The Perfect Deer Rifle

Is The Payoff In The Search Itself?

By Dave Anderson

Like John Taffin’s quest for the “Perfect Packin’ Pistol,” my own quest has been for a “Perfect Deer Rifle.” Except my term is so lame, lacking the triple alliteration. I’ve tried to come up with something better: “Dandiest Deer Dropper,” “Wonderfulest Whitetail Whomper,” “Marvelous Mulie Musket” — but as you can see, my efforts have been embarrassing.

Past Perfect — Isn’t

Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk. III .303 British, $17.88. Binocular and knife, no cost (Christmas presents for Dave).
Memories of using this equipment on Dave’s first successful deer hunt at age 14: Priceless. No, really.

Past Perfect — Isn’t

Here’s a look back at how my search has gone. These dates are only approximate. I don’t really organize my life by decades. Maybe I should?

The 1960s: What I wanted was a Weatherby Mark V .257 WM. As a teenage farm kid, what I could afford was a cut-down Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk. III in .303 British. But danged if it didn’t work! At age 14 I shot my first deer with it hunting on my own, following tracks in the snow until — more by luck than skill — I got a close range shot. I also used a borrowed Winchester 94 .30-30 “back then.”

The 1970s: The ’70s were eventful for me. I graduated from the university, got a job at what seemed like a fabulous salary, got married, and bought a Winchester 70A .270 Win. a month after the wedding. This acquisition led to our first marital spat. “Couldn’t you hunt deer with your duck rifle? I really think you could if you wanted to.” The .270 cartridge was (and is) about perfect for deer, the rifle was reliable and super accurate, but with steel bases/rings and a steel-tube Weaver scope it weighed 9-½ lbs. field-ready.

Other highlights from the ’70s include a Remington 600 .308 Win. (too loud, too muzzle-light); Ruger .44 Mag. carbine (too range-limited); Ruger 77 .250 Savage (too close to perfect, might have ended the quest!); pre-’64 Winchester 70 Featherweight .30-06 (recoil a bit hefty with the hard buttplate).

The 1980s: Back then I took up IPSC Practical Pistol competition, which became my main shooting interest for the next 15 years. With handguns filling my inner need for continual experimentation, I actually made some practical deer rifle choices.

Winchester reintroduced the Model 70 Featherweight in the early ’80s. I bought a pair in .270 Win. and 7×57 Mauser. When Remington introduced the Mountain Rifle, I bought one in .280 Rem. Except for flirtations with a pre-’64 Model 70 .257 Roberts, a Belgian Browning .270, a Model 70 .300 Win. Mag. and a couple others, these three handled my whitetail and mule deer hunting for quite a few years. I was getting close to my ideal, but still….

Where to go after finding the perfect deer rifle? Go back a century! This 1920 Savage .250-3000
left the factory on September 11, 1920. Dave plans to hunt with it in its centennial year.

Short, scouty .308 stuff (from top down): Remington 600 Mohawk from the ’70s, Ruger Frontier and a Steyr Scout.

More Questing

The 1990s: After some complicated trading I acquired a Winchester 88 lever action in .284 Win. A few years later I bought a Browning A-Bolt Hunter in .284 Win. Most of my deer hunting in the ’90s was with one or the other.

Simone had been using my Remington 700 .243. Being the thoughtful husband I am, I got her something a bit more compact — a Browning Micro Medallion. By happy chance it was in 7mm-08 Rem., a cartridge I wanted to try.

The 2000s: I was so enamored of the 7mm-08, I purchased an Ed Brown Damara chambered for it. Light, accurate, reliable, with a wonderful trigger, ideal balance and fit — perfection at last! Except, it wasn’t stainless steel.

The Weatherby Mark V dream came to pass, with an Ultra Lightweight .257 WM. I first used it in Africa, mainly on a cull shoot for springbok. Great rifle and cartridge. But there’s that long 26″ barrel.

The 2010s: After laser surgery on one eye to repair retinal tears, recoil reduction became a priority. I bought a Sako 85 Finnlight in .243 Win., and more recently another Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight in .240 WM. Both are superb to carry and shoot. These days most of my hunting is with one or the other. I can even live with the 1:10 twist.

Closest to perfection so far: Sako 85 Finnlight in .243 Win. Scope is a
Leupold 2-7×33 compact. Spooky accurate — a beautiful trigger.

But…

I’m so impressed with the superb long-range bullets now available, especially some of the 6.5s. I have several 6.5 rifles, all with 1:8 or faster twists — Weatherby and Ruger rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor, Savage and Tikka rifles in .260 Rem., and my current favorite, a Tikka T3 in 6.5×55 Swede.

I feel I’m almost there! Except they could be a bit lighter and more compact. I’ve ordered a Kimber Adirondack and the new Savage Lightweight Storm, both with 1:8 twists in 6.5 Creedmoor. Perfection at last! Although I see Sako is now chambering the Finnlight 2 in 6.5 CM.

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