Today’s factory rifles are, on average, more accurate than I thought possible when I started shooting. American hunters and rifle shooters have long been obsessed with raw accuracy, probably more today than ever before because of the growing fascination with long-range shooting. How much accuracy is really needed depends entirely on what you intend to do. Bench-rest and thousand-yard competitors need all they can get, and so do varmint hunters. Most big-game hunters probably have more accuracy than is truly necessary—but it’s a wonderful confidence builder to know that your rifle is capable of producing teeny, tiny groups!
That’s avalid reason to demand extreme accuracy—and it’s amazing how many of today’s basic, inexpensive factory rifles deliver. I think this is because, with modern manufacturing, factory tolerances are tighter than ever, with more consistent barrels.When I was a kid, we figured a factory bolt-action that produced 1.5-inch 100-yard groups was pretty darned good. Rifles shooting one inch and better were cause for bragging.Today it’s amazing how many factory bolt guns retailing for less than $500 will consistently produce one-inch 100-yard groups.
The 308 Winchester is based on a 30-06 Springfield case shortened from 63mm (2.494 inches) to 51mm (2.015 inches). It was introduced in 1952, the year of my birth so, like me, is no spring chicken. We must never forget that the 30-06 Springfield is the most powerful cartridge ever adopted by a major military power. The 30-06 Springfield and its 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle definedwhat we think of as “standard” action length. In part this was its undoing; its later Garand rifle was long and heavy; we wanted a shorter and more efficient self-loading action.
Well into the Fifties the 30-06 Springfield was not only America’s service cartridge, but also our most popular sporting round. Unabashedly, I am a 30-06 Springfield guy. As such, I have huge experience with the 30-06 Springfield … and not nearly as much with the 308 Win. In performance on game, the 308 Win and 30-06 Springfield are similar. Always it depends on who is doing the loading but, with greater case capacity, with bullets up to 180 grains the 30-06 Springfield averages about 150 fps faster than the 308 Win.
Game animals are unlikely to discern the difference; there’s really nothing you can (or should) do with a 30-06 Springfield that you can’t (or shouldn’t) do with a 308 Win. The gap widens with heavier bullets. These days few of us actually use heavier bullets, but with 200-grain bullets the 30-06 Springfield is about 200 fps fast, and with 220-grain slugs the 30-06 Springfield is nearly 300 fps faster than the 308 Win.
During my career I’ve been wrong about many things. One of them was the7mm-08 Remington. Back in 1980 the cartridge was brand-new when a Remington 788 in 7mm-08 Rem came into the office. You remember the 788 bolt-action, Heavy, unlovely, rear-locking…and they shot like gangbusters. Colleague and friend Payton Miller and I were assigned to wring it out, I think for that year’s G&A Annual. The rifle grouped extremely well, but the truth is we both got it wrong: We scratched our heads, and didn’t understand what this brave new cartridge was for…or what it could do that existing cartridges couldn’t.
As to the latter, probably nothing…but that can be said about almost any new cartridge. As to what it was for, it was a mild-kicking, short-action cartridge that was probably very effective. Part of our problem was we had no first-hand experience with the 7mm-08 Rem on game. This was not entirely our fault. Payton and I took that early 7mm-08 Rem on several forays up the Central Coast for wild hogs, but we never got a shot. We figured it would do just fine…but we didn’t know.
The 6.5mm Creedmoor is a great cartridge…but it isn’t the only 6.5mm cartridge out there. We all know the 6.5mm Creedmoor is the hottest thing since sliced bread, right now, except the 223 Remington, our hottest-selling centerfire cartridge. And the greatest cartridge phenomenon I’ve seen in my career. The Creedmoor is different because its popularity isn’t based on marketing hype. Developed as a long-range target cartridge, its introduction was soft and its designer, Hornady, had limited expectations. The Creedmoor won matches right out of the starting gate, but it actually fizzled along for several years. Then, suddenly, it took off and, so far, hasn’t looked back. The 6.5mm Creedmoor is accurate, efficient, mild in recoil, and with its short case is able to utilize the long, aerodynamic bullets currently in fashion, from a short action.
There are quite a few cartridges in the middle tier of “fast” 6.5mm’s. All of these will at least approach 3000 fps with a 140-grain bullet, and certainly with a 130-grain slug. Left to right: 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5×284 Norma, 6.5-06 (wildcat), 264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5mm SST (proprietary).Suddenly the .26-caliber (bullet diameter .264-inch) is in. This, in itself, is odd because this bullet diameter is hardly new. Back in the 1890s, at the dawn of smokeless powder, a number of 6.5mm cartridges were developed for military use, primarily for European powers. Several became popular sporting cartridges, not only in Europe but also over here. Some, such as the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer and 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, are ballistic equals to the 6.5mm Creedmoor…especially if modern propellants and bullets are used. Up through the 1930s America’s sporting press was full of references to early 6.5mms, but their use dwindled and almost faded away.
It was a perfect setup for prairie dogs; we had a big shade tree to our left, three of us in line on portable benches, with a big colony stretching away before us. Stephen Shen was on the left, Gordon Marsh in the middle, me on the right. Interestingly, all three of us were shooting the 204 Ruger cartridge: Stephen a Savage 116, while both Gordon and I were shooting Ruger No. Ones, his in blue/walnut and mine stainless/laminate.
It wasn’t universal; Bill Green was off the right, popping away and having a ball with a semi-auto 17 HMR . This was Gordon and Bill’s annual prairie dog shoot out of Cheyenne, hunting with Craig Oceanak and Nick of Timberline Outfitters. It was my second shoot with them; for Stephen, CEO of Vector Optics, his first ever. We had other rifles, 223’s and 22-250’s. However, except for Bill, who clung to his 17 HMR and walked in some amazing shots, the 204’s did the majority of the work. There are many excellent varmint cartridges, so it struck me as unusual that three among our foursome were shooting 204’s…but I think we made good choices.