Today, the latest incarnations of these ﬂagship models of American hunting riﬂes all have a suggested retail price of close to $1,000. In little more than a decade, these iconic American riﬂes have essentially doubled in price.
Not everyone can afford to lay out that kind of change for a hunting riﬂe. The Even fewer can afford semicustom or custom riﬂes, and if you have to ask the price of, say, a ﬁne European double riﬂe, you may want to be sitting down when you hear the answer.
Of course, gun makers are well aware of this economic reality and have scrambled in recent years to produce more affordable guns for the masses. Many of these guns won’t win any beauty contests. Some may be described as downright ugly. Actions may be less than silky smooth, and stocks may bend in a stiff breeze. They’re often described rather euphemistically as “budget-friendly” or “entry-level” riﬂes. These are, of course, handy phrases when you’re trying to avoid using the word “cheap.”
Have the manufacturers cut corners on these guns? You bet they have, but they had to in order to make the guns less expensive to produce and offer them at what are, by today’s standards, crazy-cheap prices.
TODAY, VIRTUALLY EVERY MAJOR mass-manufacturer of hunting riﬂes has added an inexpensive riﬂe to their product lineup. While some have derisively called this a race to the bottom, I don’t exactly see it that way. Sure, I’m fond of guns that have richly ﬁgured walnut stocks, elegantly engraved receivers, and ﬁt and ﬁnish reﬂective of old world craftsmanship, but those guns won’t smack deer into the freezer any more effectively than most of today’s more affordable riﬂes. Advances in manufacturing processes and materials now enable gun makers to offer inexpensive riﬂes that resist the elements, work reliably and shoot tight groups – and that’s all many buyers, especially ﬁrst-time buyers, are looking for in a hunting riﬂe.
Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more popular inexpensive riﬂes currently on dealers’ shelves. Since there must, I suppose, be rules to the game, I’ll limit this discussion to riﬂes that you can buy at a real-world price of $500 or less.
Consider, for example, the Thompson Center Venture riﬂe, with which I’ve had a fair amount of experience. These riﬂes feature a free-ﬂoated barrel with 5R riﬂing and pillar-bedded action. I used the Venture Compact model chambered in .308 Win. on a memorable Texas deer hunt, dropping two whitetail bucks and two does with four shots guns over two days of hunting. Several other outdoor writers did the same. I didn’t subject that riﬂe to accuracy testing, but I did test an identical gun chambered in .22-250 Rem. Five of six factory loads shot sub-minute-of-angle best groups, easily living up the riﬂe’s MOA accuracy guarantee. I was impressed enough that I bought a Venture Predator riﬂe, chambered in .204 Ruger, and it regularly shoots half-inch groups with its preferred load. That’s more than can be said of many more expensive riﬂes. You can ﬁnd the Venture for less than $500, but if that’s too rich for your blood, you can look for the no-frills TC Compass riﬂe for less than $400.
Another $500 riﬂe I’ve had some experience with is the Winchester XPR riﬂe. The one I tested, chambered in .30-06 Springﬁeld, put six different factory loads into groups averaging 1.3 inches, but that’s only part of the story. It dropped a 165-grain Federal load with Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets into average groups of 0.58 inch and a best group of just 0.31 inch. This gun is quite similar to the Browning AB3 riﬂe. Both have decent triggers, a boltunlock button, 60-degree bolt lift and detachable box magazines. Both are offered in a variety of conﬁgurations and calibers, and if you shop around, you can ﬁnd either one on sale for about $500.
One of the most aesthetically pleasing and feature-rich offerings among the bargain-priced riﬂes is the Mossberg Patriot. This riﬂe’s lines are very much in a classic conﬁguration, and you can get it with stocks that are walnut, laminate, black synthetic or synthetic Kryptek Highlander camo. Standard features include drop-box magazines, ﬂuted barrels with recessed crowns, a spiral-ﬂuted bolt and adjustable trigger system. I tested one in .25-06 Rem., and ﬁve different factory loads turned in sub-MOA best groups. Surprisingly, I’ve seen the basic black synthetic model retail for less than $300.
ANOTHER POPULAR ENTRY in the value-priced category is the Ruger American Riﬂe. I haven’t tested one yet, but have just received the Predator model, chambered in – wonder of wonders – 6mm Creedmoor. I plan to give this one a thorough workout as soon as I can obtain enough ammo to put it through its paces. Available in several conﬁgurations, this riﬂe has an adjustable trigger, cold hammer-forged barrel and a tang safety. It utilizes an integral bedding block system to free-ﬂoat the barrel and has a removable rotary magazine. The one-piece bolt has three locking lugs and a 70-degree throw to allow ample room for mounting scopes on the bases supplied with the riﬂe.
According to Big Green, also known as Remington, the bargain-priced Remington 783 is “not dressed to impress, it’s dressed for work.” With a MSRP of $399, the 783 has freeﬂoated, button-riﬂed barrels mated to receivers that are pillar-bedded to a high-nylon-content synthetic stock. The riﬂe is equipped with an adjustable trigger and, notably, detachable steel magazines. The bolt has two locking lugs and a 90-degree lift.
The main thing going for the Savage Axis riﬂe is the fact that it is, well, a Savage. That usually means you can expect good out-of-the-box accuracy. With an MSRP of around $368 and a real-world price of around $330 for the basic model with a black synthetic stock, you’ll get a riﬂe that uses the classic Savage locknut approach to set headspace set to minimum. This has always driven some purists mildly nuts, but it signiﬁcantly contributes to the accuracy Savage riﬂes are known for. Barrels on the Axis are button-riﬂed. The two locking-lug bolt is unusual in that it uses a ﬂoating bolt head design, which theoretically also contributes to accuracy. Detachable box magazines are part metal, part plastic, with metal feed lips. Triggers on the Axis models I’ve seen aren’t overly impressive, but at a cost of about $450, you can step up to the Axis II riﬂe and get the Savage Accutrigger and a Weaver Kaspa 3-9×40 scope.
These riﬂes and others like them may not be your ﬁrearms cup of tea, but taken as a group, they ﬁll an important gap in the marketplace. They give people who might not
otherwise be able to afford a decent riﬂe an affordable entry point into hunting. If we’re going to preserve our cherished hunting traditions in this country, we’re going to need their participation – and their votes – in the years ahead. That’s worth thinking about the next time you bypass the bargain-riﬂe section of your local gun store. ASJ
I settled down by the third shot, and after I squeezed the AccuTrigger on the Savage A22, the bushytail tumbled out of the tree. I was happy, and more importantly, Dotzie was happy.
IN MY MISSPENT YOUTH, I knew an old codger who I thought of as my mentor when it came to rifles. He had survived Korea and a battle that took place in a location now called the Frozen Chozin. He had a house full of guns, and was always shooting, reloading, or doing something with a rifle. I tried to learn as much as I could from him, while staying out of his way at the same time.
“Boy,” he told me, “everyone needs a good .22 rifle, if for nothing else than just to shoot.” By “just to shoot” he meant target practice, can plinking, hunting small game, pest control, and anything else a body would need a rifle for in a caliber below a .3030. To him, a dependable .22 was a tool much like an axe or a wrench; and when you needed one, it had to work and work well.
Long known for their brand of no-nonsense firearms, Savage Arms (savagearms.com) has returned to the forefront in recent years with high-quality rifles that work well when you need them to. Savage wowed the rimfire world a couple of years ago with the introduction of the A17, the first high-performance semiautomatic rimfire specifically designed for the .17 HMR cartridge. They followed that success up with the A22 in .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum rimfire). Now, Savage is adding another new model to the A series: the A22 in (you guessed it) .22 Long Rifle. Here are some thoughts on this nifty little rifle, and why I think my old long gun mentor would approve.
Like the A17 and A22 Magnum, this rifle features a thread-in barrel with zero-tolerance head space, much like Savage builds their centerfire rifles. The barrel is “button” rifled and recessed on the business end, which is going to save on accuracy over time by protecting it. This is important if you are as hard on guns as I am, hauling them around in vehicles, getting knocked around while carrying them and the like.
The A22 comes equipped with a Savage AccuTrigger that outdoes many triggers in the centerfire line. No pulling the trigger housing or disassembly required. A small, simple tool, supplied by Savage, is inserted through the trigger guard and turned one direction to lighten the trigger pull, and the other to make it heavier. This could easily be done in the field if necessary. The trigger is the most important element of any rifle and the AccuTrigger is a good one.
The A22 has a smooth-cycling, straight-blowback action that reliably feeds a variety of .22-caliber ammunition from the magazine to the chamber. This little rifle ate every kind of .22 ammo that I fed it, including CCI Mini Mag, Federal Hunter Match, Aguila Sub Sonic and Super Extra, and Remington Gold Bullet and Target rounds. The A22 chewed them all up and spit them out without fail. That in itself is no small feat for any rimfire autoloader.
COMPANY LITERATURE TELLS US that Savage engineers did some exhaustive factory testing, and it appears they were successful across the board. The 10-round rotary magazine reliably fed the rounds every time the trigger was pulled. The magazine is flush mounted, and two other hunters besides myself who carried the A22 liked this feature.
For those times when you may want more ammo on hand, Savage also partnered with shooting accessories supplier Butler Creek (butlercreek.com) to increase the rifle’s ammo capacity by creating a 25-round, spring-fed aftermarket magazine. I haven’t got my hands on one of these magazines yet, but that is definitely my plan.
At the risk of sounding like the typical prattling gun writer, I must say I was very impressed with the A22’s accuracy. Holetouching groups did not seem to be a problem out to 50 yards, which I deemed far enough for squirrel shooting. The rifle comes equipped with adjustable open steel sights, so it’s ready to shoot right out of the box, but it is also drilled and tapped for scope mounts, allowing shooters to easily add their favorite optic.
The rifle I tested had a Bushnell 3.5-10x A22 Rimfire Optics scope mounted on it, and at first I thought this was too much scope for a .22 rifle. But after shooting this rig for a few days I really began to like it. This optic has a turret calibrated for high-velocity .22 ammo, and you can have a lot of fun with this system out to 125 yards. You can check out more info on this particular scope and many others by visiting bushnell.com.
I do herby proclaim the A22 to be a shooter, both in accuracy and proficiency of putting rounds down range. At a suggested retail of 281 American dollars, I doubt you can find a .22 rifle that is this much gun for less money. I think my old rifle guru would approve. ASJ
The Squirrel Master Classic could be classiﬁed as a friendly competition, as it pairs up teams consisting of an outdoor TV personality, a young person involved in 4H Shooting Sports, outdoor writers, and a squirrel dog handler. The teams compete in a morning and evening squirrel hunt with a shooting competition at midday. This year, the range was supervised by world champion shooter Doug Koening, whose most recent major win (as of this writing) came at the 2016 NRA Bianchi Cup.
Scoring is simple. The team with the most squirrels and most points earned in the shooting competition wins the competition. In order to qualify to take part in the event, the six 4H shooters in this year’s classic had to compete with other 4H’ers for the privilege. The lone girl in that half dozen, Moriah Christian, outshot all of her colleagues during the shooting competition.
ALL HUNTING AND COMPETITIVE shooting is done using Gamo air riﬂes, the event’s sponsor. Each hunter this year were supplied with Gamo’s new Swarm .22-caliber pellet riﬂe (see sidebar), which features a 10-shot detachable magazine, eliminating the need to reload after each shot.
While the competition is intense for the coveted squirrel trophy awarded to the winners, the real emphasis here is on the young hunters. The TV personalities attending this year – Jackie Bushman, Michael Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner, Kenneth Lancaster, Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo, and Richard Eutsler – along with Gamo president Keith Higginbotham and others at the event all recognize the need to encourage and nurture young people in hunting and the shooting sports.
In the end, Turner’s team (which I was fortunate enough to be a member of) took the trophy, and while we were very pleased I saw no smiles bigger than those of the young 4H shooters. They had a day in the beautiful Alabama woodlands following some feisty squirrel dogs, shooting air riﬂes, and spending time with some of their media heroes. It was a day they will not forget anytime soon – nor will I, for that matter – and that, my friends, is whole idea of the Squirrel Master Classic. ASJ
The New “Chubby Grip” AR Pistol Grip by Luth-AR LLC; Thick, Robust and Tough.
The Chubby Grip was designed with shooter ergonomics in mind. The full palm swell fills the hand, providing a consistent and rapid grip, properly positioned to promote accurate and repeatable shots on target. The thumb rest and palm shelf work together to lock the hand in place shot after shot, while the raised trigger finger surface, forces the finger into the proper curved position for better trigger control and comfort.
• A hand fitted grip that offers a natural hand-in-glove feel
• A full rounded grip that fills the inside of the palm for a solid hold
• A natural extension between hand and rifle
• Textured for a non-slip grip, with good looks included
• Left side thumb rest is included for a natural ergonomic grip and comfort
• Palm shelf to help lock-in the grip
• A raised surface on the trigger finger side designed to force the trigger finger into a curved position for better trigger control and comfort
• Easy to Install , one screw only on the Chubby Grip You can get your Chubby Grip in Black or FDE (Flat Dark Earth ).
Priced affordably, the MSRP is $23.95 Dealer, Quantity and OEM pricing is available upon request.
Paired with one of the Luth-AR MBA buttstocks featuring an adjustable cheek rest and length-of-pull, the shooter can custom fit their AR rifle or carbine to enhance their shooting performance and comfort.
*Available in right-hand orientation only.
For more information about Luth-AR’s award-winning products including the Chubby Grip, Trigger Trainer
and the MBA Modular Buttstock Assembly, visit us at http://www.Luth-AR.com.
The two simple words said much more than they implied. First, both Poen van Zyl and I clearly understood we each knew which of the reedbuck rams were to be killed, and second, it was down to a matter of the mathematics involved in taking him cleanly. Based on my professional hunter’s momentary silence, I responded with a brief question of my own.
“Just hold on the point of the shoulder, and squeeze the trigger.” Poen van Zyl may have thought in Afrikaans, but knew how to guide a visiting sportsman in English. The Schmidt & Bender’s crosshairs quickly settled on the ram’s shoulder, and I broke the trigger of the Heym SR30 like you’d snap an icicle in two. Even through the recoil, I could see the lean reedbuck fold and collapse to its death; the .300 Winchester Magnum had once again done its job, as it had on so many other African species. Though the riﬂe and optic were new to me, the cartridge and bullet were not; I have come to love the .300 Winchester Magnum, and the Barnes LRX is among the best projectiles the company has ever produced.
Barnes Bullets – the success story of Randy and Coni Brooks – has its roots in the brainchild of Fred Barnes, who saw the need for quality softpoints in a number of different calibers. Fred had a limited success, but his name surely carried on, deﬁning a trend in modern bullet construction that is equal parts revolutionary and genius.
I am on the young end of the gunwriter age spectrum, but at 45 years old I am also wise enough to know whom to contact for the story. Randy Brooks and I have had more than one conversation, albeit via telephone, regarding the roots of his company and the development of the Barnes X bullet. As the famous story goes – and as it was related to me directly – the good Mr. Brooks was glassing for Alaskan bears when the impetus for a genre of projectiles popped into his head. “If the lead core is an issue with bullet separation, why not take the lead out?” And thus the Barnes X monometal softpoint was born. And while that bullet gave me equal parts exhilaration and ﬁts of mania, I loved the design. Being an all-copper bullet, the Barnes X was designed to expand into four petals, giving a devastating balance of expansion and penetration. The original design had some issues with accuracy and copper fouling, but that was all rectiﬁed with the release of the Barnes TSX – or Triple Shock X – bullet, which has three large grooves on the bearing surface to reduce fouling and improve accuracy.
The TSX, and its tipped counterpart, the TTSX, both serve most hunting scenarios perfectly, the LRX – or Long Range X bullet – has a sleeker profile and higher ballistic coefficient, to retain as much energy as possible downrange, and keep the trajectories flat. The LRX retains the royal blue polymer tip of the TTSX, but the ogive is engineered for the best downrange performance, and will indeed show the benefits over the flat base spitzers out past 250 or 275 yards.
The LRX, like all Barnes bullets, are praised and noted for their weight retention, as the monometal construction prevents any jacket separation – because there is no jacket – but it’s the accuracy potential of the LRX that truly opened my eyes. I’ve loaded this bullet in several different cartridges – with the best results coming from the .30-caliber magnums – and all of the accuracy has been more than acceptable. But it seems that the 175-grain .30-caliber LRX has garnered a special place in my heart.
While testing the new .30 Nosler, I utilized a number of bullets – bullets that have, in the past, produced fantastic results – but the best performer by far was the 175-grain LRX. Delivering ½ minute-of-angle accuracy and velocities on par with the .300 Weatherby, I know this combination could easily handle everything in North America, and 90 percent of the African species. In the Heym SR30 HPPR – the straight pull, High Performance Precision Riﬂe – it easily prints ½ to ¾ MOA ﬁve-shot groups using handloaded Barnes 175-grain LRX bullets.
For the record, that reedbuck didn’t stand a chance; the shot went exactly where I intended it to, and the buck fell as if the very hand of God struck him. Two more of his kin did the same, at ranges from 125 to 250 yards, and I couldn’t recover any of the bullets; the LRX gave excellent penetration. The Barnes LRX and that Heym SR30 kept the Mozambican village of Peau well fed. If you appreciate the performance of the Barnes bullets – more than 90 percent weight retention and deep, deep penetration – combined with the best accuracy of the lot, try some LRXs and I’ll bet you’ll be happy. They’re available in 6.5mm, .270, 7mm, .30 and .338 calibers. ASJ
But even if it had never ﬂirted with a highfalutin yet largely ceremonial government title, the wild turkey would remain unique among game birds. We don’t hunt any other feathered creature the way we hunt turkeys, with the basic premise being sitting and attempting to call them into shotgun range. Their habits and wariness, coupled with ultra-keen eyesight and hearing create a need for the use of hunting tactics and equipment that we apply to no other type or breed of fowl. Herewith are some strategies and gobblerappropriate gear for you to consider for your next feathered frenzy.
CALLING TURKEYS HAS BECOME the most overrated, mystifying, and downright lied about phase of turkey hunting. Some supposed experts claim that calling comprises only about 30 percent of what is needed to seal the deal with a gobbler, maybe less. I could argue with that ﬁgure, but if you are a beginner, you will need to ﬁnd a call that you are comfortable with. I would go with a box call or a slate friction-type call. Learn to make the simple yelp of a hen turkey and maybe the cluck to begin with, and that will give you a strong start.
Don’t worry about doing 14 different calls like the guys on TV. If a turkey is ready to be called in, sometimes a couple yelps and a cluck or two is all that is necessary. Let the guys at the calling contests do all the fancy stuff; you are out in the woods to shoot turkeys. Give the gobbler just enough to keep him interested. If he is coming toward you, quit calling. Less is sometimes better than more.
Whether you call more or less, you still need a call. And, friends, there are a lot of turkey calls out there. There are many good ones that will call turkeys most days. Prices run from really cheap to what you might shell out on the down payment of a nice truck. HS Strut offers several moderately priced box calls that work; they sound like a turkey. What I like about the Undertaker box call is it features an abrasive, waterproof surface on the paddle and the striking surfaces of the call. If you have ever been aﬁeld and have your favorite box call get soaked and rendered useless, you know what a great feature this is. MSRP is $39.99. The new Triple Trauma box call has an adjustable lid that allows you to change the tone of the call and mimic three different hens. MSRP is $29.99, and you can contact them via their website (hunterspec.com).
Finally, the new Hensanity call from Primos offers a couple new twists to a tried-and-true form of turkey call. (Editor’s note: This was featured in last month’s News column.) The body of the call or “pot” has four sound ports that you control with your hand and allows you to make a wide array of variations in your calling. The frictionite surface means you don’t have to worry about losing your sandpaper to rough up the call. MSRP is $29.99, and you can ﬁnd more information from Primos (primos.com).
WHEN TURKEYS HAVE SEEMINGLY quit talking (they will do this often during any given season), sometimes the best thing to do is to get really aggressive. Cinch up your boots, call like you mean it, and cover as much real estate as possible. Go to your listening place and use your locator crow or owl call; if you hear nothing, try the turkey calls. Get assertive with a lot of loud calling, cuts and cackles. If no gobbler responds, move on to the next spot. One down side of this method, of course, is sometimes the gobbler shows up for a date after you leave. You can deal with it; if you hear him gobble at your last stop, get back over there.
The opposite of the marathon runner with a shotgun technique is to simply wait them out. If you know the place you are hunting well and you know the turkeys are there, maybe you just want to sit tight. Find a good spot to call from and set up camp. Get comfortable, call every 15 or 20 minutes, and by all means take a nap if you want to. A word of caution on the nap thing: You need to be ready for the dreaded “come in silent” gobbler. These are the turkeys that never say a word, slip in on you and don’t gobble. And a turkey with these antisocial tendencies needs to be taken out of the gene pool.
But no matter if you run and gun or sit on your hindquarters all day, you still need durable camouﬂage clothing that is functional for turkey hunting. Nomad performance hunting apparel has partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation to create a line of premium performance fabrics that feature the NWTF logo and the new NWTF Mossy Oak Obsession camouﬂage pattern. A collection featuring the Bottomland pattern (one of my favorites) is also available. A portion of all proﬁts from this line will go to the NWTF for conservation-based projects.
Although I have hunted spring gobblers in the snow (notice that I didn’t say I liked it), most spring hunts are in warmer weather. The Nomad/NWTF collection should have you covered from early to late season. Their woven long-sleeve shirt and pant features rugged, lightweight Rip-Stop Technology with secured cargo pockets – designed speciﬁcally for the turkey woods. For warm-weather hunts, the company offers a quarter-zip and cooling T-shirt option built from breathable materials that feature vented back/underarms and offers moisture transport. To round out the collection, Nomad also offers hats, gaiters and gloves. Their website is nomad.com.
EXPERIENCED TURKEY HUNTERS KNOW that the last several yards of a turkey’s approach toward you are the most critical. Make a mistake after he crosses the 50-yard line and you will not be partaking of fried turkey breast. The key here is just to be ready. Sit at the base of the largest tree you can ﬁnd and face the direction the gobbler will approach from. If you are a right-handed shooter, point your left shoulder at the place you think he will appear; do the opposite if you are a lefty. This allows you to swing the gun in order to cover as much area as possible. As you sit with your knees up, the shotgun is on one knee. Get as comfortable as you can, because you’ll need to be able to sit like this for some time.
When the gobbler comes into view, you cannot move. Let me repeat that sentence and add an exclamation point for emphasis: You cannot move!
As the moment of truth draws near, you may need to make a very slight adjustment in aiming at the turkey. This is accomplished by carefully watching the bird and waiting until his head goes behind something big, usually a tree (and the tree has to be pretty large for this to work). Keep in mind the turkey must be within a few feet of this tree if you are to go undetected. Remember the old turkey hunter adage: “A turkey can see through a thin rock.”
Ask any experienced turkey hunter; the scenario of sitting at the base of a tree while the gobbler approaches can be torture. The gobbler may take his own sweet time in getting to you, longer if you’re sitting on a rock, tree root or other sharp object, all while you are trying to hold the shotgun on your knee without moving! (Did I mention you cannot move?) Through the years, I have sat and watched the barrel of more than one companion’s gun start to wobble in increasingly larger circles. Turkey shotguns can be heavy, and so something to help relieve the weight of that gun may be in order. The Primos Trigger Stick Gen 3 series can really help with this.
The best feature of this product to me is it will adjust to the desired height with one hand. Simply grab the “trigger” and boom, it’s right where you need it to be. The Gen 3 series has added improved features such as locking leg angles to provide more stability, and the gun rest rotates so you can easily adjust your aim. These sticks come in monopod, bipod and tripod models, and in short and tall lengths.
ONCE TURKEY DECOYS FINALLY MADE their debut, I began to see some hunters get away with movement near an approaching gobbler that would previously have been impossible. The reason is simple. The turkey has his eyes on the decoy and is less likely to see the hunter. However, until recently, I’ve been discouraged from carrying decoys because they are too bulky and heavy, and some early versions of light, packable decoys were often lacking in the appearance department, resembling a mutant ostrich as much as anything else.
But I’m beginning to change my opinion on that, because HS Strut’s new Strut Lite decoys look and feel great. They have a ﬂake-resistant paint job and have a foldable, hollow body construction for easy storage in your vest. They are available in a three-pack with a semistrutting jake, a feeding hen and a breeding hen, and individually. MSRP for the ﬂock is $99.99; singles range from $34.99 to $44.99. See hunterspec.com.
ALTHOUGH SOME STATES ALLOW RIFLES for taking turkeys, it is generally thought of as a shotgun sport. The choices for turkey shotguns out there are wide and varied, and choosing just one or two shotguns to discuss with you here is not easy. I’ve gone back to my roots a bit with the choice of two pump guns, but I may have balanced that out with decidedly new and improved ammo.
With more than 12 million models sold since it appeared in 1951, what can you say about the Remington 870 that has not already been said? I will stick my neck out (pun intended) and say more turkeys have been shot with a Remington 870 than any other shotgun. It has the rock-solid dependability and functionality that turkey and waterfowl hunters demand, and I’m sure that many of you out there are still hunting with your dad’s or granddad’s 870 Wingmaster. I am not sure I can even count the number of variations of the 870, but the Super Magnum Turkey/ Waterfowl model will do most anything you need a shotgun for. The “Super” in the name designates it will handle 2¾- to 3½-inch shells for those days when you want a little extra punch for turkeys, or Canada geese. Another good reason to choose this one is because it comes in Mossy Oak Bottomland. MSRP for this model is $629.00.
If for some reason you’d like another brand or ﬂavor of pump gun, the 612 Magnum Turkey from CZ-USA may be the one for you. And, although this smoothbore was designed for turkey hunting, you won’t have any trouble taking it to the duck blind or pheasant ﬁelds. It weighs in at an amazing 6.8 pounds, a big bonus that you are going to appreciate if you need to lug it though the turkey woods. The 612 Magnum Turkey is hydrodipped in Realtree Xtra Green, shoots everything up to 3½-inch ammo and comes with an extra-full choke for turkeys and a modiﬁed for upland game and steel shot. This pump gun has an action reminiscent of the Model 12, and with an MSRP of $429 it is hard to beat.
As with the countless calls, there are various and sundry shotgun shells out there for turkeys these days. Winchester seems to be ruling the roost in this area with their Long Beard XR ammo. The boys at Winchester made shot shell history when they perfected the Shot-Lok technology, which allowed them to load shot in a liqueﬁed resin. This resin hardens, and upon ignition in the chamber of the shotgun it shatters and produces a super-effective buffering compound. All of this translates into the tight downrange patterns today’s turkey hunters want. New this year will be 20-gauge rounds in the Long Beard XR line, so stay tuned for news about this. MSRP is $18.99 for a box of 10 3-inch shells for 12-gauge shotguns, and $22.99 for 3½-inch shells.
FINALLY, AND FOR BETTER OR worse, turkey hunting has become a game of tightshooting shotguns, and to many turkey hunters the tighter the better. Today’s gobbler hunters want effective killing patterns on turkeys at 50 yards and beyond. George Trulock in Whigham, Ga., has been making choke tubes for many years and he is good at it. Mr. Trulock has forgotten more about choke tubes on shotguns than most of us will ever know. Currently TruLock Chokes (trulockchokes.com) has an inventory of over 2,000 choke tubes in stock, so take your pic. Trulock went so far as to not only make a choke tube speciﬁcally to be used with the Winchester Long Beard XR ammo, but he is making choke tubes speciﬁc to the shot size you want to use. He’s said, “If you shoot different shot sizes through the same choke, you could see a big difference in the pattern for each size. That’s why we decided to make each choke model speciﬁc to the Longbeard XR No. 4, 5 and 6 shot, and to tell you the truth, the results were quite impressive.”
PERSONALLY, I’M VERY THANKFUL that Mr. Franklin lost out on his bid to make the wild turkey our national bird. I would hate to think about the redbuds blooming and all of those old gobblers ﬁlling the spring air with their racket and we couldn’t be out there pursuing them. Not only do we get to match wits with this most American of birds, but we also get to justify the purchase of some really cool guns and gear. I love turkey hunting. Don’t you? ASJ
But designing that “better mousetrap” was only the beginning for the young gunmaker. Unfortunately, Sharps had difficulty in selling or marketing his idea. Over the next three years, he had a number of different business partners, and the total output of riﬂes and carbines he produced was very low. At one point, Sharps sold his patents as well as his interests in the company, receiving a cash agreement plus $1 per riﬂe made. Then, very late in 1851, the Sharps Riﬂe Manufacturing Company was formed and that’s when things ﬁnally got rolling.
A number of the features of the Sharps riﬂes were redesigned, primarily to make various parts more adaptable to increased production. While the models of 1849, 1850, and 1851 were all basically hand-ﬁtted and hand-ﬁnished, beginning in 1852, models were built with a much greater dependability by using machines for ﬁtting and ﬁnishing. This is all related here in a highly summarized form, but it is generally accepted that the Model 1852 Sharps is the ﬁrst riﬂe to be in the form or proﬁle that we recognize as the famous Sharps riﬂe.
THE 1852 MODEL WAS THE FIRST of the highly recognizable “slant breech” Sharps, with the breech block at a back slant instead of being vertical. It was also the ﬁrst Sharps to be produced in the thousands of riﬂes rather than just in the hundreds. The very distinctive slant-breech Sharps were made as military-style riﬂes and carbines, plus sporting riﬂes and even a few shotguns. The slant breeches included the models of 1852, 1853, and the very rare tall-hammered Model 1855.
Incidentally, it was carbines of the slant-breech Sharps that were smuggled to John Brown and his followers, hidden in cases that were marked as “Bibles.” A preacher, Henry W. Beecher, was an abolitionist who supported Brown. That’s where the slang expression referring to a Sharps riﬂe as a “Beecher’s Bible” came from.
With the model of 1859 another notable change was seen – the beginning of the vertical-block actions. The reason for going to the vertical breech block was for operation of a more effective gas seal. This is the model of the Sharps that really went to war, our Civil War, and some of these riﬂes that went to Berdan’s Sharpshooters were equipped with double set triggers.
Further updates and slight improvements were made in the New Models of 1863 and 1865, and the reputation of Sharps riﬂes for accuracy, particularly for long-range shooting, got began to build during that War Between the States. Afterwards, when self-contained cartridges were being considered much more seriously, the late models of the Sharps riﬂes with the vertical breech block were updated and converted to chamber those cartridges, primarily the new government cartridge of 1866, the famous .50-70.
THIS IS THE ERA OF THE SHARPS riﬂe history that I ﬁnd the most interesting. It was the cartridge-ﬁring Sharps riﬂes that “went West” in search of the buffalo herds, and in the hands of hunters and frontiersmen who needed a riﬂe that would perform at long range. These were the Sharps riﬂes that proved to be legendary.
The Model 1969 was the ﬁrst sporting model of the Sharps riﬂes that was made for use with centerﬁre metallic cartridges. It was chambered for the .50-70 Government and it also introduced a new Sharps cartridge that was designated as the .44-2¼-inch, with .44 for the caliber and 2¼ inches for the length of the case, as guns for it were marked on their barrels. That .44 fairly quickly became known as the .44-77, which was the UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge Company) loading for it, and it became the most common and popular cartridge in the Sharps riﬂes until the .45-70 edged it out in popularity beginning in 1876.
Despite their heavy usage and good reputation, the Model 1869 riﬂes were made for only two years. In 1871, the Model 1874, the Sharps riﬂe that many people remember the very most, was introduced. And yes, you read that correctly. Although the Model 1874 was ﬁrst manufactured in 1871, it went unnamed for three years. It was ﬁnally given recognition when the Sharps Riﬂe Manufacturing Company was reformed as the Sharps Riﬂe Company in 1874. It is also a fact that Christian Sharps died in 1874 and the designation for the riﬂe might stand as a monument to him although I doubt if that was really intended.
But no matter why the naming delay occurred, there is no doubt that the 1871 debut of the Model 1874 was timed perfectly. The great buffalo hunts were just beginning, and the Sharps – with its powerful long-range cartridges – were just what the buffalo hunters wanted. Both the .44-77 and the .50-70 made names for themselves, and the .44-77 was the most produced Sharps chambering during the Hartford era. But the buffalo hunters kept asking for longer-range cartridges, so in 1872 both the .44-90 and the “Big .50,” (what we today refer to as the .50-90) were introduced. Those cartridges, particularly the .44-90, made more long-range shots possible, and good shots out to 1,000 yards were not unknown.
It was during that time when the “buffalo wars” were fought, including the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls. That’s the legendary battle where 28 buffalo hunters withstood the attack of several hundred Indians from a collection of tribes. The hunters’ success is generally attributed to the long-range Sharps riﬂes which most of them were using. One hunter, Billy Dixon, is credited with the long shot that truly became a legend, shooting an Indian off of his horse at a very long range. The actual distance for that shot is lost to time, but various claims put it at more than 1,000 yards to over 1,500 yards.
IN EARLY 1876, the Sharps Riﬂe Company moved their factory from Hartford to Bridgeport, Conn. Some changes were made in the riﬂes, so a Bridgeport Sharps is generally recognizable to the trained eye when compared to a Hartford model. For instance, the silver-colored pewter nose cap on the forearm was generally no longer used. More important than that, the famous Sharps .44- and .50-caliber cartridges were no longer chambered except for special orders. That’s when the .45-70 became the most popular cartridge in the Sharps sporting riﬂes lineup, and what we call the .45-110 (Quigley’s cartridge) became the leader in long-range shooting.
In 1878, Sharps introduced their hammerless model, the SharpsBorchardt. While the Model 1878 had certain advantages, it was not particularly popular in the West. The big buffalo hunts were rapidly coming to an end, and with them the demand for a riﬂe with the “personality” of the big Sharps was also diminishing. The Sharps Riﬂe Company closed their doors for good in 1881.
Still, the Sharps riﬂes deserve a fair amount of credit for opening the West up for other brands of riﬂes. What had been the “wild” West was pretty well tamed by the time the Winchester ’73 appeared on the scene. There were a few .44 rimﬁres shooting the Henry cartridge at the Battle of Adobe Walls, but odds are those were mainly ﬁred from revolvers. The .44-40 simply hadn’t made it out West at that time, and it is a simple fact that the Winchester repeaters had neither the range nor the punch of the big Sharps.
Today, however, we can still enjoy some “Sharps shooting” because excellent modern copies of the old riﬂes continue to be made, and remain in high demand. These include those manufactured by the C. Sharps Arms Company (csharpsarms.com) of Big Timber, Mont., which made each of the guns you see pictured in this article.
And so, whether your target is a live buffalo bull on ranches where they can still be hunted, or a paper target posted at 1,000 yards, ﬁring a big Sharps with lead bullets and black powder loads remains a long-range thrill. And while shooting one of the newly made Sharps riﬂes, you can’t help but have the feeling that you’re holding history in your hands. ASJ
But that’s not entirely true. We all have our favorites. For some, it may be a beat-up riﬂe that’s been handed down from generation to generation. It may be one with high-grade wood and fancy engraving. Many prefer turnbolt-action guns. Some swoon over a ﬁne double gun, while others may shoot only an AR platform riﬂe. A favorite may be a riﬂe that shoots tiny little groups, or one that’s light enough to pack up steep mountains. For some, it might be the only riﬂe they own – or one that literally saved their life.
In truth, I have several favorite riﬂes for several speciﬁc jobs. For deer-sized game, however, one riﬂe in my collection has accounted for more animals than all of the others combined. It’s not the fanciest riﬂe in the safe, nor is it the most expensive. It’s the one I’ve made more great memories with than any other.
THAT RIFLE BEGAN ITS LONG RUN with me many years ago as an original Weatherby Vanguard riﬂe, chambered in .257 Wby. Mag. It had a Tupperware stock and creepy trigger, so it did not long stay in its original conﬁguration. I installed a ﬁne Timney trigger and swapped the stock out for a pillarbedded Fiberguard stock, in an attractive tan color with black spider web ﬁnish.
I long ago lost count of the number of deer and hogs I shot with this riﬂe in the coastal mountains of central California before I left that state for more gun-friendly environs. It was with me when I shot my ﬁrst pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, and it was the riﬂe I used to bag a record-book pronghorn in New Mexico. There’s a nice axis deer on my wall, thanks to that riﬂe, and a snarling javelina. The riﬂe has taken mule deer in several Western states, and was the one I used to take my best whitetail buck, a barrel-chested 11-pointer nudging the 160 Boone and Crockett mark.
It was also the riﬂe I held when I made a running shot on a whitetail in the state of my birth, Kentucky, a number of years ago. He was an old buck, with thin, broken-up antlers,
and wasn’t much to look at. But it was a hunt I’ll never forget. It was the ﬁrst time I had seen many of my relatives in nearly two decades, and I was able to share a venison dinner with them from that homecoming hunt, surrounded by the warmth, laughter and happiness I remembered so well from my childhood. Sadly, many of those relatives are no longer with us, and I think of them every time I pick up the .257.
And that, as Forest Gump would say, is all I have to say about that.
LAST YEAR, I REALIZED THAT the riﬂe had become something of a safe queen. I was spending so much time testing and hunting with new riﬂe models that I had little time left to shoot or hunt with my own guns. Determined to remedy that, I carved a day out of my schedule last December and visited my friend, Bryan Wilson, of Frio County Hunts. Bryan runs a great hunting operation on his family’s lowfence, high-quality hunting ranch in south Texas.
He had been keeping an eye on a big-bodied, 5½-year-old, eight-point buck that made regular appearances on game cameras. His antlers weren’t going to get any better, and he was bossing around some younger bucks with greater trophy potential, so that made him a prime candidate for my freezer.
Sitting in a blind with Bryan in the predawn darkness that December morning, we watched deer ﬁlter out of the thick south Texas brush and into an open ﬁeld in front of us. It took some time before we had enough light to make out antlers, and bit more time before we could count points. There were a couple of younger, promising bucks in the ﬁeld, and far down a sendero to our left, we spotted a truly spectacular young buck. But none of them were on the menu. We were after the boss eight-pointer.
And then he appeared, walking slowly and conﬁdently down a long path to our front before entering the ﬁeld. The younger bucks watched him nervously, and it was clear that this old fellow ruled the roost. I watched the buck feed for a while, and then reached for my old friend with the words “.257 WBY MAG” stamped on the barrel. I centered the crosshairs of the Leupold scope on the buck’s vitals, and touched off the Timney trigger, which is set to break crisply at a trigger pull of a hair over 2 pounds.
AS IT HAD SO MANY TIMES BEFORE, a 120-grain Nosler Partition bullet found its mark. The buck ran about 20 yards, staggered for another 10 yards, and fell over. That bullet, in factory loading, is all I’ve ever fed the riﬂe, and it will shoot sub-MOA groups with the load all day long. Launching the 120-grain Partition at .257 Wby. Mag. velocity, the riﬂe has proven to be nothing less than a death ray. The vast majority of animals I’ve shot with that riﬂe and load simply dropped in their tracks. A few made it 30 yards or so, as this big buck did, but none have ever required any tracking to recover.
I’ve been on several hunts where people, after watching the riﬂe perform, have offered to buy it from me on the spot. Needless to say, it’s not for sale.
The .257 Wby. Mag. was reportedly Roy Weatherby’s favorite caliber, and it’s easy to understand why when you take a close look at the ballistics. The 120-grain Partition load I favor steps out at a bit more than 3,300 feet per second from the muzzle. Using the old-timer’s trick of zeroing the riﬂe to place bullets 3 inches high at 100 yards, it is dead on at 300 yards, and a bit less than 4 inches low at 350 yards.
This means that, for the vast majority of hunters and the majority of hunting situations, you need only hold steady on the vitals to make a clean kill out to 350 yards.
Notably, that .257 isn’t the only Vanguard in my safe. I also have a Vanguard sub-MOA model chambered in .300 WSM. It has the same Timney trigger installed and the same stock, albeit in a different color. I also have this riﬂe zeroed at 300 yards, with a 150-grain Winchester XP3 load grouping 3 inches high at 100 yards. The trajectory is nearly identical to that of my .257 zeroed at the same distance. Picking up that riﬂe is, for all practical purposes, the same as picking up the .257. It, too, has accounted for its fair share of game, including a scimitar-horned oryx in Texas. These are large animals, weighing up to 460 pounds, and the Weatherby handled the job nicely.
You may, by now, not be surprised to learn that I have yet another Vanguard riﬂe in my safe. This one is the newer Vanguard S2 Back Country riﬂe, a featherweight riﬂe weighing just 6 pounds, 12 ounces. Chambered in .30-06 Springﬁeld, it’s a real tack driver, especially with Federal’s VitalShok 165-grain Trophy Copper load. I also have this riﬂe zeroed to group bullets 3 inches high at 100 yards. They’ll impact less than 4 inches low at 300 yards, allowing for a dead-on hold at that distance, and I’m looking forward to putting the riﬂe to good use.
All of this, I suppose, lends a lot of truth to the old adage, “Beware the man with one riﬂe.” Or, in my case, two or three. ASJ
Savage Arms’ new line of next-generation semiautos comes to the marketplace with an attitude – the company has cleverly co-opted the MSR acronym for branding the guns, using the tagline “MSR now stands for Modern Savage Riﬂe” – but the guns are poised to deliver in the ﬁeld and on the range as well, with everything from expanded caliber choices and badass designs to a full suite of custom upgrades packaged as standard features.
Although the four-gun family includes two MSR-15 models in 5.56mm (the Recon and Blackhawk), our focus here will be on a dynamic duo of aptly named, hard-hitting MSR-10s, the Hunter and the Long Range. And while the company’s slick new AR-15 riﬂes are already gaining a reputation as straight shooters, the chance to zero in on building a better AR-10 was a perfect ﬁt for Savage – oﬀering opportunities to play to the brand’s strengths, including longrange accuracy and innovation.
SAVAGE MAY BE BEST KNOWN for its extensive collection of bolt-actions for hunting, competitive shooting and plain old plinking, but the company has also been in the AR business, oﬀ and on, for years, quietly creating custom barrels for other manufacturers.
Simply put, the AR-10 platform oﬀered Savage engineers a chance to innovate. According to Al Caspar, president of Savage Arms, “One of the stumbling blocks to unbridled creativity with the AR15 platform is the nagging need for conformity – in other words, keeping the riﬂe compatible with a variety of accessories. With AR-10s, there are far fewer such constraints. Savage engineers were able to think outside the box to bring gamechanging features to both the MSR Hunter and MSR Long Range.”
While developing its modern, precision AR-10s, Savage also addressed other longstanding shortcomings of MSRs designed for larger cartridges.
“For example,” Caspar added, “AR10s have traditionally been heavy, bulky and unwieldy. We tackled these issues head-on, shaving oﬀ unnecessary weight and trimming size with a smaller, lighter chassis that strikes a perfect balance between performance, ﬁt and function. As a result, both the MSR-10 Hunter and MSR-10 Long Range feature a compact AR-10 design that feels and handles more like an AR-15.”
“Savage’s new AR-10s also feature custom-forged uppers and lowers for a look unlike anything aﬁeld or on the range, plus a free-ﬂoating forend that locks down so tight you can bridge a scope mount from forend to receiver with no loss of accuracy. Tactical Blackhawk! grips, buttstock and ﬂip up sights are also standard.”
Professional 3-gun competitor Patrick Kelley knows a thing or ﬁve about the needs of long-range shooters, and he knows the Long Range model well, having been involved in early testing of the gun.
“It’s got all the cool features that a free gunner would want in one package,” said Kelley at the recent SHOT Show in Las Vegas. “A longer gas system, 5R-riﬂed barrel, Melonite coating, 22-inch barrel length for 6.5 Creedmoor, 20-inch in .308 Win. An M-Lok hand guard.”
“The upper and lower are both proprietary,” Kelley added, “and shorter in length, which allows us to make the gun more compact, bring the center of balance back closer to the center line of the shooter, which makes for better handling. The bolt carrier group is also lighter than a standard bolt carrier group. Again, less reciprocating mass means a lower recall impulse.”
“It’s got every feature in it it should have,” Kelley concluded, “at a price point that will make you smile and make you want it all the more. (This) riﬂe has all the cool features that little boutique gun makers can do, but in one riﬂe from a large manufacturer: Savage Arms.”
BOTH MSR-10S ARE AVAILABLE in .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor chamberings, each of which oﬀers applications in hunting and long-range shooting. The .308 Win. is a ﬁne all-around choice for big game, not to mention a top traditional pick of snipers and other long-range shooters. A relative newcomer, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a long-range performer developed for target shooting but perfectly capable in hunting applications as well.
Savage tailored barrel length to caliber and purpose. The .308 Win. version of the MSR-10 Hunter sports a 16-inch barrel (and weighs just 7.5 pounds), while the 6.5 Creedmoor Hunter carries an 18-inch barrel. MSR10 Long Range barrel lengths are 20 inches for the .308 Win. and 22 inches with 6.5 Creedmoor.
Regardless of length, all barrels are button-riﬂed and paired to their particular action with Savage’s obsessive attention to precise headspace control. To further enhance accuracy while reducing fouling, the bore features innovative 5R riﬂing. And to extend barrel life, Savage applies an ultradurable, Melonite QPQ surface hardening treatment inside and out.
With roughly 10 million modern sporting riﬂes already in the hands of American gun owners, there’s no denying the platform’s appeal for a variety of uses. And, after talking to thousands of shooters online and in person at ranges across the continent, Savage knew exactly where to aim with their new line. The company is convinced that both new MSR-10s will quickly ﬁnd a place in the hands and hearts of discerning shooters, and with early results trending so favorably, it would be hard to argue otherwise. ASJ
RTH Firearms CEO Ralph Hicks explains their amazing semi-auto’s.
Like most I have been a firing situation where a quick follow-up shot is needed. The circumstances all vary: It could be because you are having to make multiple shots at differing ranges in a competition, the game animal went from standing to running, or the rapid advancement of enemy combatants. Having the ability to rapidly follow-up is only one element; the other two elements are precision and power. The Anvil series of rifles by RTH Firearms provides the ability at any moment to produce speed, power, and precision. And if you going to own a rifle that performs like a Ferrari it should look like one too.
The New Year bought many blessings to all of us, it is also when RTH Firearms released their first semi-automatic rifle chambered in 6.5x47mm Lapua, 6.5mm Creedmoor and .308 Win. The rifle achieves amazing precision, hitting sub-sub MOA at 100 yards with the ability to reach out to 1,400 yards with little felt recoil. The Anvil rifles feel like you’re shooting a 22 rimfire rifle but yet with the 6.5×47 Lapua round allows to make mile long shots.
RTH Firearms hasfive goals in producing their beautiful rilfes: : Precision, speed in follow-up shots, knock-down power, minimal felt recoil and attractive design.
There are some fine semi-autos on the market today but they rarely achieve sub-MOA performance, and most cannot feed precision rifle cartridges. We know that precision rifle shooters are very familiar with the Lapua 6.5 x 47mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridges — both have flat trajectories and each cartridge retains a very high rate of kinetic energy downrange, providing both competition rifle shooters and hunters with the range and power they need. And unlike many other 6mm cartridges, these calibers are gentle on the barrel, providing a much longer barrel life. We wanted our rifle to feed both hunting and competition rounds — and we offer your favorite cartridges upon request. Our thinking was that if we could make a 6.5 x 47 Lapua work in a semi-auto, we could make all other cartridges work as well.
This means we had to design a unique and precise gas impingement system with low tolerances that aligned perfectly with the bolt carrier group. We had to develop our own barrel approach in order to match the very tight tolerances of the upper receiver and contour the barrel to allow it to flow to the titanium muzzle break. Our triggers are like no other — they really give you that tactical feeling and bring to mind the classic statement, “It feels like I just broke glass.” The reset is also super-fast.
I put together a solid team to make this rifle possible. I wanted experts not just from the firearm community but also from the aerospace community who were familiar with a culture that looks beyond the norm. That is why I ended up working with Aaron Cayce of Phoenix Weaponry and his amazing team. They had that aerospace and firearm precision manufacturing experience and barrel development experience. If you work with engineers and manufactures that make instruments that are life saving and build components that are used in space exploration, and who decades of firearms experience you have a team that can outperform anyone in the market. But it was their proprietary trigger that sold me, I have used many triggers in my shooting career and never felt a trigger like the trigger they developed. Together we achieved what others have failed to do. And the beautiful lines of the rifle speaks for itself.
After three years of prototyping and hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital, I took it out on my private range where I literally hit dimes several times over with little effort at 100 yards. I also traveled to a nearby desert area and had little difficulty in reaching torso-size targets at 1,400 yards in windy conditions.
We package the rifle in a beautiful tactical hard case that includes a matching custom-made paracord sling Foxden. If you want optics, we like to work with Nightforce. When we deliverer the package, it comes pre-zeroed, tested and ready to deploy.
To be able to release the rifle this year feels is an honor more than an achievement. I am so proud of our team and my family for having the staying power to make this happen. I feel that each of our individually crafted firearms provides the opportunity to maximize targeting success without compromise. And that’s the goal I wanted to reach.
The price point of the rifle is high-end. It comes with a hard case match to suit the rifles. I want to give the readers of the American Shooting Journal a very special opportunity to own these rifles to celebrate or achievements. Simply send Ralph an email and he will provide you with a very special discount only offered to our readers. To have this opportunity please send a note to Ralph@RTHfirearms.com and he will take care of you.
For additional information about RTH Firearms see rthfirearms.com
When Jacob Hawken ﬁrst began making his “mountain” riﬂes, he incorporated features into each gun that were well thought of based on his experience. Hawken wanted his riﬂes to be the very best available and, therefore, desired by the most people. His strategy worked, because these days, they are the riﬂes we remember the most from the early to mid-1800s.
Dan Phariss, a highly regarded gunsmith and black powder historian, may have said it best: “The Hawken, the fully evolved mountain riﬂe, be it full or half-stock, was the ﬁnal evolution of the American muzzleloading hunting riﬂe.”
In my opinion, no other muzzleloading riﬂe ever surpassed the classic percussion Hawken riﬂe.
MOUNTAIN MEN NEEDED A RIFLE that was dependable, one that could last a whole year or more in the wilderness. Generally, it had to function without the possibility of major repairs and need for replacement parts, although trapping brigades sometimes had blacksmiths or gunsmiths traveling with them. But with Hawken, that strength and dependability was built right into their riﬂes.
For example, muzzleloading riﬂes were often susceptible to damage with breakage to the stock right at the wrist. To strengthen that area, Hawken riﬂes and their replicas have the long upper tang, as well as the extended trigger plates. Those two iron or steel pieces reinforced the wrist of the stock at both top and bottom, and screws from the tang go through the stock to anchor the trigger plate.
Unlike many modern modular 70 designs, the barrel is the literal backbone of muzzleloading rifles, as it provides the foundational support for all of the other parts and pieces. With that in mind, the Hawken rifles had heavier barrels than most other models. It could be that this was because Hawkens were expected to make more frequent use of heavier loads, but that explanation isn’t as probable as the brothers simply seeking a stronger foundation for their rifles.
The locks and triggers used in the Hawken design were also the ﬁnest available at that time, and were another reason that they were the ﬁnest shooters in the world. Finally, the Hawken shop was one of the ﬁrst to embrace the percussion ignition system, and while many historians believe the Hawken brothers also manufactured ﬂintlocks, none of these have ever been located.
Some believe the role of the Hawken riﬂe in western history has been exaggerated, or that the Hawken brothers are being given more credit today than they deserve. But This if nothing else, the Hawken riﬂes were clearly recognized as being the gun to have if you could aﬀord one. That is not just because they were more expensive than most other riﬂes at the time, but also because – in the diaries, ledgers and account books of the time – Hawken riﬂes were frequently the only riﬂes that were mentioned by name.
For example, in the inventory listings of what the American Fur Company shipped to Fort Union, in what would become North Dakota, in 1834, a notation indicates “4 riﬂes, Hawkins.” Another early reference appears in a list of goods taken west by French Canadian trader and fur trapper Etienne Provost in 1829: “2 riﬂes, Hawkins ($25.00 each).” Those are just two examples (both notations appear in the book Supply and Demand: The Ledgers and Gear of the Western Fur Trade by Olsen and McCloskey). Other riﬂes were not generally named to this level of detail, but Hawken riﬂes (and some pistols) always seem to be mentioned by name. In other words, if it wasn’t a Hawken, it was just another riﬂe.
For comparison, the price of a “trade riﬂe” (a riﬂe made for the fur trade, to be sold or traded to trappers, red or white) as made by Henry, Leman, Tryon or others could be purchased for around $12. At more than twice that amount, Hawken riﬂes were truly expensive guns.
Details like these serve to remind us how respected and desirable the old Hawken riﬂes were. Those reminders emphasize the fact that Hawken riﬂes were certainly on the “roll call” at rendezvouses of the period. At today’s, the caplock Hawken is just as much at home on the good list, and much in demand. There just isn’t anything that spells “mountain doin’s” like an authentically made classic Hawken.
HAWKEN RIFLES EVOLVED OVER TIME, starting with the early J&S Hawkens ﬁrearms and ending with the S. Hawken riﬂes, which continued to be manufactured for nearly 20 years after Jacob Hawken’s 1849 death. The diﬀerences between the early and late riﬂes are primarily minor details, such as the use of a single pin to hold the entry pipe for the ramrod on the S. Hawken riﬂes in place instead of two as used on the J&S Hawken models. But the truth is that each original Hawken riﬂe was a unique, handmade creation, with no two being exactly alike.
In my 40-plus-year quest to acquire as much Hawken information and experience as I can, I’ve handled – and admired – several original Hawken riﬂes. But believe it or not, I have never ﬁred one. All of my shooting with Hawken-style riﬂes has been accomplished with more recent duplicates of these famous guns, many of which have been very exacting copies and that performed in an amazing fashion.
However, Art Ressel, long-time proprietor of the original Hawken Shop in St. Louis, once showed me six Hawken riﬂes, all laying on a bed. He let me handle them all I wanted, for as long as I needed, and asked me if I could ﬁnd the one riﬂe in that group that was not a real Hawken. Although it took me over an hour – a very treasured hour – I’m proud to say that I ﬁnally identiﬁed the imposter. What ﬁnally gave it away? The reproduction had eight-groove riﬂing while all of the others had seven grooves in their barrels.
In short, the Hawken riﬂe was a highly desired and reliable ﬁrearm of the iconic mountain men who blazed trails and helped settle the American West, and it deserves its place in the historical saga of that important period in our nation’s growth, expansion and development. ASJ
He wasn’t the biggest buck I’d ever seen, but he had eight points and a big body, and at that stage of the season he was a shooter. Head down, searching side to side, neck swollen, he cruised along giving the does’ scent the utmost attention.
At 90 yards, he stopped and gave me a quartering-toward shot, and I placed the crosshairs of the 6.5-284 Norma just inside his foreleg, gently breaking the trigger. At the shot, the buck ﬂipped backward onto his back, legs in the air, and stayed in that position. The 156-grain Oryx had taken him through the heart and lungs, and proceeded to exit just behind the offside ribs, killing him instantly.
THE ORYX IS A PREMIUM BULLET, designed for a perfect blend of expansion – to create a large wound channel – and penetration – to ensure that the wound channel reaches the vital organs. Usually designed in a semispitzer proﬁle, the bullet’s copper jacket is engineered to be thinner at the nose, to initiate expansion, yet gets thicker toward the ﬂat base of the bullet.
In addition to getting thicker, the rear portion of the jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core to make sure that things stay together. Chemical bonding, resulting in what we call a “bonded core” bullet, prevents bullet breakup, and slows the expansion process down to allow the bullet to penetrate deeply. It is one of several methods used to resist overexpansion, a problem common to standard cup-and-core bullets at high-impact velocities, and the Norma Oryx does this well.
Being a semispitzer, the Oryx may not possess the high ballistic coefficient (BC) ﬁgures that some of the sleek, polymer-tipped hunting bullets may have, but at normal hunting distances that doesn’t pose a huge problem. Inside of 400 yards, shots can be made with a bullet in this conformation, and the additional terminal performance can make a big difference when it really counts; should tough shoulder bones, thick hide, or gristle plates need to be penetrated, the Oryx will deﬁnitely hold together for you.
Norma loads the Oryx in their factory ammunition, in calibers from .224 inches all the way up to .375 inches. The smallest are a good choice for those who wish to use a .22 centerﬁre on deer and other similar game. The standard big game calibers, say from 6.5mm up to 8mm, can be used with an additional level of conﬁdence, should the shot angle be less than desirable.
The heavier calibers, from .338 inches up to the .375 inches, will take full advantage of the Oryx’s stature, as these calibers are often used to pursue the largest animals that can be effectively hunted with a soft-point bullet. Norma offers the Oryx in mid- to heavyweight projectiles for caliber, at standard muzzle velocities. Retained weight is often high – above 90 percent in most instances – with expansion usually doubling the original diameter.
THE ORYX IS AVAILABLE IN MOST of the popular calibers, such as the .270 Winchester, .30-06 Springﬁeld, .308 Winchester, .375 Holland & Holland and .300 Winchester Magnum, but also has embraced some of the rarities, like the .308 and .358 Norma Magnums, as well as the Weatherby and Blaser Magnums. Hailing from Sweden, Norma loads many of the metric calibers, like the classic 7×57 Mauser, 9.3x63mm, 8×57 and 9.3x74R, as well as some of those lesser-known calibers here in the States like the 7×64 Brenneke and the 7x65R.
Norma also offers the Oryx as a component bullet for the handloader, so for those of you who like to hunt with your own ammunition, the Oryx remains a viable option.
In the ﬁeld, I like the Oryx for any situation where a difficult shot angle may be the only shot you get, or in an instance where stopping an animal may be necessary. The Oryx would make a very good choice for a hunter who wanted to use his or her .270 Winchester for elk; at 150 grains, the heavy-for-caliber bonded core slug will deﬁnitely hold together well enough to reach the vitals. I also like the Oryx for many of the African species, as well as for our North American bears. Thinking lion and leopard, as well as eland and wildebeest, the Oryx – in a suitable caliber – will provide enough expansion to shred the vital organs, yet will break those tough shoulder bones that guard the vitals.
I also think that a .338 Winchester Magnum or .375 H&H Magnum, loaded with a heavy-for-caliber Oryx, would make an excellent brown bear combination, and would certainly handle any black bear that ever walked. For a hunter who wants to pursue bears with his standard deer riﬂe, the Oryx will handle the shoulder bones and put that bear down quickly. For those who hunt deer with the popular .243 Winchester, the Oryx will surely get the job done, at just about any angle.
Is it accurate? My 6.5-284 Norma will print three of those 156-grain Oryx bullets into ½ MOA groups, as will my .300 Winchester Magnum with 180-grainers. My .375 H&H puts three 300-grain Oryx bullets into exactly 1 inch at 100 yards. For a trio of hunting riﬂes that will handle most all of the big game scenarios across the globe, that’s more than enough accuracy. ASJ
Lyman patented their #1 Tang Sight in 1879. The #2 followed either very shortly after if not at the same time. The only difference between those two types of sights is that the #1 had the combination apertures, with the fold-down small aperture, and the #2 came with removable discs, a feature that came to be favored by target shooters.
Putting one of these sights on an Uberti copy of the 1873 Winchester will usually require drilling and tapping for the forward sight hole, and Lyman includes directions on how to do that, including tapping the hole for 10-32 threads. I needed that to be done on my Stoeger/Uberti riﬂe, but that was the only modiﬁcation I had to make before the sight was installed. Then it was lined up with the open sight before the open sight was removed.
Let me give one tiny warning: be sure the very small Allen screw on the lower part of the upright is good and tight. That’s what holds the sight stem in place.
Shooting with the new tang sight was a blast! I used loads with 200-grain cast bullets over 33 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F black powder. My ﬁrst group was a bit high, so the sight was lowered. The next group is what you see pictured, ﬁve shots in a very tight group. I was aiming at 6 o’clock so the sights were left as is, to hit with a dead-on hold.
Lyman’s list price for one of its #2 Tang Sights is $99.95 and they are available directly from Lyman or most sporting goods stores. The sights are also made for the 1866, 1886, 1894 models, and the Marlins.
For more on the entire Lyman line, visit lymanproducts.com. ASJ
Now, your vote may be swayed by the current AR platform rage, but that involves multiple calibers and brands. I’m talking about the most popular single gun, and the Ruger 10/22 owns that honor, hands down.
Not bad for a riﬂe that ﬁrst hit the market in 1964.
The 10/22 became my go-to riﬂe pretty quickly. How could I not love it? It’s extremely dependable, accurate and, as I mentioned, you can trick it out as much as you want. But it was my quest to hunt the elusive whistle pig (which in southern Idaho, where I shoot, refers to a Townsend’s ground squirrel) that led me to desire a higher level of accuracy, which in turn led to this article.
I love hunting varmints in the spring, and on good days I’ll shoot 400 to 500 rounds at these ornery targets. But if you’re like me when shooting hundreds of rounds using a gun with a small capacity clip, you’ll get frustrated, and I mean fast. In fact, it’s easy enough to get frustrated if you don’t have two or three fully stocked 25-shot banana clips on hand.
As my experience progressed, it got to be fun to see how far out I could hit whistle pigs. I hit one a year or so ago at 197 yards, and then another at 207 yards. If they hold still and let you get three shots to zero in, you can hit them out there. Of course, the gale-like winds we encounter regularly out on the high plains here in Idaho don’t help with long-range shooting.
I noticed that while sighting in with a new scope, I’d have one or two ﬂiers out of a 10-round group. Then, when I listened good, I observed that there’d be a diﬀerence in the loudness or volume of the report, which meant it had a little less powder than the previous shot.
I then begin to doubt the ammo more than my shooting ability, a conclusion that was conﬁrmed when my buddy told me that even with good ammo, match shooters weigh their bullets and kick out those with the highest and lowest weights. I also shot his tricked-out 10/22, and although I thought he might have gone a little overboard with his, it got me thinking about which steps I should take with mine to achieve a higher level of accuracy.
In other words, which items helped me and which ones did not?
Hunting whistle pigs requires a scope because they’re small targets. You may have to take head shots when they pop out of their holes, so I didn’t begin this test using open sights. In fact, with a cheap scope and Remington ammo I was already getting between .65-inch and 1.0-inch groups at 25 yards. Then I shot some Eley ammo and got my groups
down to .4 inches.
The ﬁrst thing I did was install a Leupold VX2 4-12 AO CDS scope that I’d had painted in the company’s Custom Shop to match my new Boyd stock. Now I could really focus in and I was able to get my shooting down to groups of .6 inches with the Remington ammo and .4 with the Eley.
My original trigger had a pull of 5.5 pounds but it had a rough spot and some drag, which hurt my accuracy. So after adding the scope I installed a Timney trigger with a 2¾-pound pull. This lighter setting aided my squeeze immensely.
Installing a Timney 10/22 trigger was super simple. In fact, my son-in-law located a YouTube video that showed everything we needed to do, so we did the ﬁrst one together. The video said to remove the stock and pull the pins. Well, we removed the stock and two pins fell out, so I looked at him and said, “I assume those are the two pins we’re supposed to take out.” They had been held in place by the stock, so the process couldn’t have been simpler.
Despite the wind being pretty bad, with the new scope and trigger I was able to shoot groups between .5 inches and 1.0 inch using Remington ammo, and with the Eley I was consistently getting .5-inch groups. I now felt as if I had a good shooting riﬂe.
The next step was to put on a Brownells barrel and a Boyd Stock. Removing the barrel was also pretty simple. First you remove the stock, and then there are two Allen bolts holding a block that pins in the barrel. Remove them. My barrel was tight, so I ran home and used a wooden dowel rod to tap it oﬀ. To mount it again, just reverse the
order of steps. Then I slid on the Boyd stock and tightened it down with the one screw. What a sweet-looking riﬂe!
The following day I had to teach some seminars at Sportsman’s Warehouse, but as soon as I was done I took oﬀ for the plains. Now, I didn’t measure it, but I’ll estimate that the wind was blowing around 15 miles per hour. The next day there was a little less, probably 8 to 10 mph, so that helped. But with my new, tricked-out 10/22, I was able to achieve .4- to .6-inch groups with the Remington ammo, and .2- to .3-inch groups with the Eley. I now had a shooter.
If you believe diﬀerent brands of ammo vary in your bigger caliber riﬂes (and I do), the variance is even more so with a .22. So on the ﬁnal day, just for the sake of this article, I shot four brands. Here were the best groups that I obtained with each brand.
Federal Target Grade Performance: 1.3-inch group
Winchester M22: .9-inch group
Remington Golden Bullet: .4-inch group
Eley Force: .2-inch group
Tests were performed at 25 yards oﬀ a stable bench with Altus shooting bags;
Distances were set using a Leupold RS-1200iTBR/W Digital Laser Rangeﬁnder;
Five-shot groups were ﬁred;
Shooting was done out on the prairie, so wind was a factor. For example, using Eley ammo indoors, I believe I could have obtained .1-inch groups.
Here is how I would rank (from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most important) which item most aﬀected and/or improved accuracy besides choice of ammunition:
1. Scope You must be able to pinpoint one spot or you just aren’t going to be accurate.
2. Trigger If you can’t get a good squeeze, you just aren’t going to be able to tighten up your groups.
3. Boyd stock My stock is super comfortable and I feel like I have a good grasp of my riﬂe. Does that really help the accuracy? I think it does, if only minutely. Your mind will not drift oﬀ thinking how awkward or uncomfortable it is to hold. And although it is not a factor on a .22, Boyd claims that they help reduce recoil on larger caliber riﬂes.
4. Bull barrel I think this add-on would play a bigger factor on hot days when you’re pouring out the ammo. A lighter barrel would get warm.
5. Cool factor If you want to have a riﬂe that takes people’s breath away, a scope out of the Leupold Custom Shop and a Boyd stock will surely help. Tell Leupold what type of stock you’re buying and they’ll paint your scope to match it. What’s cooler than that? In addition, both companies have options too numerous to mention. ASJ