Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Deer Season - Part 4, A Personal Best with AR Deer #2

Deer season in Tennessee ended for me at dark on January 6, 2013. I spent that afternoon afield hunting until the last legal minute. 2012 was a deer season I will never forget as the Lord really blessed me. There were the :
Each of those deer were special and unique. In fact, they allowed me to tie my previous personal best deer seasons of 2007 and 2008 in which I got four deer. They also put a little stress on me as I went into the last afternoon of the season wanting to get number five and break what amounted to a personal record. I also wanted to shoot a second deer with the AR15, because I wasn't thrilled about the way everything had worked out with the first one.

Deer (Photo credit: marttj)
Normally, deer hunting is just flat-out fun for me. The 2012 season had been just that - fun. However, since shooting the AR deer on November 24th, I had not seen a single deer. It was beginning to seem as if my shot at a record fifth deer and the completion of the AR deer hunting test was slipping away from me. It led to some pressure and stress - pressure and stress that I inadvertently was putting on myself, and I didn't like it.

On the afternoon of January 6th, my hunting buddy, Dennis, and I headed out to one of our usual spots. We decided to do our usual routine - try to push the deer out of the thicket, and then set up and hunt until dark. For those of you not familiar with the term "push" in regards to deer hunting, it's nothing more than when one hunter, the pusher, walks through the woods or a thicket trying to flush the deer. The trick is to get the deer to run in the direction of another hunter, called a stander, who then shoots the deer. Dennis did the pushing, as usual, and I was the stander, as usual. Dennis' push proved unsuccessful.

Normally, when we have pushed this location without success, it is a sign that the deer are not in the area. When you couple that with the 20+ MPH wind that was blowing, we figured we were just outta luck that day. We were tempted to load up and head home. However, we had driven about 20 miles, and we only had about 90 minutes of daylight and season left. We decided to stick it out.

Dennis went to the woods at the end of this large field to setup, and I went off to the right into a little woodlot. I thought it might be the place to be, because it was full of oak trees and there were plenty of acorns on the ground. So, good deer food was plentiful. I set my stool up against a big oak tree at 3 PM sharp. I started settling in, and then begin re-thinking my set-up. I wasn't happy with the visibility and shooting lanes I had. At most, I could see and shoot only about 25-30 yards in any direction. I was thinking about moving further over into the woods.

As I mentioned, the wind was blowing pretty hard. I couldn't hear anything. I couldn't differentiate between the sound of the wind blowing the leaves around vs. the sounds of squirrels playing. So, there was no way I could count on my ears to alert me to the sound of deer hooves in the leaves. I was going to have to count on my eyes. I didn't like it, as I prefer to use my ears first and my eyes second.

I decided to stay put. I was afraid that it was more risky to move, because a deer might see me than it was just to make the most of the spot I had. The biggest concern was that I had thin to thick brush all around me that I would have to shoot through, if a deer appeared. I had some real concerns about the ability of the AR's .223 bullet to go through the brush without being re-directed off target. I was afraid it could lead to me missing a deer. If I had been hunting with a larger caliber weapon, such as my muzzleloader, I wouldn't have given the brush a second thought.

The worst area of brush was to my right and in between me and a little, narrow strip of field which still had some green grass in it, even though it was January. I thought to myself, "With my luck, if a deer shows, it will come through there, and I'll have to shoot through that crap." However, since time was running out, I made the decision then, that even with the brush all around, I was gonna try to get a shot through it if an opportunity presented itself. If I didn't, I likely would not get another chance before the season closed.

I had not been sitting there 15 minutes when I see movement to my right at 2 o'clock. Sure enough it was deer. One, two, three, four, five of them. All does. They were moving fast right through that little strip of field where I had hoped they wouldn't go. I didn't worry about the brush. I knew I had to get on them quickly or they and my last chance of getting a deer before the season ended would be gone. I swung the AR around on the shooting stick, picked out the biggest deer, flipped off the safety, and went "baaahhhh, baaahhhh." They stopped in their tracks, and I squeezed the trigger. The AR barked. The deer took 3 or 4 steps forward and stopped. The one I shot at did not act like it had been hit. I shot again. This time they all took off running.

AR15 Deer #2 - January 6, 2013
I only had 45 minutes until dark, so I immediately got up to go pick up the blood trail. I remembered how scarce the blood trail had been on the first AR deer, so with daylight fading, I wanted to find this deer fast. I got to the edge of the woods and about 10 yards in front of me, on the other side of the narrow strip of field, laid one of the deer. She hadn't gone 10 yards. I had done it - deer #5, and a new personal record for deer shot in one season. To say I was happy would be an understatement. I realized very quickly that if I had moved further up in the woods like I considered, the shot would have been much tougher, if I would have had a shot at all. Just goes to show that you should always go with your first instinct, especially in hunting, and don't second guess yourself.

Since I had shot twice, though, I needed to check for blood and figure out if I had hit two deer. I looked and looked, but there was no blood anywhere. I went over to the downed deer to try to find a blood trail to her - nothing. I was now glad she had dropped quickly, because with no blood trail, it would have been extremely hard to find her. I spent the next 30 minutes looking the field and the bordering woods over to make sure no other deer had been hit. I found no other deer down. I went back to my stool and tried to re-visualize how everything went down. As I sat there and played it back in my head, I came to the conclusion that since the deer appeared unscathed after the first shot, the bullet must have hit the brush and been deflected off course. The second shot I took was one that I had to squeeze through a narrow opening between two trees. That was the one that connected since all the deer took off running immediately. I was now confident that I had only hit one deer.

My deer season was now over, and I had accomplished what I set out to do that day. I felt like I had just scored the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go in the game, and I hadn't cracked under the pressure I had put on myself. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that once again things had gone down so fast that I didn't have time to crack. I only had time to react based upon the things my dad had taught me years ago and my own experience gained through nearly 30 years of deer hunting. Better yet, when Dennis and I got the doe to Lebanon Locker for processing, I learned that she field dressed at 87 pounds making her the 3rd largest doe I had ever shot. She was a great one to not only end the season with but to set my record with, too.

After getting the election day buck, I had decided to turn the remainder of the season into a test session for the AR15. I had shot two deer with it. The first one with a 69-grain Remington, and the second with a 75-grain Hornady. Based upon my own research of ballistics data, these two rounds fall in the top five .223 cartridges made in terms of the amount of downrange energy put on the target. The first deer ran 100-150 yards leaving a minimal blood trail before dying. The second deer only made it 10 yards before dying but left no blood trail at all. Both rounds left me with concerns about their effectiveness even though both deer died and were recovered. I almost lost the one shot with the 69-grain bullet. The one shot with the 75 had died quickly, but what if it hadn't ? If it had run the distance the first one did, it's likely I never would have found it due to the lack of a blood trail. Then again, perhaps every deer shot with the Hornady would die that quickly, but I felt like that assumption was equivalent to assuming you would win the PowerBall every time you bought a ticket. Such an assumption was not only too much of a gamble, it was unrealistic.

So, what's an AR .223 deer hunter to do ? Well, if Mr. Obama and Congress let me keep mine, here's what I'm gonna do, and I suggest you do the same if you hunt with an AR in .223 or some other rifle chambered in .223. Even though I read several articles and ammunition reviews which praised the .223's deer worthiness before deciding to deer hunt with it, my 2012 experiences did not bear that research out. I shot both AR deer this year right through the vitals which should have provided good blood trails and been lethal very quickly. However, that did not happen.

Therefore, in future deer seasons, I will only shoot deer through the neck with the AR15. I would encourage anyone else who wants to hunt with a .223 to do the same. Do your homework and figure out which round your gun is most accurate with, whether it's the standard 55-grain or the heavyweight 75. My gun is most accurate with the 69-grain Remington providing baseball sized groups at 200 yards out of its 16-inch barrel. I figure that's pretty good and will consistently make neck shots easy and effective. So, that's what I will shoot going forward. Besides, with neck shots, accuracy is what's important, not the weight or knockdown power. Any deer shot in the neck is going down instantly with a broken neck and severed jugular vein because the .223 will start tumbling on impact. Therefore, no tracking will be necessary. It's probably the most humane way to harvest them.

Also, if you are worried about shooting a trophy buck in the neck and messing up the mount - don't be. In both deer I shot with the .223 this year, the entry wound was so small it was basically non-existent. The exit wound was about half the size of a dime. Any taxidermist worth his or her salt can patch those little, bitty holes up.

That wraps up The Sheepdog's 2012 deer season. It was fun, and I learned a lot. I learned things that I will use in 2013 and, Lord willing, beyond. Now, I'll take a little hunting break for a few months and then get after the turkeys. Hopefully, my luck will still be good come springtime. Gobble, gobble.  
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