This week, F&S shooting editor Richard Mann is in the hot seat. He has a pick of the best lever and cartridge pistol, shares some of the worst advice he’s ever received, and reveals what most internet experts get wrong about the scout rifle. And more.
Q: What is the closest call you have had in the desert? —Kyle B, via email
A: I have had three dangerous encounters while hunting. In 2013, I injured a buffalo in Mozambique. The bull got into the tall grass and we had to go after him. When we found him, my PH shot him at the horn with his .470 double at about 25 feet. Unimpressed, the buffalo released the clutch and charged, and I shot him in the head with my .45-70 crowbar.
Before that, in 2002, he had just shot a huge woodland caribou in Newfoundland. As I got closer, the beast jumped and charged from only about 15 feet. Fortunately, I had reloaded my muzzleloader. With one hand I pushed it in her direction and pulled the trigger. He fell 3 feet from the snout. In the brief second it took me to almost pee my pants, my guide had managed to run 30 yards, yelling “Run!” with every step.
However, the incident that shocked me the most was in 2014. I was back in Africa, hunting eland between the Orange and Riet rivers, when I stepped on something soft. I thought, That’s weird. And when I looked down, my PH pushed me aside as if he had caught me with his wife. He then attacked the ground with his throwing sticks. I never saw the Cape Cobra until she was dead. That’s when my knees went weak. I asked my PH what he would have done if he had bitten me. He said that he would have stayed with me for the hour or so it would have taken to get to the end.
Q: What is the best versatile lever action rifle and cartridge? —Newt Borowski, via Twitter
A: Assuming you mean a traditional tube-fed lever-action rifle, as opposed to the Browning BLR, Savage 99, or the sexy Winchester Model 88, a primary competitor would be the Winchester Model 94 Angle Eject in .307 Winchester. I bought the first one I saw, but traded it for a coonhound in a moment of weakness. They’re discontinued and now all but forgotten, but you can still find them used, and Hornady even offers factory-loaded .307 Winchester ammunition.
However, as far as I’m concerned, the better The lever action pistol and cartridge are without a doubt Marlin’s 1895 in .45-70. Available in several variations with three factory ammo power levels, this combination rifle and cartridge is suitable for everything from white-tailed deer to African buffalo. I think every hunter should have a sharp knife, a good pair of boots, a reliable truck, and a Model 1895 Marlin in .45-70.
Q: What can we do about an outdoor culture that prioritizes buying your way to success over practicing? —Jacob H, via Instagram
A: You raise a good point, and it is indeed a problem. I think to some extent it is exacerbated by the lack of time available to modern adults and the fact that many of them lack a mentor. I’m not so sure there is much us can do; It seems that the train has left the station. Just look at the popularity of long-range hunting, where more and more hunters are relying on equipment, gadgets, and feet per second, rather than feet on the ground, to get their trophy. However, inflation could take care of this for us. It’s hard to afford fresh gear and canned game when you can’t afford gas and groceries. Some people may need to learn to hunt to keep putting food on the table.
Q: Is Marlin still a good brand under its new ownership? —Steve E, via Instagram
A: What many do not know is that in 2007, when Remington bought Marlin, the latter was not in good condition. Remington might have saved Marlin, but they did little else to improve the quality of the weapons they made. The new Marlin, which is under Ruger’s control, has released two lever-action rifles so far. The first was the 1895 SBL and the second was the 1895 Trapper, both chambered for the .45-70. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with both rifles, and if they are any indication of what the new red mark The Marlins will be, I hope some of Marlin’s best years may be yet to come.
Q: What’s the worst shooting advice you’ve ever been given? —Cameron B, via Twitter
A: The one shooting tip I despise the most is that if your gun kicks too hard, you should have a muzzle brake. These are vile and offensive devices that can destroy your hearing, anger hunting guides, and induce a shudder. The only good they can serve is clearing the line of fire when you’re on the shooting range so you can be left alone in your misery. If your gun kicks too hard, get a different one.
Q: If you could own, shoot, and hunt with one weapon, what would it be? —Judah Horn, via email
A: I have a 5lb New Ultra Light Arms Model 20 Short for the .223 Remington. It’s topped off with a 4.5–14X40mm Leupold VX-3HD rifle scope, has a 1-in-8 rotating barrel, and will stack 50-grain ballistic tips, 60-grain partitions, and 70-grain AccuBonds on top of each other at 100 yards. It’s as easy to carry as a good souvenir and as nimble and deadly as a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. It will do whatever you need to do in West Virginia and many other places. And it was made by a fellow hillbilly and rifle-building genius named Melvin Forbes.
Q: There are plenty of scout rifle experts on the internet, but you wrote a book on the subject. What are most people wrong about scout rifles? —Pete Desmond, via email
Q: As a firearms instructor, what is the biggest mistake you see people make on the shooting range? —Jenna Hopper, via email
A: They don’t do enough dry practice. Just because you’re on the shooting range doesn’t mean your gun should fire every time you pick it up, shoulder it, or pull the trigger. Dry practice is a great way to develop gun handling skills. Just as a professional golfer takes a few practice shots before the real one, you should do the same with any firearm when you’re at the range, and even on the course if time permits. You can learn from both dry practice and real fire. And it’s free.
Q: If you could go hunting alone one more time, where would you go, who would you go with, and what would you hunt? —Adam Shader, via email
A: Your last hunt is too great a burden to share with someone who cares about you, and too important to spend with someone who doesn’t.
Just outside our family’s hunting camp, a low knoll comes to a point below a stand of mature walnut and white oak trees, and that’s where we spread my parents’ ashes. If I knew that my next hunt was my last hunt, I would go there, alone, and search for the memories I have made on that piece of land. Memories like hunting squirrels with my mother when I was barely old enough to carry a gun, like lying next to my grandfather under the stars and listening to our hounds track a cold raccoon, like the first deer I killed with a recurve, and the first deer my son killed when he was 6 years old. I would stay there, with my father’s old shotgun on my lap, until the sun went down behind the mountain. Then he would walk back to camp, in the dark, knowing that he had lived life very well.
But let me offer you some advice. After 50 years of hunting in special places with special people and saying goodbye too soon to many of them, one thing I’ve learned is that the last few hunts won’t tell you when they’re coming. Get as much as you can from every hunt you take.
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• Email questions to David E. Petzal, Phil Bourjaily, Will Brantley, Richard Mann, or Joe Cermele at [email protected]. Or read more stories from F&S+.