Oregon Mule Deer Hunting: Never Pass Up a First-Day Shot

This past weekend, my hunting partner, his dad, and I made our annual pilgrimage to central Oregon for our deer hunt. We hunt is the Maupin Unit, in and around the town of Grass Valley. Hardly anyone puts in for this unit as it’s 98% private land. But we’re fortunate to know a few of the ranchers who are willing to open their homes to us for a long weekend.

Saturday morning, we were up before first light and took off to some of the areas we know that have held deer in the past. We parked and hiked in, rifles in hand, in search of “one buck deer with visible antler.” Mile after mile, the sound of our boots and truck tires yield only what we call “propeller heads” or props for short; mule deer swiveling their ears resembling slow propellers.

I’m shooting my Savage Model 16 stainless in .300 short mag. using a 300-yard zero. I’m shooting 200 grain Hornady ELD-X bullets at 2,770 fps. This load holds to a half minute for me. Here’s a typical 5-shot group:

On about our fifth or sixth walkabout, we ran across a herd of five deer. I spotted one buck in the group through my binos and lasered him at 330 yards. The other guys told me he’s too small, hold off, he’s not big enough, etc.

When I initially saw the buck, I had a flashback to my last trip to Africa. I was there for kudu and gemsbok. On my first hunt there we spotted a 55-inch kudu, but my guide said, naw, we’ll get you one that pushes 60 inches! I reluctantly held off, figuring that he knew the area much better than I did. We never saw another kudu that trip.

I had violated my own rule: never pass up a shot on the first day that you’d be willing to take on the last day.

So I told my Oregon buddies that I was going for it. I would have shot him on the last day. I took a braced position, held dead on and put the squeeze on my 2.5 lb trigger. When little Mr. Fork Horn was in my cross hairs, I didn’t hesitate.

And as I came out of recoil, I watched as he pivoted in place and tipped over. Buck Down!

After hiking to where he lay, I saw my shot was a few inches low. I turned around and lasered the fence post I had used as a rest for my shot — 420 yards. That was almost a big error. My first laser must have hit some of the tall grass.

The bullet appeared to exit in two places. One piece went out the right “arm pit” breaking the forward leg. The larger piece blew out the sternum, taking one lung with it.

After gutting, skinning and removing the lower legs and head, it was time to wash him off and hang him in the cool night air to get a glaze on the soon-to-be delicious venison.

This year, the only steaks I’m taking are the tenderloins and the back straps. After gleaning about 10 pounds of jerky, I’ll grind up the rest adding 5% of pork fat for a decent amount of venison burger.

The rest of Saturday and Sunday only yielded the group two more bucks. We saw them about a mile out and they were at a full run from something. My friend and his dad grumbled on the way home about not shooting the first buck seen. It just solidified my rule about passing up shots on the first day.

Oh, and here’s a convenient tip: Dodge truck dashboards have a great feature. Not only do they have handy cup holders, but they have two very convenient muzzle holders, too.

Next up, elk hunting after a pack trip by horse and mule. Aim small, miss small.

comments

  1. avatar skoon says:

    Can i go hunting with you? Or if you are near palm beach county florida can you come hunting with me?

  2. avatar jwm says:

    I’m not a trophy hunter. If it’s opening day and he/she/it is legal to shoot, it gets shot. Passing up hamburgers in hopes of finding steaks is a false economy.

    So far the fires here in CA haven’t hit my favorite quail spot. So far. But the roads into have been shut. Hoping that changes this weekend.

    My final retirement rapidly approaches and I’ve been looking into taking an archery class or 2 to help keep me out of trouble while the missus still trudges off to work.

  3. avatar Mark N. says:

    Nice rolling block. I need one of those too. Maybe I should start playing the lottery!

  4. avatar jwm says:

    That handsome dude behind Tom. Except for the hat and boots me and him could be brothers.

  5. avatar Geoff PR says:

    “Not only do they have handy cup holders, but they have two very convenient muzzle holders, too.”

    Now that’s *neat*.

    Question is there mechanically *anything* vital forward of those little cubbie-holds?

    And jwm noted :

    “That handsome dude behind Tom. Except for the hat and boots me and him could be brothers.”

    Didn’t you actually mean “… the hat and boots and about 30 pounds me and him could be brothers.” ? 🙂

    …and lower yet jwm wrote :

    “’ve been looking into taking an archery class or 2 to help keep me out of trouble while the missus still trudges off to work.”

    Damn, you have her well-trained!!! 😉

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      DOUBLE-EDIT –

      For Tom – Question, is there mechanically *anything* vital forward of those little cubbie-holds if the rifle goes *BOOM*?

      For jwm – You do realize, once she retires, she’ll want you to be taking a few more ‘classes’ to keep you out of her hair around the house, don’t you? 😉

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I’m not seeing a down side to her packing me off to get out of her hair. I go hunting, fishing, gold panning and any old thing I feel like and she never protests.

        Unlike a lot of guys I have no complaints with my wife. Next summer we’ll road trip to Montana. Road trips are the ultimate test of a marriage. And so far she hasn’t left me in a shallow grave in the desert.

        1. avatar joetast says:

          I have no complaints with my wife either, she left. Didn’t take the dogs, and took only one gun, no complaints.

        2. avatar Mark N. says:

          The ultimate test of a marriage is retirement. 24/7 can be a bit much for some folks.

        3. avatar jwm says:

          I agree, Mark. But my wife is younger than me and it will be some years before she retires.

        4. avatar Charles says:

          So what sort of complaints do other guys have with your wife?

  6. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Hmm. Help me out here:
    — Your muzzle velocity is 2770 fps.
    — You are zeroed at 300 yards.
    — You thought the deer was at 330 yards (meaning almost no holdover).
    — The deer was actually 420 yards away.

    If all that is true, your bullet should have been a LOT low and went under the deer entirely (or even hit the ground short of the deer). I am thinking that your 420 yard range determination is actually incorrect and your original 330 yard range determination was correct.

    What do I have wrong?

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Tom,

      I estimated your .30 caliber, 200 grain bullet’s ballistic coefficient at 0.57 and plugged your numbers into Hornady’s ballistic calculator. If you are zeroed at 300 yards and thought the deer was 330 yards away, you would need to aim about 2.5 inches high to allow for the additional bullet drop over that additional 30 yards beyond your 300 yard zero. However, if the deer was actually 420 yards away, your bullet would have dropped an additional 13 inches beyond your expected point of impact. (Bullet drop at 420 yards is about 15.5 inches below your 300 yard zero.) Unless you were aiming at the deer’s spine, your bullet should have went underneath that deer and missed entirely if it really was 420 yards away.

      Note: I am not trying to be a smart-alec or bust your chops. I am genuinely interested to understand what happened. It is a reminder of the difficulty of long range marksmanship!

      1. avatar joetast says:

        He estimated everything correctly, however he probably shoots like I do, close your eyes and yank trigger,Works Everytime, he’s eating deer.

      2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Good stuff UC. Hornady says the G1 BC as .597. That’s the number I plugged into the app “Shooter”.
        Shooter says I have an 11.4″ drop at 400 yards. On that shot, I held a bit high due to the tall grass the boy was standing in. I did not want any deflection. (You’d be amazed what a little vegetation will due to a bullet.)
        That and the shot was slightly uphill, so that would have made the shot a bit high too.
        All that, and maybe a bit of luck, contributed to a buck down.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Factor in another 2″ total for the 1/2MOA of your rifle’s accuracy at 400 yards. Looking at the exit, it looks like you maybe ended up aiming just 2″ or 3″ high. Holding cross hairs at less than 1MOA at 400 yards is darn good shooting, especially for one not taken from the prone or off a bench.

        2. avatar Professor Manque says:

          I reckon jwt wants to date you Tom, get you prone and rub his hard barrel on your…

  7. avatar miforest says:

    nice buck.

  8. avatar Accur81 says:

    Great article, bud, and I totally agree. I’ve gone on whitetail seasons and passed on early morning / early hunt shots. Last year I saw zero deer in the woods, but plenty tried to commit suicide on the highways. Last year’s hunt was just a lovely armed hike.

    I hope this season is better. I’ll set up for 600 yards and probably get a 40 yard shot. Hey, it beats work!

  9. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Good hunt and a great reminder. The “don’t pass up…” rule is a good one, but so hard to abide by. Oh the fallacy of expectations.

  10. avatar jimmy james says:

    Congrats on the venison and that’s a damn fine group printed out of that gun. Hornady ELD bullets are just amazing.

  11. avatar ProfessorManque says:

    So slaugtering deer with a weapon is not a sport, a sport is a fun contest where each side has a chance to win… so it the ETs teach the deer to shoot back or cloak themselves and sneak up and thrust their antlers into your smallballs that might me a sport… or if you don a vikings horned helmut and a knife in each hand and wrestle a bear maybe that is a sport… but this garbage of slaughtering deer with a weapon is as much of a sport as it would be for Mike Tyson or Chuck Norris to sneak up on you and beat you to death… and these horror-show pictures with the viscera blown out and posing with the corpse head, Jesus christ, you mustve been a big hit in Vietnam with the ear-necklace, what is this crap!?

    Id like to super glue an antler hat on you and impale you on a steel pole and somehow keep you alive and mobile and leave you to wander around until someone like you blows your head off… and poses proudly with the corpse : D

  12. avatar Professor Manque says:

    Who is that obese fetard in the photo, resembles a dumber version of the Skipper from Gilligan, the inbred aspect of yall may be the most disturbing aspect

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