Weishuhn on Hunting #4

05 July 2013

When it comes to long guns, I have to admit I like short ones. Generally short barrel rifles don’t weigh as much and are much quicker handling that those with long barrels. This particularly true when still hunting where you might just find the animal you’re looking for in dense cover. A few years ago I was hunting with a friend who prescribed to the theory that only long-barreled rifles are accurate. To him any barrel shorter than 26 inches was a waste of a good action and ammunition. Me? At the time I was carrying Ruger Number 1 RSI that was chambered in .270 Win that had a 20 inch barrel. I loved the look and feel of that particular rifle, I also loved how accurate it was and how quickly I could maneuver it in cover that would cause problems for a rifle with a longer barrel. We were slipping along through a South Texas Brush Country thicket of blackbrush, granjeno and mesquite as well as sharp spine prickly pear cactus. To make it easier walking through the spiny maze, I had changed the sling on my rifle, so that I carried it barrel pointed toward the ground. Doing it this way only a couple of inches of gun stuck up above my shoulder making it so much easier to crawl through the thicket. My friend has his rifle slung in his usual barrel up manner. I looked back at him several times and even though he did not murmur any words of complaint, he didn’t need to! His face showed what he didn’t have to say! We were headed toward a relative open area in the thicket which was about about a hundred yards across. I had seen the “secret buck spot” several years earlier while doing a helicopter game survey on the property. I really wanted to rattle there, because during those same helicopter surveys years ago I saw many extremely nice whitetails in the area. I doubted seriously anyone had ever hunted the huge thicket, because of how dense it was. And if they had not flown over the nearly 200 acre thicket to see it from above, they would never have know of the opening pretty much in the center. I waited until my partner with his long barrel rifle caught up with me, then just as we were about to step out of the thicket he and I spotted an extremely good antlered buck about the same time. Of the corner of my vision I saw “Joe” try to get his long barreled gun to his shoulder. It was almost comical as he pushed, shoved and poked that long barrel, trying to get it to his shoulder. Upon spotting the deer I mounted short barreled rifle to shoulder in less than a heart beat, I simply raised my rifle, centered the crosshairs of my Zeiss scope on buck’s shoulder and then gently tugged the trigger sending a 130 grain Hornday bullet on it’s deadly mission. The buck was on the ground before my hunting partner could even get his rifle to shoulder. Here in these pages I have talked about accuracy of hunting rifles. And there’s no question, you can indeed have a long-barreled hunting rifle that is superbly accurate, but if you’re in a thicket and cant’ get it to your shoulder to shoot, it makes do difference how superbly accurate it might be. I made my point about hunting with short barreled rifles to that hunting partner quickly and succinctly! Interestingly too, once I had dragged my buck out of the thicket... My partner volunteered to hunt his way back to our vehicle and get it as close as possible while I dragged. As I was about to say, back at camp after others three “oooohed” and “aaahhhed” over my buck, I challenged my long barrel friend to a shoot off....my 20 inch barrel single shot against his 26 inch long bolt gun. He laughed, “Everyone knows longer barreled guns are more accurate! Besides you’re shooting single-shot, and everyone know too, such guns are not very accurate.” I simply grinned and told him to put his money where his mouth was. I knew how accurate my Ruger Number 1 truly was. If I could do my part, three shots would essentially go into one ragged hole. “Here’s the deal, 3 shots at 100 yards from a sandbag rest! Loser cooks supper for everyone in camp each of the next four days, as well as washes dishes.” For a moment I wasn’t sure my friend would agree, but then he did. Our camp had an extremely good range, with a solid bench from which too shoot. I walked down to the 100 yard backstop and put up two targets. I walked back to the bench and offered him to shot first. “Long barrel goes first!” He set up to shoot and put three shots down range. I leaned over to my Zeiss spotting scope after his third shot. “Not bad for a long barrel rifle.” I commented as I estimated he had probably shot a slightly that 1 inch group, probably 7/8 inch outside to outside. I set up and when all looked good, gently tugged the trigger. Through my Zeiss scope I could see the 130 grain Hornady Interbond was about a quarter inch to the right and the same distance high of the center of the bull’s eye. I loaded another and again gently tugged the trigger when I thought all was properly aligned. That show cut the first adding a half moon to the exiting hole. As I loaded the third Hornady round I dearly hoped I could put the third in the same place. I knew rifle, scope and ammo were capable of doing so, if only I could. I took a deep breath, let it all out and started putting pressure on the trigger. The shot went off almost unexpectedly. A moment later I heard my friend start laughing, “Hahaha.. You missed the entire target that time!” I didn’t think so! I leaned over to the Zeiss spotting scope, peered through it. “I don’t think so! That third shot was almost in the same spot as the last one, but it took out a small sliver of the half moon! Here look for yourself! Then we’ll walk down to recover the targets... By the way I do expect ribeyes at least two of the four night!” Short barrels in many calibers with many bullet and load combinations indeed do shoot as accurately and many cases more accurately than do long-barreled rifles. One reason there is less “barrel whip” with short barrels. With some calibers, rounds and loads shorter barrels do cause bullets to travel a bit slower than when coming out of a longer barrel. But that said, I’m a hunter who likes accurate guns for precise shot placement, who uses bullets designed for the animals I hunt, and I’m not impressed by extremely fast velocities. Having over the years shot a “fair number” of big game, and being someone who has necropsied nearly everything I’ve ever shot to determine terminal performance of bullets used as well as shot placement I consider myself a decent judge of bullet performance. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that some bullets terminally perform a fair amount better when NOT shot at extremely high velocities, but some do! I’ve also noticed that some rounds tend to hardly drop in velocity in shorter, say 20 inch barrels, when compared to 23 or 24 inch barrels. The .375 Ruger is such a round. In visiting with several engineers about this they have told me this seems to be the case with several larger caliber rounds. Barrel length, within reason, doesn’t really influence velocity. Last visit we talked about the .375 Ruger a fair amount, and how the FTW Ranch’s Tim Fallon and I had started shooting that round at 500 yards. The “dial up” on our Zeiss Conquest HD5 3-15x at 500 yards using Hornady 300 grain DGX loads is exactly the same for the Ruger African’s 23 inch barrel and Ruger Guide Gun with a 20 inch barrel, 10.25 MOA. If possible spend some time at the range, spring-time is an ideal time to do a bunch of shooting, tuning-up our firearms.