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Jun 08

Hunting with Semi-Automatics

Many hunters look down their noses at anything but a bolt-action rifle for hunting. They think the bolt is the quickest, most accurate and most dependable rifle they can hunt with. In some cases they are right and in some cases they are wrong and a lot depends on the terrain and game hunted if a bolt action is truly necessary.

One winter my friends and I went coyote hunting on a series of ranches in Eastern Washington. The terrain is high desert with rolling hills, wheat land and grazing ground. The ranchers in that area, like most ranchers anywhere, have no love for coyotes. If you know them you can usually gain access just for the asking. One friend is a great guy and a fantastic butcher. When we have game he does all the cutting and does a wonderful job. He is not blessed with a lot of money and only owns a 30-06 and does all of his hunting with it. While the 30-06 is a great cartridge it is not known for being a great coyote round (especially when sighted in for 180 grain softpoints). He had the pick of the rifles in my safe and decided to carry my SKS paratroop. This is the inexpensive model with the 10 round fixed magazine and carbine length barrel. I have developed a load using Speer 123 grain softpoint bullets that is capable of shooting MOA groups at 100 yards.

During our hunt he took down one coyote at 120 yards with open sights and one of those previously mentioned loads. Later on we jumped a pair of coyotes at about 400 yards and he was able to track in with three shots while the other two of us with our bolt action rifles never got close. The wind was howling, the coyotes were running flat out and by the time we cycled our bolts they had run another 50 yards or more between shots. He was able to stay on target and hit one with the third shot.

Another time I was deer hunting and carrying that same rifle. When the deer jumped up in the brush one quick shot through the brush hit it and the second shot was ready to go instantly. It wasn’t needed in this case but had I needed it this was the only action on the planet that has it ready to go in time.

The main plus with the semi-auto is the ability to rapidly put follow up shots on target without taking your finger from the trigger guard and your eyes from the sights. They do this very well and assuming the correct chambering can take any animal on earth.

The minuses are fairly well known but how important they are is a matter for you to decide. First is the fact that autoloaders are harder to clean and maintain. No argument on this one, if you hate to clean rifles and want to do it quickly then most semi-autos are probably not for you.

The next common argument is that they are inaccurate. If you are shooting benchrest competition then they are not accurate enough. For any kind of hunting most semi-autos are more than accurate enough as long as you don’t want to stand in one county and shoot to the middle of the next one. I own a Remington 740 that has proven to be accurate enough for any hunting I want to do. It groups at about 2 inches at 100 yards with 150 or 165 grain hunting bullets. My grandfather used it for many years after he came home from WWII and took more than a few deer with it.

A side argument is that you can’t shoot as powerful loads in a semi-auto as you can a bolt gun. While that is generally true, off the shelf ammunition is loaded by the manufacturers to SAAMI specs to work in all type of actions safely. If you handload and want to really hot-rod the rounds then the semi-auto action is not for you but no deer that ever lived will be able to tell the difference at any reasonable range. In fact, the slower bullet speed might just ruin less meat.

The last problem is probably the most valid. Some states, countries and municipalities don’t allow semi-automatics for hunting. Pennsylvania for example doesn’t allow then for hunting. South Africa (and many other countries) does not allow semi-automatic shotguns. If you are constrained by the law, then they probably not what you should choose to hunt with.

Like everything in the firearms world the ultimate decision is up to you.

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