Forget about the black semi-automatic rifles for now. It’s not too early to put together a nice varmint outfit for the upcoming summer.
What should you look for? There are as many opinions on that as there are calibers and manufacturers. The answer depends on the hunter’s method of hunting.
There are a handful of varmint hunters who prefer to stalk woodchucks. There is also the traditional long-range groundhog hunter who shoots nothing closer than 200 yards.
And while I tend to think of groundhogs when the word varmint is used, others might think of coyotes.
Obviously, each hunter should be looking for a rifle-scope combination to suit their style of hunting. But there are some outfits that will perform decently in most circumstances.
My No. 1 long-range outfit begins with my Remington 40X in 6mm, but it is a bit heavy to carry around for a night of coyote hunting.
The choice between heavy-barreled rifles and those with a more standard weight is one of personal and intended use.
Most heavy-barreled rifles are more accurate than lighter ones. They also lay better when shooting.
Another theory I have is that a lighter rifle is affected more by the way it is held than a heavier one. When shooting from the benchrest, the hold is consistent, but this isn’t so when hunting.
I have owned some lighter rifles that will shoot groups under 1/2 inch at 100 yards. I can hit groundhogs at long ranges with these outfits if I do my part.
It is nice to own more than one varmint outfit, for these are the rifles that are shot the most. Someone asked me why I would spend so much money on a varmint rifle? My answer was that I shoot my big-game rifle just once a year but shoot hundreds of rounds through my varmint rifle. It’s the rifle I use the most.
The standard-weight rifle that is really the most useful and is also the right caliber can also double as an extra deer rifle. But there are things to look for in such a rifle.
Look at the repuation of the company. Do you know anyone who owns that model? If so, does the rifle shoot well?
A rifle with a synthetic stock can be less expensive, and such stocks are stable. Wooden stocks can shift the point of impact while stored in the closet. This is caused by humidity changes.
Wooden stocks look nicer, but it is accuracy we are seeking.
In most varmint calibers, I want some barrel length for performance reasons. It’s amazing how a shortened barrel lowers the speed.
In any varmint rifle I buy, I look for a barrel of at least 24 inches. In some rounds, I prefer a 26-inch barrel.
If you want to see an example of this, look at the latest issue of American Rifleman, where they check the performance of an AR-style rifle with a 16 1/2-inch barrel. Velocity from that .223-caliber rifle is just 2,580 fps. It makes you wonder how potent the AR-15 can be. With a 24-inch barrel, the same load should top 3,000 fps.
This performance not only affects striking energy but also trajectory. As far as cartridge goes, you make your choice and pay your money.
It you like the 22-250, that’s what to buy, but if the .243 is your favorite, so be it.
There is one other thing that is important – trigger quality.
It’s next to impossible to shoot well with a lousy trigger. With that in mind, try the trigger before buying, and remember that they gain weight when the rifle is loaded.
Triggers have improved over the last few years, but they hardly could have gotten worse. There are very few gunsmiths who will adjust a trigger.
If I were buying a varmint combo for all my hunting needs, it would have a long barrel and would be chambered in a cartridge I like. It would also have an easy trigger pull. It wouldn’t have to be pretty, but it would have to be accurate. That is what matters.
• I will be measuring deer at the Washington County Sportsmen and Conservation League’s outdoors show at Washington Crown Center beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. I will use the room in the rear of Gander Mountain.
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.