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Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Deer Camp Debate

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 28, 2009.)

Far more rifle calibers than can be mentioned here
will be toted on opening day,
and most are well suited to deer hunting.
“What’s the best rifle caliber for Pennsylvania whitetails?” It’s an open question at every deer camp every season, and a debate no one ever wins.

Plenty of calibers are contenders. Without a doubt, the .30-30 has killed more whitetails than any other round. The reasons are many. It started life in the days of black powder, so it has had a long, long career.

It was chambered in rifles that had a huge following -- the Winchester 94 and the Marlin 336 -- short, fast handling lever actions, as well as a variety of inexpensive bolt action rifles. It has made so many comebacks, we could call it the George Foreman of deer calibers. I once looked down on the cartridge, thinking it was slow, inaccurate and ugly. I ended up taking it hunting last year, and it did very well.

Supporters of the .30-06 always make a strong argument for its superiority. A deer killer for more than a hundred years, it benefited from its birth as a military cartridge. Lots of veterans were familiar with it and they passed it down to their children and grandchildren. I’ve taken many deer with a couple of different .30-06 rifles, so I can attest to its effectiveness. It will kill any deer cleanly.

The .30-06 has a distinguished family. Its offspring include the .270, the .280, and the .25-06. All are designed from the .30-06 case, and each has its following. The .270 is certainly the most widely accepted offspring of the .30-06, and was touted by the late Jack O’Connor, shooting editor of Outdoor Life magazine. He left his earthly goods behind more than 30 years ago, but his devotion to the .270 created a lasting following for the cartridge.

Were it not for O’Connor, the .280 might be considered the better cartridge. It will do everything a .270 will do, and more, because it’s available in a greater variety of bullet weights. Speed loving riflemen will argue that the .25-06 will do with velocity all that any bigger bullet will do with weight. Although it’s not widely used, it’s another well-respected member of the .30-06 family.

A distant cousin to the old “ought-six” is the .308 Winchester. The .308 is another military veteran, shorter than the .30-06 but with the same girth. It’s only a slightly weaker performer than the ’06, but still more than enough for whitetails and most other game animals in the United States.

Like the .30-06, the .308 has spawned its own children. At the lighter end of the scale, the .243 Winchester reigns supreme. Low recoil makes it popular among young people getting started in deer hunting, but it will serve a hunter well at any age. With 90 or 100 grain bullets, it delivers plenty of energy to a deer’s vitals. Proof enough for me is the fact that all the deer I’ve shot with a .243 didn’t go far.

Far more rifle calibers than can be mentioned here will be toted on opening day, and most are well suited to deer hunting.

I have my opinion, but rather than talk in terms of the “best,” I’d rather simply state my favorite. It’s another child of the .308 conceived in the late 1950s and born commercially in 1980 -- the .308 cartridge necked down to .284, or 7mm.

It’s called the 7mm-08, and it’s a great compromise between the modest .243 and the popular .308. With bigger bullets, it hits harder than the .243, and almost as hard as the .308. In fact, at ranges beyond 200 yards, the .7mm-08 outperforms the .308 with higher velocity and more punch.

Recoil is mild, especially with lighter bullets, so it’s a good choice for recoil sensitive hunters. It’s a flat shooter, easy to handload, is suitable for any medium sized game, and is at home in dense woods or in the plains.

I could go on to mention more calibers. I’ve said nothing about the .257 Roberts, the .250-3000, the 6.5 x 55, the .300 Savage, anything bigger than .30 caliber, or any of the magnums. But at least I’ve said enough to fuel some arguments at this year’s deer camp. Have at it, but keep ’em friendly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Never Enough Knives

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 14, 2009.)

I think there’s a connection
between a keen edge and a sharp mind
A long time ago, my dad told me a small knife is better than a big knife for field dressing a deer. He was right. And, being a budding outdoorsman who thought his dad was the greatest hunter in the world, I asked him if I could have his knife. Maybe I thought having it would make me the hunter that he was.

I reckoned it would suit a six-year-old just fine – it was small, light, and looked kid-sized compared to some of the knives I’d seen. It had a white celluloid handle and was made by the Western Knife Company of Colorado. Dad didn’t give it to me then, but assured me by carving my name in the back of the sheath that it would someday be mine.

Many years later Dad kept his promise. I have better knives, but once in a while for old time’s sake I take his knife deer hunting. It’s a knife that will always be special, even though he almost wore it out by sharpening the blade countless times.

Today I have more knives than I actually use, but I don’t have enough. Hunting knives, pocket knives, fixed blade knives, folding knives, Swiss Army knives and homemade knives. My favorites are the knives that once belonged to someone else.

Besides Dad’s hunting knife, I have an old Ka-Bar “fighting knife” with USN stamped on the tang. It came home with my uncle, a patriot and a World War II Navy veteran. It’s big – 12 inches long – because its user is likely to ask a lot of it.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have a couple of old miniature knives that you wouldn’t ask to do much more than a manicure. They were a gift from a long-gone friend. I also have a handsome W. R. Case knife commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of my home town, a gift from a newer friend. That knife is too beautiful to ask to do anything.

One more knife I’ll mention. Dad once gave me an interesting knife brought home from a friend’s trip to the Far East. It appears to be a home-forged knife with a bone handle, perhaps the leg bone of a dog. It has two folding blades, and both blades feature engraved characters in some language I’ve never been able to identify. I use it only for a conversation piece, and in doing so maybe someday I’ll find out something about it. I just hope the words on the blades don’t say “Death to the infidel!”

Although women use knives, knives are definitely “mantiques,” or collectibles for men. Knives are as simple as tools get – blade and handle married as one. A knife is the original multi-purpose tool, useful for countless tasks.

And whether they’re old and rusty, shiny and artistic, fixed blade or folder, knives often speak if you’re listening.

Sometimes you’ll see a man take a knife out of his pocket and examine it closely, then put it back. That’s one more use for a knife. “What’s that,” you ask? It might have told him a story. Or maybe he used it to focus his thoughts. I think there’s a connection between a keen edge and a sharp mind.

It’s a sad fact of today’s world that a knife in someone’s hand raises suspicion. I’d rather not part be of that world. I’d rather be part of a world where a knife is a sign of trust – especially when you give someone that knife. Give a man a knife and you’re telling him you believe in him.

Somehow, the gift of a knife strengthens a relationship like nothing else can. If you want to cement a relationship with a man, give him a knife. It’s the perfect gift for the man you think has everything, because no man ever has enough knives.