By LeeRoy Wisen
Here we will describe the nurturing of an upcoming hunter, starting with this boy being 9 years old. In the state of Washington all new hunters have to take a hunter education course before they can purchase a hunting license.
I was a Washington state hunter education instructor at the time & the grandson Brad wanted to take the course so he could go hunting that year. I had discussed it with the daughter & her husband before the class & made it clear that Grandpa was not going to provide any favors here. They also understood that it was recommended that any young person under 10 years of age was handicapping themselves by the fact that this test was not written for full comprehension for anyone under that age bracket. We instructors tried to discourage participation below this age because of this situation. We also tried to forewarn the parents & student that if they did fail, that it was a learning step where they could take it again the following year.
Nope, Brad had his mind made up that he was going to take the course when it came up in the fall. I did give him a course manual & with the help from his step-dad, he studied it during the summer. I had impressed on him that SAFETY in handling of the firearm was NUMBER ONE here whether he passed the course or not.
He had been around guns ever since he was a little boy as his mom was a single parent & Grandma & Grandpa saw a lot of this young boy prior to her later marriage. He probably had a better understanding of guns than many normal boys, as grandpa was a full time gunsmith & Brad had a lot of exposure as illustrated below.
He was the oldest grandson & my son Jim, (his uncle) had decided to make up hunting rifles for all his nieces & nephews. Jim started on this rifle when Brad decided he would take the hunter education course. This rifle was made on a Swedish model 94 Mauser type action and was barreled in a 308 Winchester caliber in a light weight sporter style. Since Brad was small, (at that time) a temporary stock was made of Alder wood which was quite short in order to fit him.
We did not want this young boy to become afflicted with a flinching problem, so Jim loaded the 308 with ammo using 130gr lead bullets with 7.5 gr. of Unique powder to a loading equivalent of a 30 M1 carbine. Brad fired this gun and load during the summer, was very good and safety conscience at handling it, his accuracy was quite acceptable. He was told to not shoot at any animal beyond about 75 yards as this bullet would drop considerably, loosing energy beyond that distance.
The scheduled course (Saturdays of 2 consecutive weeks) came and I gave him no favors. I usually had about 35 to 40 youths attend this course ranging in age from 10 to 18, with a few even near the mid 30s. Some mothers even took the course. One third of the course was live firing with 22 RF rifles & 410 shotguns & then a field handling situation. The students had to handle their firearms in a safe manner as observed by the instructors as part of the test. The written part of the test was actually multiple choice. One of my helpers graded his test paper. Believe it or not, Brad came out very good in the paper score and better than some 15 year olds. He made grandpa rather proud that day.
Hunting license with a deer tag was purchased and the makings of a deer hunter was forming up. Where they were living at the time was in a old farmhouse near the river that had a alfalfa field near by. Between the river & this hay field, was probably 5 acres of tall river bottom grass & a few thistles. The deer would go from the brushy river bottom thru this grass to the river for water & then feed in the field from just before dark till ? The son-in-law had picked out a vantage spot far enough from the trails to not spook the animals (but close enough for this rifle). Nothing came out before dark the first evening. But the second evening, Brad shot a large spike Blacktail buck. It only went about 75 yards and dropped. A excellently placed lung shot (as seen in the photo below) did the job quite well even for this weakly powered rifle. And a hunter was born.
The following year, 1995, he shot forked horn buck with the same loading in the same area.
The year following that, the M1 carbine load was replaced by a light 30-30 loading with a 150 gr Speer 30-30 bullet, giving him a bit studier hunting round but at the same time not kicking him a lot. That year he again got another spike Blacktail.
And the following year another spike succumbed to this mighty hunter while he was hunting with his biological father.
The next year the load went up to a moderate 308 load with 165 gr. Speer Hot Core bullets using H335 powder for a reasonable velocity but yet minimal recoil, that accounted for another forked horn buck. The stock was lengthened as needed to match the growing boy. By the time he was 18, uncle Jim made him a permanent stock out of tiger-striped myrtle wood to fit him.
Brad worked as a machine operator in a CNC machine shop run by his grandfather during his high school years. He graduated in 2003 and continued working there for a couple of more years.
In 2004 his family moved to Montana. He followed them to Montana in the spring of 2005 getting a job as a CNC machine operator in the Bozeman area.
With this move, the hunting changed considerably as in Montana, deer and elk season overlapped and depending on the location elk were also encountered at times. And there, more open country was the norm in many locations. Yes, some Whitetail deer could be taken at 40 yards, and some mule deer can be taken at closer ranges also, but most shots would be in the 200 to 400 yard range, simply because you could not get closer in that more open country.
2005 he shot a 4X4 mule deer in the National Forest while driving all alone into the intended hunting area. This area was somewhat timbered, with a few small meadows. That day snow was on the ground, this deer probably had romance on his mind, at maybe 45-50 yards standing next to a tree, partly hidden just below the road, staring at the vehicle. Brad got out of his truck and loaded the 308, deer still standing there, dropped his first Montana deer with one shot, breaking it’s back. He took another shot in the head as a kill shot when he got up to the deer. He tied a tow strap onto the deer to drag it up to the road so he could load it (with much grunting) into his pickup.
This buck is now mounted and hanging on his wall.
2006 he shot a decent 2X2 Mule deer. Once again the deer stood there below the road while Brad got out and loaded his rifle. Fired first shot at about 60 yards, deer ran another 40 yards and at the second shot it went another 20 yards before going down. Now since this all happened on a somewhat steep hillside BELOW the road, he and his step-dad drug the deer a mile and half downhill to a road. Then just another 2 mile hike back up the road to the vehicle.
He got married in 2007 and his wife Sara goes along with him on weekends. With the potential longer distances encountered there, he purchased a optical rangefinder.
This year he shot a 3X3 Mule deer near Wilsall. This one he made a stalk from 700 yards to 276, one shot kill with the 308 while it was still bedded. It stood up for 2 seconds then fell back down. This one with the permission of the landowner, he was able to drive to it and load the deer into the vehicle.
In 2008 he shot a 5X4 Mule deer near Flathead pass of the Bridger Mountain range. He and his step-dad were setting on a vantage point looking at some does and spotted a couple of bucks. They stalked them, he took a shot, missing, the buck ran up the ridge. Brad chased after it, saw it again at probably 400 yards from the first shot, made the shot at about 80 yards for a lung/gut shot and it ran maybe 40 yards and dropped, he then heard the deer’s horns crashing on branches as it went down.
In 2009 he got a 3X4 deer, but would have been a 4×4 if one tine wasn’t broken off. This buck was walking at a fast pace thru some scattered timber. He wanted his wife Sara to shoot, but she was not confident with the deer moving and at that distance, so he knelt on a knee, from about 150 yards, dropped him where he stood with a lung shot, again with the 308.
He shot his first calf elk with a double lung shot at about 80 yards and it didn’t go anywhere, in the valley north of Wilsall. Since he had a second elk tag, an antlerless elk B tag, he filled that tag with another calf on the last day of hunting season at around 200 yards or so.
In Montana, certain areas are open for branched antler bulls or antlerless at the same time and they can purchase a separate cow tag in addition to the bull tag.
This year also saw his wife Sara shoot a small forked horn mule deer, using his 308. This all happened at the location of the photo below. Brad, his step-dad and Sara were dragging his buck 3X4 out during a snow storm. They stopped when I met them at this location. We were talking and someone saw this small small buck walking along the lower part of the hill to the far right but out of the photo. His step-dad was not interested in this small deer, but Sara said she would like to shoot her first deer. OK, she took Brad’s 308, kneeled down, I stood my rifle butt down in the snow, held onto the upper barrel with her resting the 308 barrel over my fist. She hit this buck with one shot, at about 120 yards. The bullet broke the lower front shoulder and lung shot, the deer stumbled for about 20′ and went down.
I had just taken a photo of Brad’s deer in this location and between the time Sara shot her deer and we drug it over where I took this photo below of both, the time difference on camera of the two photos was 12 minutes. Her deer was probably bedded down there then when we spent the little time for the hunters resting and me taking a couple of photos, the deer got ancy decided to leave the area.
The next year, I made her a lightweight 243 Win. on a Mauser 95 action, with the stock patterned off a pre-64 Winchester model 70.
The family photo below pretty well says it all. Grandpa’s deer was a Whitetail, the others Mule deer and the Brad’s calf elk.
2010 saw Brad somewhat outgrowing the 308, even though it had served him well. But in Montana, some long shots present themselves at times pushing the capabilities of the 308. We discussed his needs in that area and decided that I would make him up a 300 Weatherby. This would be enough gun that if need be, he could make a 500/700 yard shot at deer or elk with a great probability of success if he did his part right.
This rifle was made on a military Mauser model 98 action with a 26” Shilen barrel, muzzle break, plus a Kick Eze Trap style recoil pad. A Timney trigger, new trigger guard/drop box 5 round magazine unit and 3 position model 70 style safety with a 3X9 Bushnell scope rounded out the gun. The stock was a piece of California Claro walnut.
Brad had some concern that this rifle would have a lot of recoil in that he was just recovering from a broken collar bone that still has a metal plate in place that was used to hold it in place while it healed. This rifle weighed in with scope at 9 ½# with which he could at the range hold a easy 1 1/2” group at 100 yards. The load was cronographed and the 180 gr. bullet was going 2986 FPS at the muzzle, living up to very close to our expectations of 3000 FPS. Later during his sight-in after installing a better Nikon 8 X 16 scope, then using factory ammo, he fired numerous 2 shot 1/4″ groups at 200 yards off a sandbag rest. The design of the rifle, recoil was actually softer than the lighter 308 he had shot for years, but heavier.
In 2010 grandpa did not get drawn for a non-resident Montana tags, but did go over and purchase a non-resident Whitetail doe tag then hunted with them for about a week coming home with some meat.
A week after I left, Brad got a big 2X3 Mule deer in the area we were hunting that he had seen and had been after it while I was there. The day he got it, Brad saw this deer from about 500 yards, tried getting closer but in sagebrush / juniper hillside when the deer stated getting ancy, he settled down in prone position with the rifle mounted bipod and took a shot at 422 yards. Using the 300 Weatherby, the shot took him low through the neck cutting the main arteries. He ran downhill about 60 yards stumbling and fumbling all the way until it finally expired. Here is an instance where the new rifle proved itself as he would probably have passed on this shot or the deer would have disappeared if he tried to get any closer if he was limited to the trajectory of the 308.
A week after the 2X3 deer, in a different area north of Wilsall, Brad took a massive 7X8 bull elk, THE PICTURE SAYS IT ALL. Here he and Sara were setting back to back on the brow of a finger ridge looking the area over. Sara almost broke Brad’s ribs when she jabbed him, pointing to 4 bull elk coming out of a draw below them. This small herd had been spooked by other hunters from a wooded canyon about a half a mile away. There was this bull, a 6X6 and 2 smaller non-legal spike bulls in this bunch.
Brad shot it offhand at about 80 yards while it was running broadside. He kept shooting as long as the bull was moving, hitting it 3 times as a gut shot and once as a lung shot, again with the 300 Weatherby. He did not want to let this one get a way. He found out later that when the rifle had been dropped it was shooting about 12″ off horizontally.
Hunting in these block management areas of Montana, you can not drive beyond the designated parking area, but after the animal is down the ranchers will allow a vehicle to be driven in for recovery. This bull was actually in an area that with the help of his step-dad, his wife and brother, and they loaded it whole in the pickup bed being home about noon.
The final Boone & Crocket score for this elk was 343.
His step-dad went right back to that same area that afternoon, located and shot the 6X6 bull.
Now this may well spoil him, as some of us dream for a whole lifetime of a chance to take an magnificent animal like this elk. And the deer that he has taken are not that shabby either. And he is a young man in his mid 20s. What will the future hold ???
2011 he shot a 3X4 Whitetail buck, again in the Wilsall area.
2012 opening day saw him and Sara laying in a brushy patch for 4 hours waiting for a 5 X 5 mule deer to get up from a bed in a private property sagebrush hillside and move into a huntable block management land stubble field, hopefully just before dark in the Wilsall area north of Livingston, while a couple of does and a forked horn mule deer fed within 40 yards of them. Then two hunters moved in and shot one of the does right in front of them, of course spooking the big buck. He and I went back four days later, but the buck was not to be seen, only 8 mule deer does, which go nervous and moved away even though they were over 500 yards away.
A week later Sara and I was with him in the same location and there were 3 or 4 does standing in a swampy area with at least 2 more deer bedded down, but probably 1000 yards away. They got nervous when we neared the top a a open shallow ridge hay field. We initially figured they were the same 8 that we had seen there a few days before. But when they finally all got up and slowly moved farther away there were 12 total, with one being this 5 X 5, plus a small forked horn buck. They slowly moved farther way and onto more private property.
A decision was made to have Sara and I go back to the pickup and drive around on the other side of the section of farmland, slamming the doors and honking the horn trying to move them back onto the legal open hunting property we had been on and Brad was still on. When we got there, they had already moved back into a open stubble field and open hunting property. By then however, Brad was still a long way away, so he moved closer into a fence row. He could not get his rangefinder to give him a reading on them, but did get one closer, so guestimated a range of 725 yards, which he figured was doable with his 300 Weatherby and the 8 X 16 Nikon scope. However after firing a couple of rounds and not hitting the buck, he concluded that it was farther and was undershooting.
The distance was so far that the deer could not locate the shooter and actually came a bit closer to him. Brad backed down into a low swale out of sight, and moved closer. This time he got a rangefinder reading of 480 yards. At this distance a little breeze can blow a bullet off the intended impact point. He did hit this buck, but high and a slightly farther back with a liver shot. The buck was sick but tried following the rest of the herd which was now moving out and toward private property. His final shot broke the buck’s back, putting it down. This deer’s antlers measure about 22″ X 20″.
The next weekend he shot a Whitetail doe. And the following weekend Sara shot another Whitetail doe, both in the Wilsall area.
As a sidelight of this hunt, while we were initially watching these deer when they were starting to get up from being bedded, a large dark coyote was heading toward them into this swampy, tall grassy area. It went out of sight of us and about 150 years from the deer. It went into the cover of this grass and we never saw it come out. When Sara and I were on the other road on the back side of this section of land, when brad started shooting, the coyote came into our view trotting away in the direction the deer were also moving. Every time Brad fired a shot, the coyote found another higher gear, apparently thinking it was the target of the shots being fired.