As some of you may be aware, I have been working up some loads for my 65 year old Swedish Husqvarna Model 648 in 8x57 Mauser. I spent the summer working up loads that would shoot to the point of aim using iron sights, settling on a 206 grain RN lead bullet over 51.5 grains of IMR 4350. This load shoots three-inches high at 100 yards and I believe mimics the 196 grain hunting load of the 1940’s. The final loading proved to be accurate and reasonably fast at 2350 feet per second from my Husky’s 24 inch barrel. It was with great satisfaction that I pronounced the load development done last month… and it was no little bit of relief as the Montana General Deer season was fast approaching. I was glad to have a cooperative rifle.
Unfortunately, few other facets of my life lent itself to the prospect of the hunt. For the first two weeks of the season it rained during a stretch of unseasonably warm weather. When the weather finally turned cold, I was on my way to Cancun, Mexico for my daughters wedding. I returned to a hellish surgical schedule at the hospital, followed by a long stretch on Stand By for emergence surgery services. This stretch ends tomorrow morning and as I must be within 30 minutes of the surgical theater when on Stand By, there was precious little opportunity to hunt. This morning started the last day of the Season and I woke facing the prospect of culminating all of my load development with a dud season. It was this sad thought that prompted me to call a coworker and ask him to cover my call this morning so that I could take one shot at blooding the Swede. Amazingly, he agreed.
Of course, the weather did its part to keep me home. Around dawn it started to snow, hard, and the temperatures dropped to about 10F. I met my hunting partner at a country butcher operation north of town and we headed out for a short tour around the immediate area, concentrating on the fields at the edge of the steps that separate the Big Horn River valley from the Yellowstone River. It didn’t take us long, traveling along some section roads, to find a herd of mule deer. There were 12 of them feeding in the stubble alongside of a fallow hay field. Unfortunately, they were too far away for my iron sights; milling around some 250 yards away and below us. I left the vehicle and shouldered my pack for the stalk within range. The snow was coming down in icy particles and put everything into a gray pall. I was hoping the deer –which certainly saw the truck- wouldn’t be too spooky considering the distance and the visibility. I was partially rewarded when some of them put their heads down to browse as my partner drove off with the truck and I walked away to find a good spot to cross the first of several barbed-wire fences between myself and the herd of deer.
I made it over the first fence without rousing any angst from the deer. I was partially hidden by the ridge I was on and they seemed to be distracted by the truck motoring off down the road. When I crossed the next fence I was in full view of the deer and still no closer. They still only stared. Some milled around. Some continued to feed. So far, so good. One more fence to cross… but then what?? I’d still be too far and hell, it’s darned hard to be inconspicuous when you’ve no place to hide and have to approach the deer directly. I figured that was my best plan; to walk towards them like I was supposed to be doing just that. I couldn’t help but feel like this was a wasted effort in the making.
I next get to yet another ridge-top fence line and swing one leg over the sagging wire while watching the deer- who still haven’t seemed to label me as a serious threat. It was when I was straddled across the barbed wire that I saw the pair of does standing in the tall grass of the hay field. They were about 150 yards off and while one got up and wandered off to the group, the other just stood up and faced them, quartering away from me and facing to my right; watching its friend walk toward the herd. I carefully got myself off of the fence and took a hard look at the distance. I decided to take the shot as the next phase of the stalk would entail me working my way down a steep embankment in deep snow to reach the level of the deer. Tho the shot was farther than I’d have liked, the vantage point made it a better option. I aimed for the chest and fired.
At the shot the deer lurched and skid forward toward its knees but recovered and walked briskly towards the herd which was marching quickly away over the open field on the other side of the fence that separated the hay field from the cultivated fields. I was certain she was hit hard and was surprised when she covered about 100 yard before turning a circle and lying down. But she didn’t lie down like a lung shot deer. It had it’s head up as I could see it above the grass. I kept my eye on it as I made my way down the broken slope to the hay field, at which point I lost sight of her. I made my way along the fence line hoping to catch her in the open lane along the fence should she make it to her feet. I walked about 100 yards when a deer suddenly burst up out of the grass about 40 yards distant and bound straight away from me, down that aforementioned lane of clear ground. I wasn’t sure it was “my” deer as it was moving pretty quickly, so I held my shot and watched. It traveled about 150 yards and stopped, seeming confused or tired. Ok. That was my deer. Again I had no recourse but to walk straight toward it and hope to close the distance for a shot. And so I did. I walked slowly and tried to make myself “small” as I walked. At 250 pounds that’s a tall order! I just kept walking and watching. The doe just stood there, facing away from me, seemingly disinterested. I knew she was hit bad enough to wind her and I was seeing blood in the snow as I walked. Not a lot though.
When I got to within 80 yards she turned sideways, giving me a clear broadside shot. I aimed for the heart and fired, hearing the whump! as the bullet struck. She humped and staggered in a circle before diving into a heretofore unnoticed irrigation ditch.
I headed to my left at about a 45 degree angle to head off her progress down the ditch should she make it that far. These ditches can run for miles and have much undergrowth in them if they are in a state of disuse. Finding her in there would be a hellish walk. I got to the edge of the ditch and thankfully saw the deer with her head buried in the snow, right where she dove into the 10 ft deep trench. She was quite dead. Made my way down into the trench and secured a length of rope around her neck before climbing back out and then hauling her out to ground level. I was quite alone and hoping my partner had found a way down to the lower field. I had her gutted and ready to go when he finally found me. It was still blizzarding and bloody damned cold.
As it turned out, this was not a smallish doe but a “button” buck. When we got him back to the butcher shop we found that the first bullet had clipped through the ribcage under the right front foreleg, breaking ribs and causing some nasty but non-lethal damage. The second shot actually hit within inches of the first but traveled though the body, pulping the heart. The meat damage was less than you’d expect and I really only lost half of the front right leg as the second shot exited ahead of the off shoulder, sparing the meat.
The whole hunt took two hours and forty snowy minutes. I hung around the shop and helped butcher three elk and ate some elk tenderloin grilled outside the shop. It was a great way to end a hunt!
I am happy with the Swede 8x57 and the cast bullet load. But for my sorry marksmanship, this epistle would have been about three lines long. It was good to get this old rifle back into the field again, though, and I'm glad that I got out even if it was in the last minutes of the season.~Muir