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Revised and greatly expanded third edition. Truly a whole outdoors library in one volume.
Complete Outdoors Encylopedia
Hunting and Shooting
Popular rifle actions used today by sportsmen fall into two broad classifications--the repeating action and the single-shot action. An old but still another action design is the double-barreled rifle. The double rifle is extremely limited in use for a number of reasons which will be discussed in some detail later.
Among the repeaters, the most popular is the bolt-action rifle, which uses a manually operated steel bolt assembly to chamber and seal a cartridge in the breech. Two other repeating rifle mechanisms are the lever and pump, or slide, actions, which are also manually operated to chamber and seal cartridges for firing. Fourth and last of the repeating rifles is the semi-automatic or autoloader, an action that requires only a pull of the trigger to fire a cartridge, eject the spent case, chamber a new cartridge, and cock the rifle for the next shot.
The single-shot rifles come in three designs: The single-shot bolt action, which differs from the repeating bolt action in that it has no magazine or clip. The break action which, in simplest terms, utilizes a thumb lever to break open the rifle and expose the chamber for loading. The falling-block action, an old design that for all practical purposes was considered dead and obsolete only a few years ago. The Sturm, Ruger Company brought the strong falling-block design back to life in 1966 with the introduction of the Ruger No. 1 Single Shot. These various actions all have advantages and disadvantages. Only by examining each action in detail can hunters and target shooters select the most practical and effective rifle for their particular use.
Most widely used rifle in the field and on the range is the bolt action, and there are several good reasons for this. The bolt action is strong and simple. It disassembles easily for cleaning, an important factor for the hunter in the field. The bolt on most modern rifles can be easily slipped out of the receiver and wiped clean of dirt, sand, wet snow. With the bolt removed a hunter who has just taken a fall can simply glance through the breech to check for obstructions in the bore.
Because the bolt affords strong hand leverage, this action is also best for the shooter who handloads his own ammunition. The powerful pull of the bolt is an advantage when extracting dirty or stuck cases. Likewise, cases slightly oversize can usually be chambered with a bit more than normal pressure on closing the bolt. Because the bolt locks a cartridge at the head, the cases are not subjected to stretch when fired and only the neck of the cases generally need to be resized during the reloading process.
The bolt gun also has a one-piece stock which makes for better bedding of the action and barrel and produces greater accuracy than nearly all other rifle designs.
Who should use the bolt action? Because of its reliability and simplicity, the bolt-action rifle is the logical choice for hunters who prefer to hunt in remote areas, where gunsmiths and spare parts are scarce. Because of its superior accuracy, and the fact that it is chambered for nearly all flat-shooting, high-velocity cartridges, the bolt gun is a favorite among mountain and prairie hunters who are generally forced to take game at long ranges.
The bolt action also comes into its own as a target and benchrest rifle. The solid-locking action and one piece stock produces accuracy, and the entire rifle is most adaptable to alterations to satisfy the fancy of the serious target shooter.
Not all bolt-action rifles look alike and handle the same, however. Let's take a look at some typical factory models and learn the reasoning behind their design.
The Winchester Model 70 Standard is typical of bolt actions built for hunting. It is chambered for a variety of calibers, including the .225, .243, .270, .308 Winchester, .30/06 Springfield, .22/250 and .222 Remington. The Model 70 Standard has a 22-inch barrel and weighs 7 pounds. It is also available in a magnum model chambered for the .264, .300, and .338 Winchester Magnums, as well as the .375 H. & H. Magnum and the 7 mm. Remington Magnum. This range of calibers fills the bill for all North American game and roughly 90 percent of all African and Asian game.
The .460 Weatherby Magnum rifle fires the world's most powerful cartridge. The .460 Weatherby Magnum cartridge, using a 500-grain bullet, produces a muzzle energy of 8,100 foot-pounds. By comparison, the popular .30/06 with a 180-grain bullet has a muzzle energy of 2,910 foot-pounds. Though the .460 Weatherby Magnum is generally limited to the world's largest and most dangerous game, this rifle and caliber combination does point out that the bolt action's strong design can handle the most potent loads.
HOW A BOLT-ACTION RIFLE WORKS
1. Raising the bolt handle unlocks the bolt head from the barrel chamber. At the same time, notch at bottom of the bolt handle catches and pushes up protruding finger of the firing pin head, pushing firing pin to rear.
2. Moving bolt assembly back ejects the empty case. A circular spring in the end of the bolt (see detail) exerts pressure on the claw, holding the case tightly. When the mouth of the fired case clears the chamber, the spring-loaded ejector flips the case clear. The pressure of the magazine spring now raises a new cartridge to loading position.
3. Moving bolt handle forward and turning it downward locks the bolt in the chamber and seals in the cartridge. The sear engages notch on firing pin head, cocking the rifle. (Detail shows how bolt locks into barrel chamber.)
4. Pulling the trigger disengages sear from the notch on the firing pin head. The main spring forces the firing pin forward, detonating the cartridge.
Remington's Model 660 and the Mannlicher-Schoenauer are good examples of bolt-action carbines. Keeping barrel length down improves maneuverability in rough mountain terrain and heavy brush. The full-stocked Mannlicher, built with a 20-inch barrel, is chambered for high-velocity cartridges. It is a good choice for mountain hunters who may find heavy, long-barreled rifles awkward. The 20-inch barreled Remington 660 offers a range of calibers, from the flat-shooting .222 Remington to the brush-bucking .350 Remington Magnum, an excellent deer and bear cartridge for Eastern woods.
One of the more specialized bolt actions is the Winchester Model 70 Varmint, designed for shooting woodchucks, coyotes, foxes and any other varmints at long ranges. Most distinguishing characteristic is the heavyweight barrel, which affords steadier holding and consequently better accuracy. The rifle weighs about 9¾ lb., roughly 3 pounds more than the average bolt action, and has a 24-inch barrel.
The Model 70 Varmint comes without front and rear sights, as do most varminters, since these rifles invariably are mounted with scopes up to 12X. All bolt guns designated as varmint models are built for maximum range and precision shooting with high-velocity cartridges. This Winchester varmint rifle is available in .222 Remington, .22/50 Remington, .225 Winchester, and .243 Winchester calibers.
For the target shooter, the Anschutz 1407 Match 54 is typical of a finely designed target rifle. It is suitable for all National Rifle Association Matches and meets the requirements of the International Shooting Union. The 1407 Match weighs 10 pounds and has fully adjustable trigger pull. Chambered for .22 Long Rifle only, the rifle's receiver is grooved for micrometer iron sights.
Radical in design is the bolt-action Remington International Match Free Rifle which, as its name indicates, comes under the classification of free-class rifle. Rifles of this type are used in Olympic and World championship shootings. Available in rimfire and centerfire calibers, it has a heavy barrel, adjustable butt plate with hook, and an adjustable palm rest. It is drilled and tapped for receiver sights.
A sportsman looking for a .22 bolt action for informal shooting and small-game hunting will have little trouble finding a model to fill his needs. There are three basic designs for the popular rimfire and the differences deal mainly with cartridge capacity.
The Marlin Model 101, for example, is a single-shot rifle and ideal for beginners and youngsters. It is extremely safe because it must be loaded and cocked manually by pulling a T-shaped cocking knob at the rear of the bolt for each shot. There are also many single shots on the market that cock automatically when bolt is closed.
For those who want more ammunition in their guns, there are rifles such as the Mossberg Model 340K, which has a clip magazine with a capacity of seven cartridges. The bolt is simply operated to eject the spent cartridge and chamber a new round.
Another type of repeating bolt-action .22 is the tubular magazine rifle. The Stevens Model 46 is typical of this design. The tubular magazine holds up to 22 rounds without reloading. Here again the bolt is operated to eject the empty case and chamber a new round.
Repeating rifles, such as the Mossberg and Stevens models, are well suited for small game, varmint shooting, and plinking. The single shot, which admittedly has limitations, comes into its own as a boy's first rifle. Any of these .22 rifles have a lot going for them. The rimfire cartridge has almost no recoil or loud muzzle blast to unnerve the shooter, making it easy for beginners to learn proper trigger squeeze and sight picture. Since ammunition is inexpensive, the .22 is a good investment for the man who wants to use it for informal target shooting and plinking.
BOLT-ACTION RIFLES (CENTERFIRES)
BOLT-ACTION RIFLES (RIMFIRES)
HOW A LEVER-ACTION RIFLE WORKS
1. Beginning with the rifle loaded and cocked, pulling the trigger releases the upper end of the trigger from notch in the hammer, which springs forward and strikes the firing pin, which in turn detonates the cartridge.
2. Moving the finger lever forward moves the locking bolt downward, disengaging it from the bolt, and the finger level tip engages slot in the bolt and moves it rearward. As the bolt slides back, an extractor hook pulls the fired case from the chamber and a spring-loaded ejector on the opposite side of the bolt ejects the case. The magazine spring pushes the cartridge onto the carrier and a cam on the finger lever moves carrier upward toward the barrel chamber.
3. As the finger lever is moved to its forwardmost position and returned slightly, it engages a protruding pin on the carrier rocker and cams the carrier fully upward to the barrel chamber. As the finger lever is returned, its tip, which is engaged in the bolt slot, moves the bolt forward, pushing the cartridge into the chamber. Returning finger lever to the stock raises the locking bolt to matching notch in the bolt and aligns the safety firing pin (see Fig. 1). The gun is now ready for firing.
The lever-action rifle is deeply embedded in American history. Its design produced the first successful repeating rifle in America. It has been labeled "the gun that won the West," and it has become a favorite among deer hunters in the East and Northeast. Today, the smooth and fast lever gun has earned a permanent niche for itself in the hunting clan. Like any rifle design, however, the lever action has advantages and disadvantages. Let's examine the advantages first.
Though the lever gun is not as strong nor as accurate as the bolt-action rifle, it is faster to operate and easier to carry. Its narrow action and smooth lines make it an ideal scabbard gun for western hunters on horseback.
Combine the lever gun's quick handling for snap shots at moving game with the fact that most lever actions are generally chambered for medium-range deer cartridges and it's easy to understand why these rifles have also become a favorite among eastern and northeastern hunters, who get practically all their shots within 50 yards.
Another obvious advantage is that left-handed shooters can operate a lever action just as fast as a right-handed shooter. This is an important factor for the southpaw woods hunter to consider. Though he may have his heart set on a bolt action, he'd be better off with a lever gun, with which he can get off a second or third shot without lowering the rifle from his shoulder.
There are left-hand bolt-action rifles available, but they still cannot be handled from the shoulder as fast as a lever action. The left-handed bolt, however, is a good compromise for the woods hunter who may want to handload his own ammunition and supplement his deer trips with some varmint hunting and target shooting.
There is another advantage, though minor, that should at least be mentioned. The older-type lever actions, such as the Winchester 94 and the Marlin 336, offer an exposed hammer with half-cock safety. The safety is engaged by thumbing the hammer back halfway, where it locks in place. This is a convenient feature for cold-weather hunters who must wear heavy gloves and for left-handed shooters who find other safeties awkward to reach.
To fully cock the gun, the hammer is thumbed back all the way and the rifle is ready to be fired. If a hunter decides to pass up a shot, he simply holds the hammer with his thumb, depresses the trigger, and eases the hammer forward to half-cock safety. The simplicity of the exposed hammer design is a distinct advantage to sportsmen who hunt only a few weeks a year and it's also a safety feature to look for when shopping for a boy's first deer rifle.
The fast lever-action rifle, however, does have shortcomings. Because most lever guns are fitted with two-piece stocks, they are not as accurate as rifles with one-piece stocks. With some exceptions, the older type lever actions are not strong enough to handle the high pressures of some modern cartridges, and they do not have the camming power to chamber and extract dirty or oversized cartridges.
The breech bolts in most lever guns don't lock at the head of the cartridge and the brass cases invariably stretch on firing. This makes lever actions a poor choice for hand-loaders. While these faults are of little concern to the occasional hunter, they are important factors to the more avid rifleman.
Now that both advantages and disadvantages of lever-action rifles have been discussed, let's talk about some of these typical guns presently on the market and how they may vary slightly in design.
The Winchester 94 is the most familiar lever action to hunters. It features top ejection, side loading gate, tubular magazine, and exposed hammer with half-cock safety. In the carbine model, it measures 37¾ inches long and weighs about 61/2 pounds. It is chambered for the .30/30 Winchester and the .32 Winchester Special, two fine medium-class deer cartridges which can generally be expected to group at about 31/2 inches at 100 yards.
The Winchester 94 makes an ideal saddle gun where long ranges aren't encountered, and it is a handy lightweight deer gun in the wooded areas of the East and Northeast where most shots are within 100 yards. Both the .30/30 and .32 are adequate for medium-size big game.
The handy little Model 94 that everyone loves to handle and shoot does have some drawbacks. It is not a long-range weapon and is not chambered for modern high-velocity flat-shooting cartridges. Since it ejects spent cases from the top of the rifle it is not ideally suited for scope mounting, though scopes can be mounted offset and special scopes with long eye relief can be used. Since cases tend to stretch in the action, it is not a good choice for a hunter who plans to handload his own ammunition. All these factors should be taken into consideration when making a selection.
Another popular lever action is the Marlin 336C. It is chambered for the .30/30 Winchester and .35 Remington, both good brush cartridges that do their work well at medium ranges. In weight, length, and features, the Marlin 336C is similar to the Winchester Model 94. There is, however, one difference. The Marlin has a solid top receiver and ejects its empty cases from the side. This feature permits low scope mounting over the receiver.
The Marlin 336C has roughly the same drawbacks as the Winchester 94. While it is an ideal saddle rifle and deer gun for brush hunters who get most shots at medium-size big game at short ranges, it is not a good choice for the hunter who may want to use his rifle for long shots in prairie and mountain country. Nor is the Marlin 336 chambered for cartridges recommended for big North American game, such as grizzlies, brown bears, moose, and elk.
The Marlin Model 444 should be mentioned here, since it is the world's most powerful lever-action rifle. Using the basic Marlin 336 action design, the rifle is chambered for the .444 Marlin, a shoulderless cartridge which uses a 240-grain bullet and develops a muzzle energy of 3,070 foot-pounds and a muzzle velocity of 2,400 feet per second.
Up to 100 - 150 yards, the Marlin 444 is deadly on the biggest North American game. At longer ranges, however, both velocity and energy drop rapidly. This comparatively new addition to the Marlin line of lever actions falls into a peculiar position. While it is certainly capable of flattening any vitally hit deer that crosses its path, the awesome cartridge is needlessly powerful for most deer hunters. Because velocity and energy drops off at longer ranges, it does not meet the requirements of a mountain rifle. Perhaps the Marlin 444 is best suitable in such places as Alaska and Canada, where big brown bears, grizzlies, and moose are frequently taken at medium ranges.
Next on the list of popular lever actions is the Savage Model 99, a rifle that is quite different than the Marlin and Winchester lever guns. The Savage 99 uses a rotary magazine and cartridges are loaded from the top, much like a bolt action. In the late 1960's, however, Savage introduced one of its Model 99's with a clip magazine that can be removed from the rifle by pushing a release button on the side of the receiver.
The Model 99 ejects spent cases to the side, which makes the rifle suitable for scope use. While it is a hammerless lever action, the Model 99 has a cocking indicator forward of the tang safety. There is also an indicator on the side of the receiver to show how many rounds are in the magazine.
The Model 99 has a very strong action and it was perhaps the first lever action to be offered in a range of calibers that would push bullets faster and flatter than the typical, round-nosed deer cartridges.
As early as 1914, the Model 99 offered hunters the .250/3000, which drove an 87-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second, a sensational speed in those years. Today, the Model 99 in various grades is chambered for five calibers--.300 Savage, .250/3000, .243 Winchester, .284 Winchester, and .308 Winchester. Because of this range of calibers, compared with those offered in the Winchester and Marlin models, the Savage Model 99 has a slight edge in offering the lever fan a gun that is not necessarily restricted to timber and brush country.
The .243, .250/3000, and .284 Winchester, for example, can be used on medium-size big game in plains or mountain country, where flat trajectory and high velocity are an asset. The .243, using an 80-grain bullet, will also produce good results on long-range gunning for coyotes, woodchucks, and other varmints.
Most unique in the Winchester family of lever actions is the Model 88, a rifle designed for short, high-velocity cartridges. Several characteristics distinguish the Model 88 from older-type lever guns. First it utilizes a strong breech bolt with lugs that lock and turn into the receiver, which makes the rifle basically a bolt action. Because of this design, the bolt has camming power and cases do not stretch. What this means is that the Model 88 is the only lever action most suitable for handloaded ammuntion.
The Winchester 88 also has a one-piece stock, which produces better accuracy than lever guns with two-piece stocks. A hammerless rifle, it has solid top, side ejection, and detachable clip magazine.
This model is presently chambered for the .243, .284, and .308 Winchester cartridges. In .308, this Winchester lever action makes a fine deer rifle in timber and brush country. In .243 and .284, the Model 88 is suitable for plains and mountain hunting.
It is sufficient to say here that there are many good .22 lever-action rifles on the market. While they cannot be considered fine target rifles, the .22 lever guns are enjoyable to use for small-game hunting, plinking, and informal target shooting. Choice is largely a matter of personal preference and the price tag.
Slide, or Pump, Action
Stated simply, the slide, or pump, action is operated by a quick backward and forward movement of the fore-end. This action ejects the spent case, rechambers a fresh cartridge, and cocks the rifle for the next shot.
The pump's obvious advantages are that it can be reloaded manually from the shoulder and it is faster than a lever action. It is a handy brush and timber rifle. The hunter accustomed to pump shotguns will also find this type of rifle a natural to use.
The pump has drawbacks, however. It has a two-piece stock and is therefore not as accurate as a bolt action. In addition, the pump's mechanism is not strong enough to chamber and eject handloaded ammunition whose cases have not been resized to original tolerances. The pump is not a good choice for the hunter looking for maximum accuracy and a rifle that will readily take all handloads.
This pump is a good choice, though, for the deer hunter who puts a great deal of faith in getting off a fast second shot in heavy cover, does not use handloaded ammunition, and uses a pump shotgun on gamebirds and small game.
Remington is one major manufacturer turning out a pump-action rifle in a variety of big-game cartridges. Remington labels its pump the Model 760 and it's chambered for the 6mm. Remington, .270 Winchester, the .30/06, .308 Winchester, and .243 Winchester Remington. With such a choice of calibers, the pump-action fan can now get himself such a rifle for game ranging from varmints to moose.
The Model 760 has a detachable clip magazine and weighs about 71/2 pounds. It has solid top and ejects cases from the side, two features which make the Model 760 good for scope mounting. It is a reliable hunting rifle for men who feel strongly about firepower.
In the .22 class, the pump action has definitely made a place for itself among small-game hunters and plinkers. While it is definitely outclassed on the target range by bolt actions, the little .22 pump and its firepower has taken more than its share of cottontails, squirrels, pests, and other small game. Nearly all of the modern .22 pumps have tubular magazines, side ejection, and are grooved for tip-off scope mounting. These pumps are an excellent choice for hunters who want to add an all-purpose .22 to their gun racks.
HOW A PUMP-ACTION RIFLE WORKS
1. Moving the fore-end rearward pushes back the action bar and the bolt assembly, which in turn moves the hammer downward and ejects the empty case. Ejection is accomplished by a circular spring in the end of the bolt (see detail, showing top view) with a claw which hooks under rim of the cartridge and pulls it out of the chamber. When the case clears the chamber, the ejector spring in the bolt flips the case out. Then the magazine spring moves a new cartridge upward.
2. Moving the fore-end forward locks the cartridge in the barrel chamber. The notch in the sear holds the hammer so that the rifle is cocked. As the bolt carrier is moved forward, the threads on the bolt contact the locking lugs (see detail). Continued movement of the bolt carrier causes the cam pin on the carrier to engage a curved slot in the bolt, turning the bolt and threading it into locking lugs.
3. Pulling the trigger disengages the sear from notch on the hammer. The main spring forces the hammer against the firing pin, detonating the cartridge. The safety lock and a disconnecting device, which prevents the rifle from going off until the action is closed, is not shown to allow maximum clarity.
Semi-Automatic or Autoloading Rifle
The basic requirements of a good hunting rifle are accuracy, reliability, and safety. The semi-automatic or autoloading rifles do not meet these requirements as well as other rifle actions available to sportsmen.
In discussing the semi-automatics and autoloaders, we shall simply refer to them as automatics, since this is what they are most often called by sportsmen. It should be made clear, however, that semi-automatics and autoloaders are not fully automatic, which means that they do not continue to fire as long as the trigger is held back. Such a rifle would, in effect, be a machine gun. Fully automatic rifles are not on the sporting market today and their possession by unauthorized personnel is prohibited by federal law.
Since no manual operation of any lever, bolt, or slide is required with an automatic after the first shot, the biggest advantage of such a rifle has to be firepower. Those quick second or third shots can sometimes mean meat in the pot for hunters in heavy timber or brushy areas. The automatic's usefulness, however, seems restricted to such conditions.
The advantage of firepower can also be a double-edged sword. A big-game hunter, knowing he has only to squeeze the trigger again to send another bullet on its way, may well present a dangerous situation in the woods. For reasons which we will not analyze here, there is a tendency for some users of automatics to empty their clips at fleeing big game after missing that first important shot. This, obviously, is dangerous in thickly wooded areas where other hunters are around. Several states, in fact, prohibit the use of automatics for big-game hunting.
The automatic falls short on other counts. It is not as accurate as the bolt action. It is a poor choice for hunters who may have to take big game or varmints at long range. The automatic design is also tough on cases and tosses them far from the shooter, so it is also a poor choice for the hand-loader. The gas-operated automatic is not a simple mechanism and is more likely to have malfunctions than other types of rifle actions. The hunter heading into a remote area for an extended hunt would be better off with a bolt action.
While there are some variations to the design of the automatic, these rifles still rely on one of two sources of power for their operation--recoil or gas. Both systems will be explained here very briefly. Readers interested in a detailed treatment of automatic-rifle design can find this information in any specialized gun book.
The recoil system, or blow-back, utilizes a breechblock that is held against the head of the case by a spring. When a cartridge is fired, the breechblock moves to the rear, against spring tension, and ejects the fired case. As the spring moves the breechblock forward, it cocks the rifle and picks up and chambers a fresh round.
Two typical modern rifles that use this recoil, or blow-back, mechanism are the Colt Colteer Carbine, a handy little .22 that holds 15 rounds in its tubular magazine; and the Mossberg Model 350K, a good small-game and plinking rifle that differs from the Colt in that it has a clip-fed magazine. Both of these rifles are effective field guns in the hands of those familiar with firearms. These automatics are not for beginners. On a target range, they should be loaded one round at a time. And they are not recommended as a "boy's first gun."
HOW AN AUTOLOADING RIFLE WORKS
1. Beginning with rifle loaded and cocked, pulling the trigger disengages the sear from notch on the hammer. The hammer spring forces the hammer against the firing pin, exploding the cartridge. After the bullet passes the port, residual gases are metered downward through the barrel opening into the impulse chamber in the fore-end.
2. Gases force the action bar and bolt-assembly rearward, compressing the action spring, pushing down the hammer and ejecting the empty case. Further rearward travel of the bolt permits the next cartridge to raise into the path of the returning bolt. The ejection mechanism (see detail, showing top view) is the same as in the pump action.
3. Compressed action spring moves the action bar and bolt-assembly forward, causing multiple lugs to lock the bolt into place (see detail also), sealing the cartridge tightly in the barrel chamber. The notch in the sear holds the hammer in cocked position. Pulling the trigger sets the weapon in motion as in the first diagram. The safety lock and a disconnecting device, which prevents the rifle from going off until the action is closed, is not shown to allow maximum clarity.
Since the recoil, or blow-back, system used in these and nearly all other .22 automatics does not have a locking breechblock, the design is somewhat limited to rimfire and centerfire cartridges that develop low pressures. There are some modified blow-back designs, such as retarded blow-back, short recoil, and long recoil systems. It is sufficient to say here, however, that they all rely on the same basic principle of recoil for their operation.
Automatics that depend on expanding gas, not recoil, for their operation are quite different in design. In these gas-operated rifles, a hole is drilled through the barrel to channel off gas from the first shot to provide power to work the action. Here is how it works. After that first bullet passes over the hole in the barrel, gases enter the hole and go into a piston chamber in the fore-end. The piston forces a rod that unlocks the breechbolt and pushes it to the rear to eject the spent case and recock the rifle. At this point, a recoil spring takes over. The spring drives breechbolt, rod, and piston forward. On this forward movement, a new cartridge is picked up and chambered for the next shot.
Because these gas-operated automatics have a breechbolt with lugs that lock at the head of the case, these rifles can take cartridges that develop very high pressures. One example is the magnum version of the Browning Automatic Rifle, which is presently chambered for the 7 mm. Remington, .300 Winchester, and .338 Winchester magnum cartridges. It is also available in .30/06, .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, and .243 Winchester.
The Winchester Model 100 and Remington Model 742 Woodsmaster are two more examples of automatic rifles designed for high-pressure big-game cartridges. The Winchester 100 is chambered in .243 Winchester, .284 Winchester, and .308 Winchester calibers. The Remington 742 offers a choice of .243 Winchester, .30/06, .280 Remington, .308 Winchester, and 6 mm. Remington calibers. Both models have a detachable clip magazine.
If you choose an automatic rifle for big game, after weighing all the advantages and disadvantages, you can't go wrong by selecting one of the rifles covered in this section. All are as reliable and accurate as an automatic can be. Among the various models, you'll also find a range of calibers from flat-shooting high-velocity loads to the big magnums.
The single shot fills many outdoor needs and it is disappointing to see that so little attention is given to these firearms in the typical gun book. True, the single shot may never find a place among experienced whitetail hunters in the Northeast, nor will the big-game hunters fall in love with such a gun. And most bear hunters in Alaska and Canada will feel far from secure with a slow-operating single shot.
With a few exceptions, which will be discussed later, all American single-shot rifles are either .22 bolt actions or break actions. These rifles come into their own as a beginner's gun, a utility gun, a plinking gun, a trapper's and farmer's gun, or, where laws allow, a part of a camper's gear. Because these are not specialized weapons, they fill a variety of needs for sportsmen.
The bolt-action single shots manufactured in the United States are all .22's. Some offer full-size stocks for adults or shortened scaled-down models for youngsters. Some cock automatically when a round is chambered; others must be cocked manually after the bolt is closed on the cartridge.
Remington, for example, offers its Model 514 and 514 BR. The 514 is a single-shot .22 with adult size stock and overall measurement of 41 inches. The 514 BR is identical to the 514 except for a youth stock of 121/2 inches and overall measurement of 40 inches. The cutting is almost always done in the stock; not the barrel. Both versions, incidentally, are self-cocking with automatic safety.
The .22 single shot that must be cocked manually after the bolt is closed on a cartridge, such as the Marlin Model 101, would logically be a better and safer choice for a boy's first rifle. It is easy for a father, as well as his son to see at a glance whether the rifle is cocked. Since the young shooter will be hunting with only one round in his rifle, he will be forced to learn not to waste his shot. He will also learn to aim carefully and master proper trigger control.
The second type of single shot manufactured in the United States is the break-action rifle. With the exception of custom varmint rifles, few single-shot guns of this type are available today. One such rifle is the Harrington & Richardson Model 158 Topper which has interchangeable barrels chambered for the .30/30 cartridge and 20 gauge shotshell. With this combination, the Model 158 fares well as a beginner's deer or small-game gun, especially if cost is a consideration.
Theoretically, a hunter could take on deer, black bears, and small game with this one gun and a couple of barrels. It's a practical package for the budget-minded sportsman.
The demand for a good single-shot rifle was apparently recognized by the Sturm, Ruger Company back in 1966, when Bill Ruger introduced the No 1 Single Shot Rifle. Inspired by the old Farquharson action, the Ruger No. 1 has an underlever that operates a falling-block action. It is chambered for calibers ranging from .22/250 to .458 Winchester Magnum.
Another single-shot rifle, introduced in 1969, is the Sharps Model 78. This modern single-shot, patterned after the old Sharps-Borchardt rifle of 1878, is manufactured by the Sharps Arms Company (no connection with the original and no longer existent Sharps-Borchardt firm). The Sharps 78 uses a strong falling-block action activated by a finger lever. One interesting feature of the Sharps rifle is its selective safety. By turning an adjustment screw, the safety can be either automatic or manual.
The Model 78 is available in calibers ranging from .17 to .50, including several unique cartridges as the .348 Sharps High Velocity, the .45/75 Sharps H.V., the .50/70 Sharps H.V., and the .17/222 Sharps. For the more conventional shooter, the Model 78 is chambered for the .30/06, the 7 mm. Magnum, the .264 Winchester Magnum, the .222 Remington Magnum--to name a few.
The Sharps Model 78 and the Ruger No. 1 are strong and rugged rifles available in a wide range of calibers. Mounted with carefully selected scope sights, either of these rifles should prove more than adequate for varmint and big-game hunting. Sheep hunters may find these single-shot rifles handy sporting arms for mountain hunting. Some hunters may feel handicapped with a single shot, but it's almost always the first shot that counts.
Savage, in 1972, in response to perhaps both demand and a nostalgic craving among the gun clan, brought back the Steven's Favorite, a .22 single shot with a falling block action. It's now available in two models, one with an octagon barrel and the other with a round barrel. It's a good plinker and a dependable little rifle.
Doubles and Combination Guns
The double rifle, in simplest terms, is a double-barreled shotgun action with a strengthened frame, two rifle barrels, and iron sights. It can and has been chambered for a wide range of calibers, from .22 to .470. Because it has no long receiver, the double is short, handy, and fast. In fact, it is the fastest two-shot high-power rifle made.
These features would appear to make the double a dream gun for North American big game taken at medium ranges, but such is not the case. It is extremely unlikely that a double-barreled rifle will ever be manufactured in the United States. Even in England, where most doubles are made, they are generally available only on special order. And in Africa and India, where the double rifle earned a reputation for stopping dangerous game, this unique gun is on the wane. It is gradually being replaced by strong bolt actions, such as the .458 Winchester Model 70 and the Weatherby .460 Magnum.
The biggest reason for the decrease in the double rifle is its high cost of manufacture. Getting both barrels aligned so that they place their bullets at the same point of aim, usually 80 or 100 yards, is a tedious and expensive task. It is done by repeated shooting and regulating of a wedge between the barrels until the bullets from both barrels have the same point of impact. The double is also two rifles with two sets of locks and two triggers. What all this means to the hunter is that a good double-barreled rifle may have a price tag ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.
In addition to high cost, the double has other drawbacks. The ejectors frequently lack the power to pull or toss out stretched or dirty cases. And once a double is sighted for one particular load, other loads cannot be effectively used. As for accuracy, the doubles cannot compete with the comparatively new strong bolt-action repeaters built today. The double rifle has a romantic background, but it cannot be considered a practical firearm for the American hunter.
Combination guns are an interesting breed of rifle and shotgun. Longtime favorites in Europe, they are slowly becoming more popular in the United States. In areas where hunting seasons overlap and laws permit, the combination gun can be a good choice. It can also fill in as an off-season gun for plinking, chuck hunting, crow shooting, and so on.
Basically, there are eight types of combination guns: a rifle barrel under two shotgun barrels, an over-and-under shotgun and rifle combination, a shotgun barrel and two rifle barrels below and to the side, a four-barreled model with two shotgun barrels side by side and two rifle barrels underneath, a double-barreled rifle with a shotgun barrel underneath, an over-and-under shotgun with a rifle barrel to the side, a side by side double-barreled shotgun with rifle barrel on top, and a side by side shotgun and rifle combination.
VARIOUS COMBINATION GUN DESIGNS
Several of these combination guns are of uncommon design and rarely seen today. They are generally of European origin, most being built in Germany. It is interesting to note, however, that such a variety of combinations have been conceived by gun builders.
Unfortunately, nearly all European combination guns and drillings (any three-barreled combination) are quite expensive. Ferlach, for example, manufactures an over-and-under offering a choice of three shotgun gauges in the top barrel and more than seven rifle calibers in the bottom barrel. This particular Ferlach, labeled Turkey Gun, can be ordered with 12-gauge barrels on top and a .30/06 barrel underneath. Such a rifle could be quite useful to the deer hunter who may also want to take a grouse or two on the same hunt. Or the shotgun barrel could be loaded with buckshot for the big buck that often bursts out of the brush and offers only a fast snapshot. The only drawback is that this Ferlach combination gun is priced at about $525, about four times as much as the average American hunter pays for his rifle or shotgun.
Ferlach also builds a typical drilling (three barrels), two shotgun barrels side-by-side with a rifle barrel underneath. With 12-gauge barrels, this drilling offers a wide range of calibers for the bottom rifle barrel, including the .222, .243, .257 Roberts, 6.5 x 55, 7 x 57, and others. This Ferlach model weighs 7 to 71/2 pounds and has a 25-inch barrel. Price is about $700.
There are several other European firms offering such combination guns. Hege, a German manufacturer, makes a boxlock over-and-under and the purchaser can choose between 12 and 20 gauge for the top barrel and .222 or .30/06 for the bottom barrel. Voere makes a combination gun with a single 20 gauge barrel on top and .222, .222 Magnum, or .223 for the bottom barrel. Krieghoff produces a model with side-by-side 12-gauge barrels over a rifle barrel that can be had in .30/06 or 7 mm. Magnum.
While European combination guns are well-made and quite practical under certain situations, hunters have not been flocking to gun shops to place orders for them. The main reason is cost. These guns, and only a few are mentioned here, can run from $500 to $3,000 or more.
The manufacture of these combination guns in the United States is limited to only a few companies. Savage Arms is the only major firm in America that has continued to build and improve an over-and-under rifle-shotgun combination. Its early models wore a .22 barrel over a .410. Today, labeled the Model 24, the gun is available in .22, .22 Magnum, .222 Remington, or .30/30 in the top barrel and .410 or 20 gauge in the lower barrel.
Depending on grade and specifications, the Savage Model 24 ranges from about $67 to $100. A break-action design, the Savage combination is grooved for scope mounts and has a spur on the hammer for barrel selection.
Staggs-Bilt, another American manufacturer, also has a rifle-shotgun combination on the market. A break action that utilizes a lower lever instead of the usual thumb lever, this over-and-under offers a 20-gauge top barrel and a .30/30 lower barrel. Two triggers take the place of a barrel selector device. The gun has a price tag of about $100.
Both the Savage and Staggs-Bilt combination guns are priced well below the European models and within reach of most hunters. They are practical guns and deserve a place in any gun rack.
Scope mounted, the Savage 24 makes an ideal turkey and varmint gun. It's fine for plinking and a good gun for camp, one that would earn its keep by providing small game and birds for the pot. For the farmer, it will keep pests under control. And, should the occasion arise, the Savage 24 could fill in as an ideal survival weapon. It provides the shooter with a choice of a bullet or shot to take his game. When not in use, the Savage 24 takes down and stows easily.
The Staggs-Bilt combination should interest the deer hunter who may want to take an occasional grouse for camp or hunt small game if he gets his buck early in the hunt. And, where game laws permit, he can load his 20-gauge barrel with a rifled slug to insure a second shot at a buck if it is within slug range.
In spite of constant improvements and new additions to the line of modern firearms available today, the revival of interest in muzzle-loading rifles that marked early Americana cannot be ignored. This revival had its start back in the 1930's and it has been gaining momentum ever since.
Muzzle-loaders have their own organization, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, with a membership of nearly 10,000 and about 165 affiliated clubs. There are national and inter-club shoots with both rifle and pistol, as well as trapshooting and bench-rest events. These unique and colorful matches are generally governed by the rules and regulations of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.
More than a few states have also recognized this comparatively new interest in these front-loading guns and have initiated special seasons for muzzle-loading hunters. Thereis no doubt that these old-time guns are capable of knocking down big game. Generally ranging from .36 to .58 caliber, muzzle-loaders have accounted for a good number of deer, elk, and bear.
A typical muzzle-loader for deer hunting, for example, will throw a .50 caliber ball, when seated on 120 grains of black powder, at a muzzle velocity of about 2,200 to 2,300 feet per second. The rifle ball will drop only about two inches at 100 yards and the average shooter should have little trouble shooting offhand at that range and keeping nearly all his shots in an eight-inch circle.
This chapter is not intended to trace the history of these early front-loading guns, but only to familiarize readers with the two basic types of rifled muzzle-loaders in use today, whether they be of modern manufacture or renovated antiques. The two types are the flintlock and the percussion (caplock) rifle.
The flintlock, which uses a piece of flint to ignite a powder charge and send a rifle ball on its way, was most widely used in the late 18th Century. Loading and firing the flintlock actually takes longer to explain than to do. Personal preferences may account for some minor variations in the loading procedure, but the basic steps are essentially the same.
First, a measured charge of black powder is poured down the barrel. Next, a patch cloth wet with spit, vaseline, or oil is placed over the muzzle and a rifle ball set on top of the patch. Using a "starter," generally a round piece of hard wood a bit less than the diameter of the bore, the ball is seated only far enough in the barrel so that the top of the ball is approximately 1/8 inch from the muzzle. The patch cloth is now gathered up at the muzzle and surplus material is cut off flush with the muzzle. A second starter, also a round piece of hard wood, is sometimes used to seat the ball about six inches down the bore before the full-length ramrod used, but this additional step is generally considered optional. Now the ramrod is used to firmly seat the ball and patch down the full length of the bore and against the black powder charge. It is important not to use hard force in the seating procedure, since it may deform the ball and effect accuracy.
FIRING MECHANISM OF A FLINTLOCK
The final step is priming the flashpan by filling it with a few grains of black powder, and covering it with the combination battery and pan cover. This final step is done with the flintlock at half cock. When the hammer (or cock) is thumbed back to full cock position, the muzzle-loader is ready to fire.
When the trigger is squeezed off, the hammer holding the flint snaps down, strikes the battery, and sends a shower of sparks into the flashpan. The sparks ignite the powder in the flashpan which in turn explodes the black-powder charge in the barrel via a touch hole in the pan. The rifle ball is on its way to the target.
Much more in use today is the percussion (caplock) muzzle-loader. The percussion cap, which holds a mixture of potassium chlorate and fulminate mercury, does basically the same job as the modern centerfire cartridge primer. The cap, in effect, is the sparkplug that fires the muzzle-loader.
The loading process for the percussion rifle is essentially the same as for the flintlock, except the cap replaces the flint and flashpan. Once the patch and ball are seated firmly against the powder charge, a cup-shaped percussion cap is placed over a nipple, which is designed to fit the inside of the cap. At the squeeze of the trigger, the hammer strikes the cap, igniting the percussion mixture, and sending flame down through the nipple to explode the powder charge and launch the rifle ball.
In addition to the modern manufacture of muzzle-loaders, there are more than a few custom builders who will turn out these old-time guns to meet nearly any requirement of the purchaser. These rare craftsmen take pride in their work, which is just about all done by hand.
Three such men are George Dech of Nazareth, Pennsylvania; Andy Fautheree of Galt, California; and Mark Matteson of Canajoharie, New York. Fautheree specializes in Pennsylvania muzzle-loaders. Because all his work is done by hand, he builds these front-loaders on a limited scale and the price tags for his muzzle-loaders start at $500.
Dech uses commercial barrels and locks, and seeks out the finest wood available. About 95 percent of the work is by hand. Depending on the amount of engraving, carving and inlay work, Dech's muzzle-loaders range about $450.
One of Matteson's unique muzzle-loaders is a custom double-barreled Kentucky rifle. The two barrels, built one over the other, utilize the same hammer, but each has its own flashpan and battery. The two barrels revolve on a pin or bolt which passes through two stationary blocks of steel one block fastened to the barrels, the other to the stock and lock. The barrels are free to pivot when the trigger guard is squeezed up against the trigger plate, releasing a catch. Operation is easy. After top barrel is fired, the barrels are revolved by hand so that the bottom barrel is on top and in firing position for a second shot.
Accessories. Since a cartridge is literally assembled in a muzzle-loader for each shot, it is necessary for the shooter to carry certain tools and equipment with him. A small tool box works well for the muzzle-loader who restricts his shooting to a rifle range. The items in such a box should include the following:
Rifle balls Percussion caps (or extra flints) Patch material Black powder (both coarse and fine) Adjustable powder measure Knife for trimming patches Nipple wrench Flannel cleaning patches Extra nipples
Short brass rod for tapping open sights for windage adjustment
Gun oil Vaseline Starter rod Screwdriver Light hammer
The muzzle-loading hunter, on the other hand, must travel as light as possible. He's better off carrying his equipment in a shoulder pouch. His gear should include powder horn, powder measure, patch knife, percussion caps or spare flints, patch material, rifle balls, starter rod. Naturally, these accessories will vary, depending on whether the hunter is using a flintlock or percussion rifle.
The shooter who accepts the challenge of these old-time guns should also familiarize himself with certain precautions that must be taken. First, and most important, never use any powder except black powder in a muzzle-loader. And always handle black powder very carefully. It is a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulphur. The combination is highly flammable and ignites easily.
The letters FG are used to identify the various granulations of black powder. FG is the symbol for the coarsest black powder available; FFFFG the finest. FFG and FFFG is the size most commonly used by muzzle-loaders. FFFFG, which ignites rapidly, is frequently used in flintlocks for priming the flashpan.
It is also a healthy practice, before loading, to check a muzzle-loader to be sure a charge of black powder has not already been poured down the barrel. This safety measure is easily done by snapping a percussion cap with no ball or powder charge in the barrel. The cap will also clear the nipple hole of dirt in addition to making sure there is not an old load of powder in the gun.
Finally, any newcomer to the muzzle-loading clan should seek reliable advice and carefully read available loading data published on these old-time guns before heading for the field or range with one of them. There are many good sources of detailed information on the subject, and an excellent start would be to contact the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, Box 67, Friendship, Indiana 47201.
Copyright © 1972 by Vin T. Sparano
|Pt. 1||Hunting and Shooting|
|Pt. 2||Game Animals and Birds|
|Pt. 4||Game Fish|
|Pt. 8||Archery and Bowhunting|
|Pt. 9||Hunting Dogs|
|Pt. 10||First Aid|
|Pt. 11||Outdoor Information Sources|