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October 21, 2007

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A Return to Single Shots

My first rifle was my grandfather’s Remington Model 510 Targetmaster, as plain and perfect a gun as a 10-year-old could want or deserve. Though I later corrupted it by crudely mounting a $15 scope on its slim receiver, it had all the elements of a first gun: reliable, simple and capable of holding only one precious round.

That gun taught me about restraint, about judging distance and making a single shot count on squirrels, rabbits, dirt clods and tin cans.

This fall I’ve reconnected with my single-shot tradition, hunting with one-shot rifles on a pair of antelope hunts. While firepower can be an asset on any big-game hunt, I really didn’t need a backup round. A missed first shot on a West Texas pronghorn didn’t flare the buck, and I was able to slip another .308 cartridge into the chamber of the Merkel K1 and drop him at more than 300 yards.

Then last week I killed a dandy Montana antelope (pictured) with a single 85-yard shot from my Ruger Number 1 in .243.Mckeanlope

Both guns are elegant pieces of work and while the Number 1 has nearly two pounds on the Merkel, both are light enough to carry all day over the prairie and nimble enough to facilitate belly crawling for the final stalk.

But why a single shot?

Part of the reason was because they were available. I had wanted to shoot Merkel’s K1 for more than a year, and at a shade over 5 pounds the break-open “rucksack” rifle was a delight to carry across the West Texas range. I bought the Number 1 as a kids gun years ago, but because my children are still too young to hunt I decided to break it in on a home-country pronghorn.

But another reason is restraint. I’ve seen plenty of hunters blaze away at antelope, using the first round as a ranging shot and hoping to connect on the subsequently running pronghorn with their fourth or fifth – or ninth – shot. By limiting myself to one well-placed shot I hoped to spend my time and talent getting close, not fine-tuning my lead on smoked up “speed goats.”

After the hunt I decided to time five shots from my Ruger and five from my go-to antelope rifle, a Savage 111 in .25-06. The idea was to see how badly I’m handicapping myself with the single shot. The results were interesting, if not surprising.

I managed to shoot five rounds from the single shot in 38 seconds, and they miked at 1.45 inches at 100 yards. In comparison I got off five shots from the bolt-action Savage in 31 seconds and they measured 1.80 inches.

I might have shot a little quicker with the Ruger, but as anyone who’s handled the Number 1 knows, extracting the spent cartridge requires some nimble fingers to pluck it off the feeding groove.

Will the difference in following shots matter in the field? In some cases, probably. It’s hard to stay in the scope when you’re ejecting and reloading. But I’d like to think that knowing they have just one bullet in the gun makes hunters work for shot selection, not firepower.

Andrew McKean



I hear Browning is introducing a new bolt action rifle called the X-bolt in 2008.

That's all I've heard, anyone else know anything else?



By the way, those Ruger #1's are adjustable, so you don't have to "pluck it off the feeding groove." You can adjust the extractor so it flings the spent shell casing right out. Of course, you'll lose more brass this way.