Are you in the market for a new hunting rifle? It is easy to get sucked into the trends of today regarding calibers, stock construction, action configuration and other fashionable marketing traits. Details are important, but as you peruse the options be sure of one thing before handing over the credit card. Make certain the rifle fits you. A poor pairing is bound to affect success somewhere down the road. Instead of missing a big buck on the back forty or fumbling on a once-in-a-lifetime sheep hunt, up your odds of hitting your mark with a rifle that complements you.
You know you, and you understand your physical limitations. How much weight in a rifle are you comfortable toting around the woods? Take that a step further. Can you quickly and easily shoulder a rifle while settling your aim without the weight of the rifle slowing your action?
Rifles come in a variety of weights, so finding one that you can do all the above effortlessly is not an issue. What does come into play when deciding on weight of the rifle is possible recoil issues. A heavier rifle absorbs some of the recoil whereas lightweight rifles, paired with larger calibers, can be jolting to shoot. Muzzle brakes, recoil pads and reduced recoil ammunition can help alleviate shooting shock, but if ignored, a lightweight rifle can lead to possible flinching. That is cause enough for a miss or worse yet, wounded game.
Lightweight rifles, typically those that weigh less than 7 pounds, tend to be a bit more expensive and may have increased felt recoil. Rifles begin to feel heavy at 10 pounds or more depending on your physical stature. Spend time safely lifting, swinging and aiming to find your match. A happy medium is a rifle heavy enough to steady quickly, yet not weigh you down on a cross-country hunt.
Overall length of a rifle also can make a rifle too clumsy to shoulder and aim quickly. When combined with a heavy rifle, the two can be downright awkward in a hunting situation. Oftentimes, the primary component of a lengthy rifle is a longer barrel. In larger calibers a longer barrel is matched to a rifle to improve velocity. The long-range shooting trend sometimes requires a longer barrel to ensure all powder is burned in the barrel to speed along the projectile. New and improved powders, calibers and bullets have resulted in decreased barrel length for these precision rigs, but your rifle/caliber preference may need a longer barrel to deliver optimum accuracy.
Evaluate your future hunting ventures to see if you even need a long-range advantage. In much of America, shots at deer are 100 yards or less. Compact rifles with short barrels allow you to stalk through brush more easily and shoulder the rifle quickly when a shooting situation arises. A compromise with a barrel length between 22 and 24 inches is a solid candidate. If you can keep the full length of the rifle below 45 inches, you have a rig for all situations. Make sure the firearm is safe, and test away.
LENGTH OF PULL
Length of pull is defined as the measurement on the firearm that extends from the buttstock with a straight line to the trigger. Current tendency for firearm manufacturers is to have a LOP ranging from 13 to 13¾ inches for modern rifles. This could be the big failure for your choice of rifle depending on your body makeup. People just do not have the same length of arms, and depending on the LOP, you could be stretching your limits or you may feel as if the rifle is cramped in your hold. For a review of this one-size-fits-all function, make sure the firearm is unloaded with the action open. Now, start your test.
Shoulder the safe rifle and snugly fit the buttstock into your shoulder pocket. In this position, can you comfortably reach the trigger? Another way to check LOP with an unloaded and safe rifle is extend your dominant arm. Settle your trigger finger against the side of the trigger. Next, bend your arm to 90 degrees. Does the butt plate rest in the bend of your elbow? If so, it is a good fit. A rifle that is too long will not allow you to bend your elbow, and if it is too short, you will notice an obvious gap.
With the rifle shouldered during the LOP test, move on to a check of the placement of your cheek on the buttstock. Your cheek should situate or rest comfortably on the buttstock for proper alignment during aiming. Alignment is aided by having the weight of your head resting on the stock as opposed to straining your neck muscles to achieve proper eye alignment.
This is called the cheek weld and is vitally important along with LOP and a uniform hold on your rifle. Consistency in the way you mount your rifle and settle before pulling the trigger is critical for repeated accuracy on target. Any change, particularly in the way you mount your cheek to the buttstock, can cause accuracy issues.
You might get lucky with a standard stock and discover that your cheek weld is perfect with a budget rifle. Or you may not. Depending on the manufacturer, some stocks include an accentuated cheek piece that comfortably melds to your face. Newer rifles and replacement stocks oftentimes have adjustable cheek rests to raise or lower for individual fit. If the stock does not feel right, you can also utilize a strap-on cheek piece to provide perfect positioning.
EYE RELIEF FOR OPTICS
Finally, odds are you will add a riflescope to your rig. Whether the gun technician or you mount the scope, check to make sure you have proper eye relief. Eye relief is the distance that your eye must be to the ocular lens to get a full, clear picture. When a riflescope is on a low power setting, you oftentimes do not see the effects unless the scope is mounted poorly. But if you increase to a high-power setting, eye relief becomes critical. If eye relief is too far away, field of view decreases and edge blackouts occur.
Be careful in mounting your riflescope, especially in relation to how close the scope is to your eye. You want ideal eye relief, but not at the expense of recoil driving the riflescope back into your eyebrow and leaving you with a bleeding gash.
Leave the mounts loose and move the scope back and forth until you find a picture-perfect location for field-of-view, target acquisition and no first aid required afterward.
Choosing a new rifle can create a quandary, but following these guidelines will help you sort out marketing hype from rifle reality.