ATN Thermal Binoculars THOR 4 2.5-25X

Thermal weapon sights have become extremely popular over the last decade or so, I’ve had the good fortune to play with a few of them. Today we are going to talk about a supplemental thermal device, one I think is just as useful as a weapon sight; the ATN BinoX 4T 2.5-25X binoculars.
I say just as useful because whenever I find myself in the dark looking for potential animals to hunt, looking around through my riflescope is not only cumbersome but dangerous. The BinoX binoculars allow the user to safely scan the surrounding environment to identify potential targets, and it also gives you additional information that will help you make a better shot when the time comes.
The ATN Binox incorporate a rangefinder, variable power settings, video recording and image capture, and even GPS location that can be used to keep track of fellow hunters in the area. An IR illuminator is also part of the device, which allows you to illuminate targets when using in conjunction with night vision optics. It also incorporates wifi that can be paired to your ATN riflescope through the ATN Ballistic Information Exchange (BIX). Using the connection you can also stream to a paired device for additional viewing while recording the stream to the SD card inside the unit.
The ATN Binox uses an armored housing with a control pad on the top with various buttons to cycle through the menus and activate the different functions of the binoculars. At the rear of the binos you have an adjustable diopter to focus the image of the display inside. The front of the sensor lens can be rotated to focus the thermal image of the target, the right side is for the thermal sensor, the left side houses other sensors and needn’t be adjusted for image focusing.
The Center button doubles as a “Nuc” button that resets the sensitivity of the sensor based on the current field of view, as far as I can tell anyway. You can adjust the power magnification of the binoculars by using the arrows on the control pad, and the power button doubles as a rangefinder trigger when the unit is powered on.
The display inside gives you quite a bit of information, with actual readouts of both incline and cant as well as a compass bearing. You can select to use different widgets such as compass and angle displays, or if you like you can keep it simple and see just the image. There are many different settings that you can adjust to better fit your needs such as different shades for showing heat, you can select different colors or shades of black and white. There are different reticles you can use for measuring targets and distances and such, and of course you can change the units from yards to meters and MOA to MRAD if you like.
The Binox come with an extended life battery, which I was happy to hear. Most thermal devices I have used in the past burn through batteries far too fast. There was also a neck band to carry the BinoX with, it was also easy to adjust the two ocular lenses to fit your particular eye width.

Into the darkness
After confirming a bunch of settings around the yard and making my dog uncomfortable with shouting commands into the dark corners of the yard, I decided it was time to take the BinoX into the hills and see what I could find. It took a few minutes to find a contrast setting that I preferred, but I settled on the “Glowbow” setting. As you’ll see from my pictures I neglected to set the time and date.

a deer as seen at around 20X magnification from approximately 250 yards

Once I got into the mountains I began scanning where I figured I would be able to find a deer or two, or perhaps even a unsuspecting hiker. I did find something that quickly became frustrating. There were plenty of rocks in the hills that appeared to retain a bunch of heat, this inevitably gave me too many false ID’s of potential life. When I actually did see something that was clearly alive and warm, it was pretty clear. But often times I would have to watch at some of the more distant targets to see if they moved before I could confirm their identity.
I spent some time getting used to the imagery through the binos, and testing out the different functions. It did take me a minute to get used to some of the controls and understand everything, but soon enough I was finding things and measuring their distance with the rangefinder and even snapping pictures and videos of them.

Much like properly viewing an ultrasound image, it seems there is a bit of a learning curve with looking at images like this. Oftentimes it is easy enough to make out trees, rocks and so forth. You can even make out sunny spots and shadows in the images taken during daylight. I have seen better imagery from other thermal units, but to be fair they cost significantly more than this one.
Finding animals in complete darkness turned out be be everything I hoped it would be, it reduced the eiriness of the darkness. Thermal optics have the benefit of being useful in the daylight just as complete darkness, which is a leg up over night vision optics. I found that using the BinoX during the daytime was also helpful in finding things that were alive in a sea of ambient temperature trees and hills. Continue Reading Here…

Minute of Angle: what is it? and how to use MOA

If you spend any time in the precision rifle shooting world, it won’t be long before someone mentions MOA. We’re going to dive into a full guide on minute of angle.

Introduction
Some people call it weaponized math, which I like. But MOA is a shortened acronym used to describe a Minute Of Angle.

A minute of angle is an angular measurement similar to a degree. We know that there are 360 degrees in a circle, and we can use a compass to pan a certain amount of degrees right or left, just like when you learned orienteering in boy scouts as a kid.

A Minute Of Angle (MOA) is 1/60th of a degree, so it’s just a finer scale of measuring an angle offset. An MOA can be cut up into sixty seconds of angle, but that is getting so fine we probably don’t need to go into it.
As an angular measurement, shooters use the fine-scale to adjust their sights. In the same way pilots use degrees to adjust their flightpath, we use MOA to adjust the flight of our projectiles. I’ve been playing in that realm for a few decades now, so I’ll do my best to explain this dangerous math as best I can.

What Does MOA Mean?
As I mentioned, MOA stands in for the mouthful; Minute Of Angle. There are several other ways that shooters measure shooting corrections and deviations, the more popular being MRAD (abbreviation for Milliradian) and IPHY (Inch Per Hundred Yards). But let’s not muddy the water and stick to our subject, MOA.

MOA and Target Distance
As an angular measurement, the size of a minute of angle gets bigger as it gets farther away from you.

Imagine it like a very long orange traffic cone. When you look through the hole at the small end, it may only be one inch in diameter. But the same cone at the big end, maybe ten or more inches wide, the angle of that increase IS an MOA.

So keeping with our example, if the small end of the cone was two inches in diameter, then to maintain the same angle at the other end, it would have to be twenty inches in diameter.

Back in the old days, before laser rangefinders, people with less hair than me would use these mathematical calculations to estimate distance. If you know an average male is about six feet tall, you can use an MOA scale built into your riflescope reticle to measure how many MOA tall he is and reverse the math to figure out roughly how far away he is.
Once you know your target’s distance, you can use the exact same measuring scale to correct for the drop of your bullet at that distance. Now you might understand why they call it weaponized math.

Accuracy Measurement
MOA is the most common method of measuring or stating the accuracy potential of a rifle. If your rifle shoots five shots at one hundred yards that measure one-inch center to center, then you can call that group a 1 MOA pattern. If your group measures 1.5 inches, you could call it a 1.5 MOA pattern.

As I mentioned before, an MOA is an angular measurement that increases with distance. One MOA at one hundred yards is about an inch, but it measures over ten inches at one thousand yards.
To be precise, one MOA is not one inch. One MOA is actually 1.047 inches at one hundred yards. And 10.47 inches at one thousand yards, but until you are shooting well enough to notice a ½ inch difference in your groups at one thousand yards, you can just work with the inch measurement.

How to Use Minute of Angle While Shooting
As soon as a bullet leaves the muzzle of a rifle, it begins to drop due to gravity and aerodynamic resistance. The further away the bullet travels, the more it drops, which requires corrective action to “hold over” the target high enough to hit it. But how much should I hold over, you might ask?

Long-range rifle scopes have corrective mechanisms to adjust for that drop. It is accomplished by either holding over the target using the same MOA scale you used to measure this guy, or you can use the turret of the scope to dial the corrective angular adjustment. Continue reading here

Sig Sauer Tango MSR 1-6×24 riflescope

I’ve been on an LVPO kick for a while now, I find them to be very useful for a great many purposes. Despite my focus on precision and long range shooting, LVPO’s still make up a good portion of my optics selection. Today I want to take a look at a new to me LVPO, the Tango MSR from Sig Sauer Optics.

I have had a couple different experiences with Sig Sauer Optics starting with the Tango series of scopes as well as another LVPO the Tango 6T. I have really enjoyed these different scopes and largely I have had few problems with them, so when the opportunity to check out this Tango MSR I was very excited to get hands on it.

Out of the box
As I opened the box, I was glad to see that Sig even includes a quality ALPHA-MSR scope mount in the box. That easily narrowed down my mounting decisions.
I will say I was surprised with everything included with the scope, and I’ll be honest that going in I had only a vague idea of the price of this scope. The mount, the typical tools that come with it, battery for the illuminated reticle, and some quality flip caps were also included. They are branded Sig but look to be either Tenebrex or a really close knockoff, either way they are very nice and lay flat against the scope when open. The MSR also includes a throw lever or “cattail” as its often called, this is handy for quick adjustments of the magnification.
The Tango MSR is a second focal plane scope, that means the reticle stays the same regardless of magnification setting. The scope adjustment turrets are MOA and have .5 MOA clicks, the scope body has a centerline painted on the exterior of the tube, to help ensure level mounting I believe and it surely did that. In a very short time I had the scope married to it’s mount and ready to install on a rifle.

The Tango MSR was a perfect fit for the Sig MCX
First Shots
I happened to have a Sig MCX rifle in hand at the time, it seemed like a perfect fit for the MSR. I was more correct than I could have known. I dropped the scope onto the pic rail of the MCX, and off to the range we went. The MSR seemed to be made for the MCX as I didnt even need to adjust the scope for a good zero, I just started shooting and everything lined up like they came from the factory that way.
I spent some time shooting the rifle at fairly close distances inside two-hundred yards, but I also utilized the reticle for a few extended distances. The reticle features a typical upside down horseshoe type reticle, with several drop points and wind holds. The name suggests that the MSR is designed specifically for Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR), and the BDC6 reticle is calibrated for the most popular MSR cartridge the 5.56 Nato.

As I mentioned earlier, I purposely didn’t look at the price of this scope before reviewing it. I was previously very pleased with the optical quality of the Tango 6T, this Tango MSR is not quite as high quality, but still very clean and clear. I was surprised to see the price point after playing with it, I would have expected it to come in the 600-800 dollar range. But for the MSRP of $422.99 I think this scope is a great value.
Testing turret values

I also bolted down the mounted scope to a bench, and measured the turret values against the reticle values which all checked out. The reticle values are handy to keep in mind, or you can refer to the owners manual where they are listed. It may not line up perfectly with the drop of your particular ammunition and atmosphere, this is why I typically don’t care for calibrated reticles. That said, if you know what value they represent you can use them for all kinds of shots and hold overs.
note MOA values of the BDC6 Reticle

Pros & Cons
In my opinion, the Tango MSR is a great little scope for its intended purpose. The optical clarity is great, the magnification ring is quick to adjust and its throw lever helps make it even better. The 1X power setting allows for easy both eyes open aiming, without straining to focus. The quality accessories that are included also greatly add to the value of this scope, the mount is a perfect match for the scope as are the the scope caps.
The only thing I would change about the scope is probably the reticle, I’m not a big fan of the horseshoe type reticles. Though it does have lots of detail to allow holdovers and windage etc. which makes it certainly a very useable reticle. I also wouldn’t mind having an MRAD version of the MSR, but to be perfectly fair it’s not the type of scope you’ll be dialing all over with so it’s probably fine.

The Sig Sauer Tango MSR is a great little scope. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for an LVPO in this price range, it has a great deal of value added as well as performance capability.

-CBM

A Solid Season: hunting with Cayuga solid Bullets

You may have seen me talk about Cayuga solid copper hunting bullets before, but today we are going to go in a little deeper into these very high quality bullets from Patriot Valley Arms. I have always been a match bullet shooter, for targets or game. I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing out on with these solid match-grade projectiles.


What’s so Special about solid bullets?

If you’ve never looked into these or any other solid bullets, let me explain why they perform so well.
Cayuga’s are turned on a CNC Lathe from a solid bar of copper, this precise fabrication allows consistency and concentricity to be perfectly matched from one bullet to the next. So for one they are more consistent than jacketed bullets, even the open-tips are perfectly uniform. But there is still more to it. Solid copper bullets are lighter than jacketed bullets of comparable size, for example the 7mm 170 Cayuga is about the same size as a 7mm 195 jacketed bullet. The design of the Cayuga gives it a superior Ballistic Coefficient, (A mathematical score of the bullets efficiency in flight) This high BC gives the Cayuga it’s better than average flight characteristics for long-range shooting. The efficiencies of the BC also allow the bullet to cheat some of the effects of wind, high BC bullets like the Cayuga are affected less by wind as they fly through it on their way to the target.

An average 5-shot group. Accuracy comes standard with these bullets.

But there is still more:
The lighter weight of the Cayuga bullets when compared to jacketed bullets means that they can be shot even faster. So not only are they more consistent, and high BC, but by increasing the muzzle velocity you can further increase the energy they carry and the range to which they are effective. And higher speed means they will arrive at the target faster, giving the wind less time to affect their flight path.

The owner of PVA and I have been talking for years about everything from terminal ballistics to airplanes, Josh is a bit of a mad scientist crossed with a pitbull who doesn’t let go.

A couple years back, he sent me some of his first Cayuga solid bullets, they were the 122 grain 6.5 Cayugas. We used them to take down a pair of cow elk from 475 and 520 yards from a 24″ 6.5 Creedmoor, both of them dropped in their tracks never to move again. Watch the video here

Last year, I tried the 6mm flavor of Cayuga bullets, they came in at 100 grains. We again used them to take down a couple small mule deer bucks, though taking them down from 680 and 1000 yards is no small feat for a little 6mm. Both bucks went straight down, and never got back up. The Cayuga’s fired from my 24″ 6MM GT were extremely accurate and very impressive.

This year, I wanted to get even more data on the Cayuga’s as a hunting bullet. We had plenty of ballistic data on how they fly and such, but more terminal data was needed to better illustrate the benefits of these bullets as a hunting projectile. So we loaded them up in a few different calibers to see just how many animals we could kill with the Cayuga.
First up was my son Leo’s antelope hunt. Since the GT performed so well last year, I thought we’d give it another chance. And 6mm’s are great for antelope hunts on the open prairie.
You can read the whole story here, but the salient facts are these; We took two mature doe pronghorn antelope from six hundred-ish yards, and the 100 grain Cayuga did an excellent job of dispatching the animals.

One reason I like using cartridges a little lighter than most, is because I hate loosing meat to bullet damage. The 6mm Cayugas did just the right amount of damage in my estimation, enough to kill the animal clean but not take too much of my delicious meat with it.

The next hunt up was the general season mule deer hunt. We had the whole family hunting with Cayugas solids this season, in 6mm, 6.5, 260 rem, 270 wsm, 7SAUM, and 300WM. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get them all in the right place at the right time, but does it ever work out to plan?

We did manage to take a few deer with the 6.5’s and .260’s though. The first 6.5 shot was on a small buck from a distance of approximately 175 yards, the shot placement wasn’t as good as I would have hoped and he made it about forty yards before laying down to die.
The second one fell to the same 122 grain Cayuga fired from a 16″ .260 Remington owned by my son. He made a quick shot on an escaping buck to drop him right in his tracks, the shot passed through the shoulder, disconnected the coronary plumbing and sailed through the other side. The distance of this shot was three hundred and thirty yards.

My other son put the moves on a small spike using the 6.5 Creedmoor and 122 Cayuga. This little buck was around 300 yards away when he took a Cayuga through his liver. He made it a little farther than I would have liked, but better shot placement is the only fix for that.

The last deer we shot was with the same 6.5 Creedmoor, this time it was my wife’s buck. He thought he had given us the slip, but he didn’t know we were waiting quietly for him to step out.
When he did, we were ready with another 122 grain Cayuga. The shot was just over two hundred yards, and it hit him like a copper train. He jumped a couple times into the brush stumbling around until his feet were in the air.

The Cayuga absolutely wrecked his heart, I’m always surprised to see an animal move at all after an impact like this.

The season wasn’t over just yet, I still had a cow elk tag to get before the end of the year. In the last few days of the season, we were able to close in on a couple cows. And being so short on time I wasn’t going to be picky when the opportunity was presented.
I carried with me that day my SRS M2 again, this time using the 7 SAUM barrel I’ve had for years. In the magazine were handloaded 151 grain Cayugas with a modest muzzle velocity of 3100FPS. I’d shot them with very predictable accuracy beyond one-thousand yards, so I was prepared for about anything.

A young cow elk taken with the 151 Cayuga

As it turns out, the shot presented was only 250 yards away. The elk was quartering away but looking back, the shot impacted the right shoulder passing through both lungs and exited just in front of the left shoulder. She ran a short distance before expiring but the damage of the impact was very apparent as we butchered the animal. I would consider the minimal meat damage to be better than average, which I also consider a big plus.

The destroyed lungs from the elk

As I had anticipated, it has been a season full of bounty. From the very first time I killed an animal with a Cayuga, I had a good feeling that these were essentially bottled-lightning. And after this successful season, I can again confirm that the flight-performance and terminal performance of the Cayuga is outstanding. If you are looking for something to enhance your hunting performance, give them a try.

-CBM

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus 12 Gauge

It’s hard to imagine an autoloading shotgun without thinking of one of the popular models from Beretta, like the A400 Xtreme Plus, which we will review today. The Italian company has been in the business as long as anybody. Sure there is something about a name, but there has to be more than that for dedicated shooters and hunters to pick a shotgun from the rack.

I often mention that my father is more of a shotgun nerd than I am, so I frequently look to his guidance regarding such topics. Several of the many high-end shotguns he enjoys shooting come from Beretta. For me, shotguns are a bit more utilitarian than anything, more of a hunting tool than the expensive rifle toys I play with more often. And hunting waterfowl has been one of my favorite hunts since I first started hunting.

Enter the Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus, a gas-operated 12 gauge shotgun with a 28-inch barrel and 3.5-inch chamber, one of the better all-weather hunting shotguns available. But just how good is it? And why would I choose it over something else? We’ll get to that in a moment, but I can tell you that the Xtreme is reliable, robust, and durable enough for whatever your hunt may have waiting.

Reliability
The A400 is one of Beretta’s leading hunting model shotguns, so reliability is an absolute must. During the course of the 350-400 shells I’ve fired through the gun, I’ve yet to have any issues with it.

We get some pretty crummy weather around here this time of year, but the Xtreme just keeps pumping shells and steel. Rain, sleet, and snow don’t phase this shotgun. A dunk in muddy water is never good for a gun, but this one quickly recovered from the dreaded dunk.

Accuracy
The various chokes that come with the Xtreme give you the option to customize the patterns it shoots. I found the Xtreme very easy to be effective on birds. The right choke and lead would nearly always result in a puff of feathers. I suppose there isn’t a turkey out there that wouldn’t fall to the Xtreme’s tight full pattern.

Overall Feel
Like most Beretta shotguns, this one feels like a perfect fit when it’s against your shoulder. The Kick-Off stock absorbs much of the recoil, which allows for tight cheek welds and follow-up shots.

The quality finish of the gun looks as handsome as it operates and protects it from vicious elements like salt water. Shooting with gloves is easy, and the controls are the right size and allow easy manipulation. Continue reading here

Is .223 good for hunting deer sized game?

Who doesn’t love a good cartridge debate? Whether its sitting around a campfire in the cold autumn woods or typing furiously back and forth on internet forums, we seem to revel in the pros and cons of different approaches to hunting. I’ve sat through several of these types of debates, and have prepared some thoughts for today’s topic; Is a .223 Remington suitable for hunting deer?

The .223 Remington

The 223 has been around for a long time now, and it has seen use in nearly every shooting application people can find. The small case Remington shoots .224 caliber bullets typically in weights between 40 and 75 grains. Though recent bullet developments have broadened that spectrum to include bullets as large as 90 grains as well. Many rifles chambered in .223 Remington feature a 1-9 twist which allows for shooting most bullets that fit in the traditional 40 to 69 grain category. While many of the newer rifles chambered thus utilize faster twists like a 1-8 or 1-7 twist barrel, which allows to shoot seventy-five and eighty grain bullets. The more specialized eighty-plus grain bullets likely need a 1-6.5 twist in order to stabilize the long and heavy for caliber bullets.
The .223 has enjoyed a great deal of attention in the varmint, predator, and small game hunting circles, shooting the typical 50-55 grain bullets it achieves fantastic velocities in the neighborhood of 3200 to 3400 fps depending on load. As bullet weight increases, the velocity decreases generally speaking. But the larger and more efficient bullets often carry their energy better, and further. These heavier bullets are ideal for shooting further, and delivering higher energy on target. (remember that, we’ll come back to it later)

Deer Hunting
Perhaps the oldest and most celebrated hobby of American’s is that of pursuing deer to feed their families. Every year we all prepare with excitement for the annual event, even as I type this there is dried deer blood on the backs of my hand from earlier this morning. The smaller members of the deer family typically pursued by American hunters consist almost entirely of the two most prolific species found in North America; the Mule deer, and the Whitetail deer. Even a large deer of either species can be handily put down if enough energy is put in the right place, countless deer have been killed by a diminutive .22LR to the head. (though I wouldn’t recommend it)

Deer are typically targeted in their vital organs which are mainly the heart, lungs, and liver as a distant third. Deer are certainly not bulletproof, even the meatiest and ‘big-boned’ of deer can be penetrated by modern bullets fired at reasonable velocities. The bone structure surrounding their vital organs can either be perforated by powerful bullet impacts, or circumvented by cunning shot placement. Continue Reading Here…

Seasons Change

Many was the time that I woke up early in the morning, grabbing boots and other gear as I fumbled out the doorway into the winter cold. Though I was not the exceptional scholar my parents had hoped for, I eventually made it to school hours later but not after shooting up a limit of ducks in the muddy marshes near my home. Hunting has always been a passion of mine, but there came a time as a young man that I often chose other things over my beloved waterfowl. Life often has a way of distracting us from passions and responsibilities, and teenage boys seem to catch the lot of it.
Years later I returned to my old ways, and it seems the absence had only increased my passion for the outdoors and being a part of it. A whole generation later, it would seem that my son is in the same haze of youth we all passed through. He has hunted by my side since he was three years old, and even as a toddler he was always excited to do anything that involved the mountains. But the past few years he has been so busy with the life of a teen, friends and other activities to spend much time glassing the mountains with me. It’s natural I suppose that everyone chooses their own path and eventually decides where to focus their efforts and time, but it warmed my heart when several of my kids voiced a desire to spend the hunting season with me in the high country.

My Ridley on one of his first deer hunts.

Despite their busy schedules and school, we managed to spend a few days enjoying the beauty of these Rocky Mountains. My son Ridley shew great interest in tagging along to fish, ride ATV’s, and shoot both pictures with his camera and his little Remington that I put together for him years ago.
Being an astute father with a taste for venison, I had ensured my kids would have at least one tag in their pockets this fall. Just incase the freezer got light. We spent a week in the High Uintas chasing after elk and Brook Trout, we celebrated Ridley’s eighteenth birthday up there at 10,000 feet. I could see the excitement of adventure even through the smug teenage faces he would make, and though getting up early was a challenge he still did it most days.

The country was just too beautiful to not have a good time, even though the elk hunting was pretty high pressure and not successful we still came home happy as could be. And laden with fish for the smoker, to be canned and put into storage for a rainy day.

As the deer hunt quickly approached, we prepared our gear and plotted our plans. Ridley ended up missing the first weekend of the hunt as he participated in his High School mountain bike team final race, which ended up being ok, as I had my hands full with my other son’s first deer. Mid-week Ridley caught back up with us, and he was excited as ever. I could see the competitive desire to outdo his friends who might also be deer hunting with their family.

I have found that consistency is what gets me within striking distance of animals. Not necessarily consistently going to the same place or anything, but consistently working hard to be in the best places I can be as often as I can. Furiously glassing and peering over every blade of grass to take advantage of every opportunity we might get.
Taking new and/or young hunters along is often a roll of the dice. I saw deer and bucks every day of the hunt, but it was often when my “pupils” were busy with something else. I passed more bucks this year than any year prior if I’m not mistaken, hoping they would still be there when I came back with my children.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when Ridley, my wife, and I returned up a canyon draw where I had seen several bucks earlier that morning. I carried my gun because I can’t be without it, but I was really there trying to get both of them on a buck. As we climbed steadily I pointed out a knob on a ridge to Ridley, and explained how I had seen a deer disappear there earlier that day. My hope was that him or any other buck was still hiding out in this little canyon, but when I told Ridley of my hopes he quickly shot down the idea saying “that was three hours ago Dad.” As we carried on up the ridge spine before us, the sun poured down over us making it nearly uncomfortably hot. Only a few hours earlier I sat on this same ridge uncontrollably shivering in the ice cold wind of a storm front, driving snow sideways across the mountains and blanketing the whole of it in white.

The contrast was incredible, but my hope for a buck was still high so we carried on. In a simple stop to catch our breath, everything changed quite rapidly. Incapable of turning off, my eyes peered through my binoculars combing the ridges for the sign of a deer. I froze as I turned and looked behind us, as my eyes made out the obvious outline of a buck laying in his afternoon bed. The same knob that I had indicated to Ridley earlier was now the complete focus of all three sets of our eyes. I was astounded that the young buck had simply laid there and watched while we walked right under him on the opposing ridge, and another set of hunters had followed the same path only a few minutes before us. Yet there he lay, confident in his hide. Obviously he didn’t know who he was dealing with, but he would very soon.

With as little excitement as we could manage, both Ridley and my wife lay their rifles across their backpacks to get the right angle for a shot. I feigned disinterest and avoided looking at him, as he was studying our movement. Ridley was in a good shooting position and watched the buck through his little TS8X riflescope while I helped my wife build a solid shooting position on the steep hillside.
Despite my disinterested attitude and the minimal movement, way up on that knob where the buck lay quietly three-hundred and thirty yards away, I think he was starting to get worried. I often think that deer can feel a rifle bearing down on them, like the all seeing eye of Sauron looking into the heart of whoever wears the ring. And with it comes the accompanying discomfort.
I wasn’t looking his direction when he stood up, but Ridley was on his scope and announced it to the rest of us. I immediately raised my binos to my eyes, and not wanting to lose our opportunity I told him; if he is standing up shoot him. As I said those words he was already starting his press. My wife and I watched through our optics as the first shot broke, and the buck jumped as if startled by the noise. Ridley ran his bolt as I told him he had shot just under him, the deer took a few steps towards the other side of the ridge but he stopped to give us one last look. By then Ridley had already sent a second bullet his way, and this one was perfect. I watched through my binos as the bullet impacted, sending a patch of hair into the air and the buck dropped from sight.

Ridley’s rifle with the Yankee Hill Machine R9 suppressor

We hugged with excitement, and then we quickly made our way up the ridge to the downed buck. I am not one to trust a deer that I can’t see, so we snuck up on the buck who had died almost instantly but looked suspiciously alive. We gave him a moment of reverence, and then spent a few minutes examining what a fine example of a Rocky Mountain mule deer he was. He’d already had a close call during the season, someone had taken a shot at him nicking one of his antlers, but his luck had run out.

Ridley pulled out his knife, a knife my brother had given to him several years ago but he had yet to use it for its intended purpose. As we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon, Ridley did his best to clean the deer and fill his phone up with pictures of it. We didn’t kill any other deer that day, but not for a lack of effort.

I have watched my son grow up, and though he has his own plans it warms my heart to see his success and be a part of it. My greatest hope is that we can continue to share our passions with each other, and if at all possible continue to hunt together for as long as we’re able to. We make a pretty good team.

-CBM


Deer Hunting Heritage

New hunters come into our midst all the time. Much like generations of deer come and go over the seasons, old hunters slowly fade from our camps every year and are replaced by newer and younger faces.
As sad as it is not seeing old friends and loved ones, the new possibilities of teaching the next generation is the only suitable substitute.

One of the newer faces around my fire this year was Leonardo, my wife’s oldest son. His very first hunting adventure happened only a few months ago. He was lucky enough to draw a pair of doe antelope tags, and we made an adventure out of the opportunity. If you haven’t read that story, click here to read it after this one.

After thoroughly enjoying his first big game hunting experience, Leo was even more excited for the mule deer hunt that would follow. We spend a few trips into the mountains during the summer to practice shooting techniques and prepare for what was ahead. Leo is a level-headed kid, responsible and astute. So I was quite confident we would see success as the sun began to rise that cold October morning.

In a stroke of luck, a storm front passed through our mountains in the early hours of opening morning. It brought rain and snow which was a good thing, but it also brought a fierce wind with it as well. Storm fronts like this one typically get the deer out of their hiding spots, and I was hoping to see them as the first rays of light began to cut through the cold and dark clouds.

My little brother, Leo and I hiked noisily up a steep and rocky hillside. Hoping to sneak into a good shooting position on the downwind side of the ridge. I say noisily because the wind blew so hard it pushed us uphill. None of the breaking of sticks or tumbling stones could be heard over the winds howl.
Just as official shooting light arrived, we had crested the peak nine-thousand feet above sea level. We found some solace from the wind, and we were immediately into spotting deer. A small group made their way over the next ridge a mere two-hundred yards away. After confirming that they were our only prospect, we slowly and as quietly as could be given the conditions, made our way towards the ridge they had crossed. Obviously not where they had crossed, but uphill from there hoping to have a better view of them from above.
My brother would stay and cover other vistas while Leo and I pursued the group.

We cautiously crossed over the crest of the ridge, keeping low and looking over the very tips of the brush as we went. I was very surprised to find the deer only a few hundred yards away from us. And I was also concerned as two of the group seemed to already be aware of our presence. I don’t know how, as it was still too noisy to hear us, and the wind carried our scent another direction, but none the less we seemed to be nearly busted on arrival. As I studied the group cautiously through my binoculars, one of the deer was quite conspicuous as he carried a white face and headgear much bonier than the rest. I whispered to Leo that there was a buck watching us, but it seemed as we had the time to get a rifle up and on him. I say seemed because we had been looking at them for over a minute and they still stood there, many of them eating.
As soon as we lifted our eyes back above the brushline however, they had vanished into the thickly wooded canyon below.
As we hiked back towards my brother, I explained to Leo about one of the rules of hunting.
Oftentimes you gotta screw up one opportunity in order to get in the right state of mind for a proper opportunity. So we chalked this one up to our practice run, and we searched out another stalk.

Only a hour or so later, we sat perched on another high point glassing a draw that we had spotted a few does feed across.
Upon closer inspection, we noticed that one of the deer in that opening was a spike. Being his first hunt, Leo was not exactly particular about antlers.
After a few goings on that ended up moving the deer into thicker brush, we spent almost an hour trying to pick him out in the fall colored cover he was hiding in. Even knowing exactly where he was, it was nearly impossible to make him out. I think Leo perhaps felt a little out of sorts not being able to see or make out the deer. But when another hunter spooked him from his hide, he hopped uphill into an opening.
As several of us struggled to keep eyes on the deer, Leo announced that he had him in his scope. Having previously dialed the proper elevation for the three-hundred yard shot, I told him if you’ve got a shot, go a head and take it.

I watched the hillside through my binoculars excitedly waiting to see how it would go. The chamber of Leo’s rifle carried a 122 grain Cayuga solid copper bullet loaded in a 6.5 Creedmoor case. The rifle itself was a Ruger American that he had practiced with earlier that year. On top of the rifle was a US Optics TS25X riflescope that Leo now had centered on the buck across the draw.

When his shot broke, the blast had been tamed by the Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20. We both watched intently as the bullet cut the distance and hit the deer.
We kept watching him until he went down, where Leo and a friend closed in on him.

From there, we all followed their path to the thorny and burr covered thicket where Leo was already elbow deep in guts. We took pictures and shared congratulations and a hug.

After putting in the work, Leo had his very first buck in hand. We stumbled back down the way we’d come in, dragging the little buck towards our vehicle. I am quite sure that Leo enjoyed his experience and will likely return next season for round two. After hanging the buck in my skinning tree at home, we cleaned him up and made a delicious meal with deer tenderloins as the center-piece. Garden vegetables made it even more delectable.

As Leo and I sat at the table, chewing on the tasty spoils of our days work, I contemplated the conundrum we all find ourselves in. We are destined to spend the first half of our hunting career learning and sharing with familiar old faces of fathers, uncles, and other family and friends. And at some point in our life, it switches to being the familiar old face. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, I can only hope that someday my children will think back to the old days when I taught them and led them through these steep Rocky Mountains. And with any luck they will harbor the same warm feelings I do remembering the great men who showed them to me.

-CBM