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July 08, 2008

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Don't Hunt with the Good Stuff

I spoke yesterday with an old friend who has been a big-game hunter and a gun nut of the first magnitude since the 1950s. He’s been using top-rank custom rifles for half a century, and owns what is probably the finest privately-held collection of modern and antique firearms in the United States. I have not seen his battery, but a friend of mine who knows what he’s looking at has, and says it’s beyond belief.

Anyway, he just got back from a brown bear hunt in Alaska, and I asked him which rifle he used.

“A Ruger Mark II stainless steel .338 with a synthetic stock. The only thing I did to it was replace the lousy trigger. It shoots minute of angle or better. I don’t hunt with the good stuff any more.”

And neither do you need to. You can put away your Al Biesen and your Jerry Fisher and D’Arcy Echols and David Miller rifles; send them into honorable retirement. What with the airlines the way they are these days, it ain’t worth the risk.


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Not a problem for most of us, Dave. We don't any good stuff to hunt with. My Remington 7400 with the Tasco 5 power does not shoot MOA and I have never failed to drop anything that I put cross hairs on.

WA Mtnhunter

Life's too short to hunt with an ugly rifle or drink cheap whiskey.

Go with the best that you have and enjoy it!


I have a Remington 721 that I bought used from a guy who didn't know what he had. That was a long time ago, but even then the wood had been mistreated badly, most of the finish was peeling,looked horrible. The guy told me if I didn't like it after I shot it to bring it back, cuz he had someone else, who come payday could pay him for it. I paid him and took it the range. 2nd group was 3 rounds covered by a quarter. All I had for a rest was the medic bag first aid kit I keep in my truck. It was starting to rain but after seeing that group, I figured I didn't need to shoot anymore.
I got back to the house and called the guy and told him it was a keeper.
The gun still looks ugly, but it shoots. Friends have told me I need a new gun, but I haven't found any rifle that I can afford that will shoot as well a this one. I once covered a 3 round group with a dime, no hole showing. Who needs the good stuff, when I got one that'll shoot far better than I can?


Savage Savage Savage

All the way! Cheaply priced, awesomely accurate, incredible trigger, what more can you ask for?!


What the crap is going on? It told me that my comment was spam, and would be held by review of one Mr. Petzal. Well great, I just wasted 10 minutes of my life.


I meant to say it would be held for the review of Mr. Petzal.


Some of my favorite whiskeys are the less expensive brands! Likewise I didn't have to take a second mortgage to buy my rifle!

That said if I had a Biesen rifle I would hunt it, in the same vein I would not garaga a Mazzarati or a Bentley if I could afford to own either as they beg to be driven. That custom rifle begs to be hunted. Not to say I would pack that David Miller rifle on Delta when I hunt in Alaska, not happening! But I would not pay a boatload of money for a rifle which will just sit in the rack and cause my friends to go green with envy.

Clay Cooper

Anyone that wants to hunt Alaska with a fancy firearm is an idiot!

The Alaskan elements are too tough and too harsh on any equipment. Damage in route, Volcanic ash, dust, salt, Rain, ice, heat, cold, falling damaging your firearm, scratches from rocks and brush to name a few will take its toll on even the most prepared. Always have a backup plan for what if?


jersey pig

i agree on the whiskey statement, my personal preference being any one of a group of single malts (primarily isley scotches). enjoy it while you can.

and the most expensive gun i own is a remington 750 in .35 whelen, was around 800-900. shoots just fine. everything else i own was bought used and at a fraction of the original cost.no point in buying a name when the "cheap stuff" gets the job done fine.

Tom Sorenson

Hmmm, I'd suspect that the majority of us don't have to worry about that. I don't have a bunch of money to blow on expensive guns - and if I did, my wife would likely not allow it - so I hunt with my cheaper, but just as effective Ruger .270 - I'm certain my wife wouldn't allow me to buy expensive guns if I told her I was just buying them to have but was going to continue to shoot my old Ruger. Without asking, I'm pretty sure I can say, she'd put her foot down on that one. And I wouldn't blame her!


Why own it, if you're not gonna use it?

Might as well collect wine you won't drink, art that gets stored in a crate, or cars that only see the sunshine from a trailer bed.

I expect to most of us, the Ruger IS the good stuff.

Clay Cooper

Why own it, if you're not gonna use it?

Like you to say that again, after a few days out on the Tundra Slick!

Mike Diehl

This isn't a problem for most of us earthbound hunters. We hunt with what we have.

After I buy that Weatherby shotgun, I'm gonna hunt with it until it starts to disintegrate, and then I'll have it fixed up and I'll hunt with it some more.


I know some folks like to purchase fancy guns and then look @ them lovingly, wipe them down and put them away again.

When I know someone has a gun like that I love to finger the bluing and snap the triggers a couple of times just to watch them crap in their pants!

Just kidding!

But if I can't/won't use it, I don't see the point of owning it.


Happy Myles

These days you can spend a pretty penny or two on custom rifles with synthetic stocks and stainless barrels they are almost indestrutible. Rifle makers Jarrett and Bansner come to mind. If I spend that kind of money I would use the hell the hell outy of them. In the old days, off the shelf rifles did not always shoot that well and in heavy calibers, 375 and above, the stocks often did noty hold up well either. So if you could afford it, custom was the way to go. I have a forty year old Griffin & Howe and a 375 by Ike Ellis same vintage and I love every ding and scratch, even the hanger rash on the barrels. Nowadays off the shelf rifles, like Savage are so good and inexpensive buy them, and spend the extra money on hunting trips.

Mike Diehl

You crack me UP!


Barack Obama is the Democratic Judas Goat to lead this country to the slaughterhouse!

Del in KS

My son brought me a bottle of 30 yr old single cask Scotch back from Scotland. Can't remember the name. Dahlwhinnie maybe? Anyhow he bought it at the distillery, 140 proof and I didn't like the stuff at all. Give me Black Jack or Jim Beam anyday.
Yeah, I have a gun or two that is fun to have and to hold. But if the urge hits me they go hunting but not in rough country.
My latest is a Kimber 8400 classic. Had it Cerakoted and borecoated. now it looks great and will not rust. just have to be carefull with the nice wood.


What's the point of having a fine gun if you're not gonna use it?

Sure, I may not take a high-end, fancy-wood rifle to Alaska, but I sure wouldn't hesitate to haul it out in more "normal" climates. The joy of the art of gunmaking is not just the aesthetics but the function of the piece.

At least that's how I see it... some folks collect paintings too, and I still can't figure out how to "use" one of those.

Bernie Kuntz

Good point, Phillip. Most Alaska hunting is very hard on rifles due to all the things Clay Cooper mentioned, but for at least 3/4s of North American hunting I would not hestitate to use a fine, custom rifle.


It wasn't so long ago that the main reason for going to a custom smith was to get a rifle that would shoot straight and hold a reliable zero; the beauty of the finished piece was almost a byproduct of the care the gunsmith put into building the product as a whole.

Now, we have a raft of affordable factory guns with good triggers that will shoot well enough for any purpose. My stainless Remington 700 .30-06 would shoot the first three shots of cheap ammo into an inch every time; unless you plan on hunting something smaller than a butterfly with it, that's good enough for ANY .30-06.

So I guess that puts the really good gunsmiths in a funny place. The factories have caught up with them performance-wise, and no six month to a year wait necessary, either. The 'smiths can only hang their hats on the beauty of their products, and beauty doesn't look good in the mud (Alaska) or the rain and snow (Wisconsin). I predict that with this in mind, the best smiths will do what they do, and that is building more and more astoundingly beautiful rifles that they know will never be shot, and leaving the using guns for the factories to make.


I wasn't able to finish my first post, My wife wanted to go to... Well you get the picture.
A bunch of years before I bought that Remington 721, a friend was trying to sell a really fine Weatherby (as if there is one that isn't) less than a 20 round box of ammo through it, and that to show MOA. Seems like it was a 25.06 (but I've slept since then and handled a lot of guns in those 25 or so years) the price was really good, several hundred less than the local stores could offer. My friend needed the money kinda quick.
I looked at it, lusted after it for about a week and then decided to let him sell it to another guy who was willing to pay him more than the price he'd offered to me.
Still, I have no regrets. I was hunting with a Winchester .30-30, that had gotten pretty beat up just due where I was hunting. I had used it to protect my face from mesquite branches, while moving through heavy cover and other stuff, more than I have time to mention.
Anyway, that Weatherby was just too pretty for me to take to the area I was hunting then, not to mention I didn't need a gun that had to reach more than 100 yards. If I had scratched that gun up, it would have killed me.
I use two guns for deer now, my 721 in .270 and a S&W Classic Hunter .44mag, with the full underlug barrel and non-fluted cylinder. Beautiful gun, scratched up a little bit, but not bad, shoots like a dream, just it's not for the faint of heart. It has an Aimpoint 5000 sight on it zeroed at 100 yards. I use the Remington if I'll be shooting more than 100 yards, the Smith for less.

That's just for deer, I have a bunch more for different other applications. I shy away from the expensive ones as I don't have the storage space I would like to for the ones I have. I don't feel the need to reach my wife's gun threshold.

Michael Hunt

Don't hunt with the good stuff?! I hunt with the best stuff I own! Remington 870 for ducks and turkeys, Savage 110 for Deer and Hogs.

Mike Reeder

If there's a plane flight involved, I think I'd go with something that wouldn't kill my soul if it was lost or damaged. Otherwise, I'm with those guys who say go with the best you have and use it. All my best guns have a few well-earned minor dings and surface scratches. Every one of them carries a memory and adds to its character.
I suppose if you buy guns purely as an investment, you would want to salt them away. I view my own guns as tools, and old friends.

WA Mtnhunter

I hunt with my best shotgun, a Remington 870 Super Mag. It takes a beating every year in the salt marshes and tide flats, but not a speck of rust on it. Liberal doses of Break Free and drying out by the woodstove keep it that way. I don't know any goose and duck slayers that use fancy guns and most have been painted after the original finish wore thin. I hunt every year with my "best" rifle, a Weatherby Mark V. It'll just end up in an estate sale in pristine condition if I don't use it!

My wife just started using the heirloom china for most sit-down dinners these days. We aren't going to live in this life forever, so might as well enjoy it.

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