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Kaibab Kids
November 2004
Dan Martinez

I didn’t draw an Arizona deer tag this year, but my kids did. The boys, Ben, age 13, and Sam, age 10, decided that they wanted to apply for the Unit 12A-West juniors-only doe hunt this year, and they drew tags. The hunt was scheduled for four days, October 22nd through October 25th. 500 tags for antlerless mule deer were allocated. I think I was more jazzed that they drew than they themselves were.

Choosing Rifles and Finding Loads
It didn’t take long for the boys to pick the rifles that they wanted to use from the family armory. Ben decided to let his favorite 6.5mm javelina rifle take a break, instead opting for a BOSS-braked Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker in .243 Winchester. Sam opted for another A-Bolt, a walnut-stocked Micro Hunter in .260 Remington. The Micro Hunter is not muzzle-braked.

Familiarization and shooting practice started not long after draw notification. One problem quickly became apparent for Ben with the .243. For me, the .243 has been filling the role of a “walking varminter”. I had a 4-16x42mm Tasco trajectory-rangefinding, adjustable-objective scope mounted on it. The scope has two horizontal crosswires for range measurement purposes. The finger-adjustable elevation turret is exposed so it can be quickly dialed-in for long-range trajectory compensation. This scope is way too complicated for a kid on his first deer hunt. For the kid, it’s way too easy to accidentally knock the scope off zero. I replaced the scope with a new basic 3-9x38mm Weaver.

I had experienced some inconsistent pressure problems trying to come up with a full-power 100 grain deer load for this .243, so I quit trying. I had resigned myself to sticking with mid-pressure 80 grain varmint loads for this rifle. But now, I was again challenged to create a deer load. At least it didn’t have to knock down a massive buck. I decided to to use the 90 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip as a compromise between the 80 grain varmint bullets and the 100 grain game bullets I had experimented with previously.

Still, I didn’t want to push the pressure envelope, so the charge I ended up with was 35.0 grains of IMR 4064, which still pushed the 90 grain pill out of the muzzle at around 2840 fps. Unfortunately, I was still seeing very inconsistent velocities with this load too, but by the time I got around to finding this out with the chronograph, the deer season was upon us. 100 yard accuracy was fine, and since the hunting would be short-range, I made the decision to go with it.

That muzzle-braked .243 is a real pussycat to shoot. The little .260 Micro Hunter though, with a full power load, will get your attention. Not that it is uncomfortable for a full-sized guy such as you or me. However, recoil mitigation was a big factor in my load development work for this rifle to be used by a 10-year-old. But I still wanted it to hit hard enough to put a doe down for keeps.

I first got interested in the .260 Remington when I was looking for a flat-shooting, hard-hitting, deer-capable caliber for long-range handgun hunting. I acquired a .260 barreled action for my Magnum Research Lone Eagle single-shot handgun. At full-power, the .260 is about the most cartridge I want to shoot in a handgun. I soon developed a real sweet reduced-power load for the Lone Eagle which is easily 95% of what I feed it. It’s the Sierra 85 grain HP varmint bullet on top of 27.0 grains of Accurate XMP 5744. This comes out of the Lone Eagle’s 14 inch barrel at 2300 fps.

As sweet-shooting and accurate as this load is, I did not feel that it was an appropriate deer load. But it does hold an important lesson for recoil reduction. To effectively reduce recoil, you need to go down not only in bullet weight, but also in powder weight.

A standard game load for the .260 Remington might be a bullet weighing from 120 to 140 grains with as much as 45 to 48 grains of a slow-burning powder. A quick recoil calculation based on the 7.1 pound scoped weight of the Micro Hunter yields a recoil figure in the neighborhood of 14 foot-pounds.

But if we go down to a 100 grain bullet and use a mid-pressure charge of a medium-burning powder, the recoil could be brought way down. It would still be a real doe-killer, though. The final specs on Sam’s .260 doe-load are the 100 grain Hornady softpoint on top of 35.0 grains of IMR 4064 yielding a velocity of 2600 fps in the Micro’s 20 inch barrel for only 8 foot-pounds of recoil.

Gerhard wrote last month about his sweet little Remington Model 7 in 7mm-08. The Browning Micro Hunter is a rifle cast from the same mold. A shorter-than-standard length barrel, a shorter length of pull, a slimmer stock shape, and a short action frame size make for a light, handy rifle usable by anyone from kids to ladies, even big guys like me, but still quite capable of reaching out there with power and accuracy. You don’t hang a big heavy scope on a trim rifle like this. I outfitted the Micro with a Weaver K6 fixed 6x38mm scope. (Can you tell that I like Browning A-Bolts and Weaver scopes?)

Practice, Practice, Practice
Over the summer, I took the boys out to the desert several times to get used to shooting these high-powered deer rifles. I’m a big believer in shooting sticks. I had already built a set for each kid custom trimmed to size. We started with plenty of shooting off sticks to distances of 100 yards. Both rifles were zeroed to hit point of aim at 100. First of all, I figured that since this hunt was woods hunting, opportunities would most likely come within 100 yards. Second, as newbees, distances beyond 100 yards might be a little iffy, so I told them that I really didn’t want them taking shots beyond 125 yards, at most.

As they started making reliable 100 yard hits off sticks, I next tried working on their quick-reaction, no-stick shooting. I taught them to quickly find a tree, get down on a knee and lean a shoulder into the trunk. Out in the desert we had to substitute the wheel of the truck to simulate a handy ponderosa pine tree.

Ben was able to master this exercise and was soon putting two quick shots into an e-Deer’s kill zone at 100 yards reliably, starting from a standing position. This was more difficult for Sam. We soon came to the conclusion that Sam would have to limit his attempts to deliberate shots off the sticks.

Serious Weather for the Start of the Hunt
I knew it was gonna be cold up on the Kaibab plateau in late October. Warm gloves and insulated bib overalls went onto the hunt shopping list. Jackets, boots, and knit caps they already had. Given 500 kids running around the woods with high powered rifles, I also thought that it would be wise to be very visible. Blaze orange fleece vests were another important addition to the shopping list.

The plan was to drive up on Thursday, set up camp, and be ready to hit the ground running come Friday morning, opening day. But the season’s first snow storm was expected to roll over the plateau all-day Thursday. The forecast was for clearing weather on Friday. I thought about delaying the drive up until better weather on Friday, but with such a short season – only four days – I really did not want to throw away any of our precious hunt days. So Plan A it was. It turned out that the weather mass slowed down its travel plans, and was running about 8 hours late. We did not hit any precip until we passed Flagstaff, and that rain was very light.

We were experiencing light rain as we ascended the Kaibab plateau. Finally, as we passed through the 7000 foot level, almost to Jacob Lake, we saw our first white stuff. The higher we climbed, the thicker it got. We planned to make camp on the west side of Jacob Lake, but when we got to where we were going, the accumulation was already at about 6 inches, and more was falling from the sky at a steady rate. Since the storm was approaching from the west, it was making its heaviest dump as it rose over the west side of the plateau. We decided to head back down the east side, hoping to find less hostile conditions.

We did. Where we ended up making camp, the snow was a little wetter and a little lighter. When we awoke on opening day we discovered that our overnight accumulation on top of vehicles and tents was only about 2 inches.

It kept on snowing through most of Friday, but we were out there, on the hunt! Since getting interested in bolt action military rifles, I’ve become somewhat of a WW2 history buff. I’ve got the Band of Brothers DVD set and have watched the entire series through several times. This interest has rubbed off on the boys. As we walked through the snowy forest, Ben says to me, “Gee Dad, this looks just like the Battle of the Bulge.” Sam then said, “Yeah, all we need now is German artillery exploding overhead!” I had to laugh.

This impression was further reinforced late in the afternoon as the clouds lifted and the sun started melting the snow piled up in the branches overhead. All around us, wet clumps of snow were constantly falling out of the tree tops. “Take cover boys! We’re being shelled!”

Hunting in a forest during a snowfall was a new and unique experience for us three desert boys. Though we didn’t see any game, and though we were uncomfortably cold at times, it really was a neat day overall.

At camp that evening, as we ate dinner and prepared our packs for the next day’s hunt, we noticed a definite uptick in traffic past our camp and out on the main road, as the majority of hunting parties started rolling in for the weekend. A lot of the snow had already melted off around camp by the time we came in for the day, and by the next morning when we arose, most of it was gone in our area.

Our plan for day two was to walk due east from camp. The topo map showed that after crossing two draws, we should hit a secondary forest road. We were then going to slowly stalk our way down that road until mid-morning, at which point we would turn back toward camp for lunch.

Our mode of operation was to walk a little, then sit a little, wherever it looked like we could get a little bit of a bigger view of opposing slopes. We would nibble on snacks from our daypacks at these sitting times.

We made it to the road, which ran down the top of a ridge. As we approached a large woodpile, I suggested that one kid should head off to one side to sit the slope overlooking the left draw, and the other kid should do the same on the right side. I told them that I would hang out by this woodpile, and meet them back here in around 15 minutes. They said OK, but Sam the Younger didn’t want to go alone. “Alright, I’ll go with you, Sam.”

Before separating, I asked Ben to establish radio communications with me on FRS channel 6. Sam and I walked over to the right-side draw and found a comfortable spot to sit. The first thing that Sam does when he sits down is open up his sticks and prop his rifle into position in front of him. We briefly talked with Ben on the other side over the radio.

It had only been about five minutes since talking to Ben when I detected some shadow movement at the top of the next ridge that we were facing. In the next moment Sam says, “I see one!” A doe was filtering through the trees and coming down the slope toward us. “She’s coming toward us. Let her come, take your time, and make a good shot.” But then she turned to our left, putting some trees and more distance between her and us. As I watched her through the binos, it looked like she was getting away, but Sam was tracking her through the scope the whole time. Before I thought that he had a shot, the Micro Hunter spoke. POW!! She went down!

But shortly, she got up again, but now heading back toward us! “Take another shot!” POW!! A miss, but she kept coming toward us. I could see a red spot in her side exactly where it should be. In a moment she laid down again, this time, right in front of us straight across the draw at a distance of about 60 yards. The initial shot was at a distance a little over 100 yards.

I told Sam to keep on her, but that she would be done in 10 minutes or less. I called Ben on the radio and told him that Sam had one down. “Yeah, I heard.” “Come on over, we’re just over the top, past the woodpile. You’ll see us.”

She tried to get up yet one more time, but fell back down again. She gave us a better angle now, and I told Sam to put one more into her. POW!! Now she lay still.

As Ben met us, I told Sam to unload and put the rifle down. I pulled the Taurus .357 from my holster and handed it to Sam. “Let’s go check her out!” When we reached her, it became evident that the Taurus wasn’t needed. Sam had taken his first big game!

After tagging her and taking care of the red work, Sam and I pulled her down across the draw then back up to the road. We took a GPS waypoint so that we could easily find her again, and the three of us hiked back to camp. At camp, we fired up the Polaris ATV and navigated back to the doe to pick her up.

There’s a mandatory check out on this hunt, so after a quick lunch, the next step was to head to the check station at Jacob Lake. There, they took a tooth for aging purposes, then asked if we wanted to donate the head for Chronic Wasting Disease analysis. Sure. Since the head was the necessary evidence of sex, they filled out an official paper and gave it to Sam in case we were later stopped.

Before the hunt, the boys had received an invitation from a game processor to bring their deer to the processor’s on-site refrigerated trailer. I like that option. Also, they were giving out free T-Shirts to the first 50 kids to bring in their deer. Sam was among the first 50 so he got a shirt.

We were worried that it would simply be advertising for “Joe’s Butcher Shop” – what kid would want to wear that? But the t-shirts were actually pretty cool. On the back, under the words, “Junior Deer Hunter”, there’s a picture of a doe. Below the doe it says, “12A Kaibab”. Then below that it says, “The Future of Hunting Depends on Me.” Only in small print in the chest pocket area does it say, “Miller’s Southwest Processing” along with a smaller picture of the doe.

Well we still had two more days to go to find another doe for Ben. Sam was glad that he no longer had to carry a rifle around with him. Instead, he acted as bearer of Ben’s shooting sticks. We spent another day in the same area where Sam took his doe, but didn’t see anything except the ravens enjoying the gut pile.

On the way back to camp at the end of day three, we stopped to chat at another deer camp, and the Dad told us that his sonny-boy got a shot, but missed, out in the open sage country. He said they ran into a herd of about two-dozen there.

The Kaibab herd is said to be highly migratory – that with the first snow, they head down to lower country. That plan sounded like a winner for day four.

Unfortunately, it seems that the recent moisture resulted in quite a hatch of pesky gnats. Whenever we would stop moving for a moment down in the sage country, we would be set upon by a swarm of the pests. They’d fly into our our eyes, our noses, our ears – we had to get out of there!

So we gave it up on the afternoon of the last hunt day without getting Ben onto a deer. Naturally, he was quite disappointed. I hope he felt like I did, that even though we weren’t 100% successful, it was still a fantastic hunt!

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