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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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The Ultimate Deer Rifle

The overnight pole light guided my steps as I crossed the yard, headed to the patch of woods in the hollow in the center of our property. Once leaving the area illuminated by the artificial light, I had only the stars overhead that were dancing heal to toe to aid in my travel. It would

The overnight pole light guided my steps as I crossed the yard, headed to the patch of woods in the hollow in the center of our property. Once leaving the area illuminated by the artificial light, I had only the stars overhead that were dancing heal to toe to aid in my travel. It would be more than an hour until daylight began to break in the eastern sky and although my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, it was still too dark to continue without using a flashlight. I decided to sit for a while at the edge of the hedgerow and wait for Mother Nature to provide the light I needed to slip into the wood lot undetected.

Several times I had seen a nice 8-point buck slip from that woods to feed in the fields above, and it was him that I had hoped to encounter that frosty morning. I had packed two sandwiches and carried a thermos of hot chocolate to see me through the long anticipated wait at a vantage point that would overlook his usual travel route. My grandfather’s trusty Winchester model 94 lever-action .30-30 was cradled in my arms as I sat, watching the minutes slowly ticking by. The anticipation of opening day of buck season had not allowed me to sleep well the night before and ever so slowly my eyes grew heavy and my head sank into my chest.

I didn’t really hear anything — it was the “feeling” that something was coming my way that made me slowly raise my head and turn around. There he was, not the 8-point I had hoped for, but a dandy spike buck was walking stiff-legged across the horizon behind me. It was just passed the legal shooting time as I raised the rifle to my shoulder and settled the open sights just behind his shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. He dropped in his tracks!

It was the fall of 1960, I had recently turned 16 and that buck was my very first of many to come throughout the ensuing years. I took my second buck the following year with that same Winchester model 94 that now rests securely in my gun safe. One of these seasons I will take it out again and then retire it permanently until I pass it on to one of my sons. It provided me with many great memories over the years as I hunted the woods around our home in Lycoming County.

Years later, as I had the opportunity to travel to other hunting areas, there were opportunities to take longer shots than those afforded me in the more dense woods I hunted as a teenager with that open-sighted lever-action. I purchased a Remington model 760 in .30-06 caliber, that was topped with a Leopold 3-9 scope to enable the longer range shooting and it served me well for a number of seasons. Bringing home the venison to provide for the family was a very important aspect of my hunting, and I was disappointed with the cartridge because it was so powerful that it turned a good amount of the meat to a gelatinous mess. I decided that I needed to make a change.

Next in my series of deer hunting rifles was the Ruger model 77 in the very popular .243 caliber. I equipped the rifle with a Leopold 2-7 power scope that would enable shooting at a wide variety of distances. Over the next several seasons, it served me well as I took both bucks and does. But then, although the shot was a good one, I trailed a deer for a long distance and never found it. The sparse blood trail ran out and I was sick that I had not recovered the deer. It happened a second time a few years later and at the point I put the gun away and have not used it for deer hunting since.

Since that time, I have been very pleased with my Ruger model 77 in .260 caliber. Topped with a Leopold 3.5-10 power scope and using factory ammunition with a Nosler 120 grain ballistic tip bullet, I have finally settled into what I consider to be my choice for “the Ultimate Deer Rifle.” It is very comfortable to carry, is a very accurate rifle and the bullet does a great job of securing the deer where it stands without damaging the meat.

Such has been my journey down the path of finding the ideal deer rifle for use here in our Pennsylvania woods. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at what others have experienced in their search for “the Ultimate Deer Rifle.”

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