Varmint Callers Association
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CHOOSING A GOOD FACTORY VARMINT RIFLE
For the shooter branching out into varmint/field shooting, equipment decisions can be a dilemma. Our own past experiences, what we read, and what others tell us are the deciding factors, and do not always provide the right answers.
Having been a field shooter for 55 years, confusion has often reigned supreme and I have made several expensive mistakes. However, experience (good and bad) has lead me to believe I have acquired equipment which, not perfect for everyone, performs more than satisfactorily at reasonable cost.
I have a wide variety of varmint and field rifles, mostly custom or at least semi custom, in a variety of calibers. One of my mistakes, multiplied several times, was thinking that a custom job will always beat a factory rifle. The truth, I have found, is that one is about as chancy as the other. The only advantage in going with a custom rifle is that you get it the way you want it, no matter how wrong-headed your idea is. Be darned sure you are really getting an intelligent, knowledgeable gunsmith. Advertising and fancy brochures are not better than glossy truck stop menus. Visit with him a long time. Ask trick questions. Make sure he can count to twenty with his shoes on. I have had two custom rifles blow gas out the rear in a most dangerous manner because the 'smiths had made some stupid mistake and not test fired them. Fortunately, my mother didn't raise any dumb kids and I fired them with a heavy coat over the actions, first shot. One even tried to barrel a 22 center fire with a rim fire barrel. Never trust any gunsmith with your eyesight and your life.
Four of my favorite calibers are not generally available in factory editions. These include the 250 Savage in both the standard and Ackley Improved versions, the .222 Magnum and the .222 Remington. While these are my choices, they provide only marginal advantages over available factory cartridges.
I have, for many years, included a 22-250 on all my prairie dog and rock chuck safaris, and find it very satisfactory for any but the most extreme wind and range conditions. The 220 Swift is equally accurate and can extend the effective range a bit. Both of these cartridges are, of course, available in factory offerings today.
For the field shooter content to stick with lesser ranges, the .222 is probably the best mid range cartridge ever factory produced. Why it has been dropped from most factory rifle production is a mystery I will never resolve in my own mind, arguments for the .223 not withstanding.
For more windy conditions at long range, the 250 Improved is always my choice, but limiting the choices to factory offerings, the 6mm Remington is a reasonable substitute. The ballistics and far end performance on varmints is very similar.
I experimented with the 25/06 for several years. I found it to be abusive and finicky. It is a very poor substitute for the 250 Ackley, leaving me stuck with some custom work. The advantages of a few feet per second of extra velocity do not make up for the discomfort of more recoil in long shooting sessions. There is such a thing as efficiency as it relates to the powder burned/velocity ratio. The 25/06 rates poor in my book in that area. When choosing a cartridge, one should look for the mildest, most accurate load that will do the job at the range you intend to shoot. In addition, flatter trajectory never beats skill and knowledge of an individual rifle. Unless you are a big game hunter, there is little that the 6mm Remington will not do as a substitute for either of these 25's.
One of my greatest wastes of time and money was to have a varmint rifle built in 6.5 X 55. If one wishes to burn more powder and get more kick and noise, in varmint loads it will give all that, at 257 Roberts performance levels.
I measured more than 50 pounds of powder through three 243's, starting in 1955. I was convinced by gunwriters of yesteryear that it was the greatest thing ever to come down the pike. It took a personal chronograph to prove to my satisfaction that it wasn't. I consider the 243 to be the most over rated cartridge ever made, except for the .223, for which I can find no use at all. The .222 will usually equal the .223 in velocity, beat it in accuracy, and is a pussy cat to shoot. The .222 Magnum is superior to it in every measurable respect. The .222 Magnum does fill the niche between the 22-250 in terms of velocity, accuracy, and efficiency. The .223 is the .222 Magnum, modified in shape by the military to function in automatic weapons full of swamp water and frog poop.
Choosing a larger bore, larger case, can give some range and wind bucking advantages, but at a price in recoil that I choose not to endure. On a breezy day, I would concede to anyone shooting a good 300 Win Mag, but I would never subject myself to that kind of pounding.
The best, or most accurate, factory rifle has periodically shifted from one maker to another. In my formative years as a serious varmint shooter, the Sako heavy barrel was the most accurate factory rifle made. At least this was our sincere belief in the 50's. It still is a good choice, but an expensive one. I have also had good luck with factory Remington's, and I own one Winchester Model 70 varmint rifle of early vintage that has won many a match and dispatched a lot of varmints. I have shot with some of the latest Winchester Varmint models with good results.
At the current time, I find that the Savage 112 BVSS is hard to beat for anything close to the money. On the average, they probably can't be beat at any price. The latest ones are even better than mine, as the new ones have real pillar bedding and seem to have better triggers. The trigger on any Savage 112 is easily and cheaply improved by a person who really understands them. Tinkering by lesser mortals will result in a dangerous situation.
I recently installed a Sharp trigger, from SHARP SHOOTER SUPPLY in Delphos, Ohio. I put this in a friend's Savage 112 FV, and once adjusted, it worked really fine. I would only say that it is not quite as simple as some have suggested, and that it is for varmint/target applications only, as the range of adjustment ran from touchy to very touchy. I would probably put one on any new Savage varmint rifle I might acquire.
My Savage BVSS 22-250 consistently shoots five shot groups in the 2's with Starke varmint and bench rest bullets of 50 to 55 grains at velocities around 3700 for the lighter bullets and over 3500 with the heavier ones. With other commonly available match bullets, it shoots in the 3's. I cannot remember this rifle ever producing a group worse than the high 4's with any bullet I have tried under decent conditions. I am a field shooter, not a wind flag reader, and be not led astray-this is very darned good performance by any shooter's standards. If you think you can achieve major benchrest match winning scores on a day to day basis with ANY rifle, you are chasing a dream.
Choice of caliber in this rifle is pretty much dictated by intended application. I am well satisfied with the 22-250. In local matches, I have been beaten by 112 BVSS rifles in .223 and in 220 swift (and I have beaten them!) We have quite a few local rifle "turkey shoots" in this area. Savage BVSS varmint rifles are becoming the first choice of many of us turkeys.
I have seen groups shot with the Savage competition rifles in 30-06 and 300 Win Mag that I would have bet could not have been done.
What it comes down to, is that the Savage rifle is a good choice for really great accuracy, out of the box, at a very reasonable cost. If it does not come up to expectations, you can sell it and buy another at little loss. When you wear it out, trade it off at a small loss. Try this with an expensive custom job that is less than satisfactory. I have, all too often. I currently have a VERY expensive 6mm staring me in the face that will not shoot better than the high 6's. I could have bought two savage rifles and had money left over for good whiskey and wild women.
Omissions of mention of your choice may be significant, based on my personal experience. There are few, if any, rifles brands that I have not owned or shot extensively.
No rifle will perform up to expectations without good sighting equipment the accessories with which to prepare the loads.
I would like to tell you that I have come up with an inexpensive satisfactory scope choice. I have not. For varmint shooting, I prefer the Leupold 6.5 x 20, with the 6 x 18 Burris Fullfield a reasonable second choice for less bucks. For smaller rifles in the .222 class, the Leupold M8 12X is very good. Being a bit old fashioned, perhaps, I stick with American made products. (Though I realize that many of these have imported lenses, an unavoidable concession to a smaller world.)
I am not an expert in optics, and understand that there are some new imported models, by various makers, that are quite satisfactory. I have not tried them, nor am I likely to. I mistrust the mechanics of the overseas products.
For general field shooting, including larger varmints like fox and coyote, and general plains game hunting, the 3 x 9 Redfield Illuminator with Accu Trac has proven to be the most reliable scope I have ever owned, and I have owned many. The demise of the Redfield Company is very sad. I will buy any of the old Illuminators I find at gun shows. They are few and far between, having been quite expensive, with few hunters being aware of the extreme durability, brightness, and long range hunting utility they possessed. Those who do own them are pretty white knuckled about letting them go.
I have used a variety of reloading tools over the years. I find that Redding dies are excellent, and I recommend their Benchrest micrometer seater as a choice you will not regret. The wide range of accuracy loading accessories Redding offers are frosting on the cake, such as competition (graduated) shell holders and the bushing neck sizing dies. I am currently learning to use these Redding competition neck-sizing dies in developing loads for a 20 pound custom 22-250.
I find that Forester/Bonanza makes awfully good tools and good dies. My bench contains quite a mix of Forester and Redding products.
As I find to my satisfaction that certain tools are better than others, I try to phase out the old and phase in the new. While it is usually possible to sell the less desirable items at gun shows, finding the better replacement is usually impossible. If an item is scare to non-existent at guns shows, it is usually because it is good stuff that nobody is selling.
There are three Forester case trimmer/neck turning tools on my bench, one modified especially for small wildcats, one for neck turning, and one for general case trimming. I also have one of Forester's micrometer seating dies, which is excellent, which, like the Redding, provides full case support. One of my earlier mistakes was to purchase a micrometer seating die of the "one size fits all" variety. This has long since been discarded.
Seating depth is one of the most important aspects of accurate load development. The Stoney Point seating depth measuring tools are reasonably priced, simple to use, and something I just would not get along without.
Case preparation, such as inside and outside primer pocket uniforming is easily handled with the Sinclair flash hole deburring tool, and primer pocket uniformer held in the crank style Forester deburring tool base.
While I load on an RCBS Rockchucker and a Lyman Orange Crusher, there are many good presses available at reasonable cost. I have never found any advantage to the turret types. (Although a good friend swears by his Dillon 550B, and that press is very versatile, nicely made, and can be used as a single stage press when appropriate. The Dillon does not "handle" the coarser powders very well, if at all.)
I have used, and would like to own a Bonanza Co. Ax. Press.
I realize that the little hand held priming tools, such as the Lee are very popular. I find them uncomfortable and I do not relish holding a bunch of explosive primers in my lap, that near to my face, while performing an operation that could set them all off. I use the RCBS standard primer seating tool. I place each primer in it with a lab forceps. It is slow, but provides good feel resulting in great uniformity. One can get quite fast with this method, with practice.
I have not found that one powder measure has a great advantage over another. I currently use an RCBS with the micrometer attachment, have used Lyman, and am thinking of adding a Redding BR3.
In general, varmint and field requires a greater quantity of accurate ammunition than many other shooting activities, and you need equipment of good quality capable of reasonably fast production. I have heard good things about the RCBS case preparation center. Another friend swears by his, since it rapidly takes care of more onerous tasks, such as primer pocket cleaning and neck chamfering. That friend does report that the case preparation center tends to dull its toolheads rather prematurely.
For years I have done all my load development, testing and practice shooting over a chronograph. I have had expensive ones and cheap ones. My choice is the Shooting Chrony, Beta, Master model. At about $120.00, it is a bargain. It holds six strings of ten shots, any or all of which can be wiped out and replaced at any time. It is quick and simple to set up, and it provides all the data I usually need, especially the all-important standard deviation of velocity. All functions are controlled from the bench. It has memory: you can shut it off, take it home and record the results later. It can be adapted to use with home computers. It is upgradable to more complex models. Accessories for it include a printer that can also control all functions of the chronograph, and is a wonderful convenience in recording data. It will print data as you shoot, or after you finish.
I consider load development to be a tedious business without a chronograph. For cost, completeness of function, and ease of setup, the Chrony works for me. I have set the Chronys up in line with other chronographs, and found them as reliable and accurate as models that are much more expensive.
Last, you need a de-liar. We are not thinking here about owning one of the $3000.00 rangefinders. I have used them, and they are wonderful! I have also ridden in Lincoln Town Cars, and eaten lobster. They are not my daily fare. No, we are talking about good equipment at reasonable cost . I have found the Bushnell 800 Rangefinder to be a boon to field shooting. I mentioned need. When explaining this to your wife, be sure to point out that you are saving almost twenty six hundred dollars. The Bushnell 800 does not work well in bright sunshine much beyond 400 yards, less in prairie dog towns. It is fantastic on cloudy days, giving accurate results to over 900 yards. One finds innovative ways of using it beyond its apparent limitations after becoming familiar with it. (Measuring in increments, using better reflective surfaces, etc.)
I would like to say a few words about bullet weights and rifling twists. One must know what twist is required to stabilize the bullet weight that you will shoot. One twist does not serve all purposes. A very tight twist is required to shoot long, heavy bullets. (Long is the key word here.) Tight twists will not shoot regular and lightweight bullets well.
There is currently a popular trend to extremes. I find many writers touting the 40 grain bullet in .22's at extreme velocities. This as wrong headed as one can get. These light bullets start out at eye-bugging velocities, but they loose velocity quickly. Wind drift is directly proportional to velocity loss. Light bullets should be used only at shorter range. They are very desirable at hornet and bee velocities shot at short and medium ranges. Very poor choices for larger cases. By the same token, tight twist rifles for very long, heavy bullets are quite desirable for large capacity cases intended for long range only. The long, heavy bullets are a real disadvantage for shorter range shots. The tight twists are not desirable for shooting medium weight bullets. It is best not to limit yourself by extreme twist rates or choice of extreme bullet weights in either direction. Bullets of 50 to 55 grains in 22 caliber, 75 to 90 grains in 6mm, and 85 to 105 grains in 25 caliber are the most useful to most shooters. Twists between 10 and 14 depending upon caliber are usually the sensible choices.
In summary, I would say that the Savage 112 Varmint rifles can be the basis of a very satisfactory and economical varmint/field shooting outfit. The items that support it, that I have mentioned, are all within the budget of many shooters. They have served me well. My long-term experience is, "you get what you pay for" is not always true. Price and utility do not always go hand in hand.
Prejudices and misconceptions regarding calibers, brand names, prices, and perceived function can be expensive. Perhaps we are each doomed to make our own mistakes. I am probably not done yet.
Guest article written by Uncle John and submitted by David Buchman. David can be reached at [email protected]