Have you ever had game in your sights, then having pulled the trigger, would have bet the farm that it had been a perfect shot? Of course you have. Anyone who’s done a fair amount of hunting has experienced that feeling. The majority of times such confidence is justified, and the quarry drops either in its tracks or within a sand wedge. But have you ever experienced that sense of having made a perfect shot, but when not able to find any sign whatsoever of a hit, have to conclude that you missed? And you hope it was a clean miss.
Well, it’s happened to me, and a lot more than once. My latest such experience happened this past November, and it ended up being one of most bizarre endings of any hunt I’ve undertaken. The venue was the Champion Ranch in Brady, Texas, an 8,000-acre spread in the heart of Texas where some 30-plus species of African game co-exist with whitetail deer and elk. When I say “heart of Texas,” I mean it; the official geographic center of the state is on this ranch, which is about 130 miles northwest of Austin.
Having been a gun writer virtually my entire adult life, I’ve had the opportunity to test many rifles, but the testing is usually done on shooting ranges rather than in the field. Not that that’s bad, mind you, because you can find out everything you need to know about a gun on a shooting range. But every now and again fortuitous circumstance and timing makes it possible to use a test rifle on a hunt, which makes it a lot more fun! Such was the case here. The rifle I had just finished reviewing a couple weeks earlier was H-S Precision’s Pro-Series 2000 Model SPL, which is their lightweight sporter, chambered in .308 Win.
I think most SCI members are familiar with H-S Precision, for they have been a supporter of SCI for as long as I can remember. They are the folks who back in the `80s developed a fiberglass stock laid up around an aluminum bedding block for the U. S. Army’s M-24 tactical rifle. Once the military contract was secured HSP quickly went into production using the same materials and methods to turn out stocks for the consumer market.
All while that was going on, H-S Precision was also producing match-quality barrels using the cut rifling process whereby each groove is cut one at a time. It’s a tedious and therefore expensive process, but it yields a stress-free barrel that doesn’t spray shots as the barrel heats up. Only a few companies today employ cut rifling.
It was predictable then, when in 2000 H-S became a full-fledged firearms manufacturer with the introduction of its Pro-Series Model 2000 action, one that incorporates the best design elements of the Remington 700 and Winchester Model 70, along with some features of their own. They were now a self-sufficient gun company, having designed and manufactured every component that goes into their rifles – bolt, receiver, trigger, barrel and stock. Having complete control over every aspect of manufacture and assembly, the company was confident enough to be the first to offer a ½ MOA accuracy guarantee for all calibers of .30 and smaller; 1 MOA for calibers over .30. Before any gun leaves the factory it has to pass that accuracy guarantee with at least one factory load or handload. A detailed computer printout of the test results and a photo of the test targets are furnished with every rifle. The data accompanying the test rifle showed the first 3-shot group with Federal’s Gold Medal Match 168-grain Sierra load fired in HSP’s 100-yard underground ballistics lab measured .14-inch, and the second .44-inch! Now granted, that’s a match load, but a lot of folks today are using match loads for hunting, especially the long-range guys.
Of the five factory loads I used in my previous tests, two were Norma’s — the 150-grain Kalahari load, and the 165-grain Oryx, and they proved to be the two most accurate. The Oryx load averaged .65-inch and the Kalahari .85-inch. When you get that kind of accuracy with factory hunting loads in a rifle that weighs 7-1/2 lbs. with scope aboard, that’s impressive! The scope, by the way, was a Swarovski Z6i 1.7-10×42 with an illuminated reticle in a Talley mount. Is it any wonder then that I chose to use this rig and the Oryx load for this hunt?
Scheduling conflicts dictated that I had only two days of hunting, and the first was spent in typical Texas style — from an elevated stand within a couple hundred yards of a feeder. My guide Wessel Kriel and I saw several nice bucks that morning and evening, but not quite what I was hoping for. Besides, I had another full day ahead, and the last day of hunting has often proven to be lucky for me.
The Champion Ranch is owned by the Swan family, and it was Joel Swan who drove Wessel and me to and from our stand that first day. But on Day 2 Joel suggested we try rattling, saying that the rut was just getting underway and that’s when rattling really works.
“It’s amazing, Jon, how these bucks protect what they consider to be their turf, along with whatever women happen to be on it. Other bucks fighting in their neighborhood is like throwing down a gauntlet. I’ve literally been run over hundreds of times by bucks charging headlong with blood in their eyes looking for a fight.”
Personally, I’ve never had much luck rattling, but then I’ve tried it only a few times, and never in Texas during the rut.
Well, by the end of that first morning I was a believer. We stopped to rattle at nine locations, and Joel managed to call in a buck to within 25 yards or less at seven of them! Of the seven, one was a helluva buck, but we only caught glimpses of him through the pin oaks, and he stuck around only a few seconds before he realized three humans huddled under a pin oak wasn’t what he expected.
The other shootable buck came in at a dead run, but like the other one, stopped to eye us from behind a oak thicket. I was standing, with my rifle resting on a tripod, Wessel and Joel hunkered down at my side. As good luck would have it, in trying to get a better look at what was confounding him, the buck moved a few feet and in so doing stopped where I could see through the scope what looked to be a narrow but clear bullet path through the brush. I took the chance and nudged the trigger.
“Ya’ got him!” Joel proclaimed enthusiastically, even though the buck instantly whirled and dissolved into the thicket beyond. I wasn’t concerned, as I was confident it had been a perfect shot.
Long story short, after the three of us scoured the area without finding so much as a drop of blood, I had to conclude that I had missed.
“I don’t understand it, Jon, I saw fur fly. I’m sure of it,” Joel said.
Upon returning to where the buck was standing at the shot, we discovered that the “hair” Joel saw was bits of exploding wood as my bullet took out the left side of a 2-inch oak sapling. On closer examination we could see where the bullet had come apart so quickly that less than a foot beyond, bits of shrapnel had severed tiny branches about 10 inches above and below the bullet’s line of flight. Even though the buck was standing no more than 6 to 7 feet beyond the sapling, it appeared he was unscathed. So much for “brush-busting” bullets!
Fast forward to that evening, with Wessel and me again in the elevated stand. Several smaller bucks showed up, but nothing of note. But then, with about 15 minutes of shooting light remaining, a nudge from Wessel got my attention.
“There,” he whispered, pointing to our left. I just caught a glimpse of a deer before it disappeared behind a stand on scrub oak. If he stayed on course and didn’t spook, he’d be entering a clearing about 50 yards to our left. Sure enough, about a minute later he came into full view.
“He’s a good one Jon. Take him,” Wessel urged.
Just like in the morning, the moment the .308 bucked I was sure the shot was perfect. The buck had stopped no more than 60 yards away, quartering toward us facing right, and I had a steady rest. But again, just like in the morning, we could find no sign of a hit, even though the buck reacted like he had been.
Another long story short, after some 15 minutes in fading light we found him stone dead some 60 yards from where he had been standing. Laying on his left side, his right side exposed, we immediately saw a 2-inch patch of bare flesh on his right shoulder, and several small wounds further back. All, however, were superficial.
“Well I’ll be damned,” said Wessel. “Jon, this is the deer you shot at this morning! Those are shrapnel wounds!”
On closer examination we found that the killing shot had entered just inside the buck’s right shoulder, just as I had held, and angled back through the heart/lungs. The Oryx bullet was recovered on the far side just under the skin about half way back, perfectly mushroomed.
With the trauma of having been wounded just seven hours earlier, here was this buck going about his daily routine as if nothing had happened. It’s a testament to the strength and tenacity all game animals possess. I’ve seen it so many times yet it never fails to impress me!
What also impressed me was the Champion Ranch itself. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a more luxurious “hunting camp” anywhere in this country, and I’ve been around! As a fanatical foodie, I can tell you that Chef Amanda’s culinary creations are alone worth the stay. The stable of specialized hunting vehicles is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and everything is brand new. And by the time you read this they will have completed a 1,200-yard shooting range complete with a reloading facility where you can test loads from benches set up in the same room overlooking the range! In that same room is a conference table and a huge flat screen TV where you can monitor your targets. All in all, a visit to Champion Ranch is a mind-blowing experience. www.huntchampionranch.com.–Jon R. Sundra
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Safari Magazine