Just Exactly What
Is the ‘Deer Rifle?’

Choices, choices…
; .

What is a deer rifle? A great example is this Browning bolt-action chambered for the .308 Winchester Workman field tested a few years back.)

Usually around this time of year, I’ll haul out a calendar and start telling myself deer hunting season is only about eight months away, and it’s time to begin preparations.

Call it an exercise in self-help therapy that invariably includes a few trips to the range over the next few months, followed by an equal number of sessions at the loading bench. It’s not just that I enjoy the fall colors and the banter with pals around the campfire, and the fact that we’re camping with guns and nobody is going to come along with a snooty attitude.

It’s the anticipation that moment when all the preparations pay off, and the opportunity arises to end your season with a deep breath and one press of the trigger, followed by telling and re-telling at the campfire.

Over the years, I’ve hunted deer with rifles in several different calibers, but nowadays my usual choice is a bolt-action Savage chambered for the proven .308 Winchester. It’s a cartridge that has put venison in my meat locker more than once, and accounted for one of the biggest mule deer bucks I’ve shot, a 4×5-pointer that took three of us to load on an ATV after it was field dressed.


Winchester Ammunition has introduced a 168-grain Expedition Big Game
Long Range load in .308 Winchester.

The .308 Winchester is a superb cartridge, and with the right loads it just might be the best all-around deer stopper. I’ve shot deer with a .350 Remington Magnum, .30-06, .300 Savage, .32 Winchester Special and .257 Roberts, but the .308 is what some might call a “short-action ’06.

I’ve settled on a couple of handloads, using either Nosler’s 165-grain Ballistic Tip or AccuBond bullets with the polymer tips. My choice of propellants is IMR 4895 and my loads launch at right around 2,650 fps with the chronograph set 30 inches ahead of the muzzle.

History tells us the .308 Winchester was developed originally for military use as the 7.62×51 NATO, though the two cartridges are slightly different, and the commercial round was introduced in the early 1950s. It wasn’t really a .300 Savage with a longer neck and more gradual shoulder, and it’s got more horsepower.

The first .308 I owned was a single-shot H&R break-action with an exposed hammer and heavy barrel. It’s an accurate little stinker, a bit on the heavy side due not only to the barrel but the heavier laminated hardwood buttstock. But it can punch tight little groups and that’s what counts.

Then along came Savage with a handsome bolt-gun it called the 14/114 American Classic and I simply couldn’t resist. I’ve never seen a Savage bolt-action that couldn’t punch MOA groups with the right loads and a good scope. It’s got an AccuTrigger, detachable magazine (I picked up a couple of spares), dandy recoil pad, three-position thumb safety, good checkering and it is now topped with a 3-9X Leupold, and it ain’t for sale at any price!


Author Workman delights at spending leisurely hours at the range with his
bolt-action Savage, an X-ring punching rifle that has put a lot of venison in his freezer.

Recoil of any rifle in .308 Winchester is moderate, and I can honestly say it would be a day spent well to occupy a bench at the range, firing three-shot groups with long, leisurely breaks in between.

So, I’ve got everything down pat; accurate rifle, superb scope, carefully measured loads, and I’m ready for October. Uhhhh, not so fast there, Dave.

The other day I was going through emails and right in the middle of this swarm was a note from Winchester Ammunition about their new entry, the Expedition Big Game Long Range 308. Oh, you guessed it. My eyeballs clicked and locked in position as I read the little promo.

According to Winchester, this new entry features a 168-grain AccuBond bullet, and it’s capable of some impressive ballistics. The bullet, says Winchester, features a polymer tip and extended ogive and boattail “making for high-ballistic coefficients for improved long-range capability.” That’s the sort of comment that intrigues the hell out of me.
This projectile leaves the muzzle at a reported 2,680 fps with 2,675 ft-lbs of energy. At 100 yards, that pill is still scooting along at 2,510 fps with 2,349 ft-lbs of energy, and at 200 yards — a distance crossed in a nano-second — the AccuBond bullet is still at warp speed (2,347 fps) with more than 2,000 ft-lbs of buck-busting energy.

The farthest shot I’ve made on game with a .308 is just over 200 yards, downhill, and when the sound of the muzzle blast finally stopped echoing up and down the canyon, that buck was as dead as it gets.


The ballistic table on the back of Winchester’s cartridge box details the
performance expectations of this new long-range ammunition

The backside of the cartridge box features a ballistic table that should be required reading for anybody who thinks the .308 Winchester isn’t “enough gun.” If you rifle is zeroed at 200 yards with this ammunition, it will be 2 inches high at 100, but drop 8.3 inches by the time it hits 300 yards. At 400 yards, it will have dropped 23.9 inches, but still be stroking along at 2,040 fps, which is still about 700 fps faster than one of my 210-grain JHP bullets at the muzzle of my .41 Magnum handgun, with which I’ve conked deer on three different occasions.

We started this exercise asking, “What is the deer rifle?” It’s the rifle you carry faithfully one season after the other; the one that has been dependable regardless of the weather conditions, and the one from which a hunter invariably tries to get the best performance.

But there’s something more to the equation, and that’s the ammunition. Right now, months away from the season opener, is when every serious hunter should start the tinkering process. Try a new scope, or check out the new ammunition offerings. The day before you leave on a hunt is not the time to be zeroing your rifle.

Being a cranky old handloader who has spent many a guilt-free hour carefully measuring powder charges and pouring each by hand into resized and polished cartridge cases, maybe I ought to be perturbed at Winchester for dropping this new Expedition Long Range .308 Winchester load onto my radar screen. But I’m not.

I’m definitely going to try this stuff, soon as I can get my greasy little paws on a couple of boxes.

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