It's that time of year again, and even though hunting seasons haven't yet started, the DGIF is sending license renewal reminders, so here goes.

I have mentioned before the DGIF's policy of issuing "kill permits" for people whose gardens and other property are damaged by wildlife. My friend Betty has one of these: she's been complaining about deer ravaging her apple orchard and other plants, so for the past couple of years she's obtained a kill permit and put me on as the Designated Deer Assassin. Having recently returned from an extended trip to Scandinavia, I went out to her house to do the deed as opportunity presented. Only antlerless deer can be taken on kill permits, as the intent is to reduce the overall size of the herd, and the only practical way to do that is to kill does, thereby removing from the (future) population all their descendants.

I went out a couple of times and actually saw three does as I drove into her property one afternoon but never had a shot. She'd been telling me "They come into the apple orchard between 8 and 9, and there's a big doe with two young ones."  I went again in the afternoon of June 30th but nobody showed up; but after a quick dinner at home I went back out and arrived about 7:30 PM. Sure enough, as we sat chatting in her living room, about 8:30 two deer showed up. I quietly opened her patio door, took aim at the bigger one, and BAM! down she went. The range was perhaps 25 yards.

It was a youngish doe. Nevertheless she was old enough to be carrying twin fawns in utero. Based on her size I'd have guessed she was a yearling, but everything I've read indicates that for a first pregnancy a doe will have a single fawn, and will deliver twins in subsequent years. If she was a year or a year and a half, she seems to have defied the "rule" but nutrition is a factor; in southern Montgomery County food is unlimited. It may well be that even a yearling can have twins the first time around if she's well nourished, as this deer was. The fetuses were well along, too: I'd guess she'd have dropped them within a few days had she lived. Late June or early July seems late in the year for fawns to be born, but there was no doubt about their presence. I don't know how long it takes a fawn to become totally independent, and perhaps a very late birth would handicap the fawn in making it through the winter. Well, neither of them have to worry about it now.

Mama's live weight was less than 100 pounds, so she's probably not the "big one" Betty says she's seeing.  Believe it or not, as I was dressing out the doe, another one—probably her erstwhile companion—came back over the ridge and snorted at me! Then she vanished.  I'd put my rifle in the truck, but if I'd been thinking straight and had it at hand I might have got her, too. Betty called me the next day to say that the deer had come back to feed that night. A blood spot on the ground means nothing to them, obviously. (I once was dressing out a deer and had three more wander by within 15 feet of where I was doing the dirty! They are not the smartest animals God ever made, that's for sure.)

I used my little Husqvarna Mauser, a dedicated sporter built on non-military Model 1896 action in 1944. This was one of the last sporting guns made on the 1896 action: after the war ended Husqvarna bought Model 1898 actions from FN and used those for their sporting rifles. My Husky is chambered for the 8x57 Mauser round, a very fine all-around caliber for medium game. A couple of weeks before I'd taken it to a gunsmith to have the headspace checked and corrected if necessary because I was getting primer protrusion with Remington's factory ammo, though not with Norma's much hotter stuff. It would close on a NO GO gauge but not on a FIELD gauge, so it wasn't unsafe to shoot, but I had the smith set the barrel back and rechamber it, just to be sure. A little range time showed me it would still shoot 2 MOA or less, which is good enough for what I do with it.

American 8x57 is substantially less powerful than that made in Europe but it's good enough for our local whitetails. I used Remington's ammunition with 170 grain RNSP Core-Lokt bullets. Remington's ballistic tables rate this round at 2360 FPS. For purposes of comparison, their .30-30 load with the 170 grain bullet has a muzzle velocity of 2200 FPS. (Norma loads the 8x57 with a 196 grain bullet at 2526 FPS, putting it in the same power class as the .308 Winchester.)

This little Mauser is a "lucky" gun. I took it to Namibia in 2010, where using Norma ammunition I shot a zebra, a springbok, a jackal or two, a warthog, an impala and a huge eland. Prior to that it had taken a nice fat hog in Tennessee, and a big whitetail buck in Giles County.  Everything I've pointed it at has died.

Amazingly enough, I recovered the bullet from this animal: it was lodged under the skin on the off side.  In my experience, when light boned animals are shot at short range with a fairly powerful rifle, there's complete penetration, but not this time.  I shot her in the left shoulder more or less broadside. The bullet was lodged under the skin on the right side, visible as a "bump" under her fur.  The recovered bullet was perfectly mushroomed, and weighed 120.3 grains: 70.7% weight retention. One bullet, three animals and all their descendants removed from the herd. A properly placed bullet is the best deer contraceptive, no matter what the Greenies think. And at 60 cents per round, it's a whole lot cheaper than the way some places in New York are doing it!

Because I'd made the kill so late in the day, none of the local meat processors were open. It was pretty warm and we worried about spoilage, so we parked her in Betty's basement, cool and away from flies. First thing the next morning I took her in to a local processor.

July 5, 2017

I sent the following question to Matt Knox, the DGIF's Deer Coordinator:

On June 30, I killed a doe who had twin fawns in utero, very near term so far as I could tell. This doe appeared to be fairly young: had she not been pregnant with twins I'd have guessed not much more than a year.  I didn't get a look at her teeth and could only estimate her weight (not more than 100 pounds on the hoof).

I've read that does begin their reproductive lifetime at about 16 months, and it's possible that this deer was that old. However, everything I've read seems to indicate that first-time pregnancies are singletons, with twins in subsequent years. How valid is this observation?  How likely is it that a first-time mother will twin?  By my calculation the doe would have conceived in mid to late December 2016, using 205 days as a gestation period.  That would have been in the "second rut," I think.

Second question: had those twins been born in early July, (based on their size in the womb) what would be their odds of surviving?  I'm still seeing spotted fawns now and then on the roads, but it seems to me that July is very late for fawns to be dropped.  The doe didn't appear to be lactating yet.If they had been born by, say July 10th, I think their making it through the winter would have been chancy. The landowner was somewhat upset that the fawns were killed, but my thinking is that they'd have died anyway if the weather turned bad.  How likely is it that the doe would have been nursing them in, say, November or December?  What would be her odds of having enough nutritional support to do this?

Received this reply today:

The June 30 fawns would be considered "late". If you figure a 200 day gestation, this means the doe was bred on or about December 13th.

A few very general observations:

Older does breed first, on average a couple of days to a week earlier than yearling deer (1-1/2 years of age). If fawns breed (based on condition/weight) they breed weeks to months later. Older does typically have twins (triplets are possible), yearling does typically have a single fawn (but twins are possible) and fawns almost always (99%+) have a single fawn. Without a jaw, it is impossible to say how old this deer might have been. I would guess >=2 (current age). I can almost guarantee it was not a fawn last fall.

Lastly, yes, I think the fawns would have survived. If we had a mast failure and a hard winter next year, they would be at risk.

July 10, 2017: The Husqvarna Strikes Again

Mrs Outdoorsman is visiting her sister this week, so I am reverting to bachelor ways, which include sleeping and eating whenever I feel like it, and going out to do Manly Things involving firearms and innocent woodland creatures that never did me any harm. Well, it also means serving the Commonwealth by removing the surplus population of hoofed nuisances we call "deer."

I wrote a kill permit for a man on the same rural road on which my friend Betty lives, so I put the Husky in the truck and after doing that, I headed for her place, about 5:00 or so. About 6:30 I had gone out to the truck to get something and as I walked back to the house, lo, there was a pair of those V-shaped ears sticking up above the grass on the hill above Betty's orchard. I went into the house, got the rifle, and carefully went back out. Sure enough, the doe was still watching me, maybe 35 yards away.

I took an offhand shot. She was facing me so I aimed at the center of her chest. The bullet hit just to the left of her center line, and subsequent examination showed it removed the top of the heart and the great vessels there.

She dropped, got up, and started to run to my right, making it about 40 yards before she dropped in a heap. I gave her an "insurance" shot with my little .380 pocket pistol, and then commenced the rest of the ceremonies. I didn't recover the bullet: it was somewhere in the mass of viscera. The entry wound was fairly small but there was no exit wound and I wasn't going to dig around in the gut pile in fading light!

This one was, by evidence of her teeth, perhaps 2-1/2 to 3 years old. She wasn't pregnant but she was lactating, so I expect she'd dropped her fawns in May or June. At the processor's, we weighed her at 86 pounds field dressed, which means live weight would have been in the range of 110 pounds. Betty's been talking about a "big doe," and this may have been her. Not the biggest doe I've seen around here, but larger than our local average.

The Husky is a "lucky" gun: I always seem to see game when I have it in hand, and everything I've fired it at has died. And I'll give those Remington Core-Lokt RNSP's their due: they may be slow but they do the job. Just about the perfect whitetail bullet, which they ought to be after seventy-plus years of development and refinement. People who are into the current "long range" fad can sniff at round nose bullets but in these local woods and fields they work just fine.

This business of shooting deer in shorts and a T-shirt has its good and bad points. Much cooler and easier to move in light clothing, but my lower legs are badly scratched up thanks to walking through brambles to reach where she fell! I just hope there was no poison ivy in that patch...

July 30, 2017

There was poison ivy in that patch, damn it, and I'm still feeling the effects of it. Phooey.

Today was a day not of hunting but of getting ready to hunt.

I probably kill more deer with a muzzle-loader than with a conventional rifle, and in the past decade or more I've used my beloved .54 caliber Thompson Center New Englander. But I've always felt that when it comes to making holes in deer, the bigger the hole, the better. Some years ago I had a Hawken-style .58, and managed to kill one deer with it; and to miss three more, because it had open sights. Briefly I tried scoping it but never got to use the scope on anything. I was disappointed in the rifle and eventually sold it. What I really wanted was a Thompson Center .58, what they sold briefly as the "Big Boar." This is essentially a larger-caliber New Englander with an octagonal barrel, a recoil pad, and factory-installed sling swivel mounts. The Big Boar wasn't a commercial winner, probably because T/C brought it out just as the craze for in-lines in .50 caliber took off. Not too many were made, and they're very hard to find, because anyone who has one really loves it and is very reluctant to part with it.

I looked for a Big Boar for years—that Hawken was my attempt to find an equivalent—and about 8 months ago I actually found one for sale. The owner had decided he wanted to shift to in-lines, and I was the beneficiary of his decision. I bought it for a very reasonable price, complete with several boxes of round balls and one of conicals.

My eyes are no longer up to open sights, but I did manage to hit a target at 50 yards using the ones on the rifle; still, I wanted to put a peep sight on the gun, like the one on my New Englander. Peep sights I can still use, and I'm not into scoped muzzle-loaders.

It seems that original T/C peep sights are even harder to find than Big Boar rifles. I ended up ordering a Lyman peep from Track of the Wolf, and when it finally came, took it to a gunsmith for installation. Next step was to sight the rifle in, which is what I did today.

T/C recommends a load for maximum accuracy: a patched round ball (278 grains) and 90 grains of FFg powder. For the latter I substituted the equivalent in Hodgdon 777, which is somewhat more energetic than real BP, so I loaded 70 grains (by weight, not volume). Ignition was with a musket cap. I always use an under-ball wool wad with plenty of Bore Butter on the wad and the fabric patch, and I was able to fire four shots in succession with no problems reloading, so it seems that Hodgdon's claim that 777 is cleaner than "real" black powder is true. I also got very little fouling out of the barrel when I cleaned it at home.

The first shot was low and the second was still low but dead on for windage. I brought the rear sight up, and lo, the next shot was exactly on the aiming point at 100 yards. A second confirmatory shot was in the same place. The rifle is now set to knock down any deer foolish enough to come within that range.

August 15, 2017

I went to Betty's this afternoon. I didn't see any deer, but as I was chatting with her in the kitchen, she triumphantly handed me...the bullet that killed the second doe! She had recovered it from a steak she was eating. Once again, it was perfectly mushroomed, and retained weight was 130.7 grains, 76.8% of the initial 170 grains.

I'd shot that deer in the chest, and the steak in which it was embedded was from one of the hindquarters: it had gone through her all the way from end to end. I knew it hadn't exited. Had it been one of the Norma 196-grain bullets it would almost certainly have done. These Core-Lokt bullets perform just about perfectly in whitetails. They're soft enough to expand reliably and tough enough to retain most of their initial weight. I've had issues with the bullets in Federal's .308 ammunition, which hardly seem to expand at all. This season I'll be shooting Core-Lokts in my .308, and if they do as good a job as they do in the 8mm I'll be very satisfied.

September 13, 2017: A Renewal and a Lesson Learned

Today I happily went out to hunt at Spruce Run Farm, where I hunted for years until about a decade ago, when some !$@!$!@$%$^& offered the landowner a "lease fee" and I was closed out after 18 seasons. The owner has since died and his son now owns the farm; he isn't into leasing and cheerfully gave me permission to hunt a property that I always found to be a place of rest as well as a "deer factory" that reliably produced game.

I really went to check things out and do a little scouting; I use squirrel season as my opportunity to do that. Not too much has changed, though there are some differences in detail; but I think that I won't have much trouble figuring out what if any adjustments I have to make to hunt it this year.

The 4WD unit on my truck died last weekend, but I got it back yesterday and it's fine now. 4WD is a real necessity at Spruce Run Farm because most of it is on a slope of about 30 degrees (like the rest of Giles County) and it's a long, long way from the road to my hunting spots. One thing I've noticed is that in the years since I was last there, the parts of the slope I have to climb have become a lot steeper, and the distances a lot farther...when I first started hunting that place in the late '80's I used to walk all the way up: hard to imagine I once had the stamina to do that. Well, maybe I'm just getting old.  (Naaaahhh, can't be that! Must be Global warming shifting the landscape...)

There's an old logging road that runs along a ridge about a thousand yards from the road and a hundred yards above the spot shown in the image above. I like to sit on that road, and the deer like to use it as a travel corridor; so I went up and found a place to sit down.  I opened the season using a little 20-gauge Pedersoli muzzle-loading double shotgun that I bought last year from Kittery Trading Post in Maine. For this shotgun the basic load is 55 grains of Hodgdon 777 (2F) and an ounce of #6's.  The barrels are bored approximately CYL and IMP, and it hasn't got choke tubes.  It's a pretty little thing, and if there's a flaw in it, it's that it has no provision for a sling.

I parked myself in a shady spot about 10:00 AM, taking out my Kindle and waiting to see what would happen.  Not quite an hour later I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, a small grey squirrel was mooching around at the base of a tree about 25 yards away. (I was glad it was a grey squirrel: I've decided not to shoot any more fox squirrels, even though they're legal. They're just too pretty and too comical to kill.)

I fired the right barrel at it.  Even with 777 there's enough smoke to obscure my vision for a few seconds, but when the smoke cleared I could see the squirrel doing a "death flop."  I walked closer and tried to finish things with the left barrel, but all I got was a POP! and a misfire!

Now, misfires aren't common with BP shotguns because the nipple screws directly into the breech, right over the charge.  I can't ever remember having a misfire with either of my percussion doubles, nor with my percussion double rifle. In a typical sidelock rifle, the flame has to make a right angle turn through a "snail" to reach the charge but that doesn't happen with shotguns.  Well, sometimes a nipple can get clogged, so out came the pin, I made sure the flash channel was clear, capped it again, and...POP! another misfire.

I didn't want to risk losing a wounded animal so I walked up and put an end to things with my little pocket .380. Whatever one thinks of the .380 as a self defense caliber, it works just fine on squirrels: a half-pound rodent may be the only animal on which a .380 is "overkill," actually. The entry wound can be seen in the picture at left.

After finishing off the squirrel I tried to make the gun go off with a third cap, again getting a misfire.  I was beginning to think that somehow I had "dry balled" the gun, i.e., forgotten to put a charge in the left barrel.  I'm pretty careful about that sort of thing, but hey, it can happen to anyone.  I put the squirrel in my game vest and headed home to see what had happened, and to clean the gun and the game.

Once home I drew the load with a screw (something nearly impossible to do with a rifle, but easy with a shotgun) and blew out the powder charge.  That's when I found out what was wrong: along with the charge came a small piece of a fiber wad!  That piece was left over from the last time the gun was fired and cleaned, a year ago!  Somehow it had broken off from the wad and stayed in the barrel, blocking the flash channel.  I once had something similar happen with a flintlock rifle, but I've never heard of it happening with a shotgun.  Nevertheless, there was the irrefutable evidence that the misfire wasn't the fault of the cap or the nipple being clogged, still less a dry-loaded barrel.

I'm glad I got that sorted out.  I had begun to think that perhaps 777 (like Pyrodex) is somewhat insensitive and hard to ignite, and that maybe for the upcoming seasons I'd go back to "real" black.  I've been using 777 because it's more energetic than real BP and also because it cleans up much more easily. I would have been reluctant to abandon it completely. I'm scratching my head about how to make sure this doesn't happen again. The breech plug is not one that I can remove. Seeing a small obstruction—even with a little drop-in bore light—is pretty difficult.  Had I popped a couple of caps before leaving I might have avoided this incident. 

So now the squirrel is in the freezer, the gun is back in the rack, and Spruce Run farm is once again mine to hunt.  Things worked out after all, and I've learned something about some of the unexpected problems our ancestors must have had to deal with. Luckily I wasn't dealing with an angry bear!