A couple years back I ordered a full-custom rifle. I had many decisions to make concerning the rifle and one of the hardest was what cartridge to have the rifle chambered for. The rifle was to be used mostly for whitetails were I spend the most time hunting them: Here in the hills of WV. I did not need some long range wonder cartridge but I did want to be able to push a big bullet fast enough so I could take an “any angle” shot in thick cover, because, that seems to be where the big uns’ like to hide out.
Deer don’t care what you shoot them with. If we could survey whitetails across the country you would find, 10 out of 10 say they don’t like getting shot with anything. Hunters expend allot of effort trying to match the cartridge and rifle to the game they hunt. When we harvest a deer our only connection to that animal is the bullet. The cartridge case, the rifle, and scope never come into contact with the animal. The bullet is what matters most, at least as far as the deer is concerned.
Everything else stays with the hunter. The rifle and attached accessories that make up the launching pad for the bullet all work together to allow the hunter to place, that all important bullet, where it should be. If any of these are mismatched to the hunter, accurate bullet placement becomes questionable.
The rifle’s stock should fit the hunter just as the scope should be adjusted and of a style that will foster quick target acquisition. (Yes, just like shotgun shooters will tell you, fit matters most.) The trigger should be crisp and of a pull weight the hunter is comfortable with. We could write a book on these topics but what we are primarily concerned with here is cartridge selection.
It’s long been good advice to use enough gun. Some mistakenly think that if enough gun is good, more gun is better. (That same logic is often mistakenly applied to money, women and alcohol.) Whitetail deer can be cleanly taken with the 223 Remington. I’ve done that allot. A 35 Whelen will also work wonderfully well. I’ve done that too. With 60 and 250-grain bullets these cartridges are on opposite ends of the power spectrum, which may lead a reasonable man to assume somewhere in the middle is just right. Remember, the bullet is the only part of the hunting equation that the animal has to cope with. The hunter has to deal with everything else.
It’s been my experience that next to poor basic shooting skills, recoil is the biggest contributor to targets and or animals being missed. Recoil is the product of hunters trying to push bigger bullets flatter and faster. Hunters, in an effort to get more than enough gun, end up getting more than enough gun for themselves. I think the old saying “use enough gun” needs revamped to say, “Don’t use too much gun.” meaning too much gun for you.
Throw all the macho bologna out the window. If it hurts when you shoot it, admit it! Well, you don’t have to admit it in public, but you should accept it and find something else to shoot that won’t knock the slobbers out of you every time you pull the trigger. Lying to yourself about how hard your rifle kicks will only help you miss because of flinching or lack of dreaded denture-rattling and much needed practice.
In the end I settled on the .30 Remington AR. No, it won’t impress any magnum fanatics at the local gun shop. It wins no ballistic awards when compared to any other modern, deer-capable cartridges. And, when another hunter looks at my expensive custom rifle chambered for the new but almost forgotten .30 Rem AR, they often ask what drug I was on when I placed the order.
Deer have no way of calculating exterior ballistics so convincing them to fall over with numbers or wicked sounding cartridge names is not an option. But, last year that .30 Remington AR impressed a mountain reedbuck, a blesbok and a kudu so much so they just died! No, these were not whitetails but you know what, African animals don’t do ballistic calculations either. The .30 Remington AR worked, mostly because the bullet landed in the right spot. Just like I told it to.
Maybe, just maybe, the four days I spent at Gunsite and the 700 rounds I fired with that rifle while I was there had something to do with it.