The perfect deer rifle for me. (Warning: Long post)
This summer I was pondering what might be the perfect deer rifle for me. Of course many people have differing opinions and there is hardly anything from .223 to .416 Rigby that won’t do the job on a deer under the right conditions. But we all have our own opinions, likes, and dislikes when it comes to choosing our perfect rifle.
I started thinking about what were my favorite characteristics in each each of the rifles I currently own, and then listing them.
pros - ubiquitous, very little recoil, does the job, in a lever action it is the most comfortable rifle to carry through the woods in the palm of my hand.
cons – limited range for hunting in open country, limited energy beyond 200yds (100yds in the 16” trapper)
Pros – almost as ubiquitous as the 30-30 & 30-06; will get it done under most any circumstance; plenty of range, more than enough power out to 300yds which is my personal limit under field conditions; fairly flat shooting; recoil is tolerable, matches the 30-06 in every way using up to 165gr bullets, which is plenty heavy for any deer; great bullet availability for reloading.
Cons – recoil with full power loads in my rifle is just a bit more than I like when it comes to getting a lot of practice at the bench. 15 – 20 rounds and my shoulder wants me to stop shooting it. Other than that, I love this round.
Pros – The definition of ubiquity, and ditto everything I wrote about the .308, but it will push heavier bullets at higher velocities, which is great for hunting bigger game, but not really necessary for deer. As an all around cartridge for all animals larger than deer, except big bears, the 30-06 is my choice and probably always will be.
Cons – Recoil is at the top of my limit for pleasurable shooting and muzzle blast is worse than the .308, with no real increase in performance when using “deer sized” bullet weights. Hence, my ’06 only gets used when I feel the need to use a 180gr or larger bullet.
Some folks make an issue of the long v. short action and handling characteristics, but personally it makes no difference to me. I guess if I had to choose I would agree that the short action does kind of handle easier, but not enough to make a big difference IMO.
What I was looking for was a rifle and cartridge combination that would give me relatively the equivalent performance of the .308 and ’06 out to 300yds with deer size bullet weights, but with less recoil and muzzle blast (preferably not much more recoil than the 30-30), and something that I could get commercial ammo and a wide range of reloading supplies for without having too much trouble. Mot too much to ask, right??
I thought about the .243, which is of course the simple answer, and I know that many, many people use it for deer, but for some reason it has just never caught my attention as something I would want to use. I know a lot of guys who swear by the .243 and I cannot disagree that it is a great cartridge, but that tiny little bullet just ain’t for me.
Same goes for the 25-06, which one of my friends uses to fill his freezer every year. However, another drawback there is that unlike the .243, it’s not always easy to find 25-06 ammo in the hardware store and Wal-Mart.
The .270 is probably the most popular round used in the area where I now live, but I had no experience with it and wasn’t really thrilled about getting to know it better for some reason. It just never has struck my fancy, although my brother-in-law and sister swear by it as the end all and be all.
So with all of that in mind, I started researching and trying to find the “perfect” deer rifle for me. Not for anybody else, but for me.
What I came up with is the 7mm-08.
While thinking over my choice I researched it quite a bit. Comparing a 140gr 7mm bullet v. 150gr .30 cal. bullet, the performance is on par with the .308 and 30-06 out to 300yds. In fact, the farther you get out toward 300yds, the better the 7mm bullet compares, due to a higher ballistic coefficient. (less wind drag = more retained velocity & energy). Of course the deer probably wouldn’t notice either way.
The recoil of the 7mm-08 is light. I really can’t tell the difference between the recoil of the 7mm-08 and the .243. It’s just a bit more than shooting a 30-30 in a full size rifle, but pretty much equivalent to the 30-30 recoil in the little 16” trapper carbine that I have. Basically, it’s a soft shooter, which tends to make my heart warm with affection toward a cartridge. Did I mention that I don’t like a lot of recoil?????
Ammo availability was somewhat of an issue that I was concerned with, until I realized I could use .308 cases to reload with and that 7mm bullets are made with almost the same widespread availability and are about the same price as .30 caliber bullets. I felt somewhat relieved by that knowledge, but then imagine my surprise when I walked into Wal-Mart and found about a dozen boxes of 7mm-08 on the shelf. Also, I live about 45 minutes from Cabela’s and they carry everything, so I felt much better about being able to get or manufacture what, to me, was an “oddball” cartridge.
I didn’t have a lot of money to spend when I started looking at platforms. My choices were limited to the budget rifles; those being either the new Marlin XS-7, a Mossberg ATR, or Stevens 200. I did not include the Remington model 770. I have seen some, and know some people who have them, and I just don’t like the rifle. I have read many rave reviews about the new Marlin and it came down to a toss up between it and the Stevens 200. Since I am a Savage fan anyway (my .308 and 30-06 are both Savages) I ended up sticking with what I know best and getting the Stevens. I know the Savage 110 is strong, dependable and accurate, and that’s what I got, less the accutrigger. Neither of my older Savages have the accutrigger and both shoot sub-moa, so what the heck?
I picked up the Stevens 200 in 7mm-08 for $299 at the local dealer. I put a set of Leupold mounts and rings on it and mounted a Nikon Pro-Staff 3-9x40 BDC scope. I paid $169 for the scope at Dick’s. The mounts & rings cost around $50 IIRC.
I bought some Remington Core-lokt ammo from Wal-Mart, hoping against all hope that the rifle would like it. Of course it didn’t. None of my savages can manage better than a 1 ½” group with factory Core-lokt ammo. Not sure why, but they just don’t like the stuff. The Stevens shot just under 2 ½ “ groups with the stuff. At least I now had some cases to reload, so I was not too upset. I ordered some dies and bullets, and then never did have time to do any reloading.
Hunting season was approaching, so I picked up a box of Winchester Supreme Ballistic-Silvertips at Bass-Pro in hopes the rifle would like them so I could use it for the upcoming season. The target below is the result of the sight in session @ 100 yds.
The first shot hit almost at the top of the paper and I kept adjusting the scope after every shot until I hit the x ring, then I shot two more for group. They grouped .930” and one shot of the three was a called flier that I pulled to the right. I believe they will shoot 1/2” or so if I do my part, but at $35 per box, I wasn’t about to waste three more trying to print a smaller group.
The trigger in this rifle is better than the one in my .308, and about equal to the one on my 30-06. No travel and the trigger pull is not what I would call heavy at all. I think the trigger feels really nice, but admit that I am not qualified to say, since I am really not into trigger critique. I just know if they are too heavy or not. This one is not. The one on my .308 was until I adjusted it, and it’s still not as good as this one was out of the box.
The stock was that ugly grey color, so I took it off and painted it black with that Krylon Fusion paint that is made to adhere to plastics. It takes a week to fully cure, but doesn’t seem to scratch off so IMO it’s worth the wait. The finishing of the stock was poor, as far as grooves marks from the mold, but I sanded and smoothed those out before I painted it. I like the checkering on it, it’s both functional and attractive IMO. I think it’s a nice looking package now.
As far as the feel of carrying, it is a light rifle, with scope and all it weighs about 7.5 lbs. The stevens does have a cheaper feeling type of plastic mixture or something. It just doesn’t feel as solid as the synthetic stick on my Savage ’06, but it’s lighter so that’s nice. The stock is made on the old retired Savage stock mold. Which is better than the new one to me. My ’06 has the newer squared synthetic stock and it’s ok, my .308 has a fancy wood stock which is a bit too thick to feel comfortable when carrying in the palm of my hand. The ’06 is thinner and more comfortable, but the stock is sort of squared at the bottom all the way down. The stock on the Sevens is squared on the bottom in the front portion, but rounded where the magazine is. That coupled with the thinness of it and a good balanced weight gives it a nice carry feel. Not as good as a Winchester ’94, but darn close.
Time to go hunting finally came and Friday night I didn’t see any deer, but Saturday afternoon a deer came in. I had a doe tag to fill, and a buck tag. So when I saw what I thought was a nice doe I shot it. It turned out to be a young buck with no antlers showing. Anyway, the deer was less than 50 yds away and I aimed behind the shoulder for a heart /lung shot. When I squeezed the trigger the bullet went right where it was supposed to and he dropped like he had been struck by lightning. I’ve seen that happen on TV, but this is the first time it has happened to me so needless to say I was impressed. DRT, no tracking necessary.
All in all, I am thrilled with the rifle and the cartridge thus far. It’s everything I was looking for. A dependable, lightweight, light recoiling, accurate rifle that feels nice in the hand, has a flat trajectory, plenty of potential long range power and drops deer like a ton of bricks. All for about $500. I love it, and hope someone finds this information useful or at least entertaining.