« Who Was The Greatest Gun Writer Of All Time? | Main | A Pithy Bit Of Rifleshooting Heresy »

March 27, 2007

This page has been moved to http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut

If your browser doesn’t redirect you to the new location, please visit The Gun Nut at its new location: www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut.

Why Heavy Rifles Are Out

A couple of weeks ago I got to handle a rifle that belonged to Colonel Townsend Whelen, which is as close as you get to touching a sacred object in this business. It was a Low-Wall Winchester, a custom-made rifle (as most of Whelen’s were) and it weighed a ton. I don’t think that Whelen owned a rifle that scaled less than 10 pounds or had a barrel less than 26 inches long. Part of this was due to the fact that he was tremendously strong, but his guns were typical of the time.

For much of the 20th century, strength was achieved by weight and mass. I can remember car ads from the 1950s boasting of how much cars weighed. This held true with rifles. If you look at an older Model 70 Winchester you see enough extra steel and wood to lay a railroad line. Same with the Weatherby Mark V action. I wonder if Roy Weatherby, and his designer Fred Jennie, would do it that way today.

All this came to a throbbing head last week when I visited the shop of ace gunmaker Mark Bansner, who has just come out with his own bolt-action, and makes his own fiberglass stocks. There is not a scintilla of an iota of excess steel or anything else in one of these guns. They are mere skin and bones.

Bansner’s Ultimate rifles are strikingly similar to the Nosler Model 48 bolt-action, which is also boiled down to the nth degree. They are uncannily alike, and it is no accident. Both were designed by people who had done a ton of hunting, much of it in the mountains, and approached rifle design not as engineers, but as people who would have to carry what they built.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Why Heavy Rifles Are Out :


Blue Ox

I was raised in the school of 'heavier is better', but I know that shooters are gonna want to be comfortable with their firearm. As for myself, I'd much rather get a gentle nudge from a big, heavy .416 Remington than get mollywhopped by a gun in the same caliber weighing half as much. I do recall an article you wrote not long ago that would seem to agree with this concept, but like I said, different strokes for different folks.


Heavier used to be better when that was the only way to have a strong rifle. Today with modern steels, light weight metals and synthetic stocks the same or greater strength rifles can be built at lower final weights. This works well for a rifle that is carried a lot and shot little. On the other hand, if a ten pound rifle, which most likely would be easier to shoot, keeps you out of the woods, try doing more push ups so you can handle a manly size rifle. In my case, if I took ten pounds off my middle, the weight of the rifle would not be noticed. So there you go, it might be better and easier to reduce the size of the hunter than the size of the rifle. It could also be cheaper.

Charles  Benoit

I judge the quality of a rifle first by its balance regarless of how much it weighs. If the rifle doesn't have the proper balance or feel, then I would not purchase it. Personally, I find heavy rifles to be my own preference since I hunt from a deer stand the majority of the time and carrying it with a sling does not present a problem. Save the light weight rifles for the small calibers which usually don't have recoil problems.

If a hunter has difficulty carrying a heavy rifle, he should first consider proper conditioning before heading out to the woods.
Charles Benoit


Are Bill Heavey rifles still in?

Dave Petzal

To Matt WV: Bill Heavey rifles are always in.


To each his own.

I'd guess for an overwhelming majority of hunters, heavier might be better than lighter. Most hunters are deer hunters. Most carry (or have them carried) to a blind, tree stand, or something else stationary. Most would be affected more adversely by heavy recoil than a heavy gun. Doesn't matter. Most factory guns come in manageable weights and inherent robustness that suits the majority of the hunters.

I've fired on one custom light weight rifle (280 Rem) that probably went 6-6.5lbs with a scope. Thanks but no thanks. I shoot a 3.5in pump for goose hunting so I'm not a stranger to recoil.


I’ve gone heavy and light. My varmint rifles tended to be heavy. My mountain rifles are…not so heavy. I think most the rifle’s weight is found in the barrel. I don’t like real slim barrel contours. Looking at my present rifles, most are slender medium weights. My traditional muzzleloaders are *heavy* because of the barrels.

I try to keep weight down hunting, especially in the mountains, by taking only one rifle and a dozen rounds. I insist on taking two knives...why I don't know.

I remember hunting with one fellow in Mt. that came with his rifle with fifty rounds of rifle ammo, and then had a .44 hog leg strapped to his body and fifty rounds for that handgun.

He must had been a "granola" :-)


I have used a 13# rifle for the last 10 years and when it pulled out my shoulder this last year; I took Dave's advice and bought a Tikka Lite. I planned on using it until the coming season when I would get a Nosler Custom. I have to say I am completely knocked over by the Tikka. I had always thought that you needed weight to have an accurate rifle... I no longer feel that way and will use the Tikka, a Nosler 48 or another of the lighter rifles from now on. The lighter rifle took some getting used to; but I don't see any reason to be "macho" any longer ( the Tikka is in 270 short mag and the kick isn't enuff to matter and it is printing less than an [email protected] 100 yds)


Heavy or light? The immortal question when it comes to a good hunting rifle. The way I see it is that it all boils down to preference. I like to carry my Winchester 70 in 7mm Ultra Mag, but I'm not so fond of shooting it, it has stomped me on several occasions, but so has my 13# 10ga side by side. I still love them both, heavy or light. I have since 2001 stopped rifle hunting and started handgun hunting; much less weight and most shots in my neck of the woods are within 200 yards and my .460 BFR is more than capable of that. Before my BFR I hunted with my .45 Colt Ruger, it worked very well out to 75 yards. I will likely return to a rifle once my eyesight starts going (as it does in my family), but I will stick with light with a heavy punch.


After many years of carrying relatively heavy deer rifles through the adirondacks I got an Ultra Light Model 20 bolt action from Melvin Forbes in 284 with a 22" barrel. It's a beautifully light rifle that will group well under an inch. It also has a 3" magazine length that allows for longer OAL which is helpful in this caliber. I love it and it's all I've carried for the last dozen years.


Maybe this indicates that, as a society, we are slipping down the slope toward having wheelchairs and hoverrounds roll us around the outdoors when we have jellyfied, yes jellyfied, into things that our granddads or great grandads would not recognize. I realize that trendy or not, light rifles are better, just like light beer and all the other "lite" stuff that's seems to permeate the televison and airwaves all the time. But just for one shining moment I'd like to think we could get off our collective asses and get some exercise and be able to scoff at those who would call us "a soft generation." Kudos to you Dave to point that out to us via the exposition of another fine quality light rifle.

Charles  Benoit

I agree with Scott that we are getting soft. Although our current athletes are bigger,taller,stronger,and faster, most men are not in decent shape. Look back at the old photos from the 1920's through the 50's and one will see much leaner hunters. The previous generation of hunters were mentally tougher, and they could tolerate outdoor conditions most present-day woodsmen would avoid. The old timers did not have all of the modern day conveniences we take for granted now, but they sure could handle themselves better regardless of the weather.

Soldiers of the past did not seem to complain that much with the heavy rifles that carried, especially those heavy ones from World War I. Those guys were really tough!

My 16 year old son laughs at me constantly that I won't ride along with him on his four wheeler while we head out to our deer stands. My stand is less than half a mile from the cabin, and walking out on a cold morning seems part of the hunting tradition. He just shakes his head and smiles.

Charles Benoit

David Honish

My Dad taught me long ago that "oil changes are cheaper than engine overhauls" and "you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it."

David Honish

My Dad taught me long ago that "oil changes are cheaper than engine overhauls" and "you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it."

Roger Reeves

We have become a weak society, Too lazy to carry any weight around. I am disabled/Handicapped, and continue to use a l0 lb 30-06 rifle. A few years back, when Winchesetr came out with the 70 WSM in 300 Win Mag I thought o yea, at 6 l./2 lbs I need one of those. So Stupid me bought one. I shot it 3 times, found it a new home. My shoulder was black/blue fo several days. I replaced it with a wood Stock Rem 700 and added 2 lb lead to stock ( yes, I bored a large hole in that beauitiful walnut stock and cried). The gun now is at 10 lbs, unloaded but scoped. Its a pleasure to shot his rifle now. Never understand why anyone would want a 5-6 lb heavy recoil gun to hunt with. If wt is a problem, then sit and wait, for a animal to caome buy. Never will I hunt with a light gun. Not only does the extra wt help reduce recoil, but the gun is far more accurate, and not moving all over the rest., or shooting sticks. I prefer the extra wt to be in the Butt end, rather than on the forearm, as my arms are weak, and the gun s a tad heavy with wt on forend and muzzle. Also, to me a wood stock is more accurate, in addition to thr beautiful wood you own. Roger Reeves

Jack Bohm

I have a Browning BAR MKII with BOSS in .270Win- with Barska 3-12x50 scope and a padded sling, it weighs around 10 pounds empty. Yes, it is heavy, but I know the Gun, its very accurate- under 1 inch groups at 100 yards and has VERY little Recoil. A lighter gun in the same cartridge would smack the daylights out of me- I did consider getting something lighter, but realized the above was more important. I don't sit in a stand all day- I hike with the thing, sometimes a good 3 or 4 miles.

bill scroggs

I by no means am as good as the Professionals, although I have managed over the years since 1952 (after high school) to take seven Elk; thirty Deer; an Antelope; a Grizzly; Bobcat; etc. The only Elk I ever lost was with a 7mm Magnum as every thing else was taken with a 30/06 down to a 250/3000 Savage, well with the exception of the Grizzly who fell within five foot of me while I was gutting an Elk while on my knees. I rolled over on the Elk, put Four rounds in that 500 + pound Bears chest with my 44 S&W Model 29 Revolver, then one in it's neck under its chin and the last round in its mouth at about five foot from me where it dropped. Now I carry only Randy GARRETT'S 310-grain cartridges as those 240-grain Remington rounds almost got me killed. My Rifle is now a Factory Ported MARLIN 45/70 Guide Gun that is loaded with GARRETT'S 420-grain "HAMMER HEAD" cartridges, that by the way has killed every Large Animal usually with one shot both in Africa and the USA. Check it out. Thank you. Sincerely. Bill


As far as hunting with a light rifle with more recoil, when the adrenaline is pumping on sight of the animal you want to shoot I've noticed that 1) I do not feel the recoil, and 2) it would not matter in the first place due to the excitement of taking that animal. I took one of my first whitetail deer with a Ruger M77 in .270 Winchester, this was when I was 130 pounds soaking wet with a brick in both hands, while sighting it in it felt like it stomped me, but on sight and trigger pull in the field I did not feel anything as far as recoil. Light or heavy, debate and debate as you will, as long as the hunt is enjoyable and the firearm you carry with you functions these arguments are just words in the wind. Some of us cannot afford the Blaser and use what is at hand and usually we are more successful in the hunt because instead of showing off our $10,000.00 rifle to our buddies we are hunting with the banged up, hand-me-down Winchester 94 in .30-30. I read an article long ago (I do not remember who wrote it) about modern sportsmen being "gun snobs", I see this is a fact in recent years of truly reading and watching people buy and sell guns as well as talk about them in the business.

Thad Davidson

I've got a 257 Ackley Improved in a Remington 700 BDL action (24" barrel) seated in an H-S Precision stock. The scope is a Nikon 6 x 18 Buckmaster (great scope, by the way). With scope, the rifle weighs about 8 1/2 lbs and is very accurate. Recoil is not an issue.

I've also got a Savage Model 111 in 270 Winchester (22" barrel) with a black plastic stock and a Leupold 4x12 scope. This rifle weighs about 7 1/2 lbs. Recoil is only an issue from the bench.

I've also got a 280 Ackley Improved on a 1917 Lee Enfield action (26" barrel) in a beautiful (but heavy) walnut stock. With the Shepherd Scope onboard, this rifle weighs at least 11 pounds.

The rifle I most often end up taking into tough terrain and on the really long hikes is the Savage. Even though it is in near perfect condition, it is so damned ugly that I nearly wince and cry when I look at it (as do others), but with its Accutrigger it shoots less than an inch at 100 yards all day long, and I can easily get 130 grain handloads to shoot 3120 FPS and 140 grain handloads to shoot 3020+ FPS, all with no pressure problems and outstanding accuracy. The Savage is very light, shoots really well, doesn't kick, doesn't mind getting wet, and is far too ugly for anyone to steal.

The only other rifle I'll take where the going is tough and the hikes are long is the 257 AI. It is a supremely accurate, reasonable weight, all weather rifle I feel comfortable with, can shoot sub-MOA with, and intend to use on anything with antlers or tusks in North America.

T.W. Davidson
Tyler, TX


I never noticed that my guns were heavy until gunwriters (and salesmen) started telling me so. I now own some synthetic toothpicks and view them as efficient, expendable workhorses. Not that I don't take care of them - I do, but there is no emotion attached to them. Well, maybe a little.

My heart still skips a beat whenever I pick up heavy old steel and lumber, and I feel more pride when I down game. I usually take a new/light and old/heavy gun with me, deciding at the last moment which one gets carried. The old anchors usually win out unless there is a downpour.

My synthetic Tikka T3 is a very fine shooter but it might get a Serengeti walnut stock. Actually, French red stained straight grain American or English walnut does more for me than any fancy Turkish or Continental wood. Sure it will be heavier but I'll feel better carrying it. For me at least, there is more to hunting and shooting than just being efficient.


I vote for the accurate rifle that YOU or I shoot best. I have an "out of the box" Savage in .30-'06 that is heavy, not very pretty, but shoots far better than I can, so I pay the price and lug it.

Life is too short to hunt w/an ugly gun!

Don Thomas

Dave, I'm looking for a light weight 22-250 that is very accurate to be used as a walk about rifle for coyote hunting. Does anyone make a truly high quality rifle like this? Also, when I find my new rifle I'm going to put a Swarovski 4-12 or a Zeiss 4.5-14 scope on. Which scope in your opionion is best?

Our Blogs