My, how time flies. Two years have passed since last week when I helped Sam–a.k.a. both Samuel and Samantha–select his first firearm, a 12 gauge shotgun. Just I’d hoped, Sam’s already a very enthusiastic hunter. And why shouldn’t he be? He already has one deer, two turkeys and an impressive variety of small game to his credit.
He’s especially excited about deer hunting, but he’s no longer satisfied with his shotgun’s limited range, and he’s come to hate its punishing recoil. “I want a deer rifle. What do you think I should get?”
I should have quit while I was ahead. Picking a single firearm that can be used to hunt the widest possible variety of species was pretty easy, because there really aren’t very many options. On the other hand, adding a second firearm to Sam’s gun rack, especially if that firearm is a centerfire rifle, involves so many choices that it indeed is hard to see the forest for the trees.
Since Sam is admittedly averse to recoil, that might be a good place to start. As far as I’m concerned, recoil is entirely Isaac Newton’s fault, because he’s the one who first said that for every action, there’s an equal but opposite reaction. To a shooter, that means that a force equal to that generated to force a bullet or shot charge forward out of a firearm’s barrel is also directed backward through its stock.
A 3-inch 12 gauge shotgun shell loaded with a maximum powder charge behind either a rifled slug or one and a half ounces or more of shot generates actual recoil approximately equal to that of the most powerful rifles. Due to differences too complex to go into here, the 12 gauge’s felt recoil may well exceed that of rifles used almost exclusively to hunt large, dangerous game. That being the case, unless Sam chooses to hunt deer in a shotgun-only state, his idea to add a centerfire rifle to his gun rack is a good one.
Sam insists he only intends to hunt deer. That may well end up being the case, but even if he adds some long range antelope hunting or some close range black bear hunting, any one of the many calibers from the .243 to the .284 will get the job done downrange without bruising Sam’s shoulder.
That said, I cautioned Sam that there will probably come a time that he wishes he’d chosen a caliber with a little more punch for his one and only centerfire rifle. I suggested he take a careful look at the .308 Winchester and the .30/06 Springfield. Both were originally designed for military use in both small arms and machine guns. The .30/06, which was adopted by the US Army in 1906, is now primarily a civilian caliber, but the .308, in the form of the functionally identical 7.62 x 51 mm NATO, has been the standard small arms caliber since the mid 1950’s in every NATO country except the United States, and it sees use here in some small arms, sniper rifles and machine guns.
I forewarned Sam that, although their recoil is less vicious than that of most other 7 and 8 mm calibers, it’s generally considered to be at or slightly over the maximum that the typical shooter will tolerate over an extend firing session. At the same time, I pointed out that felt recoil can be reduced by proper gun fit, good shooting form and, if necessary, switching to a lighter weight bullet.
I stressed the longevity of the .308 and the .30/06, because calibers–some good and some not so good–come and go, and few things are more disgusting than investing in a rifle chambered for a “new and improved” caliber that’s out of production five years later. To guard against this possibility, I suggested that Sam do some research to determine which of the calibers he’s considering have been around the longest, and which ones most manufacturers chamber rifles for.
While I encouraged Sam to choose the caliber he thought would suit him best, when he insisted that I tell him what I would choose if I could only have one rifle, I didn’t hesitate before answering a .30/06. My most important reason is the fact that ammunition for no other caliber is loaded in as wide a variety of bullet weights, bullet types and powder charges. This makes the .30/06 virtually the only caliber that can be adapted to be completely suitable for use hunting every game species found in North America. In addition, every firearms manufacturer I can think of markets bolt action rifles chambered for the .30/06, most offer semiautomatics, a few sell pump actions and at least one makes a double barrel.
I’ll probably visit my friend Sam again some day, but, for now, I’m going to let him enjoy his two-gun battery.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]