Gear for Hunting
Gear is like booze. As you get older, you realize that quality is more
important than quantity. I’d rather own one reliable. straight-shooting riﬂe than an arsenal of cheaply built guns. But a painful fact about high-quality hunting gear is that it tends to come at a high price. When you’re considering your gear budget, it’s important to step back and take a wide-angle look at your spending habits. I was once hunting elk in Montana when a guy pulled up to a trailhead in a shiny new $40,000 pickup in order to study a distant mountainside through a pair of $20 binoculars that would do little more than impair his natural vision. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if that guy actually owned that truck, but you get my point: a serious hunter would have sacriﬁced the status car in order to afford a set of hard-core binoculars that could tear the mountainside to shreds.
That said, it’s certainly true that gear does not make the man (or woman). If you don’t have the discipline and drive to become a good hunter, no amount of high-dollar equipment is going to make up for that.But my theory on gear is that the hunter should be the weakest link on a hunt. I expect my gear to outperform me, so I have only myself to blame for my hunting failures. If I bail on a hunt early, it better be because I couldn’t hack it, not because the sole of my boot peeled off or my riﬂe scope started making rattling noises after getting dinged on a rock. When it comes to selecting hunting gear, I’ve found that personal recommendations from experienced hunters are far more valuable than any insights you might glean from reading descriptions about a product in catalogs. When a hunter tells me that he’s been using a piece of gear for three seasons and has logged dozens of days in the ﬁeld with it, I start to listen. In fact, most of the gear that you’ll encounter in the following pages came to my attention in just that way: as recommenda-tions from folks I trust. I then put the items through my own series of tests. The opinions that you’ll be reading in this section come from decades of serious hunting, years that have been punctuated with many moments of great triumph—and many more moments of misery and frustration.
Don ‘t be intimidated by an yone’s experience, including mine. There have been and
still are a few good writers with vast experience in the ﬁrearms ﬁeld. There are also
plenty of plain old fools writing about guns and shooting and plenty of younger
fools, as well. Gun writers, especially those who have to produce a regular column,
love controversy. That column becomes a beast that must be fed every month, so
the columnist is always hungry for something to write about and controversial ideas
generate reader interest and response. Perhaps it is understandable if they some-
times go overboard. Just don ‘t go overboard with them.
Hunters take the subject of riﬂes so seriously that arguments about calibers can literally end friendships. People are willing to go to blows in defense of their favorite gun’s reputation, and I suppose it’s for good reason. Your riﬂe is one of your most important pieces of big game hunting gear. If you lack faith in your riﬂe’s ability to shoot straight and true. it becomes hard to perform all the necessary work that goes into a successful hunt. Whﬂe there are many styles of riﬂes on the market. including a rapidly increasing array of AR-format weapons, the tried- and-true bolt-action riﬂe is still the standard go-to weapon for serious big game hunters. Properly tuned and outﬁtted, and with a disciplined and well-practiced shooter, a high-caliber bolt-action riﬂe topped with a variable-power scope can meet 95 percent of the big game hunting challenges that this continent has to offer. For maximum versatility and ease of ﬁnding ammunition, stick to common. time-proven big game calibers such as .270, 7 mm Rem Mag, .30—06. .308 Winchester. and .300 Win Mag (plus the short magnum versions of these same calibers). These might seem a tad heavy for a North Carolina whitetail deer hunter, and some might be a tad ﬁght for an Alaska hunter who’s itching to tangle with a coastal brown bear. But they are all superb gun for a generalist hunter who wants to be ready for anything without having to burn up his paychecks on an arsenal of weapons. After all, the North Carolina hunter might eventually run into one of that state’s BOO-pound black bears, and the Alaska hunter might get tired of trimming around ﬁst- sized exit holes blown through his game meat by a mule-kicking elephant gun.
This is a superb all-purpose big game hunting riﬂe. It’s a Weaver custom riﬂe built on 3 Winchester Model 70 action and chambered in .270 WSM.
A: Vortex HS LR 4-16×50 riﬂe scope (see ” Choosing a Riﬂe Scope” ).
B: Handmade sling with neoprene shoulder pad and braided paracord strap. An average hunting riﬂe weighs approximately 9 pounds. Carrying that amount of weight all day can be annoying and
exhausting. Do not skimp on slings. The cheap ones fall apart. This type of sling gives
you emergency access to over 100 feet of EEO-pound test cord.
C: Vortex scope cover:An essential but often overlooked piece of gear. Scopes are expensive, and you don’t
want the lens to get scratched. Plus it’s difﬁcult or even impossible to aim when your
lens is obscured by snow or excessive moisture. Neoprene “scope socks” are another
good bet because they’re inexpensive. are long-lasting. and provide a bit of protection
against impacts to the scope body. Rubber “bikini-style” scope covers are great at
keeping out moisture but tend to fall apart. Same with ﬂip-cap scope covers. If you’resitting in a blind, these are ﬁne. but hard-core backpack hunters often ﬁnd that ﬂip caps are easy to demolish.
D: Heavy-duty Harris bipod. Perfect for long-range shooting from
a prone position, but hardly essential in areas where long-range shots are not likely. This type of bipod can be folded forward. so it’s out of the way when not in use. The
downside is that it is a tad heavy and tends to get hung up when you’re hiking through
E: Snipe-pod bipod. A lightweight detachable bipod that can be worn onyour belt and quickly attached to the riﬂe before shooting. Downside is that it’s not as
stable as the Harris bipod.
F: Folding ammo wallet. Keeps ammo organized and preventsthe annoying rattle of loose cartridges in your pack or pocket.
G: .270 WSM cartridges loaded with Barnes 129-grain LRX bullet.
NOT SHOWN. BUT STILL NECESSARY:
Muzzle cover: A riﬂe muzzle that is plugged with mud or snow is very dangerous. as the barrel could potentially mpture when you ﬁre it. Cover your muzzle to prevent the intrusion of mud, snow, dust, or moisture into your barrel by using a piece of tape or, better, a heavy-duty small-size latex ﬁnger cot. Using a muzzle cover has been proven not to affect point of impact. as the gases moving ahead of the bullet blow off whatever cover is on your muzzle.
Gun sock: The Solo Hunter Gun Cover. Keeps your ﬁrearm protected from snow and mud while in the ﬁeld and still allows for immediate access.
Travel case: A good travel case protects from dings and scratches that might be incurred during travel. Besides cosmetics, this ensures that your scope doesn’t get knocked out of zero. Hard-sided cases, such as those from Pelican or Boyt, come with a protective foam insert that can be cut to accommodate your speciﬁc ﬁrearm. Airlines require such hard-sided cases and mandate that the case be locked.
An assortment of big game hunting calibers. This selection is meant to serve as a general guideline for cartridge selection and will certainly not conform to the opinion of every expert. The light-side cartridges might be suitable for hunters who are strictly after Whitetails. Middle-ground selections are good for generalist big game hunters. Heavy-side calibers are suitable for hunters with an appetite for really big game such as moose and grizzly.
AS PICTURE!) LEFT TO RIGHT:
The light side: .243 Winchester. .25-06 Remington The middle ground: .270 Winchest-
er, .308 Winchester. .30-06 Springﬁeld. 7 mm Remington Magnum. .300 Winchester
Magnum. The heavy side: .338 Winchester Magnum, .338 Remington Ultra magnum. .375
Holland 8: Holland magnum.
Cartridge nomenclature is some very tricky business and manages to baffle the majority of firearm owners. The American system is particularly vexing, though the majority of American cartridges do provide the caliber (the diameter of the rifle bore) first in the name. For example, a .30-06 is a .30-caliber round, meaning that the bore diameter is 0.3 inch. The remainder of a cartridge’s name isn’t so formulaic. In the case of the .30-06, for example, the name comes from the fact that it’s a caliber round that was first designed in 1906. The .300 Savage is another .30-caliber round, though “Savage” comes from the name of a rifle manufacturer. Adding to, the confusion is the fact that so-called .30-caliber rounds actually measure 0.308 inch. Thus, a cartridge called the .308 Winchester is in fact the same caliber as a .30-06; like the .300 Savage, it carries the name of a rifle manufacturer. Things are a little clearer with cartridges that were developed in the days of black powder, as the name carries the caliber and the original grain weight of the. charge. A designation such as .45-70 would have indicated a .45-caliber bullet with a 70-grain charge of black powder. Sometimes you’ll see an additional number onql the end. For instance, a .45-70-405 would be a .45-caliber bullet weighing 405 grains and charged by 70 grains of black powder. The European stuff is simple, which should be expected from a continent that embraces the metric system. A 7.62×39 is a 7.62 mm bullet with a case length of 39 mm. Across a wide variety of European cartridges, there is little or no variatio in their system. And then there are the “wildcat” cartridges, which find their genesis experimental cartridges designed by tinkerers and ammunition manufacturers who blended available cartridges to make Franken-ammo. For instance. the 7 mm-08 comes from loading a 7 mm bullet into a .308 Winchester casing in a process known as “necking down” (reducing the neck of the case to accommodate a smaller bullet).
Some of these wildcat experiments were successful in filling gaps between standard cartridges and are now produced by major ammunition companies.