Two years ago, Ohio started allowing deer hunters the option of using a straight-walled cartridge (SWC) rifle for the first time since… well, forever, and they seem to be catching on.
An SWC rifle is a rifle that fires cartridges that have a straight wall; a cartridge with no tapered “shoulder” between the body of the case and the neck which holds the bullet. An example of an SWC is the venerable .45-70 Springfield, which started life back in 1873 as a military cartridge; an example of shouldered cartridge that is not allowed would be the .30-Springfield, a military cartridge that entered service in 1906.
Most of the early centerfire rifle cartridges that came out in the late 1800s were SWCs with most shouldered cartridges coming later with the advent of smokeless propellant. SWCs usually have larger, heavier rounded bullets that lack the range and velocity of modern, shouldered cartridges using pointed, or spritzer-style bullets.
To our friends in West Virginia, none of this applies, you have been free to use straight-walled or shouldered cartridges for decades – good luck with your gun season Monday!
Many SWCs started out life as handgun cartridges but also shine as rifle cartridges – the 44 and 357 magnums are in this category.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Ohio Division of Wildlife Deer Season Summaries for the past two seasons, 2014 saw a total of 5,737 deer killed with SWC rifles. The majority of hunters (68 percent) used a shotgun during the seven-day traditional gun season while 18 percent used muzzle-loading rifles and only 11 percent used a SWC rifle.
The following year, 2015, the total was 10,317 deer killed with SWC rifles, with 15 percent of hunters opting for those hunting implements.
Both years, the 143-year-old .45-70 Springfield was the most popular choice among Ohio hunters, followed by the 44 Remington Magnum, 444 Marlin and 357 Magnum. Those four cartridges accounted for roughly 90 percent of the SWC rifles in the field.
There is little difference in the accuracy and ballistics of an SWC rifle, a rifled shotgun with saboted slugs, and a modern, in-line muzzle-loading rifle. For your average hunter, any shot beyond 200 yards with any of those implements is a sketchy proposition.
It is not that SWC rifles shoot any better than modern shotguns with saboted slugs or muzzleloaders that appeals to me, but I like that it gives hunters more options. To get performance similar to a .45-70 from a shotgun, you have to use modern, saboted shotgun slugs which may cost about $3 apiece or more. SWC ammo is closer to a $1.50 per round for the larger calibers to under a dollar per round for smaller cartridges like the 44 or 357 magnums.
The same performance is easily obtained with a modern, in-line muzzleloader but with the obvious impediment of slower reloads and thorough, time-consuming cleaning after the hunt.
Me, I just like the feel of a rifle versus a shotgun, and depending on the caliber an SWC isn’t nearly as punishing on the shoulder as a shotgun – which can be important for younger or smaller hunters. My ideal SWC rifle would be a scoped, lever-action rifle, perhaps a Marlin 336, chambered in .357 Maximum or 445 Super Mag (which would require some custom gun-work to obtain).
Personally my biggest gripe with the use of SWCs in Ohio is “the list” of permissible cartridges. Some of them have no business being on there; cartridges like the 45 ACP, 41 Long Colt and 38 Special lack the power needed to make consistent humane kills on deer-sized game at typical deer hunting distances. Other parts of the list don’t seem to make much rhyme or reason: the 375 Super Magnum is on there, but not the 445 Super Magnum?
Considering that just four cartridges comprise 90 percent of all of the cartridges used, why not simplify things? During the open houses I suggested a standard that SWCs must be .357-caliber or larger, with a minimum case length of one inch (which was Ohio’s standard for handgun deer hunting in 2000 and before) that basically establishes the .357 Magnum as the minimum acceptable caliber. I will even donate a fired .357 Magnum cartridge to each of Ohio’s 88 county wildlife officers to use as a field gauge.
At any rate, it doesn’t look like SWC rifles are going anywhere in the near future, and will probably only grow in popularity as more gun makers chamber firearms in these cartridges.
This weekend is/was Ohio’s youth deer gun season, and the traditional gun season begins the Monday after Thanksgiving and runs through the following Sunday. A “bonus” deer gun season will be held Dec. 17-18. Hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
Please hunt legally and hunt safely. Consult the Ohio Hunting and Trapping Regulations 2016-2017 for more detailed information, and always plan your hunt and hunt your plan.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at [email protected]