By Marshall Williams.


It was Saturday morning and the coffee pot near the ALOOF round table was getting a workout; a hint of Fall was in the air and the Order had been offered the use of a hunting lease and cabin in a county known for big deer with big racks.  Unfortunately, it also was one of those "shotgun only" counties and the Order was considering what would be the best shotgun load for deer hunting.  The members’ deer hunting background and experience varied considerably and the discussion was enlightening.

The Judge did not hunt deer.  He commented, “I’m a bird hunting purist and favor the .410 bore for such pursuits.”  However, within the order it was well known that the judge freely shot rabbits when occasion offered, and it was quietly rumored that he passed up deer only because he was too lazy to carry a large animal out of the woods.

“Hey, Judge, maybe you can get your next deer like your last one, hit him with your car." the Major’s remark brought a chuckle from the membership who knew how the Judge’s car came to be called ‘Deerslayer.’  But then the Major chided him about his little shotguns. “Everyone knows that little .410 slugs are inadequate for deer."

Calling the Judge’s .410s inadequate was dangerous ground; the Judge loved his little guns and was highly protective of them.  But today he did not argue the point. Instead, he looked thoughtful and observed, "You know, the little .410 slug has about as much energy and makes a big a hole as the old .38-40 and .44-40 and those two killed a lot of game. It seems to me that if you put it in the right place, the little .410 slug ought to work as well.”

The Major hunted nearly every year in Pennsylvania. Since he liked big bullets and could not use an automatic rifle, he brought home his venison with an extremely accurate old lever action Marlin in .35 caliber, a rifle model with 24 inch barrel and half magazine.  However, he ventured, “I often attend police combat matches and use a short barreled auto with an adjustable peep sight and choke tubes.  I can keep his shots in the big”A” zones of the combat targets.  If I installed a rifled choke tube on it, I bet I could get performance with those new sabot slugs with the big hollow point bullets.”

Of course, Topper quite likely would have preferred one of his little 28s, he used them for nearly everything anyway, but he observed, “You know, no suitable deer load is available for the 28 gauge.”

Drawing on a vast store of useless knowledge, the Judge offered, “Once upon a time manufacturers made both a half-ounce hollow base slug load and a half-ounce punkin’ ball in 28 gauge.  Probably worked as well as the 20 gauge slugs.”  Topper drew no consolation from this remark. 

For sentimental reasons, Topper's personal deer gun was a Winchester Model 94 in .32 Special, and a most satisfactory deer gun it was, but, as he had grown up in the great Southwest with its wide open spaces, he appreciated rifles with good scopes and flat trajectories.  He opined, “I don’t think I need a new gun for this; I want one of those modern, rifled-barrel designs with the cantilevered scope mounts.  The gun writers claim that they get near rifle-like accuracy with sabot slugs.  And the slugs work like a good expanding rifle bullet.”  With his usual business acumen, Topper was saving himself half the cost of a new shotgun.  Then he continued “If I mount it on my trap gun with the Monte Carlo stock, I bet my eye would be in just the right place to look through the scope.”  Topper liked this idea a lot. The other members would have agreed with him except their minds were fully occupied in efforts to picture the high tech barrel and scope with the customary dull utilitarian finish mounted on Topper’s fancy engraved and gold inlaid, not to mention very expensive, trap gun.

Among the Order, only Sunny had regularly hunted deer with a shotgun. His gun, an older Ithaca Model 37 "Deerslayer," was an interesting and very effective choice.  With its carbine length 20 inch barrel and six pound weight, it was a handy gun. Made in about 1960, the old Ithaca predated the rifled shotgun barrels, however, Ithaca's “Deerslayer” barrels had a special boring designed to give best accuracy with the hollow based "Foster" slugs.  The barrel's interior dimensions resulted from a great deal of knowledgeable experimentation, allegedly the personal work of legendary Uncle Dan LeFever.  At 75 yards, Sunny could cover any five shot group with the palm of his hand, and often the holes touched each other.  In addition, using trap loads, the gun shot smooth open patterns.  Thus, the little gun doubled nicely as a grouse and quail gun.

Grundoon had grown up in the big city and had taken no interest in hunting until his sons reached their teens and started deer hunting with black powder guns.  Even then he had limited his participation to assisting in butchering operations.  In addition, as a relative newcomer to the shotgun sports, his prospects were somewhat limited by his ‘battery of shotgun.’ It consisted of a Remington 11-87 with two choke tubes: Skeet and modified.  He commented, “I already have a good deer rifle so I can not justify the expense of rifled barrels and scopes for just one hunt, but my Skeet and trap gun has three inch chambers.  Maybe I could use the three inch buckshot loads.”  The rest of the Order considered this a reasonable course, provided the range was short.

Then Grundoon unintentionally livened up the discussion by asking which choke tube would work best.  Topper was all for ‘straight cylinder.”  The Major countered and advocated modified, and Sunny thought full choke ought to be best.  The matter became so heated that, in order to prevent injury to innocent bystanders, the Judge, who had taken no part in the argument, prudently collected the salt shakers, coffee mugs, sugar dispenser and other potential weapons that happened to be laying on the table.

The Major saw the Judge doing this and, being an imposingly tall man of great military dignity and of a highly suspicious nature, called out, “Halt.”  The free-for-all paused.  Facing the Judge and looking him straight in the eye the Major asked, “You old fart, where’s your horse in this race?  Does your silly old notebook have any information?  And where is it anyway?  I couldn’t find it in time to settle this matter before everybody got cantankerous.” 

The Judge said, “I hid my notebook and I ain’t tellin’ where.  Some folks were taking liberties with it.  And yes, it does have the answer, but I still ain’t tellin’.” Then he searched through a box of odds and ends, pulled out a small flat box and said, “If you really want to know, here’s some standard ‘double-nought’ buckshot.  Take ten minutes and go pattern Grundoon’s gun through each choke and see if you learn anything.”  And that is just what they did.  When they were done, it was obvious that the buckshot holes from the modified choke made a noticeably smaller pattern than the holes from the Skeet tube. There seemed to be no question which choke would be the better choice for deer hunting.

As the hunting season approached, the members made preparations. Sunny fired a couple of Foster-type slugs through his gun to make sure the sights were still on at 75 yards.  They were.  The Major installed a rifled choke tube on his police gun and experimented with various types of slugs.  His results were mixed, but when he found one that grouped well within the “A” zone of an IPSC target at 100 yards, he declared himself ready. Topper acquired his new barrel, scope and mounts, and, being unskilled in the use of screwdrivers or any other tool not related to gardening, he got the Judge to install them.  After that, he experimented with various sabot slugs and found several which would put three shots into four inches at 175 yards, his intended maximum range.  Grundoon tried various buckshot loads and settled on the three inch magnums with OO buck; it kept at least 12 of the big pellets in a 20 inch circle at 40 yards.  The Judge did nothing except make acerbic comments about everyone else’s efforts.  He announced that he would go along for the outing, but would limit himself poking around after woodcock with one of his little .410s.

When the day of the big hunt arrived, the Order set about the business at hand.  Sunny scouted a bit of woodland where he had good visibility for his smoothbore slug gun.  Topper put up a tree stand at the edge of a large meadow where he hoped his long range equipment would be at its best. The Major thought a bit of still hunting across some hills would suit him.  After the others left, Grundoon asked the Judge where he should hunt.  The Judge acknowledged he was not a deer hunter but thought he could give some sound simple advice. 

He took Grundoon to the swampy area and pointed to a thin path across the soft ground and through the underbrush.  “That,” he told Grundoon “is a deer trail.  Deer make them the same way as people, by walking over the same place regularly.  If you follow that trail and look on the ground, you will run across something that looks like rabbit pellets, only larger.  Them’s deer turds.  And if you find an areas where the bark has been scraped off a tree, that’s a rub.  And if you find a little open space on the ground that looks like somebody kicked the leaves away and it smells like urine, that’s a scrape. And that’s all I remember from my Boy Scout handbook.  Now you follow this trail until you find the right kind of sign, then settle yourself in the brush about 30 yards from the trail with the wind in your face.  A deer will walk down that trail again, and it might be while you are there. Now I am going to walk around and look for birds not too far away, and who knows, maybe I will scare something by you.”  Grundoon set off to do as he had been told. The Judge picked up a tiny double, dropped two long skinny shells in the gun and put ten more of the long shells in his right hand pocket.  Then, to keep them separate, he put a couple of shorter skinny shells in his shirt pocket.

In typical opening day fashion, occasional shots were heard throughout the day from all quarters, but no one had any idea whether it was a deer hunter or a rabbit hunter.  In late afternoon, The Major, and Topper returned to the cabin to relax with a cup of ALOOF coffee fortified with some 100 proof pain reliever.  As they sipped the potent brew, they talked over the days lack of success and tomorrow’s promise and speculated on whether Grundoon might be freezing or what sort of small stuff the Judge might have scared up.  Just before dusk, they heard a loud boom followed by a sharp pop.  The shots were quickly followed by a lot of whooping and hollering.  A few minutes later, excited conversation out side the cabin announced the return of Grundoon and the Judge; they were dragging a nice fat doe

Topper was first out the door and asked what happened.  The Judge was laughing too hard to reply, but Grundoon excitedly told the Order, “I did just what the Judge told me. I followed the deer trail looking for pellets, scrapes, and rubs until I saw the right sign.  Then I sat down in the bushes with the wind in my face and waited.  A few minutes ago this deer walked by and I shot her.” The Judge burst out laughing again but managed to splutter out, “The sign, tell them about the sign you found to guide you.”  Grundoon said, “Oh, it’s the one by the highway.  It says ‘Deer Crossing’.” 

When everyone’s laughter had subsided, the Major suggested they hang the doe and start butchering, but the Judge stopped him with the remark, “Wait a while, we still have to bring in my deer.”   

“What deer?  Why you only had that little .410.”  The Major was incredulous.

The Judge casually replied, “I had a couple of .410 slugs in my shirt pocket.  A big eight point buck was following Grundoon’s doe.  Since I knew that you guys would drag him in and butcher him, I slipped a slug in the little gun.  When the deer was 25 yards away, I shot him right through the ‘lights.’ He jumped about ten steps and dropped.” 

And dropped is what the Major’s jaw did when he saw the 250 pound buck stone dead with a perfectly placed hole through its chest.



Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604.