A voice came from somewhere behind me, saying, “Hey old man, I bet I can guess what caliber you’re going to be hunting with this fall.”
Initially, I looked around to see what “old man” the speaker was addressing. Not seeing anyone else, I realized it must be me. Before I could answer, the speaker said, “Yeah! You with the white beard, wearing that big, brown western hat!”
Me…Old? Maybe I am in years, but I have never felt that way. I may be a bit closer to the century mark than to the mid-century mark, but I still think of myself as a youngster! I groped for an appropriate response, then replied, “Just because I have more years behind me than ahead, doesn’t mean I have to think like an old person!” My reply brought a laugh.
“Guess I never thought of it that way,” came the response. Then, from around a corner stepped a mid-30-year-old I had shared a Double-A Outfitting hunting camp with the previous fall. I had truly enjoyed his company. We had spent several late nights talking about hunting, rifles and handguns. On that hunt for desert mule deer, I was using a bolt-action, wood stock/blued-steel Mossberg Patriot .270 Win. He was using a synthetic stock/stainless steel 6.5 Creedmoor.
After considerable discussion, I granted him that the 6.5 Creedmoor indeed was a “nice” round worthy of being used on Whitetail deer, particularly when shooting Hornady’s Precision Hunter ammo. But then I mentioned that in the 6.5mm caliber, my choice was a 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, which if properly hand-loaded not only equaled but exceeded the ballistics of the rather young Creedmoor. And, the Swede had been around since 1894 when it had become the round of choice of Sweden’s Army. I reminded him that the round had been used by European hunters for well over a hundred years, with great success on all game animals found in Europe and well beyond those borders, as well.
I had fallen for the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser several years ago, after getting to shoot one while hunting in Sweden with Stefan Bengssten’s Scandinavian Prohunters. I used it with great success to take a really nice red stag. Actually, I had shot a 6.5×55 years earlier, when an older friend introduced me to the round. He had purchased the military surplus rifle back in mid-1950s and converted it to a sporting arm, complete with an absolutely gorgeous full-length Mannlicher-style stock. I watched him consistently hit clay pigeons at 300 and 400 hundred yards. “It’s a flat shooter! I can use longer bullets which stabilize better when shooting longer distances,” was the remark then. Not only did my old friend use the rifle to shoot clay pigeons at long range (back when those distances were considered “long range”); but he also used it quite successfully to hunt Whitetails, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.
A Classy Look
My personal 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser is a classy-looking, sleek Ruger M77 Hawkeye, topped with a Trijicon Huron 2.5-10×40 scope, shooting Hornady Superformance 140-grain SST. I have used it to shoot numerous less-than-one MOA groups at a hundred yards. I have also used that combo to take several nicely antlered Whitetail bucks in Texas, including a buck I shot on my own property, which I call my “Homecoming Buck.” I have also used that same rifle/scope/ammo combination to take some really big-bodied while hogs. While the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser might not be my first choice for hunting elk, I would indeed do so. But I would pick my shots where I knew shot placement would be precisely through the vitals on broadside shots. I would not try to drive a 6.5mm bullet through the shoulder of an older mature bull.
I doubt I converted my newfound young friend to purchasing and hunting with a 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, but at least this made him think.
During the past 10 years or so we have seen numerous new rounds introduced, mostly designed for shooting longer ranges. While I enjoy and appreciate rifles/scopes/ammo that have me consistently hitting a steel plate at 600 yards and beyond, I am not a long-range hunter. For me, the challenge comes in getting as close as possible to an animal before pulling the trigger. That is one of several reasons I generally limit my shots at game to no farther than 300 yards or so. Could I kill an animal beyond that self-imposed limit? Absolutely! If I want a shooting challenge, I can go to the range and shoot at steel plates out to 1,000 yards and beyond. If I want a hunting challenge, it means getting as close as earthly possible before pulling the trigger!
That said, my philosophy about hunting may be one of the many reasons I like the older, classic rounds. Those include the .405 Winchester, 7×57, .300 H&H Mag, .30-06, .270 Win and the already mentioned 6.5×55.
After Teddy’s Lead
I became enamored with the .405 Winchester quite a few years ago after reading how Teddy Roosevelt took his lever-action Winchester Model 1895 to Africa and used it quite successfully on African lion and other big and dangerous game. Introduced in 1904, it was rumored TR called the .405 Winchester his “go-to” rifle.
Because it was a round Roosevelt took to Africa, I knew I wanted to do the same. And I did. My original .405 Win was in Thompson/Center Encore, a barrel I had their custom shop build for me. Stoked with Hornady’s Custom 300-grain InterLock bullets, I used that rifle/ammo combination to take two greater kudu and several gemsbok, as part of a culling program, as well as a diminutive Damaraland dik-dik. Back home, I used it on desert mule deer and Whitetails in western Texas and on bison in Oklahoma.
While on the desert mule deer hunt, I happened to be on the ranch’s rifle range. Two U.S. border patrol agents were there to shoot various duty rifles out to the 500-yard mark. I watched them shoot numerous rounds, sometimes hitting the three-inch bullseye and sometimes just missing it. Then they put clay pigeons where the bullseye was. After they had shot several times, I asked if I could shoot while they waited for the barrels to cool. I walked toward the bench. The nearest agent handed me his rifle, a .300 Win Mag bolt action. I smiled and said, “Thank you, sir, but I want to shoot that target with my .405 Winchester single-shot.”
I heard both of them snicker as I got into position. At the time I knew the .405’s ballistics, including what should be the bullet’s drop, at that distance. I settled the crosshairs on the trunk of a tree just beyond and perfectly in line with the clay pigeon target, appropriate for “drop” at that distance. Only the top of the target backstand was visible in my scope when I pulled the trigger.
“I’ll be darned, you perfectly center-punched that clay!” said the agent to my right, who was watching through a 40x spotting scope. I simply nodded, doing my best to act like it was something I did every day. Then I said, “Thanks for letting me shoot,” and got up from the bench and started walking toward camp. I guess there is long-range shooting and long-range hunting, and “maybe even a little bit of luck!”
My current .405 Win is a nicely wood-stocked Ruger Number 1. With it, I have taken several Whitetail deer. If I go back to Africa, it will likely accompany me.
One of my long-time favorite hunting rounds is the 7×57 Mauser, also known as the 7mm Mauser and .275 Rigby. The round first made its appearance in 1892 propelled by the then-new smokeless powder. Americans were introduced to the round from the wrong side of the rifle when they charged up San Juan Hill. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders carried .30-40 Krag rifles. The Spanish had 7×57 Mausers, which were deadly effective. Back from Cuba the U.S. military immediately started developing what became the .30-06.
Paul Mauser developed the 7×57. In 1907, because of the rivalry between Great Britain and Germany, England’s John Rigby & Company renamed it the .275 Rigby, so it would not sound like a German cartridge. The new “Rigby” quickly became a popular hunting round, as had it been when referred to as the 7×57.
Walter D. M. Bell, also known as “Karamojo” Bell, used his .275 Rigby to take nearly a thousand African elephants during his years of “ivory hunting.” I read about Bell and his use of the 7×57 in Africa. That started the flames of desire for me to own such a rifle. Those embers were further flamed by reading how Eleanor O’Connor, wife of Jack O’Connor, the hunting/shooting editor for “Outdoor Life” magazine throughout much of the 1900s, claimed Jack’s 7×57 as hers after shooting it. Eleanor used “her” 7×57 to take numerous big game species both in North America and much of the rest of the world.
My first 7×57 was a Ruger M77 Hawkeye, one I bought in 1973, five years after that rifle was introduced. With it, shooting Hornady’s 139-grain soft point loads, I took quite a few Whitetails and a couple of mule deer. It remains one of my old favorites.
Since that time, I have added three more in the same chambering. They are Ruger No. 1s. Two are stamped .275 Rigby and the other is 7×57. All are stocked in beautiful wood and shoot “divinely.” Using Hornady’s Custom 140-grain InterLock loads, they shoot 1 MOA. I have used these to take numerous nicely racked Whitetails. I have also taken the two stamped .275 Rigby to Africa to hunt Plains game. On one of those hunts, a grandson, Josh Gonzalez, accompanied me. It was his job to shoot leopard bait. He used it not only to take several wart hogs but also an ancient gemsbok.
When I finally had the opportunity to hunt Spain for Beceite and Southeastern ibex, it seemed that a .275 Rigby, stocked with pretty wood, was the definitive rifle to take. After spending considerable time at the range, I headed to Spain to hunt with Pedro Alarcon’s La Pedriza.
Hunting with Pedro was a fabulous hunt. I shot Beceite and Southeastern ibex with my .275 Rigby.
I am currently having a rifle built in 7×57, blued steel of course, stocked in nicely figured walnut with a full-length Mannlicher stock. It will have a 20-inch barrel. This will be one I designate as my “Whitetail Rifle.”
No. 1 and Hooked
Several years ago, I had a call from Lee Newton with Classic Sporting Arms. “I’ve got a No. 1 that I think you’ll really like. It’s a .300 H&H Mag, and it has pretty wood,” he told me. I told him he had me interested with Ruger No.1, hooked when he mentioned .300 H&H Mag, and reeled in when he said pretty wood! I sent him a check and told him to hold the rifle for me until I could visit and pick it up. He simply replied, “Done!”
It was about a month before I could get up to see Lee. It was love at first sight when I saw the .300 H&H Mag. I had been wanting one for years, but I wanted it in a single-shot, Ruger No. 1. I wanted it to look good and to shoot “good!”
Back home, I headed to my rifle range, after topping the rifle with a Trijicon AccuPoint variable. My intention once it was sighted in was to take the rifle on an aoudad hunt with Greg Simons’ Wildlife Systems. It took but two shots using Hornady’s 180-grain InterBond Custom loads to sight-in, then, five shots to confirm zero at 100 and 200 yards. I was ready.
The .300 H&H Mag was introduced nearly a century ago back in 1925. Several older friends had rifles chambered in the first of the .300 magnums. They had used them quite successfully on big mule deer, elk, moose, big bears as well as on kudu and eland in Africa. A South Texas rancher friend of mine had taken his gun to what is now Chad and used it there to take a Barbary sheep, also known as aoudad. Thus, it seemed like the appropriate round with which to hunt Aoudad.
Aoudad can be tough. They live in rugged and rocky terrain and are challenging. After confirming I was sighted in Jackie Murphy (my guide, known as “Mister Aoudad”) and I began our hunt. During the next three days, we saw and stalked well over 100 Aoudad. Each time we got within reasonable rifle range, Jackie would say, “We can do better!” He was determined I would shoot a mature ram with at least 30-inch horns. We finally did find such a ram. I put him down after a long stalk at a distance of about 120 yards. I could not have been more thrilled. Since that hunt, I have used my .300 H&H numerous times on a variety of other big game.
.270 Win and .30-06
There are two other older rounds I have used extensively, the .270 Win and .30-06. While the latter is over 100 years old, the .270 Win will be 100 in 2025. I own several rifles that are both single-shot and bolt-action chambered in these two rounds. Needless to say, they have both long been favorites of mine. I have hunted throughout North America with both and have used them to take some of my favorite big-game animals; my desert bighorn sheep with the .270 Win, and a Boone and Crockett, non-typical Coues Whitetail with the .30-06.
When they were eight years old, both my daughters shot their first deer with one of my .270’s. I have several rifles chambered in these two rounds, both bolt action and single-shot, but my current favorites are both very pretty wood-stocked Mossberg Patriots. The .270 Win is topped with a Trijicon 3-9×40 Huron and the .30-06 a Trijicon 2.5-12.5×42 AccuPoint. Both are superbly accurate with Hornady’s Precision Hunter and American Whitetail ammo. I have used both of those Mossbergs to take some really nice Whitetails and a couple of impressive desert mule deer, as well as a number of wild hogs and coyotes. Come fall I plan on adding to those totals!
Yes sir, and, yes ma’am…I like the older rounds, those that have been around a hundred years or more, or at least approaching that age. I can appreciate the newer PRC rounds and have to admit I will be hunting some this fall with a 7mm PRC. But I know what I can do with my older favorites. The way I hunt, they do it all, and they do so with a truly proud tradition!