By Larry Weishuhn
Ruger’s No. 1 and T/C’s Encore are two of the author’s favorite single-shot rifles.
Dad, I know you want me to hunt with a single shot, but I really need a lever-action or a bolt-action gun. I wanna be a real deer hunter!”
“Son, it’s the first shot that’s the most important,” my father replied, “no matter how many backup rounds you have. Hit the target with your first shot, and you won’t need a second one,” he said, and that was that.
As much as I hated to admit it, there was great wisdom and truth in Dad’s statement. But if that was indeed the case, I thought, why did Jack O’Connor hunt with a bolt-action rifle? I knew that he and many of the shooting writers of that era were excellent shots based on the articles they wrote. But they hunted with repeating rifles rather than single shots. It was one of life’s mysteries at the time.
A couple of weeks later, I took my first whitetail with my grandfather’s “single-barrel” 12 gauge, as we called a single-shot in those days. One carefully aimed but somewhat hastily executed shot was all it took to convert me from a wannabe deer hunter to a successful one.
I’ll admit that I strayed from single shots for a bunch of years, using a variety of lever and bolt guns, but I never did care for pumps and semiautos. Along the way, I got to hunting with T/C Contender pistols with their interchangeable barrels. The die was cast. I quickly learned that with a single-shot pistol, one had to ensure all was perfect before pulling the trigger. That’s because it takes a while to break open the action, extract the spent case, replace it with a fresh round, close the action, cock the hammer, reacquire the target and shoot again. That knowledge made me a better shooter.
The author has used single-shot rifles exclusively since 1995, taking game animals around the world.
Farther down the trail, I discovered the Ruger No. 1 rifle. I wanted one in the worst way. But money was not exactly flowing in my little corner of the world in those days. It took a while before I saved enough to buy one of Bill Ruger’s fine single shots.
To me, there’s something special about showing up in a hunting camp with a single shot rifle. It says, “Here’s someone who knows how to shoot and has great confidence in his abilities as a hunter.”
And that’s exactly how I felt about the clients who showed at the whitetail hunting camps I ran in South Texas in the 1980s and early ’90s. I loved seeing a hunter arrive with a single shot rifle and wearing a hunting knife with a blade was no longer than his index finger. That told me a lot. He or she knew how to shoot, and chances are I wouldn’t have to devote time to trailing a wounded deer.
Back then, I hunted occasionally with a T/C Contender carbine chambered for various low-pressure rounds. They helped me account for quite a few deer, as did my Ruger No. 1. But although I primarily hunted with a single-shot pistol, I used several bolt-action rifles as well.
Then, during the fall of 1995, I drew two special tags: one for moose in Maine and another for moose in Colorado. Ken French called me about the Maine hunt. “No need to bring a gun when you come,” he said. “I’ll have something for you to shoot.”
Ken, long with Thompson/Center Arms, had been instrumental in designing various guns for the New Hampshire company, including some of its early inline muzzleloaders. So I simply assumed he had a muzzleloader waiting for me. I was wrong!
Upon arrival at camp, he handed J. Wayne Fears, a mutual writer friend who had also drawn a moose tag, and I each a package. His was long. Mine was short. The guns we discovered in the wrappings were both single shots (pistol and rifle) and remotely resembled the T/C Contender. We quickly noticed they were chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge.
Several days later, I shot a sizeable Maine moose with drop tines. From there, I traveled to Colorado where I downed a Shiras moose, and then went on to take a big 6x6 elk in the southeastern part of the state. Weeks later, I shot several critters with the rifle version of the new single shot that eventually came to be called the “Encore.”
From then on, I’ve hunted exclusively with a single-shot rifle or pistol. I’ve used Encores chambered in .375 H&H Mag to take Alaskan grizzlies, South American buffalo and many other animals. I’ve also used my Encore rifle chambered in .416 Rigby to drop Cape buffalo as well as plains game in Africa. I’ve used the same single-shot frame with interchangeable barrels such as one of my all-time favorite cartridges, the .30-06 Springfield, to hunt and take game around the world.
Why use a single shot, when at the time I was on staff with numerous major shooting and hunting publications and could have used any kind of rifle?
One of the things I learned early on is that hunting with a single shot made me a better marksman. It also helped me learn my particular gun’s or caliber’s capabilities at various ranges, and mine with that gun. Hunting with a single shot also taught me to learn about the anatomy of game animals and proper shot placement. With making my one shot count, I also learned to always get a proper rest, and if a natural one wasn’t available, to shoot off shooting sticks. Then, too, it taught me proper technique, including a slow steady tug at the trigger. (OK, I admit I still occasionally jerk the trigger just like everyone else does at times.)
Many years ago, I also learned that regardless of whether I’m shooting a properly sighted-in pistol, rifle or muzzleloader, the bullet goes precisely where the barrel is pointed when you squeeze the trigger. Knowing that keeps me on target with the first shot.
These days, there seems to be a trend toward using single shot rifles and pistols among hunters “looking to increase the value of their hunting experience.” I applaud those who have accepted the challenge of exclusively using those guns.
Admittedly, I still own numerous repeating rifles and even a couple of double guns. But they’ve not seen the outside of my gun safe for several years. Other than having a sentimental attachment to them for various reasons, there is really no reason for me to still own them.
The smart thing would be for me to sell those guns and use the money to finance another hunting trip or two. Come to think of it, I’ve been considering returning to Alaska to hunt bears with a single shot again. I wonder what bolt-action and lever-action rifles are worth these days?
Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine