My GoTo Deer Rifle– a redux

I was digging through the stats the other day, trying to figure out why I’d had the best day ever on this weblog as far as the number of visitors. One of the log entries I’d noticed was a popular post from back in 2004, “What is my goto deer gun?” I had forgotten I had written it, and so I decided it was time to read it.

What is my “goto” gun for Deer?

To my surprise, it was the wrong gun. Don’t get me wrong. The Remington 1100 is a heck of a deer gun, and I am sure I was thinking that back in 2004, but things change. I am now hunting Kentucky 100 percent and as much as I love the old 1100, it has been years since I nailed a deer with it.

So what IS my goto deer gun? By pure statistics, I would say that it is my Remington 7600 in 35 Whelen, but that does not tell the whole story. It has bagged the most deer for me. However, there’s an asterisk there that I will have to explain later.

The rifle I carry the most? It is a Winchester 670 in 30-06. This is the post-64 K-Mart Blue Light Special version of the Winchester Model 70. I spend a lot of evenings now at Midway. It sits along a fence line between two skinny fields. I have shooting windows out the front and back. The 670 has a 4-12 scope on it with a Bullet Drop Compensator that actually seems to work. I know the yardages of both pastures that I am viewing. I go out with my binos and sit, but I seldom shoot.

Goto rifle? Back in 2004, I had only taken one deer with my Savage 99 in 308 WIN. It had been the biggest buck of my life and I was still pretty giddy over it. However, I had not had much experience with it.

It is now 2012. I have been hunting the same 200 acres for 11 seasons. Despite what my log says, I know what my goto gun is. It’s the Savage. I have hunted with it nearly every Opener. I hunt with it usually until I get my first tag filled, and then put it away. I have only taken bucks with it. It has taken 3 of the five largest bucks I have taken and twice been there when I took the my largest buck to date.

What makes it my goto rifle? I have chronicles my slow progression over the years in this weblog. At some point I bonded with the rifle. It fit me. It fit my hunting style. It has had me worried at times, but it has never disappointed me. I was able to dial in just the right amount of recoil, working up a load for it. I find a can overlook the few shortcomings it has.

So why am I hear extolling the virtues of a rifle now out of production by 14 years? That is kind of snobby. “I have a favorite gun and you cannot buy it” does sound a bit uppity come to think of it. No, I guess what I am saying is that you don’t know what rifle that will evoke that bond. You may not see it that way at first. Eventually you recognize it. Eventually, as you change, the reasons for choosing change.

I mentioned the asterisk on the 7600. It just so happens that the last weekend or two of KY’s rifle season tends to be inclement. Usually I take a deer with the Savage 99 during the first week and then put it up for the year and switch to something else to finish filling the freezer. I prefer taking the 7600 out when its raining. It just is easier to keep clean, and it was a bit beat-up when I bought it, so I don’t worry about it as much. On the other hand the Savage 99 is . . . well, it’s a 99. They aren’t making them anymore. As a result, I generally don’t take it out in the rain. I don’t drag it through the briars.

So why not the 7600? It has faults. Chief among them is the detachable magazine. It is a bum design, and I doubt Remington is ever going to clean up the problem. Second is the choice of chambering. 35 Whelen takes a bullet and a lot of powder. It has considerably more recoil than a 30-06, but it really does not kill deer any better. I do not regret buying it, I love the pump action and the overall accuracy and handling of the weapon. I just have not bonded with it the way I have the Savage 99.

So why the change of mind? Why did I fall out of love with the Remington 1100?

1) Switching states. Ohio does not allow centerfire rifles. Kentucky does. I moved all my deer hunting to KY in 2001. It is so much easier to get a working load figured out with a rifle. It is so much cheaper to operate as well. Frankly I do not miss Ohio’s Shotgun Season all that much.

2) Getting older. Getting Smarter. Middle age does a lot to a guy. I do not stalk as much. I stay in one place when I hunt. Part of that, I have to admit is getting old and fat. A lot of it is getting smarter. I’m a big walking landform. My dimensions match John Wayne after he went to seed. I finally figured out that I made a very noisy, clumsy forest ninja, and I sat my butt down where it belonged all the time. The 1100 is a great gun if you hunt deer like quail. Additionally my eyes went bad at 45. They pretty much screwed up my ability to use the pins on a bow and had me putting scopes on everything from my turkey gun to my deer rifles. The Savage 99 is great with a 3-9X scope. The 1100 would have been cumbersome and atrocious.

3) Change of venue. I stopped bowhunting in 2006. Up until then I used firearms season as an extension of bow season. I hunted out of the same stands, and normally nailed deer inside normal bow ranges. The stands and blind I have set up since 2006 have all had potential for longer shots.

To be fair to the Remington 1100, I still consider the 12 GA slug to be devastating deer killer. Inside 50 yards it does not have an equal in my mind. I switched to a scoped Mossberg 500 with a rifled barrel and 3″ rounds back in 1996 for hunting in Ohio. Howevever, I have not shot that rig since 2000. The Remington, with its 2 3/4″ Sluggers I still try to take out every year.

I will leave you a tribute to 1100, written on Nov 1, 2006:

The Shaman’s Myth of the Brush Gun– the real one

You’re right in the end: the brush gun is really just a myth. On the other hand, I can pick up my 1100 and a fresh box of Sluggers and walk into the cedars and something magical happens. The deer are sniggering as much as ever, but for one brief Saturday afternoon I’m away from the shaving mirror and me and the brush gun can slip into the woods. I can stalk the deer and when I look down that 1100 is still as bright and shiny as the day I bought it. The Remington Sluggers are just as green, and as long as I stay along the ridge, and maybe angle downhill a little bit and don’t try to go back it can be like twenty-something years ago back in Hocking Hills on Opening Day. The only thing missing is the stray shots zipping through the tree tops. Those I don’t miss at all.

Of course the 1100 is starting to get a little dented, but I’m not wearing my reading glasses. I don’t see the wear on the stock, or the lines on my hands. Along about sunset, I start trudging back up the ridge and as long as I do it slow enough the myth keeps working. Finally, I get back home, and put my brush gun up on the rack next to Moose’s Garand and Angus’ Mosin Nagant– my sons don’t seem to mind the weight. They’d schlep a boat anchor through the woods if they thought it would get them a deer.

Once in a great while I catch some deer laughing a little to hard or too long out there in the cedars, and it makes the trip worthwhile by reaffirming the myth and topping off the freezer. KY rifle season ends, and I don’t feel bad about not buying an Ohio tag and joining the orange army the next Monday for the start of shotgun season. I put the 1100 away and don’t think about it until next year.

Brush Guns


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