Wiltz: All you need to know on today's hunting rifles


I am frequently asked for advice on guns, and hunting rifles, in particular. Of course it depends on what one is going to hunt, but if we're talking South Dakota deer and antelope with the possibilities of elk or coyote, I'll limit my discussion to the home front.

It might surprise you that my primary recommendation is going to be a new firearm. I have my

reasons. Price wise, from dealer to dealer, apples to apples, price can be compared. You can shop for the best deal. A new rifle can also offer some features not found on older pieces. In particular, I'm thinking about a rifle with a muzzle that is machined to accept a suppressor or silencer. Take it from your nearly-deaf writer. Ear protection is huge!

I certainly like vintage rifles, and I feel that Fjestad's Blue Book of Gun Values can give a reasonably accurate estimation of a gun's retail price. With a used gun, I believe the dealer should give you access to his/her Blue Book, if you ask. Second, the gun might have a problem, such as accuracy. Make sure it can be returned within reasonable time.

Some years ago I bought a used Browning Citori "Upland Special" at the Mitchell Cabela's. The

lightweight shotgun with 24-inch barrels pointed like my finger, but I didn't know if I could hit with the short 24-inch barrels. Cabela's told me to take it home and try it. If I didn't like it, bring it back. I appreciated that. As it turned out, I was next to "hell on wheels" with those short barrels, and for an old guy, I still am.

Used guns, especially vintage 20th Century guns, are overpriced in our area — no doubt because people will pay it. I'm not talking just dealers. Last summer the widow of a dear friend sold her husband's guns in a backyard auction. Happily for her, bidders went crazy. Lever guns, especially, went for twice what they were worth. For a moment I wished I had consigned all my guns!

I have a favorite recommendation based on a bit of nostalgia. Back on Christmas 1955, my first gun was a Mossberg Model 185K bolt-action 20-gauge shotgun. That gun was pure quality and function.

During my first fall in Brookings, I doubled on roosters with that little bolt-action. In 1957, my first .22 repeater was a Mossberg Model 146B. Above all, that rifle was a "tack driver." Since then, I've gone through life believing that Mossberg was good value for the money.

Today Mossberg has a new rifle on the market. The bolt-action rifle is called the Mossberg Patriot Predator. It's offered in three chamberings: .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester. Choice of caliber could be tough. If we're talking just coyotes, antelope and deer, the .243 will serve well. Keep in mind that the .243 is a better varmint round than any .22 center-fire ever made. It bucks a crosswind better.

If elk, moose, caribou, or African plains game are in the mix along with deer and pronghorns, pick the .308. I'll be criticized for taking a .308 on elk, but put the right bullet in the right place, and you'll have a very dead elk. In the right hands, the 6.5 Creedmoor (.264 caliber) will handle everything.

What else is there about this Mossberg? The gun is highly durable — not that you're going to knock it around, but it could fall. The gun weighs only 6 3/4 pounds without scope. A pound or two makes a difference on a long climb. The gun is highly accurate as it will print sub-MOA (minute of angle) groups at 100 yards. The rifle also comes with a Picatinny rail that enables mounting a scope at any eye relief you like.

It gets better. The excellent adjustable trigger breaks at 2 pounds, 12 ounces right out of the box. I just might leave it be. The oversized bolt handle will better accommodate my tremor. I also like the detachable box magazine. I can carry an extra in my pocket rather than loose rounds that clink and jingle — a past guide's pet peeve. I like the functional recoil pad, and I already mentioned the threaded, suppressor ready muzzle. What is the manufacturer's suggested retail price? An affordable $441.

With its composite stock, the Mossberg Patriot Predator isn't pretty. Hand-checkered walnut and

deep bluing are, but today we're talking value, accuracy and function. Though I need another rifle like I need 20 more pounds hanging over my belt, I think I'll get one. I don't need a varmint rifle, and I don't need an elk rifle. I'm going for that new 6.5 Creedmoor caliber, and I'll take it antelope hunting next fall.

See you next week.