Question and Answer

January 22, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a question about hunting in California that you would like answered? Feel free to ask. Simply click on the contact me link on the main page or email me at ken@norcalhunter.com I will answer all your questions. And if you have a personal question that you may be too embarrassed to ask due to inexperience, don't worry. I will answer you personally not on this blog and I will never mention your name online without your permission.

 

Q:  Why don't you have a Forum or other Thread where we can ask questions of other members?

 

A:  Because I don't want any to receive bad information. So much of what I read on these Forums and Threads is just bad information or negative comments and insults to other people. I want people to be able to ask a question with being made fun of, insulted or given bad advice.

 

Q: I am a new hunter and want to hunt deer and pigs in northern California. What type of rifle do you suggest and what caliber? Do I need a scope? Please keep in mind I am on a budget?

A: The short answer is any modern cartridge between a .243 Winchester and up will work fine for hogs and deer in California “If” you are shooting good bullets and you keep your range to within about 250 yards.

 

A: The long answer and I hear this question allot and it’s a good question because there are so many variables to hunting. You need to take in to account several personal factors, how you hunt, where you hunt and the physical condition you are in. No one wants an overly heavy rifle for hunting unless you are hunting from the truck and don’t plan on hiking long distances. I don’t care how good of shape you are in, it’s a trade-off, every pound your rifle weight is one pound less you can carry in your backpack.

 

If you’re an extreme hunter and backpacker and you like to really hike into the mountains you would want the lightest most accurate rifle you can afford. If you’re an average guy who may hike one day and hunt from the truck the next a medium weight rifle would work.  Light weight rifles can cost you some bucks. Not just money bucks but big hard horned monsters as well. A heavy rifle is slower to shoulder in a hurry but settles calmly on target for a somewhat steady hold. I light weight rifle swings fast and shoulders quick but often dances around on target especially at ranges past 100 yards and this often adds pressure on the hunter to fire as soon as he is on target and the results of a rushed shot often end in a complete miss or a gravely wounded deer and a long night of tracking.

 

As a new hunter I would go for a light weight or medium weight rifle in the range of 7 to 8 pounds without the scope. Ruger has the Ruger American and the Ruger American Compact. Both are excellent rifles, I own a Ruger American Compact in .243 Winchester that I bought for my wife. It only weighs 6 pounds without the scope and is only 36.75 inches long. It has a 1:9” rate of twist and a 3-pound trigger. It is an unbelievably accurate rifle shooting 3/4 inch 3 shot groups at 100 yards with factory ammo of any weight or variety and I can get 1/3 to 1/2 inch groups with reloads shooting 80 grain Barnes TTSX and 80 grain TSX going roughly 2800 feet a second (both copper), and it even shoots a 58 grain Hornady V-Max (lead) at 3450 feet a second and still shoots a three-quarter inch group at 100 yards. It is super light and an easy handling gun in the woods or when you need jump out of the truck in a hurry.

 

If you can find one, the old Remington Mountain rifles are excellent in all aspects of hunting. This is the same for the Winchester Model 70 Feather Weight rifles. They are light weight and most unless modified have nice wood stocks that absorb the kick. Keep in mind all rifles shoot different and these were designed before the California Lead Ban and I have known a few guys who can't seem to get consistent 1-inch groups with copper bullets out of the Remington.

 

I would stay away from expensive or even moderately expensive rifles for two reasons. The first is in my opinion they are generally overpriced, plain and simple. Other than going to the range you may shoot this rifle at a deer, pig or coyote only a few times a year. Most hunters only shoot a deer every three years and most only get a pig every now and then. If you are just dying to spend your kid’s inheritance spend it on a shotgun. If you are a serious bird hunter you will shoot a shotgun 500 or more times a year. If you are duck hunting, shooting 3 inch and 3 ½ inch mag you need a solid built shotgun to take that kind of punishment. Like I said that’s just my opinion. But I think in general, the deer, pig or bear that you shoot doesn’t really care what you shoot it with, that’s all in “your head” not the animals. The truth is as long as the rifle and you can shoot a 3 inch group at say 100 yards or you can hit a paper plate at 200 yards consistently you will be successful with any rifle scope combo.

 

What caliber rifle is a personal choice that I can guarantee you will change your mind about several times before settling on just one. In the southeast most deer and pig hunting is done in the thick woods from a tree stand where a 100-yard shot is something to brag about. In California you may encounter thick pine trees on one end of a deer zone and in the same zone you may find arid dry open sage flats where your lucky to get a shot less than 450 yards and distances of 600 yards with a crosswind are common but not recommended. You will need to compromise somewhere in the middle if you are going to have just one rifle.

 

The .243 Winchester is the minimum cartridge I would recommend for deer and pig hunting in California. It is extremely accurate, and ammo is readily available. It will kill any deer size game and is the minimum cartridge size for hunting Elk in Oregon (by law). I would never recommend hunting elk with a .243 Winchester but at the same time I wouldn’t hesitate to take a shot at an elk if it was within 300 yards and I had a well-made bullet.

 

The new 6.5 Creedmoor is an unbelievable cartridge that has taken over the long-range shooting competitions. It has very good range and is super accurate with minimal kick. Unfortunately, it doesn’t buck the wind very well and has a tenancy to get pushed left or right of the target. It will seriously smoke a deer within any reasonable range of 700 yards or less and a well-placed shot on an elk will result in steak dinner but in windy Northern California I am not convinced it is the best cartridge for the new hunter or hunters who tend to take bad shot angles or rushed shots.

 

The .308 Winchester is a super accurate round and has a list of deer kills a 100 miles long. You can find ammo for it almost anywhere and should the need arise, and you find yourself in camp ammo-less, you could ask around and I’m sure someone would loan you a few bullets.

 

The .308 Winchester was the long-distance choice of marksmen teams for decades and even has its own special shooting matches. Factory ammo is accurate and reloads are even better. This cartridge can take down any North American big game including elk and moose at reasonable ranges.

 

The .270 Winchester, the .280 Remington and the .25-06 are all killers of big game and come in a variety of rifles. All are accurate, and ammo is easy to find. I know of several hunters who only own one rifle in one of these calibers and that’s all they hunt with.

 

The 30-06 is in a class all its own. Ammo is easy to find, there are several bullet weights to choose from ranging from 110 grains to 220 grain bullets. In the 70s they even had the 30-06 accelerator bullets that shot a 22 caliber 55 grain bullet stuffed inside a sabot and then loaded into a 30-06 casing. They were an expensive novelty that never really caught on and were designed to be a varmint round.

 

The 7mm Remington Mag and your .300 Winchester Mag are both awesome pig and bear cartridges but tend to really tear up a small Blacktail. With that said if you are going to be doing most of your hunting in North Eastern California in any of the X zones and down through the Sierra Mountain Range that 7mm Mag and 300 Mag are what you need. The shots are long, and the deer are big bodied.

 

California is just not like any other state. If you live in Alabama where everything looks the same, it’s easy to pick a single rifle model and caliber. For ranges under 150 yards a rifle that shoots a 5-inch group would work fine. But in California there are so many different zones and the terrain changes dramatically from thick timber to open sage flats and cross canyon shots so it is difficult to single out just one rifle model and bullet combination.

 

For my money if I was to select a single rifle and caliber to hunt with, on a budget I would get a new Ruger, Savage, Winchester or Remington in a light weight or medium weight frame in either a 30-06, 270 Winchester or a .308 Winchester. Its an affordable rifle and any of those calibers will kill any animal on the planet without the overkill.

 

Another option for your first deer rifle is to purchase a used one from someone you know (not a pawn shop) so you know the background of the rifle and know if any work has been done on it or if it has been abused.

 

I have hunted with scopes all my life and do not have a problem shouldering a rifle and scope in a hurry and engaging a target. Some people do, especially if they haven’t had a lot of practice. Some people just take way too long to shoulder a scoped rifle, acquire a target and then settle the cross hairs and fire. For those folks, its my opinion, that if you have good eyes and your shots are 200 yards or less shoot open sights and don’t mess with a scope until you have the experience to shoulder and fire accurately and quickly with a scoped rifle.

 

If you can use a scope correctly, with both speed and accuracy, then buy the best scope you can afford but remember what animal you are going to be hunting and where you will be hunting including the terrain and weather. For years and years all I hunted with was my 30-06 or my old 8mm Mauser. Both were topped with cheapo Bushnell scopes. They were as accurate as I needed them to be. But when I decided to get a .300 Winchester Magnum I found out that those cheap scopes just wouldn’t hold up to the punishment. I was on a tight budget for years and I just kept buying cheap scopes from a store or hoping a friend would feel sorry for me and give me a good scope, but they didn’t, and I finally had to crack open my wallet and purchased a Leopold 3x9 VII. It was more than I could afford at the time and I have not had any problems with that scope.

 

I would stay away from the Tasco, BSA and all the low-end scopes. They won’t hold up to any recoil and you will regret buying them when you miss or cripple a nice buck.

 

Also something to remember about hunting in California, you never know what is just around the corner or behind the thick manzanita along the side of the trail. I have personally had to shoot one charging black bear and several charging hogs while wondering through the hills of California. The bear for no apparent reason charged me from over 100 yards at a full hard run and it slid to a stop 30 feet away thanks to a .300 Win Mag bullet (168 grain TTSX) right between the shoulders. I guess he just decided he was going to take out the next S.O.B. that walked by, I changed his mind.

And I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of hogs I have killed that decided it was time to fight or die.

 

So remember when hunting in California, hog season is a year-round affair, and bear season is usually during deer season, so carry a rifle with a large enough bullet to stop a bear or pig dead in its tracks.

 

And we haven’t even discussed that fact that we are hunting in “grower” territory.

 

 

CLOTHING & GEAR

 

Q: I am a new hunter and need to purchase hunting clothes and gear including a range finder camo clothing and binoculars but everything is so expensive. Any suggestions?

 

A: Going hunting should be relaxing and fun. It shouldn’t break the bank or strain the budget. When you’re first starting out you can become overwhelmed with camo clothing “must have” gear and other non-essential items that you can spend a truckload of money on before you ever get in the field on your first hunt. Keep in mind It doesn’t need to be expensive or pretty to work. We all get caught up in the newest “must have” gear when we watch these shows on TV or read magazines.

 

My suggestion is to keep your gear costs down and enjoy the hunting with less gear.

 

Camo clothing is somewhat necessary if you are bow hunting but not so much for rifle hunting. One of the reasons hunters wear camouflage clothing when hunting besides the obvious reason that it blends in is that it is usually made to fit better and be more comfortable in hot weather or when climbing walking with a load or carrying different little items in your pockets that would be uncomfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.

 

Camo clothing can be unnecessarily expensive. If you want a good set of durable camouflage clothing (trousers and shirt) try a military surplus store. The military puts a lot of money into studying what camouflage blends in in certain terrains and what is durable and what it not. The older BDU (Battle Dress Uniforms) in Woodland Camouflage are about the best camouflage for most of Northern California and Western Oregon. Is was designed to be used in the forests of Europe and the United States. Anyone who has ever served in Germany can tell you that that the thick forests of Germany and the thick forests of the Pacific Northwest are virtually the same and that my friends is why we have several military instalations in the Pacific Northwest that have been there since WW II and the Cold War. Now you can buy this stuff at yard sales and military surplus stores for cheap and its super tough and comfortable and will last for years.

 

Another alternative during rifle season is to wear jeans and a comfortable long sleeve shirt that is green or another color that blends with the woods. I would avoid tan, dark brown, and black. These are all animal colors like deer, elk and black bear, you don’t want to be mistaken for a game animal.

 

Boots are required for most hunting situations. Good boots are hard to beat and worth the money. You don’t need to spend $300.00 on a set of boots. Depending on how tough your feet and ankles are, you can wear tennis shows or a pair of cheap day hikers from a cheap shoe store and as you go along through the season you will know what you need to purchase when its time to sink some money into a better pair of boots. Lowa Boots, Kenetrex Boots are the top end of the boot chain with Danner Boots being a good medium boot. Or wear what you have and decide if you really need to spend that kind of money.

 

Rangefinders are nice but not necessary. If you are new to bowhunting you shouldn’t be taking shots over 30 yards and most people can eyeball that range.

 

You will find that if you restrict yourself to shots at 30 yards and under you will have a better experience and have more confidence when you let that arrow fly.

 

This is the same for rifle hunting, if your new to the sport keep your shots under 200 yards until you get to a point where you can graduate to 250 and so on. When you can afford a rangefinder you should get one, but we hunted without them for years and we were responsible for our shots and kept the hunting ethical.

 

Binoculars are another story. Yes, you absolutely need binos. A lightweight pair of 8x50 binos or something in that range will work. The best you can afford. Please don’t be one of those guys that thinks its okay to use your rifle scope to look for deer and identify targets. I know guys who do this, they leave the binos at home to cut back on weight and end up scoping everything from rocks, deer, cars people and unfortunately accidents happen.

 

Binos can be expensive. I have tried almost all of them, from the cheapest of the cheap to the high-end stuff that to me is just unreasonable in price.

 

Good glass is important and will significantly increase your success on big game but is can break the bank too. A pair of Swarovski binos will set you back 3 grand or more, 3 grand I would rather spend on a new rifle, scope and binos from another manufacturer. Those binos from Big 5 the Barska brand are complete pieces of junk. They are cheap and flimsy and made with plastic and horrible glass and they are not sealed and will fog up sitting on the counter in your kitchen (not joking, they really did that).

 

Somewhere in between top and bottom would work best. I use Vortex HD 15x50 Binoculars. I love them and when you are glassing for deer and pigs in that morning sun the animals just seem to “pop” when you spot them. But I have been using binos for years and 15 power is a lot of power. Most hunters have trouble with 10 power so I would suggest and 8 power or 10 power binoculars in a more affordable brand like Nikon, or Bushnell.

 

I have used Bushnell products for years before I could step up to the Vortex and I have never had an issue with their products. That being said, use what you got and when you can afford it buy the best glass that you can afford, just remember, during the excitement of  a hunt you could easily leave your binos on a rock and walk off and leave them and truthfully speaking, hunting gear tends to just “disappear” even with the best of care so keep the price comfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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