Mule Deer: Populations Up Big In Eastern Montana

YetiPack.jpg compMule deer populations in Eastern Montana are showing signs of a strong recovery based on post-hunting season surveys this winter.

This is great news, since most of what you read and hear is how muley numbers are down and falling across much of the West.

From 2010 to 2012, a string of cold, snowy, brutal winters that lingered into spring cut mule deer numbers by as much as 55 percent in the region. But after surveys this winter, biologists estimate a near-record number of 91 fawns per 100 does in many areas.

Bucks are also doing well, with an average of 37 bucks per 100 does compared to a long-term average of 32 per 100 in Eastern Montana. Biologists note that observations from hunter check stations last fall showed that many young bucks had great antler growth, a sign that the habitat are forage are in good shape, and that deer are finding plenty to eat.

This is especially welcome news for me since Northeastern Montana, up around Glasgow, is one of my favorite places to hunt. I hunted this wild, raw country with my friend Kelly of Burke Ranch Outfitters last November, and saw a noticeable increase in the number of deer, confirming anecdotally that the muleys have made a big comeback. Kelly also has fantastic hunting for big elk in the Breaks.

I shot a great old buck in a remote canyon at dark one night, and boned the meat and packed him out the next morning. It was one of my favorite hunts from last fall, invigorating spot-and-stalk, and you’ll see it on a new episode of BIG DEER TV this fall.

Hunting TV: Why I Air No-Kill Episodes

tx sunsetIn the last couple of seasons of BIG DEER TV, we have aired episodes from Wisconsin, New York, Montana and other places where we hunted hard, had fun and did not shoot a buck. Those “no kill” shows were some of our most popular and highly rated episodes.

One good trend in hunting TV is that more and more viewers want to see and hear the real story, whether it ends with a buck or not, and more and more producers and network executives are getting that, albeit slowly.

Every time somebody questions me on whether we ought to air a no-kill episode or not, I point them to this letter I got one time from a viewer:

Mike: I want to tell you that I appreciated and enjoyed your recent show at Mouse River, ND. I enjoyed it for reasons you, and your producers likely did not–you didn’t get a deer. I appreciate you showing the truth and reality that the vast majority of us experience. Most of us hunt for days and weeks, and sometimes we come home with nothing but knowledge, experience and memories…also known as the important stuff.

I’m sitting in a cheap motel room in St. Ignace, MI. I’m here for 2 days to scout and set up some natural ground blinds on State Land for the upcoming bow and gun season. Two days in the heat, bugs, poison ivy and spiders just to increase our group’s chances of harvesting a deer this year. The State Land we hunt on doesn’t hold a lot of deer, but we’ve taken 3 mature bucks in the 4 past years. That equates to each dedicated hunter with a 1 in 4 odds of taking a mature buck in a given year. Last year I left empty-handed, but full-hearted. I spent over 120 hours hunting w/bow, rifle and muzzleloader. I passed on some spikes, couldn’t shoot the does, and never had a shot at the big boys.

We have access to properties in southern Michigan and have better luck putting venison in the freezer. But just shooting a deer isn’t what we’re after. We love the challenge of hunting the big northern woods. We accept the fact that our chance for the traditional definition of “success” is limited, but the experience is worth that sacrifice.

Your shows support that ideal; that “success” is no substitute for a challenge accepted.

For your producers and sponsors who wonder if my opinion is worth a damn in their financial models: I’m a 33 year old white male with an MBA from a Big Ten school working in the finance department for a major US corporation in metro-Detroit. I spend $1,000 a year in hunting equipment and fees. I spend roughly 25 days afield hunting whitetails. I watch the hunting channels religiously. I’m tired of seeing people shoot huge bucks in private, high-dollar, sometimes high-fenced places. I cannot relate to that experience. But I can relate to a hard hunt that doesn’t come to fruition. Thanks again for showing it once in a while. Kind Regards, —Paul from MI.

Deer Rifle Update: Remington Model 783

hanback stalking 783.jpg compressd

I was one of the first hunters to shoot and test the Model 783 back in 2012. That November John Fink, who works for Remington, shot the first ever buck with the 783 on a hunt with me in Saskatchewan. We filmed that 160-inch giant going down for my show, Big Deer TV On Sportsman Channel.

When I posted my first review on the Model 783 in January 2013, I had shot the rifle (in .30-06 caliber) quite a bit, but I had never killed a deer with. I have since shot 5 bucks with the 783, 2 with the .30-06 and 3 with one chambered for .270.

A recap of the Model 783’s features and specs:

Built in Mayfield, KY, the 783 bolt-action has a cylindrical receiver and a premium contour button-rifled barrel (22 inches and 24 inches for magnums). Designed for strength and rigidity, the barrel is attached to the receiver with a barrel nut system. Rifle is rock-solid, you feel that first time you pick it up.

The 783 utilizes a detachable metal magazine. The Crossfire trigger is set at 3½ pounds and adjustable.

The rifle is a little rough around the edges, with a no-frills, functional look. Stock is black synthetic, pillar-bedded and designed for a free-floated barrel. The butt-stock has a SuperCell Recoil pad. The 783 weighs in around 7.25.

For the last 2 seasons, I have hunted extensively with the Model 783 from Canada to Texas to Mexico. My observations:

The rifle is easy and comfortable to carry. Weight is well distributed, and it feels lighter than 7 pounds. You’ll like it if you hunt in mountains.

I’m big on the fit and feel of a hunting rifle–the better the feel of it the better you’ll shoot it. The first time I shot the 783 off a bench, it fit my shoulder and cheek right. I shot it well that day and have it shot well ever since. The design, lines and fit of the 783 also help to minimize recoil of the .30-06 and magnum calibers.

rem 783 target.jpg webRead any review of the Model 783 written by gun experts in the last 2 years, and the overwhelming theme is the rifle’s impressive accuracy…words like “amazing” or “astounding for a $400 rifle” is how most pundits put it.

I’ll leave discussion of the metalwork and craftsmanship of the 783’s button-rifled, contour barrel to those experts who know a lot more about those things than I do. But after 2 years of hard hunting with this rifle, I’ll jump on the bandwagon and go so far as to say the Model 783 is one of the most consistently accurate rifles I’ve ever hunted with.

In my .30-06 test model, I sighted-in and hunted with 150-grain Remington Premier Core-Lokt  and Hypersonic loads. More recently, in my .270 I have sighted and hunted with 3 loads: Barnes 130-grain Vortex copper, 130-grain Remington Bronze Point and 150-grain standard Core-Lokt. With all these loads, 100-yard groups have averaged 1 inch. Largest group with 150-grain .30-06 was 1.2 inches…smallest with 130-grain Bronze point was .6 inches, with several holes cutting. The .270 model (my favorite) is a real tack driver and loves the 130-grainers.

No matter the rifle and load, you can’t achieve consistent accuracy like that without a top-quality scope. All the Model 783s I have tested and hunted with are topped with the Trijicon Accupoint, either 3-9X or 2.5-10X.

Mike and deer profileIn the field, knock wood, I have fired 5 shots and killed 5 bucks. But don’t just take my word for it. Many of the bench shots and all the kills are documented with video from my TV show.

To me, a hunting rifle is a tool. I take care of my guns, but I use them hard, and don’t baby them. I’ve carried and banged my 783s around in mountains, in the high desert, on ATVs… This rifle is a workhorse, rough around the edges, but a durable performer and a shooter.

The Model 783 was originally chambered for .270. .30-06, .308 and 7mm magnum….243 and .300 Win. Mag. have been added. A camo synthetic stock is now available, as is a shorter compact version of the rifle.

The biggest news is the soon to come “scoped version” of the Model 783. The rifle will be sold with an “unbranded” 3-9X scope that comes mounted and bore-sighted. It will retail for $399, but you should be able to get it for around $330. If the scope is durable and shoots, this will be the deal of the decade for a deer-hunting rifle.

 

 

 

BIG DEER TV: Giant Buck in Kansas

kansas giant buck field

Danny filmed this buck in Kansas one afternoon last fall…at 600 yards. When you see that much rack (esp. G-4s) from that far away you know it’s a big deer. Second I saw him I hissed, “170!” And look how long his body is. Sometimes a buck’s huge size can make his rack look even smaller than it is.

Back at the camp house that night I told the landowner I had seen a Boone and Crockett, or close to it. “Why didn’t you shoot?” he asked.

“Six hundred is too far for me, and especially on TV,” I said.

“Aw, you could have gotten him,” he growled.

And I could have missed…or worse.

Most hunters will never get the opportunity to see a B&C class buck in the wild, much less shoot at one. If and when that happens, the urge might be to take a Hail Mary at long range. Would you have tried it?

I get the opportunity to hunt good places, and that buck was the biggest I’d seen in the last 3-4 years. But I was comfortable with my decision to pass then, and even more so now.

More frustrating was that the giant walked into those trees less than 200 yards away from the stand I had hunted that morning! Had I not moved stands for the evening hunt, you never know…

That buck was never shot last season far as we know. You’ll see this great deer and the encounter on a new episode of BIG DEER TV on Sportsman Channel this fall.

Alabama Hunter’s True Deer Obsession

alabama hert attack buckGot this email the other day with “Deer Obsession” in the subject line:

Mike: I watch your show religiously, and would like to share this story. I live in Alabama, and this past January, 27, I had a heart attack while at work. Spent 3 days in the hospital and was released to go home on the 29th. I wasn’t able to get into the woods for a few days in my ladder stand, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

On a warm, rainy morning I walked down to my pop-up blind and had a seat. At 10:30 this buck came by. Not a monster but I’m proud of him anyway. He will go on the wall. Just wanted to share this with you, and thanks for your time.–Allen P. from Alabama

Allen, great buck and he should go on the wall as testament to your passion for deer hunting. Glad that BIG DEER TV and I could be part of your inspiration in some way. God bless and continue to recuperate and get better so you’re ready to go for next season!—M.H.