Top trio never let me down

Rifle: Sako 75

Cartridge: .300 Weatherby Magnum

Scope: Swarovski 3-10×42

When asked to nominate my favourite rifle/cartridge/scope set-up, the immediate thought was ‘what exactly for’ as, depending on the application, my preferences are many and varied. My choice for an afternoon stroll rolling bunnies would not be my pick for filling roo tags off the truck, when hunting buffalo I’d be reaching for something else and if I want to ring steel at 600m-plus there’s yet another option.

Heaven forbid I ever have to go to war or fight the zombie apocalypse as that would be a completely different story and if I put my mind to it I could nominate a favourite for each of those missions and more. After all, shooting’s a bit like golf ‑ technically you could get round with just a putter and a couple of irons but you’d prefer a full bag of clubs.

Indeed, to give a proper answer I felt I had to define the question so I’ll assume it’s for hunting a full spectrum of game and go with the old ‘one-gun man’ theory. The question that’s been argued over many a campfire is: If you could only have one rifle and scope for everything, what would it be and in what calibre? Lastly, I figured it has to be something I own rather than a virtual construction.

My initial thought calibre-wise was the .308 Winchester, my first real centrefire rifle. Starting with a CMC Mountaineer (Howa 1500) aged 15 or 16, I’ve owned many .308s over the years and they all served me well.

I still have several but favourite is my Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight which I acquired when they launched it about 20 years ago. With its soda straw full length 26″ barrel, fluted bolt and composite stock it weighed not much more than 5½lbs and cost me a bomb – I had to trade a swag of other rifles in order to afford it.

I scoped it with a Swarovski 6x36A my dad bought by accident when I was a boy. He was in Europe on business and I’d made him promise to buy me a scope for my birthday. He completely forgot when he phoned before flying home and after I reminded him he had the taxi driver detour via a gunshop and bought the first scope they showed him with a plex reticle, which I’d requested.

Luckily for me, not so for dad, he completely mixed up the foreign exchange rate and was halfway home before realising he’d spent a week’s wages on my gift (it also launched my love affair with Swarovski and other high-quality European glass).

I still have that scope but later made the package all-American with a Leupold VX-3 in 2.5-8×36, a compact variable more suited to the intended use. It was my go-to pig gun – I’d walk around Cape York all day carrying that Weatherby in one hand and I ran it on 150gr Speer soft-point boat-tail projectiles before moving to Hornady 150gr SSTs.

The load never changed ‑ 48gr of Winchester 748 for about 2800fps and Federal 215 Magnum to really get that ball powder rocking – a stout load but recoil never bothered me in the field. But the Weatherby as my No.1 gun? No. There’s another rifle in the safe I also take up the Cape as my working spare in case I have a chance at a bull, a Ruger M77 Mk1 in .338 Winchester Magnum. It’s a sentimental piece I bought from my old shooting buddy and mentor, the late Merv Williams from Orange.

Merv bought it to shoot buffaloes in the Territory but was a true one-gun man or, more accurately, one-calibre man – the 30/06 Springfield. He had many rifles but inevitably would reach for just one, ‘Betsy’, his old Ruger M77 Mk1 30/06 on its second barrel and that’s what he shot his buffaloes with. He sold me the Ruger .338 Win Mag, scoped with a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8×36, about 200 rounds of factory 200gr Power Point ammo and enough projectiles to last a lifetime, all for a bargain price.

With my little .308 Winchester any pig hit between the shoulder and ear would drop like lightning while the .338 Win Mag would take them down from any angle – just the job when a big boar was heading north at a rate of knots with his rear end the only target. The same rings true for another sentimental favourite ‑ my Remington 700 in 8mm Remington Magnum.

Almost forgotten, the 8mm Remington Magnum in its day was the quintessential 400-yard elk rifle. My Remington 700 was gifted to me by a mate who left the sport in 1996 and couldn’t bear the thought of handing it in for the crusher. He wanted it to go to a good home so it was registered with whatever else I could keep and I’ve had it ever since.

It has a 3-9×40 Leupold on it which is plenty of scope for a rifle that spits 220gr projectiles like a laser. With a maximum 79gr of the long obsolete Winchester 785 and Remington 9½ Magnum primers, 220gr Hornady projectiles are travelling at 2900fps, going faster than the 150s out the .308. I’ve taken monster Kimberley boars with it including one running straight away at long range across a plain and more recently in the Territory it was easily up to the task on a couple of solid scrub bulls. Either of those magnums would do for anything that walks this continent and 90 per cent of game on the planet. But I have yet another contender.

When younger and fitter I was off to New Zealand for tahrs and chamois and was considering what to take. I wanted a little more reach than my 30/06 Sako 75 deer rifle and was leaning towards one of my magnums. I was shooting Clay Target DTL competition at Orange Gun Club and spending time with friends between stages.

Good mate Greg Coleman was a sales rep for Berretta Australia at the time and was busy on the phone flogging his wares. I was peering over his shoulder at a stock list opened at the page displaying the current Sako 75 inventory when I spotted a unicorn, a Sako 75 blued Hunter in .300 Weatherby Magnum. I asked and discovered it was a cancelled special order. It wasn’t a standard calibre offering in Australia so I decided I had to have it for my tahr hunt.

I ordered it along with a set of Sako Optilock rings and bases and mounted up a Swarovski 3-10×42 AV Habicht. Importantly, the Swarovski had the (then) new TDS ballistic reticle system, basically a reticle featuring crosshair substensions.

You could log on to the Swarovski website, type in the calibre specifications and it would produce a range card giving you the zero distance for each reticle substension, then you could print the range card. I did exactly that, laminated it and carried it in my top pocket (today it’s all on an app).

The trip was fast approaching and I didn’t have time to do any load development so I ponied up for some Weatherby 180gr Hornady Interlock factory loads, sighted it in and printed out a range card from the Swarovski website.

Soon after, I was hunting in the Dobson Valley on NZ’s South Island and while crossing the snow fence at 800m, we were heading towards some distance dots on the mountainside the spotting scope had confirmed as likely prey. Four hours later we were so high up the tussock had ceased and nothing grew on the exposed rocks except moss and lichen.

From there my sights were levelled on a group of tahrs even further up the mountain and my guide Gerald called it a tad under 500m with his Leica rangefinder. There I was with my range card telling me the third subtension down on the TDS reticle was zero for 480m yet the first shot sailed over.

Back then rangefinders had no adjustment feature for true ballistics. I was shooting steeply uphill so although line of sight was near 500m the horizontal distance was less. I reassessed and ended up taking the biggest bull of the group – that old bull ran 13½” and 13⅜” with 9½8″ bases and scored 45¾ Douglas Points.

As I own several, the Sako 75 series has long been my favourite bolt-action rifle as the Sako build quality has was always been outstanding. That .300 Weatherby gave me 70mm three-shot groups at 300m on its first outing. The Monte Carlo stock design with cheekrest and generous palmswell to the pistol grip always felt just right for me and the three-lugged bolt gives a short bolt throw for quick follow-up shots. The feed from the 75s detachable magazine is always smooth and reliable and I like the drop free on release feature of the Sako 75 over the later 85, where you have to push up on the magazine before it releases.

The Swarovski 3-10×42 AV Habicht was perfect for both rifle and calibre, especially with the TDS ballistic reticle. It takes a fair bit of guesswork out of long-range hunting and if you know the range it only leaves the wind to contend with.

As Sako are to rifles, Swarovski are to optics, although in a race with Zeiss it would likely be a dead heat. A 3-10x is all the power you could ever need in a hunting scope. Although I have other higher-end Swarovskis with 30mm tubes and 50mm objective lens, the more compact 1″ AV range are lighter and still offer outstanding optics.

The .300 Weatherby Magnum factory ammo with 180gr projectiles sighted in at 300 yards (270m) and starting out at around 3200fps puts you about 3″ (75mm) high at 100 yards (90m), much the same at 200 yards (180m) and just 9″ (225mm) low at 400 yards (360m). Even out at 500 yards it drops not much over half a metre so even without a fancy scope, on a deer-sized target, you could still hold backline fire out to 400 yards and land a shot in the kill zone.

Closer in, just hold where you want to hit. You have 4200 ft-lb of energy at the muzzle and retain more than 2000 ft-lb all the way past 500 yards and there’s little that wouldn’t succumb to a well-placed shot from a .300 Weatherby.

So of all my favourites in the safe, if I had to single out just one it would have to be my Sako 75 in .300 Weatherby Magnum with a Swarovski 3-10×42 scope.

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