Many of us hunt for tasty venison, not antlers. Here are five opinions on the best guns for makin’ meat.
Hunters revere whitetails sporting magnificent headdresses. But trophy deer are not average, and average is what’s available in numbers.
I spent a decade hunting the elusive Coues’ deer in Arizona and Mexico in pursuit of bony adornment. But especially in Mexico, I was always reminded of the supreme value of protein.
I dedicated last hunting season to go for meat rather than bone, hunting with a lever-action Marlin Texan .30-30. Eight shots brought down seven animals, only an antelope buck requiring a follow-up.
Like me, the following five big game hunters believe they’ve found the perfect “meat rifle.” Their choices are as varied as the land and the conditions in which they hunt. One thing they do share, however, is a belief that filling the larder is more important than collecting wall art.
Remington Model 660 Carbine in .308 Win
Paul C. Van Leuven loves a trophy, but prime protein comes first with him. He lives in Pennsylvania, but has resided and hunted in several states. He was working in Michigan in 1973 when he spotted a Remington Model 660 carbine in .308 Winchester on the used rack in a sporting goods store.
“As I operated the slick bolt,” Van Lueven recalls, “I knew that we would share many hunting adventures together. I traded the 2.5x scope for a 2.5-7x variable for longer shots.
The little carbine provided many fine deer for the freezer with its favorite ammo. Remington’s 180-grain Core-Lokt bullet. Antelope, whitetails and elk fell to the crack of the carbine. The shot at the pronghorn was the longest: 348 paces.
Due to the rifle’s odd-shaped bolt lying close to the stock, the 660 rides as well in a saddle scabbard as a flat-sided lever action.
Entering a large meadow on horseback years ago, Van Lueven and a bull elk locked eyes simultaneously. Quick out of the saddle with his carbine in hand, the hunter toppled the Oregon bull with two quick shots. The Model 660 also proved ideal on South Dakota deer.
“It’s a near-ideal whitetail rifle,” Van Lueven says. “I carefully squeeze the tuned trigger while holding on the vital chest zone, the 660 pushes against my shoulder, and the show is over — another nice deer for the freezer.
“The Remington 660 in .308 has been my meat rifle for many years, and I see no reason to change that.”
Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 Win
Halloway Adams lives north of the Arctic Circle. A resident trapper, he is one of the few hardy individuals who subsides with his family in the taiga forest and tundra. On pegs in his cabin, Hall keeps two iron-sighted .30-30 carbines, a scoped .308, a slide-action .22 rimfire and a 12-gauge shotgun at the ready.
The view from his porch is a broad river with ptarmigan, snowshoe hares, geese, ducks, moose, caribou, and black and grizzly bears right in the front yard. After a long day floating the river for bull moose (winter meat), Hall reposes with fresh grayling pan-fried in bear fat, bannock on the side along with fresh greens and potatoes from the garden.
“So which gun goes with you when you jump in the boat?” I asked him. “The .30-30,” he answered without hesitation. “I carry it when I hunt the river for moose, but also when I hitch up my eight-dog sled to go for wood or along my 40-mile trap line. Not that I mind that .300 Weatherby you have there,” he adds, but, well, it’s not quite as handy as my .30-30.”
The .30-30 carbine is lightweight but it’s tough. They never made a dainty .30-30, he added.
“You have to be a little more careful about bullet placement than with the .300 Weatherby, making sure the angle is right for the shot. And, naturally, you don’t look up trouble with a big bear. You avoid that no matter what you’re carrying. But if trouble does show up, marksmanship is by far more important than caliber. A 170-grain bullet from the .30-30 right between the eyes will get the job done if it ever comes to that.”
Browning BAR in .30-06
Herb Meland is a lifelong hunter and creator of arguably the finest traditional longbows made. He has with years of hunting experience in Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
“Well, you know I am not that good a hunter,” he began, “and my favorite meat maker of all time is one of my longbows. But 30 years ago I ran across a liquidation sale at a sporting goods store. For some reason, maybe because it’s so opposite from my bows, I always wanted a Browning BAR Belgian-made .30-06. And the one I was looking at was begging for an owner.”
The gun was brand-new, and the price was cut in half. Meland walked out of the store with it. At home, he mounted a Weaver 6x scope on the rifle. At the range, the gun printed 2-inch groups at 100 yards, and in the woods, Meland never missed a shot with the BAR.
“Not only that, I never had to shoot a single animal twice!” he recalled.
Before long, that rifle accounted for quite a number of elk, deer and antelope. His goal was always to spot game in the distance and get in for a closer shot, even in open country.
“Whenever I wanted meat for the freezer, the BAR was the choice,” Meland said. “The .30-06 has plenty of power for me. I use only the 165-grain bullet.
“These days, my BAR does not leave the gun safe because all of my hunting is with one of my own bows. However, if for some reason I could not hunt with my longbow, I would have no problem deciding on which rifle to use. It would be my BAR .30-06 every time.”
Military Mauser in 6.5x55mm (6.5 Swedish)
Harold Schetzle, a master guide in Alaska, is the strongest big game hunter I ever met. His success rate on the huge Alaskan brown bear became legend on Kodiak Island. One day as I helped Schetzle pull some moose meat out of the forest, we got on the topic of his ideal meat rifle.
“You mean meat rifle, not what I recommend for brown bears?” Schetzle asked, and I nodded. “Well, this is my meat rifle.” He patted the side of a non-descript military Mauser rifle. “For me, this rifle is perfect for getting in moose for winter meat or any other big game. The caliber is just right: 6.5 Swedish.”
“That long bullet drives deep,” he explained, “doing the job without destroying a lot of meat. Take this moose here. The bull was maybe 30 or 40 yards standing in the trees. I fired one shot, making sure the angle of the bullet would include both lungs. The bull actually looked at me like he was wondering what the heck I was doing in his territory. I don’t think he knew he was hit. I did not fire again. No need to.”
The bull didn’t travel far. He actually died on his feet. Schetzle found him leaning against a tree, stiff-legged.
“I thought he was still alive. I got on the opposite side of the tree just in case and gave a good shove. He toppled right over. What more could you ask for in a meat rifle?”
At the time, Alaska granted multiple tags for Sitka black-tail deer. Schetzale hunted them for winter meat to provide variety from moose. His rifle was the same: bolt-action 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser with 160-grain soft-point bullet.
“I’ve carried the .338 Winchester with 300-grain bullets for my own brown bears. But I went for a .375 H&H for guiding. The .338 is a good one up here in Alaska, but for my own winter meat, I’ll stick with the 6.5.
Remington Model 7 Rolling Block .22
My dad never hunted. No one in the Fadala family was a hunter. Then along came Mr. Mullins, who took me hunting along with his son, Kell. Mr. M had two favorite guns: a 9mm Luger he carried on the hip, and a single-shot Remington Model 7 rolling block .22 rimfire rifle.
Mr. Mullins hunted small game for the pot. He grew up dirt poor in south Louisiana, wearing homespun clothes and enjoying few other store-bought things.
“My mother could take anything we brought in, put on vegetables from her garden and hot baked bread, and we ate better than the rich folk in the city,” Mr. Mullins recalled. “Dad would hand me a half-dozen .22 Shorts along with this very rifle right here that used to be his. He never liked .22 Longs or .22 Long Rifle shells. Saw no need for either one.”
Nor did his son. Mr. Mullins kept .22 Shorts in his pocket and one chambered in the Remington, claiming a single-shot .22 is all a hunter needs to supply his family with squirrels, rabbits, possum and bullfrog legs.
The frogs Mr. Mullins took from a drainage canal when I tagged along with him were a good foot long, with legs bigger around than a sprained thumb. Mrs. M would fix ’em up with side dishes fit for the finest New York restaurant.
Each frog bore a mark in the center of its head like the Brahman Hindu black dot. All of Mr. M’s game carried the same identifying feature.
In the end, the perfect meat rifle is the one a hunter has faith in. So now the question is yours to answer. What rifle do you choose to stock your freezer?
Read More Articles by Sam Fadala:
• Smokin' White-Hot Hogs: Muzzleloading pellets from IMR prove their worth on call-happy pigs in South Texas.
• Play It Safe with Your Muzzleloader: Hunting with blackpowder firearms isn’t inherently dangerous, but a little safety savvy is required.
This article was published in the July 2010 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.