Friday, March 18, 2011
Building A "Dangerous Game" Rifle & Scope Combo
By Toby Bridges
Short action rifles, like the Model 70 Winchester shown in the accompanying photo, have grown in popularity in recent years - largely due to the fact that the rifles are now chambered for new "Short Magnum" cartridges that can deliver the game taking wallop once only available from rifles built to handle significantly longer cartridges. New cartridge offerings like the .300 Winchester Short Mag, the .300 Remington SA Ultra Mag or the .325 Winchester Short Mag are all capable of getting 150 to 180 grain bullets out of a 24-inch barrel at more than 3,000 f.p.s. - and with 3,500 to 3,600 foot-pounds of energy. In fact, the .325 Winchester can launch a 220-grain bullet at over 2,800 f.p.s., and generate nearly 4,000 foot-pounds of stopping power.
It's easy to see why these calibers appeal to those hunters who often find themselves faced with "going in after" the game they hunt in really heavy cover. And that is especially true when the game is large or dangerous. Before closing the distance on a big bear that could be just a few yards away before it's spotted, a lot of thought must go into the selection of the scope that tops a rifle that also has significantly longer range capabilities. Most of us now tend to over-scope a rifle.
The rifle in the accompanying photo just happens to be one that I've put together to carry anytime I now leave the roadway, to just head out across the country I'm hunting, or hiking a trail that leads into wild back country. I first felt that need just a couple of years ago when walking a trail out of Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, with my black Labrador companion at my side, and came face to face with a 500-pound male grizzly - less than 20 yards away. At that point, the .44 Magnum revolver tucked away in my shoulder holster seemed extremely inadequate.
This rifle is now topped with one of the new 1-4x CMR (Close-Medium Range) scopes offered by Hi-Lux Optics. And any time when I'm on the move, the magnification of this scope is turned to its lowest 1x setting - ready for any such close range encounters.
Keep in mind, this scope was actually developed as a tactical scope for use on AR-type or other similar close to medium range tactical rifles. It has received several great reviews in articles by leading tactical arms writers, and has been thoroughly torture tested. Many of those who have used the scope, especially those who have installed them on rifles that their lives depend upon, compare the scope to several similar competing models that are priced three times that of the 1-4x CMR. This great lightweight and compact riflescope retails for $399.
My stainless short-action Winchester Model 70 is chambered for the .300 Winchester Short Mag, and I have two favorite loads for the rifle. My most accurate load consists of 66-grains of Accurate Arms 4350 behind the 168-grain Hornady A-Max bullet. Before mounting the 1-4x CMR on this rifle, I first shot this combination with a big 7-30x Hi-Lux Top-Angle Professional model locked down on the steel Hi-Lux MAX-TAC rail base. At 100 yards the rifle and load consistently punched sub 1-inch groups - and out at 500 yards, most groups stayed right at 3 to 3.5 inches across.
At the muzzle of the 24-inch medium weight barrel, the sleek boat-tailed spire-point .308" diameter Hornady bullet exited at 3,036 f.p.s., with 3,435 foot-pounds of energy. It shot like a match grade .308 Winchester on steroids...and that's exactly what I was looking for - a rifle that would be effective on coyotes and, when the time comes, wolves out to 500...600...700 or more yards. And, the Hornady A-Max bullet is an ideal choice for targets of that class.
For shots that could become extremely up-close and personal, say under 25 yards, I wanted a scope with as little magnification as possible, and the 1-4x CMR definitely filled the bill. The 1x setting is as true a 1x magnification as I have ever peered through - still, the scope offers enough magnification on the 4x end of the range for shooting out to 200 or maybe even 300 yards. Likewise, if I ever come face-to-face with another 500-pound grizzly when hiking a wilderness trail, I wanted a bullet with a little tougher construction than the match-grade A-Max. My choice for typical western Montana elk , deer and black bear hunting, and for those times when I carry the rifle for protection from extremely large predators, is the 165-grain Hornady GMX - a relatively new "non-leaded" bullet of gilded metal construction.
Sticking with Accurate Arms 4350 powder, I upped the charge to 66.5 grains, and could of (should of) ended my search right there. The Model 70 Winchester was spitting those 165-grainers out of the muzzle at 3,059 f.p.s. - with 3,428 f.p.e., and at 100 yards, with the scope at 4x, most groups shot were right at an inch across. I spent several more sessions on the range with loads that went up and down the scale .5 grains, but nothing else out shot my initial loading.
What I like about the 1-4x CMR scope is the simple reticle. Instead of a crosshair, this scope has a 3/4 circle with a center dot. On each side there is a calibrated bar going nearly to the edge of the view. Likewise, there is a shorter bar running down from the center reticle which features fine and short cross-bar reticles, which have been calibrated for longer range shooting (with the scope at 4x) using standard service round .223/5.56mm or .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO ammunition. The upper half of the view through the scope is wide open and very unclutterd. At 1x, acquiring a target just a few yards away, centering it and taking the shot can be done quickly. After all, this scope was developed as a tactical sight system, which could mean engaging hostile targets at extremely close range.
All reticles, calibrated bars, the center circle, and especially the center dot are relatively fine, and do not hide anything. Still, in good daylight, the reticle is clear and sharp - even to my 60-year old eyes. However, for those dim light shooting opportunities, this reticle can be quickly illuminated with the flip of a switch. Likewise, the brightness of that illumination can be adjusted for the darkness of an inside situation, or in my case an evening hunt or the thickness of the overhead canopy.
With my .300 WSM sighted right at an inch high at 100 yards, I first checked point of impact at closer range - at 25 and at just 5 yards. Shooting the load with the 165-grain GMX bullet, using a dead on hold, at 25 yards point of impact was about 1 1/2-inch above point of aim - at super close range, 5 yards, point of impact was just over an inch below point of aim. Anything centered in that scope, charging at me at those close ranges, is going to get hit with more than a ton and a half of wallop!
I've been a .308 Winchester fan most of my life, beginning with my days on the range with an M-14 during a stint with the Marine Corps during the late 1960s-early 1970s. I was so impressed with the 500-yard accuracy of that rifle and full-metal jacketed ammo, that even before I got out of the service, I owned a Model 70 in .308 Winchester caliber.
Now, the .308 loads I fired out of that rifle 40 years ago, would get a 165-grain match grade bullet out of the muzzle at around 2,800 f.p.s. Back then, I had topped the M70 with a 3-9x Leupold scope, and the handloads I had crafted would easily group 5 shots inside of 5 inches at 500 yards - on a good day. Knowing that my load for the newer stainless .300 WSM was shooting the same weight bullet at a velocity around 250 f.p.s. faster, and with a higher ballistic coefficient bullet design, I was curious to see just where the rifle and load would print, using the 500-yard cross-bar reticle of the 1-4x CMR scope.
Using the highest magnification, I centered the 8-inch diameter Birchwood Casey "Shoot-N-C" target in the small opening in the center of the 500-yard cross-bar reticle...eased back on the trigger...and was very pleased to see a fluorescent yellowish-green dot appear on the black target...about 2 inches above the center of the target, and maybe an inch right. But, I was just a little disappointed when my second shot didn't show on the target. But my third did, about an inch higher and about 1 1/2 inches to the left of my first shot.
When I walked down range to the target, I suddenly felt better. My second shot had just clipped the top edge of the 8-inch bull. Measured center-to center...all three shots were inside of 3 inches. Using a center-chest hold, any deer or elk would have gone down with any of those shots.
This is the center-fire rifle I will use for pretty much all of my modern rifle hunting through the 2011 seasons. With the lighted reticle for late evening hunts, it's an ideal spring bear rifle. And where I hunt elk and deer, most shots are well within 150 yards. Still, if I can make it back up into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area for elk this next fall, this rifle, load and scope will keep me in the game if I ever have to stretch a shot to 400 or 500 yards. And when it's time to hike out, with the 1-4x CMR scope turned all the way down to 1x, I won't worry so much about coming face to face with another grizzly.
More On The 1-4x CMR Scope Can Be Found At www.hi-luxoptics.com