The age old question. It’s usually made with good intentions – the new hunter, armed with $1k in the bank and a passion for shooting some deer just wants to know an easy answer, what rifle to buy. What cartridge?
In my opinion, the answer is not so easy
To me, the best cartridge is the one that the hunter uses well. I have shot most of my kills (deer, goats, hares) with my .223. Does this mean it’s the best cartridge? Well, no!
For the average Joe Hunter wishing to give advice, I believe that their use of multiple cartridges is potentially limited. If someone has used a variation of size bullets, I highly doubt that they have shot multiple platforms with the same cartridge. For example, their shooting experience may be with a Howa .243, a Tikka .308 and a Sako 7mm08 suppressed. Sure, that’s three cartridges. But it’s also three very different triggers, stocks, shapes and weights. I don’t consider that comparison particularly helpful when suggesting a cartridge as the shooter’s experience may have been impacted by the rifle platform. The heavy Howa with lighter projectile may have shot accurately and easily with minimal recoil, whereas the light Tikka with a short barrel and power of the classic .308 may have booted the shooter into developing a flinch, therefore affecting their accuracy and the lack of success may have been blamed on the cartridge. So, sort of in short, ask a mate but don’t take his opinion as gospel! The key to accurate advice is an impartial guide with plenty of experience. See: your local gun shop guru.
Here are my choices in my safe
Savage Trophy Hunter .223 suppressed by Shooting Systems Research, all else exactly as it was out of the box (standard 22inch barrel length included)
I am small and do not appreciate recoil. I am hard on gear (lazy when it comes to cleaning, I use my rifle as a walking stick/paddle/bush basher/cricket bat …just kidding). For the most part, the size of this rifle stock fits me well, and I shoot sub MOA consistently with this setup. Nine times out of ten (until recent mods of rifle No2) I would take this rifle as my choice for deer. ((Under the complete understanding of my limits with my 55gr projectiles. I use a ballistic calculator and range finder. My calculator lets me know the power and speed of the projectile on impact, and I limit this to a minimum of 500fpe for an ethical kill on a deer with accurate bullet placement.))
“Black Beauty” custom Frankenstein build .260 on a Weatherby Vanguard receiver, (now) suppressed by Shooting Systems Research
The old version of Black Beauty – custom Stug carbon stock, but made from his regular mould. This was far too long a length of pull for me (the part of the stock where you put your cheek was too long for my arm and neck length) plus an incredibly meaty home-made limb saver, about an inch thick. This affected my trigger control and feel as I was using the very tip of my finger and overextending. 22inch barrel, home built suppressor on the end weighing about 300g. The overall length of the rifle was close to my shoulder height, and most of the weight was at the end of the barrel. I was shooting with reloaded 139gr AMAXes, which were accurate to a longer distance, but I found blew up on near side of closer range animals. I hardly ever chose this rifle in this state as I found it awkward to carry and shoot, although it was accurate at the range when I was given a good amount of time to set up.
The new version – most of that barrel had to go. New light suppressor, barrel down to as short as possible (the can screws back to nearly touching the stock); nearly three inches reduced in the length of pull via a sharp haircut of the buttstock; new thinner limb saver; trigger job. This rifle is HANDY! The TruFlite barrel has remained exceptionally accurate even at 16 inches. Apart from the higher cost of ammo, nothing stops me from grabbing this set up every time a hunt presents. I have switched my projectile and have had some outstanding results. I now shoot just as well (actually better) with this set up than my .223.
Enough About Me
Anyway. Enough about me. You – the new hunter with that cash burning in your pocket – do your research. Ask as many people as you can (make sure you include some professionals) and test out some rifles. Pretty much every centre fire will do the job in NZ provided you put the bullet in the right place. But at the end of the day, if you can’t put that bullet where you want to or if you don’t enjoy shooting the rifle, you’ve wasted your money.
Make your own choice
Also now is probably a good time to warn you; nobody is going to make this decision for you. Get ready to develop a thick skin as a hunter, as you’ll have people from all sides coming at you no matter what you choose. “Your 7mm08 is a girl’s gun!” (not sure why that is an insult anyway…plus I’m a girl and don’t have one?) “Oh, you shoot with a poo-four-three!” “Kimbers aren’t as cool as Norincos!”
Okay so I’ve not ever heard the last one, but you get the idea. Make your choice and be proud of it. You never have to stay in one camp and just because someone else has had a lot of success with a setup doesn’t necessarily mean that you will too.
Ultimate solution – just buy more than one gun!
Rivers to Ranges
All gun work was done in conjunction with Jeremy at Rivers to Ranges in Hastings. With his direction I decided what mods to carry out, then he and his team got to work making this rifle the beast that it is now.