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 6.5x284 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 6.5x68 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
The video follows the making of a beautifully crafted, lovingly customised, and extremely accurate benchrest rifle in 6.5x47 Lapua ... and it's one well worth seeing.