An Old Hunter’s Idle Thoughts


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Pin-Point Accuracy Not Needed
There seems to be a fetish with professional gun writers to place a great deal of emphasis on the accuracy of the hunting  rifle. In my expereince a big-game rifle that will consistently shoot into two minutes-of-angle at 100 yards is going to be just  as effective as another rifle that will land all its shots into one minute of angle some of the time. What does it matter if the  bullets land in a 8 inch circle at 400 yards? That’s farther  than the average hunter  should be shooting at any big game  animal. Many writers seek to apply benchrest standards to light  sporters, but when the chips are down the rifle which is capable of 4 inches at 200 yards and  6 inches at 300 is going to bring  down just as much game.

The Magnum Advantage
Many shooters consider magnum cartridges to be too big and too  powerful for the majority of game hunted in Australia. It is true that some nimrods are badly overgunned with a magnum calibre  because they find the recoil too punishing, and then accuracy  suffers. Hence, they are better suited with a standard calibre that they can shoot well.

The  experienced rifleman who has become hardened  to  recoil  will prefer to use a magnum calibre because he knows he can  depend upon it to drop his game in its tracks. Some standard  cartridges will not do this with  the kind of lethality which is  demanded under a wide variety of hunting conditions. The subject  of the all-purpose game rifle has been flogged to death. In  truth, there ain’t no such critter, and I’m glad because I am  happier owning a number of guns and not having to depend on one.

Good Balance Is A Virtue
One  preference of mine is for adequate weight in the hunting  rifle. This is contrary to the current trend to extremely light  “mountain rifles.”  These “ultralights” have barrels of soda  straw proportions and slimmed down stocks and forends which make  them hard to hold steady offhand, recoil is accentuated and  accuracy adversely affected. While some loss of accuracy is not  all that critical, the feathery, unsteady feeling and lack of  balance when shot offhand often poses a serious  handicap. A lot  of shots are taken “off your hindlegs” and a good rifle should  have sufficient heft to hold steady when this kind of shot offers  itself. Most hunters won’t find a mountain rifle in the 3.6kg  class too much of a burden and a 4.3kg outfit in any calibre over  .30 is acceptable.

Barrel Stretching Shots
The introduction of laser rangefinders has turned out to be  a real blessing particularly for trophy hunters. But I’ve found  my Leica LRF 800 fulfills all my needs and I see no need to  upgrade to an instrument that measures ranges out to 1200 metres or more. If the game is beyond 800 then I know I’ve got to stalk closer. I’m not one to shoot at to-hell-and-gone distances. I’ve  settled on  400 metres as being the maximum distance to try for  any game animal, and then only under ideal conditions.

This  business of risking a shot at 500 metres and beyond  is bad sportsmanship. It is likely the animal will be missed and if  it is hit there’s always the chance it will be wounded and not  recovered. 

To cleanly kill deer-sized game even at 400 metres the extra  punch of a magnum cartridge is a decided advantage. At this  distance the 130gn/.270 Win. has 1180 ft/lb of energy left and  this is the bare minimum. The 165gn/.30-06 has 1402 ft/lb, but  even though the wallop is sufficient the trajectory of both  loads is such that the chances of missing are increased. Try  holding over the target almost 1.5 metres sometime!

Two  seriously  effective long range cartridges are the  7mm  STW which fires the 150gn bullet at 3200fps. It kicks off at the  muzzle with 3410 ft/lbs and reaches the 400 metre mark with 1550  ft/lbs remaining. The .300 Win. Mag. is just a bit more of a good  thing. The 180gn bullet gets to 400 metres with 1859 ft/lbs which  makes it adequate for wapiti at this distance. The drop at this  range from a 200 metre zero is more or less the same for both  magnums – about 457mm. A trajectory that any good rifleman can  cope with.

If you know very well that your marksmanship isn’t up to the  task, always try to stalk closer. It is the mark of a good hunter  to always get within sure killing range. To cleanly drop your  game at 100 to 200 metres after a long stealthy stalk is far more satisfactory than wounding it with a gut shot from 400 or 500.

Some Cartridges Shouldn’t Have Became Redundant
I often feel sorry for  the few excellent cartridges, which for some unknown reason, never made it. Not that these new rounds  were deficient in any way; they simply never caught on. The  .225  and .256 Winchester Magnum were doomed from the start and no  great loss, and the Winchester Super Short Magnums were purely  and simply a waste of time. The 6.5 and .350 Rem. Mags came out  before their time and were handicapped by being chambered in the  Remington Model 600 carbine which made it necessary to seat  bullets too deeply in the case. As a result no decent velocities  were possible. But I’ll save my tears for the  .284 Winchester  and 6.5x65mm RWS, a pair of excellent rounds which deserved a  better fate.

The .284 was the same length as the .350 Rem.  Mag., but had  the head diameter of the .30-06 thanks to its rebated rim.  Although the fat little cartridge should have been castrated by  being chambered in the Model 88 and Model 100 rifles, it was  credited with surprising performance. Factory loads supposedly  gave a 125gn bullet at 3200fps and a 150gn bullet at 2900fps,  making it a serious rival for the .270 Winchester. Although it  lost 200 and 100 fps in the short actions and 550mm barrels of  the Models 88 and 100, it was still a pretty impressive  performer.

After  having  a rifle made up for the .284 on a standard  length BSA action with 600mm barrel and long-throated chamber, I  was able to seat my bullets out where they belonged and  performance was greatly enhanced. It lofted out the 140gn Barnes  X-bullet at over 3000fps and the 160gn Speer at 2900fps. I found  it potent medicine for all of our deer species, and wouldn’t have had any hesitation in tackling wapiti and moose with it.

The  6.5x65mm RWS outshines any of the like  calibres  from  the .260 Rem. to the .264 Win. Mag. including the 6.5×284 and  wildcat 6.5-06. It even surpasses the great .270 Win. with the  140gn and 160gn bullet weights. RWS offers just one load, a 127gn  KS at 3103fps, but I regularly drive the 120gn Barnes TSX at  3200, the 130gn Barnes TSX at 3100 fps, and 140gn Sierra at 3000.  The 6.5x65mm shades the 6.5-284 Norma, and almost equals the  6.5×68 and .264 Win. Mag., but to me it shines, being the best  balanced 6.5 of them all.

The  6.5x65mm is a most satisfactory cartridge on such game  as red stag across an open mountainside, Barren  Ground caribou  and wapiti with a 160gn bullet. Why it never gained more  popularity has me baffled, but maybe the Norma’s legitimizing the  6.5-284 wildcat had something to do with it. In any event, I tend  to cry in my beer over the demise of this spendid cartridge.

My Favourite Calibre
Every  huntin’  man  has his druthers  and  this  certainly  applies to me. I’ve been shooting deer for nigh on 60 years now  with a melange of guns and calibres, some of them appropriate for  the job, others employed as a result of gun tests and not  necessarily the best. Naturally I’ve pinned down a few  favourites. I’m often asked what calibre would I choose if I were  confined to owning just one rifle? The askers opine it’d be either the mild unassuming .257  Roberts or the flat-shooting .270 Weatherby? Neither! I’d hang onto my custom Mauser in 7mm  Harvey Magnum, my own personal wildcat which shoots handloads –  the 140gn bullet at 3200fps, the 150gn at 3080fps and a good  tough 160-grainer at 3000fps. Apart from being one of a kind,  I’ve found it to be plenty of gun for all my needs.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, March 2012


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Nick Harvey

Nick Harvey is one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He has been writing about firearms and hunting for more than 65 years, has published many books and uncounted articles, and has travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject is unmatched. He has been Sporting Shooter's Gun Editor for longer than anyone can remember. Nick lives in rural NSW, Australia.

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