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Three Bucks with Three 20-Year-Old Bullets By Mike Hanback

Three Bucks with Three 20-Year-Old Bullets

by Mike Hanback

I have shot a lot of game over the years with the 30.-06---sheep, bears, elk, mule deer and too many whitetails to count. But I hadn’t hunted with this venerable cartridge for at least 15 years. Recently I’d killed my bucks with rifles chambered for .270, .35-Rem., 7mm Mag and others.

Last November, while planning destinations for filming the last 3 episodes of BIG DEER TV, I decided to do those hunts with the good old ‘06 again. I mounted my favorite scope, a Trijicon Huron 3-9x40, on a CZ Model 557 Eclipse and was raring to go.  
Great, but what about ammo? We were smack in the middle of the biggest ammo shortage any of us have ever seen.

I went down to my gun shop and owner Steve laughed and said, “You want some ’06? Man, we haven’t had any of that for months. You won’t find a box within 500 miles of here.”

I went home and dug through my stash of old ammo in the basement, and the first box of .30-06 I came to was Federal Premium Trophy Bonded 165-grain. Hmm, killed a lot of cool stuff with this load back in the day, I recalled as my mind wandered back to beautiful memories. 

The box was light, not full, with 10 silver, still shiny cartridges in the orange sleeve. I figure those rounds were at least 20 years old. I pulled each round out and checked it thoroughly, a must before you shoot old ammunition. Looking good.  
Ten bullets. Should do it if I planned well and conserved. 

I went to the range. I allocated 3 cartridges to the sight-in job and hoped that would do it. After the first 2 shots, my new CZ/Trijicon rig was shooting dead-on, 1 inch high at 100, both holes touching, right where the deer hunter wants it. I went ahead and fired the third shot to confirm things. Perfect, good to go!

I hit the road with my rifle and 7 bullets. 

One day in mid-December, I went to the makeshift range behind the barn on the Texas property I was hunting. As I set up on the wobbly, rotting bench, I got a little nervous. 

I had allocated one bullet to confirm zero at each of the 3 late-season destinations I’d hunt. That would leave 3 bullets to kill 3 bucks, with one cartridge left over just in case. 

I settled the CZ into some rolled up camo coats, peered into the crystal-clear Huron scope and fired. Inch and a half high, dead over the bull.

Two days later, at dusk, an old 8-pointer stepped out of a ditch on the open plains, 170 yards from my ground blind. The wind was whipping a good 20 mph so I put the Huron’s crosshair on the buck’s shoulder, moved it back a bit to compensate for drift and pressed the trigger. 

The whump was loud and the buck went down. High shoulder, the wind had pushed the bullet several inches to the left, just as I had hoped.

On to central Louisiana with 5 bullets left, and high hopes. Mid-January 2021, and the peak rut was still on. I’d heard the well-managed property I was hunting, low-fence of course, had some huge-bodied bucks, 250 to even 300 pounds, descendants of Wisconsin bucks transplanted to the area some 50 years ago. 

I arrived and fired my confirm-zero shot, dead on. Four bullets left.

Three mornings later, a 6-year-old 8-pointer marched out of the woods and approached to within 70 yards downwind of the doe decoy I had set in the food plot. I had experimented with decoys many times before, but had never had a buck work in like this.

I fired and the deer, rack high, wide and heavy, ran off and crashed into the tall grass. It was all young guide Cole and I could do to wrestle the 250-pound animal out of the cover and lift him into the bed of the Ranger.

On to the Hill Country of Texas for the last hunt of the year. Three bullets left.

I hit the range, leveled the .30-06 in sand bags and fired. Boom! Still right there, an inch high, windage perfect. Two bullets left.

From a ground blind one evening last week, I glassed 10 bucks, taking their measurements. Gotta love Texas! I was hunting for a management buck, an 8- or 9-pointer at least 4 ½ years old. Most of the bucks I looked at were too young, and a couple of the 10-pointers were too big. Then what I call a “slick 8” stepped out. Main-frame 8-pointer with no brow tines. Thick and heavy brisket, a mature deer.

Boom! Hit high in the shoulder, the buck crashed straight down in the sendero. 

Back at the lodge, I toasted this buck and another fine season with sipping whiskey and a cigar. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my one last shiny silver cartridge and admired it.

I’ll never shoot that bullet, it’s my lucky charm.

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