Short Gun Love: The Pleasures of Hunting with a Carbine

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It seems that no matter where I turn, be it an article in a magazine, a discussion in a bar, or the gun rack in my local sports shop, I just can’t get away from long range hunting rifles. It’s a sweeping trend that is taking the hunting world by storm. Every hunter I run into seems to be talking about tactical shooting and precision accuracy while taking an hour to set up at the shooting range before going home to spoon their 6.5 Creedmore. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the technological advances that are helping every Tom, Dick, and Harry shoot the hair from the ear of a flea at 1000 yards, but honestly I think this national obsession with long range rifles is making us forget about the guns that got us here. When we think back to the days before hunting was a sport – to the times when getting a deer meant putting food on the table, when men and women went to the outdoors to work and to provide and the West was still in the midst of being won—hunters weren’t carrying some composite plastic, perfect bullet grain, 2 inch grouping with a 40x scope rifle that cost more than a new car. Nope, while a few may have had a Sharps rifle or two, most of those hunters of the past did it all with carbines.

What Is a Carbine?

A carbine is a high caliber rifle with a short barrel and compact frame. They were originally developed for cavalry soldiers by the German Army in the 17th century in the belief that the shorter guns would be less cumbersome to carry on horseback but still pack a punch. During the Napoleonic Wars the weapons proved to be such as success that almost every major country on the planet started doing their best to create their own versions of the short compact rifles. In the United States, where the Union Army was quickly replacing the smooth-bore flintlock with the rifled musket but still wasn’t able to compete with the pistols of the Confederacy on horseback, a short battle rifle was quickly developed – the Spencer Carbine. This rifle proved to be such a sensation that larger firearm companies, most notably Winchester and Henry, quickly developed their own lever action carbine rifles, which are still used by modern hunters today.

Mounted German soldiers taking aim from with their carbines in the mid 1930’s

The evolution of the carbine has continued throughout history wherever a short and compact but still powerful rifle was needed. In WWII it was the M1 Carbine, in Vietnam is was the Colt Commando, and in the modern age, it’s the AR-15. Throughout all those years of its evolution, the carbine continued to develop in another way by eventually making its way from the battlefield and into the world of hunting when returning soldiers wished the take to the woods carrying a familiar weapon. For the returning soldiers these guns were no longer weapons of war, but tools with which to provide. They handed the guns down to their children, who used them in turn, until passing it on to their children and grandchildren.

The Benefits of Hunting with a Carbine

Carbines are perhaps the simplest, most efficient hunting weapons that have ever been invented. They’re light to carry, require little to no maintenance, and can be used to hunt dozens of different big game species.  They are a weapon of a simpler time when guns didn’t have to be sighted in to create precise groupings at 400+ yards. Most of the time the weapons are considered usable with a simple three inch grouping at 100 yards, or by simply being able to punch a hole in a milk jug set 50 yards away in the middle of the field. That’s because carbines aren’t capable of, nor are they meant for, long range shooting. They’re meant to deliver a hard-hitting serving of lead into a possibly moving target as quickly as possible.

Hunting with a carbine requires woodsmanship and hunting skill that have seemingly been forgotten in an age of comfortable tower blinds, high-fence hunting ranches, and the ability to harvest an animal at great distance. They require you to get close to your prey and force you to shoot where the scenario is imperfect. Most often utilized in the Northeast, where shooting through thick cover at a running deer is the name of the game if you want to bag a buck, carbine rifles are what made the names of hunters like Larry Benoit, R.G Bernier, and Hal Blood famous. They are the perfect weapon for those who prefer to track down their deer in the snow. Carbines are great guns for still hunters as well, as you can for carry them easily in your hand and are perfect for making quick shots while sneaking up on game in the thick woods.

The author with a mule deer and the carbine he used to harvest it

In the American West, where long range rifles are king, carbines still make for fantastic hunting weapons. Though they aren’t designed to do so, most carbine rifles of .30 caliber or larger are more than capable of delivering a round accurately at 300 yards plus at 2000 fps. That is more than enough for taking down any large game animal you can think of, from deer and elk, to mountain goats and bighorn sheep! But a using a carbine rifle offers hunters much more to the Western hunter. The weapons are extremely versatile, allowing a hunter to carry them in a truck rack or on horseback, and to hunt with them in thick high mountain timber or open prairie. Additionally, while a long-range rifle may allow you to take an animal from a distance, a carbine can be carried in close, allowing a hunter to sharpen their stalking skills in a place where the art of spot and stalk hunting was invented. Furthermore, carrying a carbine in the West is simply a status symbol, one that makes a statement about a hunter’s abilities and their connection to the old West.

For The Love of Carbines

When it really comes down to it, there’s nothing wrong with precision long range rifles. They’re useful and incredibly efficient tools that deserve their place and praise within the hunting world. But so do carbines. Whether it’s an old lever gun, a chubby pump-action, or a high-powered AR-15, these guns exist in a world of close stalking and reaction shooting for hunters still willing to get up close and personal with their prey. If there was ever a monument built to the greatness of our hunting history, you can bet it would include a short gun. Passed down through the generations, the carbine would stand boldly at the forefront of any statue as a testament to the part it played in shaping our sport into what it is today.

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