Suggestions On Mountain Rifles & Their Chamberings

Kevin's Billy

Client from Oklahoma & his billy taken with arguably the flattest mainstream round; the .300 RUM. 

Suggestions on Mountain Rifles & Their Chamberings

Often now I am finding myself asked by clients for my thoughts on rifles for upcoming hunts with us, and I figured why not do a write up I can share the link for instead of copying and pasting sections of emails. Bears will be dealt with in just two of the nearly dozen paragraphs, and after that it is all mountain rifle and cartridge considerations. There are two considerations to a rifle, what is coming out the muzzle, and what is behind it directing that muzzle; the shooter. While there are superior chamberings on the muzzle end, ideally a .300 to .375 magnum class for Grizzly / Brown bears, these are not always comfortable for the more important quantity; the shooters. My biggest concern is a hunter buying a new, magnum rifle for their hunt, and finding themselves borderline uncomfortable with it. So if it is a coastal Grizzly / Brown Bear hunt I will merely encourage whatever rifle you are most comfortable and confident with. Killing a bear is the client’s job, stopping one in the extreme minority of scenarios that may occur is the guide’s, though you are not misguided for being interested in the subject! In such a scenario you are absolutely encouraged to shoot and we will talk this over before heading out, I am simply saying do not plan your whole hunt around a charge by packing a .416. A .30-06 and a .338 Win Mag are nearly nearly equal in my estimation with a good bullet and shooter who is comfortable with his rifle. I would encourage the use of your every season elk or deer rifle long before a new .375, as while the .375 is slightly more effective, both kill bears just as dead and setting off with a new rifle and cartridge is one more opportunity for Murphy’s Law to pay our hunt a visit.

Grizzly Track

So this part can be wrapped up quickly, pick a rifle you like and want to make memories with, do not mind getting soaked, select a reasonably but not excessively heavy for caliber bullet for example .270 150gr, 7mm 160gr, .30 180 or 200gr, .338 200gr and up and have at it. If I had to offer a “best” it is likely the .300 or .338 Winchester Mag, however it is far less important that you have the best rifle than the rifle you shoot best… though in the past I have argued otherwise until blue in the face! With time opinions mellow. There are two of us, shots are short and almost never over 100 yards, and even the biggest bears are not that hard to kill. Were you hunting them alone, I may have slightly different suggestions, as only on a follow up are you at all likely to have any need for a medium bore. If you want to bring two rifles I won’t fault that decision either, in fact its quite common, your every season standard hunting rifle to make the kill, and a medium bore for the unlikely follow up, a rifle that you don’t mind leaving in camp. The more guns the merrier anyhow. In summary bears are soft creatures compared to African dangerous game standards and most big guns are overkill for them, and I will have a .375 beside your rifle. Of course if you feel better with a .375 too, the more the merrier and I am glad to see it in camp! Just be sure you shoot it as well as your standard deer rifle, try and shoot a box a week or so in the lead up to the hunt. So that settles that, on bears.

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How about in the mountains, chasing Mountain Goat? Well, that is a whole different ball game, and here I have lots to say. Many select their mountain rifle with Grizzlies in mind too from a purely defensive standpoint, and I would heavily caution against this if it means adding recoil uncomfortable to the shooter and more importantly, weight. The first consideration on recoil of course does not apply to many seasoned hunters, however the latter applies to every human, even professional sherpas. My last Mountain Goat client of the season was completely adept with his .300, and proved not only excellent company but an excellent marksman. In our pre-departure sight in check on the range he put twenty rounds of .300 Mag into a ragged four inch hole at 200 yards while I fiddled with sighting in a sample rifle I was sent… and he felt sheepish about the shooting! I told him he was a dream come true, unpleasant awkwardness followed for a brief moment before clarification, and away we went to the floatplane. By day two his Sako Bavarian .300 did however prove a might heavy. Jim is coming back next year for bear, and for that his .300 will be splendid. I will be your biggest fan if you can shoot and carry a .300 in the mountains, but I expect this of no man, it is extremely hard to carry a single extra pound by the end of a long day let alone three pounds for a typical .300 over a Kimber .270. And the .270 does the trick, believe me.

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Ideal mountain cartridges lean very much to the youthful side of cartridge development, youthful stretching as far back as 1923 in the case of the nearly perfect mountain cartridge; the .270 Winchester. So there is your mountain cartridge holotype: fast, light for caliber bullets available in light rifles, with reasonable ballistic coefficients. I would honestly rather see a client with a six pound all up .243 they can shoot lights out with than a nine pound all up .338 that they can still shoot lights out with. Sure, I will not argue a .300 or .338 does not anchor a Mountain Goat better with a shoulder shot, they do, and if you can carry and shoot your .300 like you can a .243 or .270 I will be your first and biggest proponent! Magnums I am an admitted fan of on account of their trajectory, and trajectory along with light weight is really what mountain rifles are all about… However there lies a significant challenge in finding such a combination that is comfortable to carry and shoot. Muzzle brakes get a pass from me in the mountains, as I will gladly put up with more noise for the 1% of the hunt that shots are fired to have a shooter more comfortable with their lightweight and lively rifles.

SkylineGoatHunting

Many will presume before they are on the rocks that they can manage with their favourite rifle, it “only” weighs a coupe pounds more than some Kimber or other they are not a fan of. Well, a few pounds can honestly be the difference between getting to a Billy and not. Take this as a kind suggestion of preparing physically for the hunt as well! Too often hunters select cartridges and rifles they like and justify them as being “Good for anything in North America”, well the truth is most are not. A nine pound all up .300 is about as poor as it gets for mountain hunting, even if it excels at mountain shooting. Ninety nine one-hundredths of the battle is getting to the animal, not shooting it, and if your thirty year old guide who climbs mountains for part of his living, and down with an animal on his back, does not want to carry an eight or nine pound rig you should probably heed the consideration. Given the boring old .270 is available in Kimbers as light as the Mountain Ascent at barely over 5lbs, does not kick the snot out of you, and reaches 500 yards as flat as the .300 with plenty of power to kill a Mountain Goat, I will admit concern when I see a large braked rifle coupled with an equally large scope show up at the airport. The .300 Ultra I am alluding to worked like a hot dame for the shooting aspects but absolutely thrashes a fellow in the hunting component.

 

Prime Mountain Rifles

  • Under seven pounds scoped, if it can be six, all the better.
  • A cartridge that can be zeroed at 300 yards without rising more than 3 1/2” at its apogee, which occurs at about 175 yards for essentially all cartridges with a 300 yard zero. Regardless if you subscribe to the 300 yard zero or not this is a useful trajectory benchmark.
  • Synthetic stock to prevent POI walk as the wood stock swells.
  • Stainless steel, at least for where we work, as wet can be an understatement.
  • Excellent models are available from Kimber, Forbes, the old Remington 700 Ti, the Browning Titanium offerings, and the new Sako Carbon Light amongst others.
  • Scoped with a 2-7, 2.5-8 or 3-9X class scope, preferably a Leupold or scope of similar quality as it is likely to be beat around and will need to maintain zero. Resist the urge to go big (and heavy) on optics, they’re just not needed even for reachy shots. Nothing wrong with a fixed 6X either, light, and functional. Good rings, with as few parts as possible, the closer to one piece for rings / bases the better, Talleys are very good example.

 Kimber Mountain Ascent Weight

The Kimber Mountain Ascent, pictured in .308 Winchester though also available in .270 & .280AI for a slight increase in weight, at 5 1/4lbs for the .270 including full length barrel and muzzle brake.

Examples of +3 1/2” or less to 300 yard cartridges, and correspondingly no lower than 3 1/2” out to 350 yards, when used with light for caliber and sturdy bullets are: .264 Winchester Mag, .270 Winchester (110gr only) & WSM, 7mm Remington Mag, STW, & WSM, .300 Winchester Mag & WSM, any Weatherby although recoil in light rifles limits it pretty well to the .240, .257, .270, and 7mm, and any Ultra. Trajectory takes on critical importance in the rocks, as you should fully expect your shot may be 400 yards. If you are capable at 500, even better, however this is as far as we would consider shooting, and the goal is to get you inside 300. It is an entirely different ballgame than deer, bear, and moose hunting, often with zero cover available between you and the animal, gusty winds and rapidly changing weather, and physical exhaustion. Anything you can do to make your work easier as the hunter is a benefit, and choosing a cartridge that makes the shooting simpler, requiring nothing but a dead on hold all the way to 350 yards, goes a long way in this regard. Even more important is a rifle of the absolute bare minimum weight, as if you cannot physically make the fourth stalk after three failed ones, what good is the most accurate rifle to you? Shaving a couple pounds makes a world of difference in a sport where we buy $15 titanium sporks to shave an ounce.

Also do not get too focused on trying find a ½” grouping rifle, ALL modern off the shelf rifles perform well enough for the purpose of mountain hunting, whether they shoot ½” groups or 1 ½” is of little consequence in the real world. My personal favourite rifles for the mountains are Kimbers, simply on account of the value offered and the fact that they are true lightweights, not simply lighter weight. In fact Kimber’s all steel models weigh less than competitors’ titanium receiver options, with the lightest Kimbers scaling in the high 4lbs range before optics for short actions. I have shot the Mountain Ascent to 500 yards and it works absolutely perfectly, with no trouble hitting the center portions of 2 MOA plates cold bore from field positions. If you have an excellent range finder, you can get away with a poorer trajectory, but I would not encourage it and would ask why? Mountain Goats may surprise you how poorly they reflect a range finder with their deep hair, and the terrain around them can be little better on the North Coast, the angles bouncing the laser’s reflection away, or absorbing it in heather and scrub. This is where the thought free, point and shoot 350 yard point blank range can be indispensible. Presently I am putting a 32″ barrelled .25 together to attempt a rifle with a 400 yard point blank range for my own use, but I digress.

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The chart below demonstrates the difference between a pair of excellent standard cartridges, the .260 Remington with a 120gr, reasonably high ballistic coefficient Nosler Accubond, and the .308 Winchester with the Swift Scirocco 150gr, against a pack of excellent mountain cartridges all zeroed at 300 yards. You will see a far higher climb for the .308 and even the light bullet .260 load, approaching 6” above bore in the case of the .308, versus the much flatter pack of speedier rounds that are almost all identical. The spread for instance between the flattest cartridge listed, the .270 WSM, and the cartridge with the greatest drop of the “Mountain Pack” the .270 Winchester, is a mere inch and a half… at 500 yards. In other words the flattest loads at 110 grains or up for the .257 Weatherby, .270 Winchester, .270 WSM, 7mm Remington Mag or WSM, and .300 WSM (or Win Mag for that matter) all fall within 1 ½” of the same elevation nearly half a kilometer out. Above all else, this is in my eyes a ringing endorsement of the boring old .270 Winchester, as of the group it kicks and barks the least, yet runs with the flattest of them. Admittedly, the .257 Weatherby could sling an 80gr TTSX at 3,800fps, but this bullet is getting light for my tastes on Mountain Goat, though I certainly would not tell you that you are wrong for choosing it. It will kick the crud out of a .308, 7-08, or .260 in use on the rocks.

All rounds are plotted with factory loads, attempting to strike a balance to select the flattest somewhat readily available loading. Loads are listed below, starting with the top line (flattest, .270 WSM) on the chart to bottom (flaccid-est, .308 Win), as the small text is a bit hard to deduce. The top five are all within an inch and a half of each other all the way to 500 yards, so in other words, equal, and all arrive with 1,200 foot-lbs of energy or better at 500, the cutoff. The .260 120gr is 8 1/2″ below the leader, and the .308 just shy of a foot below at 500. As an aside, a handy example of quick range compensation with the .270 110gr load, is the point of a Leupold 3-9x’s duplex reticle hits dead on at about 450 yards when you’re zeroed at 300. You will need to test your rifle’s setup to determine what works, I would suggest only doing it at full stop magnification to avoid errors, the magnification settings just are not accurate enough to attempt to calibrate hold over points with. So with this example and a 300 yard zero, you are point and shoot to 350 yards, never higher or lower than 3 1/2″ or the length of a playing card, and the point of your duplex reticle is 450. 400 yards falls two thirds of the way down from the crosshairs to the duplex point. If you decide that 450 is your limit, right there you are set without a single scope adjustment required. That is the benefit of a mountain cartridge, and load.

1) .270 WSM Fed 110gr TTSX BC .377 @ 3510fps
2) .257 Wby Nos 110gr Accubond BC .418 @ 3409fps
3) .300 WSM Fed 130gr TTSX BC .357 @ 3510fps
4) 7mm Rem Mag Fed 110gr TTSX BC .350 @3511fps
5) .270 Win Fed 110gr TTSX BC .377 @ 3410fps
6) .260 Rem 120gr Ballistic Tip BC .417 @ 2958fps
7) .308 Win Rem 150gr Scirrocco BC .435 @ 2827fps

 

Mountain Cartridges Ballistic Chart

Now the above considerations on trajectory and holdovers all really tie in to one thing; shoot the heck out of your rifle, experiment, and find out what works for you. More important than all the musings and pontifications above be sure you are comfortable and confident with your rifle, as mountain hunting demands you have a higher degree of familiarity and ability with your rifle than any other form of hunting. There are a lot of strikes against you in the mountains and that is why we seek out the challenge, everything is further away, the rifles and optics have to be lighter, the game can flee to inaccessible places when wounded, the weather and opportunity can turn in and instant, and on top of this the shooter will be tired. We are really trying to force together a group of factors that do not normally get along, and the only way to do that is through practice. My suggestions above are just that, suggestions, and many would prefer a more conventional 200 yard zero and dialing in elevation, or reticle holdover points such as the Boone & Crockett reticle. The only reason I avoid this is in both cases it requires thinking, with the “flat pack” of five cartridges I listed above that make the tightly packaged rainbow on the chart, zero thought is needed 0-350 yards, and only a quick holdover contemplation to 350-450.

GiovanniBilly

An excellent 500 yard shot with a .300 Winchester Magnum took this very good billy.

Other systems may work better for you, my thoughts are not the only way and in fact are likely not even the best way, as it is not a highly popular method; it does however work. Experiment with your rifle to find out your own version to get to 450-500 yards without drop charts and turrets and I believe you will find it extremely helpful as well. One species in particular you will find you bag more than before- Wolves! They never hang around long and are often encountered at long ranges, briefly. Being +/- 3 1/2″ is tight enough to cleanly take a Wolf, so simply hold centre of shoulder and squeeze, then we are skinning. Finally, if I were pressed to pick the cartridge clients arrived with, it would be the .270 Winchester. People generally shoot this class of cartridge better than they do a magnum, the rifles weigh as little as just over five pounds, and the trajectory with the 110gr load available in factory ammunition from Federal is as flat as utterly anything. It hits a perfect intersection of terminal performance, ballistics, recoil, rifle size and weight, and ammunition availability. Gilchrist, who literally wrote the book on Mountain Goat hunting, also settled on it as his choice. I have heard others of extreme experience recently call the .270 WSM the best mountain sheep and goat cartridge, and I would have trouble putting together an argument against it.  Good Hunting, and see you soon!

-Angus

angus@wildcoastoutfitters.com

www.wildcoastoutfitters.ca

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