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Last month I shared the first part of the story of my hunting buddy Alex Thomason’s quest...

for a great-shooting hunting rifle and how he spent hours researching the caliber and brand that would best suit his needs (hunting deer and hogs in Florida), how he purchased a mint condition Ruger M77 in .308 that performed absolutely awful at the range despite changing loads, brands of ammunition and even some stock modifications after we discovered the barrel was touching the stock.

After lots of sanding, we headed back to the range. With some hesitation, Alex set up and squeezed off the first shot, then another and another. I was on the spotting scope, and after his second round, I said nothing as I watched the rifle punch a hole about an inch from the first shot, followed by the third hitting very near the first.

As I looked up in his direction, I saw a pretty big smile on his face. He was ready! Ready to shoot all the hand loads in search of the perfect one for that rifle. All of the wood that had been rubbing on the barrel was now removed and his rifle was ready as well.

Before the day was done, he had shot about 150 rounds, and we had found two loads that would shoot 3/4-inch groups at 100 yards. Now we had to get back on the reloading bench and fine-tune these loads. We reloaded 10 more groups of each of the two good ones (each 3/100 of a grain of powder heavier or lighter), until we had enough for the next day.

As we headed back to the range, we were both anxious to see what the rifle would do with our new loads. We got set up and proceeded to shoot ’em up, starting with a load that was 3/100 of a grain heavier than the best from the previous shoot. It shot a little better, but not quite where I wanted it to be.

The next two sets of loads were even better, and the fourth set was shooting 3/10-inch groups at 100 yards. We continued shooting as the loads started getting worse, going through all of them just to see – even though we knew the fourth set was the load for this rifle.

I was happy. But, more importantly, Alex was jumping for joy. You see, I had told him from the start that he could not hunt with me using that rifle until we had it dialed in at 1-inch groups at 100 yards. Him shooting 3/10-inch groups had accomplished that goal.

We returned home and reloaded a bunch of the loads that had worked best and shot one more day, just to be sure. He was now ready to see what the woods had in store for him and his new rifle.

A couple of weeks later, he and I headed to the woods. We spent the better part of the day setting up our stands and doing a little scouting before sitting that afternoon. I was hunting over a small field that served as the main junction for five crossroads and lots of animal trails. Alex was hunting over three pretty well-worn animal trails crossing a road.

It was a nice afternoon with a 20-plus-knot wind making it a little colder than I like. About an hour before dark, the wind completely died, and I could hear every little bird chirp, squirrel foraging and what I thought was something larger in the thicket behind me.

I sat really still, slowly turning my head so I could look in the direction of the sound, but I saw nothing but a little pig. I wanted a deer, and I was pretty sure if I shot the pig, my chances at a deer would drop off pretty good, so I just sat still and waited.

Just a few minutes later, I heard the crack of a rifle from the direction I’d left Alex. If there was more than one deer, I figured the remainder of them should be heading my way. I sat up, with all of my senses alert, and watched the edge of the field, hoping to see one come my way.

But, nothing showed. It was soon too dark to shoot, so I made the short walk to see what Alex got. He was one giant ear-to-ear grin. “Where is it?” I asked. He pointed to the edge of the road and said, “Right there.”

I was happier than if I had shot one. He had dropped a nice deer where it stood with one well-placed shot. There is nothing like a well-planned game when it comes together.

Now, here’s the neat thing about this story: Alex had never been deer hunting before. On his first hunt, he harvested a deer. It was not a monster, and did not have a monster rack (it was a spike), BUT it was his first deer.

Can you remember your first? I sure can, and it wasn’t a wall-hanger trophy, but it was my FIRST ONE! I knew the excitement he was feeling. After lots of “attaboys” and high-fives, we loaded it up and headed back to the camp.

That night it seemed like neither of us were going to be able to sleep after such a great day, but when we finally did, it seemed like daylight came pretty early. This second day, either hogs or deer would be fair game since Alex had broken the ice.

We hunted a different area, and it was loaded with pigs, so I knew I was in for a treat. We both got in our stands and played the waiting game. All of you that hunt know what I’m talking about. Get in the stand, watch the birds and squirrels, hear or see something that gets your attention, then wait some more.

Well, this day the waiting was short-lived for Alex, as I heard a "boom" no more than 30 minutes after he was in his stand. Then, about 20 minutes later, another boom came from his direction.

I waited about an hour before I just had to go see what was going on. I slid out of my stand and was headed toward him when I saw a big ol’ pig in the road ahead of me. I rested one hand on a small tree, brought my rifle up and looked at the pig using my BSA scope turned up to 8X. I followed its body down to its hindquarters and was greatly disappointed when I saw some big ol’ male parts hanging from his belly.

I was absolutely sure I did not want a 200-pound boar. Now, if it had been a sow, it would be in my freezer now, but a boar – no, thanks. I shouldered the .223 and put my hand on my .44 revolver, just in case he decided to run at me instead of from me. I took a few more steps, and away he went, so I continued walking. As I made a bend in the road, I could see two black, furry creatures, one on each side, both looking like they were the results of the two shots I had heard earlier.

As I continued to Alex, he hollered, “There’s a big one down that road!” I told him I had already scoped it out and decided to pass.

He climbed down and headed to me as I examined his most recent results. Both of these sows were about 50 yards from his stand, and he had shot both in almost the same place – just forward of the ear, right through the head.

Two great shots, two dead sows and no meat damaged. After more "atta-boys" and high-fives, we drug them back to the truck and headed home. Alex had a heck of a great time and some good luck to have three nice animals walk within range on his first trip.

The moral of this story is DON’T GIVE UP. He purchased a rifle that shot terrible, spent a bunch of time free-floating the barrel, spent a bunch more time at the range and ended up with a rifle that shoots great groups and has three kills to its credit. If you end up with a rifle that does what his did when new, try some of the things we did to make his a shooter. It might work for you!.

(For Part 1 of the story, click here)


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”