Lessons Learned About Rifles, Bullets, and Scopes

In 1973, Jim Carmichel built me a .280 Remington, which I carried all over this great, wide, and wonderful land shooting everything that needed to be shot. But last year, the barrel (a cut-rifled tube made by Bill Atkinson) gave out, and I had it replaced with a Douglas, which is a very good barrel. In the rifle’s youth, I had shot a variety of handloads in it, but now, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that you work up one load per gun and stick with it. It makes life much simpler.

I’ve learned it’s better to use a heavy bullet than a light one, and it’s better to use a tough bullet than a quick-expander. I talked about why I like heavy bullets in a previous post. As for tough bullets, they will handle anything that comes your way, which quick-expanders will not always do. If you’re hunting ratty little southern whitetails with fast-expanding bullets and a 500-pound boar strolls out into the clearing, you have a problem. If you have tough bullets, you have no problem.

I decided on 160-grain Swift A-Frames. I’ve become very fond of A-Frames; they retain 95 percent of their weight or more, don’t spoil meat, and almost invariably give me a blood trail courtesy of a sizable exit wound. If you’d like to see an African PH or an Alaska guide smile, tell him you’re shooting Swift A-frames.

I tried to work up a load that gave me 2,800 fps using RelodeR 22 and 25, and failed. I couldn’t get decent accuracy with either. Then I ran out of A-Frames and couldn’t find any more until late summer when Midway Shooters Supply (peace and blessings be upon them) came up with a bunch.

This time I tried H4831, and got 1.20-inch groups, which was exactly what the rifle had delivered with the original barrel. Creepy, no? The loading manual said I should be getting close to 2,800, but I’ve learned that you never trust loading manuals, so I chronographed the new loads and found their velocity was 2,670 fps.

Pretty slow, so now where would I hold at 300 yards, since you get those shots once in a while? I assumed that if I sighted in 3 inches high at 100, I’d hit 8 inches below the point of aim at 300, since I have .338 loads with the same muzzle velocity, and that’s where they hit. But I’ve learned that you never, never assume, so I shot the .280 at 300 yards and the bullets grouped 11 inches low of point of aim, and some of them were down a foot. Now I had a problem, since that’s too much drop for Kentucky windage.

So, I could either work up a load that was at least 150 fps faster and waste a bunch of A-Frames in the process, or I could get a scope with a range-compensating reticle. The scope I had on the rifle was a Meopta Meopro 3X-9X with their standard Z-Plex II reticle. I got another Meopro 3X-9X, but this one had the Meopta BDC reticle, which is a nice, simple, well-thought-out reticle that takes the guesswork out of holdover.

You go to the Meopta website, call up the ballistic calculator, enter the data for either your factory load or your handload, and see what your trajectory will be. The readout said that if I sighted the intersection of the crosshairs dead on at 100 yards, the first hashmark below that would be on at 190, the second at 295, the third at 362, and so on.

I’ve learned, however, that you never assume anything (Did I say that? I’ll say it again). So, off to the range I went and found that at 200 yards (the way my range is configured I can’t shoot at odd yardages) the first hashmark gave me enough holdover to put the bullets 2 inches below the point of aim. At 300 yards the slugs dropped only 4 inches below the point of aim, which neatly solved my problem. It also means that Meopta’s program was just about dead on. What a wonderful world we live in.

I feel obliged also to say a few words about what a terrific value the Meopta Meopro is. This is their U.S.-assembled scope; the Meostar is made in Europe and costs more. For the dollar, I don’t know of anything better than the Meopro. That’s another thing I’ve learned.

If I had been this smart when I started out, who knows where it could have led?