Category Archives: Rifleman

The Long Shot

Today’s Riflemen Have The Tools To Deliver
Bullets To once Unheard-Of Distances.

Back around 1970 a “once-a-year” average hunter could reliably hit the vital zone of a deer to 100 to 150 yards. For good shots 300 yards was no problem, maybe 350 with the horizontal reticle along the backbone. A few enthusiasts with artillery rangefinders and custom rifles were shooting targets, and sometimes game, at 1,000 yards or more.

Today, the once-a-year hunter is likely not much better than in 1970. For good shooters 500- to 600-yard hits are almost routine, as are MOA groups at 1,000 yards. Enthusiasts are stretching ranges out to 1,500 to 2,000 yards and further.

Although we may like to think so, we are no better riflemen than those of previous generations. What we have is far superior equipment. It is interesting to look back and see how we got here.

In the beginning riflescopes had fixed reticles. Adjustments were external, using adjustable bases. As late as the 1960’s Bausch & Lomb made the Balvar series with adjustable bases, and undertook an expensive ad campaign to convince shooters of their virtues.

All in vain. We wanted the convenience of simply turning dials on the scope to sight in, and voted with our dollars. We didn’t appreciate how hard it was to make internal adjustments accurate, durable, and resistant to recoil, especially when tossing in the variable power feature we also wanted.

Internal adjustments weren’t particularly accurate, durable, or repeatable. Actually we were happy if the adjustments moved at all, and in the right direction. Just as long as we could get sighted in (“3 inches high at 100 yards”) we were happy. The adjustments wouldn’t be touched again—unless the wooden stock moved, or the scope got bumped, or scope gremlins mysteriously caused point-of-impact to shift.


In 1977 Weaver introduced their T-Series scopes with Micro-Trac adjustment turrets. They worked,
and kept on working, on the range and in the field. Clicking elevation and windage adjustments
and holding dead on was better than holding “two dogs high and half a dog into the wind.”


Adjustment turrets on scopes, such as this Leupold, are accurate and reliable, and have helped
change our approach to long-range shooting. No longer do we hold on an imaginary spot 1-1/2
body widths high.

The Solution

Competition came to the rescue, not for the first or last time. Silhouette shooters competed for trophies and scope makers competed for the business of silhouette shooters. These riflemen demanded accurate, repeatable, durable adjustments and found most scopes didn’t measure up. Enter Weaver with their 1977 T-Series scopes, using hardened steel contacts in the adjustment turrets. A few adventurous varmint shooters felt if spinning turrets worked on the range it should work in the field as well.

This was considered radical at the time, not to mention a foolhardy tempting of fate. It took a while (nothing happens quickly in the rifle world) but adjusting the reticle to match the range is slowly becoming mainstream.

Wood stocks aren’t quite as bad as some would make out. Wood can be beautiful, pleasant to handle and admire, and with proper seasoning and sealing can resist moisture level changes and warping quite well. My favorite hunting rifles have wood stocks. They generally deliver around MOA accuracy, and with a little care and attention are durable enough.

But the reality is even the best wood stock isn’t as stable or strong as even an average synthetic. The best synthetic stocks such as Manners and MacMillan are so far superior to wood there is just no comparison.

In 1983 Weatherby became the first major company to offer a synthetic stock on production rifles, under the guidance of Ed Weatherby (and very much over the objections of Roy). Today, of course, synthetic stocks are everywhere.

I fired my first handloaded cartridge sometime in the 1960’s. Back then it was simply a fact handloads were more accurate than most factory hunting loads.

Naturally we gave ourselves credit for our craftsmanship in case preparation, powder selection and charge weight, bullet seating depth and so forth.
These things matter, certainly. But the main factor was bullets. We’d shoot groups with factory loads, reload the cases with Hornady, Sierra or Speer bullets, cut group size in half and congratulate ourselves on our brilliant reloading skills.


The Hornady 7mm 162-grain match BTHP had all the long-range shooters talking in the
early ’70’s, with its streamlined profile and amazing (and optimistic) 0.725 BC. Today
we have many high BC bullets. A couple of other favorites are the .224 75-grain A-Max
and the Berger 6mm 105-grain VLD. Dave considers an accurate laser rangefinder like the
Leica 1600 his most indispensable piece of long-range shooting equipment.


For decades it seemed quality factory trigger pulls were a thing of the past. Fortunately
Ron Coburn, CEO of Savage for 25 highly successful years, thought differently. This recently
purchased Savage with an AccuTrigger gave a crisp, quality trigger break at just over 3 pounds


Technology is grand. Chronographs and laser rangefinders are basic tools. Weather stations
such as this Kestrel give accurate data on temperature, wind speed and elevation. Range
charts taped to the stock are still handy, though if circumstances permit, Dave would
rather use a ballistic program on iPad.

We like to think we’re so much smarter than factory “bean counters,” but in fact the big ammo companies were making what the market wanted. Hunters needed ammo that was safe, reliable, adequately accurate, provided adequate expansion and penetration on game, and—importantly—was affordable.

The big factories could easily have made more accurate bullets, for example by drawing bullet jackets more precisely, changing bullet forming dies more often, running the machines more slowly, more rigorous inspection, and passing on the added cost. But the typical hunter with his iron-sighted .30-30, or semi-auto or pump-action .308 with see-through scope mounts couldn’t tell the difference between 2-MOA and 1-MOA accuracy, and wouldn’t have cared in any event. But he did care if Brand A ammunition was $4.95 a box and Brand B was $5.49 a box.

Meanwhile the independent bullet makers were taking all those extra pains to produce more precise bullets. Since we were already saving a bundle by re-using cartridge cases we weren’t bothered much by the cost of bullets—especially when we had those bragging-size groups to show.

By the ’70’s shooters were getting much more accuracy conscious. The big ammo companies began taking more pains with bullet manufacture. They also began loading bullets from independent bullet makers, taking advantage of the good will and brand loyalty shooters had developed for names like Hornady, Nosler, Sierra and Speer. Today, few handoaders spend the time to equal the accuracy of the best factory ammo, much less exceed it. Oh well, we still save a lot of money.

Accuracy was just one element of bullet development. Another was more dependable game bullets, typified by the Nosler Partition. Yet another was great ballistic efficiency. In the early ’70’s I first became aware of a new Hornady bullet, the 7mm 162-grain BTHP. What had all my handloading buddies talking was the bullet’s imposing ballistic coefficient of 0.725. It seemed too good to be true, and in fact was a bit optimistic. I used these in my 7mm Rem Mag and 7×57 rifles, and in my 7mm TCU for handgun metallic silhouette.

Today we have an amazing array of high BC bullets, including choices from brand names like Berger and Scenar. A high BC bullet is as close to getting something for nothing as we can get in the rifle world. Here’s an extreme example: Hornady makes a 7mm 139-grain, FP bullet for the 7-30 Waters cartridge with a BC of 0.196. A Berger 7mm 140-grain VLD has a BC of 0.510.

Launch both at 2,800 feet per second muzzle velocity. At 600 yards, the flatpoint bullet drops over 175 inches from a 100-yard zero, and drifts over 24 inches in a 10 mph crosswind. The VLD bullet drops a bit under 86 inches at the same range and drifts only 6.4 inches. Powder charge, recoil and barrel wear are identical. The tremendous improvement in downrange performance comes entirely from bullet shape.
By Dave Anderson

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The Marvelous Mini-14

Ruger’s Handy Little Gem Has Come A Long
Way And Is Better Than Ever.

The Ruger Mini-14 was an instant success when it appeared in the mid-1970’s. To understand why, you kind of had to be there. In 1976 if you wanted a semi-automatic .223 your choices were a Colt AR-15 ($300), Armalite AR-180 ($300), or HK-93 ($330).

The Mini-14 was priced at $200. Now $100 or so doesn’t seem like much today, but in 1976 the national average wage index was roughly $9,200. Compared to the increase in wages, the price difference of $100 or $130 is like a difference of $500 to $650 today.

The military M16 (and by extension its semi-auto version, the AR-15) was widely criticized at the time. Dozens of articles, both in gun magazines and in the popular press, castigated the M16 for perceived failings such as unreliability and mediocre accuracy.

There was much speculation on what sort of rifle would replace the M16. If you had said in 1975 the M16 would still be America’s military rifle 40 years later you’d have been laughed out of the room. And if you suggested the day would come when an AR would consistently shoot 1/2-MOA groups…

I had one of those early Mini-14’s, made in 1976, as well as a Colt AR-15 of the same era. In terms of accuracy and reliability there was little difference. Groups of around 6 MOA seemed to be about the norm with either. The one undeniable Mini-14 advantage was cost. A C-note saved is a big deal when you’re making $200 a week.

I liked the balance, feel and overall handling of the Mini, but its lack of accuracy made it seem more like a bulky, hard-to-conceal pistol than a rifle. Moreover the lack of accuracy seemed inherent in the design, not due to any lack of quality in materials or workmanship.

Any semi-automatic rifle using an operating rod along with a gas block on the barrel is handicapped in terms of accuracy. As the operating rod is jolted into motion and separates from the gas block, the barrel gets a little (and inconsistent) tweak added to its normal vibrations. Careful hand fitting of parts helps, especially in combination with a heavier barrel.


A tough, reliable, compact rifle is handy to have on a farm or ranch, where opportunities for
pest control or game shooting can arise during the routine of daily work. It’s the same role
once dominated by lever-action .44-40 or .30-30 carbines. Without much fuss or fanfare, Ruger
has made improvements over the years to make the rifle more accurate and shooter-friendly,
such as a heavier barrel and integral scope bases.

The barrels on those early Mini-14’s were certainly not heavy, quite the opposite. Add the operating rod factor to an already light, whippy barrel and accuracy problems were almost inevitable.

Regular readers may recall a column on the Amega Mini-Scout sight base for the Mini-14 in the September 2010 issue. Not just a sight base, the Amega system acts as a strut to stiffen the light barrel. With a forward-mounted Leupold Scout scope attached, the Amega base transformed my old Mini. It’s still no tackdriver but at least it seems like a rifle rather than a big pistol.

Ruger has made a number of changes to the Mini-14 over the years. The amazing developments in AR accuracy, versatility and aftermarket components have occupied my semi-auto rifle interests for some decades now, while the Mini-14’s have been relegated to the back row of the gun safe. To see how they’ve changed over the years I purchased a current (2014) production Ranch Rifle at a local store.

The current model has a heavier, stiffer barrel, better iron sights, it accepts Ruger rings for mounting a scope over the receiver, the upper forearm is synthetic instead of wood and it has a recoil pad that sticks to your shoulder rather than sliding around the way the old slick plastic would.

The original was marked Mini-14 and .223 Rem on the receiver, and the barrel had a 1:10-inch twist. The current model is marked Ranch Rifle and 5.56mm, the barrel has a 1:9 twist. A set of Ruger rings come with the rifle. A Picatinny-style rail is also included and can be attached to the receiver for more sight-fitting options.


A typical 100-yard group from the Ranch Rifle using handloads with Hornady
55-grain V-Max bullet, measures 1.8 inches. Other groups were as small as 1.5
inches with none over 2 inches. The group was shot with Redfield 3-9×42 scope
attached. The sight rail shown is included with rifle and can be attached to
receiver for fitting other sight options.

I used the Ruger rings to fit a Redfield Battlezone 3-9×42 to the receiver. Comparing out of the box accuracy, my current production Ranch Rifle is far superior. With handloads using the Hornady 55-grain V-Max bullet it consistently produces 5-shot, 100-yard groups between 1.5 and 2 inches, averaging around 1-3/4 inches. Groups were nice and “round” with no tendency to horizontal or vertical stringing even when the barrel heated up.

These groups were shot while dealing with an atrocious factory trigger. A semi-auto trigger, in order to be safe and reliable, needs a bit of take-up and overtravel, as well as a good margin of sear engagement. Even making those allowances, this trigger needs work.

Weight of pull is 6-1/2 pounds. Take-up and overtravel are acceptable but the actual sear break is long, creepy, and with detectable “steps.” Shooting for accuracy from the bench was a chore.

Incidentally, this was the one area where my ’70’s vintage Mini-14 was superior. Weight of pull was also heavy at 5-3/4 pounds, it has take-up and overtravel, but the actual sear break is not bad at all, reasonably crisp and consistent. It’s not great but it’s tolerable.

Reliability was excellent with no failures of any kind. If accuracy is the downside of an operating rod system, reliability is the upside. The weight of the operating rod plus the bolt assembly results in considerable momentum once they get moving. The result is positive extraction and ejection of fired cases, and positive feeding and chambering of the next cartridge. Heat and residue from hot powder gases are around the gas block under the forearm, while the bolt and receiver remain relatively cool and clean.

Certainly this Ranch Rifle is superior to my old Mini-14, and the stainless-steel version would add corrosion resistance. (The only reasons I didn’t get the stainless model is I couldn’t find one for sale locally). Relative to the increase in wages over the last 40 years, price is about the same as it was in 1975.


The sight rail shown is included with rifle and can be attached to receiver
for fitting other sight options. The Ruger Ranch Rifle accepts both 5- and
20-round magazines. Ruger’s 20-round magazines generally cost more than the
AR equivalent, but are very well made of heavy-gauge steel, and are both
reliable and durable.


The Amega Mini-Scout sight base is a useful accessory on any Mini-14, but especially so
on early models without a provision for attaching optics. It also acts as a strut to
stiffen the barrel. On Dave’s early model Mini, accuracy was improved dramatically.
The mount also has attachment points for accessories. The scope is a Leupold 2.5×28
Scout Scope in Warne rings. The outstanding Viridian X5L on the side has both a white
light and a very bright, highly visible green laser beam.

But while the Mini-14 has improved, the AR design has improved almost beyond recognition. In 1976 the Mini-14 provided about the same performance as the AR-15 at two-thirds the cost. Today there’s a seemingly endless array of AR makes, models, accessories, cartridge choices and price points. There are AR’s which are more accurate and much more versatile than the Ranch Rifle while costing the same or even less.

True, some of the high-end AR’s (including Ruger’s own SR-556) cost much more than the Ranch Rifle. Compared to these, the Ranch Rifle is a good buy. Other advantages? The balance and handling of the Ranch Rifle feel similar to my bolt-action hunting rifles. In some countries and states, the more conventional-looking Ranch Rifle is subject to fewer legal restrictions. Yes, you and I know this defies logic and common sense, but sadly such traits are lacking in many lawmakers.

It may not have kept up with the incredible developments in the AR design, but my Ranch Rifle retains the virtues of my old Mini-14—compact size, handiness, reliability and durability—while adding sight options and dramatically improving accuracy.
Dave Anderson

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Amega Ranges Inc.
6355 Stinson No. 202, Plano, Texas 75093
(866) 438-1569

Ranch Rifle
Maker: Ruger
411 Sunapee Street, Newport, NH 0377
(603) 865-2442

Action type: Gas-operated semi-automatic
Construction: Blued alloy steel, hardwood stock
Cartridge: .223 Rem/5.56 NATO, Magazine capacity: 5, 20
Barrel length: 18-1/2 inches
Overall length: 38 inches
Weight: 7 pounds
Length of pull: 13-1/2 inches
Sights: Adjustable rear, blade front, rings provided
Price: $939

Battlezone 3-9x42mm
Maker: Redfield
P.O. box 688, Beaverton, OR 97075-0688
14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway
Beaverton, OR 97006-5790
(877) 798-9686

Actual magnification: 3X to 8.6X, Tube diameter: 1 inch
Eye relief: 3.5 inches, Focus: fast-focus eyepiece
Adjustments: 1/4 MOA
Adjustment range: 70 MOA elevation & windage
Overall length: 12.4 inches
Weight: 14.8 ounces
Finish: Matte
Reticle: TAC-MOA reticle
BDC dials for .223/5.56mm and .308/7.62mm
Price: $249.99


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Tikka Tales

The T3 Proves A Better Way
To Launch A Long-Range .223.

It was Boxing Day 2014 here in Canada. A local gun store advertised a pretty good discount on all in-stock firearms. What the heck, I thought, it doesn’t cost anything to look. I spotted a blue-steel T3 Lite in .223 on the rack, and a closer look showed it had the 1:8-inch rifling twist.

I have AR rifles with faster twists but all my bolt-action .223 rifles are either 1:9-inch or 1:12-inch. I wanted a 1:8-inch barrel to stabilize 75-grain bullets such as Hornady A-Max and Berger match bullets with their high ballistic coefficients.

My 1:9-inch barrels will do it on reasonably warm days. I’ve had sub-MOA groups at 600 yards with my Ruger Hawkeye .223 using 75-grain A-Max bullets when the temperature was around 60 degrees F. On crisp winter days with single-digit temperatures the bullets became unstable, meaning I couldn’t use them for winter coyote hunting.

Incidentally, I use the JBM online stability calculator, which shows how various factors (e.g. bullet length, twist, temperature, velocity, barometric pressure) affect bullet stability.

The Tikka T3 still seems like a new model to me. It was something of a shock to go poking through back issues and find my first review of the T3 was way back in a 2004 issue.

The original test rifle was a Lite stainless version in .270 WSM, which I subsequently purchased and still own. I’ve used other T3’s over the years, including a .243 with suppressor borrowed from a Scottish gamekeeper to shoot a red stag.

Out of the box, the T3 weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces. Trigger pull was crisp and clean with minimal overtravel, with weight of pull at 3-1/2 pounds. Although the trigger adjustment screw can be accessed through the magazine well, I disassembled the rifle to have a look under the hood and adjusted the pull before reassembling. With the adjustment screw backed off as far as possible, weight of pull was reduced to 1 pound, 15 ounces as measured by my Lyman trigger gauge.

The composite stock of the T3 is hard and relatively inflexible. The barrel shank is bedded to about 3 inches ahead of the receiver, then free-floated to the muzzle with substantial clearance between barrel and stock. Some don’t like the looks of such a gap but my view is, if you’re going to float the barrel, then float the darn thing.

Although a 2-lug action, the T3 has a relatively short bolt lift of about 75 degrees. Bolt operation is a joy, smooth as oil on glass. Cartridge feeding from the straight-line magazine is reliable and virtually effortless. I can operate this bolt faster than any of my bolt rifles with the exception of my Sako Finnlight and, of course, the old Lee Enfield No. 1 Mk III.

I haven’t decided yet which scope the T3 .223 will ultimately be paired with, but for now I fitted a well-proven Nightforce 2.5-10×32, using Burris bases and Weaver 30mm rings. Actually this is a pretty good combo and might even be permanent, though I do have other plans for the scope.


Dave’s Tikka T3 Lite in .223 Rem has a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 scope and
GrovTec Mountaineer sling. Dave generally tapes the muzzle of a rifle
while hunting, especially in snow. The T3 is a light, well-balanced,
and accurate rifle.

I haven’t decided yet which scope the T3 .223 will ultimately be paired with, but for now I fitted a well-proven Nightforce 2.5-10×32, using Burris bases and Weaver 30mm rings. Actually this is a pretty good combo and might even be permanent, though I do have other plans for the scope.

I have on hand a good supply of .223 reloads using H335 powder and the Hornady 55-grain V-Max. After roughly sighting in, I tried a 3-shot group at 100 yards. The group measured 0.65-inch. Not so shabby for a first effort.

Nor was it a fluke. The 1:8-inch twist easily stabilized the 75-grain Hornady A-Max even at a temperature of 10 degrees F and gave 5-shot groups in the range of 0.8- to 0.9-inch. The worst group with this bullet measured 1.13 inches with one wide shot, which may have been shooter error. The other four shots went into just over 0.5-inch. My best 5-shot group was with the V-Max bullet and measured 0.53-inch. Functioning was smooth and reliable even though weather conditions were a bit miserable at times.

The T3 has been in production for well over a decade now, and used all over the world by many thousands of shooters. That much use will find the inherent weaknesses in any new design. Some shooters dislike the plastic bolt shroud, on both strength and esthetic grounds. But modern plastics are just a wee bit tougher than the brittle stuff used in our model airplanes back in the ’50’s. For the most part the shroud works fine, though everyone knows of a second cousin’s buddy who had a shroud break while hunting in Alaska.


The length of the front receiver ring (above) of the Tikka T3 receiver is
considerably longer than most bolt actions and provides lots of support for
the barrel. The slot near the front of receiver engages a recoil plate
inlet in the stock. An aluminum recoil plate (below) is inset in the T3
stock and engages a slot in the receiver. To those of us used to a recoil
lug being a receiver component, this seems all wrong, but the fact is it
works well.


The other complaint heard is in regard to the aluminum recoil plate inset in the stock. With harder-kicking cartridges there have been concerns over the fit of the recoil plate to it’s receiver slots, which would cause stock loosening over time. I haven’t seen this with my .270 WSM, though admittedly it’s only fired around 400 shots.

I have no plans to modify my .223 but those who do can check out a Montana-based company called Mountain Tactical. They specialize in Tikkas and have both factory original and aftermarket accessories. One is an attractive aluminum bolt shroud to replace the plastic component. Currently it lists at $59.95. They also offer a stainless-steel recoil plate, which currently retails at $29.99.

The only “flaws” (actually personal preferences) in my new T3 are the ones I mentioned back in 2004. The T3 uses one action length, with bolt stop and magazine altered for shorter cartridges. And even after using them in various rifles for over 50 years, I’ve never learned to love detachable magazines though I recognize their utility.

Specific to the .223, my rifle is throated so I can load the 75 A-Max out to an overall cartridge length of 2.45 inches and just reach the lands. At the same overall length the full-diameter of the bullet, just ahead of the boattail, is even with the bottom of the case neck.

So the barrel is throated the way I want, it’s twisted the way I want, life is good, and then… the magazine limits cartridge overall length to 2.26 inches. Yes, I can still seat the 75-grain bullets deep, and still get the 2,850 fps muzzle velocity I want, but now the bullet is jumping nearly 0.20-inch to reach the lands. And only about three-fourths of the case neck is gripping the full diameter of the bullet. (Which seems to be enough; I tried pressing the bullet nose hard on the edge of the bench, and there was no bullet movement.) But still… oh, rifle gods, why do you mock me?


The shorter cartridge is topped with a Hornady 55-grain V-Max loaded to
an overall length of 2.260 inches. Longer is the Hornady 75-grain A-Max
bullet at an overall length of 2.450 inches. The longer cartridge will fit
the chamber of Dave’s Tikka T3 with the bullet just reaching the lands and
can be single-loaded, but is too long for the magazine. The receiver is long
enough to accommodate long rounds but the magazine is blocked off.


In order to reach the lands, and have the case neck grip the full-diameter
section of the bullet, the Hornady 75-grain A-Max (center cartridge) is loaded
to an overall length of 2.45 inches. In order to fit the Tikka magazine,
cartridges must be loaded to a maximum overall length of 2.26 inches, easily
done with the 55-grain V-Max (left cartridge) or the Hornady 75-grain BTHP
(right cartridge). The 75-grain A-Max bullet (bottom left) is much longer
than its 75-grain BTHP brother bullet (bottom right).


Dave’s first five shots at 100 yards (above) with Hornady 75-grain A-Max and
H-335 powder was to 1.13 inches due to shooter error. The other four shots
went into just over 1/2 inch. The 1:8-inch twist ot the T3’s barrel stabilizes
the long bullets even though it was cold. Dave swears this is a 5-shot group
although it looks like four (below). The group’s size is 0.53 inch for five
shots at 100 yards using the 55-grain Hornady V-Max.


Tikka is not the only maker with magazine length limitations; actually with .223 it is more the norm. Riflemakers don’t necessarily cater to those of us who reload. Sometimes I think they don’t love us much. My Tikka instruction manual says “Damage to rifles occurs almost exclusively when using handloaded cartridges.” Seems a bit harsh! I’d have guessed bore obstructions were the most common cause of damaged rifles.

Solutions, from most to least expensive: fit DBM bottom metal ($209 from Mountain Tactical) and use AICS magazines; buy a spare Tikka .223 magazine (around $70 if you can find one) and modify it to accept a longer overall cartridge length (do an Internet search for some creative ideas); feed single cartridges through the loading port (a single shot follower, $19.99, from Mountain Tactical makes it easier).

Or you can set aside the A-Maxes, use the slightly shorter Hornady 75-grain BTHP loaded to an overall cartridge length of 2.26 inches, and go shooting. The 0.20-inch bullet jump may be irritating, but when the rifle shoots this well, maybe it’s not really a problem.

The T3 has proven extremely popular, and with many owners it seems to inspire the kind of devotion earlier generations gave the ’98 Mauser or pre-’64 Winchester 70. If this seems just plain wrong to old timers, remember there were once enthusiasts who thought only single-shots or doubles were real hunting rifles, and who sneered at “magazine rifles” as tools for meat hunters and poachers.

I think a big part of the T3’s appeal is its no-fuss, no-drama, out-of-the-box performance. Those of us who grew up with wooden-stocked rifles, consider a certain amount of tuning routine, such as floating the barrel, tuning or even replacing the trigger, maybe polishing and honing for smoother bolt operation. Tuning up the rifle gave us a sense of accomplishment.

Crazy as it may sound, when the younger generation buys a pickup truck, computer, chainsaw, ATV or riding lawnmower, they actually expect it to work first time and every time. They expect performance. And the Tikka T3 delivers.
By Dave Anderson

Butler Creek
9200 Cody
Overland Park, KS 66214
(800) 221-9035

GrovTec (slings)
13529 SE Johnson Road
P.O. Box 220060
Milwaukie, OR 97269
(503) 557-4689

JBM Ballistics

Mountain Plains Targets
3720 Otter Place, Lynchburg, VA 24503
(800) 687-3000

Mountain Tactical
(Tikka accessories)
174 Shepard Trail, Unit B
Bozeman, MT 59718
(406) 285-2371

Nightforce Optics, Inc.
336 Hazen Lane, Orofino, ID 83544
(208) 476-9814

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A Rifleman’s Rifleman

W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell’s Observations On
Dry-Firing, Follow-Through And Breaking
Your Shot At The First Good Sight Picture
Are Relevant To This Day.

His full name was Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell, but there’s no need to remember the full name. Just say “Karamojo Bell” and old-time hunters and riflemen recognize him. Many will have a strong opinion of him one way or another, even (maybe especially) those who have never read a word Bell wrote.

Bell was born in Scotland near Edinburgh in 1880. He died in 1951 at his estate, Corriemoillie, west of Inverness, about 200 miles from his birthplace. But the years in between were filled with almost constant travel and adventure. He traveled much of the world, served in the armed forces of two nations in two wars, was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery twice and was at various times a sailor, army scout, fighter pilot, explorer, railway guard and guide.

But he is best known for his big-game shooting, especially elephant. Hunting primarily in the years before WWI when the ivory trade was thriving, Bell shot something over 1,000 elephants. He also shot thousands of head of plains game to feed his safari staff.

Bell is best known for of his use of relatively light rifles (6.5×54, 7×57, .303 British and .318 Westley Richards) for shooting elephant. Just for once I’d like to avoid the elephant-adequacy argument. Very few of us will ever hunt elephant at all. And if we do, it will be with a cartridge approved by the appropriate African game department.

But let’s forget elephants for now. Let’s talk in terms of the game we’re liable to actually hunt. What can we learn from Bell about using a rifle in a capable, competent manner?


A well-balanced rifle with moderate recoil worked for Bell and still works today.
Suzi Huntington made a 1-shot kill on this gemsbok with a Winchester Model 70 .30-06.


After Bell married and lived on Scotland’s Corriemoillie estate, he used this steel
plate located a couple of hundred yards from the house for targeting his rifles.
In his later years he used a Winchester Model 70 .220 Swift to shoot red stags.
Here, Dave is probably wondering which of Bell’s rifles made which bullet marks.


Articles I’ve read by or about Bell indicate he was a magnificent game shot. Not everyone agrees. In his The Art of the Rifle (highly recommended by the way), Jeff Cooper discusses Bell’s exploit of shooting birds on the wing with a rifle. Cooper says, “an airborne goose at a target angle of .090 presents a nearly insurmountable problem for a rifleman, but if that goose is circling a pond… he will, for a few seconds on each circle, constitute a stationary target quite large and not very far away… the exploits upon which his mastery appear to be based do not add up to incredible marksmanship.”

I greatly admire Cooper, but I couldn’t help feeling this statement isn’t up to his usual standard. He seems to be saying, if the shots were hard Bell couldn’t have made them. Therefore they must have been easy and—since they were—no great accomplishment.

In the chapter “On Rifles and Shooting” in Bell of Africa (Safari Press), Bell recounts the actual circumstances. He had laid in a supply of 6,000 .318 cartridges, but in testing found them too unreliable for hunting. He decided to use them up shooting at flying cormorants—“straight flying, but fast”—and they were indeed crossing, Bell says, at a range of about 100 yards.

I suppose the next argument is, if you shoot enough, a hit or two is inevitable just by luck. Bell, however, recounts his best run was 8 out of 10. In shooting over several evenings, his overall average was 6 out of 10!

There’s another facet of Bell’s shooting I particularly admire. He had the ability to get the shot off as soon as the sight picture was right. He called it “timing.” I see a lot of otherwise fine shooters who simply can’t get off a shot in a short time frame.

Don’t misunderstand. I would certainly never tell anyone to hurry. It’s more a matter of “don’t dawdle.” When the sight picture is right, break the shot. It isn’t going to get any better.

Knowing yourself is a key component here. I think we all have a natural body speed, which comes as part of our mental and physical makeup. Bell considered himself to have “a rather highly strung nature” and said his worst faults were being over-eager, firing too quickly and flinching.


Bell got his nickname “Karamojo Bell” from Africa’s Karamojo region, where he
hunted elephant. The tip of the R. L. Dozier knife (above) points to it in
northwest Uganda, along the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. Bell liked
lightweight rifles. These (below) weigh around 6-1/2 to 6-3/4 pounds field
ready, and are available in 7mm-08 Rem (with ballistics similar to Bell’s
7×57 Mauser). From left, Savage 11 Lightweight with a Burris Fullfield II
3-9×40; Sako 85 Finnlight with Leupold VX-3 2.5-8×36; Kimber 84M Montana
and Swarovski Z3 3-10×42. The sling is the lightweight Grove-Tec Mountaineer,
just 4 ounces with swivels.


He felt whatever faults we have could be corrected by diligent training and practice. In Bell of Africa he encapsulates it neatly: “Let your will dominate your body… the rewards of perseverance will be worth it.”

Bell used relatively light cartridges, not as some kind of stunt but because he liked light rifles. The big doubles weighed 11 to 15 pounds and were customarily carried by a gunbearer. Bell wanted the rifle in his hands and carried it himself, just as we do today. He felt carrying the rifle, constantly handling it, dry firing, taking sight pictures on random targets, all helped to strengthen the muscles to hold the rifle steadily as well as making it feel familiar.

He was a great proponent of dry firing, just as many top competitive shooters are today. Dry firing is not just something you do to save the cost of ammunition. It’s the best way of training yourself to hold the rifle still, to release the trigger smoothly, to keep your eyes open as the sear breaks in order to call the shot, and avoid (or cure) a flinch.

In Bell of Africa he says, “Dry shooting, dry shooting, endless dry shooting will bring its reward. To shoot off rounds and rounds is largely a waste of time at the beginning… Target shooting is all very well combined with this constant dry shooting. Alone it is but half the story.”

On the subject of flinching, he credits lessons learned from gunmaker Daniel Fraser. “He taught me… what a devastating bar to close shooting flinch can be… even from a gunmaker’s rest, flinch can spoil grouping, and in fact, flinch was the worst enemy of the aspiring rifleman… I have seen men flinch so their shots were barely in a 12-inch circle at 50 yards.” (Karamojo Safari Safari Press).

To me, “calling the shot” means having a precise image of where the sights or scope reticle were at the instant the shot broke. Bell doesn’t use the term, but he does write of “follow through.” In his words, “The sense of visualizing the bullet’s flight as you continue to stare, both eyes open, over the rifle barrel constitutes your follow through.”

Bell did most of his hunting a century ago yet remains a controversial figure to this day. I’ll leave the elephant-cartridge argument to others, but I believe his advice on rifle shooting is still worth reading—and heeding.


Reading Bell made Dave envious, but also grateful for modern products.

Modern Conveniences

Reading the works of Karamojo Bell makes me envious, but also grateful for some of our modern gear. Bell spoke of his rifles being treated with “mercurial grease” to prevent corrosion. Today we have dozens of far superior protective lubricants and, as far as I know, none contain mercury. The Otis cleaning kit and the Boresnakes are easy to pack and always have on hand.

During his time, Bell had available bullets for either penetration or expansion. Modern bullets such as those by Barnes provide both characteristics. Modern optics, such as the Leupold scope, Meopta and Minox binoculars are far superior to anything Bell ever dreamed of. And then there are LED flashlights (Streamlight and Brite-Strike) multi-tools, and handmade Dozier knives. And such high-tech items as the Leica laser rangefinder and Garmin GPS means I don’t have to guess ranging distances, or where I am at any particular time.
By Dave Anderson

GroveTec US, Inc.
P.O. Box 220060, Milwaukie, OR 97269
(503) 557-4689

Safari Press
15621 Chemical Ln., Building B
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
(714) 894-9080

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Make Mine A Pump

The Quick-Firing Remington
7600 Holds Its Own Afield.

What have been the most popular, most successful deer rifles of the smokeless powder cartridge era? I’d have to say the Winchester and Marlin lever actions, first sold back in the 1890’s and still made today, in somewhat revised form.

Let’s change our time frame. In the post WWII era, what deer rifles have been most popular? A case can be made for the Remington pumps—the 760, 7600, Six, and 76. Maybe not a very strong case, I’ll admit. Bolt-actions rule the hunting rifle market, and Remington’s own bolt-action 700 far outsells the pump models. Lever-action rifles still sell at a brisk pace.

My argument would run this way: many of the bolt-action rifles are intended for varmint shooting, competition, for hunting African or Alaskan game bigger than deer. A lot of lever actions have been purchased out of nostalgia, as commemorative “instant collectibles” or for cowboy action competition.

When someone buys a Remington pump they mostly buy it with deer hunting in mind. A counter argument might be a rifle has to be widely distributed to earn the “most popular” title. The pump rifle is often associated with northeast states where whitetails are hunted in heavy cover—states such as Maine, New York, Wisconsin, and especially Pennsylvania where semi-autos are not allowed for hunting.

Distribution counts, certainly, but numbers count too. There are a lot of deer, and a lot of deer hunters, in the Northeast. Even in the West, in the heart of bolt-action country, Remington pumps are seen often enough to be unremarkable. Often the users are hunters first, only mildly interested in firearms. I did know one knowledgeable rifleman who hunted exclusively with Remington 760’s. He had a .223, a .270, and a .308 rebored to .358 Win.
Personally I seldom stray from the true and righteous path of the bolt action. When I do it is with something like a lever-action Winchester 88 or Browning BLR, or a semi-auto AR. I’ve shot Remington pumps, including a brother-in-law’s .30-06 Model Six, and really don’t have much either for or against them.


The Remington 760 in .257 Roberts (left) with Lyman All-American 2-1/2X scope, both
from the late 1950’s and the current production Remington Synthetic 7600 in .243 Win
(right) with Nightforce 2.5-10×32 NXS Compact scope. The higher comb of the 7600 is
more compatible with scope. Remington has dominated the centerfire pump optics market
for a long time.


The first 5-shot, 100-yard group with the Remington 7600 .243 Win was fired in a
gusty cross wind and measured 1.3 inches wide by 0.75 inches high. The combination
of gusty wind and a heavy, creepy trigger was a factor—so it says here!

Recently a neighbor dropped by wanting information and a value estimate on a 760. What appealed to me was the cartridge for which it was chambered: .257 Roberts, a cartridge I’ve long used and admired. We looked it up on the Blue Book app of my iPad (see sidebar).

My friend had fitted an inexpensive “blister pack” 3-9X scope. To my eye the combo clashed like a Colt Single Action Army in a plastic holster. He kindly allowed me to change scopes, providing of course I’d replace and resight his scope after taking photos. Averting my eyes as much as possible I removed it and fitted a 1950’s era Lyman All American 2-1/2X. I’m sure all you traditionalists out there understand.

The rifle wasn’t for sale, which naturally made me want to buy it. Remington pumps have a good reputation for accuracy. Maybe I could find a use for an easy handling, fast operating rifle with decent accuracy, flat trajectory and mild recoil.

On the next trip to the city I bought a current production Remington 7600 synthetic in .243 Win. I won’t dwell overmuch on the mechanical differences between the 760 and 7600. They were newsworthy when the 7600 replaced the 760, but that was 35 years ago.

In addition to synthetic stock and forearm, this version has a non-reflective bead blasted finish on barrel and receiver. Chambered for the .243 Win cartridge, the barrel has the same 1:9-1/8 twist as the Remington 700.

I used Weaver bases and 30mm rings to attach a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 NXS Compact scope with IHR reticle. This isn’t really a light scope, at 19 ounces, and it certainly isn’t what I’d call inexpensive. But if you can get past those factors, it is a superb hunting scope. Set at 2.5X it has a wide field of view for fast shots at close-range multiple or moving targets.

The reliable, repeatable turrets can be used to dial up to 100-MOA of elevation or windage adjustments. At 10X there’s plenty of power for precise aiming at long range. For dim light conditions the reticle can be illuminated. Out of the box the 7600 weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce. My .243 and Nightforce scope combo weighs 8-3/4 pounds with magazine loaded.


Both the Remington 760 (above) and the 7600 (below) lock up with lugs a rotating
bolt head locking into recesses in barrel extension. The 760 used 14 small lugs,
current 7600 uses four large ones.


A favorite .243 load is the Hornady 87-grain V-Max loaded to about 3,200 fps with Alliant RL-17 powder. The bullet is reasonably priced, very accurate, effective on varmints and with a ballistic coefficient of 0.400, does pretty well at medium/long range. In the 7600, recoil was very mild, as one would expect of a nearly 9-pound .243.

The first 5-shot 100-yard group, fired in gusty wind conditions, was 1.3 inches wide but only about 0.75 inches high. In better conditions the 7600 showed it is capable of MOA or better accuracy, if you have the patience to manage the trigger pull.

The trigger’s 5-pound, 3-ounce weight was excessive, and it came with considerable uneven creep, with several perceptible steps. Trying to manage the trigger while simultaneously monitoring wind gusts was an ordeal. In order to take advantage of the rifle’s inherent accuracy the trigger needs attention. Incidentally, pull on the 1950’s era 760 weighed almost exactly the same at 5 pounds, 2 ounces. It had somewhat less creep, possibly due to smoothing up with use.

Otherwise the rifle proved reliable and pleasant to shoot, with excellent balance and handling. Depending on where and how you hunt, you may wish to add sling swivel studs, and some sort of rust-resistant finish. What the heck, may as well make it in a camo pattern while you’re at it.
In fact my rifle is going to get all three; trigger job, sling swivel studs and rust-resistant camo finish. I’ll report back how it turns out.


When a friend dropped in asking for information on an older Remington 760 .257 Roberts
he had bought, Dave opened the Blue Book app on his iPad and found the appropriate listing.
It shows values for varying conditions, for different cartridges, and information on years
of production for different cartridges. Whenever Dave thinks of the 760, he fondly recalls
Larry Koller’s wonderful book, Shots at Whitetails.

Blue Book Of Gun Values App

One of my most used, most valued firearm “accessories” is actually a book—The Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad. Hardly a day goes by I don’t refer to it. Not just for estimated values of used guns, but for serial number records, addresses of manufacturers and shooting organizations, information on proof marks, production numbers and years of manufacture.

The values are a useful guide, though in the final analysis buyer and seller set the price. I’ve willingly paid well over Blue Book value for rifles I felt were unusually good. I find the book valuable when dealing with friends, when neither side feels comfortable bargaining and want an objective standard.

A great online feature is the “View Historic Prices” option, which charts values over the years. It is interesting to see how values for specific models are trending, especially for those concerned with the investment value of their collector’s items.

The computer-literate will likely prefer the online edition, which has all the information of the book version, costs less and is updated monthly. I’ll grudgingly admit online is better in many ways, though I like books. They don’t need batteries or Wi-Fi, for one thing.

Still, at over 2,400 pages the book is hardly portable. It’s a sad sight at gun shows to see people wandering around trying to borrow a current Blue Book. Even sadder when you’re the person.

Online subscribers would be wise to add the Blue Book app to their phone or iPad, so you can quickly check values anywhere you have phone service. Like all apps it is a work in progress. One improvement I hope to see soon is a friendlier back button. Being a bit klutzy, while searching for a specific model I sometimes got to a wrong page. The back button sends you back to the home page rather than just one page back.

It is still far handier than carrying the book around, or trying to find one to borrow.

By Dave Anderson

Blue Book Publications
8009 34th Avenue South, Suite 250
Minneapolis, MN 55425
(800) 877-4867

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Where To Begin?

New Shooter’s Have To Start Somewhere.
Two Good Choices Include Air-Powered
And Rimfire.

In the farming community where I grew up, several of my friends had their own .22 rifles, usually single-shot bolt actions costing $10 or so. My parents, at least in my view, were overly protective. Instead of a .22, for Christmas I got a spring-piston, barrel-cocking .177 air rifle.

An air gun for an 11-year old! I’d have been humiliated except I knew I could use Dad’s Savage pump .22 whenever I wanted, as long as I supplied the ammunition. Unfortunately a box of .22 Shorts cost around 35¢ so I couldn’t afford to shoot much.

Looking back I realize the little air rifle was exactly what I needed at the time. It weighs a couple of ounces under 4 pounds (yes, I still have it more than 50 years later). I had long arms for my age even then and the 13-inch length of pull was just right. Being a single shot, and amazingly accurate, it taught me to fire one shot at a time, and if the shot missed it was me, not the rifle.

Most importantly I could finally shoot as much as I wanted. A tin of 500 pellets cost not much more than a box of 50 .22 cartridges. When it was too dark or cold to shoot outside I could shoot in the basement. For years, until I went off to college, I shot it virtually every day. It was rare for a tin of 500 pellets to last more than a week or two.

The little air rifle made shooting fun, which in turn made learning enjoyable. I loved shooting from an early age and would likely have persisted if the only firearm I had was a black powder .50 caliber. But do the youth in your world a favor and help them get started with quality gear they can enjoy. My parents found the right rifle for me half a century ago, and there are lots more choices available today.


The Umarex NGX APX pump-up pneumatic rifle is available
on its own, or with accessories such as RWS pellets, BB’s,
protective shooting glasses, and 4×15 scope with mounting
rings to fit the integral 11mm rail. The Umarex NGX APX is
manually cocked for each shot by pulling back the bolt handle,
which also opens the loading port. Lead pellets can be
single-loaded into the barrel. If there are BB’s in the
magazine, raising the muzzle allows a BB to roll into the
port where it is held by the magnetic tip of the bolt.
After the rifle is cocked, the operating handle is pumped
to the desired power level, from two to 10 pumps.


The Ruger American Rimfire Compact is under a yard long,
weighs just 5.38 pounds, with a 12.5-inch length of pull. It
has a very good trigger pull and is an outstanding training
rifle for young shooters. Stock comes with two comb heights
for iron sights or scope use. It also accepts the longer stock
inserts of the full-sized American Rimfire (available as accessories)
for a 13.75-inch length of pull. The rifle is fitted with a
Leupold Ultralight 2-7×28.

Today’s Value

The Umarex NGX APX is a fine choice for a new shooter, and a lot of fun for any rifleman. Being a multi-pump pneumatic it has a couple of advantages over my old springer. My old rifle shoots pellets at about 450 fps. If I want more power I have to go to another rifle.

With the APX, three pumps give around 420 fps, ideal for plinking. If more power is needed, 10 pumps produce over 600 fps with 7-grain pellets. Umarex claims it will do 800 fps with lightweight pellets.

The other advantage is lack of recoil. My old springer has little recoil, of course, but spring piston rifles react to the piston driving forward and will break scopes made to withstand centerfire recoil.

The APX is very well made. With RWS Hobby pellets groups under 1/2 inch were routine at 15 yards. Pellets are loaded individually after pulling the bolt handle back to cock the action and expose the loading port.


At right is the spring-piston air rifle Dave got for Christmas
in 1960. For several years it was an unusual week if he didn’t go
through a tin of 500 pellets. Center, the new Ruger American
Rimfire Compact is an outstanding training rifle for younger
shooters. It is also mighty handy to tuck in the tractor cab
or behind the seat of the pickup. When the new shooter is
ready for a centerfire, the Ruger All-Weather Hawkeye .223
will expedite the learning process. Scope is Leupold Mk
4 3.5-10x40mm M1.

Multiple Ammo

A port on the left side allows up to 75 BB’s to be loaded in the magazine. With the bolt retracted, raising the muzzle and tilting the rifle a bit to the right lets a BB roll into the port, where it is held by the magnetic tip of the bolt. BB’s weren’t as accurate, only delivering 1- to 2-inch groups, but were more fun for tin can plinking.

Opening the pump handle automatically engages the manual safety. The synthetic stock is well designed with a soft, comfortable cheekpiece. The only criticism I can make of the rifle is the trigger, which has some creep and breaks at over 7 pounds.

Iron sights are very good, with an adjustable rear sight on the barrel, and fiber optic front sight. An 11mm rail makes it easy to add optical sights. It’s an excellent little plinker both youth and adults can enjoy.


The Umarex NGX APX is a multi-pump pneumatic air rifle
capable of shooting both BB’s and .177-inch pellets.
The Umarex 4x15mm scope is attached to the integral
11mm rail. This air rifle is an excellent trainer
for new shooters, and also great fun for experienced
rifle shooters.

Rimfire Up

I’ve been looking for a .22 rifle to introduce youngsters to shooting. I wanted a compact, manually-operated repeater. It had to have a decent trigger, adequate iron sights and the capability to accept optical sights. Ideally it would have a short length-of-pull to fit young frames, and the ability to grow along with the shooter.

Kids sure grow fast and tall these days. I was one of the taller guys in my high school class at 5 feet, 11 inches in socks. Today when I attend a graduation it seems half the girls and most of the boys are taller than I am.

I read with great interest Holt Bodinson’s article (March, 2014 issue) on the Ruger American Rimfire. What most impressed me was the rifle’s excellent trigger pull, a quality many rimfire rifles seem to lack.

When Ruger announced a compact version, I had to have one. It is short, light, accurate, balances and handles well. The trigger easily adjusted to a crisp 3 pounds. The stock comes with two comb height options, for either iron sights or scope sight. I fitted the higher comb and a Leupold Ultralight 2-7x28mm scope.

Two other features I really like: the rifle uses the wonderful Ruger rotary 10-shot magazine, proven by 50 years use on the great 10-22 rifle. Half a dozen 10-22 magazines I had on hand all fitted and functioned on the American Compact.

The other feature is the interchangeable comb. In addition to the two heights supplied, the Compact also accepts the combs made for the standard American rimfire (which can be purchased separately from Ruger), changing length of pull from 12.5 to 13.75 inches. When your 5 foot, 4 inch 12-year old is a hulking 6 foot, 4 inch adult, the rifle will still fit.

This Ruger rimfire is a sweet little rifle, whether for youth or adult, easy to shoot, easy to carry or pack along in a pickup truck or ATV. What the heck, if none of the kids want to shoot I can get lots of use out of it myself.


Gusty winds varying from 10 to 25 mph made .22 LR shooting even
more of a challenge than usual. Champion rifle shooter David Tubb
once told Dave when he is testing a rifle or load, if the winds are
gusting and time is short, he just forgets about the wind and
considers group height only. I set this target at 50 yards and
did try to time the wind for consistency, not always succeeding.
The group is strung out horizontally but the group height gives a
better measure of the rifle’s accuracy potential.

American Rimfire Compact
Maker: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street
Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442

Type: Bolt-action repeater
Cartridge: .22LR (tested), .17 HMR, .22 WMR
Magazine capacity: 10
Materials: Blued alloy steel, black composite synthetic stock
Barrel length: 18 inches
Length overall: 35.75 inches
Length of pull: 12.5 inches
Sights: Adjustable folding leaf rear, fiber optic front
Scope base: 3/8-inch grooved receiver, drilled and tapped for bases
Price: $329

VX-2 2-7×28 Ultralight
14400 Northwest
Greenbriar Parkway
Beaverton, OR, 97006
(503) 646-9171
For more info:

Actual magnification: 2.4X to 6.7X
Eye relief: 3.5 inches (2X), 3.1 inches (7X)
Main tube diameter: 1 inch
Main tube length: 4.8 inches
Length overall: 10.1 inches
Objective diameter: 28mm
Adjustment range: 85-MOA elevation & windage
Weight: 8.5 ounces
Adjustments: 1/4-MOA clicks
Price: $414.99

NXG APX Air Rifle
Maker: Umarex USA
7700 Chad Colley Blvd
Fort Smith, AR 72916
(479) 646-4210
For more info:

Caliber: .177 (4.5mm)
Type: Multi-pump pneumatic
Barrel length: 20 inches
Length overall: 39 inches
Weight: 3.5 pounds
Ammunition: .177 pellets (single shot), BB (75-shot magazine)
Sights: Adjustable rear, fiber-optic front
Scope mount: 11mm rail
Safety: Automatic on cocking
Price: $79.99

By Dave Anderson

Click Here To See Performance Charts

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Vanguard Back Country

Weatherby’s Sleek Sporter
Is A Double Threat In .240 WM.

The Weatherby Vanguard is one of the best sporting rifles currently available, both in absolute terms and in value for your money. Weatherby assembles, test fires, markets and warranties the Vanguard in the USA, using barreled actions from Howa of Japan.

Howa Machinery began operations in 1907. Today their products include precision machine tools, pneumatic and hydraulic equipment, specialized construction vehicles and electronic manufacturing machines.

During the Allied Occupation following WWII, Howa was contracted to repair and make parts for the US M1 carbine, and to make complete carbines. Later on, Howa produced the Type 64 rifle for Japan’s armed forces.

Howa began making a bolt-action sporting rifle introduced to the US in 1967 as the Dickson-Howa “Golden Bear.” It was a copy of the Sako L61 right down to the integral receiver dovetail bases. Apparently due to patent infringement claims from Sako it was discontinued in 1970.

In the late 1960’s Roy Weatherby went to Howa to produce the flagship Mark V rifle. Around 1970 Weatherby introduced the lower-cost Vanguard, on a 2-lug action built by Howa. Originally the Vanguard action was the Sako L61 copy without the integral bases. It had the L61’s split left-locking lug, fixed ejector blade in the receiver, a short, coil-spring powered extractor and full-length guide rib.

Possibly Sako felt their patents were still being infringed. In any case about 1973 Howa designed a new action called the 1500. Although people to this day recall the Sako connection, in fact the 1500 shows very little L61 influence. It was actually more similar to the Weatherby Mark V.

How much input Roy Weatherby had into the new design I don’t know, but the 1500 shares several Mark V features: the extractor, bolt-face plunger ejector, fluted bolt body, three gas-relief holes in the bolt, bolt shroud and cocking indicator.

Weatherby was not the only company to use the redesigned action. Smith & Wesson marketed the models 1500 and 1700 (detachable box magazine) from the early 1980’s until 1984, Mossberg from 1986 to 1987. Currently Howa rifles are imported and sold in the US under the Howa name.

The action is a 2-lug action with 90-degree bolt lift. A slot on the right locking lug rides a rail in the receiver for smooth cycling of the bolt. The bolt body, lugs and handle are made in one piece, unusual these days when most bolts are assembled from two or three components.


The Vanguard Back Country tested was chambered in .240 Wby. A belted case of
approximately ’06 capacity, the .240 adds about 150 to 200 fps more than .243
Win velocities. To suit the 1:10-twist, Dave likes the Hornady 87-grain V-Max
for range shooting and varmints such as coyotes, and the 95-grain Nosler
Ballistic Tip for deer. Slow-burning powders such as those shown all work
well, using Weatherby cases and Winchester standard primers. Both bullets
easily surpassed the Weatherby Sub-MOA guarantee.

The Vanguard receiver has a large, flat bedding surface ahead of the magazine well. The recoil lug is massive, and integral with the receiver rather than a separate component. When properly bedded in the stock, the receiver is solid and stable, one of the keys to accuracy.

The trigger was the only weak point of the original Vanguard. It was safe and reliable, but not easy to adjust to a crisp and light pull. Many a Vanguard enthusiast factored a Timney replacement trigger into the original cost.

The new trigger of the S2 Vanguards is one of the best ever to appear on a factory rifle. It’s a 2-stage design with a short, light take-up followed by a crisp break. Those I’ve tested are generally 3 pounds or a couple ounces over, and can be user-adjusted to about 2-1/2 pounds.

Along with the trigger, the S2’s have a 3-position manual safety, which can be used to lock both sear and bolt, or in the central position, unlock the bolt so the rifle can be loaded and unloaded with the sear locked.

In addition to a sound basic design, the barreled actions are made with exceptional workmanship and quality control. Howa has been making this rifle a long time now. You don’t hear about “pre-something” or “the best era” with Howa-made rifles. They have manufacture and quality control down cold.

There are various ways to keep manufacturing costs down. The worst way is to cut corners, use cheaper materials and lower the bar for quality control. Fortunately there are other ways; for example, more efficient and less labor-intensive manufacturing techniques.


The Bell & Carlson stock incorporates fiberglass and aramide fibers,
and is much stronger and more rigid than the typical injection-molded
stocks. The receiver flat and recoil lug are bedded using bedding compound
(above) while the action screws run through aluminum bedding pillars (below).


Examples are hammer-forged barrels, investment casting and in more recent years, CNC machining. These methods generally require a very large initial investment in equipment. Once the investment is made, though, the cost of each unit produced is relatively low. When it comes to the latest in machine tool technology, Howa has a further advantage—they make the tools.

This leads to the other aspect of lowering costs. If a great many virtually identical parts can be produced, the cost of each is less. The classic example is the Ford Model T. When introduced in 1908 the price was $825. When the 15-millionth T was made in 1927 the price was under $300.

There’s a downside as well. Brad Ruddell, who worked at Weatherby for years before starting his own business, once commented, “Howa is a wonderful company to work with, they take great pride in maintaining high quality. But they don’t like making changes. Just persuading them to add a new cartridge chambering takes a lot of discussion.”

Echoes of the famous Model T quote attributed to Henry Ford, “Any color you want as long as it’s black.” Well, Americans wanted other colors, they want choices in their rifles, and thanks to Weatherby they get them. Weatherby offers a variety of stocks, barrel lengths, finishes, carbon or stainless steel, cartridge selection and complete packages. The website currently lists 24 Vanguard models, including the Wby-X and TR versions, covering 14 calibers.

The basic Synthetic model, whether in carbon or stainless steel, is an amazing value. Currently the Back Country is the highest priced model, since it has the most features and custom work. The stock, by Bell & Carlson, is far more rigid than the typical injection-molded stock. The action is pillar-bedded, plus it appears to have been hand-bedded under the receiver flat and behind the recoil lug.


Unlike many current designs where the bolt is fabricated from two or
three pieces, the Vanguard bolt body, locking lugs, bolt handle and
cocking cam are all one piece of steel.


The S2 series Vanguards have an excellent 2-stage trigger, adjustable for
weight of pull with the screw on front of the trigger housing. Dave adjusted
his pull to 2-3/4 pounds. It is crisp and clean, with weight of pull varying
hardly an ounce in 20 measurements.


The massive recoil lug of the Vanguard is integral with the receiver and
has plenty of surface area to engage the recoil slot in the stock. Note
the large, flat bedding surface on the Vanguard action ahead of the
magazine well. The front action screw threads into the thick steel of
the recoil lug. Properly bedded along with aluminum bedding pillars,
and the action screws torqued to 55 in-lbs., the action is not going to move.


The Weatherby Vanguard Back Country weighs 6-3/4 pounds. With a Leupold
VX-2 3-9×33 Ultralight scope and steel Talley bases/rings, weight is
under 7-3/4 pounds. The Decelerator recoil pad isn’t really needed for
the .240 Wby cartridge, but would be appreciated in a .300 Magnum.
Features of the Weatherby Vanguard Back Country include the rigid
Bell & Carlson stock with spiderweb finish and Decelerator pad,
fluted 24-inch barrel and CeraKote finish on barreled action.
Knife by Spyderco, Meopta 10×42 binocular rounds out Dave’s
hunting package.

The barrel is fluted with six broad flutes to reduce weight. The Back Country weighs 6-3/4 pounds, compared to 7-1/2 pounds for the synthetic long action. The barreled action has a handsome and very tough CeraKote finish. Tested in a controlled salt-air environment, stainless steel began showing corrosion after 24 hours. The CeraKote finish did not show signs of corrosion until over 2,000 hours, by which time both the carbon and stainless steel samples were nothing but rusted, pitted messes.

The test rifle is in .240 Weatherby, Roy’s last cartridge design, appearing in 1968. Case length and powder capacity are similar to the .30-06 case and its offspring. The .240 has the same 0.473-inch case head diameter as the ’06, though the .240 has a belt and the Weatherby double-radius shoulder.
Case capacity varies with brand and brass thickness, but typically a fired .243 Win case holds about 53 grains of water, compared to about 63 grains for the .240. Assuming the same barrel length, the .240 adds about 150 to 200 fps to .243 velocities.

Because Vanguards are so inherently accurate I’ve long felt they’d make a great platform for long-range shooting. The only problem was the slow barrel twists for some cartridges, notably 1:12 inches in .223 and 1:10 in .243. Slow twists shut the door on some very slippery low-drag bullets.

Howa may be slow to change, but they do change. I see the Wby-X rifles now have 1:9 twists in .223. I’d rather have 1:8 but 1:9 is a big improvement.
Even more interesting, the lowest-priced Synthetic is now offered in 6.5 Creedmoor with a 1:8 twist. Use the money saved to buy a 20-MOA base and a quality scope, load super-slick low drag 140-grain bullets, and start stacking them up at the 1,000-yard line.
By Dave Anderson

Vanguard Back Country

Maker: Howa Machinery Ltd
1900-1 Sukaguchi, Kiyosu, Aichi,
452-8601 Japan
Importer: Weatherby, Inc.
1605 Commerce Way
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 227-2600

Type: Bolt-action repeater
Caliber: .240 Wby. (tested), .257 Wby, .300 Wby, .270 Win, .30-06, .300 Win Mag
Capacity: 5 (.300 Mags 3)
Barrel: 24 inches
Stock: Fiberglass synthetic, spider web finish, pillar bedded
Metal finish: CeraKote, Length of pull: 13-5/8 inches
Length overall: 44-1/2 inches
Weight: 6-3/4 pounds
Price: $1,399

VX-2 Ultralight 3-9×33 CDS

Maker: Leupold & Stevens
14400 Northwest Greenbriar Parkway
Beaverton, OR, 97006
(503) 646-9171

Actual magnification: 3.2X, to 8.8X
Objective lens diameter: 33mm
Eyepiece focus: Fast focus, lockable
Eye relief: 3.4 inches (3X), 3.1 inches (9X)
Weight: 9.8 ounces
Adjustment range: 64-MOA elevation & windage
Adjustments: 1/4 MOA
Main tube diameter: 1 inch
Length of main tube: 5.5 inches
Length overall: 11.3 inches
Finish: Matte
Reticle: Duplex
Price: $499.99

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Mike’s New Rifle

Listen to your Uncle Dave—or don’t! Pt. 1

At a family barbecue, my nephew Mike came over and said, “Uncle, I’d like to ask you a question. I’m thinking of buying a rifle…”

“And you wanted advice,” I replied. “You sure are lucky to have an uncle who has hunted big game on three continents, won scores of shooting medals and trophies, an uncle who is a highly paid and influential firearms writer.”

Mike looked at me with what seemed to be genuine astonishment. “I do? Which one?”

“Never mind. What’s the question?”

“The question… Oh yeah, when I buy my new rifle could I bring it to the farm to shoot it?”

“Yes. You may. What are you buying? Let me guess! A .300 Magnum?”

“How did you know?”

“It’s what your generation does. You’ve never owned a rifle, I believe.”

“No, I have a shotgun, a Benelli Nova 12-gauge pump. But I’ve been shooting a buddy’s rifles, and taken hunter safety and firearm safety classes.”

“OK, now listen to uncle. What you need is a .22 with which to learn to shoot. Then you need a .223 or .243, something enjoyable and inexpensive to shoot, with enough power for the deer you’ll actually be hunting. Someday you’ll likely hunt moose and elk, and then it’ll be time enough to get the .300.”

“Thanks, Uncle!”

Mike arrived at the farm with his new rifle. His first words were, “I asked my mom, she said you really have done a lot of hunting and shooting and writing. So all that stuff you told me is true?”

“All except the part about being highly paid. What rifle did you buy?”

“A Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .300 Winchester Magnum.”

“I guess the part about being influential was wrong too. Did you listen at all when I said get a .22 first?”

“I did, Uncle, but I don’t think you’ve thought it through. With a .22 I could hunt gophers and rabbits. With a .300 I can hunt gophers, rabbits, deer, moose, elk—anything I want. So I’ll just need one rifle.”


Mike with his new rifle (above), bore sighted and ready to be sighted in.
It’s a Winchester 70 Featherweight .300 Win Mag, topped with a Burris
Fullfield II 3-9×40 in Leupold Dual Dovetail bases/rings. The rifle shows
excellent fit and finish, and the action operates with smooth precision.
Shooting, of course, will be the ultimate test. Next month. Mike’s new
rifle (center) is flanked by a couple of Dave’s rifles, including (left)
a Winchester 70 Featherweight .264 Win Mag with Leupold VX-III 4.5-14×40,
and (right) a Kimber 84 Montana .223 Rem, 3.5-10×42 Swarovski. All have
Leupold Dual Dovetail bases/rings.

“I see. And you see this as a sensible goal, to own the fewest possible number of guns. Interesting. Let’s get the rifle ready.”

I had various tools, solvents, and patches on a table on the deck. “We’ll start by cleaning the bore.”

“But it hasn’t even been shot yet!”

“It was shot at the factory, and there’s likely preservative in the bore. We want to start with a clean, dry bore. This is a Dewey coated cleaning rod. This is a bore guide, to keep the rod straight, not rubbing on the chamber throat.”

With the bore clean, I picked up the bolt. “See the four digits etched on the bolt? They have to match the last four digits of the serial number. Bolts are individually fitted at the factory.”

“Really? Have you ever known a factory to mix up bolts?”

“Never have, but a customer or store clerk might have been looking at two or three rifles and got them mixed. That’s not the point. Whenever you acquire a bolt-action rifle, new or used, check to see the bolt and receiver match. It’s something a rifleman does.”

I slipped the bolt in the rifle and cycled it a few times. Nice and smooth. The trigger pull was crisp and clean, if a bit heavy. I weighed it with the Lyman gauge—4-1/4 pounds. I checked to see the safety operated properly, then set it at mid-position and removed the bolt.

“With a Model 70 it’s easy to remove the cocking piece/firing pin assembly. We’ll make sure the firing pin channel in the bolt is clean. We’ll apply a very light coat of lube/preservative, we don’t want it to congeal in cold weather.”

I removed the screws and bottom metal. The barreled action was a tight fit in the stock. I showed Mike how to grip the barrel at one end, the receiver bridge at the other, then gently rock the barreled action while lifting up to free it.

“The fit is tight because Winchester uses bedding compound in the recoil lug recess. There’s some bedding compound here as well, under the tang.” I showed him what the tang is. “If we were going to adjust the trigger pull we’d do that next.”
“So are we going to lighten it?”

“Mike, you need to do a lot of shooting and dry fire to develop really good trigger control. Plus you’ll likely be hunting in cold weather. We’ll leave it as is for now.”

I reassembled the rifle, snugged down the action screws, checked the barrel was centered in the barrel channel, then thumped the recoil pad briskly on the deck a couple of times. “That’s to make sure the recoil lug is snug. I suppose it’s a waste of time as the first shot seats it a lot closer. But it’s what a rifleman does. Do you know what torque specs Winchester recommends for the action screws?

“Well… I don’t have the instruction manual with me.”


A few accessories used to prepare Mike’s new rifle for shooting
included a Brownells torque wrench for action and scope screws,
Lyman trigger pull gauge, Sinclair rifle rest, a few oils/solvents
Dave had on hand, cleaning gear including Dewey and Parker-Hale
rods, MTM bore guide, Otis kit BoreSnake. Reading the instruction
manual is never time wasted.


For a novice, Mike has nice taste in rifles. The Winchester 70 Featherweight
is a handsome, well-made rifle and the Burris scope is bright, clear, and
reliable. Leupold Dual Dovetail bases/rings are both attractive and super-strong.

“I bet you haven’t read it either. There’s lots of good information in the manual. You should read it, and keep it in the rifle case. Now it happens I have an identical rifle. Winchester recommends 35 inch-pounds of torque.”

I tightened the screws with the Brownells torque wrench. “Next we fit scope bases and rings. I bought these Leupold Dual Dovetails for one of my rifles. There are cheaper options but since this is the only rifle you’ll ever own we may as well use a setup that is strong and looks good.”

We removed the filler receiver screws and used degreasing fluid on the receiver top, screw holes, the bases and screws.
“What are the torque specs for Leupold base screws?” I asked.

“How would I—wait, I could read the directions! Let’s see… Leupold recommends 22 in-lbs for 6-48 screws.”

I set the wrench and tightened the screws, then assembled the rings and put a dab of grease on the bottom lugs. “Use a rod or dowel to turn the rings in and align them. Make sure they’re aligned so as not to stress the scope tube. Now let’s see the scope you picked out.”

“Is this a good scope, Uncle?” Mike handed me a Burris Fullfield II 3-9×40. I assured him it was, and a good value to boot. With the rings in place but loose I had him position it for eye relief, and square up the crosshairs. I tightened the ring screws to 15 in-lbs., taking pains so the ring gap was the same side-to-side and front-to-back. This isn’t critical, but it looks better.

With the bolt out and the rifle sitting on sandbags, I got the bore aligned on a distant fencepost, then turned the adjustments to bore sight. “Don’t you have one of those bore sighting tools, Uncle?”

“You mean a collimator? I do but it is upstairs, and this works. We’re ready to shoot but you’ll have to wait a month.”
“I do?”

“Not you. The readers.”
By Dave Anderson

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An Easy Packin’ Rifle

The Savage Model 11 .260 Rem delivers
Excellent accuracy AND portability.

The Lightweight Hunter is one of Savage’s specialty series, offered in both the Model 11 short action and the Model 111 standard-length action.

Nominal weights are 5.5 and 6 pounds for the two action sizes, and individual rifle weight will vary depending on caliber and wood density. The rifle shown here is one I bought at a local store, a Model 11 in .260 Rem. On a certified scale it weighs 5-3/4 pounds.

Getting a rifle under 6 pounds isn’t too hard, the trick is to make it both light and well balanced. It’s easy enough to fit a slim, short barrel and boast of light overall weight, but an unbalanced, muzzle-light package is hard to hold steadily, or to swing smoothly for running shots.

The Savage barrel is indeed quite light. It is 20 inches long, measures 1.025-inch just ahead of the locking nut with a straight taper to 0.550-inch at the muzzle. When I first saw the rifle I was sure it would be too muzzle-light. It was a pleasant surprise to find it balanced very well, and when I measured, I found the balance point is about 5 inches ahead of the trigger, just where I like it.

Savage paid attention to the stock as well as the barrel. The stock weighs 30 ounces, including 6 ounces for the Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, sling swivel studs, pistol grip cap and bedding pillars. Savage routed out wood under the recoil pad to reduce weight and improve balance.
The forearm is slim and trim, with 8 slots underneath to further reduce weight and aid in barrel cooling. (Actually the effect on both is minimal but it does make for a distinctive appearance.)

Four machined slots along the left-hand rail, and two more on the right side of the receiver bridge reduce receiver weight. The bolt has spiral flutes, which I think reduces weight by about 1/2 ounce, and in any case looks nice.

Speaking of appearance, Savage made some changes giving their flagship rifle more visual appeal. The obtrusive bolt release on the right side of the receiver is gone, replaced by a neat plunger at the front of the triggerguard. The barrel nut, which aids in precision headspacing, is now rounded and much less obtrusive than the original knurled nut.


The Savage 11 Lightweight Hunter in .260 Rem topped with a Burris Fullfield
E1 2-7x35mm scope is compact, light, well balanced, accurate and reliable.
It offers a tremendous amount of performance at a modest price.

Stock Shape

Stock of the Lightweight Hunter is nicely shaped and very comfortable to shoot. Quality of materials and workmanship of both wood and metal is very good. Buttpad and pistol grip cap are well fitted, the machine-cut checkering is well done in a tasteful pattern and inletting appears smooth and precise.

Barrel and receiver have a non-reflective matte finish. Cartridge feeding, extraction and ejection were smooth and reliable. The rifle has Savage’s Accutrigger, and out of the box it weighed 3 pounds, 2 ounces with a crisp break. I used the adjustment tool included to reduce weight-of-pull to 2-1/4 pounds.

Of course there are some concessions to the modern age. The triggerguard and material surrounding the magazine are some kind of high-impact polymer. There are metal inserts around the holes for the action screws. These, along with the metal bedding pillars, allow the action screws to be torqued solidly without stressing the synthetic components.

The detachable box magazine is of metal with a synthetic base plate. It holds 4 cartridges in a staggered column tapering to a single straight-line feed of the top cartridge. The barrel is free-floated right back to the receiver.


The Savage Lightweight Hunter with Burris Fullfield E1 2-7×35 combo weighs 6-3/4 pounds,
ideal for the hunter planning to pack his rifle on long hikes. Knife is by Bob Dozier.


The Burris Fullfield E1 2-7×35 makes a nice package with the Savage Lightweight Hunter
using Burris Z-rings. Dave used medium rings to provide clearance for the power adjustment
ring and for bolt handle clearance. Note the 4 milled slots on the left receiver rail to
reduce weight. Machine-cut checkering is very well done in an attractive pattern. The
rifle has the excellent AccuTrigger, which broke cleanly at 3 pounds, 2 ounces and was
easily adjusted to 2-1/4 pounds.


Savage has replaced the obtrusive right-side bolt release with a plunger release
ahead of the triggerguard. The barrel locking nut is now rounded to match the front
of the receiver. Both changes make the rifle much more visually appealing. The
Lightweight Hunter has milling cuts on the receiver bridge as well as spiral bolt
flutes to reduce weight.

It’s A Shooter

Accuracy was very good (no surprise from a Savage rifle). The loads I used included Remington cases, W-W primers, Nosler 120-grain Ballistic Tip and Hornady 140-grain A-Max bullets, Alliant RL-17 and Ramshot Hunter powders. The barrel is throated so I could seat bullets out to just touch the lands, with the cartridges still fitting and feeding from the magazine.

Both bullets provided minute-of-angle accuracy in the Savage. As with any light rifle, minor inconsistencies in hold, which might go unnoticed in a heavy rifle, will pop a round out of the group.

The Burris 2-7×35 Fullfield E1 matches up nicely with this compact rifle. This scope has a separate power ring, unlike the Fullfield II, so the eyepiece doesn’t rotate when changing power. The reticle is etched on glass. Optics of the Burris are really good, as sharp and bright as scopes costing much more. A rapid focusing ring is used to adjust focus for individual eyesight.

After 15 minutes submerged in warm water and a night in the deep freeze the Burris scope showed no leaks or fogging. This model has 1/2-MOA clicks, which proved accurate and repeatable. The turrets have no “zero reset” feature after sighting in, making it a bit inconvenient for those who like to click turrets for different ranges. You can still do it; you just have to remember your starting point.

Since the scope has a “Ballistic Plex E1” reticle most users will use the reticle aiming points rather than spin turrets. This reticle has 4 aiming points in addition to the crosshair intersection. Additional dots on left and right are calibrated to a 10 mph full-value wind.

The elevation spacings match up reasonably well with typical cartridge trajectories. With the scope set at 7X, using a 140-grain Hornady A-Max at 2,750 fps and sighted at 100 yards, the other 4 aiming points were within 1/4 MOA of being right on at 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards.

With a cartridge such as .270 Win. or .300 Win Mag, sight for 200 yards and the other aiming points are approximately on at 300, 400, 500 and 600 yards. Obviously this will vary with cartridge, velocity and bullet, and needs to be confirmed by actual shooting at the various ranges.

I found real-world prices lower than suggested retail. I’m reminded again of the remarkable era we’re living in. Laser the range, pick your aiming point and first-shot hits from off the muzzle to 500 yards are routine. All for around $1,000 in a fast handling, well-balanced package under 7 pounds. Very nice!
By Dave Anderson

Model 11 Lightweight Hunter
Maker: Savage Arms
100 Springdale Road, Westfield, MA 01085
(413) 642-4262

Action type: Bolt action
Caliber: .260 Rem, (tested), .223, .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .308
Capacity: 4+1
Barrel: 20 inches, 1:8 twist
Overall length: 40-1/4 inches
Weight: empty, 5-3/4 pounds
Finish: Matte blue
Stock: American walnut, oil finish, checkered, pillar bedded
Drop at comb: 3/4 inches
Drop at heel: 1 inch
Length of pull: 13-1/2 inches
Price: $962

2-7x35mm Fullfield E1
Maker: Burris Company
920 54th Avenue , Greeley, CO 80634
(970) 356-1670

Power: 2X-7X, Main tube diameter: 1 inch
Objective lens diameter: 35mm
Ocular diameter: 40mm
Eye relief (inches): 3.1 (7X) to 4.1 (2X)
Adjustments: 1/2 MOA
Adjustment range: 60 MOA elevation & windage
Length overall: 11.4 inches
Length of main tube: 5.4 inches
Weight: 12 ounces
Finish: Matte
Reticle: Ballistic Plex E1
Price: $297

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Choices, Choices and More Choices

Picking A Rifle Cartridge? Let’s
Narrow The Playing Field First.

When discussions around the campfire turn to “favorite cartridges” I usually go take a walk. My own hierarchy of importance goes about like this: (1) shooting ability, (2) bullet selection, (3) rifle selection, (4) cartridge selection.

Still, a rifle has to be chambered for something. Telling a new shooter any one of 50 cartridges would work isn’t always being helpful. Here are a few caliber-by-caliber suggestions in three categories:

Sentimental Favorites (SF). These are generally associated with a favorite rifle and/or a lot of use.
Practical Reality (PR). Real-world cartridges, which are widely distributed, with a good selection of loaded ammunition, bullets and rifles.

Overlooked Gems (OG). Here are cartridges, which, in my opinion, should be more popular than they are.


SF: .222 Remington. I keep a good stockpile of Remington brass on hand so I never worry about ammunition being hard to find. Light 36 to 40-grain bullets really put spring in the old gal’s step.

PR: .223 Remington. Why? It’s a no-brainer—tons of high quality brass, dozens of rifle choices, excellent performance, long barrel life and outstanding accuracy.

OG: .220 Swift. The Swift has an illustrious history (4,000+ fps prior to WWII) and remains the ultimate .22 factory speedster.


Good rifles and good cartridges include (left to right) the
Ed Brown Damara 7mm-08 with a Leupold 2.5-8×36, Remington 700
Ti .30-06, with a Leupold 2.5-6×36, Remington 600 Mohawk .308
with a Kollmorgen 2.5X, Ruger M77 Compact Magnum .300 RCM
with a Redfield 3-9×40.


SF/PR: .243 Winchester. I bought my first .243, a Remington 700, in 1975 and have owned quite a few since.
OG: .240 Weatherby. If speed is what you want, the .240 WM provides it, and now it’s chambered in the “best buy” Weatherby Vanguard S2.


SF: (tie) .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .257 Weatherby. I like all my quarter-bore rifles (though they are seldom twisted right), even though the .25-caliber bullet selection is a bit slim.

PR: .25-06 Remington. In wildcat form it preceded the .270, and in factory form is the most popular of the .25’s.


SF: .264 Winchester Magnum. Like its near-twin, the .257 Weatherby, the .264 is loud, inefficient and hard on barrels. But I love them both. Sometimes even the most hardheaded realist likes to put the pedal to the metal.
PR: Can’t think of one, which is a shame. Closest is the .260 Remington. If only rifles and ammo were more widely available. . .

OG: .260 Remington, 6.5×55 Swede. Load either up with super-slick, high BC bullets for great downrange performance combined with long barrel life and moderate recoil.

.277/.284 (Standard)

SF/PR: .270 Winchester. I’ve used the .270 for more than 40 years, and shot more game with it than any other cartridge. One of the all-time greats, it’s both a sentimental and practical favorite.

PR/SF: 7mm-08 Remington. I didn’t start using the 7mm-08 until the late 1980’s, and then only after I started borrowing my wife Simone’s little Browning Micro Medallion. A very practical cartridge, it has become one of my “sentimental favorites” as well.

OG: (tie) .280 Remington, .284 Winchester, 7mm Mauser. All are outstanding—the only negatives are limited rifle selection. If I had only one big-game rifle, I could get along with any one of the five cartridges listed in this category.



Looking for a combo to reach out a long ways, and hit hard when it arrives? This Weatherby Mk V (above, left) in .340 Wby, with a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 will do it, if you don’t mind the sharp recoil. Dave likes all quarter bores, but the king of them all is the .257 Weatherby (above, right), here chambered in a Vanguard Sub-MOA with a Zeiss Victory scope. An 80-grain Barnes TSX at 3,800 fps makes it a superior pronghorn proposition.

277/.284 (Magnum)

SF/PR: 7mm Remington Magnum. I’ve shot a fair bit of game with this cartridge in two fine rifles, an older Sako L-61 Finnbear and a Remington 700. If I have an objection to it, it’s because the rifles for it are a bit heavy.
OG: .270 Weatherby. This one I’ve never owned or even fired, but I like the

ballistics. It’s a favorite of Ed Weatherby, who knows a bit about the performance of his various proprietary cartridges.

.30 (Standard)

SF: .30-06. Duh. Guy likes the ’06. How original can you get? Even when hunting with another rifle, one of my pre-’64 Model 70’s in .30-06 generally goes along as a spare.

PR: .308 Winchester. It’s available in just about any rifle configuration you can imagine, and with a wide array of ammunition choices.

OG: .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. The Ruger RCM is actually closer to ’06 capacity than .30 magnum capacity. The Ruger Compact Magnum rifles—no longer listed—are absolutely superb hunting rifles; compact, perfectly balanced, fast-handling, with just a bit more zip than factory ’06 loads and with mild recoil. Someday the rifle world will realize what they missed.

.30 (Magnum)

SF/PR: .300 Winchester Magnum. I think I’ve shot more game with the .300 Win Mag than with any other cartridge except for the .270 Win. With it, a tough 180-grain bullet such as the Barnes TSX at 3,000 fps, is a wicked performer.

OG: .300 Weatherby Magnum. This one is considered by many to the best of the .30 magnums. The only negative about it is limited rifle/ammunition choices.



The .222 has lost a lot of popularity, but not its accuracy and pleasant shooting qualities. This BSA Hunter (above, left) was made in the early 1950’s on a short Brno action and wears an older Leupold 6X. Dave can be a sentimental old coot! He’s still fond of the .250-3000, whether it’s chambered in a 1946-vintage Savage 99 or a Ruger M77 (above, right).


SF: .340 Weatherby. As I get older, the fast, hard recoil of my fairly light .340 is becoming more than I want to manage, though a shift to tough bullets under 200 grains helps.

PR: .338 Winchester Magnum. This is not only a great cartridge, its success really established the .33 as a popular bore size.

OG: .338 Ruger Compact Magnum. The same comments apply to the .338 RCM as to the .300 RCM.


SF/PR: .375H&H. It’s tough to say something new about the .375 H&H. It’s only been the best all-around, “hunt anything, anywhere” cartridge for the last century. Apparently there is some law against criticizing it, at least no one ever does.

OG: .375 Ruger. This short .375 has virtually identical ballistics to the H&H in a rimless case designed to fit most bolt actions. Rifle and ammunition choices seem to be increasing, a nice sign.
By Dave Anderson

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