Thursday, June 3, 2010

Erik's First Deer Season

I am so pleased my son has become an enthusiastic and responsible hunter...

My son asked to go deer hunting with me this season. We attended hunter safety in the spring so that we could apply for the lottery in time, set up a rifle for him, and spent the summer practicing at 50 and 100 yards. I put the original wood handle back on my Remington M78 Sportsman in 243 Winchester after cutting it to his LOP and installing a Pachmayr Decelerator pad. I bedded the action with Acraglas gel. He put a camo paint job on it. I topped it with a Leupold Vari-X II 1-4x variable as we'd be hunting at close range most of the time. At the gun club he routinely shot into an inch at 50 yards, and under two inches at 100. We ended each session with dessert - exploding a gallon milk jug filled with colored water. The week before the hunt he asked if he could try 200 yards. I said sure. He fired a four shot group that measure 2-1/4 inches.

Having absorbed much from the ethics primer Beyond Fair Chase, he chose in advance to pass on fawns. He did so, not giving in to the temptation of several orphans that presented shots better measured in feet rather than yards. "They're not very smart, are they Dad?" he whispered "It wouldn't be any fun to shoot one." Toward the end of the first day of his first deer hunt his patience was generously rewarded. A burly 10 point whitetail buck trotted out of the woods, apparently intrigued by the fawns. My son's summer of practice made him confident, so when the Minnesota northwoods buck paused and presented a slightly quartering shot, he did not hesitate.

A single 100 grain Nosler Partition through the heart from 63 yards turned the buck to venison. Unaware he was already dead the big boy made a fifty yard dash that ended in a tumbling 360. Everyone who helped carry it estimated the buck weighed about 180 lbs field dressed. The Nosler Partition was loaded only to 2750 fps as faster handloads with IMR4350 exhibited pressure excursions during warm weather load development. Still I figured that speed would meet or beat the classic 250 Savage. Seems we were correct. The Partition expanded vigorously as it passed through the shoulder without hitting any bones except ribs, shredded the lobes of the lungs that surround the heart, punched a hole through the heart the size of a fifty cent piece, and exited behind the shoulder on the far side. When I removed the heart it literally fell apart in two pieces joined only by an inch or so of muscle at the bottom. My son was the toast of the local deer camps that evening; quite the victory lap for a 14 year old, let me tell you. There were many of us - teens to gray hairs - who have never shot a deer that large.

His second deer, a mature whitetail doe, was taken on the last day of the North Dakota season. We meant to leave the woods by ten that morning in order to travel home but we were having too much fun. We saw at least two dozen deer that morning; plenty of does, yearlings, fawns, smaller bucks, and then the local monster buck. We saw the big guy run off all the smaller bucks. We saw him tending does as they entered the woods. We saw a doe not 20 yards away sending signals she was ready for a date and we saw the buck trot in to take her up on her offer. Despite the frustration of big does standing behind fawns and the temptation of yearling does all of ten yards away my son held his fire until the deer and the shot she presented suited him.

He hit her from about 50 yards off shooting sticks from a ground blind. The 100 grain Nosler Partition traveling at only 2750 fps from "his" 243 hit the ball joint where the humerus meets the scapula on the left side and created a fist-sized entry wound. It then passed through the ribs, a lung, and the top of the heart before stopping after popping a rib on the far side. The bullet was bent over in the middle into a U-shaped blob that still weighs 67.5 grains. Only the second bullet I've seen stop in a whitetail, I wonder if a lesser bullet would have delivered the goods? In any case she didn't go far and not very gracefully. He did most of the field dressing and some of the dragging (nice to know there are still some things Dad is better at).

That's two deer with two shots his first season. I'm very pleased by his choices, his performance, and the goofy grin that crosses his face whenever he thinks about his first deer season. Good hunting!

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