All the Deer Gun You Need

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I was a just a lad at the time. I’d taken some squirrels and ground hogs. I’d even shot a few coons. I’d never been deer hunting. I rode into town with Dad. He was going to buy his first deer rifle. Up until that time he’d either borrowed a rifle or used his model 12, 16 gauge shotgun. It was a big deal. I’m sure of this because just a few years ago I found the sales receipt he’d saved for almost 40 years.

We walked out of the hardware store with a Winchester model 100 chambered for the .243 Winchester.

That year at deer camp an uncle tried to school Dad in cartridge wisdom by extolling the virtues of his .30-06. Him and Dad had both served in the military. Dad had shot at the enemy and they had shot him. My uncle’s exposure to small arms fire had been limited to the range. What I’m saying is, there was some separation with regard to their experiences.

A few days later the uncle drug in a deer that can only be described as being shot all to hell. It was missing chucks of flesh and hide from multiple bullet wounds. He and his son stood in the yard looking at the unfortunate creature, admiring the damage done like desk generals admire carpet-bombing done right.

Later that day, Dad drug his own deer into camp. We could not find the entry hole and the exit hole was the size of a quarter. Uncle once again proclaimed the .243 Winchester as a miniscule cartridge not suitable for anything larger than groundhogs. Suggesting Dad was “lucky” the deer had decided to lie down long enough to be field dressed.

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Years later I would take one of my best West Virginia whitetails with a .243 Winchester at 180 yards. The buck dressed out at 165 pounds. Some argue this the upper limit for Winchester’s 6mm. But, as Dave Petzal observes in one of his latest essays, “…a round such as the .243, which I used to view with extreme suspicion as a deer killer, can be counted on even for deer that you could saddle and ride.”

Before my wife’s first safari we discussed cartridges. Not from the standpoint of how big it needed to be for that Africa game folks think is so tough. More importantly, from the standpoint of what she could shoot with comfort and precision. We settled on a Mossberg bolt action in .243 Winchester. Her hairy chested coworkers at the mining company called her a fool and questioned my qualifications as a gun writer and even as a man.

Three shots later she had wonderful impala, gemsbok and wildebeest trophies. The .243 worked because she shot it very well. It did not cross here eyes or make the slobber fly when she pulled the trigger. And, it worked because she used a good bullet – an 85 grain Nosler Partition.

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Some kids who grow up in a hunting family are lucky enough to have a wise mentor. Some less fortunate have to learn things on their own through trial and error. Others, even less fortunate, must suffer through narcissistic windbags trying to compensate for failings in other areas with more cartridge than they can shoot well.

Good hits matter more than what they’re made with. It is, ultimately, all about the shot.

Thanks Dad! Because of you I’ve never had a detached retina or a Weatherby ring above my eyebrow. And, my freezer is always full and the house is out of wall space.