How Topography and Field Conditions Impact Rifle Choice


In a perfectly flat world where I do not have to walk far before I shoot, I would only need my Advanced Weapon Technology .300 PRC rifle.

It produces roughly 2,950 fps with a 230-grain .308 diameter bullet that is capable of 0.325-inch five-shot groups at 100 yards or roughly eight-inch groups at 1,000 yards (with me as the shooter).

Unless I am hunting small game, there isn’t much need for anything else.

Unfortunately, the world is not featureless and I often need to trek a ways before the end of the hunt.

That rifle weighs about 14 pounds, so a half-mile hike is doable. Climbing 2,000 feet up for some elk stalking would not be fun at all.

The other thing is, I sometimes hunt hog (or deer) in thick brush.

The weight of the projectile helps there, but the stellar velocity coupled with the boat-tail design is actually a liability.

Any branch can deflect the path enough to cause a miss, and that doesn’t even consider the 26-inch barrel.

Due to these concerns, my rifle choice is often influenced as much by where I am hunting as by what the target it.

woman holding rifle in field

Different Guns for Different Scenarios

Stalk hunting in a thick oak hammock with lots of scrub palm at ground level calls for a relatively blunt-nosed bullet that is heavy for caliber and traveling fairly slow.

My Marlin 336 sends 170-grain flat-nose bullets downrange at about 2,150 feet per second (or about 1,800 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle).

In that type of hunting, the desire is to have a quick-handling rifle with bullets that bust a path to the hog, then drop it.

At 50 yards, iron sights provide plenty of accuracy and still allow for good peripheral vision.

The bullets tend to break through any light to medium cover and the energy dump tends to get the job done.

Hunting rifle with optical scope in blind

In that type of hunting, my girlfriend prefers a shotgun instead of a lever gun.

Sometimes that is my 18-inch Mossberg 590, other times it is the Kel-Tec KSG.

She uses iron sights on the Mossberg and a red dot on the KSG. She uses slugs in both.

The Ammo Factor

Sometimes Breneke Magnum Classics 490 grains (1,500 fps and 2,460 ft/lbs of energy) get the nod, other times she runs Remington Sluggers 435 grains (1,560 fps and 2,360 ft/lbs).

In either case, a hit hog or a deer rarely goes very far and underbrush at 50-75 yard is not much of an impediment.

When we are sitting in a luxury raised-box blind, my girlfriend’s Shilen barreled .270 Winchester (11.5 pounds) or the above mentioned .300 PRC gets the nod.

She is comfortable to about 300 yards on deer. The rifle is good well past that on paper.

If we take a shot longer than 300 yards, I do it with the .300 PRC. Our box blinds are strongly built and provide a very solid rest.

The stand has a long 2×4 that we position angled between two windows to provide a rear-rest position for the longer shots.

We usually hunt together in those blinds, so one of us gets dropped off with the rifles and packs.

The other hikes back after parking the truck about ¼ mile away.

Even when we solo hunt like this, we are dropped off at the base of the stand, so rifle size and weight isn’t much of a factor for rifle choice.

These stands have well-maintained shooting lanes and an elevated position. This means bullet deflection and tight confines are not a concern.

woman standing in field with rifle

Final Considerations

I don’t have much experience with stalk hunting in steep terrain, but I can extrapolate from the flat land scrub hunting.

Walking a couple of miles with a 16-inch gun that weighs less than seven pounds isn’t much of an issue.

Increase the weight to nine or more pounds and it becomes less fun.

Trying to use a 12-pound rifle with a 24-inch barrel becomes a significant liability, as a friend of mine found out with his .300 Win Mag.

There is a reason mountain-hunting rigs are usually feather-light (seven pounds).

This means they have pencil barrels, which are poor choices for repetitive shots, but you rarely get those.

The recoil can be brutal, but again, you typically only take one shot.

The benefit is, not being exhausted and shaking when you line up the 300-yard shot on the big 6×6 bull elk.

What conditions impact your rifle choice? Let us know in the comments section below!

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