Settling into the blind, my home for an all-day sit in chilly late November, it was easy to let my hunter’s mind race as I clutched my Benelli Lupo bolt-action rifle chambered in .30-06.
I was in western Nebraska, a mixture of rolling prairie country and North Platte River bottoms that is home to an amazing array of Great Plains wildlife ranging from pheasants to ducks to mule deer to whitetails.
With a 284 0/8-inch Boone and Crockett Club state record non-typical taken in Richardson County by Wesley O’Brien in 2009 and a 199 2/8-inch state record typical taken in 1983 by Vernon A. Virka, Nebraska is certainly no stranger to world-class whitetails.
Neither is the fabulous ground I was hunting at Prairie Rock Outfitters just outside of Broadwater, Neb., a sprawling array of river bottom, uplands, and sandhills comprising thousands upon thousands of acres carefully managed by Ryan Livingston and Jake Latendresse, among others.
A photographer and videographer of some renown whose first published photo was a cover shot for the North Face catalog, Jake has literally traveled the world with camera gear in tow.
With a recent hunting and image-collecting trip to the rugged mountains of Pakistan, his Latendresse Collective Media has produced stunning images for clients like Sitka Gear, Rich-n-Tone Duck Calls, and even legendary bass angler Kevin VanDam, the latter in camp as I arrived a few days before Thanksgiving 2019.
KVD had connected on a bruiser mule deer buck a couple of days before I arrived, one that any big game hunter would be proud of anywhere in North America.
If the buzz concerning big bucks and the waning days of the Nebraska rut weren’t enough to get my hunter’s supply of adrenaline surging, there was also the business of seeing up close and personal a top-secret project that would be hidden from the world until the opening bell of the 2020 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
That project, a bolt action rifle from renowned Italian gun maker Benelli, was actually sitting in my gloved hands as I settled into a box blind to see what the day might bring.
Reflecting upon my good fortune, I was excited to hear from Benelli USA’s marketing director Tim Joseph as well as seeing first-hand the sleek looking Lupo (Italian for “wolf”) that I carefully set in the corner of the blind.
As the first bolt-action rifle ever produced by Benelli, this new offering—produced in .30-06 Springfield, .270 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum in 2020 and in 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester and .243 Winchester in 2021—is designed with a nod to classic styling while bringing to market a rifle that harnesses the best quality, precision, modularity and safety features that modern design can bring about.
With impressive range performance—the gun belts out sub MOA three-shot groups consistently with quality factory ammo like my Hornady Precision Hunter bullets—precise accuracy is one thing Benelli engineers carefully sought when building this new rifle from the ground up.
Thanks to such accuracy-enhancing features as the gun’s chassis-style frame, a rigid bedding system, a free-floated, threaded Crio barrel (22 inches in length for the .30-06 and .270, 24 inches in length for the .300 Win Mag), an adjustable trigger from 2.2 to 4.4 pounds, and a 1:11-inch twist rate in the .30-06 model I was shooting, even I could make the bullet holes touch on a paper target sitting 100 yards downrange.
If accuracy is one benchmark of the new Benelli Lupo rifle design, enhanced comfort, customized fit, and ease of use are others. Such characteristics are achieved by Benelli’s engineering, expertise, and multiple patents achieved over the years in the company’s building of other great firearms like the legendary shotgun, the Super Black Eagle 3.
Some of the Lupo rifle’s other features include Benelli’s Progressive Comfort recoil management system in the rifle’s stock, three interchangeable COMBTECH cheek pads, a carefully designed AIRTOUCH stock and forend, a variety of stock and trigger reach spacers for precise custom fitting (length of pull can be adjusted from 13.8 inches to 14.75 inches), top cartridge loading, and a 4+1 cartridge capacity, a buttery smooth bolt system (3 large-size locking lugs and a 60-degree bolt throw), integrated swivel mounts, and a two-piece Picatinny Rail for mounting a scope.
After punching some paper and watching others do the same, I was confident the new Benelli Lupo was indeed a wolf waiting to howl. Now if I could only be in the right place at the right time when a big Nebraska whitetail came walking by.
On the first day, as a mix of high clouds, sunshine, and a northerly breeze kept daytime temperatures in the 30s, a few whitetails wandered through although not the shooter buck I was seeking. Nevertheless, I was entertained to look through my binoculars at a fence post nearly rubbed in two and a coyote all fluffed up in a winter coat.
The next day was a repeat with more of the same—a few whitetails, another coyote or two, and a band of Merriam turkeys that fed quietly within bow range of my stand.
The third day brought a new stand site and an Arctic cold front for my third consecutive all-day sit.
On the last day of my hunt, as temps finally moderated into the 40s, I sat high up in a Cottonwood tree a few hundred yards off the North Platte River.
As I shook hands with the guide and prepared to ascend the tree steps, Jake whispered “Good luck! You’re going to be sitting in a great place – this is probably the best stand that we’ve got here!”
There were certainly deer sightings that day, including one young buck that pestered a doe. I’d like to tell you that there was a notched whitetail tag as I sat patiently waiting on four consecutive all-day sits with my Lupo rifle in hand. After all, the other writers in camp were putting down good bucks, and the one who didn’t missed a lengthy shot at last light.
But even with a new world-class rifle in my hand and sitting in a place filled with big buck promise, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
As daylight waned one evening, the sudden sight of antlers—HUGE antlers in the 170-class, or maybe even the 180-class—appeared in the gray woods.
As the big deer cleared the woods, I could have shot him. In fact, he screeched to a sudden halt on the other side of the creek a scant 12 yards away in chip shot bow range. But as I settled the scope’s crosshairs, my heart sank as I realized this bruiser would live to see another day.
Because instead of a Booner whitetail looking back at me, this buck was a Booner mule deer. And since the unused tag in my pocket was for the former and not the latter, I had to lower the rifle and quietly whisper “Gotcha!” at a giant buck only a stone’s throw away.
A while later it dawned on me that it might have been a good thing that I didn’t have a mule deer tag in my back pocket.
Because given my hunter’s luck—and the fact I’ve never practiced such a short-range rifle shot—I could at least be thankful for one thing: I wasn’t the first deer hunter to use Benelli’s new world class Lupo rifle and suffer an embarrassing miss at a record-book buck standing only 12 yards away.
I suppose if you look hard enough in life and on any given hunt, there’s always something to be grateful for, especially the week before Thanksgiving.