Rise of the Tactical Hunting Rifle

AR platforms broke into the Hunting World several years ago and now they are increasingly accepted at deer camp for their Accuracy, Light Weight, Modern Options.

Story and Photos by Jason Brooks

The advancements that rifle companies are putting into firearms is astonishing, utilizing designs like titanium alloy actions, large bolt handles and carbon fiber-wrapped barrels to increase accuracy.
A modern shooting platform, more appropriately known as a “tactical rifle for the marksman shooter,” is becoming popular for the big game hunter. I was introduced to such a platform a few years ago, first seeing one of these “sniper” rifles after we landed on a backcountry airstrip in central Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Lee Freeman, owner and custom rifle builder for Oregon Mountain Rifle Company, was in our hunting camp. Once the tents were up and gear stowed away, we pulled out our rifles to make sure the zero hadn’t changed on the bumpy flight. The first thing I noticed about Freeman’s rifle was that it was folded in half.
The stock had a hinge on it so the rifle could be compacted down, easily fitting in a backpack for a long haul, or in a duffle bag for a bush flight. Oregon Mountain Rifle Company – now based in Billings, Montana, after moving from the West Coast state last year – makes the Lonerock Ti Chassis, a rifle with precision long-distance accuracy yet is very lightweight, coming in under 6 pounds.

AR platforms broke into the hunting world several years ago and are
increasingly accepted at deer camp. Author Jason Brooks points out that
for centuries rifles have moved from the military to the civilian sphere

THE RIFLES THAT we take afield to hunt our favorite big game are often designed and put to the test on the battlefront first. This idea is not new and so when some anti-gun groups start spouting off about not needing an “assault rifle” to hunt deer, the hunter knows that the rifle is but a tool to use in the pursuit of their game. We want the best tools we can have to not only be a better hunter and shooter, but also to
be respectful of the animal we harvest for a quick and humane end to the hunt. The concept of using a “tactical” weapon for hunting is nothing new.
Let’s start with the end of the Revolutionary War, where soldiers learned to premeasure powder and
keep it in a paper pouch. This was the start to the modern cartridge case and made for quicker follow-up
shots to help put food on the table when the hunter took afield. Instead of pouring powder from a powder horn, they simply reached into their possibles bag, pulled out a paper pouch and tore it open to pour the necessary amount of dry powder into the rifle. Further advancements led to the primer and a metal case to hold a cartridge and make it weatherproof.
Advancements from the Civil War included the first glass telescopic scope and the “sniper,” making it possible for those arriving home from war to feed the family by taking game at astonishing distances.

And so through time, and war, the rifle has evolved, but it is still a tool. Some would argue that the Winchester Model 94 was an assault rifle of its time. The repeating firearm could shoot as fast as you could work the lever. This rifle was used to tame the West and led to the .30-30 Winchester, one of the most used whitetail rounds ever produced.
Today we have modern advancements in rifles that were tested in the battles in Iraq’s deserts and Afghanistan’s mountains. The rifles used by military marksmen are not the mass-produced, stand-in-lineand-shoot-the-silhouette rifles of the infantry. Instead, they are fine-tuned and customized to the shooter.

Once again, the hunter took up these arms and put the technology of accuracy to the test in the woods. Firearms manufacturers are now making semi-custom and custom rifles for the hunter that have the same comfortable feel as those used for fighting in a foreign land. And even those hunters who never served are realizing that an accurate rifle is an important tool.

OREGON MOUNTAIN RIFLE Company’s Lonerock Ti Chassis Rifle has other advantages besides its folding stock. The cheek piece is adjustable to fit tight against the shooter’s face, making for proper sight alignment. The length is adjustable, so the person behind it can easily have a proper “fit” to the firearm, and the stock itself is made from a polymer, making it ultralight.
Speaking of lightweight, the Lonerock Ti Chassis action is made of titanium. This light and extremely strong metal makes it possible to have a rifle that is sub-6 pounds and yet able to hit a target over 1,000 yards away. Freeman, OMRC’s owner, custom makes the barrels, which is what the company is known for. Barrels are carbon fiber-wrapped to long-range length, maximizing the ballistics of the hunter’s caliber of choice. At the end of the barrel is a brake that expels the gases to the sides and out of the top, but the bottom of the brake is solid. This allows the shooter to lie in a prone position and not have dust and debris fly up when they shoot. The design also keeps the muzzle “jump” to a minimum and reduces recoil, making shooting very comfortable. When topped with high quality glass, the shooter can often watch the round hit the target.
Several other firearms manufacturers also make custom and production rifles with similar configurations. Kimber Firearms Manufacturing has the Advanced Tactical SOC (Special Operations Ready) II and Savage produces the 110 Elite Precision in both right and left-handed options. Browning makes the X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Max LR with a camo finish to help conceal the hunter. Each of these rifles incorporates military and
police marksmanship details, from adjustable triggers to fine-tuning cheek pieces on the stock. Other
details include an oversized bolt handle, making the gun easy to grab with gloves on, and a rail to lock downthe scope with the proper eye relief.

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Ammunition manufacturers such as Hornady have also jumped into the “tactical hunter” world by coming up with new calibers that are extremely accurate and shoot heavy, high ballistic coefficient bullets to extreme yardages, hitting hard enough to kill an elk. In 2018, Hornady came out with the .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), answering the call from the US military to develop a round that could be easily carried afield yet have incredible far-reaching accuracy.
This round is a .375 Ruger necked down to the .308 bullet. Hornady didn’t stop at the cartridge, also
designing the chamber at the same time, allowing it to accept extremely long bullets that sit shallow in the
case. They came up with the 212-grain ELD-X with a ballistic coefficient of .663 and a drop at 500 yards of 38.4 inches with a 200-yard zero. Following up the .300 PRC is the 6.5 PRC, which puts the ever-popular
6.5 Creedmoor to shame. At hunting camp, Freeman’s Lonerock Ti was chambered in the 6.5 PRC and it was a very fast and flat-shooting tactical hunting rifle. But don’t count out that Creedmoor just yet, as it is offered in several of the tactical rifle platforms, including the Kimber, Browning and Savage models discussed already, and can take down deer-sized game very well. I took a whitetail in Idaho last fall and the 129-grain Accu bond by Nosler did a fine job.

THE FUNNY LOOKING “sniper” rifle being carried afield is very similar to the ones used in the battlefield. Of the Kimber, Savage and Browning models, two of them have a weight that matches that of the traditional sniper rifle, with the Kimber around 11 pounds and the Savage just above 12 pounds. These rifles would not be fun to carry while climbing a peak in the Rocky Mountains, but then again you could probably just shoot from the bottom of the hill and hit whatever you are aiming at.
Benchrest shooters also adhere to this same concept, using rifles often weighing 11 pounds or more. But this makes it hard to shoulder all day while hiking up steep mountains. Most rifles that use the marksmanship configuration geared towards hunters are lighter weight. The Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon LR is around 8 pounds. If you are looking for an extremely lightweight tactical rifle, again, OMRC’s Lonerock Ti Chassis is one of the lightest on the market at 5 pounds and change. With this in mind, it is important to use a rest. The tactical hunting rifle often accepts a bipod attachment, with some of these rifles having a rail on the bottom of the forend that can be mounted ona tripod, making for an extremely accurate platform to shoot from.

Though some argue that “military weapons” don’t belong in the deer woods, most of us who hunt would counterargue that all hunting rifles have deep-rooted military origins. The advancements that war brings are carried on the shoulders of the deer hunter and we owe it to our quarry to shoot accurate rifles and use the best gear we can. Several years ago, the AR platform was chambered in the .308, making it a very fine deer gun, but only if you cared to carry a heavy metal rifle around the woods. Quick follow-up shots were not a problem –unlike the bolt-action rifle – but with the AR platform, some nonhunters and even a few hunters took offense.
Over time it came to be a well accepted rifle. Now with the push to shoot farther and more accurately, utilizing scopes with built-in range finders and calibers with ballistic coefficients that defy gravity, it is time to accept the tactical rifle platform into deer camp.
There might come a day when an older hunter pulls out a Winchester Model 70 with a walnut stock and
topped with a Weaver 4x scope, causing the rest of the hunting camp to shake their head in amazement and wonder how that guy can hit anything with such a dinosaur of a rifle. 