Beanfield Rifles

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Rifle Deer Harvest
Long shots can occur when hunting vast expanses of CRP ground in the Midwest.  An accurate rifle is the basis of getting it done. This buck came from SW Kansas.

Most whitetails shot with firearms are killed at less than 200 yards. There are times, however, when the ability to reach out and touch someone can come in mighty handy.

Back in the late 1970’s one hunter lived in southern California, where he was editor of a weekly outdoor newspaper. He grew up hunting mule deer and their secretive coastal cousins, the Columbia blacktail, and while he read a bit about whitetail hunting in Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, he had no clue what all the fuss was about. Then some friends with family in eastern Montana invited him deer hunting. Back then you were allowed a buck of either species, so he thought, “Maybe I’ll try and get one of those whitetail things.”

So one crisp October morning he took a treestand at the head of a narrow, brush-filled creek bottom adjacent to a scraped corn field and waited while some pheasant hunters worked their way towards him. They flushed a few birds and banged away, and pretty quick out of the draw raced a deer. Buck! Whitetail buck!!!

He made a quick move and went prone, resting an old Browning BBR in .25-06 over his daypack, placed the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder, and when he slowed to a walk squeezed the trigger. Down he went in a heap. The deer hunter had no idea what that old 10-pointer scored, nor did he care. The deer had split eye guards and gnarly bases and his left front hoof was slightly deformed, the result of having to walk funny after taking a bullet in the leg the year before.

When the hunter’s buddies arrived later that morning they were both amazed that he’d shot such a nice buck, but also that he’d shot him at 443 steps. Yet when he made the shot he had no doubt that buck was his. This rifle was supremely accurate, placing three 117-grain Sierra boattail bullets from his handloads into a little ¾-inch cluster at 100 yards all day long. It was his pet open country mule deer and pronghorn rifle. At the time he didn’t know whitetail hunters called such guns “beanfield” rifles.

What Is a Beanfield Rifle?

Everyone loves accurate deer rifles. But since most hunters are anal-retentive kind of people, they don’t hunt with them if their rifles don’t give them one-inch, 100-yard groups -- and preferably less.

That’s why deer hunters love beanfield rifles. The term came to be to describe uber-accurate rifles designed for treestand hunters who take shot at whitetails as they emerge from the thick stuff into one of the region’s massive soybean fields. Often the older bucks do not come into the fields until it is getting pretty dang dark, meaning the rifles need to be topped with high-quality riflescopes with large objectives lenses that soak up as much light as possible.

“Beanfield” rifles are perfect when hunting the prairie country of western Canada, over huge Midwestern cornfields, and even when hunting the wide-open canyons of the southwest and northern Mexico when hunting Coues and Carmen Mountain whitetails. Many years ago the kind of accuracy required for this long-range shooting – 300-500 yards – meant buying a custom rifle. Today many factory rifles can produce minute-of-angle accuracy when matched with the right ammunition.

The Rifles

Long Range Shooting
Hunting along the edges of vast crop fields creates the classis situation for longer distance shots.

Bolt action or single shot rifles, generally speaking, are the most accurate action types you can own, and thus are the only way to go here.

Decades ago the kind of quality you needed in a rifle to achieve the accuracy required for long-range hunting needs was really only available from custom gun makers or by taking a factory rifle and tweaking it. That’s what this hunter did with his Browning BBR.

The first thing he did was replace the factory trigger with a custom trigger. There are well over 100 companies that offer trigger building, repair, upgrading or fine tuning services. The other significant thing he did was glass bed the action and free-float the barrel using a kit obtained from Brownell’s. This kind of work isn’t that difficult but it does take a bit of time and a strong desire to get it right.

If you have a favorite rifle you’d like to wring more accuracy out of, the first stop is your local gunsmith. They can replace and adjust triggers, bed or replace barrels, and all the other little things needed to get Ol’ Betsy performing her very best.

If you are in the market for a new rifle, there are many different makes and models from the major gun makers that come with accuracy guarantees of producing three-shot, one-inch-or-less groups at 100 yards. If you plan of killing deer cleanly at distances of a quarter mile or more, such accuracy is the basis for everything else, making these rifles worthy of consideration.

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