After three backpack trips high into the wilderness backcountry for Muleys and bear with nothing to show yet this season, I was really hoping that my main goal/dream for the season, for my daughter to harvest her first deer, would at least come true. We had put her in for a youth anterless tag last spring and she was fortunate enough to draw that tag. So, last Friday, day before opener of the general season, we finalized packing our backpacks and headed out. She had 56 lbs (quite a bit for a 13yo girl...) and I had 88lbs of gear. She's is quite a hiker and in very good shape and we've purchased good gear for her, but didn't want to wear her out. She was shooting a .243 that her grandfather had bought for her 2 years ago after she passed hunter safety. He passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, which was very difficult, but especially for my daughter as they both shared a great love of horses and many other things and if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be hunting as that is something he passed on to me and to my daughter. So, this was what we hoped would be her time to finally shoot a deer, her first deer, with this rifle.
I'd worked up a load with 90g Nosler ABs and 48g of 4831sc that was routinely producing 1/2 MOA groups in this little youth size gun. Shooting at the range had her shooting 1MOA at 100 yards fairly routinely prone off a bipod and her first 3 shot group at 205 yards prone was under a 1"! Wow, we will take this thing out to 400. Right after that, the gun went to shooting 2 to 2.5 MOA. I could not figure out in time what was going on. We would just have to limit our shots to 200 yds---bummer. Longer range was not to be for now.
After setting up camp in an area completely new to each of us our first evening out, we did a little spotting from a nearby location before dark. This spotting location had a decent view and was pretty easy to get to from camp, so in lieu of a better idea, we decided to spot from there for the opener.
The next morning found us at our spotting location before first light. 2 hours of spotting produced twin fawns right behind us. Throughout the day we hunted x-country and up some game trails to a bench I wanted to check out after looking at topos and Google Earth. The area was very dry making for a very noisy x-country endeavor. Right after we got to the bench, I told my daughter to have her rifle ready. A couple of minutes later, we spooked a legal buck at 80 yds, but there was never a shot. We had to figure out a different tactic. We decided to stick to well defined game trails that would let us hunt throughout the day, but keep our travels as quiet as possible. In traveling along some game trails for quite a ways, we discovered a well traveled horse trail not on any maps and decided that the next day we would see where that went as it was obviously being used during hunting season, which must mean something. Only two deer were seen that night and very far away, but we'd seen or spooked 7 deer that day. Every time we woke up that night, we heard twigs snapping in different directions. The deer were around.
Spotting the next morning produced nothing. So, we packed up and headed up the trail and then up the unmarked horse trail. Trying to get my daughter to convert from a hiking mode of covering ground quickly without looking, to hunting mode and slowing down and being much more aware of your surroundings, took a little effort. After a fair amount of vertical with a break or two, we decided to head back down, still not sure where the trail ended up. Gotta go back and figure that out sometime.
At one spot on the way down, I thought we should take a break at a bit of an overlook and just hang a bit to see if anything showed up. In a few minutes we started hearing those 'deer noises' below us and I had my daughter get her pack off so that she could rest the gun on the pack, something that her grandfather had done many times to kill many elk over the years. We just waited and waited and kept hearing those 'deer noises'. Finally, I saw a doe step out broadside at 75 yards right where my daughter had set up pointing her rifle over her pack. She saw it as well and I whispered to wait for it to clear the tree as it fed along. Then I just shut up and let her do her thing. As it cleared the tree, she fired and the doe literally did a back flip and headed back down hill from where she'd come from. Indications were that is was a good hit. It had all happened so fast, I hadn't even had the time, or wanted to move that much, to get my binoculars on it. No time to get in a second shot. We waited and heard a little noise a couple of times. After that last noise we waited another 30 minutes. I'd never shot big game with such a small bullet and did not want to have to chase anything in the waning late afternoon with my daughter way up on a hillside away from camp. A half hour later, we went down to where she hit the deer. We did not see any blood, but started tracking the deer as best we could. I'm no tracker, but soon enough we found her deer about 60 yards away. That little bullet (I was a bit amazed) went through part of the onside shoulder, messed up the lungs and did a fair amount of damage to the ribs on the far side just behind the offside shoulder. We hugged and laughed. I told her how proud I was of her and we thanked the Good Lord for the harvest and for the wonderful grandfather that largely made it all possible that is so proud of his granddaughter, took some pictures and video and set to work. A couple of hours later, (I'm not very fast at field dressing...) we had all the meat in game bags and then in plastic bags in our packs and down the trail we went. Had to headlamp out the last mile + or so, which added kind of a neat element for my daughter as she'd never done that before. A warm meal in the Tipitent that night and a well deserved rest for my daughter capped off the night as we talked about what had just happened until she fell asleep. Special times...
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The next morning we decided to spot from our location near camp one last time before packing out as we had to leave that day to get her back to school, the schoolwork from which was piling up. I had half-heartedly mentioned to her a location within the area we were watching in which I most thought we might see a deer, but I never really expected to see one as we'd sat there several times and many hours already. All of a sudden, about 35 minutes into shooting hours, I see what looks like a deer right where I thought we might be most likely to see something. Putting the binocs back up confirmed it and rather than waste time with 10x binocs that I couldn't hold super steady in the position I was in, I scrambled for the spotting scope that was already set up. 15x revealed what clearly met the 3pt. minimum. Range finding revealed a 350 yd shot to the deer. I'd already entered the environmental information (RH, baro. press, temp.) into Shooter, and this load had been proven out to 1000 yds to coincide with the solutions from this ballistic program, so Shooter calculated a solution and I got set up and cranked up the elevation only 3 MOA for the short 350 yd, nearly level shot across the river canyon. No wind. With the 338 Allen Xpress (made by Allen Precision Shooting) spitting the 300g Berger Elite Hunter bullet, resting on an Atlas bipod and a Bipod Buddy rear rest, I waited, as the shot I was presented with at the moment was the 'Texas heart shot'. In a moment, the deer pivoted its head to the right to feed, giving me a decent target of its neck. At the sound of the shot, the 300g bullet came steaming out of the barrel at 2900fps and I lost my sight picture, but regained it and watched the deer tumble down the cliffy river canyon walls. I told my daughter to keep her eyes on it. She said it had collapsed immediately. We marked where we thought it had come to rest with a couple of landmarks and an azimuth from our location. Wow! Two deer in two days on a father/daughter hunt! What more could you want?
Since we still had camp and her deer to pack out and now a buck across the river where access from above was problematic, we packed up most of camp and her deer and headed for the car to jettison as much weight as possible and then head back in for my deer. We brought back shoes we could ford the river with and zip off hiking pants for same. As we got back to camp and then down to the river, there was still frost all along the river and that was some cold water. My toes wanted to negotiate a new contract with my brain... Trekking poles made all the difference in the fast flowing water and we were safely across, but now looking at a steep, nasty bushwhack. We spotted one of our landmarks and took a bearing back to our spotting location trying to get to where we thought the buck was. A little later after some more thrashing up the hill, bushwhacking like my daughter had never done before, I looked up and saw what I thought might be a deer nose sticking straight up in the air next to a mess of downed timber and branches. Could it be? Turned out it was. And was I surprised to see the size of this buck. I was just happy to have seen and shot a legal 3pt. min. buck as I thought, but this one turned out a little bigger. 26" spread and technically a 6x6 and the backs had slight whale tails on each side.
After some photos, etc. I decided to try a 'controlled' drag (right...) to get the deer down to the river as we were in a pretty steep nasty spot that I didn't want to cut up the deer in and then pack 80lbs of meat down. After cutting it up, we forded the river again, made it back to camp and packed up camp and headed out, very thankful to the Lord for a very memorable trip. I could not have asked for a better time together and outcome.
Hope you guys are getting out and enjoying time with family and friends in the great outdoors as well,
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Photo of the exit side of the neck. This is a fairly new bullet so thought that might be helpful.
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