Do you need Premium Bullets?

I’ve killed 250 lb deer and I’ve seen 300 lb deer killed in the Greater Ohio Valley within 100 miles of Cincinnati. None required a premium bullet. The are awesome to look at, but that size difference is deceiving.

You have to remember that the key dimension in a deer in this discussion is the width of the chest. That dimension changes very little as the weight changes. The girth of a 157 pounder and a 340 pounder differs by only 10 inches. That’s using the chart over at Assume that’s a circle and use trig to figure out the change in diameter. That comes out to less than 4 inches. What’s more, you only have to go 3/4 of that distance to take out both lungs and the heart. In the end, you’re talking about a difference of less than 3 inches of deer, assuming a broadside heart/lung shot.

Start talking to me about a difference when you see a moose.

The flesh is not any tougher. The organs aren’t either. You might get a bit more resistance going through a thicker rib, but not enough to worry.

In the end, deer are not that hard to kill. My contention has been and will be that time spent on worrying about terminal ballistics inside whitetails would be better spent scouting. Stick with the Wally World specials. If you screw up, it won’t be because of bullet contruction.


I hunt not to kill, I kill to have hunted.

Does anyone else remember Highmaster over at Gosh how I miss him. I had the utmost respect for that guy. I honestly didn’t care if he was everything he said he was; he expressed an ideal so well. It was funny; he and I had very different views on things like competition, but I really enjoyed our time together.

I got to thinking about Highmaster as I was finishing off my coffee and slowly coming to at the loading bench. A quote was running around in my head. It’s probably an Aldo Leopold or that of some other great scion of the sport:

“I hunt not to kill, I kill to have hunted.”

It’s Droptine’s signature over at 24HourCampfire. It reminded me so much of a discussion I had with HighMaster right after deer season back in 2002.

To quote the High One:

But hunting is a personal thing, I like nothing better than spending a week in the woods alone, taking a deer has nothing to do with it, it is just the way I recharge my batteries and enjoy the things that mean the most to me. The forest, the wild life, the view, the solitude and the quiet.

To which I replied:

Ah! another armed nature lover in the woods!

Nature? I love it! Of course it all depends on how it’s dressed out. [ I always liked to start with a cheap rim shot so I didn’t appear pompous]

One thing I’ve never been able to sucessfully explain, O High One. Both my wives have asked me: Well if it’s not killing things that’s so important, why do you insist on carrying a gun? I’ve tried to explain that one many ways many times, but I’ve yet to do it to my satisfaction or theirs.

I suppose therein lies the true nature of Hunting. It is the communion with that question that defines us as hunters. The answer is undeniable as a sunrise and as ineffable as the gaze of buck on the back of your head. However, neither Corbett or Hemingway or Faulkner or any one of the writers who have tried in the last two centuries have successfully explained it. Still when we take that first step off the back porch in the morning and jack one in, we are a drop of dew falling in that forest.

Ah,Highmaster, wherever you are, I wish you well.


On Rifle Selection

There was a time in my life when one deer rifle was all it took. Now I have a safe full of them, and I cannot seem to ever be totally satisfied. Do I need another deer rifle? No. Do I want another? Always.

What I’ve found that I really enjoy is the adventure of putting a new rifle into action. I like the process of acquiring a long gun, mounting a scope, building a good load and then proving it in the field. That has turned my deer hunting into an expensive hobby, where it should not have been.

There is a hidden price I have to pay for each deer rifle I own. Each rifle is a system. Rifle, scope, sling—those are easy. Then comes the ammunition. If I did not reload, it would be a fairly simple choice—maybe among a couple to a couple dozen. However, I reload, so now I have a choice in bullet, powder, brass, primer. The deeper it goes, the more varied the choices. In the end, a hundred or more variables enter into it.

I freely admit I made a mistake this past year. I put two of my best favorite deer rifles up at the end of November and did not think about them until last weekend. Both gave me questionable results at the range, and now I am faced with the choice of trying to come up with a solution to the erratic results or just putting them up for the year and moving on with what I have.

For every rifle system I own, it is like a houseplant that requires regular watering or a house pet that requires regular feeding. It needs to be taken out on a fairly regular basis and used, so that the most complex and variable part of any rifle system does not get rusty—me. All this eats up time, the most precious commodity of all. If it ends up eating into time I could be scouting, then you’re really talking expensive.

I’ll probably put the old batch of ammo for the 308 aside and just load up some new. The 30-30 will probably take a bit of doing, but it’s a necessary part of my son’s battery. I’ll load up some with a bit less powder and see if slightly reduced velocity cures the problem—it usually does.

In the end, I want 3 deer rifles ready for me to use during the season. The rest will stay buried in the safe until I get bored, or something breaks. That gives me a brush gun, a longer-range gun, and something in-between for a spare. That is a goal that is about right for a dedicated deer hunter with a day job and a family. However, that requires an investment throughout the year—not dragging guns out at Labor Day and putting them away at the end of season. If that is all you can devote to it, I’d limit myself to just a couple of rifles and factory loads.

If time allows, I’d like to pull a day with the Remington 1100 just for old time’s sake. That one is the only no-brainer I have. There is nothing to adjust and nothing else to do. It puts cheap Remington sluggers into a pie plate at 50 yards, and has been doing so since Reagan’s first term.

Then there’s the Remington 742, I didn’t have it out last year. Maybe I can get that out to the range. . . Oh drat! There I go again.


More On (MORON ?) Funnels and Signs

A lot of guys have responded to my piece yesterday about funnels and signs. In general, all I can say is that I think all you guys are barking up the wrong tree. It’s all in the salt. You and the state have it all wrong– deer can’t read. Deer don’t need a sign to tell them there’s salt. All you have to do is put out a big enough pile– more salt, bigger deer.

It’s all silly anyway. They make these big yellow signs for the deer to see, but then they tell us deer can’t see color and they make us wear hunter orange. You can’t have it both ways. Either they can see color or they don’t. Orange, yellow. It’s just too close.

Another thing I could never figure out was which color to make the funnel. I tried shiny metal funnels, yellow funnels like the signs, red plastic funnels. Of course, in the end, it was the salt. It didn’t matter what kind of funnel, so long as you had enough salt.

Here are some of the responses—names have been omitted, but you have a location. Thanks all for your kind e-mail.


Loc: NW PA Re: Funnels and Deer Sign [Re: shaman]

#346535 – 09/21/04 08:19 AM

That’s the problem with where I hunt. The deer are always jumping something. I can’t hit the darned things when they do that. I need some signs with them just standing looking down or the other way. And while the state’s at it, put a bigger rack on top.


Loc: NW Arkansas Re: Funnels and Deer Sign [Re: Shaman]

#346535 – 09/21/04 18:19

I vote for the state putting up signs with the deer bedded down. That should make it a little easier for us all.


Loc: Alberta Re: Funnels and Deer Sign [Re: shaman]

#346957 – 09/22/04 11:38 AM

You are of course, partly correct. In this case size does matter. You must use a “large” funnel. This is naturally hung over a deer trail, so as to be readily conspicuous to the deer. You then pour the salt thru said funnel. The salt will pool directly beneath the funnel.

Now when the deer are walking along, they will look up and see the funnel and know where the salt is, because from a distance the funnel will look like an arrow pointing to the pile.

Sometimes we just have to stand back or look from another angle for things to become readily apparent.

Thanks again for your comments.


Shamanic Guide — More on Funnels (serious like)

Now you know, after that last post, there’s going to be some city slicker treehugger type that’s going to find this weblog and have an absolute conniption. Oh well. Some folks just don’t get the joke, do they? Then there’s the fellow (bless his heart) that’s going to take this all gospel and go out to Wally World tonight to get himself a nice shiny funnel, and a box of Morton’s.

I think it was Ray Knight that told me once that he’d come up with an idea for turkey hunting. He’d been hunting along the Ohio River, and heard all these gobblers going off all morning whenever a barge would set off its chimes in preparation for locking through. I used to hunt a ridge right above Markland Dam, and I knew just what he was talking about. Anyhow, he got the idea of coming out with the Knight and Hale shock gobbler kit. It was a small camo-covered air horn. Next season came around and here were all these fool hunters walking through the woods blasting air horns, trying to lure in turkeys. Ray said that was the worst idea he ever had and K&H stopped distributing the product immediately.

You know, I bet I could come up with a camo funnel and sell it on a website and people would buy it.

So what exactly is a funnel?

A funnel is a structure that constricts deer movement to a small area. It’s that simple. Let’s say you have a long fence with one hole in it. The deer go through at that hole. That’s a funnel.

Fences act like funnels, the holes constrict their movement, and deer also travel along fences.

A point of trees going into a field is a funnel. Deer will travel in that point to get in and out of the field, or to cross it.

At creeks and gullies, it’s the easiest way across that makes the funnel.

How do you find a funnel? Figure out where the deer sleep. Figure out where they are eating and watering. Now take a walk along the easiest route between the two. The place where they are least likely to stray from a straight line is the funnel.

Example1: I have a large creeks on either side of my main ridge. There is one saddle that cuts 50 feet of elevation from the trip between the two creek bottoms. If deer want to move between the two, there’s about a 200 yard wide patch of old white oaks that they will travel through. It’s easy and there’s a snack on the way. All deer on my property go across that saddle at least once a day.

Example 2: I have a wooded creekbed that cuts into my largest pasture a good 200 yards further than anywhere else. If deer want to cross the pasture under cover, they come up that creek. From there, it’s only 50 yards to the other side.

Example 3: I have 3 fence lines that meet at one barn. I have purposely broken down those fence lines at the barn. I call the place Broken Corners. Since I cut the barbed wire, the deer have adjusted their movement. Instead of crossing just anywhere, they can come through all three fences at once.

Example 4: This one’s subtle, so hold on. I’ve found a trail at the farm that makes no sense at all, but it’s one of the most traveled deer trails on the place. It comes up out of the creek bottoms and kind of winds around a hillside before coming out in a grove of cedars. It took walking it to figure out—it’s just the easiest way to get from the creed up to the cedars. If you try and go any other way, you run into steep spots that will get you puffing. Deer are lazy just like us. They want the easiest way possible.



Funnels and Deer Signs

When I was learning how to hunt deer, they always told me to look for sign and hunt the funnels. Deer signs were easy. They were big and yellow and they had a picture of a deer on them. In some places, the deer were shown just standing. In other places, the deer were leaping. You wanted to hunt the ones with the walking deer; they were easier to shoot. If you were lucky, you found one with a few big slug holes in it. That meant somebody had hunted that sign successfully. You wanted a fresh sign too– one that was all bright and shiny yellow and not some rusted old sign. Deer wouldn’t come to the old beat up ones.

Hunting a sign was easy. All you had to do was go into the woods a ways away from the sign and then wait for a deer to come through. The state had made it illegal to hunt too close to the signs. That was so it was sporting for the deer.

Funnels were a much harder thing to figure out. I looked for years for a funnel in the woods. I finally got a nice shiny metal one and put it up on a post. Sat by it for days– I did see deer, but they were always running away. I even tried hanging my funnel on a deer sign, but that didn’t work either. Trucks would come by and knock it off. I couldn’t understand what the whole thing was about funnels.

They told me I was stupid; store-bought funnels wouldn’t attract deer. You’d have to find one in the woods or make your own. Now how in the heck is a deer going to know which ones came store-bought and which ones are homemade? If I bought one and left it out in the woods over the wWinter to rust, could I then use it?

The more I thought about this whole funnel thing, it was just hooey. It wasn’t a proven scientific method like the Jon-E Handwarmer I always carried with the special Jon-E buck lure dispenser. However, that’s another whole story.

Deer Signs: they were a sure bet. But how did the deer learn to come to those signs? I tried making one and putting it out in the woods. That didn’t work. Mine was plywood, and the state’s was metal, but I couldn’t imagine the deer cared about that. After several attempts it finally dawned on me that there was something else going on.

Salt. You needed the salt. States put down salt to clean the roads of ice, and then they put out signs to show the deer where salt was being left. All that salt was going somewhere– it sure as heck wasn’t piling up. The deer were coming by and eating it. If you put out salt and stuck a big yellow sign over it, the deer would come to it. I tried salt with a sign, salt with a funnel, salt with a funnel and sign both. It didn’t seem to matter. Salt all by itself worked. You didn’t need the sign. I thought about writing the state to tell them they could save a lot of money on signage, but then I figured word would get out. Besides, they’d all called me stupid. Let them go rot by their stupid signs.

I’ve kept this as my secret until now. Now that I’m shooting deer on a regular basis, I thought I would just share it with you all. Ain’t it funny how dumb some hunters are? They go for generations thinking deer behave a certain way and it’s all something else entirely.


Shamanic Guide: Take no load for granted

Never take a load for granted. This weekend was proof of that. I had two rifles out this weekend. These were slam-dunk no-brainers, that I had been putting off in lieu of some tougher loading projects. The fault was mine—these were problems I should have been discovering in June, not September.

The first was the Savage 99 in 308 Win. It’s the one I’ve been talking about recently.

The other was the Marlin 30-30. See Ode to a 30-30

I thought it was going to be a quick exercise. Fire a few rounds out of each, prove the rifles were still shooting where they should and put them away for gun season.

The first problem was the Savage 99. I couldn’t get it to group with last year’s rounds at all. I tried some from a batch I loaded last week, and everything smoothed out and I was back to MOA cloverleafs. What happened to this batch that had been on the shelf since last November is anybody’s guess. Oh well. I’m glad I had a fresh batch to fill the gap.

The Marlin was a bit different. This was a light 150 Grain / H4895 load. I’d used it for two years for #2. The H4895 made for minimal recoil. I had been shooting tacks with it last year. This year I added a crimp die. The theory was a light crimp with the new die would increase pressure only slightly and even out any variations. I had expected a more accurate rather than less accurate load. To test this hypothesis, I crimped some of last year’s rounds. Blech! The crimp had screwed everything up. It wasn’t until I tried three rounds out of a hot barrel that things finally settled back into a 1 inch group. Since there is no way to get a barrel pre-heated while deer hunting, this load is now on the re-work list. My next step is to knock a bit off the velocity and try again.

Moral1: Take nothing for granted. Test every load and every batch. When moving from batch to batch of a known load, make sure to take a sample of the previous batch along to test against the new one.

Moral2: Don’t put a good deer gun away at Thanksgiving and expect it to be shooting the same at Labor Day.


More stuff of Dreams

I was talking with #3 son last night about our weekend, and he reminded me of an incident the morning before I heard the elk in the night. It got me to thinking. I’ve posted this on a couple of forums, and folks tell me this probably was a herd of elk.

Saturday morning (the morning before “Stuff of Dreams”) we were hunting squirrel at the back of the property. We have a campsite in the midst of a large grove of old oaks, and #3 son and I were just sitting atop the picnic table waiting for a bushtail to come out onto one of the limbs. The campground is astride a saddle. Deer bed frequently on one side of the saddle and move throughout the day across the top of the saddle to feed.

All of a sudden, I heard a weird noise coming from the cedars about 100 yards away and crosswind. It was most like a deer snort, but it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was higher and whinier and had much less of a breathy quality to it. There were also a lot more calls than with a whitetail– maybe 10 or so over a short period of time. Figuring it for just a weird-sounding deer, I responded with a run of deer contact bleats. I called over about a 2 minute period. Nothing happened, so we went back to concentrating on squirrel.

About 5 minutes later. There was a huge (I mean HUGE) ruckous on our downwind. Branches flew every which way, saplings bent. Leaves were coming off trees, and there was a brief thundering of hooves downhill and away from us.

The pattern matched exactly what happens when a whitetail comes out of its bed on the East side of the saddle, encounters a swirl of human scent coming from our campground and then does an end-around towards the downwind side to get a better grasp of the situation. However, the size of the disturbance left our mouths hanging open. A bulldozer could have made less noise.

If you regularly have contact with elk and have hunted them this whole thing must have sounded pretty mundane. You have to understand, for a guy who was born and raised in the Ohio Valley, a free ranging elk in the backyard is as exotic as an elephant. This is on a farm only 63 miles from Cincinnati.


Shamanic Guide: Why the poopy loads?

I loaded up a bunch of .308 Win for the Savage 99 yesterday. They’re light as 308’s go, they’re more like a hot 300 Savage. Why? Why not load these puppies up to the max? Why not hunt with a 300 WSSSSM or a SAUUUUUM?

Why? Why go to all that bother? Whitetail dear are not that hard to kill. The fact of the matter is that if you stay away from pushing the envelope, you do not have to worry as much about:

1) Recoil. It’s amazing what a 5% or 8% reduction from the maximum load does to recoil. Flinches are expensive to acquire and much more expensive to get rid of. I try to avoid the issue all together.

2) Expense. A lot of guys will tell you that you need premium bullets. I use Hornady now, and I used Remington Corelokts prior to that. I’ve never seen a deer that knew the difference.

3) Accuracy. Take any rifle, knock 5-8% off the maximum load and take it to the range. You can half the size of the spread in a hurry. This is a cheap quick fix to a lot of accuracy problems without the hassles of bedding, etc.

4) Safety. I’m an absent-minded professor type. I know I’m not the brightest star in the firmament. Do I want to trust my life to a guy like that loading the hottest possible loads?

I look at it a bit differently than most. To me, it’s a trade-off. I can cook hot loads that can bag a deer at 300 yards, and I’ll spend all summer at the range walking back and forth to the 200 yard backstop in the hot sun. Or I can cook up 50-150 yard loads and spend all September and October in the cool of the woods scouting for better spots to ambush deer. To me, a 25 yard kill beats a 200 yard kill– it’s certainly cheaper (in time, effort, and money), and to me it’s more fun. What’s more, I’m getting to know the deer a lot better.

Don’t think you have to have full-house loads with whitetail. Both my regular hunting ’06 rifles shoot reduced 165 grain loads. At 5-8% reduction from max they get very accurate. My .308 165 grainers are loaded to be nothing more than a hot .300 Savage (about 2600 fps). Using H4895, you can make very light shooting 30-06 loads that will be very accurate, cheap and fun to shoot, and they’ll still knock down deer.

So why didn’t I buy a 300 Savage? I’m just cheap, I guess. I fell in love with the Savage 99 last year. I will tell you that 300 Savage is the quintessential deer load, but there are few rifles being built for it anymore. On the other hand, everyone makes a 308 or a 30-06, and they’re the cheapest. I can also get cheap military brass for a 308 and enjoy years and years out of a set of those military case walls. In the end, I’ve got a slightly stronger rifle and stronger brass shooting 5 % off maximum load doing the same job a 300 Savage would be doing pumping it to the max and then some.

Here’s the recipe:

Take Nato 7.62 brass (this last batch was Lake City 88). EBay is full of these auctions. They’re stronger, but have less capacity. That’s okay. That’s a plus for what you’re trying. Tumble clean and then deprime and full length resize. It’s also mil brass. You’ll also need to swage out the crimp in the primer pocket.

Trim back to the minimum length the first time out for uniformity. You’ll hardly ever see these grow afterwards.

Use 150 or 165 grain SP bullets– Hornady Interlock or Remington Corelokts are fine. I orginally started with 150 grain Hornadys, but for some reason the Savage 99 did not like them. I had 165 grainers on hand and they worked just fine.

I’ve tried H4895, Varget, and BL-C(2). All performed well, but the Varget gave the smallest group. Start with the minimum load (-10%) and work up to where you’re pushing the bullet at just over 300 Savage velocity, and you’re getting a reasonable pattern at 100 yards. For me, the magic number was 2600 fps. If you don’t have a chronograph, figure it’s about 5-8% off the maximum.

Stop. Go no futher. Get away from the bench and go scouting.


In Praise of Coopers BBQ of Llano, TX

Several folks have agreed with me on Cooper’s BBQ being a shrine of the Texas Style. If you’re hunting in the Texas Hill Country, this is THE place to go for bbq.

Cooper’s was the highlight of my trip to Texas. I got to eat ribs under the picture of W. I figure anyone who can claim Cooper’s as his favorite place to eat is the right man for leading the free world. I can’t get mesquite easily at home so I’ve been using red oak skid runners from work. It comes real close.

For those of you who don’t know Coopers, it’s this little BBQ joint in Llano. They have these huge pits fired with mesquite coals. They’ve got beef ribs, pork chops, prime rib, chicken and sausage all done up with a dry rub (mostly salt and pepper) and basted with a sop (beefbroth and vinegar). Everything gets dipped in the sop before being slapped on brown paper and put on your tray. You pay by the pound, and all the fixins are free.

I found recipes for a rub and a sop that come close, and I now do most of my barbeque that way– either on a new braunfels horizontal smoker or a weber kettle. One of these days, I’ll post the recipes.