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April 09, 2008

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Weight a Minute

A National Guard friend of mine, currently on active duty, tells me that the weight of the much-modified M-16 she is carrying (with red dot sight) is 9 pounds. This caused my semi-annual smile, because one of the selling points of the Armalite rifle from which the M-16 evolved was that it weighed only 7 pounds, and was much easier to lug though the rice paddies than the M-14 which was 9 pounds, or the M-1 which weighed 9.6 pounds (SIR!). So we are back to square one.

Actually, there is something to be said for heavy rifles. Some years ago in Texas, Craig Boddington loaned me an 8mm Remington magnum that had been built for him by John Rigby (in California, not London) and weighed 12 pounds. Because of its weight, the rifle had almost no recoil, and as fate had it, the shot I got was one where I had to jam my eye right against the scope. I resigned myself to a great scope cut, but nothing happened. The rifle hardly moved when I pulled the trigger.

The Thompson submachine gun weighed 12 pounds and was extremely effective because it recoiled very little. Ditto the Browning Automatic Rifle at just under 20 pounds. Civilian guns, too, profit by some weight. A skillful shot can hit with a 6-pound rifle (in a reasonable caliber) but an unskilled shot will have fits--the gun will be just too twitchy.

The real problem with a heavy gun comes in rough country, particularly mountain country. You not only have to carry the thing uphill, but because the footing is uneven, you'll be fighting the rifle every step of the way as it does its best to pull you off balance.


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I happened to be in a large sporting goods store in Green Bay recently. They had several of the new left hand Tikka T-3 lites in stock. I was able to hold them and work the bolt. Nice rifle but I think it's really to light to hold on a target. Had they been heavier, I might have bought the 30-06 that day.


Mr. Petzal,
I recently picked up a "heavy" rifle you did a short review on awhile back, the Savage Model 40 in 22 Hornet. As you stated, it has some heft to it, but to be honest, I actually enjoy the extra weight to it. When its steadied....it is truly steady.


As I age (heading for 61) my rifles seem to gain as much weight as me. Most are in the 9 to 9.5 range complete with scopes and mag cartridges. I let the horse worry about hauling them around and none have even complained. I have found that invariably the elk or deer will be further up the mountain or on the other side of it whenever I locate them. This often causes an old man to attempt a quick trip up what is usually a significant vertical challenge. As a result the heart is racing and the lungs pumping. Nevertheless the 9.5 lb .338 will settle right down with the Leupold's crosshairs just about where I want them for a successful hit. I cannot say the same thing for my custom lightweights or even for the lamented Rem Mtn Rifle that I traded off years ago. As we all are quite aware shooting from the bench after a leasurely walk from your pickup or SUV is different in numernous ways from shooting from a windy hilltop when you are out of breathe and worn out from 4 or 5 days in the hills.
Given one gun give me the heavier one...sorry NULA and other lites fans, they are great rifles but usually that extra few pounds is beneficial when the reason you are hunting happens. Besides leave that ridiculous backpack (and whatever is in it) in camp, only take 6 Snickers instead of 12, don't haul around those extra rifle magazines, take only 2 knives and small flashlights, and on and on. Pretty soon you have more than made up for the difference in rifle weight that you are carrying. That's my side of the story, I do what works for me.


Yooperjack: I forgot to mention that the local gun store has a wall full of targets with extremely impressive tight groups which were fired from newly purchased T-3s. Apparently the locals like to show off the results and the store owner wants to sell the guns. I have never shot one in my life but they are light, accurate, and apparently rugged enough. I am told that they have SAKO barrels but have not verified that statement. The guys who have T-3s love them even if they are as ugly a homemade sin.


Dave, it seems the main argument against a heavy rifle is the one you mention - carrying it in rough country. A good sling that distributes the weight effectively and doesn't slide off of your shoulder could help here. Can you recommend any slings?

Dr. Ralph

Weight is nice, but in my experience length seems to be more important and no I'm not going down that road. A heavy short rifle like a No.1 A at 38" overall length is harder for me to shoot off hand than one 42" like a 700. Don't know why this is but I also have two barrels for an 1100 shotgun because it was old with no ventilated rib or choke tubes 26" long so I got a new 30" and can hit with it much better. I know everyone will say longer sight plane but really it is because it swings and handles so much better for me. That weight out front steadys my ability to hold on target. Heavy does soak up recoil though...


It's easier to take the weight off the rifle than off the hunter.

Dave Petzal

To KJ: The best sling I know of of is made by Murray Leather in Texas, and is called the A-1 Murray Quick-Set Rifle Sling. If you put a little vegetable cooking oil on it after it gets wet, it never wears out. Adjusts quickly, holds its adjustment fairly well, and doesn't get in the way. A broken-in Murray sling has unbelievable funk and character.


I'm disabled, so mostly hunt from a stand. I have a ruger 10-22 that is accurate but that short 2"x4" shape of it will not hold steady for me. I can shoot three times as good with a marlin bolt,or lever, a rem 552, or win 67. balance and fit(which the ruger doesn't have) has as an important part as weight inMHO.


My first several deer hunts were with my .50 flintlock. It's a traditional style long rifle with a 38" barrel at 15/16 diameter. It must weigh 9-10 pounds, never weighed it. But I've never once had an issue with being unable to hold it on target or worry about recoil. It can get a little heavy after several hours of walking, but that's no big deal to the peace of mind I have that I can hold on target without shaking too much when the time comes. Since then I've always been more comfortable with a heavy rifle than a light one, and still do most of my hunting with that flintlock.


I usually stick with Weatherby rifles for the magnum loads; they are heavier than most of the rifles being built today.


9lb rifle with around 50 lbs of Body Armor, extra ammo, water and other gear gets a little heavy.

But after walking in Baghdad for a day or two in the heat, you really don't notice the weight of the rifle, more the weight of the stares and glares from some of the people.

Watching a child of 5 or 6 tug on my sleeve and ask me for clean water will weigh on me forever, much more then any rifle ever will.

Call me post traumatic... It's all good, at least I can say I did it for something bigger then myself.



Bernie Kuntz

I always have believed that the M-14 was a better battle rifle than the M-16. The M-14 didn't have to be as heavy as it is either--a better stock configuration could remove a pound of wood from the stock. I carried 85 pounds of crap on my back in Vietnam with 1st Marine Division, plus the M-16. Today, the poor bastards still carry pack-mule loads. Funny someone hasn't figured out how to lighten things up. Troops would be more combat effective.

Nowadays with arthritic knees and a hip replacement, I am a "has-been" sheep hunter, but in nine sheep hunts from Arizona to Wyoming, B.C., NWT, the Yukon and Alaska, I carried a custom-stocked .270 with 22" Douglas barrel and Finnish Sako L-61 action. I had a 4X Redfield on it, then gave that scope to my wife and put a 4X Burris on the rifle. The .270 weighs about 8-1/4 pounds with sling. With today's ultralights I suspect one could find a .270 that is a couple pounds lighter, but I think it would be tough to shoot. My last ram (Stone in Y.T.) was shot in a gusty wind, uphill from about 150 yards. The sun, which I hadn't seen in a week, came out and was in my eyes...I don't know if I could have made the shot with an ulralight.

I own a couple Mark V Weatherbys--7mm and .300--which I treasure. Both are 45-50 years old, and on their second barrels--25" medium-weight Douglas and Weatherby brands. The .300 is custom-stocked, and each rifle weighs more than nine pounds. Not great rifles for scrambling on scree slopes, but for much big game hunting they are fine. Much of the recoil is absorbed by the rifles' weight. Also, there is nothing like squirming into a shooting position and seeing those crosshairs steady rather than bouncing all over the place as in the case of a too-light rifle!

Dave Petzal

To all who are afflicted with heavy burdens, consider this: In 100 B.C., the Consul Marius enacted the Marian Reforms, changing the way the Roman legions did business. He did away with the mule trains which carried their gear, and decreed that the ignorant snuffies who made up the infantry would henceforth carry their own stuff (on forked sticks over the shoulder, no less).
So each legionary, who stood about 5'6" and weighed 140 pounds or so, ended up humping 70 pounds of equipment. He was supposed to march 20 miles each day with this load, from first light to early afternoon, and then build a fortified camp in which to spend the night. These guys were Regular Army.

And nothing changes.


My kid likes those black stretchy nylon type slings from Stony Point expecially for heavy rifles. He maintains that they are easier on your shoulders and don't constantly slide off. To some degree I have to agree with him. Personally the Murray that I have are much more practical, appealing and durable. It is a little pricy but you will never wear it out or tear it up. I swap it around on whichever rifle I am taking. Like Dave said other than the original mineral oil coating you don't have any upkeep on it. Murray's are not those silly cobra headed things with your initials on them and actually will fit into the rifle scabbard on your horse and slide out easily. They have a website.
A fellow who passed away last year used to make a sling he called and sold under the tradename of Wyoming sling. They came in both cordura and in leather. Their unique feature was a split down the center of the strap. You could slip each arm into the slit and wear the rifle up the mountain like a backpack leaving both hands free to hold onto tree roots and rocks. I am not certain that anyone is still making them.


My favorite "lite" which is no longer considered lightweight is also a 60's vintage L-61 Finnbear in .270 Win. It weighs about the same as yours but has a Vari-X III 2x-8x. Boy if that rifle could talk it could tell you some tales and maybe a few lies. Recoil is very comfortable and I think I have finally got all of the "misses" shot out of it.


Couple of weeks ago during spring break, my father and I pulled out his old 1886 Winchester chambered in .38-56 that he had obtained from a relative several years ago and never fired. Most commercially available .38-56 brass is fire formed from .45-70 brass, so before I fired it I was expecting similar levels of recoil.

However, since the .38-56 is a black powder cartridge, and the 1886 (manufactured sometime in the 1890's) weighed something on the order of 10-12 lbs (thanks in part to its heavy octagonal barrel), the recoil was nothing but a slight shove. It surprised the heck out of me.

Jim in Mo.

I don't mind the weight of the rifles that are made today. Its pretty standard for most, and I think its correct. What I hate, and I think makes all the difference in the world is the shape of the stock. Most manufacturers make them so fat they must think all us guys have hands like Andre the giant.


Dave: Crazy talk! No reason to carry a 9-pound rifle, when gunmakers like Melvin Forbes make 5 1/2 pound pieces (I have a .338 and a .270)that are stocked so well that much felt recoil is just absorbed.

And it takes a little shooter technique, too, holding the rifle firmly into the shoulder and getting a snug spot-weld with the cheek. Mounting the scope with just the right eye-relief is part of it, so that stock 'crawling' is minimized.

In my four years in the Marine Corps, I learned to my regret theat the decimal point falls out of the M-1's 9.5 pounds after the first five miles. Now I'm old and fat and 70, and 2000 vertical feet with a 9-pound rifle will ensure that I arrive in the shooting position out of breath and shaky, while the same climb with a 5 1/2 pound burden has a better chance of seeing me arrive still able to shoot.

No brainer. Stop spreading this 9-pound nonsense.
Chuck B.


I wrestle with the balance between a light rifle and a heavy one all the time.

Bernie Kuntz

Ishawooa: That is an interesting concept that you mention--shooting all the "misses" out of a rifle. Yes, those .270s with Sako actions are excellent.

How is your snowpack in the Cody country this spring? Very good up here in southwestern Montana. We are above normal in many drainages, which is a revelation from almost a decade of drought.

Where did you apply for WY bighorn this year? Area 5 for me.

Clay Cooper

Give me a M14 Match rifle and ample supply of Armor Piercing and Starburst Incendiary Ammo; I’ll give the bad guys the HELL they never seen before! Besides, why would I want to shoot into a wall, when I can shoot thru it!!!!


Bernie I assume that you were aware that the "misses" being gone is a joke. But also let me warn you not to shoot your rifle too far as it might strain the barrel. Another little known fact is that firing a small weapon, say a .243, into a large mammal, perhaps a rhino, could possibly damage the rifle. It is quite readily apparent that the speed of some of the bullets we shoot at deer and elk causes the bullets to self destruct before reaching the target, what else could account for the animal trotting off to live another day. Of course everyone knows that about half of the shells in a box intended for shooting doves obviously have no shot in them. Also approximately 5 shells in every box of AA trap are also missing the shot. Be sure to keep these facts in mind when in the field or on the range.
Snowpack in the Cody country mountains finally is about 110 to 125% depending on where and who you gather your info from. Last weekend there was over 3 feet of snow in the parking lot at Pahaska and the North Fork was frozen completely across. Of course here in Cody there is only brown and dry.
I applied for area 5 also. I have never drawn it for sheep (only area 3 has been successful) but love the country. It is easily transversed, difficult to get lost, and we have killed nice bulls there. As a matter of fact I have more than once watched 130-160 B & C rams intermingled with the elk herds on Venus and Eleanor Creeks and have ridden by bedded down rams who nonchalauntly watched me pass by. On Jack Creek the daughter of a friend had a cow permit and shot a big calf who was obviously living with about a dozen ewes and lambs. Walking up the sidehill for a couple hundred yards we encountered a dead and rotted cow elk which we assume was the mother of the calf. The point of all this jibberish is that area 5 is easier to move about when you are 60 years old than areas 2 or 3 which are mostly vertical. I still think 3 the best but my is it full of grizzlies and wolves.
So far there have been 3 wolves killed outside the trophy area in Wyoming and maybe a fourth since the person involved has ten days to report the kill. I also heard but cannot confirm that three more wolves were legally killed by ranchers on Heart Mountain and will be reported soon. Apparently there will be a wolf season in the trophy area this fall. It will be a quota system much like black bears and mountain lions in Wyoming.
Chuckb you are probably right about the NULAs in spite of my previous remark. Others have told me the same thing but it is hard for old farts like me to change. It took me from about 1978 to 1989 to ever accept a synthetic stock but after that time I rarely use anything else. Let's see what caliber should that NULA be? I think a .300 mag of some sort but I need to sleep on that one...good night.


I really like C_S's comment about weight. And in todays fitness obsessed world, the additional hoop some carry around their waists could be the offset they neeed to lighten the carried load.
My 7.62 instructor told me to shutup and learn to shoot and carry it. If weight is the omnipresent thing on one's mind, the rest of the intended activities will be seriously compromised-hunting or not.
The heavy barrels of my old "working guns" and my varminters are great for the appropriate jobs. I shoot most deer these days with a Savage Model 20 stainless in .250-3000. It's a featherweight to say the least. Diff guns for different jobs and conditions/scenarios...but that's what most of the posts have said one way or the other.
A bit off subject but related to slinging and weight: my dad just returned from Costa Rica and he's a real birder. He was mad because he missed a couple of day's pictures when his Nikon binoculars swung and took out the lens on his Nikon camera while he was climbing some canopy gizmo. I think he smiled about it for the first time when he told me the story and we talked slings and some of what we've slogged and dragged in days gone by.


John R

Ishawooa, you have finally answered a lifetime of questions I have had about my hunting "gear". I have found in my experience that the shot shells manufactured with no shot are not limited to any particular ammo manufacturer. Additionally the Dove and Quail loads sold at a special price have a higher percentage of no shot than standard shotshell loads.
Seriosly that was pretty funny. You should consider writing a small column (they still call it that right?) for F & S or another premium hunting and fishing magazine. I'd bet my strained barrels you'd be successful.

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