Women are perhaps the fastest-growing group of hunters, and they make up a large subculture in the gun community overall. As a staunch advocate for the hunting lifestyle myself, I always embrace the opportunity to add another hunter to our community. But in today’s case, it was part of my own family that would join the fold.
My wife grew up in a family where hunting was not the norm, but it was common enough for her to be familiar with the idea and even a little excited to try it. The 2020 hunting season was her very first opportunity to take her first big game animal. Together, we made it an adventure that was nothing short of a perfect introduction to hunting as a lifestyle. She has since been preparing delicious meals for our children with meat that she took herself.
This year was her first time going after a mule deer buck, and our goal was to make it as fun and meaningful as possible. A large part of this plan was to make her a self-sufficient hunter able to accomplish the task on her own merits. Since she has used my rifle in the past, a rifle of her own would be fundamental. As it happens, the perfect rifle just happened to join our collection. My wife is quite petite, so a rifle small enough to manipulate and carry would be crucial for her.
The Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon Speed
The Browning X-Bolt is a fine rifle, and the Hell’s Canyon model is a fancier version of the base rifle. The X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed came to us in a 22-inch 6.5 Creedmoor with a composite ATACS camo stock and burnt-bronze Cerakote. It is a very refined hunting rifle with many great features, such as a detachable rotary box magazine, recoil-reducing muzzle brake, and a soft recoil pad at the rear. It’s quite a handsome little rifle, and it functions as good as it looks. The 60-degree bolt throw is shorter and faster to run, and the adjustable trigger breaks like a glass rod.
To match the rifle to its new owner, I mounted a Crimson Trace Hardline 3-12 scope in a set of low Warne rings. I wanted the rifle to fit her as best it could. I would have liked to chop a couple more inches off the barrel, but time wouldn’t allow. Using a thread adaptor from XCaliber Firearms, I was able to mount a suppressor to the rifle, which is also another advantage for someone new to hunting. I mounted the very lightweight Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20 suppressor built from all titanium, The recoil reduction and comfort far outweighed the ounces added to the rifle.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Despite having spent a fair amount of time behind a rifle scope, I wanted to make sure she was as comfortable as possible with her own rifle. We spent a few trips going into the mountains to ensure she was familiar with every aspect of the firearm and how to operate it quickly and under pressure.
We took shots at targets out to 500 yards. Once she was comfortably hitting them with predictability, we added a time crunch. Putting a 10-second time limit to get on the rifle and make a good shot became a fun and useful game. With both rifle and shooter working in harmony, we counted down the days until the deer hunt started.
The first couple of days of the deer hunt were not as exciting as we had hoped. The weather was very uncooperative. The heavy rains turned to snow, making it very hard to see much in the mountains we hunt. If that weren’t enough, the wind was completely out of hand, at times blowing 30 to 40 mph. Due to the wind, snow, and rain, we had to let several bucks walk. So when the weather finally cleared up a bit, we felt confident that our time had come.
With limited time away from work to hunt and children to care for at home, we snuck away to the nearby mountains as frequently as we could. As the sun came up that morning, we sat behind binoculars and a spotting scope looking over the ridge before us. I had seen a few bucks there the night before, and I hoped they were still there.
After locating a group of deer on a shelf above us, we decided to make a move towards them should a shot present itself. But in one of hunting’s most classic blunders, our approach was blown when a young buck spotted us as we moved. Despite giving a few seconds for a shot, my newly minted hunter wasn’t able to connect. Feeling somewhat defeated and depressed, we returned home plotting our next venture into the hills.
Scouting for Redemption
A few days later, we found ourselves again peering through binoculars at the bleached hillside at the lower elevation of our mountain range. Having patterned this group of deer for a few weeks now, we knew that they could easily appear. As afternoon turned to evening, does began to appear on a naturally occurring bench that runs along miles of mountainside. We decided to move up towards the bench, hoping the wind would stay in our favor as we climbed. We hiked closer and closer until it felt dangerously close to the deer, with the wind constantly shifting and threatening to blow our cover. We slowly worked over a hilltop, stopping every few feet to check for ears and antlers, which we eventually saw only a few hundred yards away with just another 20 or so yards left to crawl.
The deer began to move south of us along the bench. This worked out to be exactly what we needed as the deer became more and more visible with each step. My wife was already setup on the rifle, and she quietly chambered a round as the deer began to move into view. The late evening sunlight poured against the hillside, illuminating the deer perfectly and bringing a yellowing hue to everything. The buck in the group moved into the open, feeding on bushes in and around the does.
When he paused for a moment, we knew it was the perfect time to shoot. My wife was as ready as could be and, with a stable shooting position, she quietly announced that she was taking the shot. The 140-grain bullet made an impressive wallop sound as it impacted the deer’s right side. He stumbled to the ground and let out one last breath as he settled into the grass.
The remaining deer defensively jumped and looked around, but they had no idea where the threat had come from. That was perhaps the best sign that our stalk had been a perfect one.
We slowly approached the downed deer and knelt down beside him. He was a beautiful and healthy young buck. After giving him the due reverence such a moment deserves, we dressed him and headed back down the trail. The buck has since become a permanent feature in our kitchen, made into delicious meals for family and friends.
The little Browning X-Bolt ended up being the perfect companion for this hunt. My wife felt confident and ready to take on the challenge. All the practice and time behind the rifle paid off. She told me after the shot that everything felt right as she put her finger on that golden trigger. Good equipment like the X-Bolt and the right amount of trigger time will do that, and now we prepare for the next hunt.