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The single-shot rifle lives!

* As appealing a concept as the repeating rifle is--that assurance knowing there are two or three fast follow-up shots there if we need them--fact is, the vast majority of game taken is either on the ground or long gone after the first shot. Indeed, knowing we didn't have a fast follow-up shot at our disposal would undoubtedly raise those first-shot kill statistics even higher than they already are. And therein lies the tale...some of it, anyway, behind the resurgence of the single-shot rifle.

For a brief period after the development of the self-contained metallic cartridge in the 1860s, the single-shot rifle was king. Though repeaters like those from Winchester and Marlin were already coming into their own, none had the action length to digest the more potent cartridges of the day, nor the rigidity of lock-up needed for target accuracy. If you wanted more power and performance than offered by the lever-action repeaters, you went with a single shot--the likes of a Maynard, Peabody-Martini, Winchester, Sharps, Remington-Hepburn and Ballard among others. It was a time when target shooting was a gentleman's sport, and places like Creedmoor and Wimbledon were household words back East. It was a time when the single shot was considered the most appropriate medium for the finest gunsmithing, wood-working and engraving skills of the day.

But along came smokeless powder and bottleneck cartridges in the 1980s, and everything changed. It was now possible to cram more power and performance into smaller cartridges--smaller both physically and caliber-wise. Within a few short years, we had lever-action repeaters handling the likes of the .30-40 Krag, .30-30, .32 and .35 WCFs, .300 Savage and .30-06.

The bolt-action rifle--the Krag, the Mauser, the Mannlicher and the Springfield--was also gaining acceptance by virtue of its superior strength and accuracy, even though it could not match the rapidity of fire of the lever action.

By the end of the Great War, it was all over for the single-shot rifle. Perhaps the best (as well as the most popular) of them, the Browning-designed Winchester Model 1885, was dropped in 1920. Gone, too, by then were the others--the Rider Rolling blocks of Remington, the Stevens 44-1/2, the Sharps-Borchardt...all of them, gone.

It's easy to point to technological advancements to explain the demise of the single-shot rifle; but more importantly, I think it was due to the fact that times changed. A slower-paced, genteel era was replaced by hectic times--times of westward expansion and rapid industrialization. The repeating rifle, with its great firepower, was a logical manifestation of progress; I mean, why settle for one shot when you could have five, or even ten? To hell with aesthetics and philosophical rationales--there was a country to be built and we needed practical tools to do it with.

So for a couple of generations the concept of a single-shot sporting rifle was dead. And perhaps, if it were not for the intuitive genius of a guy named Bill Ruger, it still would be. I like to think, however, that by the 1970s the pendulum had made a full swing, and the time was again right for the single-shot rifle and what it represents. If Bill Ruger hadn't done it, someone else would have. But that's mere speculation. Since it was, indeed, Bill Ruger who got us to the single-shot rifle, seriously, it's only appropriate we start this overview with his magnificent No. 1.

Far and away the dominant (as well as oldest) member of the currently manufactured crop of one shots, the No. 1 is offered in seven model variations ranging from .223 Remington to .458 Winchester Magnum. Those facts alone indicate just how popular the No. 1 is today; but even with Bill Ruger's intuition, It was a big gamble back in 1966 when he first sprang it on the shooting world.

Initially, the gun was offered in three optional barrel lengths/weights, with various combinations of Alex Henry-style or contemporary fore-end and a choice of quarter rib with Ruger scope rings, target blocks or open sights. In short, you could order your own custom Ruger No. 1, within certain parameters.

In 1970, the line was fixed to include five model variations which are still used today: the 1-A, B, S, V, and H. To those five were added the 1-AB in 1980 and in '83 the International, a Mannlicher-style version.

Outwardly, the No. 1 strongly resembles the century-old underlever, falling-block action of the Scottish designer John Farquharson. Inside, however, the No. 1 is a unique, thoroughly modern action utilizing the very latest design concepts, materials and production techniques. The receiver is remarkably compact, considering it not only houses the massive breechblock, but an internal hammer as well. This compactness is due to a combination of innovative engineering and the fact that the mainspring and ejector mechanisms are housed in the fore-end on a tenon that extends some 4.7 inches forward of the receiver.

As the finger lever is unlatched from the triggerguard, the downward movement of the lever pulls the breechblock and internal hammer with it, while at the same time camming the extractor rearward to provide primary extraction. As the lever reaches its downward-most position, the ejection sear is released and the spent cartridge is evicted. (A simple Allen key adjustment on the spring tension alters the ejection force from spirited to nonexistent, requiring empties to be manually removed from the chamber.)

With the breechblock fully lowered, a fresh cartridge is laid in the loading trough then thumbed home. Upon raising the finger lever, the hammer stays behind, engaged by the sear, while the breechblock rises in its mortise behind the chambered round to seal the action.

The No. 1's fire-control system is quite excellent. The two-position, tang-style safety blocks both trigger and sear, while still allowing the action to cycle. Thus the safety can be engaged during the critical loading and unloading of a live round. The trigger is externally adjustable for weight of pull and over-travel by means of hex-head screws exposed at the top of the trigger.

The forearm attaches to the receiver tenon rather than to the barrel, thus it is possible to set up bedding dynamics similar to those of a one-piece stock (i.e., upward pressure on the barrel dampens vibration amplitude). Factory guns are set up in this way. With fiberglass and a modicum of woodworking skills, however, it is also possible to bed the forearm to the tenon and, in effect, free float the barrel.

Scope attachment is via an elegant quarter rib to which Ruger's own rings attach. Though no fore-aft positioning latitude is possible with the Ruger system, the positioning and spacing of the rings is such that scope-mounting problems are rare.

Encourage by the acceptance of Bill Ruger's No. 1, the Browning folks decided there just might be room for another single-shot rifle in the marketplace. Quite logically, they chose to recreate a modern version of John Browning's first successful design--the one he eventually sold to Winchester, thus beginning his long association with that famous New Haven firm.

Anyway, Browning introduced its Japanese-made 1885 facsimile in 1973, calling it the B-78. Unlike Ruger, who started with a clean sheet of paper, Browning was trying to retain, as much as possible, all the basics of the famous Hi-Wall Winchester. The result was an underlever falling block design with an exposed hammer and S-type finger lever that was remarkably faithful to the original in outward appearance. Inside, however, it was modern in every respect.

The B-78 was offered in a choice of round or octagon 26-inch barrels in calibers .22-250, .243, .25-06, .270, 7mm Mag. and .30-06. There was also a short-barreled .45-70 version.

The B-78 was pulled off the market in 1980 for reasons known only to Browning. This year, of course, they have re-introduced an updated version of the B-78 which they are calling the Model 1885. Since Bob Milek covered the new gun in depth in the May issue of G&A, I won't dwell on it here except to make a few personal observations.

I believe the new gun to be more appealing because it's a more "honest" version of the old Hi-Wall than the B-78 was. Seems to me that most hunters and shooters interested enough to consider a gun such as this would also want it to look "right." While the B-78's receiver was purely "Hi-Wall" in appearance, the Monte Carlo buttstock with cheekpiece and pistol grip was a study in incongruity. Though it is a subjective thing, the new Model 1885's straight grip stock sans Monte Carlo gives it a more legitimate look.

The trigger system on the new gun is also much improved over the B-78's. My test gun's trigger broke at just under 4 pounds, but only after creeping about 1/8 inch. Attempts to lighten the pull--the only adjustment provided--were futile. Like I said, though, it wasn't bad.

Rounding out the trio of current single-shot muskets is Thompson/Center's TCR, the tip-up, interchangeable-barrel rifle that's sort of a big brother to the Contender. In fact, in addition to the introduction this year of the Hunter model, which is a less fancy, single-trigger version of the double-set trigger Aristrocrat, they're also unveiled a Contender Carbine Kit that transforms any Contender pistol into a 21-inch barreled rifle.

With the phenomenal success of the Contender pistol, one wonders why Warren Center and his design crew waited as long as they did to unveil the TCR, especially when they had the one big advantage over Ruger and Browning: caliber interchangeability. With the same ease as changing a shirt or pair of shoes, one can have a .223 Remington varmint rifle one minute and a 7mm Remington Magnum the next...completely zeroed-in, no less, assuming a pre-mounted scope was already fitted to the accessory barrel. So whatever breeding or sophistication the Rugers and Brownings may have over the TCR, the latter's added dimension of caliber interchangeability certainly puts it right in contention with the others as far as being a viable sporting rifle.

And make no mistake, the single shot, whether of the Ruger/Browning falling block genre, or the TCR with its tip-open action, is truly a viable sporting rifle.

It's natural for some to look down on one shots because they require that the hunter "give up" something; but what exactly is it that they give up and how important is it? I'm referring, of course, to that lack of a quick follow-up shot that you're not supposed to have. Fact is, though, that with a little practice, an aimed follow-up shot can be gotten off in under five seconds using any of the three guns under discussion here. A fast follow-up requires that a spare cartridge be accessible at all times. For that, I've found an elastic wrist band--the kind tennis players use--to be the best solution. Worn high on the wrist of the offhand, two rounds can be slipped under the band. When the lever is pulled down, the right hand is just inches from the spares on the undesirable of the left wrist. You simply reach over, and yank one out.

This isn't just theory, mind you. Over a four year period, I hunted almost exclusively with Ruger No. 1s, and I can tell you the wrist band works. I once botched a brain shot on an elephant using a Ruger No. 1-H chambered for my wildcat .375 JRS. Before the bull made 25 yards, I got a second round into its chest as it angled away. He dropped within 50 yards. There were a couple other times, I recall, where a quick follow-up shot was necessary...and gotten.

What about accuracy? A single shot can't really compete with a bolt action, can it? No, it can't. If it could, you'd see Model 1885s, No. 1s, and TCRs on the benchrest circuit. You don't, though, and you probably won't. That's not to say they are not accurate; they're just not as accurate as a single-shot turnbolt--a system which transmits stress forces uniformly around, concentric with the bore axis. But don't let that worry you; the difference isn't enough to sink a sesame seed. Any well-tuned, scoped SS should shoot 1-1/2-inch groups or better with tailored handloads, and I've had several that did much better than that. In ultra-precise, long-range varminting, you may be able to see a measurable difference between a bolt action and a single shot of comparable barrel weight; but on deer-size or larger game, especially under typical field conditions, forget it.

So much for those things you must "give up" using a single shot. On the other side of the coin, there are things to be gained. Take length and handling capabilities, for example. Lacking the reciprocating bolt of a repeating rifle, the receiver on a single shot averages more than 4 inches shorter. That means our rifle can either be 4 inches shorter than a bolt action of equal barrel length, or we can carry 4 more inches of barrel to add another 75-100 fps (feet per second) to our muzzle velocity without increasing overall length.

The T/C folks chose to favor handling qualities over ballistic advantages by offering 23-inch barrels in all calibers for their Aristrocrat and Hunter models. The result is a very handy 39-1/4-inch overall length. Browning chose to go the other way by offering a 28-inch barrel as standard on its new Model 1885. Ruger's got it all covered. Among his seven models of No. 1s, you can find barrel lengths of 20, 22, 24 and 26 inches. Even with the 26-inch tube of the 1-B Standard Rifle and 1-S Medium Sporter, we're looking at an overall length of only 42 inches, which is about 2-1/2 inches shorter than a 24-inch-barreled bolt action.

Since there's no magazine to limit cartridge length, bullet seating depth is governed by the amount of leade in the individual chamber--which is quite generous on most of the guns I've tried. By being able to seat medium to heavy slugs to where they are flush with the base of the neck, you're actually increasing case capacity. In that Ruger I spoke of earlier, chambered for my .375 JRS wildcat, I seat Hornady's 270-grain spire point to where the cannelure is 3/16 inch from the case mouth, thus further increasing the net capacity of what is already an "improved" case. For the performance-conscious handloader and ballistic experimenter, the single shot is the berries.

Early on in this opus I mentioned that most game is taken with the first shot or not at all, and that knowing we don't have an easy follow-up shot would raise those one-shot kill percentages even higher. Call it being more careful, more prudent or whatever, the fact that you're using a single-shot rifle makes you a better hunter, whether you're aware of it or not. You're going to try to get closer before shooting, and you're far less likely to take any sort of risky shot. And with more and more hunters out there every year, that's a comforting thought.

I suppose, in the final analysis, choosing to hunt with a single-shot rifle requires a certain mental attitude which has more to do with how you take your game than if you take it.
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Title Annotation:popularity increasing
Author:Sundra, Jon
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Aug 1, 1985
Previous Article:The ultimate rifle.
Next Article:Guns of the Korean War.

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