Heavy-barrel rifle aids in varmint hunting

| Friday, Feb. 24, 2006

On this mid-February morning, the ground is covered with a blanket of snow.

Although the big storm was east of this area, the gusting winds and blowing snow squalls remind us that winter is still in charge. The one bright spot is that winter is beginning its dying stage, and it won't be long until the sun is warm all day and the grass is green.

In nature's world, the birds and animals are doing their best to find something to eat. It's a harsh time, and there's still a few weeks to go. However, deep underground, the woodchuck, who has sense enough to spend the winter in a warm burrow will soon become restless and will rise often from its long sleep. By mid March, male 'chucks will be out going from den hole to den hole checking for female occupants. Springtime starts life anew, and that goes for woodchucks too.

It's just as true that while 'chucks are becoming restless underground, 'chuck hunters are feeling the pangs of cabin fever. While the earth may be blanketed in deep snow, spring is not that far away. When the 'chucks are moving above ground, 'chuck hunters are preparing for the coming summer. Instead of February and March being dreary months, they can be busy times for getting all the gear ready for the upcoming season. Many 'chuck hunters spend the winter months reloading shells, but to add a new dimension of excitement to the summer, consider a new varmint rig.

The .22 Hornet cartridge still has a large following in the 'chuck hunting ranks. The tiny cartridge has a long, nostalgic history, but with all the hoopla it receives, it still a short-range cartridge with a maximum accuracy range of about 175 yards -- and I'm being generous.

A fair share of varmint hunters do not realize the advantages offered by a heavy-barrel varmint rifle. Sporter-type rifles are not all that bad, but a genuine heavy-barrel varmint rifle with an adjustable trigger and wide-range variable-power scope brings a new dimension to 'chuck shooting. If 200-yard shots are average, a heavy-barrel outfit will add another 150 yards or more to that range.

Nailing a 'chuck at 400 yards is not as easy as falling off the proverbial log, either. Long-range 'chuck shooting is a skill of its own, and it takes time to develop the necessary skills to shoot accurately at 350 to 450 yards.

The farther the target is from the muzzle, the more difficult it is to hit. Aiming at a 'chuck 125 yards from the muzzle is three times easier than trying to make a precise shot at 325.

It's not just the simple matter of holding the crosswire on the 'chuck, it's keeping it there while pulling the trigger. This little demon requires a good bit of practice and learning how to control the trigger pull.

One of the controversial aspects of buying new varmint rifle deals with the cartridge. I think it's wise for most varmint hunters to stick with .22 caliber or 6mm cartridges. Going up the ladder to the .25 caliber or .264 caliber should be reserved for super-long-range shooters that shoot well beyond 500 yards. The 6.5 x 284 wildcat is an ideal super-range cartridge, but it not the best for general hunting. In the .224 (22) caliber, Remington's .223 and .22-250 have all the speed and energy needed for shots up to 300 yards. The .220 Swift can be successfully used up to 400 yards. Winchester's .243 or Weatherby's .240 Magnum will add another 150 yards. For all practical purposes, there are only three cartridges in the .224 caliber that need to be considered and just two in the 6mm caliber.

These are cartridges for factory rifles that can be purchased in any sports store that sells rifles. There are many wildcat versions in both of these calibers that will equal or outperform to some extent the factory versions.

In a upcoming column, we'll take a look at the makeup of the varmint rifle. This is more important than many hunters think.

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