Smokey Merkley

Smokey Merkley

This past September, when I spent time at the shooting range making sure that my rifles were sighted in, I saw a lot of parents instructing young children around 10 to 12 years of age in the basics of marksmanship. I may not be correct in all cases, but my impression was that most of these kids were practicing for their first deer hunt.

I noticed two things about these kids that really stood out in my mind and made me think about a few things. For one, these kids came in all sizes, from pretty small even by my standards (I was only about 5 feet 4 inches tall when I was 12 years old, and weighed 115 pounds dripping wet) to pretty large for their age.

Secondly, a few of them were using telescopic sights on their rifles, which often enough were .270 Winchesters that can recoil with around 17 foot-pounds of energy or .30-06 Springfields that recoil with 20 to 21 foot-pounds of energy. The smaller kids often looked uncomfortable with the recoil of the rifles they were shooting, and I heard their parents telling them that they just had to get used to shooting a big-game rifle and to stop flinching in anticipation of the shot.

Just in case you aren’t aware, a 7- to 8-pound rifle that recoils with 17 to 21 foot-pounds of energy makes a kid who is a little less than or is barely more than 100 pounds feel like someone needs to get the license number of what just ran over him. One of the kids had a semicircular mark just above his right eye where the scope would smack him every time he fired his rifle. He told his mother he didn’t want to shoot anymore. With his mother’s permission, I showed him how to keep his head high while looking through the scope so that it wouldn’t nail him during recoil.

I don’t agree that deer hunting requires a rifle caliber that generates 17 to 21 foot-pounds of recoil. I do, however, think that if you force anyone, especially 10- to 12-year-old kids, to shoot a rifle that beats them up, they will quickly lose their desire to shoot and hunt.

Fortunately, there are quite a few rifle calibers that are pretty pleasant to shoot and still have enough penetration and power to hunt deer-sized game.

One of my favorite calibers for deer hunting, and a great rifle for the young hunter, is the .243 Winchester. It fires a 100-grain bullet, with a muzzle velocity of 2960 feet per second and only generates 8.8 foot-pounds of recoil with a 7.5-pound rifle. The .243 Winchester is accurate and deadly on deer out to 300 yards if one wants to stretch it a bit.

Another caliber worth consideration is the 6.5 Creedmoor. It shoots both 120-grain and 140-grain bullets at close to 3000 feet per second muzzle velocity with 12.5 and 13.1 foot-pounds of recoil energy, respectively. The ammunition is expensive, but accuracy is superb.

The .30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever-action was considered America’s favorite deer rifle for many years. It is lightweight, easy to carry all day long, has a seven-round capacity, is accurate and recoils with 10.6 foot-pounds of recoil energy with a 150-grain bullet and 11 foot-pounds of recoil energy with a 170-grain bullet. Muzzle velocity is 2,400 feet per second with the 150-grain bullet and 2,200 feet per second with the 170-grain bullet. It will reliably take deer out to 200 yards or a little more.

My first deer rifle was a Model 94 in .30-30. I still own that rifle and let my grandchildren hunt with it when they first start hunting if they need to borrow it.

One of my nephews has been hunting with a .25-06 Remington since he started hunting at 12 years of age. He is now about 25 years old and showed up with that same rifle for deer hunting this year. Apparently he really likes it.

The .25-06 shoots a 100-grain bullet at 3,230 feet per second at the muzzle, with 11 foot-pounds of recoil and a 120-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second muzzle velocity, generating 12.5 foot-pounds of recoil energy. The .25-06 should be able to take a deer at about any range out to 400 yards without the recoil bothering most younger and smaller hunters.

I realize I didn’t include every caliber that might be included in a column about great deer rifles that don’t knock one’s socks off in the process, but I’m more familiar with the ones I chose to include. If you feel your favorite light-recoiling deer rifle was slighted, email me and I will probably agree with you.

In the meantime, let’s give our younger and smaller hunters a good experience by providing them with rifles that will harvest their deer and are easy on their shoulders.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at