Tag Archives: White-tailed deer

Are Deer Hunting Cartridges Arbitrary?

How many times has picking the wrong rifle cartridge ended a hunt prematurely versus being unfit to hunt due to cold or poor conditioning? Nobody has ever gone into the woods to hunt deer with a .243 only to give up after seeing a big buck because they didn’t have a .300 Win Mag. Almost ritualistically, we continue to rehash the same arguments over guns and ammo at the expense of other items that have more bearing on actual hunting.

Type of hunting cartridges.

Image: 1source.basspro.com/

My point isn’t that big game rounds aren’t different, but that most white-tailed deer hunters are unable to take advantage of their differences. The task of deer hunting west of the Mississippi doesn’t really discriminate between a .243 or a .300 Win Mag. Because of modern bullet construction and the fact that most white-tailed deer are taken under 200 yards, a deer shot in the vitals with a .243 is just as dead as a deer shot with a .300 Win Mag. Yet we keep asking ourselves the same stupid question: What is the most effective deer round? The only answer to that question is, how much recoil can you stand? Everything else is basically meaningless.

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org/

In my early 20s, I bought a 7mm Remington Magnum because I loved the look and feel of the gun, an older Sako Finnbear. It was an aesthetic choice. All I knew about the cartridge at the time was that it was plenty capable of taking a deer. Since then I’ve killed a couple deer with it, but never at distances greater than 100 yards. Where I hunt in Pennsylvania, it’s rare that you get a shot over 100 yards unless you want it that way or you’re hunting over an agricultural field. So what is a 7mm Remington Mag? At 50 yards, a 7mm Mag produces an obscene amount of energy—around 3,000 ft-lbf. What distinguishes a 7mm Mag from a .30-30 is that the 7mm Mag has the same energy at 500 yards that a .30-30 does at 50. They are vastly different cartridges. But again, I’ve never taken a shot over 200 yards, so I might as well be shooting a .30-30 (or any other deer cartridge for that matter) because I’m nowhere near being able to make use of its downrange energy. It’s not a problem, but it goes to show how arbitrary rifle calibre selection is when you’re shooting under 200–300 yards.

Most big game cartridges offer perfectly adequate performance under real-life hunting conditions. The constant hair-splitting over the ballistics of big game cartridges is mostly hypothetical nonsense that benefits gun makers but not hunters—it simply sells guns. To me, a discussion about the merits of different Vibram boot soles is more valuable and interesting than whether the .270 or .308 is a better deer round. We’ve somehow managed to equate hunting with shooting when, in many aspects, the shot is the least important component of the hunt. Guns don’t kill animals; smart hunters do.

New Year’s Hunting Resolutions

It’s time for the annual tradition of setting up unrealistic personal goals in order to thoroughly undermine them over the course of the new year. In terms of hunting, 2015 was a pretty good year for me. I gave myself ample time, hunted hard when the time came, and was fortunate enough to get a nice buck while still hunting (a first for me) during rifle season. But there is always room for improvement. Here are my five hunting resolutions for the 2016 season.

1. Go West

Image: hqworld.net

Image: hqworld.net

My grandfather was an Idaho elk hunter who died before I took up hunting. I can trace my interest in hunting and wild game to his stories of hunting the Idaho backcountry. Having hunted exclusively in the Northeast, I’ve always dreamed of going West for a backcountry elk or mule deer hunt. So this year I’m going to buy an Idaho mule deer tag and hunt the same mountains my grandfather hunted.

2. Farewell, Wood and Blued Steel

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

I love my pre-Garcia Sako Finnbear, but it’s nine pounds scoped and prone to surface rust during foul weather. It shoots cloverleafs all day long and has the smoothest action I’ve ever cycled. But it’s over nine pounds. One of the lightest rifles on the market, Kimber’s 84m, weighs just over five pounds. After a day of hunting with the Finnbear, I can barely lift my arms. It’s time to move on. Tikka T3 Lite Stainless, I see you.

3. Butchering

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

I’ve butchered deer and sent them to the butcher. The butcher charged me $70, which is very reasonable, but I didn’t get nearly as much meat as when I butchered the deer myself. While I appreciate the convenience of dropping a deer off at the butcher when you’re tired and beat up after hunting, doing it yourself yields more meat (usually) and gives you more control over how it’s processed. Butchering is also a great way to bring friends and family together. Sharpen the knives, invite some friends over, pour some drinks, and get cracking.

4. Take a Friend Hunting

Friends that hunt together stay together [Image: hdimagelib.com]

Friends that hunt together stay together. [Image: hdimagelib.com]

In 2015, I took my roommate (who had never fired a gun before) deer hunting, and he loved it. I truly enjoyed the process of sharing my knowledge with him, and in turn, was pushed to learn even more in order to better answer his questions. Maybe he’ll never hunt again, but at least now he has an understanding of the woods that he didn’t have before. My goal for 2016 is to take another friend hunting.

5. ALTADIFOY

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

ALTADIFOY stands for “Act Like There Are Deer In Front Of You.” I always seem to bump deer when I don’t think there are deer ahead. As everybody who hunts knows firsthand, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. So if you act like there are deer ahead of you (pausing every couple of feet, being alert, scanning ahead of you, etc.), even when they’re not, you’ll have a much better chance at finding them when they are there. What’s to lose? If you’re out hunting you might as well be the best hunter you can be.

Tag Soup and Lessons Learned

I hunt public land in the ridge and valley province of Central Pennsylvania. Mistakes made on public land tend to be amplified given the amount of hunting pressure, annual variance in food sources, and difficulty of terrain. Success here is the result of being either very astute or very lucky (or both).

Pennsylvania public forest land during hunting season

Hunting Territory [Image: Jack Kredell]

This year I got to dine on a big hearty bowl of tag soup. Coming up empty-handed after putting in 60 – 70 hours of hunting time in six days is enough to make you doubt your ability – and your sanity. Here are a few lessons learned from this year’s hunt.

Feed Yourself

If you hunt from dark to dark, as I often do, pack enough food and water to keep you energized and alert throughout the day. The best way to achieve this is by eating in small quantities continuously. When you don’t eat and drink enough, you lose focus and start thinking about that nice, warm meal at home (seriously, you waited an entire year for this moment and now you want to go home and eat spaghetti?). As a result of your mental fatigue, your steps become careless and loud because you’re not committed. Next thing you know you’re watching a buck’s rear-end disappear into the thick stuff.

They’re There… Somewhere

There are deer everywhere. Even if this isn’t true, you should act like there are deer everywhere. How many improbably placed deer have you carelessly bumped while hunting and scouting? Like a million. The hardest thing is to be ready all the time.

Measuring big buck print in the mud

Never did catch up with this guy. [Image: Jack Kredell]

Stay Put

The grass is always greener. What usually happens is that I’ll settle into a spot only to see another spot over the way that looks even better. So, I put my backpack on (noise), stand up (more noise and just about the worst thing to do in the woods), and move (more noise) to the spot that looks even better. And, of course, from this new spot I see a spot I like even more. Just stay where you are and have confidence in your decisions. If the deer are moving in your area, you’ll know it.

Prep Your Scope

Your scope is going to fog up in bad weather. Modern scopes are filled with nitrogen, which makes the inside fog-proof but not the outside. At a critical moment in the hunt you don’t want to be looking through a foggy scope. I recommend installing Butler Creek flip-open scope covers. If you’re sitting down, hold the rifle away from your body so that your body heat doesn’t fog up the scope. Your body’s warmth, not the rain, is the enemy of your scope.

A series of tree scrapes in Pennsylvania; two are buck rubs, one is from a porcupine feasting on the bark

Two buck scrapes & leftovers from a porcupine feast [Image: Jack Kredell]

Adapt

From a tactical perspective, a hunter should find that sweet spot between patience and adaptation. That spot you scouted earlier in the season might be perfect… for a cold, sunny day. But now the wind is blowing and rain is coming down in sheets. What then? It’s time to adapt. Patience can be overrated. Some of the best fishermen I know are the most impatient people in the world. They don’t waste their time on something they know won’t work well. Anybody can get lucky in unfavorable conditions, but more often than not you need to take luck into your own hands.

I got skunked this year. I saw plenty of deer, perhaps more than ever, but nothing that I could legally shoot. The good thing is that I put in over 60 hours the first week of rifle season, so I have no regret – or excuses. The only bad hunting is not getting out to hunt.

Happy holidays and happy hunting!

10 Reasons to Start Hunting

White-tailed deer [Image: www.lehighvalleylive.com]

White-tailed deer [Image: www.lehighvalleylive.com]

Hunting season is around the corner. Here are ten reasons why you should consider hunting for your food this year:

1. Game animals are a natural public resource managed by state fish and wildlife agencies who in turn are funded by your tax dollars. Many of these animals live on public land. It’s the closest thing to having food on tap, only taking a deer isn’t as easy as turning on the faucet.

2. There are no checkout lines, price tags, spills on aisle 4, crying babies, etc. in the forest.

3. You inherited an old rifle but it’s sitting in the attic collecting dust. Hunting rifles haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, so assuming everything is in working order, grandpa’s gun will do the job just fine. Have a gunsmith check the gun out before firing it.

4. There is no meat as local, fresh, or free-ranging as the deer in the hills behind your house. Head for the hills.

5. Hunting is a rich sensory experience. The outcome of your hunt depends on how you interpret the sensory data presented by your environment. Hunting puts you in touch with your body in ways that modern life simply cannot.

6. When you buy a steak from the market you’re only entitled to a small portion of the animal. But if you fill a deer or elk tag, you’re entitled to the whole thing. Animal hides are beautiful and provide warmth. Antler and bone can be used for knife handles, lamps, or decoration.

7. Because you like doing things that are difficult. If you think taking an animal as quick, nimble, and alert as a deer with a modern bow or rifle is easy think again.

8. The venison roast you brought to the potluck is gone in 10 minutes. Now you feel like a boss.

9. Hunting forces you to assume the full responsibility of eating meat. To be responsible for an animal’s death is a powerful and humbling experience.

10. There’s a moment after you’ve settled into your spot or treestand when the birds forget about your presence and you literally disappear. Then the sun begins to rise. It’s sublime.

Suggested Gear List:

  • Osprey Packs Talon 44 Backpack
  • Petzl TacTikka Plus RGB Headlamp
  • Brunton Eterna Compact Binocular

Wondering where to get our suggested gear?
Check out our Gear Store for these and more!