Deer Rifle Musings
By Ed Turner
I have read with great interest some of the articles on Guns and Shooting Online and have a few observations of my own I'd enjoy sharing. I have definitely formed some personal opinions over the years on what it takes (gun wise) to have an enjoyable and successful hunt for the elusive eastern whitetail.
I have hunted for most of the last 35 or so years, and my firm favorite is deer hunting of any kind. Most of my hunting has been for whitetails in the eastern half of the country. Maine, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee are the states in which I have successfully hunted (at least successful to some extent).
Most of my hunting in these areas has been from stands, both ground and elevated, with some still hunting thrown in. In all my years of hunting deer, including one trip out west for mule deer, I have never shot at any animal in excess of 125 yards from my position.
I have had my share of misses, some of which even nearly 20 years later I still cannot figure out. But I have, especially of late, become much more successful in terms of my harvest rate. I have actually had something of a "streak" going for the last 8 years. Odd as it might seem, in my last eight seasons I have been lucky enough to have harvested 24 deer, 20 of them bucks and 4 does.
I have collected these deer with no fewer than 23 different rifles, 22 of which were rifles with which I had not previously shot a deer. I have, to the best of my recollection, missed 3 deer with rifles during this time frame.
The rifles used in my "streak" are a varied lot, and although not all were what I might consider great deer rifles, all were at least ones that I chose as suitable for the moment and that particular hunt. Most were my personal guns, but several belonged to my long time best friend Gary, who was always kind enough to allow me to choose from his personal collection any rifle with which I might desire to pursue whitetails on that particular day.
Between the two of us, I suppose over that time frame we owned somewhere north of 80 deer rifles. So, there was never a problem with finding an enjoyable firearm companion for the woods on any particular day.
If memory serves me right, the lightest (at least caliber wise) rifle of the bunch was a very nice .257 Roberts, the Ruger Ultralight model (M77RL). That gun was a pleasure to carry, even though that hunt was perhaps the shortest of any in which I collected a buck. Having a relatively short 20" barrel and light weight, the mild recoil and report of the .257 cartridge was much appreciated in that sweet rifle.
As I recall, the heaviest caliber used during this time was a .350 Rem. Mag. in the relatively new Remington 673 Guide gun. I really like that gun and have bought a companion (well, actually, swapped for) a Model 673 in .300 SAUM that I may use this fall to hunt Mule deer in Alberta.
In between these two extremes in caliber I used various rifles in .308 Win., 30/06, .270 Win., .356 Win. (the only repeat caliber of the group), and 7x57. All of these did the job in a very efficient manner when I did my job properly.
One of the more memorable misses came with a .243, and it was a very interesting one, with Gary collected that very deer about 5 minutes later and 300 yards away. That rifle was a Remington Model 700, and I enjoyed hunting with it. Among the other nice rifles with which I hunted were several pre-64 Winchester Model 70's, a few Ruger No1A's, a Browning Lever Rifle (BLR), and several Browning BAR's.
I think the BAR would be my pick of the litter for eastern Whitetail hunting should I only be allowed one rifle with which to pursue venison for the rest of my years. There is simply something that warms my heart in the engraving on a Belgian Grade II BAR as I sit shivering on stand.
I have also been known to be attracted to any rifle with a full length Mannlicher style stock. I always enjoy one of those as well, with a Ruger No1 RSI slightly edging a M77RSI with it's pure, simple elegance.
One thing that seems to be true of all the rifles that I have enjoyed the most while hunting is that they need to be of reasonable length and weight. I do not enjoy hunting with any rifle that, to me, seems overly long and heavy. Rifles with barrels in excess of 24" need not apply, and most of the ones I enjoy with barrels that long are single shots, keeping their overall length to near 42". Most of the rifles I really enjoy hunting with are even shorter that that, in the 40" range. That, of course, means that its function and beauty (to my eye, anyway) help the BAR overcome the burden of it's excessive length.
Action type means much less to me than portability or pointability. Early in my streak I worried about hunting with so many rifles. I was concerned that I might fail, at a time of need, to work a particular action correctly (or at all). That, fortunately, has never happened, and hopefully never will.
In closing, a few new concepts in hunting arms are worth discussing at least briefly. If I were to pick the perfect deer rifle for a friend who was to ask my advice, I would likely recommend one I do not even own. I have thought, for at least a few years now, that a Browning BLR in .270, 7mm, or even .300 WSM just might be the elusive "perfect" deer rifle. Perhaps not even just for whitetail, but mule deer as well. The shooter's reaction to felt recoil would be the deciding factor here. Perhaps the 7mm WSM would be the best of the lot.
Anyway, the short magnums allow a shorter action, thus a shorter overall rifle, making the BLR, and maybe even the nice Remington Model 7, a wonderful choice. The deer hunting owner would neither feel out nor under-gunned in any circumstance. The very nice Winchester Model 70 Featherweight also used to make my short list of "perfect" rifles, but has, as we all know, recently been discontinued.
Searching for the "perfect" rifle is better done in the woods than at a keyboard, and I will continue trying to find just that. For the record my "streak" is still ongoing, and with early muzzleloader season at the end of this very week, and following that my second trip out west for another try at mule deer, I may be able to add two more kills and rifles to my list.
Earlier today I ordered a new gun, a Thompson/Center Encore rifle in .25-06. Maybe, the Higher Power willing, I can be lucky with it as well in the not too distant future.
Should all my not especially enlightening points here not have made a bit of sense to you, that's perfectly fine. We should all pursue our deer hunting with whatever seems right for us, utilizing any reasonable rifle or firearm that adds to the total hunting experience. Good and safe hunting to you!
Copyright 2006 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.