By: Tom Lounsbury.
As I write this, August has arrived, which means summer is winding down and fall will soon be easing in. For many Michigan hunters, this is the time to start preparing for the various deer seasons, and there is no question that the whitetail deer has become our state’s most popular big game animal (actually, this is a fact almost nationwide).
The “Liberty Hunt”, which will take place September 11th and 12th this year, is a favorite time of mine to look forward to, as I truly enjoy taking a kid deer hunting. This year I’ll be taking my 12 year old grandson on the Liberty Hunt, and I am already getting excited about that fact. However, whenever I don’t have a young family member to take on the hunt, I always “adopt” a kid, and I get just as excited about that as well. I feel a great sense of fulfillment in introducing a youth hunter to the very unique atmosphere of one of my favorite outdoor pastimes, and yep, folks, I live for deer hunting! Taking a kid hunting is what I call “passing it on”, something I truly believe is quite essential to maintaining and promoting the future of hunting in general.
I have always fully supported all the special youth hunts, as well as the “Mentor” hunting license which allows kids 9 years old and younger to participate while under the wing of a responsible adult. I also fully appreciate the “Apprentice” hunting license which allows kids 10 years old and older, as well adults who have never hunted before, to be able to also participate under the guidance of a licensed hunter, for two years, before having to take a hunter safety course. These facts don’t concern me a bit, because there was no such thing as a hunter safety course when I started out hunting, and I learned matters firsthand from responsible adults. It truly is a very effective way to go, something which has been taking place for eons. However, as a hunter safety instructor, I believe being required to eventually take the course is very important, and for a fact, we have the safest hunters now venturing afield today, more than ever before.
The “Limited Firearms Zone” for southern Michigan which came about in 2014 and allowing rifles firing certain straight-walled calibers, sure changed the entire complexion of deer hunting, almost overnight. I can’t tell you how elated I was when this occurred, and Michigan actually led the way in having other states soon following suit with very similar requirements/rules, and whoever came up with those requirements was quite ingenious by applying pure common sense. The key to all this was the “public perception” on whether or not changing the “Shotgun Zone” to a “Limited Firearms Zone” would be acceptable, and it sure was! It was very clear at the outset that southern Michigan deer hunters were quite pleased with the whole affair, and it is now becoming rare to encounter a southern Michigan deer hunter carting a shotgun. An example was a 2019 southeastern Michigan “Big Buck” contest featured on a Michigan out of Doors TV show. The majority of the bucks entered had been shot with “.450 Bushmaster” rifles. The only exception was the winning buck, which had been shot with a muzzleloader, and I personally can’t fault a muzzleloader in any way per the deer hunting environment (when the shotgun zone rule was still in play, I often preferred using a muzzleloader).
A real beauty about the Limited Firearms Zone, is that it offers lighter weight and more compact hunting arms for kids and slighter framed adults, such as the ladies (and, much to my delight, we have a nicely growing number of ladies getting involved in deer hunting these days). Also, most of the allowed rifle calibers offer a much milder recoil than shotguns, including the 20 ga. An example was my granddaughter, McKenna, who fired a 20 ga shotgun only one time and, being very slight framed, wanted no part of a 20 ga afterwards. Thanks to later being able to use a .44 Magnum H&R single-shot rifle, she was able at age 10, to bag her first deer. Since McKenna, who especially in her mind, was very recoil sensitive, I had her practice with .44 S&W Special loads (that will readily work in a .44 Magnum chamber), which are literal “plinking” rounds in a rifle, featuring nil recoil. However, “Grandpa Tom” can be a real sneaky rascal, and when McKenna went deer hunting, her rifle was actually loaded with a more potent .44 Magnum round, and she didn’t notice any extra recoil at all when she shot her deer. She has taken a number of deer every year since, and dearly loves the .44 Magnum round!
When the new law went into effect in 2014, I used a .44 Magnum barrel on my versatile single-shot T/C G2 Contender rifle, and shot several deer with it, all one-shot kills. Later, I began using a .44 Magnum Henry “Big Boy” lever-action carbine, and every deer I have shot with it has been a one-shot kill, too. My lever-action “Henry”, topped with a 1.5 – 4 X Leupold scope, is an absolutely splendid and very handy deer gun that I much admire!
A couple years ago, I began using a (Leupold) scoped Mossberg “Patriot” bolt-action rifle in .450 Bushmaster, and needless to say, this caliber possesses a very profound nature in putting whitetails down for the count, is very effective out to 300 yards, and it is without a doubt the favorite caliber today for southern Michigan deer hunters. The recoil of the .450 Bushmaster is on par with a 20 ga shotgun, and even less with a muzzle-brake attached. I have a Mag-Na-Port muzzle-brake (which in my opinion are the best performers) attached to my Mossberg Patriot, and I can attest that the recoil is quite negligible. My 10 year old grandson dropped his first deer, a large mature doe, in its tracks (at 85 yards) using this rifle 2 years ago, and had no “recoil complaints” whatsoever. The fact is, I have noticed a whole lot of youth hunters are successfully using rifles in .450 Bushmaster for deer hunting, a very wonderful fact, in my opinion.
In 2019, Winchester Ammunition unveiled its new “.350 Legend” round, which certainly qualifies as a straight-wall cartridge for southern Michigan, and offers a very mild recoil. While not the “deer-thumper” that the .450 Bushmaster (which I plan on using for my next black bear hunt) is, the .350 Legend round is capable of effectively taking deer-sized game animals out to 200 yards. I have a couple friends who used their .350 Legend rifles last fall to shoot fair-sized bucks at the 200 yard mark, and both bucks were one-shot kills. The fact is, I’ve talked to a number of .350 Legend users, including youth hunters who absolutely love it, and have yet to hear any complaints. I have been seriously contemplating giving this caliber a try this year, and I do refer to purchasing another firearm as a crucial business expense in order to do actual hands-on “field-testing”, at least, that is what I always try to tell my wife!
Fast on the heels of the Liberty Hunt, will be the Early Antlerless Deer season which will take place September 18th and 19th, and I am truly looking forward to it. It is the perfect opportunity to put some fine venison in the freezer, which in my case tends to be a necessity, because my family loves venison, and all that had been in our freezer(s) from last year, has already been devoured (even including my Michigan cow elk that I shot last fall). Eating the wild game we have harvested is always at the top of our list.
Yep, folks, I am truly anticipating, not to mention already preparing for, the fast approaching deer seasons. I truly feel blessed to live in Michigan, which offers such wonderful opportunities for everyone, in our great outdoors!
Before you know it, November 15th will be here, and I do live for that day!