One to Rule Them All: Master of North America

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Here’s a Question…

Whether sitting around a campfire or at the chow hall during some down time on a deployment, maybe even with a stranger on a bus or a plane while traveling, most of us have half jokingly asked or been asked “what would you choose to bring or have in this scenario”? Normally it’s regarding some deserted island or a plane crash in the middle of the jungle. Recently, I was asked “what’s one gun that you think you could take anywhere in North America and successfully hunt anything on the continent with”? I asked if I could choose to have a rifle and a shotgun but, in this scenario, it’s rifle only.

First, The Model: Model 70

Without hesitation I knew the model rifle I would bring with me. It had to be a Winchester Model 70. I’m a massive proponent of the ergonomics and reliability of classic lever action rifles, but I knew in my heart that a bolt gun was the right choice. The Model 70 has been one of the most well known and used sporting rifles in the last hundred years. Deemed “the rifleman’s rifle”, the Model 70 is fairly simple, exceptionally reliable and more than moderately accurate. In a perfect — though less realistic — world, I’m looking specifically at the pre-’64 models and the “Classic” models with controlled round feed actions, though I truthfully wouldn’t balk at the push feed options either. Almost a hundred years of production and real world use both by hunters as well as law enforcement and military have not only built, but proven the Model 70’s reputation.

But What Caliber…

Finding the model gun is one thing, but deciding what caliber you’re going to pick isn’t quite as easy to do. At least not for me. Growing up hunting in New England, I’ve heard of more deer being killed with .243 and .30-30 than just about any other caliber. Though those calibers’ reputation precedes them, they were only really spoken of in regard to whitetail deer. In Maine where I live and even more so north of me, we have moose too. Big moose. Listening to my grandfather and his friends tell stories of this guy and that guy going out to shoot a big bull moose on the tag they drew, they almost always talked about .30-06 being the round of choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen numerous moose be killed very successfully with the likes of 7mm magnum and even .270 Winchester, but .30-06 just happened to be what seemed to me as the caliber you’d take with you to put down that big bull moose.

While you may already be scoffing and audibly saying “.300 Win Mag, idiot” at whatever device you’re reading this on, I ask that you hear me out. Just as the .243 and .30-30 did here in New England, .30-06 had its place in gun safes just about everywhere else in the country; and frankly, the rest of the world too. Not only was it one of the most widely produced and distributed cartridges in the world, the venerable .30-06 has probably killed every animal you and your kids can name, with the exception of maybe some dinosaurs (the jury’s still out on that one). Some of the most famous and by all other accounts, successful hunters like Hemingway and Roosevelt and Capstick have trusted the .30-06 to defend their lives from dangerous game all over the globe. In some eyes — I know they’re out there — maybe the most successful of them all, Grancel Fitz, became one of the first people to take all the Boone and Crockett trophies and he did so with, you guessed it, the ol’ ‘06.

.30-06 Background

Since it came to use in 1906, the caliber has essentially never been able to be improved on. It’s that Leo Fender, Telecaster story all over again; got it right the first time, why change it? The only thing that’s really come of it over the decades is the myriad of different bullet weights loaded in the ‘06. It’s possibly the widest range of bullet weights of any cartridge (that I can think of at least). Most commonly, you’ll see weights ranging from 110 grains up to 220 grains. A little something for everyone. 150, 165 and 180 are generally the most popular weights you’ll find guys tossing into their guns, though. Out of the traditionally standard 22 and 24 inch barrels and using those more common weights, you’ll certainly see velocities ranging from right around 2700 fps to just shy of 3000 fps. No slouch by any means. This huge selection of bullet weights solves a problem that I probably made up in my mind, but the question was asked to me so I can think whatever I want.

Justification of the use of .30-06

Imagine shooting the various types of varmints in North America with a .300 Win Mag. The reason I say ‘imagine’ is because even though I don’t necessarily think you can “over kill” something, most of the varmint animals you think of would probably end up doing that thing where they turn into a pink cloud and disappear after they’re hit with the Win Mag. We don’t have that problem — or as much of that problem — with the .30-06. You load up a couple 110gr rounds and you have an exceptional (by someone’s standards) smaller game rifle. Easy enough to do with the absolutely massive variety of .30-06 rounds stocked on the shelves of just about every gun store on the planet.

Sure, the .300 Win Mag is going to be, on average (and by a decent margin), more accurate than the old man’s ‘06, but if you have a solid .30-06 rifle and you feed it good quality .30-06 rounds, you shouldn’t have any issue being equally as accurate as most any other hunting rifle in the safe. There’s also no one telling you have to make 800-1000+ yard shots either. Guys kill Dall sheep on the edge of cliffs and huge bull elk in the timber with bows and arrows. I promise you can get close enough to be beyond lethal with a .30-06. Regarding recoil, the ‘06 allows you to run a lighter gun without completely ruining your ability —and your shoulder — to find and re-engage your target after you crack that first round off. The Win Mag has significantly more recoil, to the extent that I’m not sure I know many, if any, guys who would happily touch off a few rounds through a sub nine or ten pound .300 Win Mag. At least not without the smallest wince.

I could go on and on trying to justify my choice of “do-all rifle” to master North America but eventually, I’d just be preaching to the choir. There are probably countless other options of guns to fulfill this made-up requirement and that’s what we love about these questions. To me, any platform in .300 Win Mag is a great choice, BUT in my humble, 4 square mile small town opinion, it’s a specialized long range hunting caliber and though there are plenty of opportunities to do that in North America, there are an equal amount if not more scenarios where it will work against you. So, with that, the Winchester Model 70 chambered in .30-06 is the gun I would choose to “master North America” and I may even be able to convince myself that I could use it on any other game across the globe as well.

I look forward to hearing what your choice would be to take on your journey across the continent, putting down all game that stood in your way.

– Jay Pelletier

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