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SMALL GUN BIG WALLOP: This compact straight-wall rifle packs plenty of punch to down deer in the thick stuff And its optic is designed for rapid target acquisition.

When asked to envision a deer rifle, what comes to mind? For most, it's a bolt-action centerfire with some variant of a Monte Carlo stock and a medium-power variable scope. No doubt, that describes a slew of popular hunting rifles produced throughout the last century by nearly all well-known manufacturers. And that's still the breed of weapon you see toted afield by most rifle hunters across the whitetail's range.

That timeless style of rifle has lived into the modern era for good reason. A well-made (and well-maintained) bolt gun with a 24-28" barrel and classic 3-9x50mm optic will always be effective in deer country. However, improvements in manufacturing capabilities and changes in consumer demand have given way to a plethora of more niche rifle designs.

For example, even a decade ago many whitetailers still desired their rifle stocks be made from nice cuts of walnut, and clean, tidy bluing was the go-to barrel finish. Nowadays, though, synthetic stocks and weatherproof coatings have taken their share of sales. Sometimes I wonder if these newer, more practical options have forever redefined the aesthetics of the "deer rifle" market.

Today's whitetail hunter enjoys the luxury of choice in both rifle appearance and utility. In places such as Ohio, recent legislation has allowed for the use of straight-wall cartridges after decades of prohibiting any firearms except shotguns, muzzleloaders or handguns for deer hunting. Hence, straight-wall rifles and handguns are becoming increasingly popular. And the trend seems to be for allowing such chamberings in more places. So don't be surprised to see the straight-wall map keep expanding.

Shown here is a prime example of such a whitetail rig, a niche product designed with a specific purpose in mind. It's a lightweight Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin, named for the tallest mountain in the legendary deer state of Maine.

This variant of the time-honored Encore break-action design is shown chambered in .500 S&W Mag. It has a 20" stainless steel fluted barrel, making it compact, versatile and extremely fast-handling. Mounted atop its action is an Aimpoint Micro H-2 red dot optic, to be used with both eyes open for unrivaled ease of target acquisition.

Does this look like the sort of rig you might see strapped to the shoulder of a bear outfitter on Kodiak Island? Sure. But it's equally at home in some deer woods. Those using similar rifles in wooly whitetail abodes will surely agree they're lean, mean and devastating killing machines.

Our reasoning for featuring the Katahdin was simple: For heavy cover, we wanted a featherweight straight-wall deer gun that would pair easily with a reflex optic. Our goal was to showcase a rifle that can perform to the highest level where cover is dense and shots are close. Such situations do not call for long-range rifles with anchor-weight scopes. In the brush and brambles, the ideal rifle is light to tote, shoulders effortlessly and works well with low-magnification optics. Even where legal options aren't limited to straight-wall cartridges, that's a handy combination.

For anyone who stand-hunts in dense cover, follows tracks and/or participates in deer drives, this style of rifle can provide a distinct advantage. If you regularly pursue whitetails at close range, the ability to raise your weapon and obtain a clear sight picture in haste is paramount to making an ethical shot. And by all means, that's no easy task when adrenaline surges and your target is losing interest in remaining stationary.

Threading the needle at the moment of truth takes practice and confidence in your equipment. And in places where straight-wall rifles are now legal for deer, the knockdown power of magnum loads is great for effectively downing game in a hurry.

In the case of the Katahdin, multiple options are available, including: .500 S&W Mag., .460 S&W Mag. and .45-70 Govt. If you're hesitant to try these loads because of their oft-touted recoil, I can assure you much of the burden is lessened when shooting them from a rifle platform, as opposed to from a handgun.

I'm also starting to see more red-dot sights on gun racks in whitetail camps. Hunters who pursue game at close range desire lightweight, low-maintenance optics that will reliably hold their zero. The Aimpoint Micro H-2 scratches all those itches. It weighs just 4.7 ounces and offers unlimited eye-relief and both 2- and 4-MOA dot sizes. Plus, the battery life allows for 50,000 hours (five years) of continuous run time.

So if your hunting style is to beat the bush in pursuit of whitetails, don't feel limited in your choice of weaponry. See if local regulations now allow for the use of straight-wall rifles. And don't hesitate to outfit it with a reflex-style optic. You just might retire your trusty wood-stocked beauty in exchange for a compact magnum. Shoot straight and knock 'em dead.




The Encore Pro Hunter Katahdin weighs 7 pounds, measures 34.5" in length and sports a 20" stainless steel barrel. It's offered in .45-70 Govt., .460 S&W Mag. and .500 S&W Mag.




The Micro H-2 is a 1X LED reflex optic that weighs 4.7 ounces and measures only 2.7" in length. Along with being rated for use in temperatures ranging from -60 to 160 degrees F., it's submersible to 15 feet.

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Title Annotation:GEAR WISE
Author:Shelton, Haynes
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Oct 1, 2018
Next Article:LOCKED IN: Targeting one buck is a serious commitment. But if you're all-in, the results can be dynamite.

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