Custom Rifles vs. Hunting Rifles

How much accuracy is enough for deer hunting?

Ruger Deerstalker .44 magnum semiauto rifle, leupold scope
The Ruger Deerslayer: A solid performer.By Bo Basil via Wikipedia

Mark-1 asked me (see comments in link) about competition rifles that are built on custom actions. Glad to oblige. But first we have to understand the difference between them and hunting rifles. One of the guys I shoot against on the range kills de-ah with a Ruger Deerstalker .44 magnum semiauto, which is one of the most inaccurate rifles built since automobiles ran on steam. I've known gunsmiths to turn off the lights and hide under a bench when they saw a customer approaching with a Deerstalker.

But, my friend says, the Deerstalker kills deer all the same. That’s because most shots up he-ah are taken at under 100 yards, usually way under, and because you’re not shooting at an X-ring the size of a silver dollar, but at an animal that weighs close to 300 pounds and looks as though it could pull a plow if it were properly harnessed.

There are a great many hunters who, if they can put a round on a pie plate at 50 yards, consider themselves all set, and they’re right.

Warren Page’s legendary 7mm Mashburn, Old Betsy, with which he slew everything on Noah’s Ark, at all ranges out to 500 yards, grouped into 1½ inches, and Lefty was an accuracy fanatic. But that was all he needed, and he knew it.

I have nearly 60 years of big-game hunting under my belt, and if I were to average up the groups of everything I hunted with, it would probably come out to one MOA even. But I didn’t need it.

Competition shooters, on the other hand, take on targets that are very small, and very far away—300 yards to 1,200. Rather than the one or two rounds you expend at game, they fire 40 to 80 rounds for record. And, most important, they’re competing against people who are tremendously skillful, so there’s no margin for error. None. Zero. Most of the matches I’ve seen have been won or lost by a single point out of a possible 400, or by a single X.

So they do need a quarter-minute rifle, and they’ll spend $5,000 to $7,000 to get one. You start with a custom action, such as the ones Mark-1 saw, which costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400, and this is without a trigger, which is another $300. A competition stock, synthetic, inletted, is $500 to $600. A really good barrel, contoured, but with no other work done, $350. A first-rate scope, and rings, and base, pretty close to $3,000. The rest of it goes for fitting everything together.

One advantage of going this route is that, if you’re an experienced shooter, you have some pretty strong ideas about what you want, and you can get it, not something that’s almost right. Then there are aesthetics. Would you like a fluted bolt? A fluted bolt provides grooves in which powder fouling collects, and you get to clean it out with a Q-Tip, but it does look very cool.

Or you could opt for laminated wood, which looks much nicer than fiberglass, and for a competition rifle, which is going to be used only for a few hours at a clip, and mostly in warm weather, and not sit out in the sleet all day, it will probably prove every bit as stable as fiberglass.

Rifles of this sort are as necessary for hunting as a Bentley is for taking your kids to school. If you research competition rifles on the Internet you enter an alternative universe that will make you feel ignorant and underprivileged. But be of serene mind. It has nothing to do with hunting. Your Ruger Deerstalker will do just fine.