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Paul Smith: Best moose rifle? It depends

Paul Smith photo — Caribou hunting on the Cape Shore — wide-open country for a flat-shooting rifle.
Paul Smith photo — Caribou hunting on the Cape Shore — wide-open country for a flat-shooting rifle.

I’m going to be brave. This week I will write about moose hunting rifles.

The last time I broached this delicate subject I was bombarded with emails, a few not so friendly. It seems that some men, in particular, have strong emotional feelings about their moose hunting irons. I’m not sure what’s up with this? You’d think folks would consider scientifically and rationally what tool might be best for the job at hand. And I’m sure most folks do think rationally about bullets, cartridges, and guns. But, my heavens, some hunters get mighty riled up when their favorite bull-shooting iron is cast in the slightest of doubt.

 

 

Paul Smith photo — Compact lever guns are a pleasure in the thick woods.
Paul Smith photo — Compact lever guns are a pleasure in the thick woods.

 

 

I will start with the .270 Winchester, mainly because that’s the cartridge that got the moose poop flying a few years ago. First off, I should explain something about ammunition nomenclature. Winchester is a company that manufactures both ammunition and firearms. The .270 Winchester is a specific rifle cartridge with a bullet .270 inches in diameter. It was developed, tested, and brought to market by Winchester. That’s why it’s named .270 Winchester. In most cases moose hunting cartridges are designated by bullet diameter followed by the company that developed the round.

Because the same companies are in the business of cartridge development, ammunition production, and rifle making, things can get confusing for new moose hunters and shooters. You can buy Remington brand .270 Winchester ammo, and use it in a Browning rifle. There are rifles by various manufacturers chambered for .300 Savage, .300 Winchester magnum, .300 Weatherby magnum, and .300 Remington ultra magnum. They are all different rounds and cannot be used as substitutes ever. They all shoot .300-inch diameter bullets, but the case sizes and powders charges are different. Each round was developed by the company named in the cartridge designation. It is important to understand this.

 

 

Paul Smith photo —  My Remington 700 chambered in .300 Winchester at sunrise.
Paul Smith photo — My Remington 700 chambered in .300 Winchester at sunrise.

 

 

Let’s get back to the .270 Winchester and it’s worthiness as a moose killer. There is no doubt that it can kill moose very dead and is a very popular rifle chambering for all sorts of game. I chose it as my go-to caribou rifle, but I have never used it for moose. That’s what I said in this column a few years ago and got a few fellas hot around the collar. Now I’ll take the opportunity to explain further.

My .270 Winchester is in a Savage 116 Weather Warrior, topped with a fixed 4X power Leupold scope. I was aiming for light and easy to carry here, a mountain rifle sort of outfit, hence the compact non-variable scope. I loved the setup for walking in country many miles on the Cape Shore to shoot a caribou. Also I think the .270 Winchester has ballistics ideal for open-country hunting, flat shooting, long range, and accurate. The high-speed 130-grain bullet carries plenty of knockdown momentum for a big stag caribou. It suited me for 10 years of caribou hunting.

 

 

Paul Smith photo A box of .300 Savage ammo made by Winchester. That’s a 30-30 on the left, .300 Savage in the middle, and the .300 Winchester magnum towers over both.
Paul Smith photo A box of .300 Savage ammo made by Winchester. That’s a 30-30 on the left, .300 Savage in the middle, and the .300 Winchester magnum towers over both.

 

 

If I had no other rifle to use I would certainly go moose hunting with my .270 Winchester. But I own a .300 Winchester magnum chambered in a Remington Model 700 rifle that’s better for bigger moose, in my opinion at least. It hurls a 180-grain projectile with nearly the same trajectory and speed as the .270 does the 130-grain. I just like the insurance of that bigger chunk of lead for that big old bull. Moose are big tough critters. So I’ll stand by the extra punch. That’s not to say that the .270 Winchester would not do the job. Like I said, many hunters kill moose with the .270 Winchester each and every year. It is certainly adequate in the hands of a skilled hunter who places shots consistently on the vital mark.

You know what? You can kill a moose with a bow and arrow, so how could I ever question the effectiveness of a high-powered rifle of any caliber. Right, but you don’t shoot anything from 300-yards with a stick and string. It all depends on how far you intend to shoot. That’s the key element in choosing a moose-hunting cartridge. So there is no such thing as a best moose rifle for all hunters. Like the answers to most complex questions, it depends.

If you decide not to use optics, that is shoot with simple iron sights, and limit your shooting range to no more than 100 yards, then the simple old reliable 30-30 Winchester might be perfect for you. The .30-30 delivers a deadly close-range punch with a flat-nosed 180-grain bullet at an ideal killing speed. Some folks think that faster is always better. Not so. Bullets can fragment upon impact if they are zipping along too bloody fast. So speedy, pointy-bullet long-range guns may be a liability at close quarters. And flat-nosed slower bullets are very deadly. Just ask dangerous game hunters. That’s what they prefer.

You also have to consider the kind of rifle that shoots a particular cartridge. So many dandy bush guns are chambered for 30-30 Winchester. I’m talking about those wonderfully compact and easy to tote through the woods guns, the model 94 Winchester and the Marlin 336. These quintessential bush lever guns are lightning fast to the shoulder and such a pleasure to carry in one hand. And if you happen to hunt on horseback they fit so neatly into a leather scabbard. But that’s not a big consideration here in Newfoundland I suspect. No matter, there are my choice for hunting the thick woods on snowshoes.

I’m to the end and nowhere near finished. Moose rifles are subjective, things loved for various reasons by folks who don’t all hunt the same way. There is more to say. I haven’t even mentioned the 30-06 Springfield, probable the best all-around hunting cartridge on our planet. Stay tuned.

 

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock  

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