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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Choosing a Deer Cartridge

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Jan. 20, 2007.)
Whatever your choice, never allow power to
substitute for shot placement. Choose a
cartridge and rifle combination that's comfortable
to shoot, and shoot as much as you can.
"Hit him in the butt with the .222 and you'll rupture the blood vessels in his head."

Those were the words of a hunter I respected, back when I was a teenager trying to understand deer rifles, cartridges and ballistics. I had just chosen the .222 and I suppose he was trying to assure me I had made a great choice. But that comment was way beyond exaggeration. Nevertheless, the venerable "three deuces" is a very good round.

Early in my hunting career I shot a couple of deer with the .222, chambered in a Savage Model 340. Today my .222 is an old Remington Model 788. The barrel looks like it was hacksawed to 18 inches. My speckled black paint job is badly in need of a facelift. Despite being an ugly gun, it's a terrific shooter. To make me willing to trade it you'd probably have to point your own trade bait at me.

I'm stuck on the .222, but not because of its power. The newer .223 is more powerful, as are many late model .22 caliber centerfires. Despite my friend's opinion, it won't rupture the blood vessels farther than a couple of inches from the bullet's point of impact. But it's one of the most deadly accurate little rounds ever made -- great for critters from groundhogs to coyotes. It can also be effective for the non-purist who approves rifles on fall butterballs.

The .222 can do the job on deer, but it's the cartridge that proves the rule that shot placement is everything. A copper-jacketed lead pill that weighs only 50 grains will never perform like a pill weighing 150 grains.

The point? In choosing a deer cartridge, bullet energy is nearly everything. That means the .222 will never deliver the punch that a.243 will. The .243 will not be as effective as the .257. The .257 is beaten by the.270, and so on, until you get to the centenarian .30-06.

Each of these calibers raises the stakes on the deer you shoot it with, delivering more energy and thus greater killing power. There are only two ways of delivering more energy. Use a heavier bullet, or send it to the target at greater velocity.

But that doesn't make it easy to settle the argument over what the best deer caliber is. Personal taste has a lot to do with it. But, simply put, within a certain range any caliber will do a good job. I think the .243 with a 100-grain bullet is pushing the bottom edge of the envelope. A better bottom limit, I think, is a .25 caliber 115-grain bullet. On the upper end, I reckon anything more powerful than the .30-06 with a 180-grain bullet is overkill.

Anything under 1500 foot-pounds of energy with a 100-grain bullet is marginally effective when shot placement is poor, and anything over 2500 foot-pounds with a 180-grain bullet is overkill on whitetail deer.

Beyond the .30-06 you don't need speed. That's why the exceptions to my rule are on the heavy end of the cartridge spectrum. And there are several. Heavy bullets that lumber along at speeds that are almost visible can be deadly. These slowpokes include the .35 Remington (around 1300 foot-pounds at 100 yards) and the .44 Magnum (1000 foot-pounds). Think long and hard before toting such old-timers as the .32-20 or the .25-20 into the deer woods. Both produce less than 300 foot pounds of energy and are among the least powerful centerfire cartridges.

I don't intend to demean these relics. I myself carried a .25-20 briefly as a kid, but that was before everyday hunters thought much about ballistics. Most merely relied on the advice of those who had gone before, and some of those hyphenated holdovers from black powder cartridge days were still in use. Today, most of them are retired to the back of the gun cabinet.

Whatever your choice, never allow power to substitute for shot placement. Choose a cartridge and rifle combination that's comfortable to shoot, and shoot as much as you can. Every practice shot will make you more confident, add to your skill level, and increase your odds when the crosshairs are on your next buck.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Advice For the New Hunter

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., January 6, 2007.)
Don't wait until just before the next season.
Now is the time to begin
tracking down the answers you need.
Thinking of taking up hunting? A brave soul you are, because hunting is declining in popularity, and hunters are often frowned upon as vulgar Neanderthals, or worse.

You know that's not the truth, so you press ahead anyway. But how? You have questions. Whom should you consult for advice? What should you hunt? When do you start? Where do you go? How can you manage the expense of guns and equipment? And not least, why hunt?

Don't wait until just before the next season -- now is the time to begin tracking down the answers you need.

In considering advice to pass along, I posted a topic "Your advice on getting into hunting" on the message board of the web site www.HuntingPA.com where people from around the state discuss every hunting related topic (and some that have nothing to do with hunting). One thing HuntingPA.com can guarantee is plenty of opinions.

So if you're thinking of getting into hunting it might pay to poke around that web site. Better yet, register. You'll have to come up with a user name. (Mine? Everyday Hunter, of course.) You'll meet many guys (and a few women) who are willing to help a newcomer. But beware: as in any group of people, you'll find some strong views.

Once you've registered, click around the topics and read the conversations that seem interesting. You'll notice that HuntingPA.com includes forums on general hunting topics, big game (mostly whitetails), turkeys, small game, waterfowl, bears, even elk. You can read about laws, dogs, trapping and muzzleloading. If it's related to hunting in Pennsylvania, people are talking about it on HuntingPA.com. Look for others from your area and people with common interests.

My question drew some thoughtful answers from a variety of people:

Buckhunter from Grove City:
Contact a local sportsmen's club to register for a safety course where you will learn about game and how to hunt legally, ethically, and safely.
Bunky from WMU 5B: A hunter education class should be top priority.
huntergreen from Guys Mills, PA: Pal around with someone who has been hunting for a while, and pick his brain. Also, start with something that will not allow you to get bored.
Timberdoodle from Bradford County: Most of the necessary skills can be learned in the squirrel woods.
Looneydude from Lehigh County: Get good maps for the areas you intend to hunt. Now is a good time to get in the woods and look around.
Bearhands from Columbia County: There are a ton of avenues to explore from hunting deer to photographing deer mice. The common thread -- respect for the law, the game and other hunters.
bbeye of Southeast PA: Practice shooting, and read as much as you can.
great white hunter from Greensburg: Know your equipment and practice a lot.
Jackson from Lackawanna County: A new hunter should understand some of the "unpleasants" of hunting -- not everyone is up for gutting critters.
Birch812 from Carbon County: There are no vacancies left in the state for someone whose main reason for hunting is just to kill something. Invest in good boots. Borrow a gun at first, if possible, to minimize your startup expense.
Longhunter from Washington County: Reading hunting stories is a way to know what kind of hunting you might like. Start slowly, enjoy the basics, and develop a good base to build on.
RoosterBooster from Warren County: Emphasize the enjoyment of simple things. Teach about habitat and the science of the harvest. Once a person learns this, they don't look at a deer (or other animals) the same way again.
1trueamerican from Allegheny County: Nowadays with the Internet, the info is boundless, but safety is always number 1.
Bluetick from Franklin County: Pennsylvania offers many opportunities to try hunting. A long season on groundhogs offers a terrific start. Small game will appeal to new hunters because you are moving and it's easy to teach an on-going lesson each time a shot is made. Warn new hunters that the hunting shows on TV are not a good guide. Real life is a tad bit different.

Lots of good points, and lots more can be made. Why not introduce yourself and a buddy to hunting by attending one of the upcoming sportsmen's shows where you can take advantage of some good seminars in a casual setting. The closest ones are in Erie March 2-4 (Erie Sport & Travel Expo), and in Hamburg, NY March 8-11 (Western New York Sport & Travel Expo). The Pittsburgh ExpoMart hosts one February 14-18 (Allegheny Sport, Travel & Outdoor Show). And the granddaddy of them all is in Harrisburg February 3-11 (Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show). Click on the links for more information.