Monday, December 08, 2014

Firepower To The People!

Whitetail season ends the first week of January. I have two tags remaining so when I am able to get out to the farm I do. Weather has been a problem. Seems Ma Nature wants it windy, rainy, cold or in any combination of the three when I have some time off. This old deer slayer prefers resting near the fire when wind chills are in the single digits instead of sitting out in the open 20' up a tree.

Movement has returned after the deer became scarce for more than a week. Lots of fresh tracks this past weekend and the trailcams don't lie. At the farm deer have been most abundant at 9pm, 3am and too dark o'clock to shoot one. It's muzzleloader season now since general firearm season closed last Sunday but I always use a muzz during firearms season anyway.

Sun sets at approx 4:20 so these does visiting under my stand last Thursday are still free to roam.
This camera is mounted 30 yards south of the ladder.

Archery is open for all season dates from October 1 - January 6, 2015. Indiana game laws change each year regarding whitetails and each year they become more generous with the bag limit, type of arms used and when they can be used.

One advantage added to my arsenal this past year was the crossbow. It has been allowed by the INDNR for the past three years as an archery option. As long as archery is legal a crossbow is allowed. This is one of a few recent rule changes allowed to properly manage the state overabundance of whitetail deer. The crossbow option worked out well for me a month ago when I harvested a king size doe using my crossbow when the weather was more than tolerable and the deer were less shy.

Next year whitetail season may be different and I have mixed feelings about it. The INDNR is requesting input on new regulations allowing the use of high powered rifles to take deer statewide in Indiana. Here is the INDNR reasoning in upcoming rule changes. From the link:

Allows additional rifles to be used by reducing the bullet size required to .243 and eliminating the maximum rifle cartridge case length. This will allow high-powered rifles such as the .30-30 and .45-70 during the deer firearms seasons. Full metal jacketed bullets would be unlawful because since they do not expand when fired, and therefore, do not kill as humanely. The DNR believes this change can be made at this time for the following reasons:
  • There are currently no limits on rifles that are legal to use for species other than migratory birds, deer and wild turkey.
  • Muzzleloaders have evolved to the point that with smokeless powder (which is legal to use), they are essentially a high-powered rifle (accurate 500-yard gun).
  • They are legal in several nearby states, including Kentucky, Michigan (the northern part of the state) and Pennsylvania.
    There has been no increase in hunting-related accidents as the result of the use of rifles, neither in Indiana nor in several other states where they are allowed.
  • There isn’t a need to limit the equipment that can be used to take deer in order to manage the deer herd. The deer harvest was a record in 2012, and the DNR is managing the deer herd through other means.
  • Rifle cartridges that fire a bullet at least .243 in diameter and have a minimum case length of 1.16 inches long can safely and humanely kill white-tailed deer.

At first glance I am in favor of this rule change for selfish reasons. Having seen deer on our farm this season grazing at over 100 yards if I were able to carry let's say, a fine tuned scoped and zeroed 30-06 rifle then any chosen deer even within 300 yards would have been on my rear Jeep rack. I would have filled another tag and added more meat to my frozen venison supply.

While some sections of the state of Indiana being relatively as flat as Sandra Bullock there are some counties with hilly terrain, mine included. Some small family farm homes still dot the vast flat landscape. With nothing such as a hill or dense wooded area to stop the travel of a high powered rifle bullet it has been considered unsafe to go high power for decades. The only firearms permitted for hunting have been limited to shotguns with slugs and muzzleloading rifles. Traditionally these firearms have a kill range of up to 100 yards for the average hunter and maybe 150-200 yards if used by a skilled marksman possessing an accurate gun/load combination equipped with a good scope.

With new technology and the desire to exploit loopholes in the laws ambitious American ingenuity will always find a way. Now available are muzzleloading rifles using smokeless powder capable of an accurate 250 and even a 300 yard shot in the hands of a skilled marksman. For detailed information one of my favorite gun bloggers Jeff Quinn goes into detail.

With all that in mind the INDNR reasons that a high power centerfire rifle is OK. There's been a lot of discussion at my store gun counter lately on this topic. The hunters are split on the rule change and with good reason. Here is how some of that conversation goes.

Not everyone who hunts is a sensible marksman especially at state owned properties. Not all environments provide a safe environment for high power, especially state properties open to the public and hunter density is thick.

The risk of injury or death can be higher to the innocent non-hunting public especially farmers and rural residents as well as livestock.

On a positive note the use of HPR's will increase hunter success : ) But it will also thin the overpopulation of whitetails : (

The INDNR has allowed the use of HPR's to hunt those pesky nuisance coyotes without personal injury incidents occurring. Why are coyote hunters offered this privilege and deer hunters are not? The excuse has been hunter density during deer season.

The use of HPR's may become an issue of heightened public interest as soon as an innocent someone catches stray lead from a .338 Lapua near a populated area. The size of cartridge doesn't matter as much as the attitude, lack of practice, and unethical behavior of individuals pulling the trigger.

Any unfortunate incident will be broadcast and exploited by the anti-gun-anti-hunting media and politicians to leverage more restrictive legislation upon law-abiding citizen hunters.

The new rule, if it passes, opens up a lot of options as well as questions for me as an active deer hunter.

If this does pass why would I not take advantage of it? Why not? Our farm is located in a secluded rural area and where I hunt is surrounded by dense wooded hills. I shoot down from a tree stand so the likelihood of my wayward bullet causing problems with neighbors is minimal.  Those same wooded hills would also protect me from other hunters in the vicinity which are few.

Should I prepare for next season and research a new rifle purchase? Yes I am preparing and yes I am researching. Lately my attention has been focused on which caliber I would use, which rifle would I prefer and how much do I wish to invest in a new rifle.

I am not one to invest in a a classic expensive custom french walnut stock masterpiece that costs as much as roundtrip airfare and lodging in Alaska. While I can appreciate fine craftsmanship, quality in materials and engineering, for my purposes that would be overkill. Any firearm I own must be durable, impervious as possible to the elements and not so costly I would fret about getting that rare French walnut scratched while trudging through the thorny brush. My firearms are tools that I use not, well-rested vault queen investments.

Then there is the question of scopes. Serious hunters often spend as much or more on the scope as they do on the rifle. Count me in this camp. Optics make all the difference. Inexpensive optics do not offer the best light transmission and if the punishment a high power rifle delivers to the shoulder is bad, think of how a delicate an inexpensive scope would react to big multiple recoil jolts. This is one component where I wouldn't compromise.

More will be written by on this subject once enough is learned about which caliber, rifle brand and scope would best suit my purposes. IF this new rule change passes. We'll know for sure in May of 2015.


Dan from Madison said...

Before 2013 the northern two thirds of Wisconsin was HPR, and the southern third was shotgun/slug only for gun season. As of the 2013 season the entire state is OK for HPR subject to any local restrictions - of which there really aren't too many.

There have been no accidents that I have heard of and there really weren't any before when they used HPR in the northern two thirds. I assume the DNR made this change to further manage the exploding deer herd here, although last winter seems to have done a number on the herd pretty well, from what I am hearing from the local hunters. I sat in the woods for a few hours myself (admittedly not half as prepared as I should have been) and saw a few tiny does but that was it.

I wouldn't be too concerned about HPR - the vast majority of injuries and other issues will continue to be from guys falling out of stands and having heart attacks dragging the carcasses out of the woods.

Gerry from Valpo said...

I ain't concerned for my safety. But I feel somewhere someone is gonna get hurt, trust in my fellow hunters being what it is.

HPR gets my thumbs up.

Now I gotsa excuse to go get a new scoped rifle, dang : )

Dan from Madison said...

I'm with you. Eventually there are always accidents but we have an enormous sample size here in Wisco and there aren't really any problems to speak of. If there were, as you mentioned, you would hear about it in the press endlessly.