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Picking out the right rifle, scope and ammo for a hunt of a lifetime

October 2, 2016 (Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte)
Gearing up for a wilderness moose hunt can be an adventure in itself. Settling on the rifle, scope and ammo are big decisions when planning a hunt of a lifetime. 

My upcoming hunt in British Columbia with Northwest Big Game Outfitters  has the typical logistics and capabilities issues every traveling sportsman faces. Here we look at the primary shooting tools for the expedition. A later piece will cover other essential gear. 

Moose are huge animals, and experienced hunters likely have diverse preferences in terms of caliber and bullet type best to bring them down. Certainly, plenty of moose have been killed with calibers such as the .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum, and even the .270 Winchester. Bullet placement is everything. As a Wyoming wildlife biologist once said to me, “A .270 bullet through the ribs beats a .338 round in the ass any day of the week.”

Having a rifle you shoot well can be every bit as important, or more, than the diameter of the bullet you employ.

Rifle

My rifle of choice for the moose hunt is the Bergara B-14 Timber with an oil-finished Monte Carlo-style walnut stock and blued barrel in .300 Winchester Magnum. It’s the same rifle I took to South Africa in 2015. The .338 Win. Mag. is an all-around favorite for game such as moose and big bears, but that Bergara .300 WM is a sweet shooter. I love the palm swell, the checkered grip, the trigger, the action and the button-rifled, 1:10-inch twist Bergara barrel. The rifle holds four rounds. It’s 44.5 inches long, has a comfortable 13.75-inch length of pull, and weighs 7.9 pounds (without scope).

Of course, a synthetic stock model would likely tolerate the potential difficulties of a wilderness hunt — scratches and dents — but the walnut is beautiful, and the oil finish means minor dings likely can be mitigated.

Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $945, but you can sometimes find it in sporting goods stores or online for as much as $200 less

Optics  

I looked at several scope options before settling on the Burris Veracity in the 3-15x50 model. This scope enjoys a fine reputation and a new Modular Adjustment Dial system that lets you to choose from competition-style exposed knobs or capped knobs on both windage and elevation adjustments in any combination you desire. Because I’ll be riding pack horses with the rifle and scope in a leather scabbard, the capped knobs version made the best sense. 

Nice, audible ¼ minute-of-angle clicks facilitate fast adjustments. We easily walked the crosshairs to the initial point of impact when doing the initial zeroing at 25 yards. The adjustable side parallax goes from 50 yards out to infinity. It, too, is a simple adjustment from a shooting position. 

The Veracity has good glass. The 50-millimeter objective accentuates the already excellent light transmission during those early morning, late evening moments when big game often appears. My scope has Burris’ Ballistic Plex E1 FFP reticle, which features trajectory compensation out to 600 yards and a series of cascading dots to the left and right of the reticle to help you easily compensate for crosswind. Nothing is foolproof when estimating crosswind, but any help on the reticle is an asset in terms of not hitting the target too far forward or, worse, backward.

The bold, tapered crosshairs on the reticle increase in size as you zoom the scope. At 3-power, the reticle fills about half the sight picture. Once you zoom to 9-power or higher, the reticle spans the glass.  

The main tube is 30mm in diameter. Eye relief is a generous 3.5 to 4.25 inches. The scope is 14.1 inches long and weighs 25 ounces.  

Burris offers an excellent online tool that lets you plug in the specific brand, caliber and bullet type you’ll be using, and expected environmental factors. It then matches it up with your scope to generate a printable ballistic performance chart.

Every Burris optic is covered by the Burris “Forever Warranty,” which states that Burris will repair or replace your optic if it is damaged (unless intentionally) or defective. The warranty is automatically transferred to future owners.

MSRP: Starts at $839, but I’ve seen it listed with online retailers as low as $699. Plus, Burris is offering a $100 rebate on purchases of the 3-15x50 scope before Dec. 31, 2016. See the Burris website for details.

Ammunition

It’s well documented that hunting rifles tend not to “like” every type of cartridge that’s fed into the chamber. Some rounds group better than others — sometimes much better — and there’s no way to know which cartridge shoots best without trying a few at the range. 

For hunting big game, you need something that matches velocity and weight to deliver sufficient downrange energy to reliably get the job done. A well-constructed bullet that flies accurately is critical.

Fortunately, most ammo manufacturers today make it simple to select specific cartridges for the various types of game you’re hunting. Federal Premium ammunition has been a favorite brand for a long time, and I decided I’d use one of three cartridges from the Vital-Shok lineup: the 180-grain Nosler Partition (about $45-$55 a box), the 180-grain Trophy Bonded Tip (about $45 a box), or the 200-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (about $50 a box). 

Federal’s ammunition selection tool makes identifying which cartridges are appropriate to your purpose a breeze.

Of the three rounds, the Trophy Bonded Tip has the highest ballistic coefficient at .500, with its pointed polymer tip; and coupled with its velocity of 2,960 feet per second at the muzzle, it tends to shoot a little flatter than the other two tested rounds, according to ballistic calculations.

The Nosler Partition's coefficient is .361, while the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw's is .395.

The Partition leaves the muzzle at the same velocity as the Trophy Bonded Tip but then tails off by a couple hundred feet per second at 300 yards with a resulting drop in energy of nearly 350 pounds. The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw has a muzzle velocity of 2,700, and its performance at 300 yards is nearly 450 pounds below that of the Trophy Bonded Tip.

We benchrest zeroed the rifle close to the bullseye at 100 yards to test the shot groupings, then fired a three-shot group with each cartridge. 

The results were close. The Partition had the widest group with the third shot about 1.5 inches away from the first two. It’s hard to call that shot a “flyer,” and it could just as likely have been “operator error.” The bullets from the other two cartridges grouped just about an inch apart. Overall, each cartridge performed well, and all three likely would do the trick. Ultimately, without a dramatically clear winner among the groups, it came down to retained energy. 

I’m opting for the Trophy Bonded Tip. Why? Even though it’s 20 grains lighter than the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, its significantly higher velocity translates into about 400 more foot pounds of energy at 200 yards.

Ken Perrotte is a Military Times outdoors writer.

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