When searching for a new hunting rifle, I used to consider three main factors: caliber, type of action and cost.
But it wasn't until a few years ago that I realized there's a more important feature of the gun that should be foremost on my list of requirements -- weight balance.
When I began hunting at 12 years old, I used a handed-down .243-caliber rifle. The dinged-up gun was old and simple, but it was small enough for a kid to handle with ease and helped me bring down my first buck. I never did miss with that gun.
But things changed when I got a little older and I started hunting with a new .270-caliber rifle -- a step up in both power and weight. After scores of misses, I realize now the problem. The gun wasn't only heavy, but it was poorly balanced. Most of the gun's weight was in the long, stainless steel barrel.
The result was too much pressure on my left arm when taking off-hand shots, which are hard to execute through a trembling scope.
Three years ago, I found myself another go-to gun -- a 30-06 Winchester manufactured about 50 years ago. The gun lacks some of the advancements newer rifles have, such as a lighter composite stock instead of wood, but there's no doubt in my mind which gun was made with more care.
Though the 30-06 is about as heavy as the .270, the firearm has a more even weight distribution and can be aimed steadily offhand with ease.
I used to fumble with my .270, always looking for a rest or something to lean up against to steady my shot. That's no longer the case with the 30-06. Even distance shots aren't a problem. After bringing down eight big-game animals with the gun, I still haven't missed with it -- a luxury I attribute to better weight balance.
Identifying the problem with my shooting sooner could have added a lot more horns to my walls at home, but it's a good feeling to have finally ironed out the kink in my shooting.
If I ever decide to go looking for another hunting rifle, weight balance and the way the gun feels will be my first consideration, because when you're staring at a big buck and your nerves are getting to you, the last thing you need is a gun that amplifies the problem.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.