In the certain knowledge that any discussion based on rifle calibres will be subject to laborious and self-righteous analysis, suffice it to say that change has blown in on the wind since July this year.
Having shot several bucks with a .222 during the summer, I can well understand why these light 50gr rounds are deemed the absolute minimum for deer, and several shots taken at less than seventy yards failed to produce exit wounds. The lead was more often than not lying just under the skin on the far side of the beast, and while sufficient damage had been wreaked on the internal organs, I always had the feeling that I was operating on a fine line without much of a margin for error.
The final straw was on Saturday, when I hit a doe fractionally too far back across the bottom of the lungs and had to fire a second shot as she took a few steps, stamped her foot and stared back at me in confusion. Fortunately the second did the job that the first should have done, and she tottered for a moment before tumbling into the heather, but during that brief moment, my heart was in my mouth.
The .222 has been the star of the show over the past four years since I downsized from a .243, and it has dealt with dozens foxes and plenty of roe. I will certainly keep this little rifle, since it clearly has its place, but I would prefer something with a bit more oomph.
I am fortunate enough to have some very supportive stalking friends, and one in particular has been incredibly helpful in recent years. Whenever I come across something deer related I don’t understand, I mentally log it as something to ask him the next time I see him, and I am seldom disappointed by his encyclopedic knowledge, particularly of roe. This stalking oracle shoots all of his roe (and red (and boar)) with a .308, and I have been really impressed with the relative lack of damage caused by the heavier calibre.
The light .222 round travels so quickly and breaks up so readily that the fore-end of the deer is often a write-off if the lead touches the bone, but the .308 plugs a momentous, show-stopping hole and then goes about its business. I was very impressed with the calibre when I used it stalking hinds with a friend in Aberdeenshire last year, and was further encouraged during a day with WMS firearms training in Ceredigion in August, when I was shooting targets out to 900 yards under the watchful eye of Andrew Venables.
The versatility of the round shines through, and the fact that it can be used on anything I’m likely to find in Britain (and Europe, and certainly most of Africa) is a real bonus. The heavy bullets drop very quickly, but I’m not a long-range enthusiast and most of my shooting takes place well within 200 yards. I’d like it as a “deer rifle”, and while most of my stalking is with roe, reds crop up every now and again and I have a growing ambition to learn more about sika. There are wild boar on some of the ground I stalk, but having been spoilt with the savage, adrenaline-soaked thrill of driven pigs in Croatia a few years ago, the prospect of sitting out for them over a stack of maize doesn’t really set my world alight.
There are all kinds of alternatives available in the world of rifles, and debating which calibre is “best” is one of the armchair sportsman’s greatest hobbies. If you spend too much time listening to half of the rubbish talked about rifles then you’d never be happy with any decision, so having taken what I regard to be sound advice, I am taking the plunge and applied for a variation for a .308 earlier in the week. I know what manufacturer and model I want, and this blog will record my progress in due course.