Expert tips for single-shot rifles

Here’s what Don Caswell has learnt from shooting a variety of them over the years

Single-shot rifles appeal to many hunters; more, in fact, than actually shoot them. I was always drawn to single-shot rifles, but it was decade or two before I owned my first one. Since then I have enjoyed using a variety, from the .22 Hornet through to .458 Win Mag.

To me, a single-shot rifle encapsulates everything that hunting should be. The careful stalk, choosing the target animal, the well-placed shot, a feeling of satisfaction with the quarry cleanly despatched. For any considering, or just entering, single-shot hunting there are a few things I have learnt that are worth sharing.

The cold barrel

Single-shot, break-action or falling-block actions are capable of superb accuracy. In setting up your new single-shot rifle, there are some important differences compared to bolt-actions.

In my experience, single-shots do not like warm barrels. This should be fairly obvious in a rifle designed and intended for the occasional single shot from a cold barrel. The rifles generally have lugs on the barrel for attaching the front stock and sometimes the spring for the ejection mechanism. As a barrel warms up with repeated shots, these attachment points can exert varying pressure on the barrel due to metal expansion and accuracy can suffer.

Unlike a well-floated and bedded bolt-action rifle, that can handle five or 10 shots in close succession without any change in accuracy, your single-shot will not like that one bit. A common theme in the single-shots I have fired off the bench is that you can often expect the first three shots to clover-leaf, but keep shooting and that group will begin to wander as the barrel heats up.

Treat your single-shot rifle as it was designed and intended for ‑ shoot your groups with well-spaced shots from a cold barrel. Under those conditions, most will register tight little groups.

Bench technique

Another difference in shooting off the bench is that most of the single-shots I have used shot better when their fore-end was held firmly. With bolt-actions this is not the case and my technique with those is for my left hand to hold the sandbag under the butt while my right hand does the trigger pull.

My bolt-action rifles I shoot off a short bipod. Single-shot rifles require a small sandbag placed on one of my metal ammo boxes. Holding the fore-end of a rifle when shooting off the bench is a bit awkward, so the fore-end sandbag needs to be on the left side to make room for the left arm.


Most single-shot rifles have pretty good triggers. The only exception I have encountered so far was with my Browning 1885 Low Wall in .223 Rem. I loved everything about the rifle except its exceptionally heavy trigger.

I turned to the internet for some advice on that. I found a wealth of comments bemoaning the trigger and the fact that there was no after-market option available and the trigger itself defied any attempts to hone it.

One wag said that clearly the Browning’s trigger had been designed by a committee of litigation lawyers. With perseverance, I found an old gunsmith, about to retire, who worked on the trigger for me. The result was an improvement, but still short of what I desired.

On my Ruger No. 1 RSI in 7×57, I sourced and had fitted a Kepplinger after-market trigger. Not that the rifle really needed a better trigger than the factory one. The Kepplinger was a superb, crisp, light trigger I must say, and enhanced that lovely little rifle. Ruger No. 1 rifles are one of the most popular single-shots and these days there is some choice in after-market triggers, if you think you need one.

Barrel cleaning

Another revelation for me, was the aspect of cleaning the bore. With nearly 60 years of ingrained habit, it was hard to accept a change in that behaviour. I was taught from a young age the importance of thoroughly cleaning the bore of my rifles after use.

However, I am aware that some leading long-distance shooters and a number of high-end and custom riflemakers recommend that barrels not be cleaned at all. I tested this myself with my .223 Rem varmint rifle. Starting with a scrupulously cleaned barrel, over a period of a month, I fired more than 300 rounds through that rifle without cleaning it. There was negligible change to the accuracy of the rifle.

In discussing this cleaning aspect with representatives of German rifle manufacturers I was told that, for German-made rifles at least, the barrel should not be cleaned. In fact, the barrel could be expected to shoot better as it built up a layer of copper fouling with use. That advice may be specific to the metallurgy and manufacturing process of German barrels. However, I consider it worth trying with any rifle. You will soon see if it works or not.

Taking advice from the German representatives, I now only patch the barrel out with Birchwood Casey Barricade. The exterior metal surfaces can be wiped over with a cloth dampened with Barricade as well. That seems to be good advice and, so far, everything is working out fine and has greatly simplified my rifle care and maintenance. And, I am more than happy with my single-shot rifle’s accuracy.


I find using my single-shot rifle to be the most satisfying form of hunting. This is not the rifle you choose for a big day on the hogs or going after a pack of marauding wild dogs. I take my single-shot afield when I am intent on bagging a lone animal.

To that end, I only pack a few rounds in a small belt pouch. When I lived in Arnhem Land, and was regularly hunting buffaloes with my Ruger No. 1 African in .458 Win Mag, I had three cartridge loops on the left breast of my shirt, in the great white hunter style. I also often carried a couple of rounds between the fingers of my left hand, like cigarettes, another great white hunter habit. That trick works for any calibre, not just big game rounds.

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