The Rifle You Have Always Wanted

Everybody wants a gun they absolutely don’t need for any sound reason.  So you start creating reasons: “Well, I need something that gets in between 750-1,000 foot pounds muzzle energy with fast follow up shots.” Why? I think that would be perfect for zombies.  (I have a lot of guns and I’ve exhausted reasons for furry critter or paper punching rifles.) My no-sound-reason-to-own rifle was a Winchester 94. Not owing a model ’94 at some time or other means to me that I will lay on my deathbed completely unfulfilled. When the chance to get one new- in-the-box for a great price came up I had to take it. Best of all it was a .357 magnum Trapper carbine which was my Holy Grail of ‘94’s.

Most non-gun folks don’t understand when someone describes a rifle as sweet. Steel and wood and sweet doesn’t go to top of mind when doing a word association test. However this rifle is sweet. It has a 16” barrel, holds 10 rounds, weighs 6 lbs., the length is a quarter inch short of 34” and wears a real nice piece of walnut.  It’s handier than a shirt pocket and a lot more fun.

The rifle needed a scope. Not because the iron sites are bad but because I just can’t see them without eye glass lenses that could substitute for ash trays. A brand new Weaver 1-3x power that I have had in my scope drawer for the past 5 years was the perfect match for this rifle and caliber (having a scope drawer is another thing most non-gun folks might not understand.) The scope was purchased knowing that someday the perfect gun to go underneath it would appear and indeed it did. Much like I purchased driving gloves hoping a Corvette will someday appear in my driveway. Hey — it could happen.

Now it was time to sight in. I called my hunting buddy Mike and convinced him it was time to check the zero on his Marlin 336 in 30-30 with a Bushnell 3-9x, which would be his whitetail rifle this year. He agreed it was time and then we spoke of almost every type of ammo available for a 30-30 these days, in detail. He settled on using the kind he had in a Ziploc bag that came with the gun 5 years ago.  

Shooting ranges are great places. They are a pilgrimage for gunners. We load our range bags with enough ammo, gear and gadgets to the point where we have to reinforce our truck suspensions to carry it all.  I only have fond memories of ranges. If there were a combination shooting range condo complex I would buy a unit there for my retirement. But neither of us wanted to go to a range. We were going to shoot our hunting rifles in the woods.

We hiked back to the side of a wooded hill on Mike’s property in the Blue Ridge mountains where we hunt and we made the rules. No rangefinders, no chairs, no benches, nothing that attaches to the rifle and you have to sit in on the ground or a log. We would shoot under conditions in which we would hunt.  

Our target was 5 paper plates with and orange target dots stuck in the center stapled to a piece of plywood rested against a tree stump. Now we had to decide on our shooting distance. After discussing cosigns, tangents, hypotenuses and mid-range trajectories we decided that the two optimal distances were: how close we could typically call in a turkey and how far we would be comfortable shooting a deer with a .357.

We then walked back to our turkey distance. The 94’s scope was set on 3x and I shot enough so that I punched out a 2” circle about 3” or so high of the bulls-eye and a little to the left. Mike shot his Marlin and the first shot was dead center. I said “Man, you’ve got no excuses this year.” The next shot was 5” to the right. He said he flinched and I offered that the punishing recoil of a 30-30 would cause anyone to flinch. He wasn’t amused. A few more shots each and it was time to move back. There was no need to make a lot of corrections at this distance. The purpose was to see how easy it was to get on paper and at that range you should be able to spit watermelon seeds into the bulls-eye. We didn’t have watermelon seeds handy otherwise we probably would have tried.

We turned around and walked back to the point where we thought it wouldn’t be wise to shoot any further at a whitetail. I was shooting Black Hills .357’s loaded with a 158 grain jacketed hollow point bullets. Given the relatively anemic nature of pistol rounds I figured I had a 65-70 yard range at the most, so we figured that was how far away we were from the target when we stopped to shoot.

First shots were probably 5 inches high but nicely centered over the bulls-eye. I removed the turret cover and cranked it down about 12 clicks. I was still high after another 3 shots so I cranked it down some more. Then the next two shots were touching in the center of the target.

With my zero in place it was time to staple up new paper plates for a final accuracy check. In a nice tight sitting position on the ground I fired 5 shots in 10 seconds and managed about a 2.5 inch group nicely centered on the bulls-eye.  That, I figured, is about as good as it gets.
So if you ask me what distance my rifle is sighted in for I can’t exactly tell you because I don’t actually know. If you ask how tight a group my ’94 will shoot I don’t quite know that either. Everything was done under true field conditions. However, if you were to ask me to hit an apple at a distance a little farther than most men could throw one I could do that easily.

I had a great time and I have full confidence that the little ’94 will work fine on turkey, deer and if needed the reason I purchased the gun in the first place, zombies.

NEWS ALERT – Washington D.C., November 10, 2009, 6:44AM EST

This article has been challenged by President Obama’s Czar for Zombie Affairs. An anonymous source inside the office for Zombie Affairs at the White House said “This mean to zombies. Me going to eat author’s brain.”

Dec 06, 2021 12:30 PM ET