Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Minimum Practical Hunting Battery- A Discussion

I'm currently out of Alaska, in Tennessee, and reminiscing at my folk's house among artifacts and locations of times past. While perusing some old magazines that had been forgotten, I came across a pretty interesting quote. This came from a 2002 copy of Guns And Ammo magazine, specifically from the "Cooper's Corner" column although I've seen the quote in print other places and the Jeff Cooper commentary on it in other places as well. This came from the Jeff Cooper's Commentaries Volume 10, Number 7. After ruminating on the article I thought it worth consideration and comment. Please note that although I'll mention a couple of specific makers don't construe this as a product review, I only use these as example from my personal selection.

By Jeff Cooper-
"Shooting Master John Gannaway points out that all you really need is a 22 and a 30-06. While I go along with that, I cannot avoid making a couple of perhaps unnecessary additions. First of all, the 308 is the ballistic twin of the 30-06 now with modern loadings, and even without the modern loadings the differences are too slight to matter. So your Steyr Scout in 308 will do what you need, unless you are a specialist. Certainly you need a 22 rifle, and there are scores of good ones around, but also you can probably establish need for a 22 pistol. This is most obvious if you live in the country. And then there is the matter of the shotgun. Some people really need a shotgun, both for home defense and for recreation. So I guess I would expand my minimum list to include a Steyr Scout, a Marlin 39 22 (particularly an older model without the cross-bolt safety), a compact 22 self-loading pistol, and a good grade self-loading 12-gauge shotgun. That is four guns, hardly enough to satisfy an aficionado, but certainly enough for others. Living as I have all my life amongst shooters, I cannot think of anyone who owns only four guns. On the other hand I think that when you get up into the hundreds you are overstating the case."

After thinking about this for a while I realized that the overwhelming majority of my hunting has been accomplished with the exact battery mentioned in the piece- the .22 and the .30-06. While in a previous piece I mentioned the relative unimportance of caliber in a hunting rifle and how it's not something to get wrapped around the axle about; I have done a great deal of hunting with the .30-06 Springfield as well as it's near ballistic twin the .308 Winchester. I've used both cartridges in several rifles each and the results in the field are basically indistinguishable from each other. While a bit underpowered for things like brown bears and such I've never found them wanting for the most hunted game animals in N. America- the deer family- at most reasonable ranges. In Alaska, the .30-06 is likely responsible for more game than any other cartridge. Although I firmly believe the .30-06 achieved its enormous popularity largely through circumstance than overwhelming genuine merit- I will readily give it its due. And it's due is that it is a wonderful all around hunting cartridge.

I've also hunted with several other calibers that fall into more specialized areas like the .223 and .22-250 for varmint hunting and the .375 H&H for slightly bigger critters. Although I'm fascinated with rifles and all the various permutations of cartridges I must admit that the small stuff and the big stuff are rather niche uses that are genuinely small markets in comparison to the more common "deer rifle". While I do on occasion hunt creatures that really call for either bigger or smaller than the .30-06/.308, and have a more recent interest in the range afforded by the various .300 magnums; the vast majority of all North American hunting (mine and everyone else's) is readily accomplished with the .30-06. While I've used a number of rifles from Remington, Winchester, Ruger, Steyr and Sig; my current "bread and butter" rifle is a Kimber Longmaster in .308. My wife gave it to me for an anniversary several years ago and it's special for that reason but its also the most consistently accurate rifle I've ever owned, as well as beautiful in the way really good walnut stocked rifles are. It's a bit heavy for mountain hunting and I'm loathe to damage that beautiful finish; but it's a joy to hunt with and I've done a good bit with it even in Alaska's fierce climate.

The .22 Long Rifle is a world standard for small game hunting and I've used it with great effect since I was a youngster. As I'm writing this the "hand-me-down" bolt action Marlin is in Dad's gun cabinet begging to go out and play. I've not shot this specimen in several years and its exact age is indeterminable (I'm thinking I'm the 4th or 5th person in my family to "own" it). As a youth I dragged this thing all over the woods and mountains with no small joy. It's finish is trashed, the stock is dinged and it's on its third firing pin but I love this old thing- they really don't make them like this anymore. Sometime in my teens I got the automatic bug and had a long string of various .22 self loaders but I never really fell in love with any of them. As a cartridge I expect I'll be shooting squirrels with the .22 long after my body has aged and I've abandoned the pursuit of larger game altogether. Stalking small game with the .22 will make the hunter more skilled and is a joy in itself- worthwhile time spent. The .22 really is the cartridge the hunter should start with and stay with in my opinion.

When I turned 30 I found myself a birthday present in the form of a Kimber 22 Classic Varmint (unfortunately now discontinued) that is the cosmetic twin of my much loved Kimber Longmaster .308. I know cosmetics should have little to do with a hunting rifle but you've got to have something to enjoy looking at when there's no game. The owner of the small gunshop (a longtime personal friend) was going out of business and made me the offer I simply couldn't refuse. I topped that rifle with a quality scope and proceeded to drive tacks. The rifle is certainly much more accurate than I ever am, it has a great trigger and balances off hand like nothing else I've ever shot. I bought it sort of on a lark, thinking it would make a great understudy for its "big brother" but I've been small game hunting more and more and its much more than an understudy- its a great hunting rifle in it's own right.

To get around to Cooper's additions to this minimum battery list- specifically the .22 handgun and the shotgun; I must admit no genuine love for either. I have had a small variety of .22 handguns that were simply too underwhelming to me in terms of utility or recreation to keep around. When I'm big game hunting on foot I generally will shun toting any extra weight in the form of a pistol- even a light .22 for grouse and such. Around the house, pest dispatch is easily accomplished with a .22 rifle and small game hunting with a rifle is preferred by me in general. While great fun to "plink" with, I've never really had a lot of genuine use for a .22 pistol.

In a similar vein I've never really had a lot of love for the shotgun. I've owned a few reasonable examples but never really fell in love with aerial gunnery. I never enjoyed waterfowl hunting although I admit I've never given it much serious effort and upland game was scarce enough where I lived in my youth that I bored of it quickly. It seems aerial shooting always required things I didn't have available- duck boats, retriever dogs, pointer dogs, and so forth. For small game hunting as previously mentioned I've always preferred a rimfire. As a kid I quickly abandoned the locally popular practice of shotgunning squirrels- too noisy and messy in my opinion and as an adult I greatly prefer the extra range afforded by the rimfire for hares and grouse (legal in Alaska but not many other states). I do admit the shotgun is the most versatile of all hunting weapons but it's never really been my choice for the type of hunting I enjoy.

I realize a lot of folks will have a different take and that's OK but the hunting products industries and their respective marketing departments are consistently pushing products toward the hunter that have little basis in "need" at all. While I readily admit that I enjoy all the technical minutae that accompanies the shooting and hunting pursuits, I often question if you were to strip all that away and get the modern hunting battery to its basic form- what would you be left with? I think mine is typified in the .30-06/.308 and the .22 and I have a wonderful example of both so my cup runneth over.

What does your minimum practical battery look like?


Albert A Rasch said...

I've frequently said that if I could only have two firearms they would be a .22 and a 30/06. Well, maybe a 300 Weatherby instead of the 30/06, but that's just for insurance.

There is little that can't be killed with the .22 and a well placed shot. And the 30/06 lets you do it from a little further off.

Great post!

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.

me said...

Over the last few months I have found that you and I have similar views on hunting and firearms.
A .22 and a 30-06 will do anything that needs to be done in North American and much of the world.

I would have to respectfully disagree on the "near ballistic twin" to the 30-06. In my blog I have stated that the 7mm Rem Mag and 300 Weatherby have wounded more game than any other caliber I have experienced. The .308 comes in #3, probably for different reasons than #1 and #2. (My post on .308 is still in draft.)

With a well-placed shot though, they all work well.

Great post. Have a fun while in Tennessee.

hodgeman said...

I knew that comment would stir some debate! I developed a love for the .308 Winchester while primarily hunting deer or caribou. The one advantage the .30-06 has is with heavy bullets and I think on elk it would be a real advantage although I'll defer to you on that one. Even though moose are bigger than elk, more experienced hunters tell me elk are a fair bit tougher and that moose are relatively soft for their size as well as typically shot at closer range.

In the 150-165gr range I'm not sure there's much to choose from between them though. I really like the Hornady Light Mags with 165 Interbonds in the .308 but if I were looking for an elk I'd probably take my .300 with 180 Partitions and shoot carefully.

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the .308 Winchester.

I'm also looking forward to hearing something about what Al uses on hogs as I'm completely unfamilar with shooting those.

Good hunting you guys!

tom said...

.177 Air Rifle of High Quality (Not olympian stuff but good enough to headshot small game and birds).

.22LR Rifle. Mixed feelings on autoloader vs bolt. Own and have owned many of both, both work. Suppose it depends on the context of this is a survival situation or just a minimum hunting battery and apply that caveat to all my choices.

.30-30 Contender PISTOL for close in brush hunting up to deer size game.

One of the .3xx mags. I'd need to know where I was expected to be living and hunting to pick which one. Most likely .375H&H.

11-48 Rem 12, because I like their balance and they're rugged and reliable.

Nothing wrong with .30-06, and I have a few, but for whatever reasons of upbringing and hunting experiences, it's never been a personal favorite nor has it ever been anything I disliked. It's just for the littler stuff I'd rather use .30-30 and bigger stuff I like the .3xx magnums.

Any choices you make are going to be compromises.

Whether or not a person is a reloader is a significant question too, as to what might be ideal and affordable.

I like .338Winnie or .375H&H for hogs but plenty of friends/acquaintances use .30-30 and .25-06 for hogs with no problems. It all comes down to shot placement and hunting styles. If you're going to hunt hogs from a blind over a feeder, most anything reasonable works if you can shoot. If you like to stalk through the brush and trees and often are presented with a snap shot on a running hog, where shot placement will often be less than ideal as you don't have much time to set up the shot, I like my .338s and .375s. Leave more room for placement error and still usually anchors the animal because I don't like blinds. My .338 Winnie Garand works nice on runners. That's what I bought it for. I'm fast with a bolt but not as fast as a Garand bolt that doesn't need my help.

Everybody has their own opinions and everybody has a different arsenal.

R. Gabe Davis said...

It is my opinion that the 30-06 (my favorite by the way) gained its popularity by being only slightly more expensive than the much less effective 30-30. 308's seemed exotic to me in the 80's and all the problems with the 30-30(range in particular) could be solved by the 30-06 at only a little more investment. You can still by a good Savage 30-06 (710 model) for less than most of the other guns you spoke of. price and performance made that caliber king of the middle class.

hodgeman said...

I mentioned that I thought the .30-06 gained popularity by circumstance rather the overwhelming merit. One of those circumstances is the fact that the US Gov't sold millions of surplus rifles at fire sale prices with ammo to boot. Heck you can still get a CMP Garand believe it or not.

So I think that cost was certainly a factor in its popularity and as a real bonus its also very effective!

Charlie Smith said...

I have had just about them all, and my favorite is a .308 BLR,"Staghammer", I have killed all sorts of everything with it, it is my go to rifle; fast into action, quick for a seldom necessary repeat shot, plenty accurate for the purpose, light to carry and short to handle.
I have had, do have now, 30-06s, I have never noticed much difference in killing power except perhaps with heavier bullets and a frontal shot.
I prefer the .22 magnum to the .22 lr, since they have changed the legislation here in Ontario so that I can hunt small game with it in moose or deer season. It out ranges and kills better than the long rifle in a package that is practical no bigger.