Choices facing the rifle buyer

The man setting out to buy his first rifle is confronted not only with a bewildering variety of makes, models, types and calibres from which to choose, but rifles of widely differing weights and barrel lengths, while different stock shapes are positively mind boggling.

To be truly effective the rifle must be equipped with the proper type of sights. The intending buyer must make a choice between open sights, aperture sights, and a riflescope. This is not as difficult as it may look. Most lever-actions come with iron sights and some are drilled and tapped for a peep sight, but they are also capable of having a scope mounted.

Most centrefire rifles today have a slick barrel sans iron sights, since the manufacturers correctly assume that the majority of hunters will want to mount a scope. But in the case of an all-around big-game rifle that’s going to be used under a variety of conditions an interchangeable combination of scope and iron sights may offer an advantage. But since each type of sight normally requires a different sight-line (or height above the bore) this requires that the stock of the chosen rifle have a comb of the proper height that will place the shooters eye in the correct shooting position.

A good many bolt-action rifles equipped with open sights will have a compromise comb height that will serve both irons and scope, but alas some don’t and it simply isn’t possible to get your face down low enough on the stock to align the irons. The only solution is to get a stockmaker to shave some wood off the comb. If the gun has a synthetic stock, then you’ve got a problem.

One solution is to remove the rear sight and have the side of the bridge drilled and tapped for an aperture sight. The base is left permanently in place and all one needs to do is slip the peep into it whenever its needed.

Furthermore, the choice of a scope and other accessories may affect the overall weight of the outfit a full kilo or more. The current trend seems to be to overscope rather than underscope a rifle. Many gun shops try to sell their customers the largest, heaviest, bulkiest high-range variable scope they stock, instead of trying to balance the size of the scope against that of the rifle and its intended use. Therefore, all additions such as a sling and magazine full of cartridges must be taken into account when the gun is selected, so that when the arm is field-ready it’s total weight will fall within the desired limits.

By my rule of thumb the big-bore dangerous game rifle is best served by no more than a fixed 3x or 1.5-5x variable; a deer rifle for dual-purpose use in bush and open country is pretty well fixed with a scope in the 2-7x, 3-9x and at most a 2.5-10x. But the sky’s practically the limit when it comes to a simonpure varmint rifle.

The rifle buyer should give plenty of thought to the size and nature of the game he will use his rifle on as well as the type of terrain in which he will be hunting. The average distances at which his game may be expected to be taken should have a definite bearing on his choice of both calibre and scope, both the extreme long-range and the extreme short range shooting combinations being quite dissimilar but equally specialized outfits. Also, the hunter’s tolerance to recoil will have a limiting effect upon the power of rifle he can comfortably handle.

At least 50-percent of the problem of selecting a rifle is complicated by the person’s build and physical peculiarities. Buyers are lefthanded, oversize and undersize, short and fat and tall and thin with thin and fat faces, long and short necks. All of these things must be taken into consideration when the outfit is being chosen.

The average rifle buyer has little knowledge of either the potentialities or the limitations of available rifle and calibres. His beliefs and opinions are based on neither firsthand experience or research. He will often blindly follow the advice of equally ignorent shooters or else become an avid disciple of a particular gun writer believing implicitly in his written advice and recommendations. Or else he will rely upon the advice he receives from the counter jumper in his local gunshop, who likely has had little practical experience and pushes the make and model of rifle his boss has told him to because they are overstocked or have become hard to sell. Happily, a few gun shops are staffed by guys who do know what they are talking about.

Gun writers employed by the shooting magazines are often advised to gear the tenor of their firearm reviews to the policy of the magazine which is dependent to some extent on revenue received from advertisers. Therefore they are expected to praise, recommend and otherwise assist in publicizing their arms and accessories. A few, actually very few, may seek payola in return a favourable mention, but the majority set about doing a honest job of evaluating product without seriously compromising their integrity. While they can’t straight out pan a new rifle as being crap, they can damn it with faint praise, saying it is “very nice” or that it’s “quite satisfactory.” Calling it an “excellent rifle” means that it is pretty good; only when the writer shows unbridled enthusiasm can the reader can be sure it’s really something out of the ordinary.

Another controversial subject is the killing power of various loads and calibres. Today, the intending buyer can refer to ballistic tables, but everyone realizes that the faster a given bullet starts out the more effective it is going to be. For the buyer however, it simply boils down to the question of how much power he needs to reliably anchor game of a certain size.

In this day and age the old argument about heavy bullet/moderate velocity versus light bullet/ high velocity seems to have died out. The reason for this is the great advancements that have been made in bullets and loads in recent years. All modern high-power calibres intended for use on deer-size game are capable of killing even the largest soft-skinned animals with well-placed shots under favourable conditions. Basically, modern cartridges shooting strongly structured bullets of adequate weight at high velocity not only shoot flatter, but deliver more energy over longer ranges. Moreover, the behaviour of a given bullet upon striking game can be more accurately predicted. What cannot be determined however, is the bullet’s behaviour upon striking intermediate objects such as twigs and branches. Some things just never change.

I’ll stick my neck out and state that most prospective rifle buyers don’t have clue as to what they need, although they usually have very definite ideas about what they want. Many are led astray by arms that are not at all well-suited for hunting; arms that some makers have attempted to attract the shooter by sacrificing practicality for “Sales Appeal.”

Bright, shiney metalwork, glossy wood and gold triggers instantly catch the eye of tyro (and game), and all this gilding of the lily really catches the attention of the guy buying his first rifle. Of less importance are such defects as draggy triggers and bolts, poor feeding magazines and grotesquely ugly stocks. These rifles are designed to bring out the “boy” in the man, but fortunately there’s still plenty of “sensible” guns about that bring out “man” in the boy.

The number of men who select a rifle for its physical appearance has convinced me that they are more interested in playing the role of a hunter than actually getting out and performing the function of a hunter. The goal of any serious hunter should be to own a good example of a standard conventional hunting rifle, calibre and scope that will function best in the hunting field. And the prospective buyer should take care to make certain that the rifle of his choice will be well suited to his own particular requirements.




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