Custom build Part 3

A big, game hunter

Our Beretta custom-build gave Mark van den Boogaart plenty to write home about

The good people at Beretta Australia and Australian Shooter asked if I’d like to help design a customised rifle, invited me into the project team, listened to my ideas then went to work and not long afterwards the rifle arrived ‑ a tangible thing from concept to reality. Out of the box we had ourselves a looker with colour-coded fluted components and engraved receiver, a great scope and standout aftermarket stock but it’s still a rifle, so it was time to test those looks against shooting performance and it turned out to be a tack driver.

Built on the Tikka CTR platform it performed as good as its reputation, so range visits became more about turning than trying to make things work. My single-minded brain envisioned a hunting rifle, something designed to be carried all day, used in all sorts of conditions, fired from whatever rest was available and all with a high level of confidence. Now that kind of rifle had to progress beyond the bench for scrutiny in the field.

Luckily it was late March and rutting red deer stags roaring, bellowing, grunting, scraping and fighting filled the Brisbane Valley. After a text message conversation with the landowner I snuck out the house at 3.15am on the last day of March and after an uneventful drive arrived at the front paddock gate 45 minutes before first light.

Testing time

I’d given some consideration to gear layout and storage so making myself ready in the dark was a quiet, ordered activity. With everything else sorted, packed and loaded I transferred five rounds of Sako Gamehead 150-grain soft-points into the metal box magazine and, smoothly fitting it into place against a closed bolt, the rifle was safe and ready to go. Around me the early birds were waking and I’m sure I heard the rhythmic thump of a roo moving across the front paddock while behind me cows began to bellow as the resident rooster did what roosters do.

Then I heard it – the guttural grunt of a red deer stag so slinging on the new rifle I crossed the fence line and moved slowly towards the sound. Not wanting to bump a deer in the pre-dawn light I edged right with the wind then held up for a time against a tree and continued to listen. The stag was close which could mean alert hinds were nearby.

With the rising light I glassed two stags on the opposing gully face so began counting tips and considering antler formation and even shouldered the rifle a few times to gauge the feel of things. As I was in relatively open country and a couple of hundred metres away I increased the scope magnification and adjusted reticle illumination to suit the light. In front of me were two typical Brisbane Valley deer, rough-head double fives though the stag higher up may have been a four-five, it was hard to tell. It wasn’t 6am and there were deer for the taking so, feeling pretty good about it all, I decided to leave the stags alone. Backing away I made for a drain that would provide cover as I headed to the east of the block.

After a while I took a break before moving up a long incline towards the top of the block, the rise marking the end of thick green paddock grass and transition to scrub. I was heading for country where things can happen fast so dropped the magnification to just below three power, double-checked the illuminated reticle setting and kept moving.

Almost immediately I heard roaring and being mindful of my foot-falls, I stayed close to cover and spotted a good double five and a smaller stag a little further on. Needing a better look I decided to move up the hill and from my new vantage point could tell the double five was worth taking though the shot wasn’t great. As I waited for things to improve the stag moved further away, eventually disappearing over another rise further east.

It had only just gone 7am and I was experiencing the best roar in more than a decade and while my focus was on the stags, deer were everywhere so it was just a matter of finding the right target. I stuck with my slow move uphill and on reaching the top stopped to enjoy the noise. I had three stags roaring, two I assumed on neighbouring properties while the third seemed directly below me in a gully I knew well.

While hard going this gully had produced in the past so I began following the noise. On the descent I spotted spikers and hinds and at one stage was even barked by a hind while the stags continued to roar. Then I spotted him at about 80m. I could see his body (actually his rump) though his antlers were obscured until to oblige my curiosity he began moving towards me. Never taking more than a few steps at the time, over a few minutes he edged ever closer until he was in bow range – and I mean recurve bow range.

Leaving the rifle across my lap the stag eventually spooked and moved up and out of the gully, his quick movement triggering one of the neighbouring stags so the roaring continued as I walked out the gully and on to open flats. The day continued along much of the same pattern of stags, hinds and spikers though in the end I didn’t take a shot, which isn’t good for testing a hunting rifle but at least I could say the gun brought me luck. Back at the farmhouse I arranged for another visit and gave the farmer my word that this time I’d bring home the venison.

Two weeks later I was back – same time, same place though the rain was falling and it was considerably cooler. The rain gave out with the light and soon I was on the move and as that long wet grass wasn’t much fun, dropping a stag pronto felt like the way to go.

Deer down

As the front paddock became illuminated by the dawn light, I spotted movement at the edge of the tree line, a small group of bachelors not good enough to attract or hold hinds. Among them were a couple of spikers which looked like a messy double five and a scraggy double three with the hallmarks of one that’ll never make it ‑ what you might call a cull stag – all feeding quietly with only the distant sound of another stag.

It was time to hurry things along and while initially the better of the two was clearly visible as he fed uphill, the shot was terrible and one that was once described to me as a south-facing target on a north-facing deer. I was tucked in close to an internal fence line with the massive amount of grass and wild growth throughout the paddock intensified around the various posts providing excellent cover.

I was 200m from the deer and 70m back from a corner post so my bullet would fly over the wire. The shot was well within the capabilities of the rifle but I decided to reduce the distance as a shot stag may well take off downhill and the corner post would block my view, making it harder to locate the animal. Following the fence line within about 30m of the corner post, the skinnier one moved out from behind a tree and into the open. Feeding away he presented an easy broadside so I kept moving towards the post and on reaching it gave the rifle a quick check and thought about the shot.

Things were going my way and I was able to brace myself against a diagonal support where I ranged the target at just over 100m and, manoeuvring into a firing position, I sat the rifle atop the post with the leather sling in between. At about 4x magnification combined with the illuminated reticle, the scope afforded a fantastic sight picture of my intended target. I cycled the bolt and with Tikka rifles being precision instruments, all the sounds associated with a round leaving the magazine and feeding into the chamber filled the air but the deer didn’t seem to mind.

Skinny was no Monarch of the Glen but all prey deserves a predator’s respect so I waited for my shot. Dropping his head to feed I fired, striking him in the neck. The stag stumbled and fell, momentarily disappearing among the long grass, lantana and scrub though I quickly spotted his darker shape and single antler amid the green so making the rifle safe I walked up to him.

Strangely the other stags didn’t immediately depart, with one even moving closer to his downed bachelor brother though eventually my approach scared them off. Prodding the stag with the barrel of my rifle confirmed he was dead and with that I began considering the retrieval. I wasn’t far from the fence line which meant I wasn’t far from vehicle access so I laid out my meat processing gear and went to work.

I took the quarters and backstraps, a quarter for the landowner, another for a mate and two for my freezer along with the backstraps. I also decided to take the head and while it was no trophy, a friend of my son is interested in our family hunting exploits and wanted a deer’s head (what boy wouldn’t treasure that on his bedroom wall?)

And finally

The ‘Indi’ Beretta Australia and Australian Shooter rifle had passed the test with flying colours, its looks combined with the proven Tikka T3x CTR platform and selected aftermarket upgrades equating to an excellent hunting platform and capable all-round sport shooter. Chambered in the versatile .308 Winchester and firing quality ammunition, the rifle had demonstrated a serious level of accuracy which translated into confidence in the field, all within a package which gave the owner something a little less ordinary.

On a personal note it has been a privilege and a pleasure to be involved in the entire process and I sincerely thank Beretta Australia’s National Sales Manager Scott Allen, Workshop Supervisor and gunsmith Byron Young and Marketing Manager Samantha Hogg for all their effort and dedication to the project ‑ and confidence in me as a hunter.

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