Ask Petzal: Budget Rifles, Bubonic Plague, and One Big Hippo

Illustration by Mark Matcho

David E. Petzal answers your questions about guns, shooting, hunting, and life. Got a question for our rifles editor? Send it to ­askpetzal@fieldandstream.com. We cannot guarantee polite answers to all questions.

Q: At what point did my sacred sport of hunting become the domain of fur-faced, overweight men ­heralded by the ­cacophony of country music? —Nick White, Gadsden, Ala.

A: When you take something that is good, like hunting or country music, and you turn it into overproduced entertainment for the masses, what you get is outdoor TV and modern country. The latter is wholly unrecognizable from the old "three chords and the truth." It has become background noise—like most of today's so-called music—and it has invaded our sport like bubonic plague bacteria into the bloodstream.

Q: What is the biggest animal you have ever shot?—Jacob R. Bump, Stockbridge, Vt.

A: In June 1987, I killed a bull hippo in the Luangwa River Valley in Zambia that probably weighed 6,000 pounds. I used a .458 Winchester, and shot the creature just under the ear. He never twitched.

Q: Should I use my old Michigan deer gun, a Marlin 336 in .35 Rem., for timber elk and mule deer in Colorado?—Bill Willcox, Walden, Colo.

A: The Marlin 336 is a fine choice, as is the .35 Remington, if you stick to the timber. Just remember that elk are filled with surprises. You may see only one shooter bull, which will be standing broadside at 350 yards. Meanwhile, you will be holding a rig that is good for 200 yards or less. I'd get something more versatile.

Q: I am on a budget and have boiled my rifle considerations down to a Bergara B-14, Tikka T3, or Weatherby Vanguard S2. Make up my mind, would you?—Matthew Briggs, Cushing, Maine

A: You've named three of the top hunting rifles available at any price. Pick the winner out of a hat, and you're bound to be happy with the result.

Q: I want to use my Ruger American .30/06 to fire 55-grain bullets for varmints. Will the plastic sabot harm the barrel?—Matt Clark, Thessalon, Ontario

A: There's no danger of the plastic's harming the barrel, and normal brushing with a phosphor-bronze brush will remove it. I don't think you'll be real happy with the accuracy you get, however. The saboted ammo I've tried has not lit up the world.

Q: I'm 14 and working toward my Eagle Scout rank. I have to do a service project. I would like it to be rifle-related. Any ideas?—Matthew Adkins, Burlington Junction, Mo.

A: I never made it past Second Class Scout, so my hat is off to you. Go to your local TV station and see if you can get the resident gun hater to go to the range with you. Try to explain the difference between a cartridge and a bullet. Try to get across that a rifle is only a machine, no better or worse than any other machine. Explain that shooting is a sport of concentration and hand-eye coordination, much like golf. If you can do this, you deserve a meritorious promotion to Eagle Scout.

Q: How long can I safely store ammunition?—Art Stone, Akron, Ohio

A: Modern ammo kept in cool, dry conditions should last at least 50 years.