Hunting is about much more than a trophy — this time I took the Henry X-Model 30-30 loaded with 160 grain Hornady FTX bullets along for the experience!
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Why hunt doe mule deer?
Harvesting does is a management tool for wildlife biologists. It’s also typically an easier hunt, and thereby more likely to fill the freezer. A lot of rural folks and hunters call it “making meat” and the question becomes: “Did you fill your freezer yet?” The spreads in hunting magazines indicate every mule deer hunter takes a giant racked buck year after year. Out here in mule deer country, it’s more likely a hunter will take any legal buck or doe found, depending on the tag drawn.
About the Tag
Every state has different game laws and rules. Here in Washington I can buy deer, elk and bear tags “over the counter” – or these days, over the internet – at modest cost as a resident hunter. There’s also the opportunity to apply for special tags. Some of those are for rut hunts, giving the hunter a better chance at finding and taking a mature buck. Some are for does as a population control measure in certain areas. I’d drawn this same tag in 2015, and enjoyed a cold solo hunt. I’ve been applying for it again ever since. Seven years later, luck found me with that tag again. It’s for an area just a bit over an hour’s drive from my place on a privately owned ranch.
About the Rifle
While the Henry X-Model 30-30 has seen a lot of steel action, I decided to take it into the field. The stock is impervious to weather and it’s a dream to shoot. The rifle has proven to be accurate and reliable. Anticipating a shot at under 200 yards, I practiced several times with the 30-30 from 25 yards to 200 yards.
For the hunt I mounted a 2.5x Leupold FX-II Ultralight 2.5×20 Wide Duplex, one of my favorite scopes for modest range hunting. This diminutive scope weighs 6.5 ounces and has a whopping 4.9” of eye relief which is great when I’m shooting heavy loads from my 45-70 rifle. For me, it’s the perfect scope for hunting with a lever action rifle and I’ve used it on several different lever action rifles including the 22 rimfire, 30-30 and the 45-70. For this hunt I zeroed it at 100 yards.
About the Loads
Earlier this year, I worked up a satisfyingly accurate 30-30 load featuring Hornady’s 160 grain FTX bullet. This bullet has a flexible pointed tip, making it safe for use in tubular magazines. The higher BC of this bullet makes it useful at longer ranges by flattening the trajectory and retaining a higher velocity at 200 yards — 1785 fps vs 1626 fps from one of my favored 30-30 loads with a 170 grain flat-nosed bullet. That retained velocity helps the FTX bullet expand properly when striking game.
I loaded my hunting ammo using Hornady Custom Grade dies and a Lee factory crimp die, mounted on the Lyman All American 8 turret press. Priming was done with Lyman’s hand priming tool, and the powder dispensed using Lyman’s powder measure.
Hodgdon shows a maximum load of 35.5 grains of LVR powder with these bullets. I loaded 35 grains and saw an average of 2267 fps.
For more than any other reason, I hunt to experience the hunt itself. Nothing compares to the anticipation or being afield at or before dawn waiting to see what the day might bring, just listening and watching. Noting the wind direction and temperature, quietly seeking game, then finally closing the distance and making the shot! It’s a thing that I’ve done over and over, yet never tire of.
Drawing this tag for a relatively easy hunt was important for me this year, as I’ve been recovering from an injury and have been walking with some difficulty. I’ve enjoyed hard hunts, but this season, I was better off with an easier hunt. Not every hunt needs to include an exhausting hike or climb.
Our day started early as videographer Kyle Shields met me in my driveway before 0500. We piled his camera gear and my hunting gear into the Jeep, and off we headed to meet the rancher on who’s land I’d be hunting. After getting oriented to the property boundaries and getting a few safety notes, the landowner departed, leaving us to seek out mule deer. The area was largely covered in bitterbrush, a particularly important food source for mule deer in winter.
We didn’t have to wait long before we started seeing deer. I searched the area with my binoculars and quickly discovered several mule deer in our general area. There were no bucks, just some mature does and a few yearlings, but I only had a doe tag anyway.
As Kyle worked his camera gear, I loaded the Henry with a couple of 30-30 rounds, then rested the rifle on a Bog Deathgrip tripod and waited for one of the does to turn broadside at about 170 yards. The crosshairs of the little 2.5x Leupold steadied just behind her shoulder and I squeezed off the shot.
The rifle shot seemed muted by the snow, something I’ve noticed before. The doe staggered, then collapsed. I chambered a fresh cartridge, just in case she wasn’t done, but she never moved. I noted where she’d fallen, then set out across the snowy field.
While skinning the doe I found a large entrance wound just behind the shoulder, right where I wanted it. The bullet had broken a rib going in and destroyed the lungs. I was surprised to find a small exit wound on the off-side flank. She had apparently been standing at a bit more of an angle than I’d thought. I only recovered a tiny fragment of the bullet.
Cutting and wrapping the meat, I found myself profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to “make meat” yet again.
Fresh steaks for dinner and a full freezer we’re wonderful results of this hunt, and I am grateful to have been able to make that happen. One of my favorite meals from mule deer is tender backstrap steaks cooked in butter and garlic in a cast iron skillet. I only have them sizzling in the skillet about five minutes.
It is quite satisfying to fill the freezer with delicious fresh deer meat. My sons and I love the tender and flavorful backstrap steaks. The whole family enjoys the stews, roasts and chili made from this venison.
Get the Gear
*Note that Hornady makes two different 160 grain .30 caliber FTX bullets. This one is intended for the 30-30 cartridge. The other is for the seldom seen 308 Marlin Express cartridge which was developed in 2007.
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