Ask Petzal: The Smallest Rifle I’d Carry in Brown Bear Country
Plus, shooting gimmicks, long range, and the human condition
→ Our rifles editor answers your questions about guns, shooting, hunting, and life. Got a question you’d like answered? Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot guarantee polite answers to all questions.
Q: Is the .300 WSM adequate for Alaska moose and brown bear? —Max Robertson, Ellisville, Miss.
A: For moose, yes, if you use strong bullets. For brown bear, no. The smallest rifle I’ve carried in brown bear country was a .338 Win. Mag. Among guides, I’ve never seen anything less than a .375 H&H, and .416s and .458s are not uncommon.
Q: When tweaking a handload to get better accuracy, what component(s) should I change first? —Alex Olson, via email
A: Assuming you’ve chosen the bullet for a specific purpose, I’d leave that alone and go to the powder. After that, the primer, and then the case, although the latter usually doesn’t make any difference.
Q: What does it mean to say a rifle is chassis-stocked, and why is that better? —Jeffrey Evanson, Sheridan, Wyo.
A: A chassis-stocked rifle has an AR-style fore-end and a butt that is a collection of moving parts, plus a vertical pistol grip, all on a metal framework. Chassis stocks offer a number of advantages: in-line recoil, complete adjustability, and superior ergonomics. But they’re not necessarily better than other types of rifles, as most of them are heavy and ugly as refried sin.
Q: What is the dumbest shooting gimmick you’ve ever seen? —Paul Stenger, Grand Rapids, Mich.
A: There are lots of worthy contenders, but it has to be the see-under scope mount. It forces the user to lift his head way up off the comb and thereby violate one of the fundamentals of good shooting technique; it makes the rifle unhandy, is structurally weak compared with other mounts, and is invariably combined with iron sights so sorry—and rendered so obscured—that you might as well aim with a bare barrel. And those are its strong points.
Q: Everyone’s maximum range in the field seems to have increased—even doubled—in the last five years. Has yours? —Rob Goldman, San Diego, Calif.
A: Yes, because I started competing in NRA Mid-Range (200- to 600-yard) matches in 2013 and have gone from pitiful to pretty competent. It involved relearning everything I knew, or thought I knew, about shooting past 300 yards. If you want to extend your range, compete. But I can’t let it go at that. Just because you can shoot farther doesn’t mean you should. It can come in handy in the field on occasion, but to set out with the intent to drop the hammer on a critter so distant that it is oblivious to danger isn’t hunting. It’s just plain killing. Generally, my advice is to get closer.
Q: I would love to read about your adventures. Why haven’t you written a book of your own hunting exploits? —Chris Stacey, Chesnee, S.C.
A: It’s because of the Gun Nuts blog, which hangs on my neck like a creative vampire bat, sucking out everything I’ve ever shot, said, thought, or done.
Q: Why can’t anything go right? (Just thought you might know.) —Elliot Jameson, Reno, Nev.
A: Damned if I know, but things have sucked for a long, long time. In the Book of Job it says that “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” and Job may be as old as 2,500 years B.C.E.