Rifle Talk

The Inspiration – the Story

About 19 years ago a good friend of mine introduced me to Tahr hunting in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. He was amongst other things a “wildcatter”, a superb long range shot and a “single shot” hunter. He only hunted with Ruger No 1s, all of them wildcats, and all of them with heavy stainless barrels. I was intrigued as to why he only hunted with falling block singles and so asked him why. He replied that when hunting open country it was the first shot that really counted and that when using a single shot that it disciplined one to use that first shot very carefully. And as we all know, when it comes to shooting, especially long range shooting, discipline is way up there on the “to have” list. There is something about not having “a magazine full” at one’s immediate disposal that invokes self discipline.

On our first trip into the mountains hunting Tahr I saw how effective his Ruger No 1, .338/404 wildcat was. Sure the cartridge was a long range canon and the rifle was extremely accurate, but there were other “things” about that rifle I was taken with. I loved the way the rifle balanced, the way it carried in hand and above all else the way it held on target. That 27” match grade tube just seemed to hang on the target, to way out there.

After that trip I decided I was going to try a No 1. So upon my return to civilisation I found a second-hand a No 1 and speedily had a stainless match barrel chambered for a wildcat .30 cal based on the 404 Jeffery case fitted and topped it off with a Leupold 3.5-10x40.

For years I hunted the New Zealand high country with that 30/404. Many animals fell to that rig: Tahr, Chamois, Red deer, and Sika deer. It was so phenomenally consistent and accurate that after a few years of partnership it almost became a mundane event to shoot say, a Sika hind feeding in the early morning light on a manuka face at 400 yards, with one shot. This was in the days before rangefinders were commonly used in New Zealand and shooting across those gorges and canyons in the early morning light made for difficult range estimation. Really one could only rely on experience and the plex reticule to get some indication of the distance involved, and to make up for any inaccuracies in estimation one needed a very accurate and flat shooting beast to get the job done cleanly. However, the combination of the 165 grn boat-tails travelling at 3600 fps (made possible by the 27” match grade barrel with long throated chamber, heavily improved case, the unbelievably strong RWS brass and warm loads) and the balance of that single shot Ruger once fitted with a medium heavy magnum contoured barrel made for a deadly long range outfit.

So began my hunting with, and love of, falling block single shot rifles. After hunting with my Ruger almost exclusively for five years or so, I started yearning for something different, something more refined. While I really liked the Ruger, the squared trigger guard, the hollowed out under-lever and the quality of the factory stock were starting to grate a little. At about the same time I got this itch, a friend told me about a new single shot that was being released by Dakota Arms; the model 10.

Inexpensive it was not but the thought of having a CNC’d high quality single to hunt with was sufficient reason to wire the greenbacks to Sturgis to complete the transaction. I sent them a stick of exhibition New Zealand walnut to inlet as well. After receiving the components I finished the rifle post haste.

I used that rifle for a couple of years but lost a bit of faith in it after it broke the firing pin three times. The first time was the first time I tried the trigger. There was no warning not to dry fire the rifle, so I duly tried the trigger, only to see a speck of silver spit out from the end of the barrel. I didn’t realise at the time what had happened but put 2 and 2 together when my buddy rang me the next day telling me that he dry fired his model 10 and saw the firing pin land on the carpet in front of him. I only mention this because it is a fact. A fact which I was not informed of when I purchased my model 10.

Now not being able to dry fire a rifle may not be a problem to some people but for me it is one of the best ways to improve one’s shooting. When I was 14 I read a book written by a well known Kiwi hunter and in one chapter he discussed learning how to shoot. One of his recommendations, which I took on board, to greatly improve one’s ability to shoot, was to practice dry firing as much as possible. By this he meant carefully sighting your rifle at an object and carefully squeezing off a “dry” shot at the object selected. This teaches many things: you become very familiar with the balance of your rifle; you come to know exactly when your trigger will break; you learn to call your shots at the break of the trigger; and, if this dry firing practice is done with awareness, you will become a very, very good shot.

For someone that lives rurally and who has easy access to a shooting range this may not be so important, but for those who live in built up areas, I believe there is no better way to markedly improve your shooting than to dry fire your rifle judiciously. So, whilst the Dakota was gorgeous in so many ways, the fact that it couldn’t be dry fired, and the fact that it didn’t look like a Gibbs Farquharson, kept me wanting. After waiting 13 years for someone else to take up the task, and without seeing any indication that would happen, I undertook the project myself. Once I decided that I was going to re-create the Gibbs, I decided that I would re-design the mechanism to incorporate an in-line striker powered by a coil spring and the other improvements you have no doubt already read about.

Why hunt with a single shot?

Some might ask why hunt with a single shot rifle? Well, the answers may vary from different corners but here’s our take on it. This is perhaps a big call but we think that for long range alpine or savannah hunting big game (or small for that matter) the benefits of a falling block single shot rifle outweigh the short falls. The advantages that falling block single shots afford in terms of balance, slimness, strength and compactness outweigh the disadvantage of not having a magazine. As anyone who has hunted the high country will attest, one carries one’s rifle all the time and rarely shoots it. Therefore it makes sense that your mountain rifle “carries” really well. Falling block single shots have a very narrow receiver and fore-end which mean that when carried in hand they carry “lighter” than a wider receiver bolt gun.

Designer – Glenn Soroka

When backpacking I used to carry my 9lb Ruger all day in hand without it being a major effort. I couldn’t do that with a bolt action, my forearms would disintegrate. In addition, because they don’t have any protrusions poking out to the left or right they can be slung across one’s back either way without inflicting kidney damage. Sure, maybe it’s not a big deal but there is no doubt that a falling block single shot “carries” better in hand or on one’s back than a bolt gun no matter which way you skin it.

But perhaps most importantly, when it comes to long range alpine hunting, a medium- heavy barrelled single shot rifle hangs better on target than any other rifle type. We are not sure exactly why, but it seems to be something to do with a subtle overall balance that is achieved from having a short, reasonably heavy receiver, closely coupled to a medium heavy, long barrel. The sight picture seems to “hang” on target in a way that is not achievable with a bolt action. And certainly not in a rifle that is so portable and well balanced. Given that when shooting long range in the mountains or across the plains, your first and carefully squeezed off first shot is the most important, they way a rifle “holds” a sight picture is of paramount importance.

And, as previously discussed, there is the self discipline that a single shot imposes. When one has only one shot, one tends to use it rather carefully. That is not to say that one doesn’t have a few extra rounds lying close at hand when lining up a long shot on a distant trophy, which can be quickly loaded if need be. When using a really accurate single shot one tends not to have to use them.

And finally, there is of course the drool factor. If you’re not carrying or shooting your rifle there’s always time to glance over and look at it reposing against the hill that you have just spent the last 2 hours climbing. What a way to catch your breath.

Which calibre?

As already mentioned, to my way of thinking a falling block single shot rifle really excels as a long range alpine hunting or savannah hunting rig. They carry really nicely, balance beautifully and shoot as well as any bolt rifle, and of course look like something from the heavens.

So what cartridge does one choose for this style of hunting? Well, for me after many years of trying all sorts of chamberings on the hill, standard and wildcats; the 280, 280 imp,7mm Dakota, 308, 300 win mag, 300 Dakota, 30/404 improved, 338 win mag, 330 Dakota, 338x68 improved, I have finally chosen my bride. For me the 300 Win Mag has won the day. Why? Here goes. Please bear in mind this selection is based on what I believe a single shot rifle is about - long range mountain and plains hunting.

Firstly it will take care of 99% if not 100% of animals that are likely to be shot at long range. Bighorn sheep to Coues deer, Elk to Ibex, from Eland to Duiker, Tahr, Chamois, Makhor, Antelope, Gazelle, the list is endless.

Secondly, one can buy ammunition anywhere in the world for the 300 Win. If it is not the most ubiquitous magnum around in the world, I would like to know what is. Walk into small sporting goods retailer in some small hick town in South Africa, Wyoming, or Germany and ask for 300 Win Mag ammo and the chances are it will be there. I like that. Especially knowing what service airlines provide these days with luggage. I am not sure if I have some unpaid karmic debt to the Sky Gods, but I have statistically verifiable 10 % chance that my luggage will end up on another continent from the one where I am standing. So, I like the fact I can be almost certain I can buy a box of shells anywhere should the need arise.

Thirdly, for reasons well beyond the periphery of my ballistics comprehension, 300 Win Mags tend to shoot, and shoot really, really well. I have had a couple that would repeatedly shoot .25” for three shots, which is not to be sneezed at given the rifles weighed 8lbs-8.25Lbs scoped with a Swarovski 2.2-9x 42. And we all know that whilst we may not absolutely need a rifle that shoots a quarter minute of angle, there’s nothing quite like confidence in one’s equipment when having to stretch one’s barrel.

Fourthly, “ballistic sufficiency “, I don’t know if that is English, but I am sure you know what I mean. From what I have seen many times, a good quality 165 grn, 30 cal pill leaving the muzzle at around 3200 fps will efficiently dispatch anything on our long range quarry list out to a good 500 yards. And as we all know from reading our hunting magazines for the last 30 years that’s 200 yards further than what anyone has a right to shoot at a trophy game animal. Well I guess some of us are not so obedient as to follow these recommendations, or are just plain gifted, because there are those of us that seem to be able to consistently hit animals to almost double that distance with very few failures. Now, don’t get me wrong I am not advocating that the ill prepared bang away gratuitously at an old monarch of the mountain at any distance in high winds with a hope and a prayer. Obviously not, they should be at a range banging away until they know what they are capable of before shooting at any living creature. However, to those who are well equipped and well practised, shooting from a good steady rest in calm conditions, they should be able to consistently cleanly kill animals out to 400 plus yards. And a 300 Win Mag will do that with the best of them, easily.

Last but not least is comfort. To me a well stocked 300 Win Mag that has an all up weight of 8 to 8.5lb (and fitted with a good pad, like a decelerator) is really comfortable rig. They are comfortable to shoot, and comfortable to carry. I know there are some out there that are absolute brutes, but then I could also say that of some 30/06’s, 308 Wins that I have shot, even a .243 that was a vicious beast to shoot. Felt or perceived recoil is definitely not just about the calibre, it’s about the right blend of weight, shape and pad. And to me a well put together 300 is really comfortable to shoot. And I like that about it too.
So my Perfect Falling Block Single Shot is as we build the Alpine Express, with a match dimensioned chamber, reamed to snugly hold a 300 Win Mag cartridge .