WILD HARVEST: Build The Perfect North American Rifle

There is much wisdom in the statement, “beware of the man with only one rifle, because he likely knows how to use it.”

It’s humbling sometimes to see the differences between subsistence and recreational hunters. Something I have noticed, spending time with both groups, is the mentality surrounding hunting firearms. Domestic or subsistence hunters tend to use what they have, and what has worked in the past, while recreational hunters often try to match the best tool for the job. My personal view is a happy middle ground between the two groups.

All in the same week, I watched an Inuit hunter south of Baffin Island in the eastern Arctic harvest snow geese, ringed seals and a fat caribou bull, all with single shots from his archaic .243 iron sight Browning A-Bolt. He also described to me a nuisance polar bear brought down with the same rifle in an emergency scenario, simply stressing shot placement.

Later, living and working in northern Manitoba with Cree First Nation hunters and domestic resource users, I noticed that lever-action 30-30s and surplus .303 Lee Enfield’s were the most common rifles toted on moose hunts. While many of us may not consider these to be premier calibre or rifle choices, they are no doubt responsible for the majority of moose harvested in this part of the world. To be honest, I’m willing to bet that no other rifle has been as widely used across northern Canada over the 20th century as the trusty old .303 SMLE trench gun of the First World War or the No4 Mk II rifles our boys carried across European battlefields in the Second World War. Truly a reliable and winning design, this rifle has been proven time and again, both in battle overseas and then in the frozen north back home. The .303 Lee Enfield only recently finished its service career with our Canadian Rangers across the Arctic, now replaced with a modern, sporting bolt-action rifle.

Likewise, I have guided various international hunters across Canada who have purchased a brand new, “perfect” rifle in the calibre they felt best matched with their quarry for the specific hunt. Despite the careful thinking and considerations, these weapons are just unproven in the field. This can translate into little confidence, with missed or poor shots more likely to occur. A new rifle is always nice, but it can be more valuable bringing the increased experience of a rifle you already have at home when considering the investment of a big-game adventure hunt. My advice for any hunter willing to travel for certain once-in-a-lifetime hunts would be to bring their most seasoned deer rifle from home.

Eventually, I was tasked with the issue of building my perfect North America rifle for long-term, multi-species use. Reliability and versatility were important considerations, followed by accuracy and ruggedness. Shot placement coupled with the appropriate bullet for the task if far more important than your choice of calibre.

My perfect North American hunting rifle would be a stainless bolt action with a synthetic stock, chambered in a versatile .30-calibre bullet of quality. View the optics as the rifle’s crown and any scope should at least match or exceed the quality of the firearm itself. A x3-9 magnification is all the majority of us really need.

Again, “beware of the man with only one rifle. He likely knows how to use it.”

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