By Lee Mason
When we think about gun leather naturally we envision scenes of lever action rifles, single action revolvers, Bowie Knives, 1911 pistols and maybe even the venerable Smith & Wesson K-frame, but most of us don’t think of bolt action hunting rifles. Until recently neither did I. Here’s why I do now:
Bolt action rifles have taken the hunting world by storm over the past few decades. They are accurate, reliable and certainly put meat on the table and until recently I didn’t have one. I was and arguably still am a lever gun guy. I owned several mil-surps and had even killed a nice boar hog with a vintage Swiss K-31, but a hunting bolt action was not in my inventory.
The lines of a quality bolt action are beautiful and if built properly they are a joy to shoot, with great balance and uncontested reliability. I wanted a rifle that could be trusted season after season to be dialed-in and ready to hunt, without worrying if the zero had shifted or if it would go bang when a nice buck was in my sights… but being a lever gun guy, this bolt action also had to look good.
Leather on a Timeless Hunting Rifle: Cartridge Cuff & Sling
Alright, back to the point of the article.
Leather can definitely be at home on a bolt action, and being a maker of fine Cartridge Cuffs and Rifle Slings, rest assured I’d deck out my new rifle in some. I wanted to contrast the walnut stock a bit rather than match it, so I picked “Coffee Dark Brown” as my color choice for both the cuff and sling. Most people seem to be going with 1 ¼” slings these days, but I’ve always been fond of 1” slings. They carry fine, especially a light rifle, and they are easier to wrap around your forearm for some stability for offhand shots.
The timeless Mauser-inspired design of the Model 70 really looks classy and with the straight-comb walnut butt stock, a Cartridge Cuff fits as if it was born there. I really love how the rifle turned out and it just looks even better with some good gun leather.
Zeroing the Featherweight
To make the story of the rifle even better, it was mid-way through the 2019 Texas Rifle Deer Season when it arrived. I didn’t have a chance to go to the local range before going hunting, so I figured I’d zero the Winchester on the family hunting land and take another rifle that was good to go in case time didn’t allow a makeshift range session.
I hunted the first morning with my other rifle, but come mid-day I set up a 100 yard range in front of deer camp and rolled out an old cable spool to use as a shooting bench. Using homemade shooting sticks as a rest, I fired 2 shots and checked the point of impact. There were two holes just over the bullseye, almost touching.
Adjusting the Leupold’s windage and elevation knobs slightly, I fired the other 3 rounds still in the 5 round magazine. I now had two holes touching in the bullseye and one just to the right. This little 243 Winchester was a real tack driver! And that was with plain old 100 grain Remington Core-Lokt hunting loads! The Featherweight was ready to hunt.
First Hunt, Buck Down!
Our property isn’t huge, just 62 acres, but lots of deer travel through it and I had one spot in mind you might never guess. When coming back to camp after dark we would shine a flashlight into the field that our camp was on the edge of and often we’d see deer’s eyes reflecting on the north end, seemingly unconcerned that a fire was rolling and people were hanging out less than 100 yards away. I decided to hunt the north end of the field, within spitting distance of camp and the makeshift range where I had just zeroed the rifle.
That evening I hauled a folding camp chair, a bottle of water and my newly zeroed Winchester model 70 .243 to the north end of the field and set up under a lone, scrawny oak tree out by itself in the field away from the main woods. The little oak had a lot of small branches close to the ground, so my outline was broken up well sitting against the trunk in my chair. All I had to do was be still and watch the wood line to my northwest, I knew that’s where the seer approached from.
After about an hour the sun started to dip and shadows lengthened and suddenly a deer appeared right in front of me, like a ghost, as they typically do. At first I thought it was a doe, which in my county were by then out of season, but I noticed a tiny spike on one side of his head, which made it a legal shooter. Years ago Texas had implemented antler restrictions and on small parcels of land like we had it could be tough to come by legal deer (spikes being legal), especially because our county only had a short doe season, so a spike buck was more than welcome, especially late in the season when I hadn’t seen anything legal to that point.
I sat motionless because the buck was only about 15 yards from me in the open and I pondered how I’d be able to move and get my rifle lined up for a shot. After a slow few minutes, the buck having stopped and stared at me several times, he walked behind me and out of my sight. The light was fading fast and it was now or never.
As smoothly and quietly as I could I twisted my body around and leveled the rifle through the tangled branches, hoping the deer would be where I thought he was. Not 10 yards away, just inside the woodline and directly in my sights, the little buck was nipping at browse and unaware or unconcerned about me. I touched the trigger and the .243 barked, dropping the spike where he stood. A 100 grain Core-Lokt going almost 3,000 FPS at 10 yards will make that happen.
Ecstatic, I racked the bolt to feed a fresh shell into the chamber in case he jumped up, but it was done. The little Winchester Featherweight had made a clean kill on its very first hunt, about 100 yards from where it had been zeroed.
I picked up the spent casing, checked on the beautiful little spike buck and gave thanks. Thanks for meat for the freezer, for the sacrifice, thanks for a great hunt, and thanks for the opportunity and God’s good grace upon me that day.
That Winchester Model 70 has really opened my eyes to the joy of shooting and hunting with a quality bolt action rifle. As the model name implies, it really is a featherweight and paired with the 243 Winchester cartridge, Leupold FX-II 6x Scope on Talley rings and a Mason Leather Cartridge Cuff and Sling, it is a joy to shoot and carry afield. My lever actions have some stiff competition when deer season rolls around!
Lee Mason is the owner and craftsman at Mason Leather and has been hunting since he could carry a rifle, mostly with lever actions up until recently.