What Makes the Ultimate Sheep Rifle?

By Guy Eastman

There are some hunts that might just be important enough to warrant a new and unique rifle for the occasion. For a guy from Pennsylvania it could be a life-long dream hunt for a big bull elk, or for another from California it could be that fourth season Colorado mule deer tag it has taken you twenty-four long years to finally draw. For me, a Dall’s sheep hunt in Alaska would be just the occasion to trigger a new rifle purchase.

No matter the occasion or the quarry, there are certain criteria that will sway the sometimes almost painfully difficult decision on what make, model and caliber of rifle to invest your hard-earned money into. The following is a short outline of the decision-making process and results thereof that I came up with for my "ultimate sheep rifle” purchase.

Guy Eastman - What Makes the Ultimate Sheep Rifle?

The 5 Selection Factors

1) Weight - Most of the big game rifles on the market today tend to be in the seven to nine pound range without a scope and ammo. Add in a long-action magnum and you could tip the scale another quarter of a pound or so more. For my sheep hunt, I will be hunting on foot, backpacking for seven or eight days with everything necessary for the hunt on my back or in my pockets. This is why I chose to go with a very lightweight gun for this hunt. As light as I could possibly find.

My choice is right under the six-pound mark. The Savage Lightweight hunter is a true lightweight and is extremely compact. Sub-six pounds dry weight and just under 42-inches in overall length.

2) Knockdown Power - This is where the rubber meets the road for most hunters. Combine bullet weight and speed to create the phenomenon we call "knockdown power.” This is where you have to take your quarry into consideration. If it is elk, moose or grizzly you seek, then a magnum is probably your best bet. Keeping with the lightweight theme, and because sheep are not very hearty and they have little to no cover available to hide in if wounded, I chose a non-magnum caliber for this hunt.

To save as much weight as possible I have chosen a rifle chambered in a nonmagnum, 6.5X.284. This will cut down on weight both in the gun and the ammo. Slightly risky but possibly worth it in the long run. I sacrificed knockdown power for carry comfort.

3) Accuracy - Some gun set-ups are just more accurate than others. The problem with accuracy of a new gun is you never really know what is going to happen until you get the gun and actually shoot it at the range. The bullet, rifle, scope and shooter all play a very critical role in this element of the equation. As a general rule, an antelope, high country mule deer and sheep hunt would probably require the most accurate of rifles due to the size of the target and probable terrain of the shot. A long distance shot at a relatively small target definitely requires some next-level accuracy.

The 6.5X.284 has been a very accurate caliber for me purely based on my personal experience with it over the past four years. With a relatively long bullet and thus a high BC (ballistic coefficient), this caliber exhibits both down-range accuracy and good resistance to crosswind drift.

4) Price - As we all know, when it comes to guns the sky is nearly the limit for a hunting rifle set-up. For me, I wanted to keep the price at a reasonable level, certainly under the $1,000 mark for the gun alone if possible. This barrier narrowed the available options down significantly.

The Savage is a very reasonably priced gun particularly considering the additional factory work that goes into the Lightweight Hunter. Almost every ounce of excessive wood and steel are removed from this gun at the factory.

5) Dependability - Dependability is not only a very subjective term, it’s sometimes like trying to predict the future to some extent. I wanted to go with a factory gun, not only because of the price limit, but also a model that had stood the test of time. On a sheep hunt, you just don’t have the option of a quick service return, regardless of how good the warranty agreement is.

Both the Savage Model 111 and the AccuTrigger have been on the market for a number of years now. The brand, product and the manufacturing processes to build it have, without a doubt, stood the tests of time.

Buying a new rifle setup can be a very difficult and expensive decision. Try not to get too hung up on all the hype and options that today’s market offers. Almost every manufacturer makes a very accurate and dependable rifle these days and there are at least five or six great optics companies on the market that I would trust a riflescope from. If you clearly define your criteria based on these categories ahead of the purchase and do your research thoroughly, I’m sure you can find the best gun fit for your taste, style, budget and excursion.

Guy Eastman - What Makes The Ultimate Sheep Rifle?