By Ian Nance
As with 4WD’s and BBQ sauces, everyone has favorite hunting guns they’ll vigorously defend around the campsite. Plenty of brand loyalty out there, no matter if that hunter’s current model is new-out-of-the-box or living its last days bound with baling wire. I don’t blame anyone for this. Heck, several of the firearms I employ on a regular basis didn’t make the following list.
When I started noodling what collection of guns would be most suitable for hunting in Florida, I considered three criteria: versatility, functionality, and availability.
For example, I adore my heavy-barreled Ruger No. 1. She’s a tackdriver but burdensome to carry while still-hunting and forget quick follow-up shots. It’s specialized for treestand sits. Likewise, I enjoy the AR-platforms. They are efficient tools; however, you’d be amazed by the number of people – experienced hunters, even – who arrive in camp toting shiny-new AR’s in some carbine iteration with a red-dot scope who can’t hit the broadside of a barn. Finally, will this gun bust the bank? Can you find one at any gun shop or sporting goods store? If a piece breaks, can it be readily repaired or will it have to sit like a foreign car at the gunsmiths while special parts are ordered?
Not a perfect set of standards, but let’s run with it.
Winchester Model 70
If you wish to swap in the Remington 700, Ruger M77, or Savage 110, you’d be wholeheartedly forgiven. With Florida’s diverse terrain, a bolt-action is the go-to firearm for the state’s hunters. At home in a swamp, oak hammock, or with long-distance shots across agriculture lands, these rifles are the ideal medicine for any big-game critter crawling this state, no matter where they’re creeping.
As for the Model 70, it’s here out of personal experience. Mine in .270 Winchester has been my jack-of-all-trades rifle and what I loan to friends needing to borrow a one. The gun has filled these roles admirably.
With its lineage dating back to 1936, hunters across the country will testify to the Model 70’s application in the field. While some bemoaned the change to a push-feed style bolt after 1964, the company currently offers the Model 70 in its traditional controlled-feed design, considered to be the most reliable method of racking rounds in and out of the chamber.
Furthermore, with its storied history, the so-called Rifleman’s Rifle has been produced in numerous variants, some of which can be rather pricey. Still, few gun shops are without used Model 70’s available at reasonable prices, and no-frills economy models save even more dollars if that’ll help you kill a few bucks.
Marlin Guide Gun
None of these lists are complete without a utility rifle, and for those hoping I’d renege on my above-stated AR-15 stance, sorry to disappoint. Truthfully, when Marlin released the Guide Gun, it quickly earned it’s place here.
More properly designated the Model 1895G, the Guide Gun has an overall length of 37-inches and weighs in at 7lbs. Chambered for the .45-70 Government and, when topped with a low-power, long-eye-relief scope, this lever action is ideal for still-hunting through thicker cover. Need an insurance rifle when getting your dogs off an angry boar or when following up a blood trail through the thickets? Well, here’s your ticket. The Guide Gun’s portability is unmatched, and while its DNA precludes consideration as a beanfield rifle, 2-inch groups at 100 yards are feasible and remarkable for a short-barreled lever action.
New ones at the Big Sporting Good Store will run a little over $600, but a trip to the local gun show may unearth individual guns for less. You could substitute a Winchester 94 here and be just fine, but pick up a Guide Gun one day and see what you’d be missing. Plus, hit a deer or hog squarely with that .45-70 and it goes dooowwwwnnnn.
Perhaps the most difficult decision on this list through sheer options, shotguns today are so versatile you’d have to try hard to screw up a choice here. Much to the confusion of my autoloader friends, though, I’m a fan of rugged and reliable pump shotguns, and none are as recognized and successful in that demographic as the Remington 870.
For starters, you can buy them darn near anywhere from a few hundred bucks to several hundred and chambered today for everything from .410 to the 12-gauge. While Remington sells specialized 870’s for turkey hunting, wingshooting, and home defense purposes, replacement barrels and choke options can put this gun in any hunting situation. Prefer slug guns? There’s a barrel for that. More than one deer has met his Maker by way of the 870 and a payload of buckshot while trying to escape beagles in the Big Bend. Ready to wrap-up waterfowl or small game season for Spring Turkey? Swap a choke to flop a gobbler.
While there are plenty of suitable alternatives, the 870 has been kicking rear since 1951 with over 11 million sold. If your line of hunting requires a shotgun and the 870 can’t accomplish it, I’m not sure what to tell you, sport.
Like small game hunting, the 10/22 is just plain fun. Reliable, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate…plain fun, again…the superlatives could keep rolling. With an untold number of aftermarket accessories, be your own gunsmith and customize this autoloader as you please. For over 50 years, this little darling has been keeping people happy, if not so much for squirrels and rabbits. In my opinion, no gun safe is truly complete without one.
Given the glut of rimfires on the market, this is no minor accomplishment. The 10/22’s unique 10-shot rotary magazine – legal for resident small game in Florida since it’s a rimfire – was revolutionary at the time and paved the way for its popularity. High-capacity magazines can be substituted in and you have an all-day, semi-auto small game rig.
This gun also has big game implications, in a round-about manner. On trips to the range to get comfortable before deer season, I tote my 10/22 along for a little practice before touching off the big bores. That repetition of calmly squeezing the trigger and breathing properly helps correct shooting flaws that develop over a long summer. And I just like the additional muzzle music at a cheap price.
10/22’s can be found just about anywhere guns are sold. Basic models run in the neighborhood of $300. It’s a small investment on a lifetime of enjoyment.
T/C Encore ProHunter XT
From their single-shot pistols and rifles to in-lines that have made muzzleloading nearly fool-proof – much to the chagrin of the Flint-and-Frizzen crowd – I’ve long-admired Thompson/Center’s innovative firearms and why I chose to represent them here with the blackpowder entry.
Besides scouting and taming Buck Fever, the Encore ProHunter XT is designed to make hunting with a front-stuffer as pleasurable as possible. The break-open breech design protects primers from exposure to the Florida elements. The breech plug can be removed by hand to ease cleaning maintenance. This .50-caliber comes with a weather-resistant finish, a recoil management system, and reduced rifling at the muzzle to aid in loading. If that’s good enough for Jim Shockey, it’s good enough for me.
Folks accustomed to shelling out $200 for a muzzleloader from the Wal-Mart shelf may be taken aback by the cost but consider this, too. The Encore platform is set-up to simply switch barrels between muzzleloader and centerfire rounds. This one gun can thus serve the needs of several different Florida hunting seasons.
So, there we are – five guns that should accommodate your hunting needs in the Sunshine State. They might not all be that flashy, but their functionality in the field is without question. And if Ol’ Betsy didn’t make the cut here, as long as you’re happy and she’s filling the freezer, that’s fine, too!