Deer seasons in most of the USA doesn’t start until September – but if you’re looking to harvest some whitetail this year you’re probably already planning your hunt now.
Hopefully, you’re planning on shooting and developing your loads for upcoming hunts and maybe spending some time hiking, working out and getting ready for long days in the field and packing that hard-earned venison back to the trailhead. If you haven’t started yet, get going.
This fall some 10 million hunters will go afield in search of the whitetail buck of their dreams. On average, about 6 million deer will be harvested.
Though the numbers seem astronomical, consider this. In 1900 it is estimated that less than 500,000 whitetail deer remained in the US. As of 2013, there were an estimated 32,000,000 whitetails.
A true conservation success story and one that points to the hunter as the true conservationist.
The whitetail deer is the most popular big-game species to hunt. Partly because of the sheer numbers, but also because the whitetail can be found from as far north as the Arctic Circle in Canada to Brazil and Peru in South America.
From the east coast to the west coast whitetails can be found in every state in the Lower 48.
Whitetails live in vastly different habitats. You may find them in the edges around agricultural operations such as beans, corn, and alfalfa. Some you find at high elevation in the aspens in Colorado and Wyoming. Others prefer the tight, close confines of the river bottoms.
Because of the adaptability of whitetails, where you hunt will largely determine the rifle and ammo combination needed to be successful.
The whitetail is the smallest of the deer species in North America. On average a mature buck will weigh about 150 pounds, and a doe about 100 pounds. They are thin-skinned and have a relatively dainty bone structure.
So cleanly killing a whitetail does not take a specialized or heavy rifle and cartridge. A well-placed bullet from nearly any centerfire rifle will allow you to ethically take whitetail deer.
There are a lot of options when it comes to rifle and cartridges, let’s take a look at some good choices for whitetail hunting to get you started down the path to a whitetail hunting career.
You’re kidding, right? With all the fast new and sexy cartridges out there, why do I list the .30-30 first?
In all likelihood, the .30-30 Winchester Centerfire has taken more whitetail than any other cartridge. Often packaged in a compact, light and easy to carry lever-action rifle, the .30-30 makes a lot of sense.
There are a lot of whitetail in the river bottoms and thick forest and swamps. Shots will be short. You’ll likely be on a stand or stalk hunting and catch a glimpse of a whitetail sneaking through the woods.
Traditional open sights or a peep sight are quick to acquire and quite accurate for 50-100 yard shots.
Any good bullet designed for tubular magazines will be fine. My Winchester Model 94’s prefer 150-grain flat-points.
Normally you need to use round nose or flat nose bullets in a tube magazine for safety reasons, however, Hornady now offers a tube magazine safe spitzer cartridge using their FTX bullets. Although these cost a bit more than standard .30-30 rounds, they offer better penetration, better accuracy, longer range, and more reliable feeding.
The .308 was originally designed as a military cartridge. Sportsmen quickly realized that the .308 cartridge design was very accurate and could be housed in short action rifles, making them quite handy in the field.
The .308 gives up very little performance as far as velocity and energy compared to the 30-06. What it doesn’t do is recoil very much. A .308 with good 165 – 180-grain bullets will easily handle all your whitetail hunting from very close cover to 300+ yards with good optics.
Another military cartridge adopted for sporting use. The .30-06 is a do-it-all cartridge.
With the exception of big bears and the dangerous game of Africa, you would be well-served with a quality bolt action rifle in .30-06 to take on virtually any big-game species on the planet.
In fact, in his book “One Man, One Rifle, One Land” JY Jones writes about his quest to take all 43 North American Species with the same .30-06 rifle.
Loaded with bullets from 150-180 grains, the .30-06 is a solid choice for someone who wants to hunt big game and do their hunting with one rifle.
I know, ‘who hunts deer with an AR?’. Truth be told, lots of folks do.
The AR is one of, if not the fastest selling rifle platform available today. The simple fact is the AR is today’s modern sporting rifle.
Light, handy, ammo is stocked in every gun store in the nation and in all different loads, and priced so an AR-15 is within reach of nearly anyone.
However, several states require deer hunting to be done with a cartridge larger than .23cal and/or have magazine restrictions for what can be used in a hunting rifle – check your regulations before deciding on your rifle!
If it is legal and you do choose standard .223/5.56mm as your cartridge you should be aware that although possible, these cartridges limit you greatly. Choose heavy grain, soft tip ammo and keep your range within 150 yards and a standard AR-15 will serve you well.
But if you’re looking to expand your options – you can always choose a new upper for your AR-15 and unlock a whole new world of ballistic possibilities!
Uppers in cartridges such as 6.5 Grendel and 6.8 Remington SPC are fine options – however, the far more popular is the .300 Blackout.
The .300 Blk gets a lot of press for use in AR’s and some specialty handguns. It was designed in part to work well in AR’s as well as for use in suppressed weapons systems.
If you want to hunt with the .300 Blackout, stick with bullets that 150 grains and you will get adequate energy and penetration on deer-sized game out to 200 yards.
While the above cartridges will likely serve the vast majority of whitetails hunters just fine, there are those who may wish to stretch the yardage a bit or pursue bigger game. If you want to stay in the AR platform look closely at the AR-10 platform and move into the .308 Winchester with 150 or 165-grain bullets.
We’ve laid out the differences between the AR-15 and AR-10 and should Help You Decide Between the AR-15 and AR-10.
Now you have a powerful cartridge in a semi-auto package capable of taking game cleanly at extended ranges. You will pay a penalty in weight and cost, but it is a viable option if you plan to hunt in areas where shots may be long.
These are the only 2 bullets I’ve recovered from game shot with a Nosler Partition.
While not at all an exhaustive list, I believe anyone looking to start big game hunting with whitetails will be well served with the above choices.
As for what rifle to buy, you have to decide. My personal experience has been mostly with bolt actions; Remington Model 700, Tikka T3 Lite, Ruger Mod 77, Ruger American Predator and semi-custom Mauser 98’s. All work well. All are accurate. All kill whitetail deer just fine if you place your shots correctly.
If you’re interested in the newest iterations of hunting rifles, check out our Best New Hunting Rifles of 2018.
Now that you have a rifle in hand, what else do you need to have to be able to spend the entire day in the field hunting?
I’m a little over-the-top in what I carry. I grew in the Scouting program and I am a firm believer in Being Prepared.
Also, being from the Northwest I carry more gear than the average hunter because we have wide temperature swings, it will most likely be raining and/or snowing and I want to be sure I am 100% able to function on my own and not be a burden on my partners.
Let’s take a quick look at the very minimum I would have in my pack for a day of whitetail hunting in northeast Washington. I will not go too much into clothing since that is a regional and seasonal variable that everyone needs to deal with on hunt-by-hunt basis.
In the photo below is my gear:
Here’s a quick run-down of what you see and why. Starting in the upper left of the photo:
Again, this is what I have found works for me. Every area and every hunt is different, so adjust your gear accordingly. But you will find after a few trips there are some things that always get used and will go in your pack every time you go hunting.
A note on meat care: I mentioned boning your deer. I am a big proponent of quick and quality field care. I will go out on a limb here and say that most ‘gamey’ meat results from poor care of the animal in the field.
With any animal the number one enemy is heat. Get the animal broken down and cooling immediately. That means skin off, and meat off the bones. There is a tremendous amount of internal heat and the quicker the meat is separated from the bones, better.
Because nearly all of our hunting is done in the backcountry we bone our animals on spot using the ‘gutless method’. Check the link and do some research on your own. I think you will find it’s a quick, clean and easy way to care for deer.
They even have videos taking you step by step as they clean a Bull Elk!
Because whitetails live in such vastly different habitats, tactics must be adjusted depending on the location. However, there are a few things that remain constant that will help you tag a whitetail this year.
Whitetails are creatures of habit. They stay pretty close to one area and tend to use the same trails and routes. My preferred method of hunting is to find an intersection of two or more trails in the timber or edges of food crops. I’ll then find a good place to sit, usually on the ground with a tree or log to my back.
Then I get comfortable and wait. Be sure to situate yourself so you are downwind of the prevailing winds in the area. If you have too much scent blowing across or down the trail you may alert the deer.
Take another look at my pack list. Once I leave camp I intend to stay out until dark. I have my lunch, a closed-cell foam pad to sit on and appropriate clothing. Yes, I get cold. Yes, I get bored. Yes, I have sat in the pouring rain and wet snow all day.
But here’s the deal. Most hunters go back to camp in early or mid-morning. Most go back when the weather sucks. I have found that whitetails, especially in cold weather tend to get up and mosey around about 11 in the morning. They get stiff and cold too.
They will get up, eat a little, take a leak and maybe look for an area in the open if the sun is out. I have killed the majority of my whitetails mid-morning.
Whitetails like thick stuff. Human eyes are good, but not great. For the most part, we detect motion.
So if a whitetail is moving through heavy timber or brush you may notice the movement, not necessarily the deer. With binoculars, you can pick apart the timber. You see more color. You see shapes.
One of my PH’s in South Africa taught me a lot about thick cover hunting. He always said, “look through the bush.” Meaning, look beyond the stuff on the edges.
Look through the screen. Change the focus on your binoculars so you see through different layers of the cover. You will be surprised how much more is out there than if you just sit and watch.
Whitetail bucks are solitary creatures. However, if you can hunt a late season, your odds go up.
In general terms, the rut begins to crank up in mid to late-November and will run through December and January in many parts of the country. As the rut approaches, the bucks begin to wander more in search of ladies.
As such, they spend more time on the move and are a lot less wary. They are intent on breeding. Not necessarily paying attention. That said, if you are hunting a late season and you have some does or youngsters walk past your stand, get ready.
Often a buck will be following behind to determine if a suitable mate is ahead of him. Be sure you are dressed for the weather this time of year. It will be cold and often wet.
While in your sitting spot keep your rifle across your lap and at the ready.
You will often only have a couple of shooting lanes and even if the deer are just walking you only have a few seconds to make your shot.
If you have to reach for your gun and make noise or sudden movements, you will very likely not get a shot. You must be ready to quickly identify if your buck or deer is legal and then make a very quick decision to either shoot or not shoot the deer.
I shot this buck on cold November day after I had built a fire to warm up and have some coffee. It was 11 am.
How can you not? You are hunting. You are in the woods, with a rifle in your hands, a tag in your pocket and a whitetail somewhere in the neighborhood.
Yeah, you may walk miles. You may freeze on stand. You may get wet.
So what? You’ll likely be in camp or home sometime tonight. You can get dry, warm and fed when you get back.
Take a camera and shoot photos of your gear, your stand, your rifle. Shoot a pic of that pesky squirrel telling the whole basin you are under his tree.
Hunting is about making memories and enjoying your outdoor heritage. Tying your tag on a whitetail and enjoying the pure organic protein the venison provides is a bonus.
What deer have you harvested? Planning your first trip? Let us know in the comments!
Standing at the sign out front, the headquarters could be taken for a small college or public library. Instead, this unassuming facility houses a beehive of activity in a multistory structure that cuts deeply down and into the hill, making the factory much larger – and more secure – than it appears. Despite its humble appearance, the campus supports more than 650 employees.
I recently visited Leupold for a tour courtesy of Dave Domin, one of the company’s marketing and communication specialists. My visit encompassed the entire production process from beginning to end and included a review of their state-of-the-art recycling program.
Each year, Leupold uses enough raw T6061 and T7075 aluminum that, if laid end to end, it would stretch from Beaverton to Chicago. Due to a close partnership with INDEX, one of the world’s premium machine tool builders, they have the largest installation of that company’s products west of the Mississippi. All 45 machines are customized to a speciﬁc manufacturing need.
But despite the high volume, nothing at the facility goes to waste. The use of strike-forged steel and near-net-shape parts saves time and trash, but Leupold also boasts one of the best recycling programs in the West, as aluminum chip waste is systematically formed into “pucks.” These pucks, worth three times more than loose aluminum chips, are shipped back to fabricators and are in turn melted down and reformed into new bar stock to be used again.
In addition, the companywide recycling program includes coolant, paper, cardboard, wood and batteries.
The base-and-ring-manufacturing section of the factory produces 440 diﬀerent bases designed to ﬁt more than 380 unique ﬁrearms. More than a million bases are manufactured per year, representing nearly 40,000 base-and-ring combinations.
Leupold’s Custom Shop was founded in 2005, and leads the industry in custom exterior color and patterns, reticles, adjustments, engraving and more. Custom engraving is always available, with all markings on scopes made by high-speed laser. In addition, the company laser engraves more than 15,000 custom dials a year, with more than a million diﬀerent custom combos available.
The company boasts nine unique assembly lines incorporating more than 200 individual parts per scope. Continuous quality checks spaced throughout the process ensure no defect is passed along. All scopes are strenuously tested using live ﬁre before departing the factory, and are pressure tested to ensure that the ﬁnished product meets the highest industry standards.
All scope and optic assembly and testing occurs in climate-controlled “clean rooms” free from dust and other organic particles that could possibly aﬀect the performance of their product, and every employee working in this part of the facility wears a protective suit over their clothing. Anyone who has used Leupold optics knows they are dependable, durable and stand up alongside the top names in the business. I use a Leupold scope that was constructed in the 1960s, and this “outdated” instrument still ensures that one of my .308 riﬂes drives tacks at 100 yards.
With a product service team representing more than 300 years of experience, Leupold continues to repair scopes dating back to the late 1940s, and if they aren’t able to repair them, they will replace them with an equivalent current model in an average turnaround time of just seven days. Their services include reticle changes, adjustment upgrades, cleaning and inspecting, among many other things. In addition to their Beaverton plant, Leupold has international repair facilities in Canada, Australia, Sweden and Germany, and these ﬁve service nearly 40,000 products annually. Each year, team members respond to 145,000 phone calls, 48,000 emails and process 47,000 product orders.
With top-of-the-line products supported by exceptional service, it’s no mystery why Leupold scopes, binoculars, range ﬁnders, spotting scopes and other optics remain some of the most respected on the market. ASJ
We can all boast life lessons that have taught us certain principles. For me, the optics lesson happened years ago. Ed Sweet, the host of Kid Outdoors, and I would take a lot of kids bear hunting. I’d write articles about the hunts and he’d film them for his show. On one of our first hunts we saw 10 bears in two afternoons. Only once did I spot the bear before anyone else. That’s because my partners had good glass. I had an average pair of binoculars and have realized over the years that I had been missing a lot of game. I started a quest to learn more.
Unfortunately, the old saying “you get what you pay for” is never so true as it is in the optics world. When you buy a set, get the best that you can afford and you’ll never be sorry. I’ve heard a lot of people cuss bad optics, but I’ve never seen anyone regret buying good ones.
I thought I knew most of the optic companies out there and had tested products for at least half of them, but then I attended my first SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor and Trade) Show years ago. Wow, was I shocked. I bet there were 50 to 75 optic companies on display.
So, who’s the best? What makes one better than another? They all look clear and crisp in the store, don’t they? So how can you tell which one to buy, and why spend $2,000 on a pair of binoculars when you can buy a pair for $99? Why would you buy a spotting scope instead of just using your binoculars or the scope on your rifle? Well, let’s try to get our sights around these questions.
I teach a lot of glassing for big-game seminars, have been sponsored by a lot of optic companies over the years and I still don’t claim to know it all, but here are some of the things I have learned.
On an 8×42, the 8 signifies the power or magnification. The second number, 42, is the objective size. You preferably want your objective size to be four times the power. If it is less than four times, it won’t let in enough light for low-light conditions like dawn or dusk. The problem is, the higher the objective, the heavier the weight. Therein lies our dilemma.
If you’re a sedentary hunter, buy a 10×50, but if you’re hiking all day, buy a 10×42. I used to recommend 8×42. My thinking was that when you’re huffing and puffing up a mountain and throw up anything larger than an 8x, you wouldn’t be stable enough to focus. Years ago, however, I realized how much game I was missing, so I now carry a 10x.
Basically, there are three main options: compact, semicompact and full size. You need to determine your application. Where I live, we often scramble up and down mountains all day; this is why I carry a semicompact version. A full-sized binocular would be too heavy, and I know that I would never carry them. On the other hand, if you live in Texas and hunt out of a blind, then by all means get the larger set.
Now the tough choice: What brand should you buy? There are several good choices on the market. I’m sponsored by Leica and they have top-notch optics. Leupold and Bushnell also offer models that meet different budgets, and both offer decent warranties as well.
Years ago, everyone used leather straps to carry their binoculars. After a hard day of scrambling up and down it would feel like my neck had been dislocated by all the bouncing around. This is when I discovered Butler Creek elastic straps. They fit like a bra – not that I’ve ever worn a bra – and hold the binoculars against my chest. A lot of people make straps that are similar, but back in the day Butler Creek owned the market.
Now let’s cover spotting scopes. Why buy a spotting scope? Why not just use your binoculars? Because you’ll miss a ton of game. What size should you buy? Because of weight, I choose to carry a 35x, which is sufficient for me here in Idaho. If you’re sheep hunting in Alaska, you may want a 60x. You will need to determine where and how you hunt before making your decision.
When I glass, I do what is known as “zoning” – no, not fall asleep. I’ll climb to the top of a high ridge and set up. I start viewing towards one end of the mountain and glass across horizontally, then drop down 50 yards and go back. I will do this until I get to the visual bottom. Try to avoid randomly looking around. Have a system or you’ll miss game and never even know it.
Animals feed in and out of cover, so wait a few minutes and repeat glassing. If you glass an area long enough, you’ll grow accustomed to odd-shaped rocks and stumps, and notice when something new appears that wasn’t there before. As the sun moves, shadows may cause things to look different throughout the day too.
One good thing about using a spotting scope is if you see something, you can back away from the optic and let your partner look through. How many times have you seen an elk across a mountain and it’s taken five minutes for your buddy to see it too? Problem solved!
Which is best? A straight or a 45-degree angled optic? Over the years I’ve started favoring an angled neck. To me it’s a little more user friendly and causes less muscle stress throughout the day.
At the end of a hard day of glassing your eyes are going to be strained. You’ll go to bed feeling like you’re seasick or worse, hallucinating. I know everyone is on a budget, but as an old buddy used to say, “On this purchase, don’t leave any change in your pocket.”
Let’s move onto scopes. For fast shots you’ll want a 3x to 9x. They use smaller powers so they can pick up game fast. For hunting out West, you’ll want more magnification for the longer shots you’ll take.
I love the idea of a scope cover because the last time I hunted deer in Nebraska during a blizzard, I found a deer, threw up my rifle, looked through the scope and it was full of snow. Needless to say, I missed. I’ve tested numerous scope covers over the years and every single one has managed to get hung up on a limb and disappeared. This also goes for the covers on my binoculars. Maybe it is just me.
Some people will tell you to spend more on the scope than you do your rifle. This is somewhat true, I feel. I have a stainless-steel Remington 700 .338 Winchester Magnum. The scope is a Leupold VXIII 4.5x to 14x, so it’s half again as expensive as the rifle. This must mean that I somewhat agree with this concept.
It goes without saying, baby them! I don’t strap my rifle on my four-wheeler and go bouncing around. I baby my scope and consequently it stays on tight. It is also not a good idea to leave optics in the blistering sun either.
To properly clean them, Hamilton Boykin at Leica told me to hold them upside down, blow off any loose dust and then pour water on the lens to rinse off. Then with a soft, wet lens rag, wipe them clean in swooping motions. Don’t wipe in a circular motion or you will grind in sand particulates. Spitting on the lenses and wiping them off with your dusty shirt tail doesn’t cut it either.
Try a good optic once and you’ll never go back. ASJ