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Out of Bounds

Slugging Away at Whitetail

When it comes to hunting, legally and safely, that’s a no-go criticism zone

By Rob Breeding

Tell me you’re not from Montana without telling me you’re not from Montana. 

The governor tweets a photo of his wife with a nice whitetail buck she killed with a 20-gauge shotgun. You stumble upon a retweet and add your own 2 cents, mocking Montana’s first couple because everyone knows you don’t use shotguns to hunt deer.

Then, when someone points out that there are numerous hunting districts near “urban” areas in Montana where you are required to hunt deer with shotguns, muzzleloaders or archery, you shift to mocking the governor’s wife for shooting it off her back porch or questioning whether she intends to eat the meat.

I get it. Greg Gianforte isn’t everyone’s favorite governor. I exist in a work-related interlude when I’m not eligible to vote in elections in my adopted soulmate state, so I think it proper to temper my criticism. That said, I’m not a big fan of politicians who body-slam journalists, nor those with a history of indifference to public access.

But when it comes to hunting, legally and safely, that’s a no-go criticism zone. Pick your fights with politicians you disagree with over issues on which you disagree. Managing, in a downward fashion, river-bottom and near-urban whitetail deer is something everyone should support.

I am surprised there are folks in Montana who aren’t aware of these special regulations. I learned of them when I was still a Californian, of all things, contemplating my first move to Montana in 1992. I didn’t hunt right away, but the first two seasons I did, I was trying to fill an antlerless B tag in the Bitterroot Valley just south of Hamilton. I hunted on my in-laws’ property, not from the back porch, but from behind hay bales near their horse pasture. 

I never killed one of those whitetail does, but eventually killed my first deer west of town, on the flank of Goat Mountain between Roaring Lion and Sawtooth creeks. I used a standard rifle for that deer.

Shotgun slugs and muzzleloader round balls have a limited effective range. Neither of these bulky lead projectiles maintain lethality beyond 100 yards or so, making them ideal when the neighbor’s place is close.

I have to admit I was intrigued by Susan Gianforte’s choice of a 20-gauge. I shoot a 20, though I’m strictly a bird hunter these days and my shotguns are double-barreled. My main gun is a side-by-side, but I also shoot an over-under 20-gauge, as well as 12 gauge with the barrels also arranged one atop another.

Gianforte was shooting a semi-auto 20 gauge, a gun I’ve long considered the chukar hunter’s weapon of choice. Either that or a 20-gauge pump. The extra rounds, lighter weight and sling-ability all make it the sort of gun you’re not surprised to see a long-walking chukar hunter packing around.

That was no chukar gun Mrs. Gianforte used to kill that deer. It was a semi-auto that also sported a scope. This was a 20-gauge designed specifically for deer hunting, which makes sense. While I’ve never spent much time contemplating slug size for efficient deer kills, a 12-gauge always seemed a big chunk of lead to take down suburban deer.

So basically, the gov’s wife gets credit for a clean kill on a nice buck, and also her contribution to proper wildlife management using one of the best management tools available: sport hunting.

Sure, killing a doe would be even more effective, but one less river-bottom whitetail in a river bottom overpopulated with whitetail is a good thing, especially in an area where hunting safely requires specialized firearms.

Now if you can just help the governor see the light on public access to Montana rivers, you’ve got my vote for sportswoman of the year.

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