We were sitting around the kitchen
after an unsuccessful day of elk hunting up Camp Ridge. Our friend Dave had come out again
from Back East and brought yet another magnum rifle. If I remember correctly the sequence
went about like this: .340 Weatherby, .300 Winchester, .338 Winchester. One year in there
he brought a .270 Winchester because hed failed to draw an elk tag and would hunt
After the steaks from Eileens elk
- taken two weeks earlier with a .270 - the talk turned, as it often does, to rifles. It
was then that she asked: Why do men need bigger rifles than women?
This was not an ingenuous question. At
the beginning of her 15-year hunting career she started off with a ladies
rifle, a .257 Roberts, but soon graduated to a .270 Winchester. With this she took
10 consecutive big game animals with one shot, including bull elk and moose, big whitetail
and mule deer and a pronghorn buck at over 400 yards. All the while she watched bemusedly
while I tried several larger calibers.
Dave was not amused by Eileens
comment, and said something about traveling long distances, quicker kills from bad angles,
etc. Most women, he said, cant handle hard kickers.
Wed heard these arguments before,
but living in Montana gave us a little more experience with women hunters. Here over 10
percent of the adult females hunt, and mostly big game, and that percentage is likely to
rise. Lately most hunter-education classes (required to obtain a Montana license) run
about half female. We know a lot of women who are quite serious about hunting, and they
dont shoot traditional ladies rifles such as the 6mms or .25s.
Usually they carry .270s, though a few choose nonmagnum 7mms or even .30-06s.
I must also point out there arent
nearly as many big magnums in the hands of male Montana hunters as the sporting press
would have you believe. Oh, there are a lot of 7mm Remingtons (not really a big magnum,
despite what their owners think), some .300 Winchesters and the odd .338. Every year a few
hunters (usually young males) rush to buy a .30-378 Weatherby or .300 Remington Ultra Mag,
because suddenly their 7mm STW isnt leading the pack.
Most of the guys in my circle carry
standard calibers. Tom killed his bull elk last year with a 7x57mm Mauser, using one
175-grain Nosler Partition. Jay gets about half his elk with a bow, half with a .270
Winchester or .280 Remington. Jim uses a .257 Roberts on deer and antelope and a .30-06 on
elk. Me? Ive used everything from the .243 to the .338 and still experiment a little
each year, though Id be exceedingly happy with Jims pair.
Were all at least in our mid-40s,
and most of us have done the heavy magnums and Long-Range Wonders. Our attitude might best
be expressed by Jerry Fisher, the famous stockmaker who lives in the Flathead Valley. When
I stopped by his shop one day, Jerry showed me his personal big game rifle. This did not,
as you might expect, wear an exquisite piece of finely checkered walnut. Instead it was a
battered and almost completely factory pre-64 Model 70 Winchester chambered for the 7mm
I bought it a hell of a long time ago,
Jerry said. It was a 7x57, but when the 7mm Magnum came out I converted it. Biggest
mistake I ever made. All it does is kick harder, and doesnt kill any better!
The big difference in women who hunt is not
recoil tolerance but how they hunt, the chances they refuse to take and the magnum
fantasies they dont have. Most of the real hunters among the women I know (as
opposed to the walk-behinds, as Eileen and her friends call them, who only
semi-willingly trudge after their boyfriends and husbands) hunt very carefully. They know
how to glass, how to sit really still and move very slowly, and they refuse any shot thats
not absolutely certain. As some men grow older they learn the same things, but careful
hunting and shooting seem to be innate in most women who really like to hunt.