It's cold outside, time to get back to blogging a bit. I've had a very busy fall season.
Back in the way back when, circa 2009, I wrote a piece about the minimum practical hunting battery. It's been one of the most viewed articles I've posted. That was eight years ago and my hunting has changed a little since then as well as some new things on the market and other market forces are at work.
The Big Game Rifle- The centerfire hunting rifle is the centerpiece of most folks hunting battery over much of the west as well as the rest of the country. While folks continue to attempt to press the AR platform into the big game rifle role, what we're really talking about here is a scoped bolt action. New rifles are lighter and more accurate than ever. Something on the order of a .30-06 or .300WM is probably about right. I've experimented with quite a few cartridges since I wrote that first piece and came away unimpressed with several. I've shot game with the 7-08, .270, .338WM and two flavors of .375. For an "all around" rifle in Alaska, the .300 or '06 makes a sensible choice. My current favorite rifle, a Nosler 48 in .300WSM has performed splendidly on a number of animals up to, and including, moose. A rifle in the finished weight of 7.5-8.5 pounds is about right for the balance between portable and shootable. In deer country, the 7-08 would be better than fine and it's my preference over the .270 Winchester. With modern bullets, the .338 and .375s are just much more than you need for the bulk of N.American hunting. A good bolt action with a decent scope in '06 or .300 is all you really need.
I've largely abandoned cartridges larger than that. My frequent hunting partner has made some great shots with his .338 as well as his .375 H&H. It worked, but there is only one degree of dead. I'm impressed with modern bullets and powders more and more and think that until game gets very large, the .30 cal is more than capable. I tipped over a bull moose this year with my .300WSM at a lasered 360 yards. Not sure more gun would have really helped much. I've done a lot of hunting with the .308, the .30-06 and the .300 and never really regretted it. In the Lower 48, a hunter could easily get by with the .270 or 7-08 and never come up under gunned.
The Rimfire - Market forces, being what they are, have largely seen the availability of .22LR vanish for much of the previous 7 years in a lot of the country and in my location- I went 4 or 5 years without seeing a single box on the shelf. I was a huge fan of the .22LR. Not so much now. What the intervening years did was turn me into much more of a shotgunner. I still have a pretty nice .22 rifle, but I seldom shoot it for anything other than the off grouse or marauding squirrel. The bulk of my small game hunting is now done with a shotgun. I've also taken up water fowling since the original article was written. I think the rimfire still has a place in most folks' hunting arsenal but non-exisant and more spendy ammunition took the luster off of it for me. My current .22 is a CZ 452 Trainer with a nice set of iron sights.
I'm not sure that the .22LR market will ever truly recover to a state I recognize, but if I were picking a rimfire today to go forth and shoot small game and get in some low cost practice- I'd go to the .17HMR and never look back.
The Shotgun- I took up shotgunning a few years ago when I picked up a Benelli M2. I kinda messed around with it some but the utter lack of .22 ammunition really got me going. I really think if a hunter is going to have one shotgun to do it all- a self loading 12 gauge with a 3" chamber has much to recommend to it. It's overkill for the majority of grouse hunting, except spooky sharp tails in open country, but it's perfect for ducks and geese. You could try to get by on waterfowl with a 20 gauge, but that's mostly a waste of time in the era of steel shot. I even picked up an 18" barrel for it to keep in camp.
Once you start exploring some of the offering with shotgun ammunition- things get interesting. I've even taken mine predator calling- loaded with Heavy-Shot "Dead Coyote" ammunition. I've enjoyed using the shotgun more and could easily see my way to a whole rack of them- but if I had to pick one, a 12 ga. 3" auto is it.
On that note. The construction of that self loading shotgun matters too. After messing with some gas operated guns- the kick a fair bit less but they weigh a lot more and seem pretty fussy. The Benelli Inertia system is now being copied by several makers and it flat out works well and isn't overly heavy or complicated. If I were shopping for a new shotgun- Inertia drive would be where I started.
I've tried a bit of this and that over the last few years. An air gun was pretty neat and I've done some good hunting with it. I've also gotten into archery, great fun but I haven't pursued big game with it yet. I've used some antique shotguns as something of an aesthetic pursuit. Though, at the end of the day- those three guns are what i reach for when I head out and I'm pretty confident I could use those three pieces for 99% of any hunting I'd do.