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.
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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.