VOLUME 54-----------DECEMBER 2006
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
The last month of another year nearly gone! My, how time does fly. Our year is winding down with Ann and I in pretty good condition, considering our longevity. Our 2007 birthdays will find us both enrolling in Medicare! Gosh, it's nice being "mature" and so much "wiser" than all those youngsters running around out there!
Well, that's enough of that B.S. Let's talk about deer huntin'!
Our late whitetail season ended November 19th. Rick and I both held our regular buck tags, along with a "B" tag good for a second, antlerless deer. Little Heifer has drawn "B" tags for the past two or three seasons, but was licensed for a buck only this year.
In past years the "B" tags were valid only during the early season in our area, but this year were good during late season as well. The available tags in our GMU were also increased from 400 in 2005 to 500 this year. This is a reflection of the whitetail deer population explosion in our area, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife's efforts to control those numbers. I'm no wildlife biologist, but in my opinion, this still ain't enough tags! If you lived here and observed the number of deer that we do, you'd probably agree too!
The early season saw only little spikes and fork-horn bucks passing by, still running with the does and their fawns of the year. This is pretty normal, as the bigger bucks usually don't venture out of the deep woods during daylight hours, until the rut begins in early November.
Neither Ann, Rick, nor I were anxious to fill tags with little bucks at that stage, so we passed them by. Rick and I also elected to save our "B" tags until late season, hoping the resident females would lure the bigger bucks into our sights during the rut.
I reported last month that Rick and I had hunted a neighboring property on opening day of elk season, and saw nothing; not even sign. That same "nothing" continued throughout the rest of the season so no elk tags were filled this year either. As usual, Elk were only seen well after the season had closed. On Sunday, November 25th Rick reported that a herd of about 30 elk crossed the field behind their house. He said a nice herd bull was in attendance, but they couldn't tell for sure if it was a 5 or 6 point. For us, nothing unusual about not filling elk tags and seeing them only when they are in no danger!
I decided to go "retro" for my deer hunting this year. No, I'm not talking about wearing leisure suits or bell bottoms. I'm talking about using firearm models that were introduced in 1894 and 1895, and cartridges of 1873 and 1904 vintage!
Recent newsletters have discussed my purchase of a Winchester Model 1895 rifle at auction during a recent NRA banquet in Spokane. Gunsmithing projects on this modern reproduction, including the addition of a receiver sight and recoil pad have also been described in these pages.
The Model 1895 is a John Moses Browning lever action design, that incorporated a box magazine instead of the tubular magazines found on nearly all other lever actions of the day. This enabled the rifle to utilize cartridges containing pointed bullets, for enhanced ballistics. It was also much stronger than previous lever action designs, allowing chambering for the newer high intensity smokeless powder cartridges of the period, as they were introduced. These rifles were chambered for the .30-40 Krag, .30-30, .30-03, and .30-06, among several others.
1904 saw the introduction of the .405 Winchester cartridge. Model 1895 rifles so chambered accompanied Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit, on their African Safari in 1909. After slaying lions, cape buffalo, and rhino, T.R. was quoted as saying, ". . . the Winchester .405 is, at least for me personally, the 'medicine gun' . . ."
Hey, if it's good enough for Teddy, it's good enough for me! This became my choice of rifle to fill my buck tag. Hornady factory ammunition, propelling a 300 grain jacketed, flat point bullet at just over 2200 feet per second was zeroed at 100 yards.
About 7:00 AM on November 14th we observed a doe in the pasture southwest of the house. She acted as though she was watching something in the edge of the timber along the fence line. A short antler rattling sequence, a grunt or two on a grunt call, and some estrous doe bleats, soon brought an 8 point buck out of the timber to see what the excitement was about. (This would be a 4 point or 4X4, for you northwest natives, but an 8 pointer where I grew up)
The receiver sight on the Winchester was right on. A 300 grain bullet through both shoulders at about 70 yards, leaves a very visible and very short blood trail! Here's a picture of the little feller.
Jim's 2006 Buck
For the September 15th issue of Outlook Magazine, I wrote a story about bullet selection for our close range, smallish whitetail deer. (Go to www.spokaneoutlook.com and download the September 15th issue of the magazine if you'd like to read the story) The theme was, that small caliber, premium, controlled expansion bullets may not be the best choice for this chore. Based on our experiences, traditional "cup and core" lead jacketed bullets in 7mm and up, have done a better job of expanding enough to either anchor the animal on the spot, or leave a decent blood trail if the deer manages to move out of sight after the shot.
Yes, a bullet from a .405 Winchester cartridge, 0.411 inches in diameter is a lot of overkill for a little whitetail buck, but does serve to illustrate my point. The next picture is the beginning of the short blood trail I mentioned earlier.
Obviously, this trail could be easily followed, even if the deer had run and dived into the "pucker brush" before expiring!
Here's the "self installed" receiver sight on the Winchester Model 1895.
Now I was ready to fill my "B" tag. Since I wanted to take a young doe, and was prepared to limit my shots to 40 yards or less, I chose to use another lever action rifle. This one is a Marlin Model 1894 "Cowboy" with a 24 inch octagonal barrel, traditional "buckhorn" open sights, in .44 Winchester Center Fire caliber. The cartridge is probably better known as the .44-40. This acronym denoted the caliber (.44) and the amount of black powder (40 grains) in the original loading, introduced along with the Winchester Model 1873 lever action rifle and followed shortly by being chambered in the Colt Single Action Army revolver.
The 1873 rifle and caliber combination were very popular in their day, and frequently meant the difference between having meat on the table for the family, or not. That meat could be anything from rabbits and squirrels to deer/pronghorn sized game, or sometimes even larger.
While modern steels and smokeless powders will safely allow loading the .44-40 to considerably higher pressures and velocities than the original black powder loadings, I chose to use a load that closely duplicates the ballistics of the oldies. I used a round nose, flat point Oregon Trail cast bullet weighing 200 grains, pushed to just under 1100 fps behind a light charge of Hodgdon's Tite Group powder. This same load churns up about 780 fps from my 5 and a half inch Ruger Vaquero.
On November 17th, I got my opportunity. I shot a young doe (likely born in the spring of 2005) directly through the ribcage/lungs at about 30 yards. At the shot, the deer jumped, kicked and ran, a very typical reaction for that type of hit. The deer ran about 130 yards into the timber and died quickly. While the deer did run into thick brush, it was not necessary to do any trailing, because Rick, using great skill and intuition, (better known as blind luck) walked directly to the deer's location, although he hadn't even seen her run into the brush.
My conclusion is that the .44-40 will indeed quickly dispatch deer sized game if hit correctly. This rifle and caliber will not likely be my first choice in the future, but a skilled hunter in good game country need not go hungry if that's the only firearm available.
Incidentally, even though it was not necessary to piece out and follow the trail in order to find this animal, there was enough sign (tracks, hair, and blood) to have done so if required. That was not the case last year with the little .243 bullet as described in the aforementioned Outlook Magazine article.
Our deer season ended with Ann still passing up spikes and fork-horns, and Rick shooting another young doe at about 60 yards, the afternoon of the last day. Rick's deer was shot with a very modern rifle and caliber, as compared to what I used: a Ruger Model 77 Mk II in .300 Winchester Magnum. This caliber was introduced in 1963 and in spite of the "short magnum" craze of the past few years, will still do anything that any other .30 caliber will do with comparable bullets at comparable velocities.
Rick was using Federal Premium factory loads with 180 grain Nosler Partition bullets. I don't recall ever having chronographed this particular load, but factory ballistics and modern reloading manuals peg the typical muzzle velocity at around 3000 fps. Since this year's season was, for me, sort of an informal study in bullet performance, I was observing closely when this deer was shot.
The bullet entered just behind the near shoulder and exited through the shoulder on the opposite side. Again, the .300 magnum may be a bit of overkill on a small whitetail, but this one was literally knocked off its feet by the impact and barely moved. The shock and hydrostatic pressures had to be terrific, as this hit pulverized the chest cavity, with visible particulate matter on the ground on the downrange side.
A couple of other observations; the .30 caliber, high velocity bullet did cause a considerable amount of bloodshot meat on the front shoulders of the deer. However, I'd still rather lose a little meat as opposed to having the deer run away wounded, and lose the whole thing!
The slow, large caliber .405 bullet, passing through the center of both shoulders on my buck, did not ruin as much meat as the .300 magnum. As the old saying goes, "You can eat right up to the hole." The even slower .44-40 bullet, staying behind the shoulders on my little doe, ruined no meat at all.
So that ended our 2006 deer season. Other than the one I shot, we never saw another mature buck until nearly a week after the season closed. I don't know if the rut was later this year than last, or we just didn't see them, but we had no more opportunities.
I would be remiss if I didn't include a picture of our deer skinner helper in this newsletter. Jennifer hasn't completed her Hunter Education course so she doesn't yet qualify for a hunting license, but that doesn't keep her from the knife work.
Jennifer, skinning Dad's deer.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all from Little Heifer and me!
This month's hillbilly wisdom is a modified version of another one of those internet items that make the rounds of our inboxes.
A young ventriloquist is touring the clubs
and one night he's doing a show in a small town in the Missouri hills.
Guess the color of her hair, you guys!
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!