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

Q: Which fictional characters would you most like to hunt with? —Frank Farris, Sante Fe, N.M.

A: Let’s see: Peter McKenzie, the ultimate African professional hunter from Robert Ruark’s novel Something of Value; Jeremiah Johnson, the ultimate mountain man from the movie of that name; and the Old Man from Ruark’s immortal magazine series, The Old Man and the Boy, so I could say, “Thanks, old-timer, you were right about everything.”

Q: Do you prefer the .17 HMR or .17 WSM for an all-around varmint rifle?—Caleb Hendrickson, Shickley, Neb.

A: I prefer neither for anything. My experience with .17 calibers is that they lack the power to consistently kill humanely. I wouldn’t give you a brass obol for the lot of them. If you want an all-around varmint rifle, it’s very hard to beat the .223 or .22/250.

Q: I have a sinking feeling that the great American Empire is nearing its end. How can we turn things around?—Theodore Conklin, Westfield, Mass.

A: An excellent question, and one that’s being asked by many people recently. All great civilizations come to an end: Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Great Britain are now one with Nineveh and Tyre. We are no different. How can we turn things around? We can’t. We’ve been in way too deep for too many years, and the current crop of imbeciles running for the Top Job is guaranteed to finish us off.

Q: Great and Wise Petzal, what scope should I mount on a .375 H&H intended for elk, moose, and bears? I’ve been told I need “a big scope for that big gun.” But I was thinking a 2X–7X or 1.75X–6X. What say you? —Eric, Sioux Falls, S.D.

A: One does not need a .375 H&H for elk unless one is insane. However, for Alaska moose it’s a good idea, and for the big bears (not black bears), it’s practically required. That said, the .375 H&H is a 200-​yard-​and-​under gun, so you need a low-power scope and 1.75X–6X would be dandy.

Q: I accidentally mixed 150-grain and 165-​grain .30/06 shells together. How can I tell them apart? —Mark Kelley, Boulder, Colo.

A: You’ll need a handloader’s powder scale. Weigh the cartridges and you’ll find that some are 15 grains heavier than others. And be more careful next time.

Q: Why doesn’t the .25/06 Rem. get the love it ­deserves?—Jay Cottrell, Upton, Ky.

A: My best guess is because it is old, it doesn’t kick hard, and it doesn’t have a black rifle chambered for it. I’ve owned and hunted with a .25/06 for 20 years and have found it to be one of the most effective cartridges ever designed.

Q: An old hunt-camp ­argument says that there’s no need to use a safety if a rifle is handled properly at all times. What’s your take?—John Lind, Cambridge, Ontario

A: Good question. I very often keep the chamber empty, or the bolt handle lifted, rather than rely on the safety, which is a mechanical device and can fail. The problem is, there are times when you have to be ready to shoot in an instant, or when the noise of cycling the action would spook game. So you still need to use the safety.

Illustration by Mark Matcho