Don’t blame the gun
There are a lot of gun myths out there that keep getting repeated by lazy gun writers and blowhards in the gun shops or at the range. Another one recently came up.
I was tagged in a Facebook posting asking about which gun to bring on an upcoming elk hunt. The guy has a .308 Scout rifle and a Ruger African in .375 Ruger. Several other people weighed in before I did, all suggesting that he bring the .308. I know some of them and as far as I know they have no experience with the .375 Ruger or similar cartridges, so it stands to reason they picked the cartridge they know.
Here is my response.
“What you have are two cartridges that occupy opposite ends of the list of “elk cartridges.” In fact, my list for a serious elk hunting cartridge does not include the .308. Both will work of course, but you are hunting a big critter that can be 600 pounds or more. Usually they are not hard to kill, but once in a while you run into a bull that is extremely tenacious to life. Consider a few things here. First, with the short barrel on the scout you will lose velocity from the already marginal .308. I have found a significant drop off in velocity with most .308 loads with a short barrel. The difference is often several hundred feet per second. If that’s the only gun you had, I would say use it, but you have a better option. The .375 Ruger is an excellent cartridge and is a far better choice for elk hunting in my opinion. In fact, I recently built one on a Model 70 with elk hunting part of the planning.
“Why did you buy the .375 Ruger? I suspect for a hunt like this. You said it’s new and you want to use it, so why are you even asking this question? I think you would be far better off with this gun. You have all summer to get it tuned up and learn to shoot it well. That’s not the chore some would have you believe, if you shoot the .308 well, it’s a fairly small step to mastering the bigger gun.
“Why chance your hunt with a marginal cartridge when you have options? I know there is a faction that thinks using a small cartridge makes them somehow a better hunter, but I find it disingenuous and disrespectful to the game. This is something you can control and you already have the guns.”
I probably should have elaborated a bit more on the barrel length factor. Too many hunters assume that a .308 is a .308 and they don’t understand or don’t care about barrel length. But I have thousands of shots across the chronograph recorded in a data base. (The hunter in question is using a 165 grain bullet, but my data is limited with that weight, so I picked the next closest.) In the 168 grain bullet weight I have data for a factory load that produces 2,672 ft/s from a 24 inch barrel and drops to 2,302 ft/s from a 16.5 inch barrel. This is not unusual with any load. At some point we have to draw a line and for elk hunting I think this is well below that line.
Of course the inevitable, “bring the gun you shoot best” argument came up. That’s the one that I think perpetuates a myth.
The truth is, if you suck with a suitable elk cartridge you are probably not all that good with any other rifle. A lot of guys bring out their deer rifles once a year and shoot a time or two at a target and proclaim it “good enough.” Then they whack a whitetail at 30 yards and believe they are badass with that rifle.
Later they book an elk hunt and they pick up a .300 Winchester or whatever and discover the recoil scares the hell out of them. Of course, they can’t shoot it worth a crap when that happens. So the outfitter tells them to bring their deer rifle, because “that’s the gun they shoot well.” What’s he supposed to do? He gets this several times a year and if he tried to explain the truth the hunters would get pissed and probably not book with him.
The truth is, they suck with both rifles. They just suck less with their deer rifle because they are not scared of it. If they spend enough time shooting to be really good with their .308, .270, .30-06 or whatever, they would be able to master the bigger gun very quickly. If the gun fits properly and has a well-designed stock, the recoil from any elk hunting cartridge is not going to hurt them, except off the bench, which is where most of this damage is done. Recoil does hurt off the shooting bench. You need the bench to zero your sights, but being macho about it is just stupid. Use some protection. Pad up, get a lead sled, a bag of shot, something, don’t just take the recoil because it will ruin you.
As far as shooting from hunting positions, it’s a matter of learning the techniques to deal with recoil and to shoot well with any gun. The example I use all the time is Barnes Bullets’ Coni Brooks. She is a tiny woman, perhaps 100 pounds, but she has hunted the world with a .338 Winchester. Except for elephant, where she used a .500 NE. If she can learn to shoot well with these guns, are you telling me all you big macho men can’t? It’s a matter of training, not the cartridge.
We all go through it. I can remember when my first .30-06 had me flinching so bad I couldn’t zero the scope. I almost gave away my first .300 Winchester because it was kicking so much I didn’t think I would ever learn to shoot it. But I figured some things out and learned to shoot well with just about any rifle.
My advice is, don’t do it the hard way like I did; get some help from somebody who understands rifle shooting. Also, please do not bring an inadequate rifle on a very expensive hunt just because you don’t want to spend time at the range. Get a proper gun for the critter you are hunting and learn to shoot it well.
You will be glad you did.