WHY LEFT-HAND GUNS MATTER

By

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.

TESTING EYE DOMINANCE

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.

A MATTER OF SAFETY

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.

USE ENOUGH GUN…For All Game

The phrase was made famous by author Robert Ruark (1915-1965). Actually, his memory, because Use Enough Gun is a posthumous collection. Naturally, we assume the admonition applies to large and dangerous game.

By

Craig Boddington

The phrase was made famous by author Robert Ruark (1915-1965). Actually, his memory, because Use Enough Gun is a posthumous collection. Naturally, we assume the admonition applies to large and dangerous game. So, let’s be clear: This story is not about animals that might gore, trample, bite, or eat you.

The greater kudu is a large African antelope, not as big as fully mature elk, but similar in size to a three-year-old five-point bull. Like elk, shots can come at any range. “Enough gun” at 200 yards is one thing, and quite another at twice that distance.

I’ve written those articles (and entire books), but that’s a simple subject. Most African jurisdictions have game laws that tell us what constitutes “enough gun.” In some countries, these are broad, such as “minimum .375 for all dangerous game.” Other areas have more specific rules, sometimes including minimum energy standards. Rather than guidelines, these are enforceable statutes. We can disagree and exceed the standards, but if our chosen rifles and cartridges don’t meet the minimums, we’re breaking the law.

Most US states that allow rifle hunting have a minimum legal caliber. Today, thanks to the widespread popularity of the AR platform, most jurisdictions now allow .223s, at least for deer. Some elk states maintain a higher standard but in most areas, we can now legally hunt deer and wild hogs with .22 centerfires.

“Enough gun” for dangerous game is subject to much debate but is simplified by minimum standards in most African jurisdictions. Widespread belief is the .375 H&H is the usual legal minimum, but it’s more commonly the European equivalent 9.3mm (.366-inch), with either the 9.3x74R or 9.3×62 Mauser usually legal.

On mature bucks and big boars, I’m not convinced this is a great idea, but many of us do it (me included). Light recoil and accuracy make shot placement easy. For brain and neck-shot specialists, the .223 is plenty of gun, and it doesn’t much matter what bullet is chosen. Folks like me, who prefer body shots, are better served by tough, heavy-for-caliber bullets designed for larger game.

Still may not be the best choice. Entrance holes are tiny and exits are unlikely. On larger deer, definitely on hogs, my experience is recovering game shot with .22 centerfires requires more tracking…and there isn’t much trail to follow.

This Texas hog was taken with a brain shot from a little .22 Hornet. Definitely not enough gun, but careful close-range hunters who specialize in brain shots can be a bit more flexible in cartridge choices.

Whether you’re one of the guys who “only does brain shots,” or, like most of us, you usually take the biggest, surest chest shot, when hunting big game with .22 centerfires the bottom line is the same. You must get close. In the first instance, because the head shot is a tricky target; 100 yards is a long brain shot. In body shots with .22 centerfires, you don’t have much bullet energy anyway, and you need all you have. Faster cartridges like the .22-250 offer more range, but when I hunt deer with a .223 I figure about the same 100-yard maximum. 

Now, it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much gun is “enough.” No two shots are exactly alike, with nuances of angles, distances, shot placement, and bullet performance. There are no absolutes. Ideal shot placement—with a bit of luck—may mask inadequacy…until it doesn’t. And the reverse: Make a bad shot, and one’s natural impulse is to blame the cartridge or bullet. There’s no precise formula, but our vast array of cartridges offers plenty of good choices.

Boddington and Zack Aultman with a Georgia hog, rolled with a body shot from a .22 centerfire AR. Although many use .223s for hogs, this is a bit of a false reading: .22 centerfires aren’t enough gun for body shots on big hogs…and this isn’t a very big hog!

Recognizing “enough gun” for dangerous game may be the easiest of all. Nobody takes long shots at big bears or buffaloes, so there’s little concern about trajectory or residual energy. What you start with better be enough. Everything else is more difficult, especially with today’s fascination with shooting at longer ranges. We really need to think about two criteria: Enough velocity, energy, and bullet weight for the close shot we might get; and enough for the long shot we might want to take. These are not exactly the same.

In North America, elk is a major animal that sparks the “enough gun” debate. Boddington used a .270 to take this New Mexico bull, very cleanly with one shot. The .270 is the lightest cartridge he has used for elk, but believes the faster 6.5mms are enough gun…but not at longer ranges.

I like the 6.5 Creedmoor, but I don’t credit it with magical powers. Its 140-grain bullet is not heavy, and its 2700 fps velocity is not fast. Past 300 yards it starts to drop quickly…as does residual energy. A young writer friend who did credit the Creedmoor with magical properties was convinced it’s a 400-yard elk cartridge. At that distance, his elk was wounded and lost. Sometimes we get away with folly, sometimes we don’t, but the Creedmoor is well below the line for elk-sized game at longer ranges.

Boddington used his .264 Winchester Magnum to take this excellent Wyoming mule deer. Ballistically identical to the 6.5 PRC, faster 6.5mms are ideal for deer-sized game at any sensible range, but perhaps a sound minimum for elk-sized game, and not at extreme range

Ringing steel with the Creedmoor at 1000 yards is easy and fun, but that isn’t the same as shooting at game. The steel target doesn’t care how hard or soft the strike; it’s going to ring. My longest shot on game with a Creedmoor was a whitetail at 325 yards. On deer-sized game, the Creedmoor has power and performance beyond that, but you must do things right. We mis-ranged the buck, adjusting for 300 yards vice 325. Doesn’t sound like much, but I needed two more clicks up and hit the buck low. The rangefinder probably caught an unseen branch, not uncommon. I corrected, held higher and hit him again. A flatter-shooting cartridge would have eliminated an almost-miss.  

With perfectly steady position, John Stucker is about to shoot a zebra at 400 yards with his Christensen 6.5 PRC with 143-grain ELD-X.

 I like the awesome downrange performance of the 6.5mm’s long, aerodynamic bullets, so I’m becoming a fan of the 6.5 PRC. With 140-grain bullet at 3000 fps, it is 300 fps faster than the Creedmoor, delivering more energy and shooting much flatter. There’s no magic in this formula; the old .264 Winchester Magnum does the same, as do the 6.5/.284 Norma and the new 6.5 Weatherby RPM. I have a good .264, but the 6.5 PRC, with modern case design, is better-suited for today’s longer, heavier “low drag” bullets. Although I’m new to the 6.5 PRC, I’ve taken a lot of game with the .264: Deer, sheep, goats, African plains game. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the size of game this level of 6.5mm was “enough gun” to handle. For sure, I considered it elk-adequate to considerable distance, if not extreme range.

B oddington and John Stucker with Stucker’s Burchell’s zebra, taken at 400 yards with a 6.5 PRC. Maybe it would have worked perfectly if the first shot had been two inches left…and maybe not. Collective summation: Not quite enough gun for large, tough animals at that distance

My buddy John Stucker has a Christensen Ridgeline in .300 Winchester Magnum, accurate, powerful, a wonderfully versatile rifle. Last year in Georgia, John used a borrowed 6.5 PRC and flattened a big-bodied buck in its tracks. He liked the cartridge so much that he bought another near-identical Christensen in 6.5 PRC.

This year we had a South African plains game hunt planned with Carl van Zyl’s John X Safaris. Stucker had an obvious choice in his Christensen .300. However, he was focused on smaller antelopes often taken at longer ranges: Vaal rhebok, klipspringer, steenbok, mountain reedbuck, nothing “big” on his wish list. He decided to take his 6.5 PRC and, for sure, I agreed 100 percent.

Boddington’s son-in-law, Brad Jannenga with a nice axis deer (similar in size to mule deer), taken with an old .300 Savage lever-action. For deer-sized game there are dozens of adequate cartridges. On larger game, more thought should be given to cartridge adequacy

Africa’s pygmy antelopes often mean difficult shooting. Obviously, the 6.5 PRC was plenty of gun, and Stucker was on a roll. With great shooting and good luck, he was done early, so he added zebra and maybe a kudu to his list. An average kudu bull is much the same size as maybe a youngish five-point or raghorn elk. At possibly 800 pounds, a zebra is as big, and as tough, as a big bull elk. John’s .300 would have been perfect, but we had no reason to question his 6.5. His PH, “Stix” Hoole, an astute “gun guy,” was also in agreement. Should be fine.

Left to right: 6.5×55 Mauser, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington. These 6.5mms are almost identical in ballistics: 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps. They are awesome for deer-sized game, but adequate for elk only at closer ranges…with excellent shot placement.

Here’s where nuances of shot placement, distance, and luck come into play. John got a shot at an older, big-bodied kudu bull with terrible horns, a “management” bull. One 143-grain ELD-X crumpled the bull, perfect shoulder shot at 380 yards. We were all stoked and gratified; the 6.5 PRC was obviously plenty of gun.

Unfortunately, the zebra told a different story. John’s first shot was just over 400 yards. The way folks tell it these days, that’s not far, right? From a steady position with data well dialed-in, very do-able. However, from muzzle energy of 2782 ft-lbs, residual energy at 400 yards was 1800. Again, nuances. Maybe the animal was quartering a few degrees, or maybe the first shot was a couple inches too far forward. Whatever. The first shot on the shoulder didn’t do the job. Nor did additional shots, apparently perfectly placed despite increasing distance. The animal went down, but when we approached it jumped up and needed a close-range finishing shot.

Faster 6.5mms flatten trajectories and deliver more downrange energy. These 6.5mms all deliver 140-grain bullets at about 3000 fps, left to right: .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5-.284 Norma, 6.5 PRC, 6.5 Weatherby RPM. All are fully adequate for elk, but their relatively light bullets suggest caution at longer ranges

I can’t tell you how many more feet per second in velocity, how many more foot-pounds of energy, or how many more grains of bullet weight we should have had for that zebra. Nor, precisely, can anyone else. I don’t even know for absolute certainty that we didn’t have enough. Maybe if the first shot had been two inches farther left we’d still be congratulating each other on a great shot, made with a perfect choice of cartridge and bullet. But I don’t think so, because the lesson isn’t new. The last time I used my .264 in Africa (140-grain bullet at 3000 fps, so ballistically the same as Stucker’s 6.5 PRC), I remember thinking that larger, tougher antelopes—and zebra—traveled a bit farther with well-placed hits than would have been the case with 7mm or .30-calibers with heavier bullets. The problem with using “enough gun” is that nobody can say exactly what that is for various sizes and types of game. It only becomes obvious when you don’t have quite enough!

UNDERSTANDING THE PRCs

Introduced in 2018, the 6.5 PRC got in under the wire before Covid struck. It jumped on the 6.5mm bandwagon, and made significant inroads before the world shut down. Formally introduced at SHOT Show in 2019, its sibling .300 PRC had less fortunate timing.

By

Craig Boddington

Introduced in 2018, the 6.5 PRC got in under the wire before Covid struck. It jumped on the 6.5mm bandwagon, and made significant inroads before the world shut down. Formally introduced at SHOT Show in 2019, its sibling .300 PRC had less fortunate timing.

I try to keep up on new developments, but the .300 PRC was nearly out of diapers before I laid eyes on a cartridge! And it didn’t much matter: Couldn’t get a rifle to play with and, even if I could, no ammo! I first saw the 6.5 PRC in the fall of ’19, but didn’t hunt with it until the following season. I was slower yet to gain experience with the .300 PRC. In the fall of ’21 I hunted with two borrowed .300 PRCs, but just now got my hands on a rifle I can spend quality range time with.

Hornady’s_Neil_Davies
Hornady’s Neil Davies, sighting in his GA Precision .300 PRC in Tajikistan. Of four hunters in the party, two used .300 PRCs and two used .300 Win Mags, clearly a split decision between old and new.

Despite similar names, the 6.5 and .300 PRCs are quite dissimilar cartridges. Both are based on the .375 Ruger case, jointly developed by Hornady and Ruger in 2006. It follows the “model” of shorter, wider, unbelted case design. However, instead of a much fatter case, which causes a bolt face mismatch—and feeding problems in many actions—the .375 Ruger uses the same .532-inch rim and base of standard belted magnums, without a belt. The .375 Ruger quickly spawned the .416 Ruger and, shortened, the .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums (RCMs).

PRC stands for “Precision Rifle Cartridge,” after the Precision Rifle discipline. The 6.5 PRC is actually based on the .300 RCM case necked down to 6.5mm (.264-inch bullet), short enough to fit into a short action. Despite supply challenges, the 6.5 PRC seems to have caught on nicely. This is almost certainly because, at long last, the 6.5 Creedmoor made American shooters aware of the ballistic advantages of the long, aerodynamic 6.5mm (.264-inch) bullet.

Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker borrowed a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC to take this ancient ’21 Georgia buck. He was impressed enough that, within weeks, he bought a 6.5 PRC.

The .300 PRC uses the full-length .375 Ruger case (2.580 inches), necked down to take a .308-inch bullet. So far, it has not been as popular as its 6.5mm little brother. This may be pandemic timing, but there are other factors. The shooting world fell in love with the efficient, light-kicking 6.5 Creedmoor, but folks are asking it to do more than it should. It is a wonderful long-range target cartridge. In my view it is not a long-range hunting cartridge, and at best a marginal elk cartridge. About 300 fps faster, the 6.5 PRC shoots flatter and delivers more energy. It has more recoil than the Creedmoor, but remains pleasant to shoot.

The 6.5 PRC’s performance, 140-grain bullet at roundabout 3000 fps, is not new. That’s what the .264 Winchester Magnum has offered since 1958, and the 6.5-284 Norma comes close. All three are credible long-range hunting cartridges and fully adequate for elk. Faster 6.5mm cartridges deliver more, but they are over bore capacity. Powder selection is limited, and barrel life is reduced. I think the 6.5 PRC is in the 6.5mm “sweet spot.”

On the range with a new Bergara in .300 PRC.
On the range with a new Bergara in .300 PRC. The Bergara shoots extremely well, and is an amazingly affordable rifle

I love my .264, but let’s face it: The cartridge is nearly obsolete. There are no flies on the 6.5-284. However, despite a cult-like following, the 6.5-284 has been chambered to few factory rifles, the .264 now to almost no new rifles. Actual cartridge performance depends on loads and pressure, but case capacity offers a ballpark gauge. The 6.5 PRC has a case capacity of 68.8 grains. The .264 Win Mag’s case capacity is 84.1 grains, while the 6.5-284 has case capacity of 68.3 grains. Since velocities are much the same, obviously the PRC and 6.5-284 have more efficient case designs.

John Stucker on the range with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
John Stucker on the range with a Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. The Springfield, with carbon-fiber barrel and adjustable stock, is a wonderfully modern platform, offering much rifle for the price.

Wit sleek, modern case, the 6.5 PRC was designed around the increasingly long, high BC “low drag” projectiles. SAAMI specifications call for a fast 1:8 twist, but many shooters building 6.5 PRCs use faster twists. Virtually all .264s, and many early 6.5-284s, are barreled with 1:9 twists. I’m not re-barreling my .264, and I doubt staunch 6.5-284 fans are abandoning their babies, but the 6.5 PRC is coming on fast, chambered to more platforms, with growing ammo sources. Haven’t given up on my .264, but I bought a 6.5 PRC, the excellent (and excellently priced) Springfield 2020 Waypoint.

So far, the .300 PRC has not come on as strong. We Americans love our .30s but, unless we need the capability, we aren’t crazy about .30-caliber recoil!  With or without the word, the .300 PRC is a full-up magnum cartridge, and we already have plenty of fast .30s. It’s a crowded field, the .300 PRC going head-to-head against the world’s most popular magnum, the .300 Win Mag.

Boddington borrowed Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC
Boddington borrowed Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC to take his 2021 Georgia buck, using a 212-grain ELD-X. Truthfully, “fast .30” power isn’t necessary for deer hunting, but the results were decisive!

With similar case length, the .300 PRC’s wider case has slightly more case capacity than the .300 Win Mag: 77 grains for the PRC; 72.7 for the Win Mag. This suggests it’s capable of more velocity. Also, it was specified for higher pressure: 64,000 psi for the Win Mag; 65,000 for the PRC. Raw powder space is one thing, but how it’s utilized depends on bullet seating depth, and how far out bullets can be seated and still fit in magazine boxes. As with the 6.5 PRC, the .300 PRC was designed to take advantage of long, heavy bullets.

It is a standard-action-length cartridge…sort of. The .300 PRC case was SAAMI-specified for a much great maximum overall length than the Win Mag: 3.7 inches vice 3.34 inches. So, competition shooters going to the .300 PRC are often using full-length (.375 H&H) actions so they can use the longest, heaviest bullets seated out, taking greater advantage of the case capacity. Similarly, some shooters are also putting the 6.5 PRC in a standard (.30-06 action), rather than a short (.308 action).

.300 PRC Groups
These days you can’t squander ammo. Initial groups from the Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC are promising, but the barrel needs to be broken in and additional loads must be tried.

That’s one beauty of the PRCs: As new cartridges, they are chambered in the most modern platforms. Depending on the bullets you intend to use, the .300 PRC can also call for a faster twist. Most .30-caliber cartridges use a 1:10 twist. With the heavier—and especially longer—bullets currently in vogue, this isn’t fast enough. The .300 PRC is SAAMI-specified for a faster 1:8 twist, able to stabilize the long .30-caliber match bullets up to 250 grains.

Velocity suffers with heavy bullets, but that’s also what the PRCs are about: Getting those long bullets out there where they can do their work. Honestly, if you want to shoot standard 180-grain (to maybe 200-grain) hunting bullets in a fast .30-caliber, the .300 PRC offers no appreciable advantage over established fast .30s. The PRC is faster than some, not as fast as others, but comes into its own with long, heavy, high-BC bullets.

Georgia hog was flattened with by Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC.
This Georgia hog was flattened with by Zack Aultman’s Allterra in .300 PRC. This was Boddington’s first use of a .300 PRC, impressive!

So far, if you want a fast 6.5mm that really struts 6.5mm capability, the 6.5 PRC is the clear winner. The .300 PRC is not such an obvious choice. Better with heavy bullets, for sure, but I doubt it will become as popular as the .300 Win Mag, and it brings the full complement of fast .30-caliber recoil, not needed by everyone.

Oh, did I forget accuracy? If unprecedented accuracy were assured, then all old favorites would be discarded. Reality: Maximum accuracy is not dependent on case design. The modern wider, unbelted cases are conducive to accuracy, but quality of barrel, sound assembly and bedding, and good ammo are more important to accuracy than case design. So far, my experience with the PRCs is limited: Four each in 6.5 and .300. Most have been “high end” rifles from Allterra, Christensen, Gunwerks, and Springfield. Expected them to shoot, and they did. So did a wonderfully inexpensive Bergara in .300 PRC!

.300 PRC Groups
These days you can’t squander ammo. Initial groups from the Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC are promising, but the barrel needs to be broken in and additional loads must be tried.

Just yesterday, I took a new Gunwerks NXT .300 PRC to the range. Awesome rifle. I suppose I expected a miracle, but you rarely get one on the first try. First two five-shot groups were 1.5 inches. Not exceptional, but a good start from a brand-new barrel, and at the moment I only have one load to try. After break-in, and fiddling with loads, all the PRCs I’ve shot have grouped much better. I’m certain this one will, looking forward to seeing just how well it groups. However, let’s get real: Two of my pet rifles happen to be a Jarrett .300 Win Mag; and a .264 with an exceptional Obermayr barrel. I have yet to see a 6.5 PRC that groups as well as my .264; or a .300 PRC that groups as well as my Jarrett. They’re out there, but exceptionally accurate rifles—in any chambering, old or new—are tough to beat…and cannot automatically be beaten by case design alone.

Boddington and Zack Aultman with a fine Georgia buck, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC
Boddington and Zack Aultman with a fine Georgia buck, taken with Springfield Waypoint in 6.5 PRC. Popular among competitors, the 6.5 PRC is a fine cartridge for deer-sized game.

I’m not rebarreling either of them just to get a modern case—or to shoot heavier bullets. Now, if I were starting from scratch and I wanted a versatile, fast 6.5mm, I’d go with the PRC. And, if I wanted a fast .30, I’d take a hard look at the .300 PRC. Understanding, if will be a long time, if ever, before it’s as available as the .300 Win Mag.

ENOUGH GUN FOR TURKEYS?

By

Craig Boddington

Gobblers were going crazy just over a little rise. I duckwalked to the crest, peered over. Sure enough, a nice gobbler was right there. I held the bead where neck feathers ended and saw him down hard. Awesome! Another gobbler rushed in from the right, probably to pounce on this one. Swinging hard, I used the second barrel. Two fine Merriam’s gobblers…and the only “double” I’ve ever gotten on wild turkeys. At least on purpose…more about that later.

I wasn’t hunting turkeys; I was up there on a spring black bear hunt. While sitting over baits, I heard a lot of gobblers. The season was open, so I went to town and bought tags. I didn’t have a turkey gun with me, but I did have a Krieghoff 20-gauge sporting clays gun in the truck.   

This is a shot you don’t want to take, in strut with the head tucked tight against the body. Wait until the head is raised or extended and aim in the center of the neck, much more reliable and much less meat ruined.

SHOT PLACEMENT

There were few turkeys in Kansas when I started hunting, so experience came long and slow.  I still consider myself among the world’s worst turkey callers but, today, at least I have a fair amount of experience shooting turkeys.

About 30 years ago, before I’d ever taken an Eastern gobbler, I hunted in southern Missouri with a borrowed Browning BPS 10-gauge pump gun. Awesome shotgun, but I didn’t know the gun. We had a big gobbler strutting across a clearing, not 25 yards, but trees and brush between us. Believing a max-load 10-gauge could do anything, I pasted him square in the center of the chest.

He dropped and rolled behind a big oak. We ran forward and saw…nothing. No feathers, no indication which way he had gone. We walked lines in every direction, and never found a trace.

The bird on the left is in an ideal presentation, head erect. Boddington’s preferred aiming point is where the neck feathers end, then let the pattern do its work. The bird on the right is a bit too close, better to wait and let them separate a little more!

I had made fundamental mistakes. I’m pretty good with a shotgun but, although many have, I’ve never taken a turkey on the wing; all of my gobblers have been on the ground. This is different from most shotgunning; you must aim, rather than point and/or swing!

Targets shot with a T/C 20-gauge, Full choke with Winchester 3-inch

Have you taken your turkey gun to the range and aimed at a point target, to see exactly where your pattern lands in relation to the bead? You might be surprised at the results. Many shotguns high, others dead flat. Less commonly, a bit low, or even off to one side.  Few of us are dumb enough to go deer hunting without checking a rifle on a target, but too many hunters get handed a shotgun and go turkey hunting. A shotgun charge is different than a single bullet, so we trust the pattern…without knowing exactly where the barrel directs it.

A pattern target quickly tells you what you are dealing with. These targets were shot at 25 yards with 12-gauge 3-inch. Top two with Mossberg M500 with Full choke: Top left, Remington No. 5 HD. Okay, not great. Top right, horrible, with Kent No. 7 tungsten: Too much choke for these shells in this gun! Bottom two with Franchi Affinity, Full choke, same two shells! Bottom left, Remington No. 5 HD, awesome; bottom right, Kent No. 7 tungsten, devastating!

A turkey-hunting expert (which I am not), would never make such a mistake. Nor would he (or she) make the same basic shot-placement error. We can argue all day about gauges, shells, and chokes, but the turkey is a big, strong bird. Beyond point-blank range, no gauge, shell, or shot size can concentrate enough pellets to reliably take down a turkey with a body shot.

In these days of ammo shortages nobody has a wide selection of turkey loads! Loads Boddington has, and has been using, include, left to right: Hornady No. 5 nickel-plated shot; Remington Nitro No. 5 HD (tungsten); and Kent No. 7 tungsten, all in 3-inch 12-gauge.

A facing presentation requires the greatest penetration. What I know now (and didn’t know then): You never shoot a strutting turkey with head down! You’re banking on a couple of “golden pellets” into the head and neck. If you don’t get them, there is little guarantee of getting enough penetration through feathers and flesh into the chest cavity. Side shots are only slightly better. The turkey is our “big game bird” and shot placement is essential. The proper shot is with the head and neck extended, the aiming point at the head, if horizontal; and where the neck joins the body if vertical. Then you can let the pattern do its work!

GAUGES

It’s really not a matter of how much shot (gauge and shot charge). It’s really a matter of choke, matching the load to the gun, and putting the charge in the right place. Expert turkey hunters (which I am not) are now having great fun—and success—head-shooting turkey with .410s, and 28 gauges, enabled by wonderfully advanced loads and chokes.

Patterning done right, walking the gun out.

Absolutely can be done, but I have not opened that window. I’m not a good enough caller—or patient enough hunter—to go there. I went through my 10-gauge phase, but found that chokes, patterns, and shells weren’t as advanced—or as available—as for the popular 12 and 20 gauges. I’ve taken numerous turkeys with 20-gauges guns, plenty of gun…especially with the right shells in good chokes. However, I’m mostly a 12-gauge guy for turkeys.

Boddington’s son-in-law, Brad Jannenga, with a Rio Grande gobbler, taken with his Benelli Nova in 3.5-inch 12-gauge. The 3.5-inch 12-gauge has about the same shot charge weight at a 10-gauge, definitely an ultimate turkey gun…but also a great deal of recoil.

With the shells, shot, and chokes we have today, I can’t imagine a shot I might take that a 12-gauge 3-inch load can’t handle. Son-in-law Brad Jannenga uses a Benelli Nova slide-action 3.5-inch 12-gauge, theoretically as effective as my old 10-gauge. Devastating…on both ends. Left-hand 3.5-inch 12-gauge guns being scarce, I’ve never used one. I don’t push the range, and my experience is the shorter shells, albeit with smaller shot charges, often deliver better patterns.

Taken in April ’21, this is the heaviest Rio Grande gobbler Boddington has ever taken. Using a left-hand Franchi Affinity, a Kent No. 7 tungsten shot load proved extremely effective.

CHOKES AND SHOT

Taking turkeys cleanly isn’t about gauge or weight of charge, but pattern density. This is all about chokes! These days, interchangeable chokes are almost universal with new guns (even the side-by-side 10-gauge I used for years had choke tubes). Older guns, of course, have fixed chokes. Typically, you want a tight choke for turkeys but, depending on shot size and material (lead, bismuth, tungsten, steel), the tightest choke may not yield the tightest patterns in your gun. It’s important to know your pattern is tight and even, and that requires shooting at a target. Turkey loads are spendy and we don’t have a lot of shells to waste on paper. But, out of a 10-shell box of turkey loads, we can expend a couple, verifying point of impact and pattern.

The flexibility of interchangeable choke tubes is almost universal in new shotguns today. Depending on shot size and material, the tightest choke may not deliver the tightest or most even pattern. It’s essential to pattern on paper so you know what you’re dealing with

For several years, my “go to” turkey gun has been a camouflaged Mossberg 500 12-gauge 3-inch left-hand pump gun. I’ve shot a bunch of turkeys with it, mostly with lead No. 5 or 6 shot. I was curious how it might pattern with tungsten, so I started with the Full choke tube I’ve been using. We know from using steel shot on waterfowl that, with extra-hard shot, we usually use more open chokes to achieve uniform density and avoid blowing the pattern.

My long-reliable Mossberg didn’t look great with Remington 3-inch No. 5 HD (tungsten). It looked worse with a Kent load of tungsten No. 7, lots of deep-penetrating pellets…but they still must land in the right place. I was over-choked with tungsten; the No. 7 load had a classic “hole in the pattern,” centered on the head of a life-size turkey target!

Boddington used this American Arms short-barreled side-by-side 10-gauge for years. He abandoned it because 10-gauge shells became difficult to find…and available loads weren’t as advanced as for the more popular 12 and 20-gauges

If I had shells to burn, I’d have changed chokes and tried again but, these days, who does? Conserving ammo, I tried the same two loads in a left-hand Franchi Affinity with Full choke tube. OMG, not shells or gun, just the choke! Remington’s No. 5 HD looked great, over 40 pellet strikes in head and neck at 25 yards. Kent’s No. 7 tungsten was even better; I couldn’t count the pellets in head and neck on the target!

As for shot size, personal preference. Today, some serious hunters are using shot as small as No. 9, relying on maximum pattern density for head shots only. I don’t go that small! I’ve taken a lot of turkeys with No. 6 shot (lead or bismuth) for head/neck shots, but I like No. 5 better, good pattern density, with greater pellet energy/penetration.  Often, I’ll load No. 4 in the magazine or second barrel for a rarely-used follow-up.

A fine Gould’s turkey from northern Mexico, taken with Boddington’s left-hand Mossberg 500, using Winchester Long Beard 12-gauge 3-inch with No. 5 lead shot. Turkey loads have come a long way, but it’s essential to match the choke to the load

Tungsten shot is a recent experiment for me. Denser than lead, penetration should be better for like shot sizes. Theoretically, No. 7 tungsten should penetrate about as well as lead No. 6. That Kent load is slow at 1000 fps, but carried an amazing 2.5 ounces of No. 7 tungsten pellets! It looked great on a target, and that week the Franchi, same choke with Kent No. 7, accounted for the heaviest Rio Grande gobbler I’ve ever taken.   

Donna Boddington and Fred Eichler with a beautiful Merriam’s gobbler. Donna had a Red Ring “red-dot” sight on her 20-gauge Krieghoff. Since turkeys are taken by precise aiming, open sights or red-dots make a lot of sense on turkey guns.

WHAT ABOUT SIGHTS?

Since we aim at turkeys, sights are obviously good…to a point. The shot is rarely perfectly static, so it’s a mistake to get fixated on precision; you’re still working with a pattern, not a single projectile.

I had a red-dot sight on that Krieghoff 20-gauge for a while, and both Donna and I shot turkeys with it. Awesome! My Mossberg has a rudimentary rear sight on the rib, in conjunction with the fiber-optic front bead. Also wonderful, but if you use sights, don’t forget to check zero!

Just once, I put a low-power magnifying scope on a turkey gun. Seemed amazing, but there is a tunnel-vision effect to riflescopes. I shot a great gobbler, the big red head almost glowing through the scope. When I went to recover, there was another equally great gobbler stone-dead in thigh-high grass 10 yards farther! Two-bird area, so not a train smash, but definitely not my intention. Through the scope, with reduced peripheral vision, I never saw the bird behind mine. Open sights and red dots, good idea because turkey hunting is about shot placement…but that’s the only time I used a magnifying riflescope for turkeys!

THOUGHTS ON RIFLE ACCURACY

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

By

Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

HOW MUCH ACCURACY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN YOUR RIFLE DELIVER?

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

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

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

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

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

TRY DIFFERENT LOADS

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOULD I BUY THAT GUN?

SHOULD I BUY THAT GUN?

By

Craig Boddington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DO I REALLY NEED IT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW AM I GONNA FEED IT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH IT?

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

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

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

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

STUNG BY A HORNET

By

Craig Boddington

The rimfire .22 Long Rifle is essential. With lack of recoil, low report, and cheap ammo, there’s really nothing better for small game, plinking, and practice. For serious riflemen, a fast “varmint cartridge” between .17 and .22 caliber is almost as irreplaceable.

Depending on preferences, it might be a .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250, or one of a dozen others. This rifle will be used for small varmints and coyotes in more open country. Not to be ignored, it will also be used to shoot for accuracy, and to improve one’s shooting. Because: Cartridges in this group are capable of extreme accuracy and are easy to shoot.

Barry Burchell and son Frederick
At their ranch in Namibia, Barry Burchell and son Frederick whip up some .22 Hornet loads so hunter Harley Young can borrow their Anschutz .22 Hornet to hunt pygmy antelopes.

Not all of us want a bunch of rifles chambered to different cartridges, and certainly needs differ. Even so, there’s a place and purpose for a cartridge that splits the difference between the .22 Long Rifle and the fastest varmint rounds. Such a cartridge has more range and power than a .22, but is capable of handling somewhat larger game…yet without undue destruction on small game. There aren’t a lot of options in this niche, but the two most obvious are the .17 HMR and its parent cartridge, the .22 WMR (aka .22 Magnum), both great cartridges.

Ammunition is costlier than .22 Long Rifle, but cheaper than centerfires. Of the two, the .17 is faster and tends to be more accurate. However, the .17 HMR is marginal for coyotes, so its utility is limited. The .22 Magnum isn’t as fast, but is adequate for close-range coyotes.

A nice oribi
A nice oribi, taken with the CZ527 .22 Hornet. The oribi is an open-country antelope so, by both size and average shooting distance, approaches the upper end of proper use for the .22 Hornet.

Centerfire choices between the rimfires and fast varmint cartridges are also limited. Certainly, we could include the .17 Hornet and .17 Fireball, but the .17’s bullet is too light for game much larger than a fox. So, in order to get more bullet, we have to look at a couple of old cartridges: .22 Hornet and .218 Bee. Power levels are almost identical; the .218 Bee uses a 46-grain bullet at 2760 fps. The Hornet’s traditional load is a 45-grain bullet at 2690 fps, with modern loads a bit faster.

For handloaders, there’s little to choose between. However, I think the Hornet is the better choice, because of greater availability in rifles and loads. The .218 Bee was introduced in 1938 in Winchester’s Model 65 lever-action, attempting to breathe new life into the old 1892 action. Winchester still loads .218 Bee, but factory ammunition uses blunt-nosed bullets because of the M65’s tubular magazine. A few bolt-actions and single-shots have been chambered to .218 Bee, but it offers no meaningful advantage over the Hornet, and is less popular.

17 HMR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, .223 Remington.
It’s a tough call when you want to take small game or “small big game” cleanly without doing undue damage. A shotgun is often a good choice; with rifle cartridges it’s more complex. On right from top: .17 HMR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, .223 Remington.

The .22 Hornet is a different story! Although its popularity comes and goes, it’s a standard cartridge, consistently loaded by multiple sources, with a variety of bullet weights. Development is credited to Townsend Whelen and G.L. Wotkyns, with the case similar to the blackpowder .22 Winchester Center Fire (WCF). Introduced by Winchester in 1930, the .22 Hornet was the first centerfire varmint cartridge developed for smokeless powder…and it’s still a good one!

35-grain loads are now available that reach 3000 fps. Even so, the .22 Hornet isn’t impressive compared with the many faster .22 centerfires. On the other hand, it offers amazing performance from such a small case, with minimal recoil and good accuracy.

CZ M527
This is the CZ M527 .22 Hornet Boddington took to Mozambique in 2018. A light, slick little rifle, it shot particularly well with Nosler 35-grain Varmageddon loads. In Africa, that load accounted for a half-dozen animals, all one-shot kills, all with the bullet lodged under the hide on the far side.

On varmints such as prairie dogs, woodchucks, and marmots, the Hornet is plenty of gun, and shoots flat enough at least to a couple hundred yards. Coyotes are tough, but it’s powerful enough, with more range than can be wrung out of a .22 Magnum.

And, it has some specialized uses. Purist turkey hunters gnash their teeth and rend their garments over this but, after all, it is legal to use rifles on turkeys in several states. Doesn’t matter to me whether you approve or choose to participate. For those who do, the .22 Hornet is the perfect “turkey rifle.” Accurate enough for head shots, but powerful enough to anchor even the biggest gobbler with a well-placed body shot…without damaging much meat. My Dad was not a serious rifle guy and owned few. One was an early Oregon Kimber .22 Hornet. He loved to shoot prairie dogs with it. We still have it and, yes, Dad hunted turkeys with it. So have I!

Small varmint
Left to right: .17 HMR, .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet. The .22 Long Rifle is irreplaceable for small game. For somewhat larger game and more range the .17 HMR and .22 Magnum are extremely effective but, above small game and below long-range varminting, Boddington believes the .22 Hornet is a solid choice.

The .22 Hornet is legal for deer in some states (usually under an “any centerfire cartridge” rule). Generally speaking, I think this is a bad idea but, with perfect shot placement, I’ve seen the Hornet take grownup whitetails very cleanly. More appropriate, and an ideal niche for this great little cartridge, is the often-oddball class of what I think of as “small big game.” In North America we were cheated in this category, with few options. The Hornet is ideal for thin-skinned animals such as lynx and bobcat, so is a fine tool for trappers and houndsmen. And it’s perfect for javelina. Usually not difficult to locate or stalk, the javelina is a uniquely American animal and makes an awesome mount. Weighing maybe 50 pounds, I can’t imagine a more perfect javelina rifle than a .22 Hornet.

jackrabbit-sized dik diks
The several varieties of jackrabbit-sized dik diks are among the smallest African antelopes. Their skin is paper thin and bones fragile; bullet damage is a serious concern. Harley Young used a .22 Hornet to take this excellent Damara dik dik, perfect cartridge and perfect shot.

Elsewhere, the utility expands. Africa has a full suite of small predators, and is blessed with a wide variety of pygmy antelopes. In deep forest a shotgun is the preferred tool, but in more open terrain a scoped rifle is almost essential. These animals are thin-skinned, and the standard plains game rifle does too much damage. My long-time boss “Pete” Petersen loved his .22 Hornets. He used them widely at home for varmints (and sometimes deer), but he always took a .22 Hornet to Africa…not only for the tiny antelopes and small predators, but for camp meat up to impala and reedbuck. I haven’t always taken a Hornet to Africa, but I’ve often borrowed a page from Pete and taken a Hornet, especially when a “special” pygmy antelope was on the menu.

blue duiker
The blue duiker is the smallest of the several forest duikers. Found only in heavy cover, shotguns are usually used. Boddington found the .22 Hornet a perfect tool and, amazingly, the 35-grain bullet entered, expanded, and was against the hide on the far side.

Several times I took a Hornet barrel for a Thompson/Center Contender (perfect). Other times I’ve borrowed Hornets from outfitters. Although still fairly popular over here, .22 Hornets are common in southern Africa, simply because they’re so useful. A couple of years ago in Namibia, my friend Harley Young wanted to take a Damara dik dik and a klipspringer to complete his “Tiny Ten.” Outfitter Barry Burchell had a nice Anschutz .22 Hornet…but little ammo. No problem, we spent a couple hours at his loading bench, whipped some up, and after checking zero Harley made two brilliant shots. 

Coastal Mozambique is blessed with several uncommon pygmy antelopes: Suni, red duiker, and blue duiker in patches of thick forest; and lots of oribis in the open pans. In the thick stuff we usually use a camp shotgun, but I thought a Hornet might be better. With a rifle in close cover, you must find a hole to thread the bullet through, but with a low-power scope you often can.

Livingstone’s suni
A spectacular Livingstone’s suni, taken in Mozambique with the CZ527 in .22 Hornet. The shot was through a little gap at about 60 yards, perfect performance with Nosler’s 35-grain bullet.

In 2018 I took a little CZ 527 in .22 Hornet with a little Leupold 1-4X scope. I would have preferred the traditional 45-grain bullet, but that particular rifle grouped best with Nosler Varmageddon with a light, fast 35-grain bullet. It was magic! Finding a clear path to shoot through proved easier with the scoped rifle than with a shotgun, and performance was perfect. Even on suni and the tiny blue duiker, the little 35-grain bullet opened nicely and was consistently lodged against the hide on the far side, dramatic effect with almost no damage. In just a few days I took excellent suni and both blue and red duiker in the forest. The same load accounted for oribi and reedbuck in the open, but I kept the shots within 100 yards.

Kimber .22
Boddington used his father’s old Kimber .22 Hornet to take this ugly spotted hog. Such an animal is really too big for the Hornet, but at closer range with a good rest, its accuracy allows precise brain shots, well-executed on this hog.

Daughter Brittany has been keeping her grandfather’s Kimber .22 Hornet, but we took it out of mothballs this spring in the Texas Hill Country. I had every intention of shooting a javelina with it, but I couldn’t bring myself to; I couldn’t figure out what I might do with it! Wild hogs are another story; we were on Tom Hammond’s Record Buck Ranch, a place with a major pig problem. The challenge: The .22 Hornet isn’t really enough gun for hogs…you gotta be careful.

.22 Hornet
This young hunter is about to drop the hammer on a javelina. The collared peccary is just about the only “small big game” in the United States, not great to eat but a unique and interesting American game animal. The .22 Hornet is a near-perfect cartridge.

Houston Erskine and I stalked a deer feeder one morning and caught a couple of hogs. The ugliest spotted hog I ever saw was going at it eagerly, not a large pig but too big for a .22 Hornet…unless you’re careful. I got Dad’s Hornet on sticks at about 70 yards, and found the base of the ear in the crosshairs. At the shot the hog went over backwards and never moved. That’s being stung by a Hornet, what a wonderful little cartridge!

SAFARI ED “You don’t know what you don’t know.” NOW YOU CAN LEARN! By Craig Boddington

Africa remains the hunter’s paradise. She offers the greatest variety, and a safari is truly the world’s last great adventure. And, if you shop well, the world’s most affordable big game experience! In the wake of the pandemic, Africa is opening up. The game is almost always abundant, but with so little pressure for nearly two years, more plentiful than ever in many areas. Africa’s outfitters and their staffs—and Africa’s wildlife—need your business. And many of you need to get out. The opportunity is there, and the timing has never been better!

Cape buff-shot placement
There’s something about dark animals that confounds the human eye, making proper shot placement difficult. Safari Ed can’t cure the problem, but offers visuals and suggestions that will help

Planning a safari is a big step! Some African hunts are admittedly expensive…but not all. The cost for a memorable, life-changing plains game safari can be similar to a guided elk hunt in the Rockies, or a caribou hunt in Alaska. However, hunting Africa is not free, and cannot be compared to “do-it-yourself” public land hunting. As a visitor, you must hire a licensed professional hunter…who will have a staffed camp and hunting areas. A safari is thus an investment in memories. Taking the plunge can be daunting, so it makes sense to prepare well and, the more preparation, the more successful you will be…realizing the most from your investment!

Crawling
So, what are the best ways to ensure safest possible firearms handling when crawling in on an animal? Safari Ed offers suggestions!

So, how do you prepare? There have always been great books on Africa, and countless magazine articles. Today there are excellent videos and films, but there’s never been “everything you wanted (and needed) to know” in just one place. Which is why my old friend Conrad Evarts and I created Safari Ed!

Boddinton _ Hunting _ Cert
Today, the required Hunter Safety certification is almost universal in the United States. Boddington still carries the California Hunter Certification card he received at Camp Pendleton in 1975.

When I was a youngster, “hunter education” was in its infancy, and not yet required in my home state. My first “hunting training” was when I was stationed at Camp Pendleton; I needed a Hunter Safety certification to get a California hunting license. Since then, Hunter Safety has become almost universal in the United States. In some states the requirement depends on birth year and rolls forward a year every year. All US states reciprocate in accepting an approved course so, no worries, I still have my tattered 1976 California Hunter Safety card…and I carry a copy with my hunting license.

Today’s courses are more standardized, often with a mixture—or choice—between on-line and classroom training. The up sides are obvious: We want all hunters, not just new hunters, to be safe, ethical, and more successful. The down side, especially in some areas, is limited availability of required classroom instruction. We are all aware of the necessity to recruit new hunters, and difficulty in obtaining required certification can be a roadblock.

Hunting_ Cert_ 2
Caroline Boddington with her first game animal, a California wild hog. Obtaining the required Hunter Certification delayed her first hunting experience for several months because of limited availability of course.

American delays and inconveniences are nothing compared to what prospective hunters must undergo in some countries. In Germany, it takes a year or more of weekly night courses to obtain a hunting license. Passing the final exam is pretty much a one-shot deal, and failure carries a major stigma. Gordon Marsh, proprietor of LG-Outdoors and Wholesale Hunter e-commerce sites, took the year-long curriculum when he was a young soldier stationed in Germany. The framed license holds a place of honor on his office wall. I am not aware of any “hunter-training” requirements as rigorous as Germany’s.

Finland_running_moose
Required hunter training is much more rigorous in Europe. Shooting tests are often required; this Finland’s “running moose” target, required in order to hunt. The target runs on a track and is shot standing unsupported at 100 meters.

Even there, temporary licenses can be granted to visitors. However, in many European countries one must pass a shooting test in order to hunt. In Finland, I had to pass the “running moose” shooting test; in Sweden, it was the running boar. The target moves on a track—not so slow—and shooting is standing, unsupported. Not so easy!

Safari Ed wasn’t intended to be difficult, or to put anyone on the spot. Instead, it’s informative, fun, and visual, hundred-percent on-line. It will answer a lot of questions, many you probably hadn’t even thought of.

Gun_safety_ 2
A big difference between Africa and the hunting most of are used to: In Africa, hunters are rarely alone, often with a professional hunter and multiple trackers. This changes gun handling protocols.

I was young when I went on my first African safari. Like most young people, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. For a person my age (mid-20s), I’d done a fair amount of hunting, but I also wasn’t as experienced as I believe myself to be. I made a lot of mistakes on my early safaris because I didn’t know what I didn’t know! I’d read everything I could get my hands on, but in those days, there was no internet and no outdoor TV. Today, these resources are invaluable…but I wish there had been Safari Ed, a focused program that addresses both the specifics of African hunting…and the differences between Africa and the hunting most of us are familiar with.

gun_safety
Safety is safety…but, in Africa, when should your rifle be loaded?

Safe gun handling is what it is, and is fairly universal, so (as an author) of Safari Ed, I’d be the first to agree that basic firearms safety is a review. However, in Africa you are almost never hunting alone, so there are important nuances…including gun safety while stalking, tracking, even crawling!

Shooting is a bit different, too. Before I landed in Kenya I’d never even heard of “African shooting sticks. Today they are more common…but they remain in almost universal use across Africa. I still see a lot of first-time African hunters who have done little practice shooting off sticks. So, Safari Ed is rich in what I call “stickology!”

Stickology
Three-legged “African shooting sticks” are in almost universal use on safari. Safari Ed spends a of time, with demonstrating videos, on “stickology.”

 Africa is a huge continent with tremendous variety of wildlife. All African hunting isn’t the same, and there are many options for the modern safari. So, we broke Safari Ed into segments. We start with hunting the non-dangerous game, the antelopes, pigs, and zebras. The “plains game” safari is far the most common today, also the most affordable. Then we move up to buffalo, on to hunting the great cats, and then elephant. The final segment is the aquatics: Crocodile, hippo, and the semi-aquatic antelopes, collectively requiring some of Africa’s most specialized hunting.

Packing tips
Throughout, Safari Ed offers tips on essential and special equipment…along with packing tips!

In all the segments you will find basic information on the animals and their habitats; conservation notes; hunting techniques; shooting and shot placement; recommendations on rifles, cartridges, and sights…and special equipment. There are other places to go to help shop for your safari but, when you go, you’ll be more ready, more successful, and you’ll have more fun if Safari Ed is part of your preparation!

Visit the Safari Ed website Click Here https://www.safari-ed.com/

AR PLATFORM PERFORMANCE By Craig Boddington

More juice from the lemon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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