First Blood for the “SpringMaus” Custom Hunting Rifle
Russ Chastain 12.29.19
During my recent hunt with a Henry Long Ranger in 6.5 Creedmoor (which you can read about here), I’d managed to use that rifle to bag a nice doe and a big fawn-killing coyote. I’d brought along my father’s old custom bolt-action 30-06 rifle, and figured I’d try hunting with it.
It’s a beautiful and interesting old rifle, and you can learn a lot more about it by clicking here. In short, it’s a custom rifle based on a German Mauser K98 action which was reconditioned in Yugoslavia after WW2 — and utilizing the barrel from a 1903 Springfield rifle. Because of the interesting combination of Springfield and Mauser parts, Dad dubbed it “the SpringMaus.”
I headed off to the range to see how the SpringMaus would do with the ammo I had on hand; namely Winchester Deer Season XP with 150-grain bullets. Groups weren’t great, but they were good enough to hunt deer inside about 150 yards or so.
I cradled the old popper in my arms — it’s in need of sling studs — and headed off to a stand in the woods where I’d be hard-pressed to get a 100-yard shot. I didn’t want the temptation of hunting a long-range stand with a rifle-ammo combo that wouldn’t do the job at distance.
To be clear, I’m not faulting the Winchester ammo; this rifle has a chamber that’s on the large side of tolerance, and it’s usually not accurate with any factory ammunition. It needs handloads using fire-formed cases to perform its best.
As I sat there on a ladder stand in the woods with a creek bottom to my left, I pondered the rifle lying across my legs. Not for the first time, I wished I’d asked my father more questions before he died. Things like, “Who made the rifle? Where did you get the receiver and barrel? Did you ever take any game with it?”
I don’t believe he ever did take anything with it, although I watched him fire at a running coyote with it in the 1990s on one of the rare occasions when he carried it to the woods. The rifle did make a trip out west with my uncle (Dad’s brother-in-law), and while there it slayed a coyote and two pronghorns and who knows what else. But as for hunting in its native southeastern USA, it hadn’t done much over the decades.
There on the stand, I gazed at the “Preduzece 44” stamped into the left side of the receiver ring. What did that mean? It hardly appeared to be a German word, so I did some internet research. I learned this rifle was built by Germany and used during WW2, after which it was owned by Yugoslavia, which reconditioned it at a facility called Preduzece 44 (current home of Zastava Arms in present-day Serbia).
As I continued to learn about and admire the old shootin’ iron, I heard a little something. I figured it was probably yet another squirrel, but I glanced at the time — 3:41 — and thought, “This would be the perfect time to get one.” I knew it would take me some time to get an deer up out of the steep-sided creek bottom, and that sort of work always goes better in daylight.
I swiveled my head to the left and down there in the creek bottom, just where I’d been expecting to see a deer all along, stood a deer. Nice!
I eased the rifle up and peered through the scope. I was looking at an adult deer without antlers, which was good; I wanted to take a doe. It stopped with its front end in clear view, standing broadside, and looked in my direction. I saw a narrow skull without a trace of antlers and a body of good size. I laid the crosshairs at the rear of the shoulder and gently squeezed the SpringMaus’s crisp Timney trigger.
The rifle barked and the deer lunged forward, did some brief gymnastics, and lay still perhaps 40 feet from where it had been standing. I chambered a new round and waited for it to get up.
With the roar of adrenaline-laced blood in my head, I stayed in the stand and typed up some notes, allowing myself to ride the wave. Then I gathered my gear and began walking over to my doe.
When I got there, I learned that it was no doe.
I’d shot a buck that had already shed its antlers! This is highly unusual at this time, which was mid-December in mid-Georgia. The usual shedding time is February. The photo above shows the deer just as it was lying when I got there, and one of the pedicels is clearly visible.
Well, heck. But it was certainly a legal deer and there was no time to mope. I had work to do.
I climbed the hill west of the kill site and left my pack and a few other items, hiked back to my Ranger, and drove to camp to fetch my Crawler game cart. There was no way I would be dragging that critter up that hill alone without some sort of wheels, and this was the perfect time to put the Crawler to use.
Although it felt longer, according to my notes I only spent 11 minutes taking the cart down to the deer, loading it up, and hauling it up the steep hillside. I stood panting at my Ranger 40 minutes after the shot, and for the fourth time that season I was glad to have a winch and a ladder rack to use in loading the deer into my UTV’s bed.
Back at the skinning shack, I learned some more things. My b’doe weighed in at just 100 pounds (which sure seemed like a lot more on my way up that hill) — and according to its jawbone it was at least 2.5 years old.
This last bit was particularly interesting because we expect any 2.5-year-old buck on our property to weigh a good bit more. I can only reckon that the summer-long drought had made things tough on this guy.
Regrets? Nah. I didn’t deprive the herd of any superior genes, I’d made a good clean shot, and SpringMaus had her first whitetail. What’s not to like?
At 60 yards, the Deer Season XP bullet had pureed both lungs and incapacitated both front legs. I’m a fan of these bullets, and hope I can get some to handload for this old rifle… because now that I tried hunting with SpringMaus, I might just be addicted.
Yes, I do believe SpringMaus and I have a bright hunting future ahead of us. Here’s hoping!