April 14, 2009

Inexpensive Hunting Rifles

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:14 pm by yjohn

by John Young

Ever since the blog entry on The Frugal Hunter, a lot of folks have been asking about the suitability of various military surplus rifles for hunting.

In terms of the power of the rounds, most of them are comparable to the .308 Winchester, and are thus suitable for most North American game when loaded with proper bullets and the ranges are kept within 200 yards. Proper bullets are the key. In terms of penetration and weight retention, moving up to a Nosler Partition, Swift A-frame or a Barnes X bullet can give a .308 the effective hunting power of a heavy magnum loaded with a lesser bullet.

I reload all of my own ammunition. In fact, the majority of the rifles I own have never seen a round of factory ammunition. So when I take a military surplus rifle hunting, you can be certain that I have tuned the load to the rifle for the best combination of accuracy and velocity, and that a premium bullet is being used. Likewise, the rifle has been shot quite a few times using that particular load; and I have sighted it in well.

Preparation and practice, no matter what the endeavor, are the secrets to making your own luck.

So rather than specific makes and models of rifles, what I really want to stress is the importance of high quality ammunition, knowing your rifle, and marksmanship. If you have these down solid, you can do amazing things provided the rifle is mechanically sound.

The Mosin Nagant rifle that I mentioned in the Frugal Hunting blog post uses the 7.62x54R cartridge. I slugged the bore and it measured .312, so I use .312 X-bullets intended for use in a British .303. They work wonderfully!

I have also used a Yugoslavian Mauser in 8×57. It uses a .323 bullet. With this rifle, I use the Nosler Partition bullet because I get better expansion at Mauser velocities.

I have no direct experience with the Enfields except that one of my uncles never had any trouble using it to bring home dinner; but I have used one of the Hungarian M95 rifles in 8x56R caliber. Again — I fashioned my own ammunition from high-quality components. Unfortunately, its odd bore-size of .329 makes finding a suitable bullet difficult, but I found a nice selection through Buffalo Arms.

One common surplus rifle I want to mention in connection with deer hunting is the SKS. The SKS shoots a cartridge — the 7.62×39 — that is vastly less powerful than the others mentioned. If you are going to use an SKS for deer hunting, restrict the distance to under 100 yards and use a high-quality hunting bullet intended for use in that particular cartridge. Observing these cautions, my father has successfully taken deer with one shot from a tree stand.

Most military surplus bolt-action rifles, using handloads that have been matched to the particular rifle, are capable of sufficient accuracy to take deer at ranges up to 200 yards without difficulty if the marksmanship is up to par. In many cases, accuracy is sufficient up to 350 yards, which is the maximum distance — in my opinion — for a humane kill using cartridges in this category.

Semi-autos using less powerful cartridges, such as the 7.62×39 usually have a long bullet jump to the bore, combined with moving mechanical attachments to the barrel (such as gas cylinders) that limit practical accuracy to about 3″ at 100 yards under the best of circumstances. Combined with the fact that a 123 grain bullet from one of these is unlikely to be exceeding 2,100 fps at a distance of 100 yards; that is really their effective limit as a deer cartridge.

(As an aside, I have successfully modified SKS carbines to shoot 1.5″ groups; but you should not expect that from a rack-grade rifle.)

One thing you need to observe is the limitation on magazine capacity for rifles used while hunting. These limitations are completely unrelated to gun laws generally; and are intended to give game a sporting chance. Make sure you have effectively limited the magazine capacity of whatever you are using to comply with applicable hunting regulations. Both Enfields and SKSs usually hold 10 rounds which is way too many.

At some point in the future, I’ll go into a little more depth on reloading because I consider it to be an essential skill for gun owners.

For now,  though, I just want to emphasize the fact that any military surplus center-fire bolt-action rifle is sufficient for deer hunting provided the rifle is mechanically sound, high grade ammunition is used, and the hunter is a solid marksman.

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