Monday, August 11, 2008


In one of the greatest cinematic triumphs known to man, John Wayne's True Grit, the best country music singer turned actor until Randy Travis, Glen Campbell, uses a Sharps .56-caliber carbine to shoot a turkey. Naturally the turkey gets blowed up real good. John Wayne leans over to the girl Matty and says a trifle too loudly, "Too much gun."

So, without further ado, I will present my genius to the world on the subject. I will try to avoid getting overly technical, as outdoor writer Pat McManus complains about his friend Gary Roedl. "His gun articles are so technical they don't even have any words in them, but only numbers, abbreviations, and a smattering of punctuation." Instead I will use home-spun colloquialisms such as, "That thing's accurate enough to knock a gnat off a water buffalo's ass at a quarter mile."

I myself finally gave in to the siren's song of the big Magnums in the form of a .300 Winchester Magnum on an old P-17 action. Heretofor, I had managed to stumble through forty years without suffering a single case of "Half Moon Disease". This ailment comes from getting "scoped", i.e. the recoil of the rifle drives the rim of the scope into your eyebrow and gives you a "half moon" shaped injury. The first time I shot the .300 Win Mag with Federal 180-grainers, I got a nice case of Half Moon Disease. I no longer suffer from Half Moon Disease, but the thing is still borderline uncomfortable to shoot. The worst thing about the .300, for me, is ammo. Quality factory ammo (Remington does not fall into that category in my book) is getting up there near two bucks a pop, and even if you reload you need to pour powder out of a 5-gallon bucket into a motor oil funnel to fill those big fat cartridge cases.

About ten years ago, a friend of mine who was on the small side of hieght and weight forsook the trusty old .30-06 he had been hunting with his whole life to give in to the crooning call of the .300 Win Mag too. He came out to our place to sight it in. His first 3-shot group could have been covered by a dime; his third group couldn't have been covered by a dinner plate. Flinching. Too much gun. He hunted one season with the big Magnum and went back to the .30-06.

More recently, I helped a guy bigger and fatter than myself sight in his new .338 Winchester Magnum. He too wound up flinching and throwing lead all over the target, or merely in the general direction. He figured that was good enough since his new toy was so powerful that even a peripheral hit to an elk's left rear hoof would instantly slay it in its tracks. He was not the type of go back to the .30-06, not after he paid so much money for his new toy. Perhaps he was compensating for something.

When it comes right down to it, no amount of foot-pounds or extra velocity can replace a well-aimed shot to the boiler room. Shooting legend Jack O'Connor did just fine on nearly every game animal in North America with his beloved .270 Winchester. I'd rather hunt elk with a crack shot armed with a .243 than with some bozo with a 20-mm cannon who only shoots 6 rounds per year at the range because he's so scared of the darned thing.

There's all kinds of new Magnums on the scene these days, and it seems a new caliber gets spawned every couple of weeks, like some weird creature from a sci-fi movie reproducing in a swamp. These super-duper choco-fudgie belted short Magnums seem to be, in the words of the late great Jeff Cooper, solutions in search of a problem. For an exorbitant price, you get something that performs only marginally better than factory .30-06 ammo. About the only real "benefit" I can see is that some of them allow a rifle with a short-action to deliver long-action .30-06 performance. They also keep gun writers in the glossy magazines in business.

So, in case it is not painfully obvious by now, the good old "thirty ought six" is still my favorite. It has also been said, and this is not much of an exaggeration, that the .30-06 can be loaded for everything from "mouse to moose". (Contrast this to the M16 series of rifles, which can be loaded from "mouse to poodle".)

I just got done playing with my pre-season antelope loads. A .308 diameter 130-grain Hornady bullet backed by 46 grains of Reloader 15 turned out to be my "baby" for this sport. With a muzzle velocity chrono'ed at 3300 feet per second, my trusty, rusty old .30-06 boasts a 310 yard zero and a maximum point blank range of 370 yards. If you can't sneak up that close to an antelope, it's time to give up the sport. This load would also perform just fine for use on deer and black bear. While generally too light for elk, it would do in a pinch, at closer ranges and in the hands of a true marksman who puts 'em right where he wants 'em.

My lil' old 6.5mm Swede, a caliber that boasts a very high ballistic coefficient, launching a 100-grain Nosler at 2900 feet per second, has a zero of 290 yards and a point blank out to 340 yards. This too is more than good enough for me as antelope medicine, and once more would work on deer and lil' bear. A 140-grain .264 at 2,500 out of my carbine has a 250 yard zero and a 300 yard point blank. This load is what I consider quite marginal for elk, but I've know a few guys who do just fine with it.

For the great wapiti, I like to go with a .308 or .30-06 with the 165-grain bullet. With an ought six, you can get 'er up to 2,800 fps and a max load .308 tags along closely behind at 2,700. With controlled expansion bullets, this is my "split the difference" load for elk and deer both, and can still reach out there to a 340 yard point blank. Many people in my neck of the woods prefer the 180-grain bullet for elk. When my wife drew a moose tag, I took the .30-06 up to the big 220-grain bullet launched at a mere 2400 fps, which was still good for holding "center of mass" out to 300 yards.

So, after experimenting with the cannon, I too will be going back to the good old .30-06 this hunting season. It was an interesting journey, but wound up taking me right back to the starting point. I believe there was an old, old country song that expressed this well. "There's very few things that a man can't fix, with fifty seven dollars and a thirty ought six."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Now why was it that you need that cannon again... :)

I went through the same with my black powder .54 cal rifle. I can shoot 230gr round ball with 90gr of powder all day, and pretty accurate out to 100 to 125 yards. I wanted "magnum", so I chose a 460gr lead slug.. OUCH!! The kick was enough to cause massive flinching issues. While the ball is not quite as accurate, at least I am more so with it.

I will be trying for my jumping goat with black powder this year. I will have a longer range backup in case.. How about a Mosin Nagant as my backup... ;D