Deer Cartridges – A Trio at the Top

by Wayne Vanzwoll

Name three fine deer cartridges? Easy! Name only three? Oh. That’s really, really hard!

Wayne shot his first deer with a SMLE in .303 British. He still hunts with the round, here in a Ruger. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

The deer was loping through Michigan poplars when a bullet from my $30 SMLE broke its neck. My first whitetail. The .303 British, now 130 years old, still works fine for deer. It has surely killed more Canadian moose than any other cartridge. It has downed elephants.

A pointed .303 British bullet outruns flat-points from the .30-30 and .32 Special popular in lever-action rifles for most of the 20th century. So do modern softpoints from the 6.5×55 and 7×57, also infantry rounds pre-dating the Great War. Fine deer cartridges, all.

Dating to 1892, the 7×57 with modern pointed bullets is a fine deer round. It gave Wayne this muley. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

But at its debut in 1925 the .270 Winchester started hunters on a different track. Since then, bolt-action deer rifles have chambered ever-friskier rounds, with flatter arcs and more punch.

The .270, introduced by Winchester in 1925, set hunters on a faster-is-better kick. Scopes contributed. (Wayne Vanzwoll)

Now the deer-cartridge bin bulges with options. The 7mm and 30-caliber magnums, while useful for bigger game, strike me as excessive. Like sending Junior to college in a $50,000 pickup. You needn’t have my blessing to hunt with a hotrod cartridge or spring for a new F-250. But I’ll stick with milder deer loads – say, those firing 100- to 140-grain bullets at 2,650 to 3,150 fps from bolt rifles with 6mm to 7mm bores. Specifically: the .243 and 6mm, the .257 Roberts and .25-06, the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×55 and .260 Remington, the .270, 7mm-08 and 7×57. Add the .300 Savage and .308 with 150-grain missiles to make it an even dozen. How can I include the .270 and not the .280? You’re right; they’re too similar. A baker’s dozen, now, these are easy to shoot, and with proper bullets deadly even on quartering shots to 300 yards.

But what about the .30-06, long America’s darling and arguably its most versatile round? Well, arbitrary lines must fall somewhere. The ’06 is a notch up in power and recoil from the .308, which itself has more punch than plaid-clad riflemen a century ago could have imagined using on deer.

Top trio? Perhaps the three 6.5s, ballistically very close. The .260 and the 6.5 Creedmoor work in short actions, the Swede not so much. The Creedmoor trumps the .260 for efficiency and paired with long bullets. But these are academic differences.

The .260 Remington, a necked-down .308, shoots flat, recoils gently, kills deer past 300 yards. Bravo! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

If you like lever rifles, sifting cartridges became harder after Hornady introduced LeverEvolution ammo. It sends spitzer bullets fast from hulls long shackled by flatpoints, almost doubling effective reach. Last fall I shot a buck at 80 yards with a .25-35 rifle predating women’s suffrage. The 110-grain Hornady carried 1,200 ft-lbs at impact – three times the energy of a .25-20 at the muzzle. You’ll recall it was a .25-20 that in 1914 killed the Jordan buck, a gigantic whitetail that topped Boone & Crockett lists until 1993.

The .308 with 150-grain bullets makes Wayne’s list. It creates wound cavities once hard to imagine! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

Favorite deer cartridges are like favorite songs, or favorite dogs. Your top picks depend largely on what you expect of them. I prefer to hunt close, increasingly with iron sights. Given a 100-yard limit imposed by cover or irons, a .25-35 makes sense. It’s about as light a cartridge as I’ll use. A humane kill matters to me, and not every buck is a ribcage awaiting a bullet from the side. I had to fire again to kill the deer I hit (obliquely) with the .25-35.

My favorite deer loads? Whatever’s in the chamber when my rifle comes to cheek, and the brass bead or the crosswire finds a forward rib.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line 
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

 

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle 

Montana Mule Deer “Matriculation”…

Anytime one ventures outdoors in search of fish or game and returns without learning anything, it is an opportunity lost indeed. One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful lifestyle we call hunting and fishing is the fact that no one can possibly “know it all” and as such, every single one of us can add to our knowledge base literally every day afield. That’s a long-winded way of explaining my use of the word “matriculation” in the title of this post as I learned much on this hunt that will allow me to become a better deer hunter.

The planning of this hunt began in March when we applied for non-resident deer tags and then we had to wait until the November rut to make the 12+ hour drive to our Montana area. It was a uniquely challenging and fun hunt on many fronts from the minus 20 degree temperatures, the unfamiliar landscape, my first hunt using the Outlander 450L Max ATV and Lord willing, it will not be my last!

Mule deer or “muleys” as they are known to most hunters, get their name from an pronounced set of ears that are well suited to picking up any -and every- noise within a wide radius.

abigbuckThe first morning of our hunt we were “greeted” with temperatures in the minus 20 degree range and a breathtaking snowy landscape. We unloaded the 4-wheelers and got to it!

aOulanderSnVintage Montana: The landscape is littered with abandoned artifacts of days gone by. In this case, a loosely assembled pile of wood that was once someone’s boat!

aBoat

One of the most fun and unique aspects of this hunt was the use of our Outlander ATV’s. We were able to reach remote areas and once we hopped off our energy was intact to fully devote to the hunt! Our Triton ATV trailer made loading and unloading the ATV’s a snap and towed like a dream!

aTriton

The trailer made long hauls on mountain passes and gravel roads look easy…until you looked at our license plate that is…

aPlate

The State of Montana does a great job of opening up blocks of private land known as BMA’s or Block Management Areas. Here Robbo signs in at the registration box allowing us to hunt the area.

aBMA

Glassing, glassing and more glassing. Learning to pick an area apart and find an ear, antler tip, tail or patch of hair is an invaluable skill to a mule deer hunter. Patience and persistence is the key…and hand warmers…Brrrr…

aGlassin

Robbo and his beautiful mulie buck taken on the final day of our hunt. Robbo passed up more bucks than I could keep track of and his patience and discipline were rewarded when he spotted and stalked this dandy deer!

aRobucks

Although I wasn’t able to fill my tag this time around, I learned more by hunting hard each day of this trip than I would of otherwise. Learning what to look for and where to look is a huge part of the mule deer equation and seeing numbers of Montana mule deer each day is a great way to learn to spot deer when few are around. I’m looking forward to next hunting season to test what I learned on this hunt and to answer the challenge of becoming a better hunter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

D.I.Y. European Skull Mount

The first time I decided to do a European skull mount it was a long and very stinky process. It was so disgusting that I vowed to never do another one on my own. Yuk!

You can send your mount to a beetle shop that immerses the head in a box full of meat-eating beetles that devour every ounce of meat, tissue, and cartilage off the skull in a very short amount of time. It’s a great option but you’ve got to either ship the head or have a shop within driving range of your home. Not a good option for me.

The following process is how I went about making my most recent skull mount of a beautiful Montana mule deer. All in all I had about two full hours into this process and the final product will look excellent on the wall of my office.

First I cleaned the skull with a pressure washer much like Mark Kayser does in the video below. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s since his days hosting a hunting show for Truck Vault and I followed his video to a “T” to get my deer skull fully cleaned.

I used a big Honda 9 horsepower pressure washer to clean the skull to my liking. This took about 45 minutes and it helps to have very high pressure for this process. You’ll want to tape the base of the antlers to keep from removing the coloring away from the antlers in that area with the pressure.

skull_mount2_webThe skull mount after pressure washing. Ready for step 2!

skull_mount_webNext I brought a large pot of soapy water to a boil and immersed the head into it. Drop the temperature down on the water and simmer the skull in the soapy water for around an hour. This brings out any grease that is left in the skull and helps eliminate discoloring later.

This is when things get kinda weird in this whole process. Head to the nearest beauty supply store and pick up an 8 ounce bottle of Salon Care Volume 40 Developer Creme and a packet of Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. The lady at the beauty supply store asked me what I was using it for and since the whole place was packed with ladies I simply answered, “Uh…I’m working on a little project.” You can probably get away with 4 ounces of this stuff, but I went with 8 to be on the safe side.

Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl and then use a brush to completely cover the entire skull in paste. It doesn’t exactly smell great so it’s best to do this outside in a ventilated area. Get as much paste into every corner of the skull as you can.

After your done with this wrap the skull in plastic stretch wrap and place it in front of a space heater. Rotate the skull a couple of times in an hour period. Pull off the wrap and rinse the skull in warm water to get off all the bleaching goop. If the skull doesn’t whiten up to your liking hit it with another coat of goop and go thru this process again.

I performed this final process twice and the skull turned a nice, crisp white.

skull_mount3

Two notes of caution when doing this. First you want to make sure you wrap the bottom of the antlers with tape during the pressure washing process or you’ll blast off the staining on the base of the antlers. Also be very careful not to get any bleaching compound on the base of the antlers or it’ll effect the stain on the antlers, as well.

Now that I’m done preparing my European mount I just need to build a custom wooden base to hold the mount. I’m thinking a hardwood with a dark finish would work great to accent the skull.

If you really want to get fancy with the final product, however, you could ship your skull mount off to Jana Waller at Painted Skulls. She does some amazing artwork with skulls!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Special Hunt Worksheet Available

Every year I have a helluva time keeping all my special hunt applications for Washington sorted out. With the deadline coming up here on May 22nd the time to work on your special hunt units was actually a couple of months ago. If you’re like me, however, you’ll be getting things organized and submitted between now and May 22nd.

Luckily, Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club just zapped me the worksheet that he made up for their yearly submissions for special hunts here in Washington State.

Click on the images below to get the larger, printable .PDF version of this worksheet.

Washington Special Hunt Work Sheet - Snake River Hunting Club special_hunts2_webSteve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club is available for questions via email at snakeriverhuntin@aol.com. Steve Turner and Don Davis were the guys that set up my .300 Win Mag last summer and they’ll be setting up a 7mm 08 that I just ordered. These guys live, eat, and breath guns, hunting, and special draws. Give them a shout for more info!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

My New .300 Winnie – From Set-Up to the Field

Last winter I decided to pick up a new rifle that would work a little better for long shots in open country…a long range bomber if you will. The time had come to retire my old Browning 30.06 and get with the times.

My search turned up a dizzying number of quality rifles that would work just fine, but in the end I settled on a Savage Bear Hunter in .300 Winchester magnum. The rifle came stock with a muzzle break, a fluted barrel, and Savage’s patented Accu-trigger system amongst other things. Savage has come a long, long ways and their new rifles are definitely worth taking a peak at.

Here’s the unique look of the Accu-trigger assembly. The trigger is set at the factory for 2.5 pounds of pressure and it comes with a tool so that you can adjust the trigger to your liking. I left it at the factory setting.

Savage Accu Trigger - The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN SeattleFor optics I chose a Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14 scope with a 50 millimeter objective and Leupold’s patented Custom Dial System, or CDS. With the CDS system you sight the rifle in at 100 yards with the ammunition that you’re going to hunt with and then send your dial covers back to Leupold with a card filled out with all your ammo’s ballistics. They then make a custom set of dial covers specifically for that ammunition that effectively eliminates the need to use the mil dot system. Simply range your animal, set the scope on the correct range setting, hold on the kill zone, and fire!

This whole package came together around late April last spring and since I leave for Alaska in late May there would be little time for me to set this gun up properly. So I reached out to Steve Turner (360-801-0716) from Saltpatrol.com and Don Davis from Snake River Hunt Club. These guys have been setting up rifles for years and they offered to set mine up and perform the much needed break-in on my Savage while I was away. Like anything the devils in the details and these guys know the details much better than I do.

Mounting the Scope

After talking with the guys we decided to set my Leupold up with two scope mount bases instead of a solid base. While solid bases can lend a little more stability to your scope they can sometimes get in the way of the throw of the bolt. Since the Leupold VX-3L sits very close to the barrel Don decided to mount my scope up with two Leupold bases made specifically for the Savage Bear Hunter series. This would eliminate any interference from the scope.

Leupold Scope MountsNorthwest Hydroprint

The Savage Bear Hunter comes with a stainless barrel and bolt assembly, which I really like since I hunt in the rain quite a bit. The downside to this is that it sticks out like a sore thumb on days when it’s sunny. Even though Savage brushes the stainless steel to dull it down considerably we felt like the great folks at Northwest Hydroprint could help us out a little here.

Don’t ask me how this works because I can’t begin to understand, but they use a water process to apply graphics to metal. Applying just about any camo pattern to a rifle or shotgun is a snap for these folks. Don drove my Savage to their facility in Montesano, Washington and had them apply a Mossy Oak break up pattern to the barrel that very nearly matched the camo pattern on the stock. The rifle looked absolutely awesome when it came back!

Here’s the finished product and you can see the muzzle break and the heavy fluted barrel in this photo.

Savage Muzzle BreakThe Break-in Process

Most off-the-shelf rifles come with microscopic burrs that will effect the long range accuracy of the gun. These burrs can either be removed by hand lapping the barrel or by simply shooting the rifle at the range. Steve and Don chose to break in my rifle on the range and I purchased some fairly inexpensive ammunition, if there is such a thing, for this task.

Montana X-Stream Rifle Cleaning Products

Steve fired 40 total shots of this ammunition thru the barrel over the course of nearly a full day at the rifle range. For the first 20 shots he cleaned the barrel with Montana X-stream bore conditioning products after every shot and he let the barrel cool for long periods of time between shots so that the barrel didn’t heat up. This is a tedious task and well worth the money if you don’t have the time to do it yourself.

Then Steve fired an additional 20 rounds thru the barrel and cleaned the barrel after every three shots. Again, waiting enough time between each shot to allow the barrel to cool down.

Sighting-in with Leupold’s CDS System

I sighted this .300 win mag in with Federal ammunition in a 165 grain Barnes bullet and my dial covers are set for shots up to 650 yards. The difference in the sight-in process when you’re getting set up for custom dial covers is that you sight in dead-on at 100 yards instead of holding two or three inches high. I took two trips to the range to get this bad boy dialed in at 100 yards. This .300 Win Mag is a tack driver!

Leupold CDS Scope Dial Covers - The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN SeattleField Ready

As luck would have it the shot I took on my Montana mule deer this year was only a 120 yards and I didn’t even utilize this rifles full range. I’ve never felt more confident in taking a long range shot, however, and perhaps next year I’ll get the opportunity to truly test out this rifles long range characteristics.

Rob Endsley's 2013 Montana Mule DeerI really need to thank both Don and Steve for taking so much time to set up my rifle properly. I’m always in a rush and I can guarantee I wouldn’t have allowed myself enough time to put this rifle package together correctly. If you pick up a new rifle and want someone to do the same for you I highly recommend these guys.

Now that you’ve gotten this far here’s a couple of links that might be helpful:

Complete instructions on how to break in a rifle properly visit- www.montanaextreme.com Scope mounting instructions – www.saltpatrol.com/hunting and click on the video section..  Northwest Hydro Printing – www.northwesthydroprint.com

Ah man…hunting season is officially over and I’m already finding myself thinking about the possibilities of the 2014 hunting season. To keep from going too stir crazy (read that as…driving my wife crazy) I’ll be doing some shooting to get even more comfortable with this rifle and researching some out-of-state hunting opportunities. I may fish for a living, but the hunting addiction burns deep!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Montana Spot and Stalk Mule Deer Hunt

I just returned from a fulfilling mule deer hunt in the Missouri River breaks of Central Montana. Hunting here means hours and hours behind the glass searching for mule deer in the open sage country of the breaks. A great set of field glasses, a spotting scope, and an eye for locating deer is a must in this country.

Glassing the Missouri Breaks - photo by Rob EndsleyMy eyes are accustomed to gazing thru my binoculars for long periods of time and I’ll usually use them to locate deer at great distances before I jump on the spotting scope to take a closer look. In this country a spotting scope gives you a huge advantage in determining whether you want to go after a buck or take a pass in hopes of a bigger one.

I happened to grab the photo below by placing my small digital camera over the eyepiece of my spotting scope. I spotted this buck in his bed at around 900 yards.  It was one of many on this trip.

Bedded Down Mule Deer - Photo by Rob EndsleyAfter you find a mule deer that you want to take comes the hard part…closing the distance. My good friend Jim Heins and I spotted a good 4 point from around 500 yards away and then Jim used the cover of a knoll to close the distance to 250 yards. You can’t just walk up on a knoll like this and shoot your buck though.

Deer that live in open country depend on their eyesight just as much as their sense of smell to detect danger. Even the sight of the top of your hat peaking over a ridge can send them hauling ass for the next county.

Once Jim got to the knoll he was going to shoot from he slowly pushed his pack and rifle up to the edge of the small ridge to get in position for a shot. There’s also plenty of cactus here, which can literally be a pain in the ass when you’re putting the sneak on a mule deer.

Spot and Stalk Mule Deer HuntingLuckily I was along to range this mule deer at 245 yards before Jim took the shot. He used a Kimber .300 WSM with a Leupold VX-3L that was nothing short of a tack driver. This load carries plenty of energy to knock a muley down at great distances.

Kimber .300 WSM with Leupold VX 3L Rifle Scope - Photo by Rob EndsleyHere’s a little better view of the ravine Jim was shooting across. The mule deer was standing at the top of the dark patch that looks like “Z” on the right side of the ravine. This is a chip shot for a .300 WSM!

Mule deer hunting in open country means long shots - photo by Rob EndsleyJim made a perfect shot and the mule deer went down immediately. Off we went to go check it out.

jim_mule_deer_ravine_webThis deer was down alright…all the way down in the bottom of the canyon. Here’s Jim looking down to the bottom of the canyon where his first deer is laying.

spot and stalk mule deer hunting - outdoor line rob endsleyJim “Bucket” Heins first deer turned out to be a heavy-bodied 4 point with a single eye guard. All that time at the rifle range payed off for this happy hunter. Not too shabby Mr. Heins!

Jim Heins with his Montana mule deer - photo by Rob EndsleyJim cutting his Montana deer tag before we field dressed his muley and hauled it out of the canyon. It took some work but before too long we had it back up to the road where we could pick it up with one of the four wheelers. Well worth the effort if you ask me and Jim was more than happy with his first deer.

Jim Heins cutting his Montana deer tag - photo by Rob EndsleyI’ve hunted deer most of my life but I hate to admit that this was my first out of state deer hunt. It definitely won’t be my last though. The hunting was very challenging and on average I would see around four to five bucks a day with a couple of good shooters in the bunch. For the guys with little to no experience hunting deer that daily buck count can quickly go down to a single buck a day or less. These animals blend into their environment perfectly and more often that not if you see them…they see you!

Thanks for stopping by and good luck on the remainder of your hunting season everyone. Go get’em!!!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

Blacktail Scouting With Our 2 Year Old

It kind of sounds like an oxymoron when you first read it. Scouting with a 2 year old…really???

She isn’t actually two yet, but at 20 months she’s close enough. This is our third trip into the woods now and I’ll admit the first two were a little rough.

On our first voyage we walked around two miles behind a locked gate with Ava riding in our Bob jogging stroller. I picked some chantrelle mushrooms along the way and I scoped out the edge of a clear cut before we had to go…like right now. If you’ve got little ones at home you can probably guess what happened. It was bad, really bad. Thankfully I brought a change of clothes for Ava. I wasn’t so lucky though and ended up shirtless all the way back to the truck. Wow!

Our second adventure went much more smoothly and we were able to ride in on the mountain bike this time with Ava riding shotgun in the kiddo trailer. It was her first time in the trailer and she enjoyed the ride as long as she had her favorite sippy cup, a snack cup full of Goldfish, and her favorite stuffed monkey.

We rode approximately 3 miles behind a gate to an old clear cut that’s grown up a lot the last couple of years. It holds a lot of blacktails, however, so I tossed her up onto my shoulders and we did a rather quick half hour lap around the entire clear cut looking for sign. Nada…nothing…not a damn thing!

She was getting a little fussy so we piled back onto the bike and cruised back to the truck to head home and have some Spaghetti’O’s!

Since then she’s been climbing in the kiddo bike trailer on a near-daily basis and yelling “Go!” along with some other jibberish that I can’t quite make out. She’s already turning into a little outdoor girl, so I hope.

With that encouragement from Ava I loaded up the truck this morning with the bike, trailer, kiddo snacks, stuffed animals, and a diaper bag full of necessities and we once again headed for the hills.

Upon arriving at the gate I got Ava all geared up with animal cookies, Goldfish, her sippy cup, and her monkey and off we went on another scouting mission cloaked as a bike ride. She was quite content in the trailer today so I rode as quickly as I could, getting us in about four miles behind the locked gate. It’s a fairly easy ride behind this gate and it didn’t take us long to cover the distance.

Ava ended up on my shoulders again and off we went for a lap around yet another clear cut in search of the elusive blacktail deer. We didn’t walk 25 feet before we ran into our first blacktail rub…

We poked around the area a little bit and found more rubs like this one on the backside of this small alder tree.

Here’s where the buck stopped to tickle this alder with his antlers before heading on down the trail. It’s not a huge rub, but it’s blacktail sign that you definitely can’t ignore.

The weather was absolutely perfect today and Ava sang the whole time as we walked around this big clear cut looking for sign. There were doe tracks all over the place and also a few more rubs on small saplings in the clear cut. I think we found what we were looking for!

Towards the end of our walkabout I noticed a subtle disturbance in the pine needles and dirt that turned out to be a really good blacktail buck track. It’s kind of hard to tell from the photo, but you can definitely make out the dew claws and the hooves in the pine needles. This is a dandy!

Even though Ava was happy as a lark I figured we had better get going so as not to push it too far with her today.

I’m constantly scanning for sign on these forays into the forest and on the way out I spotted this rub on a small tree. I took the picture from the road to show you how well these rubs can blend in. If you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s easy to walk right on by. It’s on the bottom of the largest branch in the photo. After checking it out I used my binoc’s to scan the tree line along the edge of the clear cut and sure ‘nuf…there were more rubs on quite a few of the alders. When the rut starts this place will be crawling with blacktails.

It takes some extra effort and obviously a lot of precautions, but it’s definitely possible to get out with your kids and get some exercise all the while scouting for deer. I chose the right weather days and always made the trip mid-morning so that we wouldn’t blow any deer out of the area. And of course I didn’t expect to stay out all day…just a few hours at best.

I’ll do my usual trip to eastern Washington for opening weekend in search of mule deer and won’t worry too much about these blacktails until they really start to rut in a couple of weeks. You simply won’t see many mature blacktails until then anyway. Towards the end of the regular season, however, I’ll be out just about every day in search of these elusive deer. After today’s clues they’ll be a lot easier to find when that time comes.

If you’re still looking for you’re first blacktail here’s a few tips that might help…6 Tips for Taking a Late Season Blacktail.

With hunting season starting this weekend I won’t make any more trips into the woods with Ava this fall. Our adventures thus far have been wonderful though and I’m looking forward to our next one…whatever it may be.

Best of luck to everyone this hunting season. This is by far my favorite time of year!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

It’s a “Butt Out” Honey!

When I marched into the house with my new “Butt Out” field dressing tool from Hunter’s Specialties a few hunting seasons ago my wife gave me the look like…”now what?”

“It’s the most innovative field dressing tool since the invention of the knife honey”, I announced in the kitchen as I held it up to the light so we could both view my newhunting tool in all it’s glory. All I got was a sigh…my signal to head for the garage and plant the Butt Out firmly in my…hunting pack.

If you’ve ever field dressed a deer or an elk you know how difficult it is to remove the anal canal from the animal. It usually involves splitting the pelvis with a bone saw and then it takes a lot of force to split the pelvis wide enough to remove the canal. With the Butt Out, however, this task takes less than 10 seconds.

To highlight just how simple this process is here’s a short one minute video from Hunter’s Specialties on how to operate this awesome field dressing tool. Don’t watch this manly video, however, if you’re a total sissy and squishing an annoying fly makes you squeemish.

Using the Butt Out Field Dressing Tool from Hunter’s Specialties

With the general rifle opener coming up here in Washington in less than two weeks you owe it yourself and your hunting partners to pick one of these awesome field dressing tools. Trust me, I’ve used mine on two deer now and it work’s awesome. Plus…the Butt Out makes for some good laughs around the campfire!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle