It’s an article of faith among guides that clients never, ever get enough practice before they arrive with a glint in their eye, intent on bagging the biggest bull (or boar, or stag, or buck) out there.
Based on my observations and experience, they are absolutely right about that — and the condemnation applies equally to myself. There are any number of reasons for neglecting so vital a task, most of them related to human frailty. However, there is one that is caused by simple logistics: Not that many ranges have facilities that allow you to spend a few hours, every week, shooting offhand at moving targets with a high-powered rifle. Nor are there many with a range suitable for shooting up close and fast at targets that react immediately.
Combat pistol shooters learned long ago that steel plates of various sizes, that go “thwang!” or fall over, or move back and forth, provide excellent training for close-in rapid fire, but shooting at those with a powerful bolt-action rifle is something else again.
What I am about to suggest does not solve the whole problem by any means, but it goes a long way, and frankly, any little bit is better than nothing at all. Ruger makes several rifles based on its Model 77 bolt action, radically shortened and reworked. The two best ones for our purpose here are the 77/357 (chambered for the .357 Magnum) and the 77/44 (.44 Magnum.) Naturally, .38 Special and .44 Special ammunition, respectively, can also be used. These little guys have 18.5-inch barrels, and are light and handy.
Any range that requires the use of handgun cartridges only will allow you to shoot plates or other dynamic targets with these, and since you can use .38 Special and .44 Special, there is all kinds of suitable, cheap, readily available ammunition.
Most plate ranges are only 30 to 50 yards long, but since they all cater to handgun combat shooting, you can shoot offhand, sitting, kneeling — anything that grabs you. If you’re alone on the range (and it’s worthwhile trying to be there when no one else is) you can even move around, dodging in and out, reloading while you move, and so on.
Granted, shooting 50 or 100 rounds of .44 Special is no substitute for putting ten rounds through your .505 Gibbs, getting ready for a real-life Cape buffalo, and you should certainly try to ensure that you get in enough practice with that cannon. One thing to watch is the extremely short bolt throw on the little Rugers, but if you do enough shooting with the big guy, that is not going to cause you any short-stroking problems. Personally, I’ve always thought that was over-played. In a real-life situation, I work the bolt so vigorously, both ways, I’m surprised I don’t compress the locking lugs or damage the bolt stop.
The Rugers come with the standard rear leaf sight and bead at the muzzle, and these are good for the kind of practice described here. New England Custom Gun makes a receiver sight that fits the Ruger dovetail, or you can mount a scope — whatever your little heart desires. Because of the wide variety of ammunition and bullet weights available, it takes some trial and error to find a load that is compatible with the range of sight adjustments on the Rugers, but when you are shooting a nine- or 12-inch steel plate at 25 yards, this is not a big issue.
The short Rugers were introduced in the 1990s, and since then they have been in and out of the lineup, in a variety of chamberings. Modern manufacturing methods allow Ruger to “suspend” some models, then bring them back. For this reason, if you need a rifle to get ready for a trip that’s coming up, it’s best to grab a rifle sooner rather later. Later, there may not be any.
To quote Gene Hill (yet) again, “If you find something you like, buy two. They’re sure to stop making them.”
That’s why I have both a 77/44 and a 77/357, and I’m eyeing one in .22 Hornet.–Terry Wieland