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Hunting With Single-Shot Rifles

“Single-shot rifle is really a misnomer!

Hunting with a single-shot doesn’t mean you can only shoot one time. Just like any other hunting rifle action, it simply means making the first shot count, which is what we should do no matter how fast a second shot can be fired or how many rounds you have as backup in your magazine or cartridge belt or pocket or backpack, with a bit of practice you can quickly reload for subsequent shots.” I responded to a question from someone in the back of the audience while giving a presentation on hunting, pursuing animals from whitetails to Cape buffalo.

“I shot my first Cape buffalo with a .416 Rigby single-shot, using Hornady ammo.” I continued. “In a split second I had removed the spent case and replaced it with a fresh round. Months before going to Africa I shot my single-shot many, many times and taught myself to quickly reload. I eventually reduced reloading time so I could do it as quickly as someone could cycle the bolt on a bolt action. I did it automatically, rather than think about what I was doing. Reloading the single-shot simply became second nature, muscle memory if you will.” I continued to tell the crowd that with dedication and practice anyone could do the same.

Interestingly, I wrote an article about my single-shot Cape buffalo hunt for SPORTS AFIELD. One of the “letters to the editor” essentially called me an idiot for using a single-shot on dangerous game. I guess he forgot how many buffalo, elephant and other dangerous game had been taken back when explorers and hunters only had single-shot rifles and especially muzzleloaders, which took considerably longer to reload than breech loading single-shot rifles. In doing some research I learned my “accuser” had never shot anything larger than a couple of whitetail does.

Why would someone want to shoot a single-shot at dangerous game, or for that matter any game animal? With me, I love the “perceived challenge” of hunting with a single-shot and specifically a Ruger Number 1. I grew up shooting single-shot .22 rimfires and single-shot shotguns. I learned to make the first shot count, to not pull the trigger unless I was certain I could make a killing shot.

My Ruger Number 1 is are extremely accurate at ranges near and far. “Far”…I have often stated I am a “long range shooter”, but not a “long range hunter”. I enjoy shooting at steel at extremely long ranges. But when it comes to hunting, for me personally I want to get as close to the animal as possible before pulling the trigger, doing so to me is “real hunting”. Shooting at critters a long way away, is just that shooting.

For the past many years I have been a huge fan of the Ruger Number 1. I am fortunate to have hunted with numerous calibers and rounds. I proudly I own several, although not nearly as many as I would like to!

Hunting with single shot rifle

I love the sleek lines of the Ruger Number 1, many of which are stocked in very attractive wood. I dearly love blued steel guns with attractive wood stocks, although I use many Ruger bolt actions that are stainless and stocked with synthetics.

When it comes to Ruger Number 1s, I love those chambered for the older rounds such as the .275 Rigby, .300 H&H Mag, .405 Winchester, .450/400 NE 3-inch and the like. With these I’ve taken a variety of game both in North America and Africa, from 6,000 pound and larger hippos on down.

Lately I have been using my .275 Rigby No. 1 for whitetail deer, shooting Hornady’s 140-grain SP ammo. With it I have taken, with one shot, some impressive whitetails. I have also used it on wild hogs including one that bottomed-out a 300-pound scale. One of my grandsons, Josh Gonzalez, recently use that same rifle in Africa hunting plains game.

The late and great John Wootters, long one the finest outdoor writers in the world and one of my mentors and heroes, used a Ruger Number 1 in .45-70 to take his leopard. He strongly believed in his Number 1.

Why the Number 1 on leopard? In most all instances when hunting leopard, I am told the shooter almost never gets more than one shot before the leopard is gone, so the normal quick follow-up shot is non-existent.   But what of accuracy? All Ruger Number 1s I have personally shot using Hornady ammo delivered 1-inch or less 3-shot groups at 100 yards. So, they are more than sufficiently accurate.

A few years ago I “borrowed” a .450-400 NE 3” Number 1 from Lee Newton, a serious collector of Ruger Number 1 rifles, and the world’s greatest authority and source for them. The “borrowed” rifle loaded with Hornady’s 400-grain DGX (expandable) and DGS (solid) at 75 yards essentially put shots from a good solid rest into the same hole. Shooting from “sticks” I tended to shoot one-inch groups. During a hunt in Namibia, I used that Number 1 to shoot an impala at 75 yards. Having done so, I moved on to hunting hippo. Several days into the hunt, we stalked to within less than twelve yards of a huge bull hippo on land. I shot him below and behind the ear. The ancient, huge bull simply fell to the ground. No sooner had he started to fall straight down, I reloaded and shot him a second time and then again a third time. Those second and third shots were actually unnecessary, but I like shooting, too those two extra shots also insured the huge hippo would stay down.

While we were taking photos, the tracker who had stayed with the boat walked up and asked to inspect my rifle. I proudly handed it to him. He looked it over carefully to see if he could find a bolt or other mechanism whereby I quickly reloaded. Not finding any such, he asked my PH in his native dialect, how I had shot three shots so quickly. He was convinced there was no way anyone could shoot a single-shot so rapidly! I simply smiled.

Years ago when I worked as a wildlife biologist and conducted hunts on numerous ranches where we specialized in whitetail deer, and where I often served as a guide, I used to love seeing hunters arrive in camp with a single-shot rifle. Experience told me those who did tended to shoot more accurately than those who hunted with other rifle actions. I was never wrong. Those who hunted with a single-shots, precisely placed bullets into the deer’s vital with their first shot. The other things I judged hunters by, although a bit off subject, beyond what rifle they hunted with was the length of the hunting knife at there side. The longer the blade carried, the less hunting experience he or she had. The shorter the blade of the knife, the more experience they had!

When it comes to hunting rifles, of course I use bolt action rifles and I do like them. Way back in my gun safe there are also four lever actions, one belonged to my father and another was owned by my father-in-law. Both those are Winchester Model 94s, one in .30 WCF and the other a .30-30 Win (both the exact same round). I also own a couple of Marlin lever actions, one a .45-70 and the other a .444 Marlin. These latter two are from my days as the Hunting Editor for Shooting Times.

There is also a side benefit to Ruger Number 1’s. They can be shot from the left or right side!

As a youngster I missed an opportunity to shoot the only buck I saw one hunting season because he approached from my extreme right side. I could not come around far enough to shoot at him right-handed. Had I been able to shoot from the left side, he would have been mine.

Deer Hunting Larry Weishuhn

A few minutes after the buck disappeared I crawled from my “deer stand”, headed home where I switched my .30-30 Win for a .22 rimfire. I grabbed and box of 50 shells and headed to our impromptu shooting range. There I taught myself to shoot left-handed.

Yes, I was right-eyed dominant, but I learned that was not the case if I shut my right eye. With practice I have become was fairly proficient shooting left-handed.   Actually, I have since learning to shoot from either side, shot nearly as many animals left-handed as right-handed.

Did I mention I love hunting with Ruger Number 1 single-shots!


Latest comment
  • GREAT article! Love the accuracy of hunters with single shot rifles. I hunt with just 2 bullets in the gun. I try not to make a sound or motion after my 1st shot. I find the hit animal doesn’t know where it comes from, so if they move, THEY tend to just move 20 yards and then stop and fall over. Also, I agree on the Hornady ammo. I switched over many years ago and found my accuracy dramaticly improved due to quality loading as most shots were within 30 fps. My Marlin 444 improved from 100 yard patterns of about 3 inches with other ammo. Hornady ammo drilled it down to 1 inch patterns. Dave