The author tries out Winchester's new PowerMax Bonded Bullet on a big Missouri buck — and gets a reminder on what deer camp is all about
Like many good deer camps, this one started with a last-minute text invitation. My good buddy Nathan Robinson, who works for Winchester, sent me a note asking if I'd like to hunt Missouri bruisers with him and several other fellows that I knew all too well. You'd be crazy to think I turned it down.
I packed the truck, hit the road and didn't even need my GPS to connect the dots between home and east-central Missouri. I knew the way. I'd hunted both deer and turkeys there in the past with some of these same friends.
Upon arrival, we shot a pile of guns at the range, including the Winchester .350 Legend. I and several others were there to test out new Winchester ammo options on big-bodied Midwestern bucks. It was pretty cool, because we were the first to hunt with some new cartridges that hadn't hit the market yet. In fact, not a single deer had been killed with the new .350 Legend PowerMax Bonded bullet. Call it vain if you want, but the kid in me wanted to be the first person to do that. The only problem was that my friend and Shooting Sports USA Managing Editor John Parker was in camp, and he had the same goal. Naturally, a friendly competition complete with a little trash talk and chest swelling ensued.
Winchester Engineer Kyle Masinelli was there, and he helped explain the appeal of the .350 Legend round. It's the hot new thing in the wide world of deer cartridges.
The .350 Legend combines three main benefits: low cost, low recoil, and large-caliber effectiveness on medium-sized game — 50 to 300 pounds — all in one caliber, Masinelli said. However, it also qualifies as a straight-wall-compliant cartridge if a hunter resides in a state with those caliber restrictions.
It has other upsides, too. The 350 Legend pricing only carries a slight premium over the popular .223 Rem, Masinelli said. Compare that to other common straight-wall cartridges like .444 Marlin, .45-70 Govt., or .450 Bushmaster and one will see that retail pricing of those cartridges will exceed .350 Legend by 25 to 60%. Additionally, the recoil of .350 Legend is tame to even the most recoil-sensitive shooter. This is especially useful when trying to introduce shooting/hunting to somebody new.
The next morning was opening day, and it was cram-packed with deer movement. I was set up high on a ridge, and smack in the middle of prime bedding cover. Several rows of benches sprawled out above me and to my right. The hill sloped down off toward massive ag fields to my left. There was nothing but trees and deer sign all the way around me.
Shortly after daylight, I heard a gnarly grunt, and a giant 10-pointer chased a hot doe right past me about 20 seconds later. I couldn't get a shot at him. The morning wore on, and a parade of deer filed past and on up the hill toward the benches to bed. I sat there from daylight to dark, and even had a number of bucks and does lay down around me. I ate snacks while they snoozed, and we all basked a little in the sunshine. I didn't see another big one that day, though.
The next morning, I went to a different spot, but only saw a couple small bucks. I walked out, met up with a couple hunting buddies from camp, and we grabbed a quick lunch before heading back in for the afternoon sit.
I went to a blind overlooking standing soybeans. A finger of really good bedding cover stretched out into the beans like a peninsula, and that's where I expected deer to come from. A giant-bodied, 5-year-old buck called that area home, and I was hoping to see him. It didn't take long.
I barely got set up before the old guy pushed an estrus doe out into the field.
I was self-filming the hunt and didn't even have all of my equipment ready, but I made it work. I quickly mounted the camera to the tripod, framed up the shot, hit record and got down on the gun before settling the crosshairs. Three inhales. Three exhales. Then hold.
The Legend barked, and the deer dashed for cover, but he didn't make it far before crashing within sight. Not a bad tale for the grandkids someday. Being the first person to ever tag a deer with that PowerMax Bonded bullet isn't a bad story, either.
A Friend's First Deer
That night was filled with plenty of good fun and big banter. We told deer stories around the table and reflected back on our youth, each attempting to one-up the next with storytelling. I'm certain most of the stories were true.
The next day proved even better. That's when Parker made deer meat for the first time. I didn't grow up hunting, he said. Other than pheasants and upland birds as a teenager, I didn't begin to hunt in earnest until my 30s. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get after your first white-tailed deer.
He was sitting over a cut cornfield, and it didn't take long for the one he wanted to step out. He made quick work of the buck, almost as if he'd been doing it for years. I'll never forget the way it went down, Parker said. I was in a ground blind at the edge of a cornfield. I was getting antsy because I hadn't seen any deer that morning, but only a scant 10 minutes into my second sit of the day, a buck nonchalantly strutted its way into the clearing about 30 yards away.
It walked right out in front of him and presented a broadside opportunity. I knew from the reaction of the buck that I had made a good shot, he said. The whole experience was as if it was meant to be — man and gun came together in perfect harmony. It was my first deer, and definitely won't be my last.
As I reflect back on the trip, I wonder how his life wouldn't have been changed for the better had he not been a part of that deer camp. It's a hair-raising thought, but a moot one.
Deer camp is a special experience that's really at the heart of the hunt, Parker said. It's one of those things you don't really realize until you actually do it. Hunting is much more than just taking down animals. Camaraderie and communion with people of similar interests is a big part of the experience. Food just seems to taste better. And, you get some great stories.
Our world is full of fast-paced madness, but it seems to slow down just a little bit when a deer tag is filled. There are maybe problems in this world hunting can't fix. But I think legendary deer camps could solve most of them.
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