USA – -(Ammoland.com)- It seems that these days, it’s almost a point of derision if you happen to mention hunting with a single shot rifle or shotgun.
For most people, the single shot is a kid’s gun, something to teach them on and then leave them behind like you would all the other trappings of youth and never look back, but what if I told you that single shot rifles and shotguns are far from just a kid’s game.
At one point in time, the single shot rifle was one of the most popular for just about everything.
The mighty bison of the plains were almost wiped out by hunters using powerful Sharps and Remington Rolling Block rifles, even though there were lever action rifles like the Winchester 1876 and 1886 that were capable of taking down big game. For the average homestead, a single barrel shotgun was quite commonly seen over the fireplace as they were cheap and could take everything from small game to deer. Despite the losses at the Little Bighorn, the U.S. Military wouldn’t finally retire the Trapdoor Springfield .45-70 rifle until after the Spanish American War, long after General Custer and his men had been buried.
When the century finally turned and industry roared, single shot firearms were still very popular, Remington still made their Rolling Block although the smaller calibers were more popular, Stevens had their Ideal and Favorite, and single barrel shotguns still sold like pancakes at the local diner during the breakfast rush despite the fact that now there were pump and semi auto shotguns available to the masses.
Even during the Great Depression with the country in the throes of hardship, single shots were being made although now most were bolt action .22 rifles like those from Remington, Winchester and Marlin with a few others in the mix. These guns were what most could afford during those tough times, if you could afford them at all.
Fast forward to today, the single shot rifle when found on most gun store shelves are those built and made for kids, like the Keystone Arms Crickett or Henry Arms Mini Bolt Youth guns. It seems that most hunters have shied away from anything with just one bullet at a time, but if you look more closely, you would be wrong.
When I sat down to think about writing this, I realized that most of the game I have taken in my life has been done with a single shot, in one form or another. Most of the small game, with a single shot .22 LR Remington Model 33 that I have owned for some time. It wasn’t the only gun though, for a while my top varmint rifle was a H & R Handi Rifle in .22 Hornet. That fine little single shot that I got for a song was responsible for a large grey fox and more than one coyote at close range. It didn’t bother me in the least that I had only one shot, but it did bother the furbearers it was used on.
One of the nicest shotguns I ever owned was a Winchester Model 37 in 20 gauge that I had bought for my wife but she had a hard time with the tiny spur trigger so I took it grouse hunting for a time and it accounted for a few in the late winter. Still the all time champion has to be that little single shot Remington Model 33 which is now pushing eighty four years old. In my hands it’s taken dozens of squirrels, rabbits and even an ornery old woodchuck.
Even with all of the new and more modern .22 rifles out there, I have yet to find another to match it when it comes to small game.
Why a Single Shot Rifle
So why would anyone now want a single shot when they can get something that holds more rounds? One reason is of course, to train a young shooter or a beginner. Having a gun with a magazine full of rounds gives a new shooter a reason to rush a shot because they can simply get another round on target if they miss. A single shot forces them to slow down and take their time naturally. You will find that a shooter even on their own will be much slower and much more conscious about their shots when one round is going downrange before having to reload. That doesn’t change no matter the age or the skill level once you’re used to shooting a single shot.
My son began shooting earlier this year, and long before he was born I had his gun picked out, it’s a Savage Model 30G, which was one of that companies last versions of the old Stevens Favorite falling block .22 LR single shot rifles. One of the reasons I picked it, besides being familiar with the design having owned a couple original versions, is that it would work for someone either left or right eye dominant and while it is small enough for a young shooter, it’s also large enough for an adult to use. Someday I will have to break it to him that before he ever took it to the range, I used it on a woodchuck once with good results.
There is one area where hunting with single shot firearms is still wildly popular, and that is muzzleloading. Every year hunters go after whitetail deer in special seasons that usually average a week or more with what were once primitive firearms and now include some of the most advanced blackpowder guns you can imagine.
I find it funny having talked to some of those hunters over the years who will partake of those seasons but scoff at the idea of using a single shot gun the rest of the year. The concept is the same, you have one shot, and it has to be well placed and by the time you reload, you most likely won’t get another chance.
So why are more shooters not using a single shot rifle?
One is the cost, most are expensive when compared to bolt or semi auto rifles. For instance, a new single shot Sharps or Remington Rolling Block reproduction can be twice that of a new Henry or Marlin lever action and both can be chambered in the same round like the .45-70. The same can be said for one of the last hold outs, the venerable Ruger Number 1, now all alone after the Ruger Number 3 was discontinued.
Things however are starting to change. The last real affordable single shot rifle and shotguns in big game calibers were the H & R Handi Rifles and single barrel shotguns, that is until Henry Repeating Arms decided to fill the void with their new single shot rifles and shotguns. It is still too early to tell because they are just now hitting the market, but Henry has unveiled a line of brass and steel frame single shot rifles in five calibers, .223, .243, .308, .44 Magnum, and .45-70. With both open sights and being drilled and tapped for a scope, Henry is targeting hunters who have no problem with just loading one round at a time, and with an MSRP of $427 for the steel framed versions, they are certainly competitive in price. That’s also the same price of Henry’s new single barrel shotguns in .410, 20 and 12 gauge in the steel frame and for a listed MSRP of $549 you can get the brass frame version.
Used Single Shot Rifles
There is also the huge used gun market, again most of what you will find are .22 single shots simply because they are more numerous, but you can often get them for a pretty good price. I found not that long ago a very nice Ranger Model 35, a gun made by Stevens Arms for Sears & Roebuck back before they quit selling guns. It’s a fine little single shot with a factory peep sight and is sized for adults instead of a child. No one wanted it when I spotted it at a gun shop and snagged it for $75. It digests every round I have put through it and is extremely accurate and would do very well for small game or a trap line gun. I often run across single barrel shotguns for well under $200, and one I got last year was an old Ithaca 66 Supersingle in 12 gauge. I picked that up for $100 and works very well. I wouldn’t hesitate to take either out to the woods.
Hunting with a single shot of any kind is more of a challenge, but it’s not an impossible feat. If you hunt with a muzzleloader there’s little to no difference, but you have to think past the thought of a single shot being just something for kids or beginners. It’s the challenge of a single shot that can make you a better marksman and a better hunter, and in the end, that’s what we really should strive to be.
About David LaPell
David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.