2021 Hunting AAR

As in years past, I again journeyed down to South Carolina to spend a week sitting in hunting blinds hoping to score some venison or pork. This year, we were a group of four. I drove down with a close friend that I work with, while one of my oldest friends that I consider a brother met us at the lodge along with his father. At the end of the week, we had shot two deer and three hogs, and taken an additional two hogs with dogs and knives. I didn’t get a deer (I foolishly passed on filling my doe tag on the first day), but I did shoot one wild hog from a blind one morning and later used my new to me Marlin 1895 DARK on a monster hog that we stalked.

I had wanted to get a Hill People Gear Tarahumara pack prior to my trip this year, but just never got around to it. My lovely bride corrected that deficiency for my Christmas present this year, so I’ll be able to explore a new gear setup in the future! I took three rifles. I took my favored Browning AB3 Micro in 6.5 Creedmoor, my Marlin 336Y, and the aforementioned Marlin 1895 DARK.

My friend that I drove down with brought a new rifle, a Christensen Arms Ridgeline with a left handed bolt chambered in .300 PRC. He topped it with a Burris Eliminator Gen III. Altogether, this is a potent long range package that he was looking to get proof of concept on. The .300 PRC is an impressive cartridge with devastating terminal ballistics. In truth, it was probably overkill for what we were doing, but now he knows it works! Eventually, he plans to take it on a western hunt where its flat trajectory and impressive terminal ballistics will be valuable assets. Having seen the effect it had on a deer and a hog, I can see why the military chose the .300 PRC.

One of the many benefits that comes with my annual hunting trip is simply having the time to sit and think. Lots of the time, my mind gravitates to gear and rifles, apropos of sitting in a blind with rifle in hand. With my 6.5 Creedmoor, I most often found myself leaving my Leupold VX-3i 2.5-8×36 set right around 6x for most of the shots I anticipated from where I was sitting. This led me to read some more on optics and fixed power scopes, specifically.

Recently at a Whitetails Unlimited Deer Camp dinner, I won a Savage Axis chambered in .243 Winchester in a raffle. I will probably set it up with a youth stock for my kids to learn on, but the beauty of that is that the same setup will also fit me perfectly with my short stature. I’m not sure how much I want to invest in the project, but I think what I’m going to do for a scope is go with a fixed power Leupold, probably a 6x, or maybe a 4x. I know it’s an anachronistic choice, but it just works. Fixed power scopes are simpler, lighter, and potentially more robust than variable power scopes. Having less to fiddle with appeals to me on a number of levels.

Similarly, the fixed power scout scope on my Marlin 336Y is perfectly adequate for the scenarios I envision for the rifle. As Leupold no longer offers the scout scope that I have on my 336Y, I will probably go with the Burris offering or possibly an Aimpoint red dot sight for my 1895 DARK. Even though my Marlins are side eject, I still like the scope mounted forward of the receiver for a number of reasons. Having the area around the hammer spur clear makes it easier to utilize the half-cock notch, and I don’t need to install a hammer spur extension. The balance of the rifle is good with the forward mounted scope, and it is quick into action with both eyes open. The low power magnification is just enough to reach out a bit further than I can with the iron sights, while not slowing the process down at closer ranges. Finally, there is just an aesthetic issue for me. I think traditionally mounted scopes on lever actions just look funny. But that’s just me.

Continuing on the subject of optics, I decided at some point that I wanted a set of binoculars to scan the woods line from the blind. When we ventured up to Nichol’s Sporting Goods in Rock Hill one day, I decided to purchase a set of Leupold Timberline 10×42 binoculars that they had in stock. I was gratified to see that the binoculars included a case and chest harness in the package. Unpacking them on the ride back to the lodge, I discovered that the harness was missing one of the female buckles that attaches the binoculars to the harness. Shout out to Leupold. I called them and a few minutes later, the problem was solved. A couple of weeks after I returned home, I received a package from Leupold. I was expecting the buckle I needed. The did me one better and sent an entire replacement harness! Even though the binoculars are made in China (what isn’t these days…), I am impressed with the features and optical quality at the price point that I paid. They are a significant upgrade over my 30+ year old Steiner Military-Marine 8×30 binoculars. There’s nothing wrong with the Steiners, they’re just difficult to use with glasses given the limited eye relief. That’s not a problem with the Leupolds, and that alone was worth the price of admission.

On Wednesday morning, the hogs came up from behind my blind. I took a shot on a pig that was behind a shrub, and dropped it where it stood with a shot that hit right behind the ear. Granted, shot placement is key, and everything I’ve shot with the Creedmoor has been relatively close, but everything I’ve shot with it has dropped where it stood. I love the cartridge.

Maybe an hour later, my friend’s father shot a nice 7 pointer at 124 yards. Dragging that one uphill took three of us! He used a .264 Winchester Magnum that he won at a game dinner one year.

Later that afternoon, we stalked a hog that was probably nearly 500 lbs. In a rather anticlimactic moment, I put a Hornady LEVERevolution 325 gr FTX .45-70 slug through its shoulder at maybe 30 yards. Although it was still kicking, the shot knocked the boar on its side and it didn’t move again. I closed the distance and fired a second shot for good measure, although it probably wasn’t necessary. We were able to recover both projectiles just inside the far side fat cap, and they did what they were supposed to. I am very happy with the Marlin 1895 DARK. More than one person has tried to buy it off me, but it’s not for sale! As far as the boar goes, my freezer is full of ground pork and other cuts, and the head was made into a nice European mount by my taxidermist. He told me that it has the largest tusks he’s seen in many years.

On our travels, we stopped at more than a few sporting goods stores to look for ammo. Specifically, we asked about .30-30, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 300 PRC. We were able to find all three, but not necessarily in the quantities or brand/bullet that we wanted. Ammo seems to be coming back, but mainly in the mainstream cartridges. We saw a ton of 9mm, .223/5.56, and 7.62×51. Everything else was hit or miss. Interestingly. .30-06 was virtually unobtanium. Some friends of our outfitter were looking everywhere for the cartridge. Had I known, I would have brought them a box.

Back home, I did venture out on a couple of hunts on public land, but didn’t see anything. The way my work schedule has been, I wasn’t able to get out for muzzle loading season or any other late season hunts. Maybe next year. And with that, my 2021 hunting season came to a close. As always, I’d like to think I learned something. Time will tell what this year brings. We’ve already booked our week, and if nothing else, it serves as a much needed break from reality.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2022 isn’t “2020 too.” Take care and get out and enjoy the outdoors!

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