By Tom in Oregon
Opening weekend of deer season has come and gone. While I didn’t draw a deer tag, I drew another weekend of fun, family, history, and learning. I had the standing invitation to go to central Oregon with my good friends, to see more good friends, and to experience the fall harvest and I was raring to go. Besides, I can still laser range, guess wind, help with gutting and cleaning, and enjoy a backstrap breakfast! . . .
I was with Nolan, his grandfather Dave, and my best friend, Sean. I’ve hunted with Sean for about 30 years. Dave is a retired surgeon, Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and all-around walking encyclopedia of knowledge. He’s been hunting for well over 50 years. Nolan is a 16-year-old unwritten book. This year is his fourth year hunting. All four of us share the passion of “the hunt.” Harvesting our own food in nature’s grocery store.
We were staying with friends, Lee and Mary, in central Oregon. Fifth generation farmers who are the nicest, most giving people a guy can be privileged to know.
After waking to the aroma of brewed coffee, we drove to an area that has been productive in the past. We set up and and the guys agreed on a firing order, based on the size of any shooter bucks and how many may appear in the wheat fields as dawn nears. Nolan had first dibs and did a superb job of making a quick clean kill of his solo buck. A beautiful 200-ish yard poke. The 168 grain Sierra Match King hollow point, fired from a vintage Remington 700 PSS, entered the chest and separated the heart from the ascending aorta. BAM! Tag filled.
In the 10 minutes it took us to get back to where we’d left Nolan, that young man had already gutted his deer.
He has learned well from his dad, Lee and his grandfather.
As the weather was in the low 80’s, we returned to the barn to skin and get the deer cooling to avoid any wasted meat.
After taking care of the first buck, we went to a different parcel of land to try for an afternoon buck. Our hopes were low as the temperature because of how warm the afternoon was. But in short order, we are pleasantly surprised that a few deer are on the prowl for food.
Surprise, surprise! Doctor Dave still has it, even in his 80’s. He nailed his buck at about 100 yards with his Ruger M-77 in .243. He’s not happy with the shot, as the buck went down but was trying to get back up. A follow up shot to the neck did the trick. Second tag filled.
Sunday awakes to the same weather. Two tags left. We return to the area from the first day in the hopes of similar luck. No such thing this morning. The breeze seems to be picking up early. Lee and Sean make the decision to check a completely different area. While sitting and glassing a large area of draws and other irregularities of the land, we spy five deer all feeding in a wheat stubble field. I range them at over 800 yards. As the breeze is really starting to pick up, no shots are taken. We decide to make a fishhook arc around them and surprise them from the down wind side.
As we make our way to the crest of a slope, we realize we have not estimated the distance of our encounter quite correctly. We expected to see them and snipe them from about 250 yards. As we crest the horizon, we see ears and horns. Less than 100 yards away. And they are staring right at us. Oops.
Lee makes a quick shot with his custom .25-06 and thwacks his target right at the top of the neck. This starts the rest at a slow trot. They seem a bit confused. Sean tracks his buck as it’s angling slightly towards us. Boom. Buck down. Seems a copy of his dad’s shot. A follow-up to the head and his is down for good. A quick gutting, and it’s back to the barn for skinning, bagging and hanging to cool.
As Lee has plenty of steak in his freezer, we dice his up in preparation for jerky. As he can spend 12 hours a day in a tractor, he likes having snacks on hand.
Here, the good surgeon gives a few tips on carving to Lee’s nephew, passing along his knowledge to a great kid. Jessie used restraint on that morning hunt looking over a few shooter bucks. He didn’t feel confident in a longer than normal shot, so he didn’t take it. Besides, he and Nolan were enjoying watching a 6×6 bull elk within 100 yards that they didn’t want to spook.
The bucks this year were nice and healthy. Total weight of the three deer gutted and skinned was about 255 lbs. Subtract about 20% for bone weight and we will net about 200 lbs of natural, grain fed, free range protein.
As the weather was way too warm for a hanging cure in Sean’s barn, we opted to take the bucks to a butcher shop we have used in the past. Ebner’s meats in Canby is also owned by a relative of Sean’s wife. Keeping it in the family whenever we can!
The good Doctor has been a meticulous reloader for a few decades. When he has spare time, he loads ammo for Sean’s custom 300 win mag, Nolan’s .308 PSS and his own .243. He also reloads several pistol calibers. For accuracy, loads have been tested, tried, and trued.
Sean’s rifle started life as a Weatherby, then got a Krieger cryo-frozen barrel and an HS Precision stock. It will pop 16 oz. water bottles at 500 yards with boring regularity. I was able to clover-leaf the loads for Nolan’s rifle at 300 yards. Dave has things dialed in quite well. He can, and does when we ask, pass along his knowledge of loads that work and ones that work well. I’ve certainly learned a lot from him. My pet .308 load is a slight modification of his recommended doses.
Lee keeps incredible notes on his reloads. He gave me a peek at his first page and his last page. His first page began in 1983. The last page from last month shows he has reloaded a bit over 24,000 rounds since that time. He also casts his own bullets. He has targets that measure less than 2 inches at 500 yards, his farthest targets from his front porch. I learned of a really good load for .45-70 from him that rocks. I’ll be using it as soon as I finish the build on my rifle. We are going back in a couple of months to stretch my big .50 out past a mile and see how she does.
This tradition of hunting with family and friends, sharing great meals, jerkey recipes, meat cutting techniques, and reloading data has become something special. I really look forward to each and every outing. It especially feels gratifying to pass what we have learned to the next generation of hunter gatherers.
Lee’s wife Mary said something while we were dicing up Lee’s buck that struck home. “If a man dies without sharing what he knows, it’s like burning a set of encyclopedias”.