By Richard A. Mann II
A couple of years ago, I ordered my first full-custom rifle. I had a good many decisions to make concerning it. Some I made on my own, and with others the builder helped me. One of the hardest decisions was what cartridge to have the rifle chambered for.
The gun was to be used almost exclusively for whitetails, as I spend the most time hunting them in the hills of West Virginia. 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. That seems to be where the bigguns like to hide.
Deer don’t care what you shoot them with. A nationwide survey of whitetails would show that 10 out of 10 don’t like getting shot with anything. We hunters expend a lot of effort trying to match the cartridge and rifle to the game we hunt. But when we harvest a deer, our only connection to that animal is the bullet. The cartridge case, the rifle and the scope never come in contact with it. 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 – the launching pad for the bullet – work together to allow you to accurately place that all-important bullet. If any of these are mismatched, the shot is questionable.
The rifle’s stock should fit you just as the scope should be adjusted and of a style that will foster quick target acquisition. The trigger should be crisp and of a pull weight with which you are comfortable. We could write a book on these topics alone, but what we are primarily concerned with here is cartridge selection.
It has long been good advice to use enough gun. Some mistakenly think that if enough gun is good, more gun would be better. White-tailed deer can be cleanly taken with the .223 Remington. I’ve done it on more than a few occasions. A .35 Whelen also works wonderfully well. With 60- and 250-grain bullets, these cartridges are on opposite ends of the power spectrum. That might lead a reasonable man to assume that somewhere in the middle should be enough gun for a whitetail.
Remember, the bullet is the only part of the hunting equation that the animal will actually have to cope with. You must deal with everything else.
It has 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 trying to push bigger bullets flatter and faster. In an effort to get more than enough gun for the animal we hunt, we end up getting more than enough gun for ourselves. I think the old saying, “Use enough gun,” could be revamped: “Don’t use too much gun.” That means too much gun for you.
Throw all the macho bologna out the window. If it hurts when you shoot it, admit it. Well, at least 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 practice.
In the end, I settled on the near 100-year-old .35 Remington. No, it won’t impress any magnum fanatics at the local gunshop. It wins no ballistic awards when compared to other modern deer-capable cartridges. And, when another hunter looks at my expensive custom rifle chambered for the often-considered antiquated .35, they might ask what drug I was on when I placed the order.
Deer have no way of calculating exterior ballistics anyway, so convincing them to fall over with numbers or wicked sounding cartridge names is not an option. But, last year, the .35 impressed the mature buck I shot enough that he gave up right then and there. The bullet landed in the right spot – just like I told it to.
This article was published in the December 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.