SSAA: Australia’s best hunting and shooting magazines

Selecting a rifle for specific game

by Technical Advisor Brendan Atkinson
Hunter 4

Although it is possible to hunt and shoot most Australian game animals with just one rifle and calibre, it would be foolish to do so. With a range of game animals that stretches from rabbits to buffalo a suitable calibre for the lighter game end would be vastly inadequate at the other. It's a bit like going out to play golf - who would want to do 18 holes with just a putter? I have put together a few ideas on rifle makes and calibres that will do an excellent job on the chosen game. These suggestions are based upon actual experience or the related experience of competent hunters.

Highlander M85Rabbits and hares
The effect of the calibres has vastly reduced the rabbit population, but for those of us fortunate enough to have access to a rabbit patch, a good quality .22LR RF will do an excellent job out to 90 metres. If the shooter is able to set up some distance from a warren and then snipe at the quarry as they appear, then a very accurate rimfire will be necessary for instant, clean kills. Hares do not live in burrows and tend to dash out from cover when least expected.

This will test the hunter's skill and requires plenty of practice with the chosen firearm.

Sako manufactures rifles designated as the Finnfire model P94, which are available in both field weight (P94S) and a heavy barrelled (P94S HB) version. Examples of these rifles were reviewed in our rimfire review published in the Australian Shooter August 2001 edition.

The P94s are very classy rifles and the workmanship could not be faulted on the examples that we had. A nice touch was that neither of the rifles were terribly fussy about what sort of ammunition was used in them.

This can be a real problem with some rimfires and the owner must try many types of rimfire ammo to determine what works best.

Sako P94s have five-shot magazines, which should be adequate for most hunting situations. The only exception may be when spotlighting on a very cold night when numb fingers can make reloading a real chore. In cases like this it pays to have a second magazine loaded and ready and someone inside the vehicle (with the heater on) reloading the empty one.

Yes, I have been there and done that I recommend that high velocity hollow point ammunition be used when hunting with a rimfire. Winchester's

Power Point is used by many hunters and appears to shoot well in most rifles. If one wishes to provide meat for the table, headshots are essential, as a body shot with a Power Point will do considerable damage.

Scope power for rimfires should be limited to a maximum of six magnifications. For most situations this will be more than enough and to go higher quite often temps shots that are outside the range of the .22LR RF.

As a good rimfire, properly cared for, may last a lifetime for an average shooter, it pays to buy the best one that you can afford.

Sako rifles are distributed in Australia by Beretta Australia Pty Ltd.

Feral cats, foxes and dingoes
These pests can cause considerable lamb losses and are definitely not on a farmer's popularity list They are all tough animals, they have to be to survive, and should not be shot with anything less than a centre-fire rifle.

The .17 Remington was popular for many years with fox shooters, when the skins were worth something, but these days the .223 is a far better choice. Professional kangaroo shooters have largely turned to the .223, as it does the job with readily available components. Nearly every manufacturer chambers for this calibre and it has just about replaced the .222 in this size cartridge.

The .223 can be hand-loaded with bullets from 40 grains to 55 grains in rifles with a one in 14 twist barrel, as many of them seem to have.

Alternatively, there are some excellent factory rounds available for this calibre.

Perhaps a good choice for the budget- minded shooter or landowner is the Highlander M85 bolt action rifle. This rifle features a Mini Mauser action, by Zastava, with a fully adjustable trigger and when chambered in .223 has a six-shot magazine. A synthetic all-weather stock is standard, as is a hammer-forged chromemoly barrel.

At less than $900RRP, it should prove a good workhorse rifle for carrying around a property when normal chores are the order of the day. One never knows when ferals will appear. The lower price should leave some room in the budget for a good scope and mounts, such as the new Nikko Gold Crown range.

The .223 is effective to about 275 metres, depending upon the shooter's ability to put in a killing shot. This rifle is also available in .22-250 chambering and will add another 60 metres range.

As most of these pests will be taken with the aid of a spotlight it is likely that head shots will be required, so make sure that the rifle is sighted in for a 200-metre point of aim impact and check the 100 metre 'rise' for closer shots. Many spotlights used are not effective past this range, with the exception of some of the newer ones on the market.

Highlander rifles and Nikko scopes are distributed in Australia by Highland Sports Pty Ltd.

Feral goats, feral pigs and smaller deer
We have seen goats shot with everything from rimfires to .338

Magnums and in certain situations it may have been justified. However goats can be found in all sorts of terrains and varying distances, which dictate that a flat shooting, hard hitting calibre is necessary to put them down quickly and humanely.

Years ago, in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, feral goats were an enormous pest and were hunted with vigour - in some areas they still are.

Rifles chambered in .243 Winchester could always be relied on to do the job and we still consider this calibre to be an excellent choice for goats.

Hand-loaders can choose bullets from 60 grains to 105 grains in many configurations, with bullets around 85 grains the most suitable.

Feral pigs and the smaller species of deer are another matter Pigs are dangerous; don't ever believe that they are not in any event clean, one-shot kills should always be the goal. I consider that the .308 Winchester is a better choice than the .243 for pigs and small deer. There is a vast range of bullet weights and styles to suit the .308 and the hand-loader can easily match a bullet type to the game sought.

An excellent rifle for this type of game is the Weatherby Vanguard, which is available in eight different chamberings, including the .243 and the .308. A full review of this rifle appeared in the June 2002 Australian Shooter.

Priced to sell at less than $1000, the Weatherby features a fully adjustable trigger and a fluted anti-bind bolt. The 24-inch lightweight barrel is chromemoly and hammer forged. An all weather synthetic stock includes sling swivel studs.

The rifle weighs in at seven pounds bare and deserves a good quality scope to go with it. For this type of game and calibre, a scope of six magnifications, or perhaps a variable of three to nine magnifications, would be ideal. The latter would cover close-in situations. Already, some gun shops are offering package deals on rifle and scope for the Weatherby. Weatherby rifles are distributed in Australia by Nioa Trading.

Large deer, feral donkeys and deer
Hunters seeking these creatures will be well aware that they are cunning, tough and large enough to require a well-placed shot from a heavy calibre to put them down quickly and humanely.

Some shooters may not be aware that there are still large numbers of feral donkeys and wild camels in Australia. A number of the latter have been culled by the Hunting and Conservation branch of the SSAA and members attending these culls have been required to use larger calibres to complete the task.

Recently, the Australian Shooter reviewed a new cartridge, the .300 WSM from Winchester, and I believe that this would be an ideal calibre for the above mentioned game. In fact the Winchester factory ammunition supplied for the test was so accurate that we conduced that hand-loading would not be worthwhile, unless large numbers of shots were to be fired, such as on a cull.

Browning Composite StalkerThe deer shooter who may fire less than a packet of ammo in one year would be well served by the factory offerings. The rifle used was a Browning Composite Stalker bolt action, which is available in chromemoly or stainless versions.

It features a bolt throw of only 60 degrees, with a bolt handle set at what is described as ‘an ergonomically perfect angle’ - call it what you like, it was a pleasure to use.

Three of the short fat cartridges would fit into the magazine. A fully adjustable trigger is standard on this rifle. The stock was of a composite material and featured moulded 'chequering' and a generous recoil pad. This is a very nice rifle, but most of the interest centred around the calibre.

Factory loads are available at the moment from Winchester in three varieties:

  • 180-grain Supreme Fail Safe, which has a very tough bullet for deep penetration on larger game - considered ideal for sambar deer.
  • 180-grain Power Point, the standard load for all round performance.
  • 150-grain Supreme Ballistic Silvertip - this flat shooting cartridge is ideal for fallow deer bucks.

The two 180-grain loads claim a muzzle velocity of 2970fps and a muzzle energy of 3526ft-lb, while the 150-grain load is no slouch, with a muzzle velocity of 3300fps and a muzzle energy of 3628ft-lb.

Browning rifles and Winchester ammunition are distributed in Australia by Olin Australia Ltd.

Varmint cartridges and rifles
These are heavy barrelled rifles, chambered for high velocity cartridges, for use on small targets at extreme distances.

Accuracy requirements are high and the rifles should be capable of placing five shots centre to centre into about half an inch at 100 yards in the old language. Ideally, high magnification scopes of either fixed or variable design should be mounted solidly upon the receiver. These are serious rifles for accuracy seekers and command a higher price then normal hunting types of firearms.

Most arms manufacturers have a varmint rifle within their repertoire, many of them available in stainless steel, which is preferred for this type of rifle.

Varmint calibres are usually within the .224 family and range from the .222 up to the .220 Swift. Some more specialised outfits are chambered for wildcat cartridges, in calibres that extend up to the 6.5mm; however, these are not available over the counter. A sample of what is available is the subject of a review in the July 2002 Australian Shooter magazine.

One of the most commonly seen varmint outfits seems to be one of the Remington range of heavy barrelled rifles, which are based upon the Remington 700 action. It is no accident that this action is the basis for a majority of bench rest target rifles during the years.

Remington VSSFThe models that will most interest the varmint shooter are the Varmint Synthetic and the stainless version known as the VSSF (Varmint Synthetic Stainless Fluted). It is simply a matter of choosing which style appeals and what calibre to utilise. Obviously, for long-range shots out to 400 metres, depending upon the shooter's ability to judge wind and distance, the .22-250 and the .220 Swift are the most desirable. Both calibres are available as factory loads from a number of manufacturers, but the true varmint shooter would not entertain a factory load.

Remington rifles are distributed in Australia by Raytrade.

There is no doubt that a wide range of firearms is available to the Australian hunter. This article is not meant to favour particular brands, but rather to give ideas on what is available for particular purposes, based upon what is commonly seen on rifle ranges and in the field. There is no doubt that one distributor could probably supply a firearm to suit every need and there are indeed shooters who are very ‘brand faithful’.

Prospective buyers should do some homework before making a purchase and this should apply to most things in life. Buy the right firearm for the job the first time and enjoy it for many years to come.