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I was thinking about this thread last night, and I just thought it would get the conversation rolling again.
Larry Miller, the comedian, used to do this bit about the five stages of drinking. As part of one of the stages, you find you have spent arguing for the past hour against Astroturf. By the end of the next stage, you've argued for Astroturf. By the end of the five stages you are Astroturf.
I was thinking about what I wrote last year. It is kind of obnoxious to leave folks with the impression that my best suggestion for a deer rifle is a Savage 99, which has not been made since 2004, or that my Remington 7600 in 35 Whelen is a great choice as well. They're both great deer guns for me, but they may not be right for you. I was looking at my rack this morning and realized I have never found the "ideal" deer rifle.
What would be ideal for me? Let me take you through a tour of what rolls around in my head.
I used to go plowing through the new color brochures every year, as well as the big wholesaler's catalogs. When the Internet hit, it wasn't too long before I found I could download them. I read magazines. I did my comparisons. What did I find? I found I wanted them all. Then again, I wanted none of them. Every rifle I saw was a bit of a comprimise.
At one point in my life, I really wanted a full-stocked Ruger International, but Ruger didn't have it in the chambering I wanted. Another time, I got really hot on a Remington 700 BDL, but I was leery of the safety. I thought about doing a custom, but I could not see spending all the money for blasting something as mundane as a deer. I did finally break down once and buy a Marlin 336 in 30/30 on pure impulse, but as a guy who spent most of his hunting career with a 30-06 , I always found the round anemic. After 30 years of going through this process, I have come to the conclusion that my ideal deer rifle does not exist. I know parts of rifles I have grown to love. I doubt I could ever put them all together.
Action: Probably my favorite actions I own are my lever actions. I love the Marlin 336, but I am not enamored of a tube magazine. I love the Savage 99, but I prefer an exposed hammer. There is also a soft spot in my heart for semi-auto's and pumps. I started hunting in Ohio, a shotgun state. Somewhere in the back of my head is a pump deer rifle with a hammer like the Win 1897, or a Browning BLR with a pump instead of a lever. They just ain't gonna happen. I love the Remington 7600, and I loved my 742, but both have those problematic detachable magazines. I love my bolt guns too, but. . . well, they're bolt guns. Really, for just the feel of it, my hands-down favorite is my 54 Hawken caplock. If looks could kill, the M1 Garand is it for me, but picking up a 10.5 lb deer gun is another thing all together.
Chambering: Last year, we were also talking about the ideal deer cartridge. My nominee is the 300 Savage. Others love the 7mm-08. However, I have seen the case made for everything from 223 REM all the way up to 45-70 Govt. It really does not matter all that much; deer are not that hard to kill. My point in picking the 300 Savage is that it operates well in the range most hunters encounter most deer, and does so with a reasonable amount of recoil. A few years ago I embarked on the process of designing the ultimate deer cartridge for myself. I made two attempts. One was trying to see if there was room between the 44 Mag and the 444 Marlin for a compromise. There wasn't. The second attempt used some pretty advanced software that was kind of like the Solver routine in Microsoft Excel on steroids. I fed in the whole Hodgdon reloading database and told the software to find me the best cartridge for delivering a shot on a deer inside 200 yards, optimizing for a variant of Taylor Knockout (TKO) versus felt recoil. The software spit out a few suggestions. One was a 300 Savage load. Another was a light 35 Whelen load. It's favorites were a 280 Rem loading and a 6.5X55 Swede. However, if you look at these suggestions, you'll see that a lot popular deer cartridge comes close. For instance, I'm sure you could use a 140 grain 270 WIN load and mimic the 280 Rem. You could use a 358 WIN and duplicate the 35 Whelen load. It's just Hodgdon did not have the data to act as seeds for the program. The bottom line: Yes, one of those will do nicely; stay away from the extremes.
What? No 30-06? How can this be? The truth is that 30-06 and its near-twin 308 WIN are tad overkill. Overkill's not a bad thing, but remember that we're talking whitetail deer here, and your average shot will probably be inside 100 yards. The 30-06 is still probably the best overall cartridge for North American game, but as a deer cartridge there are those better suited. My rack is full of '06 and 308 WIN rifles. Overkill? I've hunted groundhog with 30-06.
Safety: I have had enough problems with safeties over the years, that I just don't trust them. Whenever I can, I carry with a cold chamber and rely on fast, quiet loading. I prefer exposed hammers with half-cock safeties, especially with kids. You can look down and see instantly how the little booger has his safety set. I also don't mind the extra cross-bolt safety of the Marlin. I only engage it when I'm unloading the magazine. Ditto for the 3 position safety on bolt actions. However, if you do a lot of carrying with a hot chamber, your requirements for a safety are going to be different. Safeties should go on and off with as little fuss and as little noise as possible.
Barrel: Barrel length for normal whitetail conditions is largely a matter of taste. Shorter barrels reduce velocity, but not to any extent that you're going to have to worry about it at 100 yards. My Savage 99 is just a hair too long to be called an absolute joy to hold in my treestand. It gets caught on the shooting rail. On the other hand, I have to say that having a 26" barrel when shooting in a box blind is a godsend, because the farther you have the business end of the rifle outside the box when you pull that trigger the longer your hearing is going to last. Hint: blast energy seems to spread out to the side of the barrel more than directly back. Remember this when you buy a yute rifle for your kid.
Sights: My eyes are such that I'm really stuck with telescopic sights. For my treestand guns, I generally have a 1.5-4.5X variable set to about 2.5X . Optics are really a whole other subject here, but suffice it to say you should have thought this out before you buy your rifle.
Magazine: I have learned to truly detest the metal magazines that Remington has saddled its lines of pump and semi-auto rifles. They are my least favorite of means of holding cartridges. Still, I love the rifles. Tube magazines mean you need flat-nosed bullets; that is not a huge drawback for whitetails. Probably simple blind box magazines on most of my bolt actions are the best way to go. I generally load no more than 3 rounds anyway. if I have to shoot more than 3 times, you're probably doing something wrong, and it might be a good idea to sit down and catch your composure.
The rest of it? I like a sling, especially on the long slogs. I like wood stocks, but I'm getting warmed up to synthetics. Secretly, I loathe those black rifles Jim Zumbo got all worked up about, but I'm not stupid enough to admit it and I also never get drunk enough to think it is a good idea to have them banned from the hunting woods. It would also be a bit hypocritical: I've hunted with an M1 Garand and an SKS. Just because they're a generation or two older don't mean the idea is any different. Trust me: it ain't about hunting.
Probably, if I was going to listen to all that stuff, I might very well go out and buy a Marlin 308 Marlin Express. But if I really was going to spend that kind of money, I'd probably go get a Browning BLR in 358 WIN-- the one with the pistol grip. Then again, a nice full-stocked Ruger MK II International stainless/wood in 7mm-08 still looks good, or . . . or. . .
From the shamanic archives:
Ode to a 30-30 PT I[/url]