Opinion

The Best Whitetail Rifle

Bernier 1

Tracking wilderness whitetails through the primeval forests of the northeast is a very specialized form of deer hunting. The demands placed upon the deer tracker are both physically challenging and mentally intense. In order to achieve success at this hard man’s game, your senses must be razor sharp while in pursuit.

A rifle is, for all intents and purposes, merely a tool utilized to complete a job. Just as carpenters, masons, plumbers, and drywallers require various tools unique to their profession, so should the huntsman’s selection of a weapon be designed specifically for his or her style of hunting.

An individual’s choice of firearm should reflect discriminating personal preference, as it essentially becomes an extension of the arms that carry it. It must be capable of performing flawlessly under any conditions.

The rifle that has accompanied me into the deer woods, for nearly a quarter of a century now, has been a Remington 760 Gamemaster carbine pump chambered in .30-06. Until recently, mine was fitted with a Williams peep sight, which includes the twilight aperture. I have always shot with the twilight aperture and it has never prevented me from being able to locate running game. I use a large diameter white Marble bead on the front sight ramp and paint it red. The rationale for this is that as I’m swinging on a moving buck in the snow the sight does not get lost amidst a maze of white. Unfortunately, due to age, my eyes aren’t what they used to be and consequently all but one of my Remingtons are now topped with a Leupold 2x-7x muzzle loader/shotgun scope.
My stock is cut down substantially until the measurement from trigger to the back of the butt pad equals 12 ¾ inches. This alteration facilitates the rifle to fit my arm length perfectly. When I pull up on a quickly-disappearing buck that has just vacated his bed, I don’t want the butt-end of my rifle snagging on my jacket. The final piece of hardware installed on my rifle is a carrying sling. This luxury comes in very handy at the end of the day when I’m a long way from the vehicle.

Once my rifle has been customized and sighted in, I like to personalize it. To accommodate this I paint a whitetail scene on the stock. As I look back at my Indian heritage, I realize that prior to their hunts, my ancestors would decorate their bows, lances, and living quarters with pictures of the animals they intended to hunt. The whitetail was a sacred animal to them, and even though I do not view them in the same connotation as they did, I do have a deep love and respect for the animal and carry a personal depiction of one on my weapon. With each big buck that rifle knocks down, the bottom of the responsible shell casing is epoxied to the stock, representative of the fallen warrior.

There are several reasons why the Remington Gamemaster pump became my favored whitetail weapon. First of all, it’s incredibly lightweight. My physical stature is diminutive and consequently, the buoyancy of my rifle (6 ½ pounds fully loaded) generates little fatigue as I carry it. The buck track I’m following on any given day can lead me on a journey which encompasses many miles. As I approach the pursued animal, raise and aim my carbine from an off-hand position, little effort is required regardless of the duration before the ideal shot is offered.

Under any variety of conditions, snow, rain, or sleet, my Remington pump has risen to the high expectations placed upon it. The dependability of this rifle comes from the simple design of the slide action. No weather-related influence has ever prevented the rifle from ejecting a spent shell casing, nor has the action ever disappointed me when several quick follow-up shots became necessary. The absolute last thing I want haunting me while on the track is a premonition that my weapon is unreliable, particularly after I’ve worked so arduously to catch up to the prized buck.

The overall length of my carbine pump, 37 inches, with a barrel length of just 18-1/2 inches, is considerably shorter than most standard-length rifles. This feature is compatible with my style of hunting and suits my needs completely in the thick brush typical of the country I hunt. The short barrel design precludes the rifle from getting hung up on branches or boughs as I hastily shoulder it.

Because of my chosen hunting methodology, I must be prepared to shoot at any given moment, in whatever position I find myself when the shot is presented. Generally, this results in my volleys being snapshots of a fast-paced variety. The highly excited buck that I have now disturbed is doing his utmost to dodge bullets and place lots of real estate between himself and this two-legged predator that’s firing at him. Intimately knowing your weapon will subconsciously allow you to react and perform flawlessly under the most demanding of situations. In my humble opinion, one would have to look long and hard to locate a set up that can beat the efficiency that a peep-sighted carbine accommodates as it’s being fired at close range towards a quickly-disappearing buck.

The general rule of thumb when it comes to shortened barrel lengths is the handler’s precision becomes compromised when shooting at great distances due to the reduced velocity. I can honestly attest that I have not experienced any perceived disparity in accuracy with my carbines. Yes, in most instances, the bucks I’ve shot have been at distances of fifty yards or less. My goal as a tracker steadfastly remains to stalk close enough to the pursued animal enabling me to actually count the whiskers growing around his muzzle. But, there have been those occasions that I’ve had to reach out quite a distance on a buck.

For example, late into one particular deer season in Maine, I had not yet filled my deer tag. Early on the next-to-last day, aided by a blanket of providential fresh snow in which to ply my craft upon, I eagerly lit out following a very impressive set of buck slots. For three hours this old horse exercised me through a maze of white-bearded hemlocks and blow downs. Then, as if on cue, his tracks straightened and his course led directly towards a five year old clear-cut. Pausing just inside the dark cover provided my eyes the opportunity to adjust to the brightly lit opening. While scanning this expansive mixture of regrowth and residue left in the wake of the cutter’s saw, I finally, for the first time, spotted the old veteran of the wild. Centering his huge frame in the peep sight, I gently squeezed off the round that ultimately served notice to this buck; his time had expired. That shot, the longest of my career, was taken off-hand with open sights at a distance of 259 yards.

Bears, moose and countless trophy whitetail bucks dressing out between 200 and 260 pounds have fallen victim to this reliable and trusted friend. You can be assured that whenever this green-shirted deer tracker, R.G. Bernier, embarks into the forest wilds guided solely by the well etched imprints of a giant whitetail buck, clutched tightly in his grasp is sure to be found a Remington 760 Gamemaster carbine pump rifle.

Images courtesy Richard Bernier

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