Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The right rifle and optics can make all the difference

Article : By Brandon Ray

below the colorful horizon were steep cliffs, skeletons of giant junipers, the faint scent of sage on the air and coyotes serenading the end of the day – pure untamed western beauty and everything I love about mule deer country. With a heavy load on my shoulders that included a set of symmetrical 4x4 mule deer antlers, I paused just long enough to take it all in.

The first mule deer buck I ever shot, an ancient 10-point in the Texas Panhandle more than 20 years ago, was collected with a scarred-up Sako .30-06, my dad’s old gun. The next half a dozen were taken with the same rifle. That old gun wore a scraped-up Redfield 3-9x scope. My choice of ammunition was typically 165-grain Federal Premium loads, although I remember a couple of times shooting whatever the local gun store had to offer. That setup was a good choice for mule deer hunting back then, and it’s still a solid choice today.

With all the hype today over magnum cartridges,sometimes I think we hunters forget we are chasing deer, not Bigfoot. A couple of Octobers ago,

Mule Deer Gear

memorable mulie hunt in the snow in Colorado, I shot a big-bodied buck at 250 yards. The big-racked stud stumbled a few steps and collapsed on his nose from a well-placed bullet through both lungs. The deadly projectile on that hunt was a 150-grain Winchester XP3 bullet fired from a Browning A-Bolt .270 Winchester  a round that was, is and always will be an excellent choice for deer anywhere.

At minimum, a .25-caliber rifle is the smallest round a serious hunter should carry for mule deer. In this class I like the .25-06 Remington and .257 Weatherby Magnum. You could use something smaller, but it’s too much work to set up a shot at a trophy mulie buck to use a borderline cartridge.

Top picks for excellent mule deer rounds would include the .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby Magnum (a round I once used to snipe a wide 10-point at 270 yards, my longest shot ever at a mulie buck), the .270 WSM and the .280 Remington. Rounds like the .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 WSM are other good options.

Once you’ve selected the caliber of your choice, consider stock type and gun weight. Western deer live in rocky, unforgiving country. A synthetic stock is more practical than wood in such places. Mule deer hunting also requires miles of tough walking. For that reason, a light- to medium-weight rifle is always appreciated.

Two years ago I shot a desert mulie with a lightweight custom Match Grade Arms .300 Winchester Magnum.
That synthetic stocked rifle weighed a little over 7 pounds, including the scope and sling. Scaling red rock canyon walls to glass for bucks, that camo synthetic stock took a pounding. My nephew Will Monning shot a fine 8-point using a synthetic stock, stainless barrel Winchester Model 70 .270 WSM. Will’s rifle weighed closer to 8½ pounds, including the scope. Leave the 10- and 12-pound rifles at home for sniping whitetails from tower blinds. Rifles with synthetic stocks and lightweight scopes are easy to carry and bull’s-eye accurate for the typical 100- to 300-yard pokes at western bucks

Optics makers tell me that far and away, the best seller in riflescopes is variable power designs. I tend to favor the same designs I started with 20 years ago. I like scopes that mount low to the gun barrel with a 40mm objective and a 3-9x or 4-12x magnification. More magnification and a wider objective comes at the expense of too much extra weight and bulk. Mil dots and custom reticles can aid with long-range hold, but I have yet to need fancy dots for a really long shot.

When sighting in, I like my rifle set dead-on at 200 yards. Depending on the caliber and bullet, that usually means sighting in 1 to 2 inches high at 100 yards. Drop at 300 yards is typically 8 inches or less, depending on the round. Check ballistic charts for your specific caliber to know exactly – and practice accordingly. Shots out West tend to be a bit farther than the average whitetail poke, but even after 20-plus years of hunting big-eared bucks, I have yet to shoot a mule deer past 300 yards. In fact, most of my shots have been less than 200 yards.

to be continued...

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