As I mention in this new review, I did not know Nosler made rifles until very recently. Since discovering that they do, I have been fortunate to review three of their rifles. Each of them has been very accurate, and easy to shoot. Such was the case with this latest Nosler model – the Mountain Carbon. I was given the choice to review a Mountain Carbon in either 6.5 Creedmoor or 26 Nosler. I chose the latter because I was interested in this proprietary cartridge. You can check out my full review here.
While I settled gently back into my chair, I checked my watch; it was eleven thirty. I was now convinced of my failure in this morning’s hunt for a buck. I figured that if there had been one nearby, he probably scented me, or heard me snoring, or saw me strip and re-dress. I was fairly dispirited, but now my concern shifted to the possibility of losing one of my few opportunities to collect a doe for the freezer. I listened for any movement, in order to take advantage of the next chance I got to carry the doe home. I was in this frame of mind when I heard a slight rustling to my left. I breathed a sigh of relief that the cover scent was again proving its worth, as the sound was coming from directly downwind. I slowly turned and stood to be able to get a good look over the intervening black berry and privet. I spotted the tannish gray head of a deer and gently brought my gun to the high skeet position in case the animal turned out to be the doe rather than the yearling. The deer form took shape as it cleared the brush. Instead of the doe or yearling, there stood a buck 17 yards away, its rut-swollen neck extended in the classic ‘sneak’ pose. I had been observing basket eight pointers since opening day, but this deer’s body was half again the size of those youngsters. He walked with the stiff-legged gate of the mature bucks shown on hunting programs. I saw three long tines on his left side as I began to raise my 7mm Remington Magnum to my shoulder. He continued to ease through, acting just like a buck would if he was investigating a hot doe. I then realized he was probably being reeled in by the combination of the Tink’s urine scent and the living, doe decoy. I had to aim high on his shoulder to shoot over the brush that now stood between us.
I have read of animals falling from under the shooter’s sights. Usually the writer is referring to elephants. However, no African big-game hunter has been more excited than I when this buck dropped at the report of my gun. Upon later inspection, I found that the 175 grain Nosler Partition had caught him in the spine. I chambered another round and waited, hardly noticing the doe and yearling now standing frozen 10 yards behind me, looking towards the spot where the buck had fallen. I heard a gentle rustling and then no sound at all came from where the buck had stood. I waited another minute, closed my rifle on an empty chamber, and carefully climbed down the ladder. As I stepped from the lowest rung, I saw that the doe and yearling had not moved. Now they were staring intently at me. The doe lifted her right front leg and stomped it sharply on the ground. I moved slowly along their front, but not until I was within feet of the yearling did they turn, raise their flags and spring into the brush.
I had to circle wide of the hedge that stood nearly as high as my head. As I rounded the corner of the obstruction, I spotted the form of my first Whitetail buck with more than 2 points to a side. He was “only” a seven pointer, but in my eyes he was magnificent. When weighed later, he tipped the scales at approximately 160 pounds on the hoof. I knelt down beside him and breathed a sigh and prayer of thanksgiving. How can one not be in awe of such a creation. I thought of the offerings given by Native Americans at the sight of their kills; offerings to their gods and to the slain animal, offerings that reflected their recognition that the taking of a life meant they would live. This reflects a different belief system to mine, but one that echos a proper respect for the life taken in order for memories to be borne in the hunter.
It was nearing sunset when I happened to glance to my right. What I saw made my heart jump; at the end of the trail of peanuts, with its snout on the ground, stood a hog. I gathered my rifle and, slowly, laid it across the window of the stand. The hog was quartering sharply towards me. I placed the cross hairs of my Nightforce scope just behind the on-shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I was chambering a round as I came down out of the recoil from the 7mm Remington Magnum. The shot had flattened the hog, but just as I re-centered the animal in the scope’s field-of-vision, it struggled to its feet and staggered into the dense hardwood forest that bordered one side of the food plot. Before climbing out of the stand, I grabbed my headlamp for the trek into the rapidly-darkening forest.
First Night’s Arsenal – .475 Turnbull, 7mm Remington Magnum and a Manurhin in .357 Magnum – A bit of overkill?
Upon reaching the spot where the hog had been feeding, I was heartened to see a large splash of blood. Fortunately, the blood trail was easily followed into the dense stand of Saw Palmetto that made up most of the hardwood understory. I knew that I could/should wait for Woody or Jacob, but I was worried about losing my first hog. I didn’t need to worry. I followed the blood trail for only 25 steps before coming to the dark grey animal that had fallen in mid-flight. I used the barrel of my rifle to poke the animal’s rump. Producing no reaction with my prodding, I then moved around to the head and gently poked its already-glazing eye. Again, no reaction. Not relishing the idea of staying in the dark forest any longer than necessary, I grabbed one of the back feet and started dragging the hog toward the food plot. Needless to say, the 100-pound boar made quite an anchor, especially as it managed to catch on every Palmetto trunk in our path. One last heave deposited my trophy into the middle of the buggy track. Now I was able to enjoy the sights and smells of the sub-Tropical environment of the Georgia Gulf Coastal Plain. Yes, the mosquitoes and other insects were thick in my headlamp’s beam, but I really did not mind too much. The owners and staff of Gum Log Plantation had provided me the opportunity to overcome the long odds of harvesting a feral hog in the daytime.
Lest you think that I was unbelievably lucky to run across the only crepuscular hog that liked to eat his peanuts hot, I need to relate a bit more about my experience at Gum Log Plantation. During my day-and-a-half stay, I sat on three different stands. I saw hogs from two of the stands, including what looked like a large sow on the last night. The shot should have been an easy one to make, but I shot right over its back. I can argue that I was just trying to leave something for the next time I visit, but that would belie my colorful language as I watched it tear across the plot and crash into the forest! Likewise, the other two hunters, Darren and Will, saw hogs from both of the stands that they occupied; Darren harvested a boar of similar size to mine.
What is the point I am trying to make? Just this. There is a reason that most outfitters who go after feral hogs conduct their hunts after dark, using night-vision optics. Hogs are almost always nocturnal. Why, then, are daylight hunts at Gum Log Plantation so successful? I have a few observations that may or may not account for this success. First, Woody et al. bait, but so do many of the outfitters who rely on night-vision optics to help their hunters harvest their hogs.
But, at Gum Log, baiting occurs every day regardless of hunters being present or not. Second, the staff refuse to let hunters shoot from the buggies; they want the hogs to associate the buggy noise with food, not the disappearance of family and friends! (As an aside, Darren’s and my boars were covered in fat, with some of the fat being as much as 2/3rd of an inch thick. I am guessing that peanuts might be the cause…) Finally, Gum Log Plantation has a thriving population of feral hogs.
For those of you who desire to [successfully] hunt feral hogs, I would recommend a visit to Gum Log Plantation. If my experience is anything to go by, there is no ‘better’ time of the year to book your hunt. However, my intention is to see if I can convince the owners and staff to let me come down for a combination hog/whitetail hunt this coming Fall. I’ll let you know if they are willing to take me back!
It really should have been a failure, my first-ever attempt at hunting feral hogs. But, here I was standing next to the 100-pound boar that I had dragged out of the forest. The hog had only traversed through 20-yards of the hardwood/palmetto woodland before collapsing from the wound channel caused by the 175-grain Nosler Partition. Others might have said he stank, but to me the boar was redolent of a wonderful perfume. I took photograph-after-photograph from various angles, including one using the light from my headlamp to illuminate his small tusks.
I rely on Craig Boddington for advice and ideas as a former generation of hunters relied on Jack O’Connor. When I mentioned to him that I was going hog hunting and asked for any pointers, he immediately responded with “Biggest problem will be adequate daylight!” And followed up with “Dang hogs are nocturnal, but hopefully [the hunt operators] are baiting. Light is your only issue, hopefully some will cruise by at sunset!” Given the successful outcome of my hunt, please do not suppose that I am about to cast aspersions on Colonel Boddington’s [extensive] experience with ‘pigs’ – including hunts for Wild Boar, Bushpig, Giant Forest Hog and, of course, many forays after North American feral hogs.
Although I had no previous experience in hunting feral hogs, I am a biologist who for many years carried out research on species of mammals. Data from other scientists, as well as from my own research, led to the following conclusions: 1) mammals are most active at night, particularly heavily-hunted game; and 2) mammals need less food during warm weather, so their activity levels drop precipitously. So, as I stepped out of my truck and into the ~100o of the Georgia Gulf Coastal Plain, I assumed I was in for a disappointing hunt.
What was not at all disappointing was the warm welcome provided by the Staff of Gum Log Plantation, located along the Ocmulgee River near the town of Abbeville, Georgia. Manager Woody, along with Courtney and Jacob, would host my hunt.
To say that they took good care of me would be the understatement of the millennium. The food was excellent and, since I arrived back home weighing more than when I left, way-too-tasty.
“Cheese Grits and Biscuit? Yes, Please!”
The Lodge where I would stay was previously the family home of the owners Cary and Peggy Williams. For many years, Gum Log Plantation was used solely as the private hunting destination for the Williams’ family and their friends. Beginning in 2013, the public has been given the privilege of experiencing this destination. With 6800 square feet, three-stories, seven bedrooms, seven baths, two full-kitchens and a fully-stocked wet bar, the ‘Lodge’ looks much more like a ‘Mansion’.
It took four years to complete and was built entirely out of wood from the property; the finished planks and columns were turned out from two portable sawmills brought in specifically for the construction. Though a Redneck at heart, during my stay, I felt like royalty. But, I digress. Let’s return to what I assumed would be an unsuccessful attempt to see, let alone harvest, a feral hog.
Woody announced that I would be taken to a stand at 5:00 pm for my first hunting session. After unpacking, and a quick bite to eat, we headed out in one of the Plantation’s four-wheel drive ‘buggies’.
I was dropped off at an enclosed stand overlooking one of the many, huge food plots. I had never been on a property with this many plots, or with plots that worked so well in attracting game animals.
Yet, the plots were not the only areas where one could successfully hunt the resident game species. For example, the two hunters with whom I overlapped spent their first session within the hardwood forests, adjacent to one of the bald cypress swamplands. In fact, there are a total of 21 stands scattered across the varied Gum Log habitat types. Each evening, hunters or no, two 5-gallon buckets of peanuts are poured out in front of every stand.
As we came up to the stand in which I would spend the first evening, Woody drove slowly past the aerie while emptying the two containers of peanuts. After I settled in, I looked out at the row of peanuts that stretched some 50 yards on either side of my enclosure. Regardless of the bait, I was still expecting no activity in the sweltering heat of the afternoon. So, I was quite surprised when only 30 minutes after I arrived the first of four deer made their way out of the hardwood stands into the plot.
Their appearance, during the hottest part of the day, suggested that there was at least a very healthy deer population. It still remained to be seen whether the same was true for hogs.
The first morning of our hunt dawned crisp and clear, and with the pit-of-the-stomach excitement that feels at once so good and yet so worrying. The previous day Mike had proclaimed Randy and me sound in the shooting department after we hit his paper-plate target from both sitting and prone positions. I wasn’t so sure. I have never had trouble placing shots onto an uninteresting paper object – it’s the breathing, beautiful, long-dreamt-of, big-game animals that cause me to shake and make bullets soar in unwanted directions. But the truth-testing was now at hand. On the drive to Casper, Randy had lost (won?) the coin toss and so I was to have the first crack at a trophy Pronghorn. As we drove away from the camp in Mike’s four-wheel drive pickup, we were never out of sight of pronghorn bucks minding their harems. Some of the same groups from the day before were around, but as we moved further away from camp, new groups began to appear.
The area into which we drove had both open, high-desert vistas, as well as breaks with deep, tree-lined ravines. We left the truck about 7:30 with the intention of only having to top the closest ridge in order to see a buck Mike had spotted several times. Randy and I waited below as Mike carefully crawled up and peered over the ridgeline. He turned around and motioned for us to join him. “Not here” he said, but added, “How about if we climb the next ridge to have a look?” We followed the same game plan: our guide led, we waited below, and then we followed him up. Though there were no Antelope in the ravine on the other side of this ridge either, there were several bucks, at different points of the compass, working their way around the countryside.
After assessing each of them in turn, Mike dismissed them all with “Not first day shooters.” So, we headed for the next ridge, but before we could reach it, we spotted two bucks in a cut that we had been unable to see into while on top of the previous ridgeline. Randy and I crouched in our tracks, while Mike tried to get a look at their horns. “I can’t see them well enough because they are staring straight at me!” he mouthed back at us. And then, looking disgusted, he stood and said in a whisper, “They took off.”
We made our way up and then over the next ridge. However, as we descended, I happened to glance to my right and up the next slope. I hissed to Mike, while at the same time slowly pointing at the buck that had just materialized from the other side of the hill in front of us.
Again, we all crouched where we were, while Mike raised his binoculars to study the buck as intently as the buck seemed to be studying us. Mike turned his head just enough so that I could read his lips as he mouthed, “I think he is a shooter!” I lay down and flipped the short legs of the Harris bipod into position. Mike was still sizing the buck up as I placed the crosshairs behind the animals left shoulder. The buck began to walk across the slope just as Mike whispered, “We want this one.” I quickly asked, “Where do I hold?”
To go back a bit, Mike had told me that he would range the animal he selected. However, he also told me that he would not tell me the distance, but instead, knowing where I told him the point of impact would be for various distances, he would coach me where to hold. This would, hopefully, take the necessary calculation out of my hands when I was likely to be the most nervous. Also, knowing that I was not enthused about shooting at long distances, I would be less worried by him stating, “Hold so many inches below the animal’s backline” as opposed to “It’s three hundred yards.”
So, back to the first trophy Antelope at which I had ever aimed, Mike’s response was “Hold three inches below it’s back.” The problem was, the Antelope was still moving, albeit slowly, and I could do the math enough to realize that I did not want to take a 300 yard or so shot at a moving animal. But my guide’s “Wait for him to stop”, took that decision away from me as well. The problem was that the buck didn’t stop before he had crested the ridge, disappearing over the other side. As previously instructed in the safety talk, I removed the cartridge from my chamber, pushed it back down into the magazine and then pushed the bolt closed onto an empty breach. (All the guides seemed to have an aversion to an overexcited client putting a round up their backside as they followed them up and down slopes and across ridges.) We then headed up the slope with our guide’s whispered, “He should be standing right over this ridge.” But, he wasn’t. I confess to being very disappointed, but at the same time I realized there were many more Antelope left in the bushes.
Fifty years ago, Jack O’Connor published a story in Outdoor Life magazine in which he recounted a tale of overconfidence, bad weather and missed opportunities. This combination added up to a [nearly] futile attempt at collecting the prairie speedster known as Pronghorn Antelope to non-natives of the Western U.S., but as “Goats” by those who happen to live around them all year long. He titled his story, “Antelope Aren’t So Dumb!” However, his tongue-in-cheek, take-home message was that telling his hunting partner, among other things, that “We have allowed three days for the antelope…That’s probably two days too many” was dumb. I thought about this story more than once as my brother, Randy, and I drove from his home north of Seattle – traveling across Washington, through the northern tip of Idaho, slantwise down through Montana, and then due south through Wyoming toward Casper.
I had never hunted Pronghorn before, and actually had seen them only once, and then from a moving car almost three decades earlier. But the memory was strong. Their beautiful tan and white skins, their coal black noses and eyes, and the dark grey-black horns that seemed to curve and jut in a hundred directions at once spoke of the Old West.
As Randy drove us along one of the stretches of highway I reflected on this feeling in my diary: “As we drive south toward Sheridan, the countryside opens wide into rolling shortgrass prairies broken with winding, willow/cottonwood lined waterways. How bleak it must have seemed for some of the first white people, while the openness spoke of tremendous opportunity to others. For me, it sings of beautiful wildness, of vistas occasionally occupied by the lone warrior, horse soldier, buffalo hunter or cowboy.” A bit romantic, I realize, but that is what the West does to many – especially those of us, like me, who have never had to face the winters!
So, were we going to find the Antelope to be almost non-existent, like Jack O’Connor and his hunting buddy? Or would we instead be in constant contact with the animals as I had been assured would be the case by our soon-to-be-met guide, Mike O’Leary of SNS Outfitter & Guides? Time would tell. However, overrun with animals or not, I had a bigger worry. This related to my doubt about hitting an animal smaller than the whitetail deer I hunted in Georgia, but at distances I never encountered in the dense woods of my adopted state. Mike had advised that we should be prepared for “Shots averaging 200 yards, or so”. I told him that I had been practicing mainly by kneeling behind the 225-yard bench at my gun club, but that I would really prefer that he call the Antelope in to 50 yards or less! He had laughed at my quip, but I am sure he wondered if he would have yet another client that couldn’t hit a barn from the inside. So, while we motored through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, I fretted. Mike had also asked about my rifle and loads. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I heard a tone of skepticism in his voice after I told him that the handloads I would be using in my 7mm Remington Magnum would be topped with 175 grain Nosler Partitions. I knew that these were tough, heavy bullets for such a small, thin-skinned animal, but I also knew that when I had worked up lighter, faster loads, my rifle did not group nearly as well as it did with the heavier bullets.
From the moment I shook hands with Mike and the other guides, I felt that we had landed in a quality outfit. As in our phone conversations, they once again assured us that seeing Antelope would not be a problem. If true, that left my shooting ability as the only variable to be factored into the “see the trophy, collect the trophy” formula. As we made the hour-long drive to our camp, Mike’s assurances concerning the quantity and quality of Pronghorns in their area were confirmed.
The author checks out the bands of Pronghorn Antelope near camp
In truth, I couldn’t tell a mediocre buck from one that would earn a hunter a place in the Boone and Crockett awards, but I could see the many herds of antelope as we worked our way deeper and deeper into the countryside surrounding Casper, Wyoming. And as we pulled up in front of the trailers that would, for the next three days, act as our sleeping, eating and toilet facilities, the presence of four different herds of does within 300 yards of our camp, all being minded by four dominant bucks, and all being watched eagerly by other, less-dominant bucks, finally settled the question of whether we would have to endure a Jack O’Connor-esque famine.