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Thursday, November 15, 2007

'Romeo & Juliet’- Love and Death in the Cold Old Woods

November 13th- I hadn’t really intended to hunt today…this was supposed to be ‘outside chore’ day. But I figured while I was waiting for Peg to get home I’d glass an old set-aside field that corners-out about 600 yards from the front yard. The only problem, aside from the distance, is that the far corner is about 200 yards shy of Florence, MO. We usually watch it from the comfort of a lawn chair hidden in the cedar thickets of a pond dam, straight across from the ridge. This cuts the distance in half and puts the field of fire straight into the old terraces, with nothing for two miles beyond.

About 6:20 I thought I saw movement and with the help of field glasses I could see a couple of bucks pursuing at least four does- pretty good odds for romance, by any standards. They were hanging back in the timber with occasional chases out into the field- but the direction of fire wasn't safe enough for comfort. I eased back into the house and grabbed Momma’s 30-06, a Remington 78 (think plain-Jane 700) with an unusually clear old 4X Tasco on it. This combo has plugged along for years with nothing more than an occasional cleaning and confirmation of its 200-yard zero. It’s regular fodder is a 150 Nosler Ballistic Tip and enough H4895 to give the bullet 2944 fps, which it manages with .4 under Hodgdon’s listed max load. Using WLR primers and random cases it groups into about 3” at 200, even with the budget glass on top. I love my 30-30 but when ranges much exceed 200 yards, this ’06 is what I reach for-provided Peggi isn’t using it.

I snuck down to the pond dam from the backside and dropped prone on the wet pine needles. Just as I was getting the rifle situated someone opened fire in the prairie grass nearby and ‘my’ herd vanished back in the timber. I laid there seeing nothing for another 45 minutes as the cold ground water leached through my coveralls. Aggravated, I slung the rifle and started the uphill trek back to the house.

Upon reaching the yard I looked back over my shoulder and saw one of the does watching me from the ridge. This was getting comical so I sat down in a lawn chair to return the favor. I figured if she changed course enough to give me a safe shot at 350 yards, I’d just tumble her. When I got the binoculars up I noticed she wasn’t watching me at all, but was instead watching the creekbed that separates the two ridges. Her ears were up and there was obviously something of great import to the deer world, going on down there.

Following her lead, I noticed a doe walking my direction- and on my side of the creekbed, about 250 yards out. I’d have never seen her without the field glasses because the brush is chest-high down there. When her chest appeared I planted the crosshairs on it, just as she turned to look behind her. I waited and sure enough ‘Romeo’, the better of the bucks I had seen, started closing the distance. Unlike the object of his affection, he was hanging back in the thickets. Then the doe reached up and scratched her ear with her hind foot. She must have fluttered her eye-lashes too, because that was too much for him.

While I was mentally doping range, trajectory and the ‘downhill shot’ effect, Romeo stepped out just enough to show his neck and the crease of his shoulder. I had wedged myself between the splayed trunks of an old Mimosa tree, grabbing for any field rest I could get- he was still right at 200 yards out. When the crosshairs settled on the base of his neck, I touched the trigger. The report of the rifle, loud as it was, did not cover the WHUMP of the bullet striking home. I couldn’t see the buck anymore but shot broke perfect, so I walked back inside and called Peg to let her know I had a buck down. Juliet stood there as I walked off, looking stupid. I had to wonder if she was contemplating a nose-ring, or if the next Britney Spears CD would be as good as the last one…

Did I mention it was down hill? A lot? It was also too wet to get the truck down there, which meant a 100 yard uphill drag-through wet, waist-high brush- and yanking Romeo over an old woven-wire fence. Some other guys walking a field road across the place stopped and looked, but kept going. I later learned that they were getting a deer of their own out, so I take back at least some of the cusswords I said when they walked off. Soon the radio crackled, and Peggi came to my rescue with a gallon of water, a drag strap and a 4WD pickup. She even helped haul Romeo the last 75 feet to the pickup, and kept his legs from hanging up while I hauled him up in the bed. 30 minutes, a gallon of sweat and some maxed-out cardio later, we were back at the house. I only looked a little better than the deer by then- and he was only slightly deader than I felt.
He had a mediocre rack but was pretty big in the body. He was also cut up & in the freezer by sundown, and I’ll bet each ham weighed 35 pounds.
Terminal ballistics…the Nosler BT angled into his neck, clipping the spine and ‘grenading’ the lungs and aorta. A chunk of the bullet exited in front of the off-shoulder. You couldn’t ask for a more decisive kill at the distance, which checks at 212 yards per the ‘ruler’ on EarthGoogle. This was dandy because 'ugly tracking/dragging' was only a few feet away from where he dropped. I’m giving the .30/150 Nosler BT high marks as a ‘swat ‘em dead’ deer bullet where penetration is not paramount. It's not a heavy game bullet by any means and I do intend to avoid ‘going away’ shots with it whenever possible.

The rest of the season will be devoted to getting Peg a deer- and I’m looking forward to that even more than my own.