Grizzler's First Hunt

Grizzler's First Hunt

Who in his right mind would hunt with a primitive "front stuffer" instead of a modern scoped centerfire rifle on the first day of Missouri's 2008 firearms season? The author, that's who!

Saturday morning, Nov. 15, 2008, was a deer hunter's dream in Missouri. The temperature was around 25 degrees, and the wind was out of the northwest at 10 to 15 mph. It was overcast and was spitting snow. I was on the ground, hunting a special spot that I call "the Rock." The Rock is a perfect spot from which to catch deer movement. If anything moves, it'll come by this location.

The Grizzler's first hunt was short, sweet and successful. Having invested over 200 hours in the rifle's construction, the author had just finished making the .58-caliber Hawken rifle a few days before his hunt. This beautiful 150-class 11-pointer is definitely a fitting trophy for such a fine work of art.

The Rock overlooks a brushy and wooded creek bottom where four big draws converge. The actual "bottom" itself is only about an acre in size. This area is a natural travel corridor and funnel for deer. The surface area of the land in the bottom is covered with scrapes, rubs and heavily used deer trails. There are a few shooting lanes through all of the brush, and one lane that covers a deer trail where I can get my longest shot of about 93 yards.

Sitting across my lap that morning was a monster of a Hawken rifle that I had named "Grizzler." I had just finished building Grizzler on Nov. 11. It was not a kit gun, but a genuine .58-caliber Hawken rifle with over 200 man-hours invested in its construction. It was super accurate and well suited for a shot across the bottom if need be. This was the rifle's first hunt, the first day it was carried in the field in search of a trophy buck.

At daylight, a nice 8-pointer chased a doe by the Rock at about 15 yards. He would have been a shooter, but the loss of one side of his rack told me there was something big enough around to break an antler off. At 7:30, three does came by with another 8-pointer trailing them about 15 minutes behind. He also had a broken rack. Between 7:30 and 10:30, I grunted in and saw four different bucks that I let pass.

The weather was getting worse, which actually meant better hunting for me. The wind had kicked up a bit and would gust to 20 mph about every five minutes or so. It was spitting more snow, and the woods felt "bucky." Each time the wind subsided, I used my Primos Buck Roar.

At 11 a.m., I let out another buck roar and sat motionless with Grizzler on my lap. Deer were moving well, and I felt very confident that I'd see another buck soon. Catching movement to my left, I turned to see what every whitetail hunter dreams of seeing: a big buck coming in. At roughly 100 yards, he was coming quickly, weaving in and out of the brush and over blowdowns at a fast gait. His ears were up, and he was on a mission to find the buck making the noise. He was heading to an opening in the bottom, and I knew he was a shooter.

By the time he came to a halt at the base of the ridge, I had ol' Grizzler at full cock and the sights on the buck. I set the rear trigger and was ready to shoot. He was facing me with nothing between me and him but a clear shooting lane and 40 yards. I put the blade sight on his upper chest and touched the trigger.

Not only does Missouri hunter Josh Woods love to use vintage firearms and primitive weapons like this handmade Hawken rifle for trophy whitetails, he also is a master at hunting on the ground.

At the shot, I heard the .58-caliber round ball hit him with a thud. I saw him take off across the bottom through the heavy smoke. This was the first time that I got a really good look at the side of his rack, and I was very pleased. I knew the shot was good and that he was hit hard. I couldn't believe he made it to the creek, because you could tell he was about to go down. He crossed the creek and barely made it up the bank to some thick brush that I could not see through.

It had all happened very quickly. I looked at Grizzler and said, "Big Boy, I believe you just got your first trophy buck, and you did it on your first day out!"

I reloaded Grizzler. Looking into the thick brush where the buck had gone, I could see a white belly, and it wasn't moving. I put on my pack and made my way down the ridge to where he had crossed the creek. Believe me, the blood trail was not hard to find. Looking in the brush 15 yards past the creek bank, I could see his large rack sticking up. He was down for good.

As I got to him, the first thing I really noticed was how big a body he had. "Massive" was the only word I could think of to describe it. His neck was huge, as was his entire body. I've shot some big whitetails in my day, but this one had to have one of the biggest bodies I had ever seen.

Counting up his points, I found that he was a very symmetrical typical 10 with 10-inch G-2s and G-3s. He had very heavy mass, with one kicker on his right G-2. I knew he was easily a 140-class buck and he might even pushed 150. (He later green-scored 147 2/8 B&C.)

I looked at the damage the bullet had done. While gutting him and using a little old-fashioned "CSI"-style forensics, I found where the bullet had entered his neck just below and to the right of his white throat patch. It had then traveled down his neck, punched his heart dead center, and then traveled through his left lung, his liver and his stomach. With a total of 23 inches of penetration, the .58-caliber round ball had lived up to its reputation for penetration and a quick kill.

The load I used was 100 grains of FFg Goex, a hand-cast, pure-lead round ball, and a .015-inch cotton patch lubed with Mink Tallow. The gun was capped with a CCI No. 11 Magnum. This load proved to be very accurate, shooting a little over a 1-inch circle with a three-shot group at 100 yards.

Shooting a nice buck like this with a Hawken rifle that I built myself gave me a feeling of immense satisfaction and accomplishment that you just can't find hunting with a modern rifle. Friends always ask me, "Why do you hunt trophy whitetails with Sharp's rifles and muzzleloaders when you could hunt with a scoped centerfire? Don't you feel under-gunned?"

My reply: "Hardly!"

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