Deer Hunting 2022, ammo by L.H. Oswald

And herein we have a hunting tale.

Due to circumstances I won’t go in to, this year I’d be heading down to my normal hunting grounds alone on Friday, for opening day Saturday, but would need to head for home no later than about noon Sunday, unless I got a deer last minute and it took past noon to butcher him. So only one and a half days hunting for this outing. I’d be camping out, and decided to go relatively fast and light, with minimal gear and just driving the Jetta (better fuel mileage).

Forecast was for sunny and warm here, there, and all points between, very un-October-like. Upside is camping would be easy, downside is everything would be crackling-dry, and sneaking around would be impossible unless it was very windy, but that has its own problems, like tents and hearing anything else. Not perfect, but it could be worse.

Got there Friday, had a chat around the campfire at the neighbor’s hunting cabin, saw a spike buck that came up to check us out (got to within 20 feet, for about ten minutes), didn’t see anything else of note. Saturday was a lot of typical not-much: several herd of does, a few hoofbeats running away, jumped a couple of something-moving-to-fast, and one nice fork-horn… but it is a 3-pt minimum game management unit. (quick note: in Washing, and most western states, the number of “points” a deer has is how many are on the side of the antlers with the most points, unlike eastern states where it’s the total of both sides. In this particular area, it’s a 3-pt minimum, meaning you can only shoot a buck that has at least 3 antler points on one side; this includes eyeguard points of at least 1″, and those can be very hard to see at range.)

Sunday I headed for the “saddle” area, where my property borders a small parcel of government land, and there is a low pass, a saddle shaped area. Stood in my blind and watched for anything moving down below or across the way. It used to be a really good spot, but in the two decades since the fire came through a lot of the brush and oaks had grown up, and it’s become very hard to hunt. When you are down in the brush and Oregon white oak groves, you have no visibility, and it’s hard walking over all the downed trees. Lots of deer in there, and a lot of forage for them, but devilishly hard to hunt, other than watching from outside and hoping you catch one going in or out. To properly hunt, you really need a hunting party, with at least three shooters covering the trails, and four more to stomp around through it and push them around…. I was by myself. This is the view across the saddle from my pile-of-logs “blind” from a few years ago; the far side is government land, with the far ridgeline some 240 yards away. The Oregon white oaks and salal have grown up more since then, about 12 and 3 ft high, respectively.

I got tired of standing around watching but not seeing, so I headed left in the above pic for the fence-line (which I’d cleared years back when I put in the fence posts and wire), figuring I’d take the more well-cleared of the passages across, and make a big loop up and around, see if I could flush anything out. I would likely take me until nearly noon to do it if I took my time. Only about 20 to 30 yards out from my blind, I spotted a deer way across on the far side of the saddle, nearly at the crest of the far side, something over 200 yards away, ambling slowly along, roughly in the top-right corner of the above picture, headed for the middle of it. He was moving between patches of cover and rough ground, and I didn’t have anyplace obvious handy to use as a rest with a clear shot. I watched him move, sometimes taking a frustratingly long time to emerge from behind a clump of trees. I thought he might be bedding down on the other side and out of sight a couple of time. I weighed my options of moving fast when he was hidden, or calling on the radio some of the other hunters, see if they were interested in walking back on the far side of the saddle, flush him out my way.

Then he’d move again. He started angling toward me, and the corner of the property; if he went too far that way, he would be on land that doesn’t allow hunting. Crud! If I shot him were he was, in the middle of large patches of scrub oak and deep salal on government land, dragging him out would be a real workout. But if he moved on and I waited much longer, he’d be in a no-shoot zone. OTOH, because of the lighting, shadows, movement, and brush, while I could see he clearly had antlers, I still couldn’t see for sure if he was a legal 3-pt or not. No stress at all.

I decided to sit, and use my knee as a rest. He came out from behind an oak grove, stopped for a moment sort of facing toward me, with his body lined up with me; he lowered his head a bit to take a bite. Nothing blocking the view, something like 175 yards, and through the scope zoomed in to max power I could see he had a fork and eyeguard on on side, but the antlers were asymmetrical.

I squeezed off a shot. He jumped, and headed downhill, bounding over logs, sort of my way, but also heading toward the neighbor’s property (down to the left in the above picture, headed for deep brush cover). I chambered another round. He went a little ways, and slowed. I could see red coming out of his mouth. Odd. Coughing up blood, maybe? He stopped. I fired again. He jumped, and fell like a sack of potatoes. Total time between shots was ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Yay! Got some venison! Ah, crud, right out in the middle of a patch of waist-high brush. It might take me an hour or more just to find him; I’ve lost deer is that stuff closer to me for hours before I found them. I looked at my watch; 8:30 AM.

Sigh, now the work began.

One of the other hunters at the neighbor’s camp called on the radio, asked if it was me shooting, and if I’d need help getting it out. I thankfully told them “yes,” but needed to find it first, then I’d know the best place to drive with the ATV. I headed down the trail cut through the brush at the fence line. As it turned out, I found the deer very quickly; he had only fallen about 10 yard the other side of the fence, and there was a somewhat clear path, almost a game-trail, to drag him out to the fence-line trail on. 20 minutes and some bloody pants later, he was secured to the back of the ATV.

Examining him revealed the obvious cause of the red I saw: the first shot was definitely the worst I’d ever made in deer hunting. It apparently went in through the top of his muzzle halfway between nose and eyes, and blew out his jaw. His tongue was severed and hanging out, and must have rattled his head something fierce, but it wasn’t an instantly fatal shot. Given how he’s been standing, I figured it must have passed though somewhere else, too,  because he didn’t go all that far after getting shot, and my brother has seen them run a quarter mile with two broken front legs.

He was a middle-sized 4×2 pointer. One side had a short eyeguard and a single side of a fork-horn, with the other branch broken off some time ago while the antlers were forming, so only 2 points there. The other side had an eyeguard, and a proper fork, with one of those tines having a mini-fork in the end of it that is debatable if it would officially count as one or two; I called it “two.” Either way, though, it was definitely legal. When I got home and weighed meat-bags, it was almost exactly a hundred pounds for the four quarters, backstrap, organs, and assorted bits.

Minor side note: main tools used in deer disassembly were: an Ontario mfg Air Force survival knife (my long-time standard), a Swedish Morakniv Craftline Q Allround Fixed Blade Utility Knife (first time use, now highly recommended), and a Pac-Saw folding bone saw (similar to this  but with different scabbard; meh, it is OK, I use it because I have it, would not mind a replacement. Simple, light, cheap, so-so effectiveness, also works for wood, not a comfortable handle).

Back at camp, we hung him up in a tree, skinned and butchered him. It mostly went about as well as it can with field-type conditions with no gambrel, with the occasional wasp bite and scratch. But in doing so,  we found a small mystery. The first shot through the muzzle was obvious. But there wasn’t another bullet hole anywhere. None. I’ve been hunting a long time. I’ve seen a lot of bullet holes, both entry and exit, close range and far, my own and those from other hunters; I know what they look like. I’ve made heart shots, lung shots, spine-shots, brain-shots, neck-shots, major bone shots, and end-to-end-lengthwise shots, long-range shots and very close-range shots. I’ve helped others track gut-shot deer. I know what to look for. This is only the third deer I’ve ever shot that didn’t drop in place (out of a couple dozen or more), and neither of the previous two made it more than 30 yards. The skull brainpan was intact, the neck wasn’t broken, we peeled the skin back from nearly the base of the skull to the tail and off the four legs, not a mark anywhere on them. Nothing but the blown up jaw and high neck from the first shot. But “Dead Right There” takes a good CNS or heart shot. So what made him jump and fall like that at the end? Even if the scope got knocked out of zero at some point (and I will be hitting the range to check that), to make him jump and fall the bullet has to hit him somewhere, right? No apparent second head shot, no bullet holes anywhere on the deer neck, body, or legs. So….buh? What kind of Lee Harvey Oswald brand magic bullet ammo is this? Did it just scare him?

I mean, I did put out a prayer-request for a success and a clean kill, and as far as butchering an animal goes it doesn’t get much cleaner than “die from fright as the bullet whizzed past,” but the first shot was kind of messy, and the bleeding made dragging him out get blood all over my pants, though ultimately it made butchering pretty sanitary, with no high-velocity bullet holes in the carcass where the meat comes from. So… maybe he died from an angle giving him a divine-grade snoot-boop with the second pullet passing through the first bullet’s hole? Dunno. Weird. But a successful and safe hunting trip is to be celebrated.

Later EDIT: I examined the head more closely. There were two small entry holes a few inches apart with the hair around them almost completely undisturbed. The “exit hole” from the second shot was all part of the same “debris field” of blown out jaw, exploded tongue, and mangled high throat area as the first. I think the second shot was the one higher up the muzzle, closer to the brain, and at a slightly different angle. While processing the meat for burger, I found a few small bits of disintegrated bullet in a piece from high up on the neck; their energy had been spent very close to the entry hole, and there was no blood-shot meat to see in the butchered parts. I think what happened was the first shot hit lower down and at a different angle, which would have caused huge breathing problems. The second bullet hit closer to the brain, almost under the eye socket,  and the shock stunned the brain. So… two head-shots, but not normal DRT brain shots.

2nd EDIT: This hunt was another tale of a “successful bullet failure.” I was shooting Remington 180gr Core-Lokt, and old-time “premium” hunting bullet. Once again the bullet both (a) successfully did it’s job in shooting straight and and killing the deer, and (b) failed to hold together upon impact when used at reasonable shooting range. The fragments I recovered from the neck included some lead petals and the base of the separated jacket with less than half the copper wall of the projectile. Yes, it hit bone. But not femur or anything, just nose and jaw at well past a hundred yards. So I can’t complain too much- the deer is in the freezer. But max penetration it didn’t have; if I’d hit more center mass at that angle it may not have penetrated the vitals. I may have to upgrade on future hunts.

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