Deer and Deer Rifles

Perhaps no other feature illustrates O'Connor's artful blend of storytelling and technical prowess as well as this one from 1962. It was later reprinted as a chapter in his famous book The Hunting Rifle.

_Sooner or later, any Shooting Editor worth his salt has to take a position on one of hunting's most widely debated subjects-the best rifles and cartridges for deer. O'Connor did it in September 1962 in an article titled "Deer and Deer Rifles," presented here in an abridged version. Jim Carmichel weighed in on the topic in November 1983, in his feature "Coast to Coast Deer Rifles." Although space did not allow us to reprint Carmichel's version, you can find both in their entirety on our Web site, at www.outdoorlife.com/oconnor. Here's what Carmichel has to say about the two stories and his illustrious predecessor: "Though comparing these two articles will intrigue deer hunters and perhaps even provide a modicum of titillation, the best service it provides, in my view, is the opportunity to read once again the rich prose of Jack O'Connor. "There's a generation of new hunters who may never before have had the opportunity to discover the unique talent of this master storyteller. This is O'Connor at his best-his phrases as smooth as cream, beguiling, goading, tempting and challenging his readers. As you will see, he was far more than a teacher. He reaches out to the reader, confronting him on comfortable ground. 'Don't just do as I say,' he tells his reader. 'Read on and we'll do it together.' "That's why he was the best."_Outdoor Life Online Editor

The scene was the Arizona desert, and the time was about two generations ago. One of the actors was a skinny, long-legged kid, with big feet, green eyes, light hair and a hide so browned by the sun that on the rare occasions when he wore a hat and his straw- colored hair could not be seen, he was often taken for a light-eyed Mexican.

The other was an equally skinny, three-year-old buck mule deer, slab- sided and probably beset with worms. The kid called the buck a blacktail because in those days everyone in Arizona called mule deer blacktails. The buck was not very well nourished, but it had a spindly four-point head, which in the East would be considered a 10-pointer.

Anyway, when he was hunting quail, the kid had found an area all tracked up by desert mule deer. In addition, he had actually seen a doe and a fawn. In those lawless days, the sight of a deer was rare in the Arizona desert because the animals were hunted in season and out.

So, saying nothing to anyone about his plans, the kid had gone out the next day with a rifle instead of a shotgun.

It was a .30-40 Krag with a 30-inch barrel. The kid had paid $1.50 for it. He had bought it from a bindle stiff [BRACKET "tramp"] who had been camped down by the river beneath a wrecked railroad bridge. The bindle stiff had found himself in great need of a bottle of corn squeezings and in no particular need of a rifle just then. His asking price for the Krag was $3, and the lowest price he would accept was $1.50. By a curious coincidence, the price of a bottle of popskull was $1.50, and the kid happened to have that much with him.

So, the bindle stiff got his jug and the kid got his rifle. Ammunition, as he now remembers it, cost about $1.25 a box. The cartridges were loaded with the long 200-grain bullet with a lot of lead exposed. The bindle stiff had evidently known a thing or two about a rifle, as he had put on a homemade front sight that lined up with the military rear sight so that the old musket shot at point of aim at 150 yards.

That frosty winter morning the kid was sneaking cautiously through that tracked-up desert forest looking for a deer. Generally he couldn't see more than 100 yards as this was a country of paloverde and ironwood trees, saguaros (giant cactus) and cholla (jumping cactus). Then the kid became conscious of a movement on the other side of an ironwood tree about 50 yards away. He suspected it was a deer, and the shock was so violent that afterward he had a headache.

Next, he knew it was a de, as the animal moved a bit and he could make out gray hide and dingy white rump; then he saw the deer's head as the animal reached up and delicately nipped off a delectable bit of browse.

After what seemed like an hour but was probably a minute, the buck was fairly well out in the open. The kid could see the gray-shiny antlers. It was time to shoot. Shaking, he lifted his rifle and tried to keep the homemade front bead in the middle of the deer.

He was trembling so violently that the front sight jerked off and on the buck. He tried to remember to squeeze the trigger. He tried to make himself quit shaking. He hated himself because he could not. He was desperately afraid the buck would see him and take off.

Finally he yanked the trigger. The buck was gone, and the kid stood there, his heart pounding, his head aching, his hands still trembling, his legs weak. After the roar of the shot, the desert seemed deathly still. He heard a quail call, and far off in the quiet desert air the sweet and melancholy whistle of a freight train. He had blown his chance and he'd probably never get another.

Slowly he walked over toward the spot where the deer had been. There were the tracks all right; he could see how they had plunged through the soft, sandy soil as the deer had run. Desperately he tried to think of an alibi. It was that damned, long-barreled rifle, he decided. What he'd wanted was a real deer rifle, a .30-30 Winchester or Marlin carbine. But those cost $15, and as far as he was concerned they might as well have cost $1,000. Hopelessly he followed the tracks. He had gone about 50 yards when he got another violent shock. He saw blood. He could hardly believe it. At first there were a few drops. Then he found a big splash, then more. He followed the blood. Then he saw something gray and quiet beside a bush ahead of him. It was the buck-and the buck was dead. The old 200-grain softpoint had struck just forward of the flank and had come out behind the left shoulder.

Maybe the fact that that old Krag happened to wobble just as the kid yanked the trigger had a lot to do with making him a hunter. Anyway, the kid grew up, became a father and a grandfather, and almost every year of his life he has hunted deer-whitetails and mule deer, big deer and little deer, deer in the brush and deer in open country, deer on the flats and deer in mountains almost rugged enough for sheep, deer far north in Alberta and British Columbia and deer in tropical Sinaloa.

A good amount of deer hunting has convinced this chap that deer are easy to kill if the bullets hit in the right place and behave properly. He also knows that if the bullets don't hit in the right place deer are very hard to kill.

This hunter thinks there are two very different kinds of deer rifles, one to be used in brush and forest and the other to be used in hilly, open country. For the kind of brush and forest hunting done for whitetail deer in the East and for mule deer in the brushier parts of the Sonora Desert he likes a light, fast-operating rifle with a short barrel. He thinks such a firearm should be chambered for a reasonably heavy bullet at moderate velocity.

The reason for this is that the heavy, roundnose bullet that isn't traveling at breakneck speed gets through brush with less deflection than faster, lighter bullets with sharp points. But he also knows that any bullet can be deflected by brush.

Unlike numerous hunters who look down their noses at the .30-30, he thinks it an excellent cartridge for this sort of thing. And he likewise regards the .32 Special as a good brush cartridge with ample killing power, at moderate ranges and with well-placed shots, for any North American deer that ever walked.

Because there is always a possibility that the first shot at a deer in brushy country may hit a limb or a twig and deflect, he thinks that for hunting of this variety, a lever-action, a pump or a semi-automatic is a good idea for the woods hunter. All of these are faster than the bolt-action.

He regards the neglected and obsolescent .358 Winchester cartridge with its 200-grain bullet at 2,530 or its 250-grain bullet at 2,250 as probably the most deadly woods cartridge in existence, not only for deer but for elk and even moose. The .358 has the power and weight to drive deep on the rear-end shot, which the woods hunter all too often has to take.

For woods shooting he hasn't got much use for open sights. Under the stress of excitement, it is easy to shoot over with them because the tendency is not to get the bead down into the notch. Receiver sights are better, but the best iron sights were the peeps close to the eye-the old Lyman tang and cocking-piece sights.

The best sight he has ever used in the brush is a low-power scope (21/2X or 3X) because of the wide field of view and because of the ability of the glass sight to resolve detail, to "look through" the brush, to tell deer from limbs and twigs.

The world is full of good, open- country deer cartridges-the .30-06 with the 150-grain bullet, the .270 with the 130-grain, the .280 with the 125-grain, the 7mm Remington Magnum with the 150-grain, the .300 Savage and the .308 with the 150-grain. He has never shot a deer with the .243 but considers it entirely adequate with the 100-grain bullet. He bases this opinion on a good deal of use of the now-dying .257 Roberts on deer.

However, he has done more open-country shooting of mule deer and whitetail deer with .30-06 and .270 rifles than with anything else. The quickest-killing .30-06 bullet he has ever used was the old 150-grain Western hollowpoint. Bullets he likes for the .270 are the Remington 130-grain Bronze Point, the 130-grain Super and Sierra, the Western Silvertip and the 120-grain Barnes.

For this open-country shooting at deer, this hunter now uses 4X scopes. They have sufficient field and they give a better picture of the deer and more precise aim. However, this hunter admits that probably a 21/2X or 3X scope will do just about as well for any big game, even at ranges of 300 yards and more.

Few of the brush cartridges are much good for open-country shooting, where shots will often be taken at 300 to 350 yards. But cartridges like the .308 Savage, and the .30-06 when used with suitable roundnose 180-grain bullets do pretty well for the brush as well as for open country. The .270 and .280 with the roundnose 150-grain bullets are usable in the brush and shoot flat enough for much open-country shooting. Once this chap hunted in the jungles of India, shot everything including hog deer, spotted axis deer, wild boar and even peacocks with the 150-grain Core- Lokt and Hornady roundnose softpoint .270 bullets. He didnks that for hunting of this variety, a lever-action, a pump or a semi-automatic is a good idea for the woods hunter. All of these are faster than the bolt-action.

He regards the neglected and obsolescent .358 Winchester cartridge with its 200-grain bullet at 2,530 or its 250-grain bullet at 2,250 as probably the most deadly woods cartridge in existence, not only for deer but for elk and even moose. The .358 has the power and weight to drive deep on the rear-end shot, which the woods hunter all too often has to take.

For woods shooting he hasn't got much use for open sights. Under the stress of excitement, it is easy to shoot over with them because the tendency is not to get the bead down into the notch. Receiver sights are better, but the best iron sights were the peeps close to the eye-the old Lyman tang and cocking-piece sights.

The best sight he has ever used in the brush is a low-power scope (21/2X or 3X) because of the wide field of view and because of the ability of the glass sight to resolve detail, to "look through" the brush, to tell deer from limbs and twigs.

The world is full of good, open- country deer cartridges-the .30-06 with the 150-grain bullet, the .270 with the 130-grain, the .280 with the 125-grain, the 7mm Remington Magnum with the 150-grain, the .300 Savage and the .308 with the 150-grain. He has never shot a deer with the .243 but considers it entirely adequate with the 100-grain bullet. He bases this opinion on a good deal of use of the now-dying .257 Roberts on deer.

However, he has done more open-country shooting of mule deer and whitetail deer with .30-06 and .270 rifles than with anything else. The quickest-killing .30-06 bullet he has ever used was the old 150-grain Western hollowpoint. Bullets he likes for the .270 are the Remington 130-grain Bronze Point, the 130-grain Super and Sierra, the Western Silvertip and the 120-grain Barnes.

For this open-country shooting at deer, this hunter now uses 4X scopes. They have sufficient field and they give a better picture of the deer and more precise aim. However, this hunter admits that probably a 21/2X or 3X scope will do just about as well for any big game, even at ranges of 300 yards and more.

Few of the brush cartridges are much good for open-country shooting, where shots will often be taken at 300 to 350 yards. But cartridges like the .308 Savage, and the .30-06 when used with suitable roundnose 180-grain bullets do pretty well for the brush as well as for open country. The .270 and .280 with the roundnose 150-grain bullets are usable in the brush and shoot flat enough for much open-country shooting. Once this chap hunted in the jungles of India, shot everything including hog deer, spotted axis deer, wild boar and even peacocks with the 150-grain Core- Lokt and Hornady roundnose softpoint .270 bullets. He did