Firearms have always been a part of Canadian history. When the pioneers began moving west, all had at least one rifle and a good supply of ammunition. Revolvers were a part of every day attire and open carry was still common one hundred years ago. Today, a very strict licensing process and back round checks in place for those wishing to purchase a firearm for hunting or sport shooting. But once you pass all requirements it’s time to think about what sort of rifle you will need.
This article focuses on the basics of firearms and is geared towards new shooters’ who may feel overwhelmed when it comes to selecting their first rifle.
A TOOL LIKE ANY OTHER
Many new shooters’ ans well as experienced hunters often walk into a gun store looking for the “best all-round caliber and rifle”. Many feel that they can pick that one item of the shelf that will do everything and be done with it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A rifle should be looked at as a tool and there is no tool that can help you change the oil on your truck, repair the roof on your house and do the gardening. Firearms work the same way.
For example, a hunter who hunts big horn sheep in the mountains, will have completely different requirements than someone who is walking a cut line looking for a Mule deer and someone who is shooting paper targets. Every situation calls for a specific tool and the shooter should understand what his particular situation calls for.
The rifle will most likely be the first part of the package that will be purchased. Once again, choose the correct tool for the job. Those wishing to purchase a rifle which will be their hunting rifle and a target rifle will most likely be disappointed. A hunting rifle will be built light. A long, light barrel means that it will heat up fast when ammunition is fired. When the barrel heats up, accuracy will decrease. The reason why hunting barrels are light is weight reduction. Hunters usually do a bit of walking, sometimes lots of walking, and that’s why their rifles are light. Most rifles today come with free-floating barrel. This means that nothing touches the barrel itself and only the action of the rifle makes contact with the bedding system or the stock. Free float barrels greatly enhance accuracy. On a hunting rifle, the stock will either be synthetic, wood or laminate. In terms of accuracy, it doesn’t much matter which stock you end up with but the wood ones usually dent and scratch much easier than synthetic.
If you are a target shooter, you will need a heavy barrel and heavy stock. This will help in keeping the barrel cool longer which means the shooter will be able to put significantly more bullets down range and not compromise accuracy. Also, the overall weight of the rifle will reduce recoil and keep the muzzle on the target. This means faster follow up shot and less worry about a sore shoulder. The stock should preferably have an adjustable cheek riser and length of pull which is the distance from the middle of the trigger to the end of the rifle’s stock. Precision and sniper rifles will have these features to help the shooter compensate for various changes in shooting terrain and conditions. As a result, precision or sniper rifles are necessarily heavy to be carried around by hunters.
This butt stock provides an adjustable Length of Pull (Distance from the center of the trigger to the end of the stock and cheek piece)
There are hundreds of calibers on the market today and many new shooters’ gravitate to the biggest and baddest magnums right off the bat. There is a very common train of thought that one has to have a big cannon to take down big game and the arguments about which caliber and bullet is best for a given animal are virtually endless. For that reason, I will approach this from a different angle.
A great majority of hunting shots, especially shots made by new hunters, will be within two hundred meters and most calibers will perform very similarly within that range. Bullet placement is vital and if the hunter hits the animal in the hind quarter, it will probably run off regardless of how big the round is. So before taking the leap and investing in a .300 Winchester Magnum, consider the following.
Experience is very important. Someone who fired an air rifle few times in their life should probably learn some basic marksmanship principles before purchasing a rifle chambered in .338-378 Weatherby as their first hunting rifle. Getting into large magnums without prior experience may cause the shooter to develop the “flinch” and working that out can be tough. When one flinches before a shot, chances are he won’t hit the broad side of the barn, even with the best rifle and caliber.
Cost is also very important to consider. Some large magnums can cost upwards of $100 per box. That’s $5 per round and to many people, sighting in and practicing can get a little pricey.
Flexibility and availability should always be on top of everyone’s list. The .308 Winchester for example, has factory loads available from 110 grain all the way up to 220 grain and there aren’t many calibers that can boast that kind of flexibility. The 30-06 Springfield is also highly adaptable to various conditions and both of these calibers are found everywhere. Every gun store, hunting store, Canadian Tire and Walmart will most likely have them. So when one is in a pinch, you are likely to have a backup. Both the 308 and 30-06 have been around for many years and both are powerful enough to take down a moose with good bullet placement. Since these calibers have been with us for so long, there are also endless recipes available for those wishing to learn how to reload their own ammunition.
There probably isn’t one piece of shooting and hunting equipment that has more people puzzled than the rifle scope. To simplify things, let’s break it down into three parts. Shooting within 200 meters (Short range), 200 to 500 (Medium Range) and 500 + (Long Range). Scopes with magnification between 2-7x or 3-9x are ideal for within 200 meters. 4-16x, 4.5-18x etc. are great for medium range and 6.5-20x or 25x at the high end of the magnification range are best suited for long range shooting. Keep in mind that the higher the magnification on a scope, the longer range it is intended for and the more sophisticated it needs to be. Issues like parallax induced error, bullet drop compensation and light transmission are going to become much more important at longer ranges or unfavorable weather conditions. The further out you shoot, the more intimately you will have to understand your scope and its features. Therefore, at first, just buy a simple 3-9×40 scope or similar and learn to use it well.
There is never any magic formula. There is no rifle or caliber that is the “best, all-round” so the greatest favor you could do your self is to stop looking for it.
If you decide you want to with the Formula 1 race, you have to build a car for it. Smooth wide tires, low ground clearance and fast acceleration is what you are going for. But if you take that same vehicle and use it on a quad trail in the bush, you’re not going very far. Just as the quad, no matter how great it is, will not compete effectively on a Formula 1 circuit. The way to be successful in any discipline is to first of all research which tools are ideal.
In recent years, many rifle and scope manufacturers began promoting their products as long range hunting tools. Keep in mind that there is no product that one can buy off the shelf which will make him or her a good shot. There is no substitute for in-depth understanding of how your gear works, and in fact, nothing will beat trigger time. The more rounds you fire, the better you will be.
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