I shot the fine Texas 8-point buck in the accompanying photo using a rifle chambered in .25-06 Remington. The rig was a loaner Nosler Professional topped with a Swarovski 3-10×42 Z3 series scope with a plex reticle. I used Hornady 117-grain Superformance SST ammo. The shot was 90 yards from an elevated tower blind with a good rest.
The buck would not have been any deader had I shot him with a bazooka.
Too many deer hunters these days follow the magnum craze, using .300 magnums and 180-grain bullets to kill whitetails. Few hunters shoot any rifle enough to get really comfortable with it, especially the ones that kick like a donkey. Some who shoot the big magnums develop a nasty flinch, which kills accuracy. Shot placement is way more important than the caliber you shoot.
I once watched a big ol’ boy, and a big talker, shooting his magnum rifle at the bench before our deer hunt. He forgot to slip a round into the barrel, and when he pulled the trigger, he flinched so badly he almost knocked the gun off the bench!
Big scopes with confusing reticles incorporating dots, circles and hash lines won’t increase the effective range of most shooters. For most of us, 200 yards is a long shot. High magnification won’t necessarily make us better shots, either. In most hunting scenarios, there’s not always time to adjust magnification and focus before taking the shot.
Here are a few facts to consider from my almost 30 years of deer hunting. I can remember only two bucks I’ve shot at long range. One was a mule deer I took at 250 yards with a .270 while lying prone. He dropped hard from a 130-grain pill in the ribs. The other was a whitetail in Old Mexico at almost 300 yards. I was shooting a custom .300 Win Mag with a muzzle brake to tame the recoil. That was almost 10 years ago, and my ears are still ringing. All the other deer I’ve shot, muleys and whitetails, were taken at less than 200 yards. Most were at less than 100 yards. Hunting deer should be about how close you can get and make a great shot, not how far away you can hit one.
Here’s what I suggest: Trade in the big magnum for a rifle that’s actually fun to shoot. Buy a gun of decent weight (more weight helps you hold steadier and also tames recoil). I like mine about seven pounds or so before adding the scope. Look at the following calibers if you are like me and do not like recoil. My top three whitetail rounds would be the classic .270 Winchester, the often overlooked but equally effective .25-06 Remington, and the sweet and mild .243 Winchester.
Choose a solid bolt-action rifle and top it with a 3-10×40 variable power scope and a simple duplex reticle. I’ve had great luck with scopes from Leupold, Nikon, and Swarovski. Old-school fixed power scopes like a fixed 4X or 6X work great too, but are harder to find these days.
Why didn’t somebody tell me all this stuff 20 years ago?