Hunting in the North Country is a unique experience. The winters are long and cold, which keeps the deer population noticeably low. There aren’t many deer that can survive across the expanses of near-barren land in the North Country. Deer density can be remarkably low in this area, and there are often miles and miles in between deer.
However, the deer that do exist in these areas are spectacular to behold. And for good reason — according to Bergmann’s rule, the more northern that a segment of any species lives, the larger their body mass. In short, colder weather means bigger deer. And when we combine that with Darwin’s law about the survival of the fittest, we come to realize that only the strongest surviving animals will survive to reproduce.
This “perfect storm” of trophy hunting is found in North Country big woods bucks. These deer are tough, massive animals that can weigh up to 400 lbs. Trophies are measured by weight (as opposed to inches of antlers), so these large bucks are the best of whitetail deer hunting.
Not surprisingly, these trophies animals require a unique hunting approach. In the big woods, most successful sportsmen hunt while moving, instead of waiting in a stand for hours on end. Out west, this is known as “spot-and-stalk” hunting. This type of hunting means that some precision will be lost — successful big woods hunters don’t wait for the perfect shot, instead they rely on powerful rifles that deliver impactful, devastating shots no matter where they are placed.
Because big woods whitetails are so tough, hunting them requires fast-handling guns and large cartridges that shoot reliably and effectively. These guns must be accurage and hard hitting.
Big woods rifles are lightweight and ergonomic, allowing them to be carried comfortably, yet shoot quickly when the time comes. They must also be a large caliber gun that provides stopping power. In addition to stopping power, they need to be sturdy enough to handle the most demanding weather conditions.
For many experienced big woods hunters, the Remington 7600 is a popular gun of choice. The gun is easy to use, performs quickly, and carries very well on long trips.
Since being popularized by the legendary Benoit family, the Remington 7600 has become a sort of industry-standard for big woods hunting. For a long time, they were the most common rifle in the big woods. Some hunters prefer the shorter barrel offered by a carbine, but the full-length 22” barrel is known to track moving bucks more smoothly.
In the past, one of the more popularity guns for hunting whitetail was the .30-06 Springfield, which offers plenty of stopping power. Today, .35 is a popular option that has proven to stop big bucks in their tracks.
As far as lever-action rifles go, the Marlin 1895 is a great option. The Marlin 1895 is a modern version of the 1892 Winchester, and can be configured for big woods hunts. When used in a 22” barrel with a .45-70 Government cartridge, the Marlin makes a great gun for big woods hunting. Marlin also offers an 18-½” barrel model, providing a quick and snappy compact rifle.
The .45-70 cartridge has tradition on its side, dating back to 1873. Recoil with this cartridge is mild, yet the rounds hit hard, making it perfect for big woods hunting.
Remington Model Seven
For several decades, bolt-action rifles dominated the hunting market. Notwithstanding, some sportsmans say bolt-action rifles are not idea for big woods hunting. We disagree. With practice, the bolt-action rifles are fast, responsive firearms that are more than capable of bringing down a North Country trophy buck.
Bolt-action guns are extremely durable and with a low-power scope become quick, effective target guns. Bolt-actions also offer a wide variety of chamber options. For the big woods, we recommend a bolt-action rifle that is lightweight and chambered in a heavy-duty cartridge.
As far as bolt-actions for the North Country go, the Remington Model Seven is an ideal solution. The rifle features a receiver that is shorter than the full-sized Model 700 SA. The barrel is only 20”, reducing the weight of the Remington Model Seven. Stainless and synthetic materials make this rifle well-suited for nasty weather, which is all but guaranteed during deer season. This rifle is available in .308 Win., a popular choice for big woods hunting, but it can also be shot in .300 WSM. The .300 WSM caliber has a more aggressive recoil, but the cartridge adds stopping power.
.350 Remington Magnum is another great caliber, but Marlin has stopped producing this cartridge.
Semi-auto rifles are growing in popularity with big woods hunters. Remington’s first successful semi-automatic hunting rifle was the Model 8, which was popular in .35 Remington. Later Remington models like the 740 and 7400 were became popular among big woods hunters as well. When Larry Benoit appeared on the cover of Sports Afield with a Remington Model 742, he (perhaps unknowingly) launched a whitetail revolution.
Semi-auto rifles were chambered in all of the most popular big woods cartridges, but the .30-06 was by far the most popular. Unfortunately, when Remington debuted their Model 750, the brand’s reputation for quality semi-auto hunting rifles took a hit. After the Model 750, Remington stopped manufacturing semi-automatic hunting rifle and refocused on the AR. AR rifles are marketed as hunting rifles. Although ARs are quality hunting guns, they’ve never gained a reputation for being really great big woods hunting rifles.
That brings us to Browning. If you’re looking for a semi-auto rifle for hunting big woods, Browning is the name to know. The BAR features an aluminum receiver, which weighs in at just under seven pounds in most cartridges. The BAR is available in all of the most standard deer hunting cartridges, as well as some larger format magnums. The Browning BAR .30-06 is one of the more popular options for hunting whitetails in the big woods.
The BLR operates on some very complex mechanics, setting it apart from a traditional lever-action rifle. It is one of the few hunting rifles chambered in the .358 Winchester. It’s also one of the last catalog rifle offered in the .358 cartridge, considered by many sportsman’s to be one of the all-time great calibers for big woods hunting. If you want more power than that offered by the .358 Winchester, the BLR also available in .450 Marlin.
Another ideal cartridge for big woods hunting is the .325 WSM. It’s not as popular as other short magnum calibers, but it hits hard.
Savage Model 99
To be fair, we should mention that the Savage Model 99 is no longer in production. However, it’s a common on used gun shelves. For decades, lever-action guns dominated the deer hunting market, and the Savage Model 99 dominated lever-action guns.
The Model 99 utilizes a rotary box magazine that uses pointed bullets. It’s a sturdy gun designed to handle larger cartridges. The Savage Model 99 made its name with the .300 Savage. The .300 Savage is one of the most popular deer cartridges of all time, with ballistics similar to the .30-06. In 1952, .300 cartridge was replaced with the modern .308.
The Savage Model 99 rifle chambered in the .358 Winchester is seen by some as the holy grail of big wood deer hunting rifles. While not as popular, another common deer hunting caliber for the Savage 99 is the .357.