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In this latest installment of Ask the Experts, we asked our legendary rifles editor, David E. Petzal, to take the hot seat and answer your questions on everything from chasing Pliocene-era beasts to what he likes to do when he isn’t shooting, hunting, or writing.
Q: Scientists are working on cloning and bringing back woolly mammoths. If they’re successful, would you ever hunt a one? —Jake Dixon, via email
A: Probably not. Mammoths have had enough trouble. But if I were to consider hunting them, I would do so only if certain conditions were met. First, I get to use a rifle, not a spear, nor do I have to drive it over a cliff by running at it with a torch. Third, someone else field dresses it. Fourth, I’ll need a whole lot of help eating it. Elephant gets bigger as you chew it; God knows what mammoth is like.
Q: Thoughts on the 250-3000 and the largest animal you’d consider taking with it? —@saskhunter_of_ducks via Instagram
A: Despite the fact that it’s been around since 1915, the 250 Savage remains one of the premiere deer-getters. It’s a very low-recoil, low-intensity round that gets the job done. I don’t think anyone chambers for it anymore, so if you want one, you’ll have to look for a used gun. If you don’t use the 250 for anything bigger than deer, you’ll be a happy hunter.
Q: “What’s the most surprising outcome you’ve had on a hunt?” —@bigcountryhunter92 via Instagram
A: Twice, in Africa, I’ve come across astonishing trophies that no one suspected were in residence. (Usually, if there’s something huge in the neighborhood, word gets around.) In Zambia, in 1987, I took a monster kudu in an area that no one thought had one. The same thing happened in 1992, in Zimbabwe, but this time it was a sable that was the trophy of a lifetime. I didn’t shoot because I already had a sable. I don’t think the PH ever really forgave me, and I don’t blame him.
Q: “What’s the one caliber you’d use for both Alaskan moose and grizz?” —@roberto.mignone via Instagram
A: I’d stick with what I’ve used—a 340 Weatherby Magnum. I’ve hunted with handloads using 275-grain Swift A-Frames. Stick with the heavier bullet weights: 250 grains and above. The cartridge crushes whatever you aim at. Also, it kicks.
Q: “What gun have you had the longest?” —@bigcountryhunter92 via Instagram
A: That honor goes to a 300 Weatherby Magnum Mark 5, which I bought in 1965 in New York City, when New York still had gun stores and you could still buy guns. Weatherbys were made at that time by J.P. Sauer & Sohn, and they did excellent work. The rifle has been to Africa and Montana and other fearsome places, but it’s still in perfect shape.
Q: What is the toughest, sturdiest centerfire hunting rifle? —Andy Heusser, via email
A: Bear in mind that I’ve stopped groping every new gun that comes along, and I have not been to a SHOT Show since 2018, so I don’t know what all is out there anymore. That said, I nominate the Ruger Gunsite Scout with the laminated stock. It’s unstoppable and unbreakable, a true indestructo-gun.
Q: If you could relive one hunting experience what would it be? —Judah Horn, via email
A: In 1971, I went on my first mountain hunt in Montana, fat and out of shape, and got a whopping dose of humility. Infuriated with myself, I spent the next year starving and working out, lost 30 pounds, and ended up tougher than Deadpool. Next year I went back to that same mountain, climbed it on a bitter cold day, and killed my first elk. I would give anything to have that day back.
Q: Who wins in a brawl between a juvenile male grizzly and a wolverine? —Logan Eckardt, via email
A: I notice you were careful to add “juvenile.” I don’t think a wolverine could kill a juvenile grizzly, because it’s 40 pounds against 200 pounds. However, I think that after Round One the bear would remember he had pressing business elsewhere. If it were a mature grizz, at 500 or 600 pounds, the bear would kill the wolverine.
Q: What are your thoughts on things like heaters in deer blinds? I’m all for staying out in the woods a little longer on a cold day, but I feel that hunting should have some level of discomfort. —Peter Lombardo, via email
A: I don’t use a heater, nor can I remember using one in a blind, but I do wear lots of clothes. I agree with you that hunting gives you a chance to show how much you can take, and there’s a certain satisfaction in that. But if I have a chance to eliminate needless suffering, I will do it, and damn quick.
Q: My backup duck gun is a Benelli Nova. After losing a canoe paddle one morning, I used the Benelli instead. While lacking the traditional T grip of a paddle, the gun moved water pretty well, and I’m now contemplating maybe adding an oarlock. Would that be considered firearm abuse in your eyes? —Billy Manson, via email
A: You are writing with tongue in cheek, I believe, but if your story is true, you are guilty of Disrespect of Gun. The Benelli Nova is a fine pump, and Benelli is proud of it. It is not a paddle. If you owned a paddle, would you swat ducks with it? Your sense of geometry and theology is badly out of whack. Get help while you are still able.
Q: What’s the most bizarre hunting custom you’ve witnessed during your world travels? —Nicholas Cooke, via email
A: As a kid, in the 1950s, I rode to hounds—classic English foxhunts. It’s the custom in these affairs that when the fox is killed, the Master of Foxhounds awards the mask (the face skin), the brush (the tail), and a paw to the riders who arrive at the site of the kill first, second, and third. If it’s your first time riding in the money, the Master of Foxhounds dips his finger in the fox’s blood and paints your face with it, making you a Blooded Hunter. One Thanksgiving Day, I joined the club and got my face painted, which I thought was terrific. However, when I came home, my Old Mom made a noise like an air raid siren and would not stop. I think we had to lock her in a closet for several hours. And a couple of days later, she threw my paw away.
Q: When you’re not hunting, shooting, or writing, what do you do for fun? —Trish Warren, via email
A: Right now I’m kept busy scratching gnat bites. Aside from that I’m a compulsive reader and have my snout buried either in a book, or if I’m interested in nonsense, a computer screen.
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