In my last blog I detailed four elk hunts to explain how various rifles and bullets performed. Let’s continue the reminiscing research so readers can learn from my mistakes — or at least judge the performance of my gear against their own experiences.
5. 325 WSM, Winchester M70, 225-gr. Accubond CT, 2004, CO: This was a “writer’s hunt” to introduce us to the newest Winchester Short Magnum at the time. We were with Elkhorn Outfitters prowling the north edges of the Yampa River valley, intercepting huge herds of elk making their way back to the mountains after raiding lowland wheat fields all night. A small band of cows with one raghorn bull in tow popped over a sage ridge in front of us. Again, I can’t recall the exact range, but I think it was no more than 200 yards. Wayne van Zwoll was with me. He might remember. I do remember we were also test driving Browning’s new scopes and I had this one cranked clear up to 15X, a silly setting for elk. But the reticle plastered perfectly on the junction of that bull’s neck and chest. When the Accubond landed, so did the bull. Something about 200-grains at 2,900 fps meeting a central nervous system proves terminal.
6. 338 Federal, Sako M85, 185-gr. Barnes TSX, 2005, MT: With the help of the friendly folks at Upper Canyon Outfitters, Federal Premium invited Andrew McKean and me to endure sub-zero temperatures in Montana’s aptly named Snowy Range. They wanted us to try their new and first eponymous cartridge (I’ve always wanted to use that word legitimately — it means “giving your name to something.” Yes, I had to look that up.) The 338 Federal is a 308 Winchester necked up to .338. Federal had Sako build a couple of their new M85s to handle the efficient new round. My guide Lane and I watched a herd slip into a patch of timber after their morning feed. We then huddled round a smokey fire in 25 mph gusts to await their evening return. Andrew waited on one side of the woods, we the other. A few cows and their raghorn boyfriend walked out around 4:30 PM. The Sako directed the Barnes TSX to the high shoulder and the raghorn walked no more. In fact, he never took another step. Lights out from another spine hit. If you’re looking for a hard-hitting 338 that doesn’t recoil much, check the ballistics on this 338 Federal. It launches with more oomph than a 150-grain 7mm Rem. Mag. and shoots about as flat as a 180-grain 30-06.
7. 280 Ackley, Rifles, Inc. Strata Stainless, 150-gr. Barnes TTSX, 2009, WY: A high mountain wilderness hunt, even by horseback, just begs for an ultra lightweight rifle, so I went with my best long range option, the dependable 280 Ackley. Same set up as always with the Leupold 2.5-8×36 Vari-X III, but the bullet was ballistically superior to the original 150-gr. X, which meant it would retain more energy downrange, drift less and drop less. I would need all of that. Guide T.J. Redder and I rode high and deep into the wilderness before discovering a herd bull chuckling to himself on the far side of a deep canyon just below treeline. We saw cows beginning to feed out below him, so TJ knew a few passionate cow calls would lure the big boy out. The bull hung up at a laser ranged 450 yards, standing broadside. A hold on the backline would drop the TTSX mid-chest, but we couldn’t figure out the wind. It was almost calm where we were and limbs looked steady by the bull, but we could hear wind in the canyon between us. I took a WAG, held in front of his shoulder and sent it — right into the paunch. The bull humped, I saw my mistake and held into the wind completely off his brisket, same elevation. that put the next X through the shoulder and Mr. Elk, after a few seconds of wobbling, slid down hill. We paid hell getting him sectioned, packed down the canyon and up to a horse trail by dark. We sang anti-grizzly songs under the Milky Way on the ride to camp.
Whew. Detailing these elk hunts is really eating up the space. In my next installment I want to emphasize what happened on my last three kills using a 270 Winchester, a 7mm Rem. Mag. and what many consider a great, all-round elk cartridge, the 300 Win. Mag. You might be surprised at the results.
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