Looking for youth deer guns? The Browning ShortTrac makes an excellent choice, the autoloader is soft-recoiling and comes in plenty of capable calibers.
I’m not generally a huge advocate of semi-auto rifles for youth applications for a couple reasons. Mostly its because I think bolts, levers, pumps, and certainly single-shots offer an additional measure of safety for the inexperienced shooter. The shooter must perform a deliberate action that is not trigger pulling—working a bolt, swinging the lever, and shucking the slide—before a second shot can be had. This action gives pause for thought, a pause that can be easily eliminated with a semi-automatic. Too, the more mechanically complex semi-autos tend to be more expensive than other actions, with price tags that can be hard for parents to swallow when they’re not sure a kid will stick with something. Still, not all “kids” are 12 years old and five-foot-nothing, not all are inexperienced shooters just because they’re under the age of 18—and not all deer are whitetails standing broadside at 75 yards. To that end, I bring you Browning’s ShortTrac.
I had to search through Browning’s stockpile to find a deer-killing gun that had a more youth-oriented length of pull. The ShortTrac came in at 13 ¼,” wearing a fairly substantial butt pad on it. That butt pad’s one thing shooters are going to need, for this gun presently comes chambered only in .300 WSM. I almost passed on this one as a youth recommendation because of that chambering, but then I thought about big fat mule deer standing waaaaayyyy out there on the Wyoming plains, and realized this caliber is a prime candidate for spot-and-stock plains deer.
The ShortTrac has a couple other features that make it a good pick for the more experienced teen hunter. First, the middle-of-the-road 7 ¼ pounds this gun weighs should manageable, even on a long stalk, for active, athletic teens. Too, the in-between weight and the gun’s recoil-absorbing semi-auto action should take a decent bite out the .300 WSM’s thump, I’m guessing enough to make practice time on the range far less than miserable. But what I like most is the shorter receiver and trimmer fore-end of the ShortTrac compared to Browning’s original BAR. I’ve never met a standard BAR that wasn’t uncomfortably front heavy, but if looks alone are any indication, the ShortTrac has a more between-the-hands balance. Put a good-quality low-mount 3-9X42 scope on this gun (the ShortTrac sports only 5/8” drop at the comb, but the sharp, back-end profile of the A5-type receiver should accommodate a low-mount scope beautifully, especially as there’s no bolt lift to get in the way), get your gangly-legged teen a set of shooting sticks and a pair of hiking boots, and have a go at those Western mulies.
Federal Premium Vital Shok
While the .300 WSM is a ball of fun for handloaders, there are some awesome factory loads out there. One of them is Federal’s Premium Vital Shok load. The 165-grain load is topped with the Trophy Bonded Tip bullet, built around the venerable Bear Claw design, but more aerodynamic and accurate, thanks to a longer design. Penetration and vital destruction shouldn’t be on anyone’s issue list, thanks to the polymer tip and a muzzle velocity of 3100 fps. More important, this bullet’s still humming to the tune of 2700 fps at 200 yards, dropping off to just 2500 at 300 yards. Also available in a 180-grain load, good for elk and probably some bear, the 165-grain has dead mule deer written all over it.
The Burris Elminator has so much to offer in this setup, I almost don’t know where to begin. First, this scope contains the drop at specific yardages for more than 1,900 cartridges. You tell the scope what your cartridge is and what distance you’re sighting in at, it calibrates points of impact, and you verify the math by shooting a few rounds at different yardages. In the field, the scope ranges your quarry—that’s right, it takes the place of a handheld rangefinder—and then, guided by a 1/3 MOA light on the reticle post that tells you where your shot will hit (OMG!) you float the center of the reticle where you need to. Can’t ever remember your ballistics? Never get holdover quite right? Does long-range shooting intimidate you? No longer with the aptly named Eliminator. In fact, the only thing this magical glass doesn’t eliminate, is buck fever. Hold steady … .
One more thing. I especially like this 26-ounce scope paired with the Browning ShortTrac because of the optic’s extremely low-profile mount. It should set nicely and compactly over this gun’s receiver, helping to balance this gun for shooting from both sticks and off-hand.