The Android phone in my pocket told me it was 2014, but when I brought my Savage Model 111 to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger on my first mule deer, it felt like 1905. Boom. The massive Hornady 286 grain bullet launched at what seems like a snail’s pace for bullets these days with just 2350 fps (yes, at the muzzle). Many an Internet forum keyboard sniper might have you believe the mule deer would simply sidestep my geriatric, rainbow-trajectory laden lead freight train as it crawled about 150 yards to a very mature, very virile and very assertive Idaho mule deer buck. My rifle wasn’t a magnum. It wasn’t faster than a 30-30 at the muzzle. Hell, it wasn’t even American and yet the 250 pound 5×4 20 inch mule deer buck crumbled before I could say sauerkraut. I smiled, and I’d like to think somewhere in Mauser Heaven, the late Otto Bock smiled too.
The wonderfully robust hunting caliber he invented in 1905, the 9.3x62mm Mauser, had cleanly harvested another beast, and a man well-backed by the most advanced hunting firearms technology known to humankind picked his lady when he could have shot anything he wanted. So I did. With today’s sizzling flat rifle cartridges, the idea of going after my first mule deer with 1905 technology might seem pedestrian. After all, the wide-open sagebrush in the high deserts of Idaho certainly wasn’t going to have mercy on a southern boy like me who typically shoots deer measured in feet instead of yards in the heavily-wooded forests of Virginia. Still, I was tired of faster, flatter, harder-hitting and anything else which helped me overcome my shortcomings as a hunter. Rifle calibers have been good enough for more than a century and I knew if I wanted to take a mule deer with a rifle and hold my head up high, I needed to do it old school. 1905 qualified. Just a few years after the 1898 Mauser was introduced, a German gunmaker named Otto Bock engineered the 9.3x62mm rifle cartridge, which is the largest caliber available on a standard action. Hunters who choose the 9.3x62mm will be able to push the popular 286 grain bullet at about 2350 fps, with lighter bullets like the 250 grain moving faster and heavier bullets like the 300 grain moving slower. In the United States, the round has a small following and its mention will get a nod of respect from most experienced hunters. It quickly gained a religious following in Africa and Europe for being a reliable and accurate hunting caliber for all wild game. In fact, in many African countries where there are minimum caliber restrictions for dangerous game, specific exceptions are made just for the 9.3x62mm because it simply works and has more than proven itself in the hands of African hunters for more than a 100 years. In fact, its penetrating ability has a reputation which is legendary within the hunting community. World-class hunter and rifle builder Bill Wilson’s favorite caliber is in fact the 9.3x62mm. When I asked him during a visit to Texas this year what was the best penetrating caliber was he had ever used, he quickly answered a 250 Barnes bullet in a 9.3x62mm on a Cape Buffalo. Game, set, and match folks. Of course the 9.3x62mm Mauser isn’t flying off the shelves of today’s gun shops. In fact, to get one I had to tap the very special gun builders at Savage Arms Custom Shop who hand-built me a Model 111 in the Deutschland Dominator off of European specs they dusted off for me in New England. The Savage, sinfully full of technology like its superb AccuStock, AccuTrigger and modern manufacturing techniques, mixed in plenty of 2014 with my 1905 caliber, and I’m thankful. Look for a stand-alone review on the Savage later this year, but the bottom line is I’ve got a taxidermy bill which will cost more than the Savage. It’s a great rifle – in any caliber.