Friday, October 21, 2016


We frequently discuss here the power and performance of the rifle in a variety of esoteric ways that can be measured precisely with concrete numbers and in technical terms; caliber in hundredths of an inch, bullet weight in grains, velocity in feet per second, energy in foot-pounds, trajectory and deflection in inches, and accuracy in Minutes-of-Angle.
 The ultimate book on the subject; The Art of the Rifle by Jeff Cooper

However, a good rifle…in good hands…also represents a different sort of power, difficult if not impossible to quantify or measure technically. Properly handled, the rifle empowers the individual with such things as confidence, courage, and strength. The rifle in skilled hands can make a man master of all he surveys, man or beast, at least out to “the rifleman’s quarter mile” or the “hale half kilometer.” As Colonel Jeff Cooper put it in To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, “The basic attribute of the rifle is reach. A powerful rifle enables a man to reach ‘way out past Fort Mudge’ and strike a blow that will stop not only a man but a truck or a horse dead in its tracks.” The combination of a good rifle and rifleman need not fear the teeth and claws of the natural predator nor the evil intentions of lesser men.
 Skill with the rifle brings with it deep obligations and responsibility, for the power of the rifle, as with any form of power, can and has been abused. “The only real power comes out of a long rifle,” said no less authority on the subject than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and he was echoed by Chairman Mao’s adage that, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Fortunately, a good rifleman tends to possesses the inner strength and fortitude to negate the temptation of abusing the rifle’s power. As President Theodore Roosevelt saw it, "A good shot must necessarily be a good man since the essence of good marksmanship is self-control and self-control is the essential quality of a good man." British small arms expert W. W. Greener concurred: "Rifle-shooting, in any and every form of competition, calls for the exercise of all the qualities that most ennoble a man--determination, self-possession, faith, self-confidence, admiration for the achievements of others." Neither sheep nor wolf, the ideal rifleman serves by his very presence to stand guard over his own and his nation’s liberties.
From the very beginning of the United States of America, the Founding Fathers understood the unique influence the gun can have upon the individual who can skillfully yield it. When Thomas Jefferson advised a young college student as to the importance of daily exercise, he wrote, “As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.”
In Colonial New England at the time of the American Revolution, it was the smoothbore musket that was found in every home and the rifle remained virtually unknown. When the companies of volunteer riflemen led by men such as Michael Cresap and Daniel Morgan arrived from the distant frontiers the capabilities of the rifles and the men who wielded them made a big impression.
The creation of German and Swiss gunsmiths who emigrated primarily to what is now Lancaster County, the weapons in question were then known as Pennsylvania Rifles and would eventually be called Kentucky Rifles. Both names fall under the catch-all term of American Long Rifle. Author John Dillon called it, “…a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination.”
 The American Long Rifle

As for the men behind the rifles, Charles Lee, a major general in the Continental Army, wrote enthusiastically, “The frontier riflemen will make fine soldiers…their amazing hardihood, their methods of living so long in the woods without carrying provisions with them, the exceeding quickness with which they can march to distant parts, and, above all, the dexterity to which they have arrived in the use of the rifle gun. There is not one of these men who wish a distance less than 200 yards or greater object than an orange. Every shot is fatal.”
After observing a demonstration of the frontiersmen’s rifle shooting prowess, a correspondent for the Pennsylvania Packet opined, “With their rifles in their hands they assume a kind of omnipotence over their enemies.”
          The Gunner’s Guru, the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper understood the magic and the power of the rifle better than most, noting that, “The rifle is the queen of weapons and its effective use is one of the greatest satisfactions available to man.”
          “A really good rifleman, with a really good rifle in his hands, is a man of stout heart. He knows what he can do and he looks down upon those who cannot do the same.”
Theodore Roosevelt also understood and frequently commented on this. “To my mind there is no comparison between sport with the rifle and sport with the shotgun. The rifle is the freeman’s weapon. The man who uses it well in the chase shows that he can at need use it also in war with human foes.”
“Shooting well with the rifle is the highest kind of skill, for the rifle is the queen of weapons; and it is a difficult art to learn.”
Mister Rifleman himself, Colonel Townsend Whelen, observed in 1932 that, “A good rifleman, plus a good rifle, will shoot straight, see straight, think straight and will run our country straight.”
Early outdoorsman Horace Kephart called the rifle a “noble weapon” which he credited with a mystique that, “entices its bearer into primeval forests, into mountains and deserts untenanted by man.”
Jack O’Connor, in The Rifle Book, said, “To me the rifle has always been the most romantic of all weapons, and of all rifles the one I love most is the rifle for big game… Because I love rifles and because I love wilderness country I have carried my rifles all over the North American continent, from the hot, dry, barren sheep mountains of northwest Sonora to the glaciers of the Yukon.”
In 1920, Charles Winthrop Sawyer wrote, "Rifles are the average man's Alladin's lamp; they bring elating thoughts of out-of-doors, by their appearance suggesting sunshine and cloud-shadows, wooded hills against the sky and watered verdant valleys, wind against tanned cheek and leaping blood and eager chase in wilderness adventure."
"A rifle is a stimulator, a companion that brings a sense of safety, and a magician that confers wonderful and unlimited power."
Although primarily associated with the British Royal Navy from his Horatio Hornblower series of books, author C.S. Forester also understood the rifle, the rifleman and their combined capabilities, espousing upon the theme in excellent novels like Rifleman Dodd and Brown on Resolution.
“But Brown was only powerful in consequence of his rifle; the handiest, neatest, most efficient piece of machinery ever devised by man. Not for the first time was the rifle altering the course of history. Brown was not a marvelously good shot…but he could handle his weapon in good workmanlike fashion; and the rifle asks no more.”
Military historian John Keegan also understood the importance of the rifle and its influence upon the individual rifleman as well. “The musket, like the uniform livery of the dynastic armies that used it, was a mark of servitude. So short was its range that its effect could be harnessed to battle-winning purposes only by massing the musketeers in dense rank, and keeping them ‘closed up’ at pike-point. The rifle, by contrast, was a weapon of individual skill… as Thomas Carlyle put it, ‘the rifle made all men tall. A rifleman was as good as any man.’”
Militarily, the United States Marine Corps has understood this tenant since prior to the First World War. In that conflict, the prowess of U.S. Marines with their Model 1903 Springfield rifles shattered German attacks at long range and led the American Expeditionary Force’s commander, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to state, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle."

Institutionally, every Marine, no matter his or her technical position, is a rifleman first. Early in the Second World War, this doctrine was enhanced when Major General William H. Rupertus penned the Rifleman’s Creed, which is to this day memorized by all US Marines during recruit training.

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
          My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must
fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...
          My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...
          My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my
country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!”

USMC Raider Brigadier General Merritt Edson explained, “It is the rifle that ultimately takes ground, and it is rifle fire that holds it after it’s taken, by throwing back enemy counter-attack. The man with the rifle is the man who wins wars; and accurate rifle fire from individual riflemen is the most effective factor on any battlefield.”
Another WWII leader, General Joseph “Lightning Joe” Collins, while serving as US Army Chief of Staff, also understood this. "The primary job of the rifleman is not to gain fire superiority over the enemy, but to kill with accurate, aimed fire."
Beginning during the Korean War and escalating through Vietnam and Desert Storm, the US Army at times lost its way when it came to individual rifle marksmanship, a hard-won skill requiring much practice, so the powers that be sought to replace it with technology and sheer volume of fire. Jeff Cooper termed the effort, “If you can’t shoot well, shoot a lot.” The practice of swatting flies with a sledgehammer, and the inevitable collateral damage that goes with such a concept, became the norm and for a distressingly long time individual small arms were treated as little more than an afterthought. The Global War on Terror soon showed that leveling an entire apartment block to silence a single sniper did more harm than good in the long run and brought back the importance of the individual soldier’s skill with his rifle, which can be wielded with the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel against individual enemies, as noted by 11B Captain Daniel Morgan in Infantry Magazine.
"Marksmanship is the core of excellence for an infantry soldier. Their proficiency in killing wins the battle. The more you suppress a target without killing or wounding the enemy, the bolder he becomes in attacking you. You need to train your soldiers to aim, fire, and kill."
            Beyond its military, hunting and sporting attributes, the rifle also carries with it a certain moral authority in that it stands as the last line of defense when it comes to insuring freedom and democracy against the clutches of tyranny.
Understanding only too well the value of liberty as an escaped slave, the brilliant abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass noted, "A man's rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box."
The great Lakota Sioux warrior and holy man Sitting Bull said, “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.”
Mahatma Gandhi went so far as to say, “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.”
Famous for penning tales of bleak, dystopian futures that would come to by synonymous with his name, novelist George Orwell wrote, "That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."
Edward Abbey of The Monkey Wrench Gang fame once wrote, “The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants of our rulers. Only the government—and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws.”
John Steinbeck explained, in The Grapes of Wrath, “And the rifle? Wouldn’t go out naked of a rifle. When shoes and clothes and food, when even hope is gone, we’ll have the rifle. When Grampa came here—did I tell you?—he had pepper and salt and a rifle. Nothing else. That goes.” 

Once again, Jeff Cooper espoused this ideal most succinctly. “Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen.”

Sunday, October 02, 2016


“But there ain't many troubles that a man caint fix
With seven hundred dollars and a thirty ought six."
Lindy Cooper Wisdom

          Brought rather arbitrarily to life by US Army Ordnance officers who were seeking a nice round number, the Caliber .30, U.S., Model of 1906 cartridge, more commonly known as the .30-06 Springfield, came into being over 110 years ago. During all that time it has remained one of the most popular hunting calibers in the world even long after its demise as a military round and few people have had anything bad to say about the venerable old “ought six.”

 Townsend Whelen
 Colonel Townsend Whelen, of course, told us, “The .30-06 is never a mistake.” He also wrote, “A properly constructed .30-caliber bullet of 180 grains at M.V. 2,700 f.s. is adequate for any American big game if properly directed at the chest cavity.” Jeff Cooper made similar observations.
          Even Jack O’Connor, who adored the .270 Winchester for deer, antelope, and sheep, admitted that he owned three .270s and three .30-06s and gave the nod to the ought six when it came to larger game.
          “I doubt that anything that can be put through a .270 would be quite as effective on the heavier stuff as a good 180-grain bullet in the .30/06. And when a man is hunting really heavy and potentially dangerous game I don’t think any .270 load is as effective as a good 220-grain bullet in the .30/06, as these babies play for keeps and the bullet must drive into the vitals at all costs.”
          Only Elmer Keith, with his affinity for “punkin’ chunkin’” big hunks of lead so heavy that gravity alone would render them lethal, felt the .30-06 was a bit of a pipsqueak and inadequate for elk.
          Militarily, the Caliber .30 U.S. gave yeoman service through two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and even soldiered on in the early days of the Vietnam War. It was fired from some of the most famous US military small arms; the Model 1903 Springfield, the Model 1917 Enfield, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Browning water and air-cooled medium machine guns, and George Patton’s “finest battle implement ever devised”, the M1 Garand. 

In WWI, doughboys like Sergeant Alvin  York and Captain Samuel Woodfill showed that a single expert rifleman with a .30-06 could change the tide of battle. Likewise, the US Marines stunned and staggered the Germans with accurate long-range rifle fire when they arrived “Over There.” My favorite description of this comes from the book Fix Bayonets! “The Boche wanted Hill 142; he came, and the rifles broke him, and he came again. All his batteries were in action, and always his machine guns scourged the place, but he could not make head against the rifle. Guns he could understand; he knew all about bombs and auto-rifles and machine guns and trench-mortars, but aimed, sustained rifle fire, that comes from nowhere in particular and picks off men—it brought the war home to the individual and demoralized him.”
The ought six could indeed reach way out there “past Fort Mudge” and still deliver a decisive blow; at 600 yards the 150-grain ball round fired from a Springfield or Garand still retains considerably more foot-pounds of striking energy than the M16A1 rifle of my day could deliver at the muzzle!
The Caliber .30, U.S. would serve as the American military’s standard cartridge from 1906 until 1957. This lengthy military service also led to some pretty cool ammunition being developed for the .30-06, such as the black-tipped Armor Piercing, the silver-tipped Armor Piercing Incendiary and the orange-tipped tracer bullets. GIs in WWII found the M2 AP sufficiently powerful to penetrate the side armor of German halftracks, and even the ball (FMJ) projectile was able to turn good-sized tree trunks an enemy might shelter behind from cover into mere concealment. When John Moses Browning was designing the world’s best heavy machine gun, the Browning .50-caliber Ma Deuce, he simply multiplied the dimensions of the standard .30-06 cartridge to create the .50 BMG round. From the standpoint of a United States Marine Corps officer in WWII, the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper noted, “Bushido is all very well in its way, but it is no match for a .30-06.”
          In the hunting field, the .30-06 went to Africa with Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. Ernest Hemingway used a .30-06 on safari in 1934 and Robert Ruark pronounced it “enough gun” in 1952. The lever-action Winchester in calibers like the venerable .30-30 had reigned supreme in America for decades, but returning veterans of the First World War brought the .30-06 cartridge and the bolt-action rifle into the hunting mainstream to stay. In Alaska, against their giant brown bears, one study conducted in the 1980’s concluded that the .30-06 with 220-grain bullets was the minimum acceptable defensible caliber, and the same load works well for moose, North America’s largest game animal. As Jeff Cooper succinctly put it, “I have satisfied myself completely over the years that the .30-06 will do anything that needs doing in North America.”
          The .30-06 has also been touted at one time or another for its sheer versatility; it can be used for anything from “mouse to moose.” Factory ammunition has run the gamut from 100-grain to 220-grain bullets, and reloaders have taken things all the way up to 250 grains.
          Back in the old days, wilderness hunting trips could last for weeks or even months and “pothunting” for wild game helped to keep the larders full hundreds of miles from the nearest store. For more than forty years, Townsend Whelen used his .30-06 with a light load consisting of a 150-grain FMJ military bullet propelled by only 18 grains of 4759 powder to harvest small game and upland birds without blowing them to bits.
          Decades later, Remington made an attempt to turn the .30-06 into a varmint rifle with the introduction of their special Accelerator ammunition. This fired a 55-grain .224-caliber Pointed Soft Point bullet encased in a plastic sabot to fit a .30-caliber bore at an impressive muzzle velocity of 4,080 feet per second. Expense and, in some rifles, indifferent-at-best accuracy kept the idea from becoming very successful.
But when push comes to shove the .30-06 is really a big game cartridge and at that job it is superb. In the old days, the standard recipe called for 150-grain bullets with a muzzle velocity of 2,900 fps for deer, 180-grain bullets at 2,700 fps for elk, and the big 220-grain round nose slugs for dangerous game like grizzly and Alaskan brown bear. Today, the choices can be narrowed down if desired. For many, the 165-grain bullet seems the best all-round compromise when it comes to hunting since it shoots flatter than the 180-grain yet packs more punch than the 150s. While none of the numbers produced by these loads are very sexy or spectacular when compared to the various .30-caliber Magnums, they have still been simply getting the job done for more than a century.
          The 180/2,700 mentioned by Whelen is still a very viable and fairly long range load perfect for deer and elk. With a 270 yard zero, you’re still shooting flat to 330 yards before you even need to start worrying about trajectory. The vast majority of hunters really don’t possess the marksmanship skills to take game much beyond 300 yards anyway, but the .30-06 is certainly capable of reaching out there to make 400 and even 500 yards shots in really good hands.
          My wife “adopted” my Model 1903A3 Springfield. It was originally a WWII-vintage Remington-made 03A3 that had been sporterized long before I bought it. I turned it into a Cooper-style Scout Rifle with a 19-inch barrel, lightweight synthetic Choate Mauser stock, and a home-made scout scope mount which now wears a Leatherwood Hi-Lux 2-7x32mm long eye relief scope. Most importantly, an old retired USMC gunnery sergeant turned gunsmith did an amazing trigger job on the Springfield. That alone was enough for my wife to choose that particular rifle as her own hunting arm.
          I’ve hunted a great deal with the .308 Winchester, sometimes for no better reason than to prove that a semi-automatic military-style “evil black rifle” does indeed have a “legitimate sporting purpose.” For pronghorn antelope and deer, I had a fling with the 6.5x55mm Swede for a couple of years. Yet I always wound up coming back to the .30-06 in the end. Now I generally hunt with an FN-made Model ’98 Mauser action with a 24-inch military contour barrel, Timney trigger, and Model 70-style wing safety wearing a Leupold Rifleman 3-9x40mm scope.
          Both of us also reload our own ammunition. After playing around with various loads, bullet weights and powders, we both settled on 180-grain bullets as standard. The older rifles just seemed to greatly prefer heavier as opposed to lighter bullets. Olivia’s Springfield, in particular, was basically indifferent to 150-grain loads and tossed 125-grain bullets all over the paper, but she found that a combination for the 180-grain that yields 3-shot groups that can be covered with a dime at 100 yards. My Mauser never shot quite so well but I was finally able to at least achieve the magical 1 MOA with 180-grain loads.
          More years ago than I care to recount, a friend of mine who was small of stature had hunted with the same .30-06 his entire life, but one year he decided to upgrade to a .300 Winchester Magnum in a lightweight “Mountain Rifle”. He came out to our place to sight it in at 100 yards. His first 3-shot group you could have covered with a dime. By the time he was “zeroed”, his fourth group had opened up to damn near as big as a dinner plate as he flinched in anticipation of the recoil. He hunted just one year with the .300 Win Mag and then went right back to the good old ought six ever since.
          I myself once fell prey to the siren’s song of the .300 Win Mag even though I knew deep in my heart that all it really did was push the exact same .308-inch bullets that the ought six spits out to higher velocities. That .300 on a P-17 Enfield action was the first rifle to ever give me a case of half moon disease as the rim of the scope cut a semi-circle into my eyebrow. I felt the most pain, however, at the reloading bench, where I had to use a scoop shovel instead of powder measure. To get the same 180-grain .308 Sierra GameKing moving 200 feet per second faster than the .30-06 required around 75 grains of powder versus the ought six’s more reasonable appetite of roughly 50 grains. I never did hunt with the .300, mainly because, despite the tonnage of powder devoted to finding the best “cherry” load, I never could get a 3-shot group to squeeze into even 2 inches at 100 yards. And all this to achieve a maximum point blank range 20 yards more than the .30-06 delivered.
As for the bullets themselves, we also experimented with not only different weights but various types to include the “new & improved” premium technology such as the Nosler Partition and Hornady InterBond. In the end, however, we worked our way right back to our starting point: the good old cup-and-core Sierra GameKing soft points. Like the .30-06 cartridge itself, they just plain get the job done.

If it ain't broke....30-06, '98 Mauser, Sierra GameKing.

 Another old Marine, Guns & Ammo’s Craig Boddington once wrote, “…if you are going to own just one centerfire hunting rifle, make it a .30-06.”
On the ought six’s 100th birthday, Outdoor Life’s Jim Carmichel noted, “In terms of popularity and widespread appreciation, no other caliber comes close…The .30/06 is the American hunter’s sweetheart, apple pie and first kiss all in one. It does it all.”