Treat yourself to a new deer rifle

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2017

It’s time to buy a new deer rifle.

Yeah, I know — ‘Ole Bessie belonged to your grandfather and you loved him. We all did. But that gun weighs 11 pounds and the rifling is worn down because you and pawpaw fired about 25,000 rounds down the barrel since it was manufactured in 1955, and it’s really not an added feature that you’re the only person who knows how to “work the bolt just right.”

That doesn’t mean you’re a visionary, it means your rifle is jacked up.

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Anyway, it’s a family heirloom, like the sword of some great house. Your children will want it someday, and you’ll want to pass it down to them. ‘Ole Bessie needs to be stripped, repaired, cleaned, oiled and stored for that special time.

When rifle season for deer opens this Saturday, you need to be toting a new weapon.

And you’re in luck. The market for hunting rifles has never been more alive. Just about any manufacturer that has ever made a firearm is now in the hunting market, especially when it comes to bolt-action rifles. You can walk into any of the sporting goods stores or pawn shops around Brookhaven and order anything to fight the deer invasion, from cheap-and-ready budget guns that do just enough to put meat on the table to beautiful, elaborate, I-had-to-save-two-paychecks-for-this imports from Europe.

There are many philosophies a man can follow when spending money, but when it comes to firearms I stick to the maxim “buy once, cry once.” I’ll discuss those cheap-and-ready rifles because they’re very, very popular these days, but you won’t find one in my gun cabinet. Well, maybe just one, but that’s a different story.

On the other hand, I’m a little too practical to call up a custom shop and buy a gun — no matter how nice — that costs as much as my truck.

Somewhere in the $500 to $1,000 range you’ll find a weapon that is well made, rugged, accurate and gives you pride of ownership. Here are some basic options to re-arm yourself this fall and winter.

The Cheap’uns — Ruger American, Savage Axis, Remington 783, Mossberg Patriot. If you want to spend as little money as possible, these are your rifles. Each comes in a package deal with a scope already mounted and boresighted. The drawback to these guns is they’re not only cheap on the shelf, but cheap to manufacture. Actions and finishes are rough, stocks are made from the cheapest plastic, barrels are free-floated and, for the most part, any scope that comes free on a rifle can immediately be removed and used to hammer small nails around the house.

By the way, free-floated barrels are a cost-saving method of production, not an accuracy feature. Properly bedded actions and barrels result in accuracy. And unless you’re shooting in a 1,000-yard competition with a fat purse of money up for grabs, do not say the words “barrel harmonics” to me. It just doesn’t matter for hunting large game.

The Sweet Spot — Howa 1500, Weatherby Vanguard S2, Remington 700, Ruger Hawkeye, Winchester 70. This is like The Price is Right — how close can you get to $1,000 without going over? These rifles are well manufactured and come with key features like open-top receivers, hinged steel floor plates and machined one-piece trigger guards. You can get them wearing synthetic stocks that are generally a little better than the injection-molded plastic stocks on budget guns, or good ‘ole walnut. They don’t come with free scopes because you’re not the kind of fellow who would take a woman to Burger King on date night.

In the interests of full disclosure, there’s a Remington 700 BDL in my gun closet, and a Howa 1500 in my son’s. Yes, I know, Remington has had some quality control problems over the last 10 years and there are accusations of unsafe triggers in some models. Use that information as you will, but personally, I’m a Big Green man.

I Have Exquisite Tastes — Weatherby Mark V Deluxe, Browning X-Bolt Pro, CZ 550 Sonoran. These rifles are for doctors and lawyers. Want to spend $3,000 on a weapon hand-tuned by an old guy who’s been putting rifles together since 1960? A rifle that comes with a Claro Walnut stock so pretty it might have been made from a throne stolen from a castle in England? A rifle that probably needs an insurance policy?

Yeah, me too.

That’s not even close to being all the options out there, but if it’s enough information to confuse you, here’s what I say.

Don’t buy a budget rifle — all that plastic and edgy design is ungentlemanly. If you’re really on a budget, find a store selling used guns and buy a quality older rifle that needs a little love and attention. A premium rifle from the 1980s that needs a good cleaning is a better use of your cash.

Likewise, don’t buy a rifle you’re afraid to take out into the weather. Custom woodwork and gold inlay is sweet, but unless you’re trying to impress King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, it’s overkill. Anyway, Carl hunts with a custom Sauer that is, quite literally, fit for a king.

Grab a Remington 700 SPS Stainless in the $700-$800 range, or a Browning X-Bolt Hunter for $900 and then pick up the quality scope of your choice. And here’s a word about scopes — it’s often incorrectly said that scopes “gather” light. What scopes actually do is transmit light, and to get a brighter picture just before dark, you need a scope with a bigger objective lens. Check the side of the box and look for the exit pupil measurement. Google it if you don’t believe me.

And, finally, I couldn’t write about rifles without writing about calibers, and this is where people — especially male hunters — get touchy.

In the state of Mississippi, there is absolutely no point in worshiping at what outdoor writer Chuck Hawks calls “the altar of the magnums.” Ask a random dude what caliber his deer rifle is and watch as he grins, nods triumphantly and says, “300 magnum.”

You can translate that as, “300 magnum, because I’m the manliest man to ever man.”

That’s ridiculous. Studies show the average shooter can tolerate around 15 foot-pounds of recoil energy before the “kick” of the rifle affects good shot placement. All the cartridges in the 300 magnum family generate around 25 foot-pounds of recoil energy or more.

Why punish yourself firing a cannon at a deer, a thin-skinned animal routinely killed by 10-year-olds with light rounds like the .243 Winchester (8 foot-pounds) or 7mm-08 Remington (12 foot-pounds)? There are no game animals in this state you need a magnum round to kill. To be honest, you don’t even need the venerable .30-06, although everybody and their brother has one.

“But Adam, what if I want to go to Montana to shoot elk next year? I’ll need super magnum power!”

No you won’t. Accomplished elk killer Randy Newberg says his favorite rifle cartridge is the 7mm-08 Remington. Look him up on YouTube to see him regularly drop 600-pound bulls in their tracks with it.

I know, I know — you don’t want a 7mm-08 because a bunch of articles say it’s a great round for women and you bought one for your daughter. The guys at the deer camp can never be allowed to see you holding one.

Get over it. Hunting science has come a long way, and it has taught us how to properly measure the effectiveness of rifle cartridges on big game. My Remington is a .270, the round Outdoor Life legend Jack O’Connor made one of the most loved cartridges on this planet, and even I am starting to wish I had gone with something smaller.

But I’m sticking with the .270 for now. I’ve got all the rifles I need. If I ever get a chance to hunt out of state, somewhere out west, I may pick up something different — maybe a $5,000 custom rifle in 300 magnum.

You know, just in case.

Sports editor Adam Northam can be reached at or 601-265-5305.