After a recent conversation with a friend of mine, who happens to be a retired police officer and a very avid hunter, I felt prompted to expound on the discussion. We talked about hunting rifles and how the various styles and designs have evolved over the years. Everyone’s got their own taste, but we both felt that a classic-style hunting rifle weighing between 7 and 9 pounds was about perfect. Obviously, not everyone is going to agree.
Not too long after I bought Old Reliable, I began to look into extra add-ons one could buy to “trick it out” because I was 20 years old and that seemed like the thing to do at the time. I bought one of those elastic buttstock cartridge holders, a 4-12 variable scope (because 3-9 was suddenly not enough power) and finally a 9-inch bipod that could be conveniently mounted to the front sling swivel of the stock. The bipod had spring loaded leg extensions that would raise the height of your bipod to 14 inches in case the dandelions were blocking your view while laying prone.
This took my 8.5-pound rifle and made it 11.5-12 pounds in weight. Like pennies make dollars, ounces make pounds. Oh, carrying it from the house to the pickup, shooting it off the bench or laying prone, I didn’t even notice it, but elk are seldom found in places you can hunt from the bench rest. As I continued to hunt with this heavier setup I began to realize that extra gear was not the key to success. The bipod took time to deploy and setup, time I often didn’t have. It changed the balance of my rifle, making offhand shots feel awkward. I ended up mostly shooting from a sitting position or a standing rest, making the bipod literally only extra weight.
So, and not to discourage those who make good use of such appliances, I began to reduce the weight of my tricked-out rifle rather than opting to carry the superfluous extra weight. The elastic in the cartridge holder had stretched to point it was flaccid so it was the first to go. Not long after the bipod was put onto a rifle that is only fired from a bench rest, where it makes the most sense. And eventually I decided that my 4-12x, although fun for blasting away at long distance targets, was unnecessary for the lion’s share of my hunting. I only used the 12x setting for sighting in and left it on 6x the rest of the time. Looking back at my own hunting experience and informally surveying friends and family, I realized that 85-90% of the deer and elk we have taken have been inside of 250 yards. So I went back to my 3-9x for quite a while and ultimately went with a 2.5-8x on Old Reliable. There are those of considerable reputation in the hunting world that espouse a fixed 6x scope as being enough for the average deer hunter. Scopes are like ice cream: There are all sorts of flavors. Get what you want, but the higher the magnification, the greater the weight it adds.
I think in the subconscious of every shooter there is a stigma that believes that if Joe Average shoots 85% of his game inside of 250 yards then he should be able to shoot out to at least twice that far. After all, what about that proverbial “Kobayashi Maru” scenario we all hear about? You know, where our stoic hunter, climbing cliffs and mountains for a week straight, unbathed since he or she left civilization and on the last day of the season, 30 seconds before pitch dark sees the next Boone and Crockett record book trophy and must take the 1,027-yard shot or else suffer perpetual nincompoopery thereafter? Oh yeah, this happens all the time. Ask anybody, especially younger hunters.
Good thing our hunter has his 18-pound PRS competition rifle, all tricked out of course, slung conveniently across his back. The bipod legs extend to 60 inches, which are tall enough that he won’t be laying prone in the brush. Under the suppressor at the end of his carbon 36-inch barrel (the suppressor only adds another 8 inches) is a muzzle brake so he won’t have to feel the punishing recoil of his 6.5 Creedmoor Ackley Improved 42-degree custom wildcat. With a Twilightmax 5.5-75x scope, he is able to pick out the exact pore he wants to place the 350-grain .26-caliber bullet (it’s all about B.C.) into even from that distance. Aim small, miss small, right?
There are ethical hunters out there who can place their bullets into small groups way, way out there. I cannot deny that. But does the average Joe or Jane have the need for, the skills to take advantage of or the money to buy such a rig? How often really are we faced with 1,000-yard shots on the last day of the season? How many average hunters feel confident in taking that long of a poke? Will you be able to lug a tricked out rifle up and down the mountains at age 50? How about 60?
To cut this corner, rifle manufacturers are using the most ultralight actions, carbon barrels and Tupperware stocks to enable those who want all of the traditionally weight-adding accoutrements to have their cake and eat it too. Are they the future of firearms, making walnut and steel the next chapter at the museum? Who is to say.
If you can afford a rifle like our hypothetical hunter was carrying, by all means buy it for yourself if you think that’s what you need. Learn to shoot it. Nobody ever had too much range time. I’m sure it will kill deer and elk, 85% of which will be inside of 250 yards, just fine. As for me, I just don’t want to carry the extra weight.
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