A ‘Tool’ is defined as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task”.
In the case of a rifle, that task is to accurately deliver a bullet to a specified point.
That aiming point may be:
1. A game animal when hunting - To efficiently put meat on the table.
A rifle for this purpose, a sporting rifle, must be reasonably light for carrying, but sufficiently heavy to soak up recoil, say 7 to 9 pounds in weight. It must be reasonably handy. A repeater, for example, must have a barrel less than about 28 inches in length or it becomes clumsy. ‘Pondoro’ Taylor said of the .425 Westley Richards, “It is a most excellent cartridge” but he felt the makers “made the mistake of fitting absurdly long 28” barrels to their rifles”. Rifle barrels for repeaters more than 24 inches long are just impractical for use in hunting.
2. A paper target, in order to display or hone one’s shooting skills.
A target rifle is best made heavy, for stability while aiming and to lessen movement between shots. Serious target rifles always weigh several more pounds than do ‘sporters’. For example the Anschutz Model 1903 .22 rimfire rifle weighs 10.1 pounds. Machining tolerances are tighter than ‘sporters’, too, so jams are more frequent. A jam at the target range may not be a problem, it is definitely harmful in the field.
3. A combination of the two, as in varmint shooting.
Here either sporters or target rifles may be used, but serious varmint shooters lean towards target rifles.
A tool can give it’s owner a justifiable feeling of pleasure, a pride in doing a job well. Every successful hunter who has harvested a game animal humanely knows that feeling of pleasure, of a job well done. However, when pleasure becomes an end in itself, when it becomes the reason that the gun is used, the gun ceases to be a tool and becomes a toy. Hunting is not playing, it is work, and frequently hard work.
A ‘Toy’ is defined as “a belonging that gives the owner pleasure to use”. Note that there is nothing in there about ‘work’, about performing a task, but only of pleasure in the use of the gun. Whenever we go out ‘plinking’ we are mainly playing, having innocent fun without hurting anything or anybody. There may be a component of pride in accurately hitting the tin can or rock, but there is no hint of a job or task here, it’s playing. I feel that it’s fine to use a gun as a toy as long as no harm is being done while doing this either to other people or to any animals, but to too many long range shooters, in their desire to display their shooting skills, little thought is given to the injury they are inflicting on the game animal. They should stay at the target range.
Life is full of ‘grey areas’, where no one is either absolutely right or wrong. Spring coyote hunting, where the coyotes have become desperate to feed their pups and therefore are careless and become easy targets, or long range shooting at game animals both come to mind as examples of such grey areas. Each of us must come to our own decision about what is right or wrong in the use of our guns, based on our sense of ethics. This is why I put in a section on hunter’s ethics.