January 16, 2015
Boxing's most celebrated idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, once famously mused: "Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that's in rhythm or you're in trouble."
When a deer is in the crosshairs, there isn't an ounce of Robinson's message that doesn't ring true. Just ask the feverish hunter walking back to his truck after taking the shot. It's all about how you handle that moment of truth.
On a recent hunt under the simmering spotlight of the Del Rio, Texas, sun, I and a group of six hunters tested a rugged little rifle, the T/C Venture Compact, on a quest to fill 24 whitetail tags. Capable of taking as strong of a beating as the one it can give, this blue-collar brawler was up to the task.
For the whitetail lifers who've never hunted the Texas brush, the pursuit of Lone Star deer during the rut can mean the chance at a whirlwind hunt. The kind of open country hardwood hunters dream of trying, Double T Outfitter's 16,000 free-range acres of the Gillis Ranch would be the Venture Compact's testing grounds. Windblown plains and carved draws, littered with persimmon and granjeno, this part of Texas is a supermarket for deer.
At the lodge, Bret Ferguson, head of Double T's ranch operations, summed up our strategy for the week in one short quip: "We're gonna hunt 'em hard." At the range, we put the T/C Venture Compact to the test in order to see if it was up for the job.
My Venture Compact, chambered in .308, was mounted with a Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 scope displaying standard TR22-1 duplex crosshairs. Using Federal Power-Shok 150-grain soft points, I was eager to send rounds downrange and test T/C's 1-MOA-out-of-the-box accuracy guarantee.
Down for the Count
Doted as a premium performer at an affordable value, the Venture Compact was designed to be a utility bolt-action rifle for younger or growing shooters. Modeled with the same features as its patriarch, the T/C Venture, the Compact sports a free-floated 20-inch barrel that makes for an easy wield when put to smaller-statured shoulders.
Ideal for this type of hunt — one that could mean quick shots on a rutting buck that might slip into the mesquite and never be seen again — the rifle's 39.75-inch overall length provided the much needed option for maneuverability in our tight blinds, or while stalking through prickly pear cactus. The injection-molded polymer stock was good to go for the courtesy Texas beating it would have to endure while tagging out 24 deer.
The inlaid rubber Hogue panels on the grip and forend — there to help stay the hand amidst the inevitable dust bath and weeklong drizzle projected for the course of the week — were a welcomed addition. The 60-degree bolt lift (firm but undeviating), accompanied with a triple lug design, allows for short and fast chambering even with a fair degree of upward pressure. Without the risk of losing sight picture when racking another round, this is key for the seamless follow-up shots that you might have to take in the brush. Weighing in at 6.75 pounds without an optic, it's made for the quick swing.
The scope is drastically more expensive than the sub-$600 rifle, which led a friend, during a conversation before the trip, to joke about how he'd go about the hunt: "I'd duct tape a lawn dart to the barrel, take the Trijicon off, and then throw it at the deer." Having never shot the Venture Compact, he was referring merely to its size. Brutish? In some eyes, yes. Though we were in the land of beauty pageants, looks are not what drop deer.
At the bench, it lived up to T/C's 1-MOA promise: One round downrange for the zero, and then the next three shots piled up in a .584-inch group at 100 yards. A second group shortly after measured .558 inches. I later clocked multiple Power-Shok rounds at a respectable average velocity of 2,747 feet per second. The other hunters stepped up to shoot and sounded off, all of whom found similar results with the production-model rifle.
10 Point Must System
The next 48 hours were some of the most memorable I've had in the field. We were allotted four deer apiece: one buck, one cull buck and two management does, all of which would be kept by the hunter or donated with the help of Smith & Wesson to the hungry.
The area biologist's deer count had come back too high, so Brett asked if we were willing to help out with their management tags. What would have been a hunt for six deer had become a hunt for 24, and it was the perfect opportunity to test the mettle of the Venture Compact.
As a group of outdoorsmen looking to make this a hunt of collective lifetimes, it meant punching 24 bullets downrange to drop a high volume of deer. As an individual hunter pursuing whitetail for the first time in Texas, this personally meant Don't mess up. We each had our objective and we had four rounds — one for each tag clocked by the rise and fall of the sun — to complete it.
With the first morning hunt, our guides' pickups started rolling back to camp with beds full of deer. Some chose to start with does, others with their culls; though we were all glassing for that massive rack bobbing above the brush, silhouetted against the hazel sky.
By the late afternoon, the cooler was filled with dressed deer. Every time someone came back from the brush, we were eager to hear the full story of the shot. With every account given, there was one common characteristic everyone was happy to share: Of the six deer taken on the first day, every single one had been dropped with one shot, and the total tracking involved added up to no more than 50 yards. Either there was something in the water or this group was the makings of America's first Olympic deer hunting team.
I had my chance at filling my buck tag the next morning. We chose a stand next to a watering hole adjacent to a wide-open field shrouded in a soft mist. As the sun rose, the deer began to trickle in from the far brush line. The shapes shifted in the low morning light but it was still too dark to tell a buck from a doe. I looked at my guide, who calmly shook his head. He saw what I couldn't see and knew what I didn't.
"10 o'clock, 75 yards. It just came in," he said, turning to spit. He had already begun to scan a different side of the field. I glassed the discreet, blunt shape for antlers but still couldn't see any headgear.
"How can you tell?" I asked, incredulous and wondering what kind of binos he was using.
"Give the sun five more minutes. You'll see. I'm guessing he's at least an eight."
Sure enough, it was a buck, now an extra 15 yards out: A handsome, broadside 10-point with his nose to the ground, sniffing the hell out of some lingering scent like he was trying to suck up the aquifer.
"You ready?" he said.
"I'm on him."
I pulled the 3.5-pound trigger of my Venture Compact and the blind shook. The buck jumped and took off at what looked like the fiercest death run I've ever seen. I chambered another round and followed him for 140 yards until he vanished into the brush.
The field was eerily quiet, as though in a vacuum, and the sinking feeling that I was that guy, the one and only who botched his shot at a buck on an otherwise perfect trip, took its cold hold over me. I knew I had made solid contact, pinned the round to the first rib left of his right shoulder. The rifle had functioned flawlessly, the shot seemingly precise. Still, I was in shock. I didn't like the way that deer took off so evenly. Something wasn't right. I feared, even with a steady blood trail, that somehow we'd lose him in the endless miles of thick Texas brush, where every sage bush plays a dirty trick on the eyes and takes the shape of a folded buck. My mind immediately signed up for every worst-case scenario that walked through its open door.
Out of the blind, there were only traces of a hit where he had stood. At the edge of the field, I began to relax. It wasn't fifteen yards into the brush that we started to see cacti painted bright crimson, the swatches becoming thicker with every step. Another five yards and there he was, tines skyward, eyes glassed over, lying as though he had suddenly died mid-stride. Inspecting the shot placement, it was hard not to marvel at how he had had the strength to travel so far.
"Congratulations!" my guide yelled, rushing over to shake my hand. "Hell of a buck."
He could see I was still trying to compute the math even though I was shaking with excitement. Holding the beams in my hand, the morning drizzle began to turn to rain. I looked back to the blind, now small in the distance.
"Some just have more fight in them," he said, joining me to kneel at its side. "After all, it is Texas."
T/C Venture Compact Specs
Type: Bolt action | Caliber: .308 | Barrel: 20" | Rifling: 5R; 1:10" | Muzzle: Match-grade recessed crown | Stock: Injection-molded polymer | Trigger: 3.5 lbs. | Magazine: 3+1 | Optic: Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 | Weight (w/ Scope): 8.05 lbs. | Length: 39.75" | Finish: Black | MSRP: $537
The 60-degree, triple-lug design of the nitrate-coated fat bolt requires a hearty throw but the 3.5 to 5 pound adjustable trigger is as sharp as you can get for a sub-$600 production-model rifle.
The 20-inch, 1:10-twist barrel, featuring 5R rifling to reduce copper fouling, floats above an injection-molded polymer stock housing inlayed rubber Hogue traction panels.
Rounds are fed from a detachable three-round composite box magazine with a recessed forward latch easily operated by one finger. The tight design does requires a fair share of force on the third round.
The light, round roller-burnished receiver gives the Venture Compact a smooth, wieldy bolt pull while cutting back the rifle's overall weight to 6.75 pounds. It uses a two-position thumb safety without a bolt locking option and integrated Weaver-style scope bases.
A one-inch removable composite spacer included with the rifle can easily be added to the buttstock, allowing the gun to grow as a younger shooter grows.