, in much of Europe, the most common technique for big game is the driven hunt. Drives are well-organized and, especially for wild boar, shooting can be fast and furious, usually at moving game. Quick follow-up shots can save the day. There are other obvious options. Many Europeans use double rifles for driven hunts, guaranteeing a second shot. Krieghoff’s slide-action Semprio was designed for driven shooting, but both slide- and lever-actions are uncommon over there.

A typical European shooting platform for a driven wild boar hunt. The driven hunt is used as a management tool, to harvest surplus animals. Shooting is fast and sometimes furious, usually at moving game, which is why the fast straight-pull rifles are so popular in Europe.

The straight-pull has gained wide acceptance in Europe because it is faster, with less disturbance to the aim, so a smoother follow-through. This takes practice, but most European ranges have “running game” targets. Avid European hunters get very good at moving targets. Just before the pandemic I did a driven boar hunt in Sweden. On the last day, shooting a Blaser with Aimpoint sight and .270 barrel, I had a big pig come from behind, so it was already streaking away by the time I got on it. Didn’t want to go down, so I hit it three times. Maybe the first shot would have done the job, but even with a left-hand turnbolt, I’d only have gotten the first shot off. 

Most of us have never seen this rifle, and many have never heard of it. It’s a Canadian straight-pull Ross Sporter in .280 Ross, made in 1910, and used by Larry Tremaine to take his Kansas buck. No giant, but when he got a close shot with the original aperture sight he didn’t hesitate.


There is a learning curve with a straight-pull. First time I tried the Blaser I didn’t care for it. In part this is because it was right-handed, and I’m left-handed. A straight-pull on the wrong side is even more awkward than operating a right-hand bolt left-handed. Both the Blaser and Strasser easily go southpaw by switching bolts. I returned that first Blaser test rifle, then the older R93, as soon as I could.

In 2009, when the R8 was new, I had a chance to try one with a left-hand bolt. It wasn’t love at first shot, but I understood the advantage. In 2010 I took a left-hand Blaser on a sheep hunt in Nepal. After two weeks in the Himalayas, I liked it well enough that I bought it; it’s been a “go to” rifle ever since. Don’t always need the speed, but there are times. I did some lucky shooting on wolves in Alberta, three for three. With a rotating bolt I’d have had just one shot. 

On the bench with the Strasser RS14 Evolution, with 6.5 PRC barrel installed. Strong, accurate, and interchangeable, the Strasser has an exceptional trigger.


I was watching video clips of the new Savage Impulse. Two young pundits gravely informed me that it was the first American straight-pull rifle. Uh, no. In 1896 Winchester got a contract for 10,000 straight-pull M1895 Lee Navy rifles (Savage’s website does cite the Lee rifle.) The Lee’s service life was short, but Marines used them successfully in combat in Cuba, the Philippines, and in the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Used properly, with practice, the speed of a straight-pull action is amazing. Two of three Alberta wolves taken by Boddington with three shots from a Blaser R8…in about that many seconds. Lucky shooting, for sure, but impossible with a rotating bolt.

Canada isn’t the US, but certainly part of North America, so let’s not overlook the Canadian straight-pull Ross rifle, used by Canadian troops in WWI. Just this year, Larry Tremaine brought a 1910 Ross straight-pull sporter to my Kansas farm and took his buck with it. When the bolt-action was still new, there were other straight-pull designs. Austria fought WWI with the straight pull M1895 Mannlicher. The Swiss forces used successive improvements of the straight-pull Schmidt-Rubin rifle from 1889 to 1958. So, the straight-pull concept is hardly new, although rarely seen in sporting rifles until Blaser’s R93 just 30 years ago.


The switch-barrel concept is also more popular in Europe. Some countries impose restrictions on numbers of firearms; a receiver with multiple barrels may count as just one. With straight-pull, engineering switch-barrel is simpler than with a rotating bolt. Typically, straight-pull lugs are held flush in a full-diameter bolt, then cam outward when the bolt is closed, locking into matching recesses in a barrel shank, the lugs retracting when the bolt is opened.

Lug arrangements vary widely. The Blaser has essentially a collet or circular lug. The Strasser has four locking lugs; the Savage Impulse locks with six ball bearings. A strength issue may have existed with some WWI straight-pulls. Today, the rumor that straight-pulls aren’t strong is just a myth. Actual bearing surface exceeds Mauser’s dual-opposing locking logs, able to withstand absurdly high pressures.

At an introduction in Dallas, Boddington gets a first look at the Chapuis ROLS, perhaps the newest of the European straight-pull rifles. Chapuis is an excellent French gunmaker; like the Blaser and Strasser, the ROLS is a fine rifle, not to be compared with standard production models.

We have several Blaser barrels. With the Blaser system, the scope clamps to the barrel with a detachable mount. I switch them back and forth all the time, typically without perceptible zero shift. The Strasser system is opposite; the scope mounts via an integral receiver rail, so stays with the receiver (or can be switched out for another scope). For Americans, with few restrictions on gun ownership, the switch-barrel advantage isn’t as urgent. Still, it’s handy to have one familiar stock and action that can be configured to various purposes. As with Blaser, Strasser bolt heads and magazines fit “families” of cartridges, and can be switched out.

Friends Bill Green and Gordon Marsh joined me in Mozambique last month, bringing a Strasser with 6.5 PRC and .416 Ruger barrels. Depending on what they were going after, they switched barrels back and forth, using the .416 barrel for buffalo, the 6.5mm for various plains game.

Gordon Marsh took this gorgeous Mozambique sable antelope with a Strasser using 6.5 PRC barrel.


I had hoped to borrow their Strasser a couple days in Mozambique, but we were always going different directions. The rifle I ordered, 6.5 PRC and .375 Ruger barrels, came in after I got home, so I got it zeroed, then used it to help manage whitetails on my son-in-law’s Texas ranch. (Uh, never mind how many deer were “managed.”)

Boddington used the Strasser in 6.5 PRC to take several “management” whitetails on his son-in-law’s Texas ranch. The 6.5 PRC is an effective and versatile hunting cartridge, and especially deadly on deer-sized game.

Haven’t had a proper use for the .375 barrel yet, but the 6.5 PRC barrel is a tack-driver, and that’s a “drop in their tracks” cartridge on whitetails. I like the detachable trigger group, and love the adjustable trigger, three settings from 2.5 to 3.6 pounds. If you don’t like any of these, it’s also a single-set trigger with a feather-light release. It’s not true that no tools are required to switch barrels, but you don’t have to carry tools. The trigger assembly has a hex wrench to remove the fore-end. Within the fore-end is an extension tool, providing leverage to release and tighten the barrel lock. Good system, good rifle but, like anything new and unfamiliar, I need to spend more time with it. Better pack up my range bag and go do some shooting!



Craig Boddington

If you’re of the right-handed majority, they probably don’t matter much to you at all, but I want you bear with me and give this some thought.

One of my all-time favorite “crazy” letters went something like this: “Boddington, I’m sick of hearing you whine about scarcity of left-handed firearms. You should blame your mother; she should have made you right-handed like normal people…I can assure you, if you were born in Germany in the 1930s you’d be shooting right-handed.”

Any question about which eye is dominant? Perform this simple test, sighting on a small object and closing one eye, then the other. At 65, left-handed and long left-eye dominant Boddington was shocked to learn that his eye dominance had shifted to the right eye!

Nobody knows the exact percentage of left-handed people, but we’re a small minority, estimated between 10 and maximum 15 percent. Not all manufacturers offer left-handed models. Most that do offer limited variations and chamberings but, compared to when I was young, today there’s a pretty good selection. Honest, if were a firearms manufacturer, I’m not certain I’d tool up for the left-handed market. Partly because it’s small, and also because many lefties don’t buy left-handed guns. They make do with right-handed guns…like always.

For centuries, lefties were forced to be right-handed, too awkward for tactics with swords and shields. I’m not sure when our military allowed left-handed shooters, but I trained as a lefty 50 years ago. Whether you consider preference for the southpaw side natural or an abomination, there are other considerations.

: Veteran gunwriter John Wootters and Boddington with a nice Rio Grande turkey gobbler. Lifelong right-hander Wootters lost his right eye to a detached retina. He successfully made the shift to left-handed shooting but, in his 60s then, it wasn’t easy.

 In addition to physically favoring one side, most humans have a stronger or dominant eye. Unlike many activities that rely heavily on our binocular vision, shooting (especially with sights), requires aiming with just one eye. For most people, it’s easier to learn to shoot with the dominant eye.  Eye dominance often follows hand preference…but not always. As toddlers, we announce “handedness” by reaching for toys and spoons with one hand or the other. This may be established before eye dominance is determined.

Handgunning is different. Almost all semiautos eject to the right, not a problem at arms’ length, and revolvers are ambidextrous. That arms’ length distance also offers multiple options for solving cross-eye dominance.

Cross-eye dominance (right-handed, but with left eye dominant; or vice-versa) is not uncommon. Interestingly, cross-eye dominance is more common among women than men, with some studies showing a significant percentage of cross-eye dominance in females. Not a problem in many sports, but a big deal in archery and shooting. Especially today, with women forming the fastest-growing segments in almost all shooting sports.

So, you are right-handed and right-eye dominant. You don’t care. Fine, but as the kids and ladies in your life learn to shoot, are you sure they’re starting out on the proper side? There are simple remedies to improve shooting with cross-eye dominance but, from learning to shoot is faster with the dominant eye. The shooting shoulder and trigger hand should be on that side.


Easiest thing in the world. In a large room, pick out a small object like a light switch. Stand with arms outstretched, palms away. Bring your hands together, overlapping fingers and thumbs so that you create a small hole between the webs of your thumbs. Focus on the object through the hole and close one eye. If the object remains stationary, your open eye is dominant. Without moving your head, close both eyes and open the other eye. The object should jump, either out of view behind your hand or to the side. That is not your dominant eye!

Springfield LH conversion: Before LH actions were common, bolt-actions were often converted, switching the bolt handle and reversing bolt rotation. This is a converted Springfield by R.F. Sedgely, fast to operate, but the shooter’s face remains in peril if there’s a catastrophic failure. Mirror-image actions that eject to the left are much safer!

Stuff happens. I’ve been left-handed and left-eye dominant most of my life, but our eyes change as we age. About five years ago, I started having trouble resolving iron sights and shotgun ribs. Worse than that: I was clearly seeing two front sights and front beads. I was shocked to discover my eye dominance had shifted from left to right…no wonder I was having trouble! Prescription shooting glasses have mostly fixed the problem so, no, I’m not switching from left to right, too much muscle memory and too many left-handed guns.

Injuries are impartial. Forty years ago, when lefty actions where scarce, I bought two of my first from a lefty in the local Safari Club who had lost his left eye and needed to switch sides. John Wootters, great gunwriter and friend, was right-handed all his life…until he lost sight in his right eye to detached retina. In his 60s, the transition to left-hand shooting wasn’t easy, but it can be done. Likewise, injuries to the strong-side hand, arm, or shoulder can force shooters to switch.

Ruger No. One buffalo: Cartridge selection is a problem with most left-hand rifles. The Ruger No. One has been chambered to more cartridges than any other factory rifle, and is totally ambidextrous. Left-handed Donna Boddington used a No. One in .450/.400-3” to take this awesome Zimbabwe buffalo.


Most right-handers probably believe that left-handed guns are for convenience or speed. Suck it up, right? No. It’s really a matter of safety. It is a right-handed world, so most repeating actions are designed to eject to the right. And, in the case of a catastrophic failure, like a ruptured case head, the hot gases and shrapnel are directed to the right, away from the right-handed shooter’s face and eyes.

Now, put that right-hand-ejecting longarm on the left shoulder and experience the same catastrophe. Now the bad stuff is vented straight into the shooter’s face; serious injury is almost unavoidable.

Rock River LH AR: Boddington taking a field rest for prairie dogs with a mirror-image AR from Rock River. There are now several manufacturers offering left-hand ARs, far the safest and most pleasant-shooting for lefties.

Many firearms are more or less ambidextrous in operation, including most lever-actions, pumps, and semiautos.  However, if ejection is to the right side, the same safety hazard exists. And, vice versa, it also exists in the rarer cases of right-handers shooting mirror-image left-hand firearms.

There are truly ambidextrous actions. All break-open actions, most single-shots, and top-eject lever-actions are even-handed, and bottom-ejecting slide-actions and semiautos are totally ambidextrous. Placement of the mechanical safety can be awkward for lefties. Tang safeties work both ways, and most push-button safeties can be reversed, but this is convenience and training; the safety issue comes from being on the wrong side of the action if something goes badly wrong.

Whether falling block or break-open, almost all single-shots are very ambidextrous. This is Uberti’s Courteney stalking rifle in .303 British, on John Browning’s patent.

This is primarily an issue with long guns, because the shooter’s head is close to the action. Revolvers are ambidextrous, and virtually all semiauto pistols eject to the right. Neither are a concern because handguns are fired from arms’ length.

So, how real is the danger? Remote, but it only takes once.  I’ve seen five blowups in my life, mostly on ranges, people I didn’t know, thus from unknown causes. Four resulted in minor injuries…because they were right-handed and shooting right-handed guns. All would have been more serious if experienced by a lefty. The fifth was mine, a right-handed bolt-action, shot from the left shoulder. It was a .270 WSM, and there was a 7mm WSM cartridge in the box. Shouldn’t have chambered, but it did. And fired, swaging a .284-inch bullet down a .277-inch bore. The case head let go, and all the bad stuff came out the right side…like it’s supposed to. I was wearing shooting glasses, so minimal damage, burns and brass fragments on the right side of my nose and a red raccoon ring around my right lens. Absent eye protection, could have been bad!

Savage has long been a stalwart in offering left-hand options, especially in their M110 bolt-action line. This Colorado bull was taken with a Savage 110 in .30-06, one shot and done.

Look, I’m a gunwriter. Catastrophic failures are unusual, uncommon, unlikely. Of course, I shoot right-handed guns off my left shoulder. Good eye protection (and maybe a bit more caution in inspecting ammo) mitigates the risk, but it should not be altogether ignored. Wife Donna is also left-handed and (still) left-eye-dominant. Our personal guns are mirror-image left hand or ambidextrous. She doesn’t do this stuff for a living, so her exposure to right-hand long guns is minimal. The kids are all right-handed and have their own right-handed guns. They can also shoot my “almost ambidextrous” right-hand-eject guns, but they don’t shoot our mirror-image guns from the wrong side.

A friend was a dental surgeon, left-handed and commonly shooting right-hand bolt-actions (like so many lefties). Figuring his hands and right eye were worth a lot more than mine, I convinced him to switch to left-hand actions. I try to do the same with friends who have left-handed kids coming up, usually with success. Give it just a little of thought, and it makes sense: Why accept any unnecessary risk?

In recent years, Ruger has become a strong bastion for left-hand shooters. This left-hand 10/22 is the first-ever mirror-image left-hand semiauto .22.

I don’t actually whine about availability of true, safe-as-can-be left-hand guns, because there are so many more than ever before. In the old days, it was common to switch bolt handles and reverse rotation on bolt-actions. This simplified and speeded operation, but did nothing about the safety issue. Today we have mirror-image bolt-actions from Browning, CZ, Ruger, Savage, Weatherby, and more. John Browning’s bottom-eject slide-action shotgun has been around for a century, variously manufactured by Browning, Ithaca, and Remington. Benelli, Franchi, and Winchester offer mirror-image semiauto shotguns. Ruger now has a mirror-image left-hand 10/22, and Browning still offers the bottom-eject SA22, another John Browning design. There are break-open and falling-block single-shots, and plenty of break open doubles (over-under and side-by-side). Heck, there are even several options for mirror-image ARs. Truly ambidextrous lever-actions are scarce, as are classic control-round-feed bolt-actions, certainly on an affordable basis, but the selection is there.

So far, none of our grand-kids have turned up left-handed, and we haven’t identified cross-eye dominance. Odds are, we’ll have to cross one of those bridges. If we do, and they show interest in shooting, this is the selection of safe and sensible firearms for them. It’s not all that bad!

READY FOR FALL? Trust me, it’s not too early! By Craig Boddington

For some of us, hunting season is right around the corner. Here on the California Central Coast, our archery deer season is already open, with rifle season starting the second Saturday in August.

For some of us, hunting season is right around the corner. Here on the California Central Coast, our archery deer season is already open, with rifle season starting the second Saturday in August. For most, hunting season is still months away, but it really doesn’t matter. Time has a way of slipping past, so the dog days of summer offer a good time to get some practice in—and make sure your equipment is up to snuff.

Flanked by Tony Lombardo and Clint Wiebe, John Stucker used Boddington’s Winchester 88 in .308 to take this California hog. It worked perfectly, but a week later Murphy’s Law applied and this rifle went to the gunsmith.

I’ll start with the latter. The physical law that “a body in motion tends to stay in motion” was proposed by Sir Isaac Newton clear back in 1687. Sporting firearms are a bit like that. If they work, then with just a bit of maintenance they should continue to work…for many years. However, anything made by man can fail, and all firearms have moving parts, subject to wear.

I agree with Newton, but accept Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong surely will.” Also, Murphy’s First Corollary: “…at the worst possible time.” A firearm will probably keep functioning until it doesn’t, absent warning signs. I’ve had guns go down in the field, which is the worst possible time, but for me it usually happens on the range.

A nice California hog taken with 1950s Savage 99 in .300 Savage. Boddington’s hand is covering it, but at this moment the fore-end is held in place with duct tape. Weeks later, this rifle is still in the shop. Right now, parts—especially for older guns—can be hard to find.

Probably because I do more shooting on the range than afield. With every shot taken on the range, you are also function-checking. Funny, I haven’t had a failure in years, but this summer began I’ve taken three rifles to our local gunsmith. All three happen to be lever-actions, but I think this is mostly coincidence; I have several lever-actions, and some are old.

It started with my Savage 99 in .300 Savage, a 1950s rifle. At the range, I noticed the fore-end was rattling. I thought I got the screw tight, but I failed to remove the fore-end and inspect. Sure enough, a few days later I was scrambling up a slope after a once-hit hog when the fore-end came off in my hand. Got the pig and, for the moment, found yet another use for duct tape. Dumb. I knew there was a problem and I ignored it.

Although he doesn’t always use it, Boddington has been carrying the light Javelin bipod the last couple of years. In Tajikistan in February ’22 it was the salvation for a tough uphill shot at an ibex.

In 2019 I did some deer and hog hunting with my Mossberg 464 lever-action .30-30, but haven’t used it since. I loaded up some California-legal flat-tipped Barnes bullets, so I took it to the range.  This one violated all the rules, because the rifle was essentially a body in motion: It functioned perfectly the last time I fired it, no reason to suspect otherwise. Big surprise: The extractor was broken, no duct-tape cure here!

Boddington’s 2019 Kansas buck was taken with his Mossberg .30-30. It was working perfectly after that season. Taken to the range in the summer of ’22, the extractor was broken. Parts give out on their own schedule, not yours.

Third one, just don’t know. An old friend had a gorgeous reworked M88 Winchester .308, a rifle I’ve sought for a long time. I had just a few factory Barnes Vor-Tx; it produced a one-inch group and came perfectly into zero. Buddy John Stucker came out to visit, so I handed it to him with my half-dozen remaining California-legal cartridges. First evening, he made a perfect head shot on a nice hog. Week later, I sat down to the bench, different load. Third shot I had sticky extraction, couldn’t get the lever to open. The 88 is among few lever-actions ever made with forward-locking bolt, strong action for high-pressure cartridges. With much hand pressure, I got the action open, but then the lever wouldn’t close. Too nice a gun to force.

Prone with bipod is about as steady as it gets, but terrain and vegetation will often preclude its use. Good position to practice, but not good to get married to.

Straight to local gunsmith Jason Cardinale. In due time, maybe I’ll know what happened. For sure, I’ll start over with light handloads and work up. Jason now has three of my rifles, and gunsmithing isn’t an overnight fix like getting a tire repaired…especially if parts are needed. It’s not like I’m disarmed, but this fall I hope to hunt with all three. Here’s the point: Don’t wait ‘til the last minute. This weird rash of gun problems occurred with plenty of time to react.

On the range, an upended bin can replicate a boulder or log, using pack and jackets to cushion the rifle and adjust the height.

So, let’s start now. If you cleaned your rifle after last season, clean it again, get the gunk out of the bore. While you’re at it, check all the screws (sort of like I should have been doing on that pesky fore-end screw). Freshly cleaned, your zero may be off and, if screws needed more tension, it probably will be. Taking nothing for granted, you’re going to get good and steady on the bench and check zero first. While you’re doing that, run some cartridges in and out of the magazine to check functioning. This process revealed the broken extractor on my .30-30. That rifle hasn’t been fired for two years, so I will never know how, when, or why, but parts can fail…preferably not at the worst possible time.

The Javelin bipod system uses a fixture that replaces the front sling swivel stud, using a strong magnet to attach the bipod when desired. Standard sling swivels can be used at the rear of the fixture.

Let’s hope you don’t encounter the same problems; your rifle is working perfectly, and zero is where you want it. Now’s the time to get away from the bench and do some real practice. Wife Donna has a hunt coming up before I do, a tough mountain hunt. Her pet .270 hasn’t been out of the safe for months. She can clean it, but I had other rifles to tend to, so I scrubbed her barrel, checked everything, and we took it to the range. Couple fouling shots, slight adjustment, left it 1.3 inches high at 100 yards with the load this rifle really likes: Hornady’s Plain-Jane American Whitetail, 130-grain Interlock, clocking 3030 fps in her 22-inch barrel.   

I get lazy. It’s simple and convenient to zero at 100 yards, less human error, half the back-and-forth to check targets. This time we wanted it just right, so I put up a new 200-yard frame. Off sandbags it was fine, just like the charts said. Donna has trained with a bipod, but doesn’t like the extra weight, or the appendage on the rifle. Makes sense because her little MGA .270 weighs 5.7 pounds with VX3 3.5-10X scope.

Donna Boddington “building her house” for a prone shot using both bipod and pack

Okay, but summer is a good time to try new wrinkles. I feel pretty much the same about bipods. Very steady, but nothing works in every situation, and, weight aside, I don’t like junk on the rifle. So, as I’ve often written, my go-to is finding a way to rest over a pack. But, even at my age, I’m willing to learn new tricks, and summer shooting, absent imminent pressure, is a good time to experiment. Lately, I’ve been using the Javelin bipod system from Spartan, light, strong carbon fiber. Instead of attaching to the forward sling swivel stud (or a rail), the Javelin fixture replaces the forward stud. The bipod attaches instantly by a strong magnet; until needed it can go on your belt or in a pack pocket.

Not only light, it’s not even there until needed. I don’t use it all the time, but I’ve been carrying it. In Tajikistan earlier this year, it saved my bacon on a tough uphill shot at an ibex. I thought Donna might like it; if she didn’t, no harm done: That’s what summer shooting is all about.

Boddington isn’t OCD about gun cleaning, but if a firearm has been stored for some time it’s good to start by getting any old solvent or oil out of the bore. Thereafter, Boddington likes to clean his barrels after about 20 shots.

Donna is brilliant off sticks, steadier than me, and good off a pack, but she doesn’t like the bench. Don’t blame her; that light .270 bounces hard. She shoots well with a bipod, too, just hates to carry one. The light Spartan system intrigued her, so she started with it on the bench, sandbag under the butt. No benchrests in the field, but I was curious to see if she could hold her 200-yard zero with the bipod. Oh, yeah, she put the first three within an inch and a quarter, spot on, just favoring an inch to the right.

Now it’s time to get serious…and leave the bench behind. I put a tarp on the gravel, and she took a few shots prone, using the bipod and a pack. Then I upended a storage tub, replicating a boulder or log, augmented with pack or rolled-up jacket to get the height right. Groups are going to open up from such genuine field positions, but who cares? If you’re really prepping for field shooting, “minute of vital zone” is what you care about.

In between centerfire sessions, the Boddingtons “work out” with .22s, always a painless to get good position training for field shooting.

Hunting season is not an exam you can cram for. Shooting often is to the good, but shooting a little bit now and again is better than overdoing it, especially with centerfire rifles. In between various positions, our drill is to use a .22, off the same positions, or from sticks. With a .22, just use a smaller target. On our range we’ve got miniature metallic silhouettes, challenging at 25 yards. Recently, we added got a Birchwood Casey “target tree” with swinging gongs. Fun, no pain, invaluable practice. We’re not ready for hunting season yet; we’ll do this a few more times. Great way to pass a summer morning, before it gets too hot and the barrels heat up too fast.