Food Processing. Protein; Step One

It Was a Bright and Calm Morning…

My son and I both decided to hunt Late Muzzleloader season this year for a simple reason– there are far more does and “antlerless” bucks in our little hunting spot than antlered bucks, and this season allows harvesting of “three point minimum or antlerless” white tail deer.  Hunting muzzleloader season gives us a high probability of harvesting deer within walking distance of home.

We have one functioning muzzleloader rifle (step one food processor) so Son was given the first watch at the tree stand.  The second time out he took a decent young buck (small nubs for antlers) on Thanksgiving Day.  He spotted it while climbing down the tree, and shot it with the rifle still tied to the cord we use for raising and lowering things from the stand.  After that I started going out to the stand, but saw nothing in several days.  That’s unusual, but a deer had just been taken right there by Son.  Maybe they’re a bit spooked.  Don’t know, but on the morning of the last day of this one-week season, I got tired of sitting in the stand (besides, it was cold) and decided to take a walk.

It was a beautiful morning, just after sunrise, so if I never got a deer, it would still be worth the nice walk along the top of the picturesque basalt cliffs above the Palouse River.  There are always a lot of deer tracks up there, as it’s their only option for traveling between their feeding grounds (farmer’s fields) and their primary source of water.  My trouble that morning was that if there were any deer, they’d be immediately alerted to my presence.  Every 50 yards or so as I was walking along the ridge, a pheasant or two, or about 50 quail, would explode up from near my feet.  I might as well have been blowing an air horn every 50 yards and carrying a boom box playing rap music.

There’s a place along that ridge that’s down in a depression, and has some flat land with 360 degree concealment.  I knew in advance that if I was going to see a deer along the ridge away from our tree stand, it would likely be there.  As I topped the rise, getting ready to look down into the depression, I went slowly, making no sudden movements.

Sure enough, there were two deer, and one of them was a very nice eight-point buck!  About 200 yards away, he’s looking in my direction.  The sun being directly behind me, I was casting a 100 yard-long shadow right in his direction.  Pure stealth isn’t much of an option, but I was moving very slowly so as not to alert them too much.  Whack-a-Whack-a-Thump-a-Thump-a-Thump!!!  A pheasant exploded up at that moment about six feet away from me, so the buck got real nervous and trotted away.  It’s been years since I saw a nice buck up there, and, aware of my presence, this one and the doe are now on the move away from me.  Oh well. (but they didn’t bolt, as often happens)

I can either back-track less than a mile, cross the bridge for home and get ready to go to work, or I can go on, crossing another bridge about a mile ahead.  That’s an easy choice– I keep going forward in the direction of those two deer.  Wham, Slam, Whack!– quail and pheasants continue to announce my presence.  This is getting hopeless.  But it’s sure a nice day for a walk.

The deer never panicked, I guess, so what ended up happening was that I was dogging them.  They’d put some distance between us,  I’d close in, and they’d make some more distance.  Repeat.  Eventually they made a wrong move.  Some more quail (announcing my presence, but not telling exactly where) must have startled them out of the thick brush and into the open field.

I did not expect that.  They were in range, barely, but moving away fast.  Too far away to attempt a shot on a moving target.  No shot.  What do you do in this situation?  I whistled.  Deer whistle (I guess it’s more of a fast hiss than a whistle) at each other as an alert message.  Anyhow, it worked.  They stopped, turned 90 degrees broadside and looked back at me.  From that moment, circumstances dictate action.  No time for kneeling, and that might scare them off, so standing it is.  We’re all in the open.  Lock to full cock.  Backstop?  Check (there’s a hill a couple hundred yards behind them).  Front sight.  This is a longish shot for this weapon with open sights from standing– about 80 to 90 yards (I’ve never fired this rifle at anything more than 100 yards distant – maybe that has to change, but I’m confident at 100 and this is a bit less).  Some vacillating takes place for about a second.  One shot, one chance.  Too far?  Wobble area looks good.  Too far?  They’re still standing there, stone still.  This is a hair trigger.  Sight’s right on the sweet spot, what’re you waiting for?  Too far?  Nope.  Bang!

The two deer took off running.  The usual question comes to mind; did I miss?  They’re running fast and far.  200 yards and they’re out of sight over a rise in the undulating fields.  Oh well.  It’s a nice day for a walk.  Should I reload?  Maybe.  Have to cover 200 yards to look over that rise and try to spot them.  Better do that.  There they are; waaaay out there and still running.  I must have missed, though the let-off felt fine.  Damn.  But wait.  The doe’s way ahead of the buck.  Buck slows down and stops.  Then he looks like he got tired and decided to have a little lie down.  That’s odd.  They only ran about 1,000 yards.  No, it can only mean I got him.

He’s lying down with his head up.  Better reload.  I carry two reloads– plastic cartridges that contain a measure of black powder, a ball with lubricated patch, and a percussion cap.  They’re nice because you can use the cartridge structure as a short ball starter.  It’s easy– you just place the ball end over the muzzle and smack the other end, like so… Oops!  Forgot to pour the powder in first.  I have just dry-balled the gun and there’s an injured buck (I don’t know how injured) down there.  He could get up and run away.  I could lose an injured deer.  This sucks.  My chosen method of removing a dry ball is to seat the ball all the way down, remove the nipple and trickle a few grains of powder through the flash channel into the breech chamber, cap, then fire.  Works like a charm.  I have no nipple wrench.  Who needs to remove a nipple in the field on a half-day hunt? (it’s coming with me from now on)  The nipple’s seated tight– can’t break it free with the Leatherman tool.  Damn, damn, damn.  I eventually was able to pry the ball out at the muzzle, using the awl accessory (if I’d rammed it down I’d be hosed).  Cool.  Didn’t scratch the muzzle ’cause the patch protected it.  That ball is toast, but I have one more reload.

Meanwhile, the buck is lying there, looking around…head up, head down, head up, head down again.  Did he die?  Head comes back up.  Crap.  I had to get close enough for a 100% sure CNS (Central Nervous System) shot.  Walk slowly.  40 yards, take aim.  No.  Why not get closer?  30 Yards, kneel, full cock, put a shot through the neck at the base of the skull.  He drops like a stone.

This is not a good place from which to pack out a large deer.  Good net coverage.  Kamiak Butte, with the cell towers, is only 6 miles to the southwest.  I call Son on the phone.  No answer.  I wait and call again.  No answer.  I call my wife– she should be getting ready to drive to school.  Maybe she can meet me on the Colfax highway a few hundred yards over a hill and bring me home to get the pickup.  No answer.  I’d also been dogging a coyote along the way, and I’d seen the ‘yote running along the same path as the deer.  Can’t gut this buck yet.  That’s just inviting that ‘yote in to come and mess up my deer while I’m gone.  Leave it whole.  I walk a couple miles home, get Son out of bed and drive back to the Colfax highway.  We get permission to drive over a planted field to the deer.  No dice.  The frozen mud had thawed enough at the surface that a 4×4 with studded snows can’t get a grip to climb over the hill.  We’re on foot.  We go back home to grab a saw and a sled.

Below; the buck fell about a 1,000 yards from where he was hit, which was out of the frame to the upper right.

Looking closely, I find an entry wound in the deer’s left hind quarter.  Odd.  I could have sworn he was broadside to me when the gun fired, and I know I didn’t pull the shot that much.  And there’s a ball, just under the skin behind the right shoulder, exactly opposite where I was aiming, but I can’t find a corresponding entry wound.  Oh well, I’ll find it when I skin the carcass.  Someone else must have shot this deer before me, which would explain the entry wound in the hip.  That’s plausible, since I’ve been hearing shots in the area all week.  Weird.

Hours later we had the big buck hanging in the garage after getting the workout of the year.  Man, this hunting business is getting more like hard work.  After gutting (in the field) and skinning the deer (in the garage) there was only the one entry wound to be found.  The ball had struck the left “ham” at a shallow angle, passed through the intestines doing very little damage, passed through the stomach, blew a three-finger-sized ragged hole through the liver, punctured the diaphragm, punctured a lung, glanced off a rib and stopped just short of exiting the hide on the right side.  I measured 25 inches of penetration, from a ~180 grain round ball that left the muzzle at ~1,920 fps.  That deer ran about a thousand yards with all that damage.

My best guess is that the buck was all wound up tight, having spotted me, knowing that I’d been following him.  The cow-sized cloud of backlit, white smoke that erupted at extra-sonic speed from the muzzle must have made him jump slightly, changing the angle of impact from broadside to less than 45 degrees.  I calculate he had about a quarter second to move from the emergence of the smoke cloud.  I dunno.  Maybe he wasn’t so fully broadside to begin with as I’d thought.  The “act of grace” neck shot did not penetrate more than three inches, but shattered the vertebra.

Here’s one reason to have children.  They can pull your sled;


Observations on penetration and “stopping power”
Starting last season, we’ve shot three deer with the same exact load from the same muzzleloading rifle.  The first shot penetrated an adult whitetail fully, straight through the ribcage, severing a rib fully on each side, from <30 yards.  The same shot from Son hit a smaller deer broadside through the ribs, hit the heart and blew it completely apart, such that you could lay it out like a pancake, and did not exit the hide on the far side.  Less than 14 inches penetration.  Hitting the big buck in the heavy hip muscle from almost three times the distance, the ball went through 25 inches of animal, and the second ball (on the buck's neck) was demolished after about three inches.  The same load (110 grains of Old Black pushing a ~180 grain .495" round ball) penetrated between 3 and 25 inches (a factor of 8.33) depending on shot placement.  Sort of makes you wonder about penetration figures given for defense loads.  It all depends and what's being penetrated, from hide, to muscle, to the liquid chambers inside the heart, to lung and liver tissue that doesn't explode like that heart did.  And stopping power?  Each one of these deer was hit with a 100% lethal shot, and they ran from eighty to one thousand yards after being hit.

We’ve had similar “stopping power” experiences using modern rifles, but never has a modern rifle load failed to penetrate completely, regardless of what it hit inside.  I’ve been wondering whether the stories of recovered, modern hunting rifle bullets are just mythology, but if the differences in penetration can be so great with the muzzleloader they must be fairly large with modern systems too.

(With that I think I’ve outdone myself—- 2,000+ words.  It’s my first nice buck.  Can’t I prattle on and on about it?)

Below; Along the bottom, near that ditch behind the small rise is where the buck fell.  Kamiak Butte is in the distance, top right in the frame.

Below; this .495″ (well, formerly .495″) lead ball traveled 25 inches into the animal.  I’d not believe it if I hadn’t seen it.  I bet I could load it again and kill another deer with it next year.


12 thoughts on “Food Processing. Protein; Step One

  1. Nice shot, but I’m disappointed by the less-then-humane kill.

    Why are you taking shots at the edge of your effective range? Our policy growing up was always to pass on a shot if we couldn’t be reasonably sure of a quick drop. I guess hunting has changed a lot in the past few years…

    Seems that people now have a lot less respect for the game now than they used to.

  2. Good shot, Lyle. The difference in terminal effect at different ranges was likely the fact that a mid-sized round lead ball has a truly craptacular BC – something like .07. The closest thing I have a ballistics table on would be a 135gr .40 cal bullet: 1800 fps at the muzzle, 1181 at 100 yards, and that has a BC of .091, a fair bit better than that lead ball. Your bullet might have been sub-sonic by the time it hit.

    Huntsman – while I understand the idea you are driving at, the fact is even you admit that he took the shot within his effective range – and what’s the point of saying “this has an effective range of X” if you will only use it at half that distance? That means that it only has an effective range of .5X, doesn’t it? The fact is that even the best of equipment and shots can sometimes not quite work perfectly, and field conditions are often less than idea, hence the term “field” conditions as opposed to “perfect.” I’ve shot a deer offhand at ~100 yards that dropped in its tracks (odd angle on a slowly walking mule deer with a 6.5×55 that happened to pass through the scapula and the spine at the base of the neck), and the deer that I shot that ran the farthest (~30 yards) was a only about 25 yards away, perfectly still and broadside (shot through the heart and a shoulder bone with good brand 180gr 30-06 round, large exit wound). Hunting hasn’t “changed a lot in the past few years.” There have always been both ethical and unethical hunters, good shots and bad shot, lucky hits, and unlucky hits. And there likely always will be.

  3. The summary of the post was pointing out that the only “quick drop” is a CNS shot (brain or spine). I can’t speak for other people, but I have a great deal of respect for the animals. You’re assuming that a) people generally had a lot of respect in the past, and that b) something has changed in our society to reduce that level of respect for game.

    I submit to you that you could just a likely be entirely wrong– that the very opposite could well be true. On what do you base your assumptions, other than “our policy growing up”? What about “my policy having grown up and actually hunting”?

    I said that I was confident at 100 yards (I’ve fired this rifle a lot at that distance) and that this shot was a bit less. Not sure you read that part. Looking at where the ball passed through the diaphragm into the heart/lung cavity, placing the shot only 2 to 3 inches to my left would have penetrated the heart. That was about as close to the perfect shot, given the technology mandated by the state hunting regs, as anyone could have made. I was trying to increase the level of actual understanding here, rather than perpetrating some Hollywood or politically fabricated myth, by telling of my actual experience in the real world, which is that even with a blown heart and two shot lungs, a deer can live long enough to run 80 yards or more– that the idea of a “quick drop” (on deer or anything else including people) is largely a myth if our experiences and those of other hunters are at all representative of reality.

    If you expect brain shots only, then you really didn’t do any hunting as a kid, as you seem to suggest. The preferred shot, as taught in the state-required hunter safety courses, is the heart-lung cavity shot. My 80 to 90 yard shot did just that. I often assume my audience knows these things, but I might have to explain that a good liver shot (my shot also blew the liver) is almost as good as a heart shot in that the liver processes a lot of blood and will bleed an animal out very quickly. Or so I have been taught in my self-defense classes.

    That I’m being honest in expressing self doubt is to demonstrate exactly what goes on the mind of someone who is in fact very concerned about doing things right. I took a shot at <30 yards last year and went through the same check, double check, triple check process.

    As for a "humane" kill; have you ever seen what the canines do to deer and elk? What often happens in the wild is vastly more brutal than anything the typical human hunter does, but I'll suppose you knew that already.

    As for the past (the "Good ole Days") when some people today think all was pure and clean and wonderful; there were a lot of deer and larger game taken with what we would consider very light calibers-- pistol caliber carbines in .44-40 and .38-40 et al (to say nothing of bows and arrows, or spears, or stampeding herds over cliffs) whereas my muzzleloader is far more powerful (we could designate my load as a .50-110) and more likely to produce a clean kill. On the other hand it is legal in the modern firearm season in Washington State to take a deer with a handgun such as the Glock in 40 S&W, and even smaller. Now unless you're going to walk up and stick the pistol in the deer's ear, you're probably going to be tracking a bleeding animal for at least some distance.

    For all those who tout the “free range” farm animal stuff; this deer was as free range as it gets. It lived a completely “free” life, so if I'm going to eat meant, this is as absolutely good as it gets. If you eat any farmed animals, even if they're “free range”, and you think "free range" means "morally superior" those who hunt truly free animals for food are one up on you. How about that?

    In short, I say you're wrong, Huntsman, in your premises and your understanding. Hopefully I've helped to correct that.

  4. Yeah Rolf– the ball’s BC is “point zero small” something. I’ll have to try to get some 100 yard chrono readings sometime. I’m pretty sure you’re right– sub sonic at impact.

  5. Subsonic at impact often increases penetration, as the ball does not deform or fragment. It really becomes apparent even with some of the modern bullets at extended ranges. A Nosler BT will sometimes explode violently on a shoulder, giving almost no penetration when fired at 3000FPS or more, but penetrate deeply when fired from a less powerful cartridge exhibiting very little deformity. The deep penetrating calibers like 45-70’s trundle along, often at 2000 FPS or less, but drive through bone and tissue.

    Lyle, great journalism! I was enjoying the story before a deer got involved. I’ve had those same kinds of early morning walks with a gun where actually shooting something only serves as the cherry on top of an outstanding sundae.

    Wonderfully well written and descriptive. I’m actually shocked the coyotes didn’t get to it while you were gone, and I’m glad they didn’t!

    And YES, Lyle, TheHuntsman was dead wrong!


  6. Lyle:

    Congratulations on a successfull hunt. That was a very nicely told story.

    With regard to those who think that every animal should be killed with a “dropped like a sack of flour” shot, my personal experience is that it almost never happens with a rifle. With a 12-gauge shotgun slug at the ole-fashioned straight-tube ranges of less than 30 to 40 yards they generally dropped in their tracks, but not always even then.

    The last buck I shot was at 40 yards with .30-06 180-gr Nosler Partition. A standing broadside shot, with plenty of time to pick which hairs I wanted to put it between. Post-mortem showed that the bullet crossed both lungs, blew up the heart and then passed clean through out the other side. And yet that whitetail ran 25 yards along the edge of the clearing before turning and running another 10 yards into the swamp. That’s 35 yards with no circulatory or breathing system, and at full tilt.

    The one thing I have noticed is that they generally tend to pick downhill slopes to run on when they’re hit. And they magically gain massive weight at the bottom of the hill, only to lose it when you’ve finally dragged them up to where you can load them onto a wheeled vehicle. Maybe Joe could explain this curious physics effect for us…is the pull of gravity stronger at the bottom of hill because you’re closer to the Earth’s center? I’ve also noticed that an accurate scale will cause a whitetail to drop weight. I’ve had deer that weighed at least 175 pounds in the field weigh out at only 125 pounds on the scale. It’s my theory that the presence of the scales alters the space-time continuum in a way that changes the mass of the deer.

    My hunting friends say there’s another reason, but that’s mine, and I’m sticking to it.

    Enjoy your venison!

  7. The pull of gravity is greatest at the surface of the earth and decreases as you near the center of the earth. So the phenomena you report must be do to some other factor.

    I suspect you may be right about warp in the space-time continuum. But it becomes a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle type problem to determine if it is true. Once you bring the scales into the picture to verify the true mass you have changed the mass you were trying to determine. This is likely to remain a Great Mystery for hunters and physicists for the foreseeable future.

  8. This great mystery is akin to that encountered by fishermen as well, where the length, girth, and weight of a caught fish is directly inverse to the distance from a scale and other measuring devices.

    Sometimes this also affects fish that are brought to the boat or bank, and then break off and are not boated or landed either. Several of my friends tell stories of 150 pound King Salmon, 30 pound Bass, and 20 pound trout, none of which was actually brought home!


  9. I learned my units of weights and measures at Patrick F. McManus University in Sandpoint, Idaho, only to discover that all things are relative just as Einstein had said. There we studied a curious phenomenon. It seems an object in free fall apparently winks in and out of existence in this space/time continuum very quickly. Sometimes, though rarely, the object can disappear into another space/time continuum permanently. I first observed this as a kid when I dropped the key to a new padlock. It fell straight down, then winked out of this dimension and into some other space/time, never to be seen again. It probably ended up in some distant galaxy, billions of years hence. When working on small instruments, I’d often drop a tiny part and it would exit this dimension into some other, only to reappear exactly where it had been in this existence, but years later, long after I had spent hours fabricating a new part. More recently I observe this effect when shooting. A bullet in flight, heading directly toward the exact center of a target, sometimes disappears from this dimension, only to reappear and hit the ground directly behind the target, having produced no hole in the target, thus proving without a shadow of doubt the existence of the phenomenon. Though it is interesting to consider the possible flight of the bullet, billions of years through empty space in some distant parallel universe, and then right back where it left this one. Quite astonishing, really, when you think about it.

    I tried to weigh the buck after getting it home, but since the scale was so far out of calibration, I figured it wasn’t worth mentioning. Why bother to report on such an obviously inaccurate figure? Blackwing probably has identified the problem, so there is no need to purchase a new scale.

    Thanks for the responses. You guys really made my day.

  10. Nice shot and I am surprised the buck went that far with the internal damage he sustained. But as has been stated a deer can go quite a way on adrenaline alone. My last deer was a small doe (great eating)shot at about 15 yds. The shot was 230 gr .54 ball, 80 gr FFg. No idea how fast but I suspect slow. Almost head on shot, when through the breast, took the top off her heart, and exited just forward of the last rib but she still stood and stumbled around for more than enough time for me to reload before she fell. And I was much less prepared than you, my powder was in the horn and other components in various pockets in my coveralls. So I suspect at least a minute and half of reload time.

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