As a young man, I met disappoint after watching the 1978 war drama “The Deer Hunter,” starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage. I enthusiastically picked up a copy on VHS after mining through a discount bin of used video tapes. I flipped over the box to read the summary and was impressed by the picture of De Niro carrying a Remington 700 BDL — a left-hand model mind you. Filled with intrigue, I thought I had spent my hard-earned dollars on an Academy Award-winning film about an epic whitetail adventure. Oh, how wrong was I.
I’m often distracted from the tried-and-true while testing new introductions such as rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 PRC, but I’ve found my way back to the .308 Winchester. It’s a versatile cartridge whose case has been used as the parent for the .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .260 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor and .338 Federal, among others. After 35 years of shooting, my conclusion is if you could only own rifles in one caliber, a strong argument can be made for the .308 given modern bullet technology.
I’m on a lifelong quest to try and take a deer in all 50 states, a Grand Slam I invented for myself. As I continued this pursuit in Kansas last fall, I was reminded why I love the .308.
Last year, I hunted a lot with a selection of new Savage rifles, including a 110 Lightweight Storm topped with a Bushnell Nitro 3-12x44mm. The stainless action and adjustable stock are impervious to weather, affordable and as versatile as the .308. In Kansas, I hiked across a cut, slushy corn field to my stand at the corner and toughed out a bone-chilling drop in temperature for three days. One morning, before the sun crested the trees, I saw antlers begin to creep out. I didn’t trust my eyes and pulled up a pair of binos to accurately identify the buck. I started counting to myself, one, two, four, six, eight … until I couldn’t believe I was still trying to count his points. He was a shooter. I thought to myself, You’re wasting time! He is not going to stand there forever! With his head turned away, I quickly picked up the Savage, zoomed up to 6X and shot a 165-grain Barnes TSX (loaded by Federal Premium) into his shoulder — or so I thought. It sounded like a good thwack, but he turned and dove behind a tall pine tree. In that same moment, a group of deer took off up and over a hill into the trees. I imagined my buck was among them. Seeds of doubt around my shot grew. Did I get him?
Minutes later, I was horrified to only find a small drop of blood where he’d been hit. For more than an hour, the outfitter and I hiked and retraced each set of tracks until we couldn’t. Deciding to take a break and leave to fetch another searcher, we caught a whiff of the buck’s scent and saw him piled up in a thorn bush just under a pine tree. He had been just a few feet from where was shot. Relief and excitement ensued.
He was a non-typical eight with a drop tine and a total of 16 measurable points — plus trash. It’s the most character I’ve ever found in a deer, especially one taken by a single shot. This hunt serves to remind me that the .308 Winchester is still a capable cartridge, especially now with improved bullet technology. The adventure contained all of the drama I had hoped to watch in “The Deer Hunter,” one worthy of an award.