Testing M&P15, .223 ammo on NW Missouri whitetail ranch
by Buck Pope
I received a call from an old friend about attending a special event to be held on a private whitetail ranch in northwest Missouri. This event was actually a combination of several events, namely the opportunity to try out and evaluate a new hunting bullet. In addition to testing it, we would also harvest several whitetail deer with it as part of a culling operation.
I also would get to do some deer hunting with an AR-type rifle, my first time using a semiautomatic rifle in a 5.56 NATO caliber. The other neat thing about this trip was getting to see some trophy-size whitetail deer on a private ranch and observe their breeding program.
The old friend I mentioned was Matt Rice, a manager with Blue Herron Communications, a firm heavily into outdoor communications and media. We have hunted together before and their events are always fun, informative and interesting.
The name of this whitetail operation in Missouri is the East Fork Ranch located near the small town of Albany. The East Fork Ranch is owned and operated by John Worrell who, along with his son Dustin, runs several of the operations. The lodge at the ranch is most impressive. It is a large building which contains private bedrooms to accommodate over a dozen hunters, plus a huge game room loaded with trophies. It also has a separate movie theater for viewing movies and events. There is also a good size kitchen to support large groups. In addition the ranch has a trap and skeet range, swimming pool, sauna and even an underground 100 yard shooting range.
There were less than a dozen of us for this event, including four outdoor writers, to spend three days shooting, testing, and hunting. Our sponsors for this event were Smith & Wesson and Thompson/Center plus we were at the invitation of Dynamic Research Technology (DRT). This event was coordinated by Rice and Blue Heron Communications.
The ranch, whitetail management program and DRT Ammunition were founded and established by John Worrell. In addition he also owns the American Walnut Company that is managed by Dustin. Dustin also runs the deer program which keeps him very busy.
This event was also rather special for me as I have never hunted deer with an AR-type rifle nor in the caliber .5.56 NATO/.223 Remington.
My rifle for the hunt would be the Smith & Wesson Model M&P15PC. This is one of their most popular models in their M&P line-up. DRT has developed some special loads that combined with their new design bullet technology make for an interesting event
It was early afternoon when I arrived at the ranch. I was soon directed to a group of people gathered in a large field. They were conducting some testing of their ammunition and getting each rifle sighted in for the hunt. After introductions, I was given my rifle for the hunt. It was a bit of catch-up for me, as I needed to sight in my Smith & Wesson AR rifle. My rifle was topped with a Trijicion 3x9 scope which is an excellent choice for this rifle. I have used and hunted with Trijicon optics before and they have always impressed me with their quality. I particularly like their Accupoint lighted reticle.
This was my first introduction to the Model M&P 15, but right off I immediately saw the quality of the firearm. Rice commented to me, “Just watch how it shoots, I think you will be pleased.” They set me up a target at 100 yards and I went through the sight-in process. It actually went very quickly and I was soon shooting decent three-shot groups. John Worrell had also set out a block of gel to shoot into to see how their DRT bullet performed. We all could quickly see that the bullet did a most impressive job of expanding and doing massive damage shortly after entering the gel block.
The technology behind the DRT Ammunition is established by the spinning of the high density bullet at the right revolutions, which causes very high centrifugal force on the bullet and upon entering the animal several inches, it basically explodes creating a massive wound cavity, transferring all of its energy. At this stage the bullet has returned to a powder form and is now totally dissipated. The terminal shock to the animal is deadly. In studying the gel block we saw the results as it was explained to us how the bullet becomes totally used up, nothing is left. This was my first exposure to Powder Core Technology.
I must say, though, I still had my reservations because I never had shot a deer with a caliber as small as the .223 Remington before, plus this new bullet technology had me wondering. I know fellows who do shoot deer with their .223s, but I have always used nothing smaller than the 6mm. Thinking back, I used to hunt with a 6mm Remington a good bit and used it on blacktail deer. I used a handload 100-grain bullet. As to the .223 Remington, my largest game had been coyotes, nothing a big as a deer.
I really questioned if a 60-grain bullet would properly harvest whitetails with solid authority. I was about to find out using the DRT 60-grain. HP load. I did not spend a great amount of time sighting in the rifle, but I had about a one-inch three-shot group dead-on at 100 yards. We were all sighted in, so on to other events.
The Worrells also had on hand Harold Beal, known as Bubba, who is an expert in bullet technology and a developer of this ammunition along with John Worrell. Once back at the lodge we had a very informative technical session put on by Bubba. As a part of the promotion program with DRT Ammunition, they have the support of two well-known celebrities, namely Irlene and Louise Mandrell. Many of us recall the Mandrell sisters and their singing abilities and stage performance along with their other sister, Barbara. Later that day I was introduced to Irlene Mandrell. In talking with her, I quickly found her to be very knowledgeable on shooting and firearms and discovered she has done a good amount of hunting herself. She is very active in supporting shooting activities and endorses DRT Ammunition along with her sister Louise. As a matter of fact Irlene recently held a celebrity benefit shoot at the 7 Springs Resort in Pennsylvania with over 40 celebrities participating. Both Irlene and Louise promote the outdoor sports and hunting.
I finally got a chance to look around the lodge and I was most impressed with the accommodations and facilities. One thing that really set me back was the quality of the whitetail deer mounts displayed in the lodge. These bucks were monster deer, just huge bucks all harvested on this ranch. This is all the result of their selective breeding program and the results of 15 years of dedication and hard work. Dustin Worrell runs the whitetail deer program and, as we talked, he indicated he would be taking us on a tour of the breeding areas. I really wanted to see some of his breeder bucks. Within the breeding pens, which are good sized, there were a number of high quality bucks.
These bucks are isolated a good bit to avoid traumatizing them or causing them unnecessary stress. Dustin explained how the does are also carefully selected for breeding. After the fawns are born and partially raised they are released into the preserve. The preserve is like 1,000 acres of rolling hills and woodland and is the location where the actual hunting goes on. It was quite an education listening to Dustin talk about his deer program and just how carefully it must be run. Whitetail deer easily can be easily stressed, even by an individual with a camera getting too close. The size of the deer being raised is almost beyond belief. We’re talking bucks scoring well over 300 points. To give you an idea of antler size, their original non-typical stud starter buck was called “Double Down” and he scored 385 points.
The other part of our three-day event was to assist the preserve in doing some selective culling of surplus deer. Each of us was assigned a guide and the objective was to selectively harvest three to four deer each. My guide was Jeff Bottcher, who, in addition to guiding for the ranch, operates his own farm about 15 miles away. There would be six of us hunting with a goal of 18 to 20 deer. Ideally what management wanted was one inferior buck and two or three does if possible. This exercise would let each of us test out the new DRT 60-grain HP load in .223 Remington caliber.
I would be hunting with the S&W M&P 15 rifle. Several of the fellows had already hunted deer with an AR15 rifle, but for me this was a first. The ranch has a surplus of deer and we would try and weed out a few. I was also hoping to see a few trophy bucks just to view and observe, and I was not disappointed.
Genetics and quality is their program and we would try and locate a buck that was older and did not have the correct genetics to continue living and breeding in the preserve. The second morning had us out and in the field well before first light. We would hunt out of established blinds of which there are 11 located in the preserve. I should mention this deer preserve is totally private and has nothing to do with the State of Missouri Wildlife Program. These deer are owned by the ranch and they are managed entirely by Dustin. Later in the fall they offer a number of guided hunts on the ranch with various harvest fees depending on the size animal you harvest. The preserve is high fenced for obvious reasons. Not only do they not want to lose their quality deer, but they also don’t want outside local deer wandering into the preserve.
The plan was to hunt early morning to around 9:00 a.m. or so and then hunt in the evening from around 5:30 until dark. I could certainly see this hunt was also going to cause a bit of stress on the hunters like myself, when without a doubt some of us were going to see some trophy bucks. I have been an avid mule deer hunter all my life and, over the years, have taken a fair number of whitetails both in the west and in the east. I can’t say I have ever shot a monster whitetail; I think my 160 class 10-point Montana whitetail is my best.
This blind was back a good ways from the feeders, like about 180 yards. This was a hot feeder as more and more deer started coming in. At one time there were 20 deer feeding in a close area. One buck stood out above the others; he was a wide and heavy horned 10-pointer with split brow tines, a very nice looking buck. All I could do was look and admire what a nice buck he was. I was using a pair of my favorite binoculars, the Swarovski EL 10x42’s. These high quality glasses are a real pleasure to look through. I asked Jeff, ”What’s he going to be like in another year or two with all these upcoming bucks?” However there was one large forked horn buck that was a troublemaker. He was very aggressive and kept the other deer from the feeder. Jeff commented if he hangs around until near dark, I think we should take him. He was aged at 3˚ years and was only a forked horn, most definitely a cull buck. He should have been an 8 or 10 pointer at that age.
However, lucky for him this day, as shortly another buck came out of the timber. This buck was 4˚ years old and with a tight frame and 9 points. As he was already 4˚ years old, he would never be a trophy type buck. As Jeff said, a buck at his age should be good sized 10-point typical or a big non-typical. At the age of 4˚ and above is where you start getting your trophy bucks.
As it neared dark the majority of the deer started working their way toward us across an open field. When they had closed in to about 100 yards away, and as it was quickly getting dark, Jeff suggested I go ahead and take the nine-point buck. I quickly lined the rifle up on him and settled the crosshairs just behind the shoulder. At the shot the buck broke to his left and headed for the thick timber. I looked at Jeff and said the shot felt good, but he did take off on a run. Jeff commented, “The buck was hit hard, let’s just wait a few minutes.” To be honest I was concerned about that 60-grain .223 caliber bullet getting the job done. This same load performed great in the gel block, but this was the real thing. We gave it a few minutes and then we headed the way the buck had gone. We had gone no more that around a small side hill and there lay my buck very dead. The total distance was about 80 yards. As a real bonus, the Trijicon scope with its tritium powered reticle really works well in cases such as this.
When we got back to the skinning shed, a number of deer were there to be processed. I broke out the new DiamondBlade Skinner knife I had ordered with my own handle selection and this was its first application. They have a super sharp diamond type blade that cuts through deer like butter. I had also brought along my DiamondBlade caper model, if needed. I then had the fellows doing the skinning try out my knife for themselves. Both fellows commented on how sharp it was and how nicely it handled. I might comment I have since used that knife on three other animals since the Missouri hunt and have yet to sharpen it.
The next morning we went to another blind, referred to as the “Old Car.” As it broke day several does were out and then four bucks showed up. We watched them a bit, then a most impressive buck showed up. Although aged at only 2˚ years old, he was already impressive. He had 10 points plus a drop tine that really got me excited. Although he had a small body as young as he was, this fellow was going to be a real trophy in a few years. This was the type of buck that Dustin wants to see with his selective breeding program.
Three more deer soon came out plus several more does. Finally Jeff said let’s go ahead and take an older doe feeding on the edge. We had had a great time watching all the deer and it was about time to go back. The shot was about 75 yards and when hit, the doe took off on a dead run for the thick brush. As before we waited about 15 minutes then took up the trail. Once again about 70 yards into the timber, there lay the doe stone dead.
That day after lunch Dustin offered to show us his whitetail operation and breeding area. He had a number of his breeder bucks off in several large pens. I just couldn’t get over the size of these bucks. True trophy bucks such as these are very valuable. It takes some serious money to set up and run a quality operation like this.
The evening hunt was in another location, again a number of deer including nice and upcoming bucks. But this time, I was treated to a very nice buck, at least for me that came into view. He was larger than any of the other bucks. His rack was wide, tall and heavy,10-pointer plus. But the thing about this buck was that he had on each side of his rack about an eight-inch drop point. He was very low-keyed; in fact he laid down off to the side and just watched the others. What a buck he was. I whispered to Jeff, “I’d like to finish up my hunt with this big boy.” He commented that we would both be history around here. Finally as it neared dark, Jeff had selected an old doe he wanted taken. The shot was about 125 yards and, just as the other two, I placed the crosshairs just behind the shoulder. Once again at the shot the deer bolted for cover went about 80 yards and dropped dead. All three deer reacted the same way when shot, typical lung shots. The way the DRT bullet is designed and was demonstrated on the gel block, is the bullet goes in about 3-4 inches then opens up and explodes making a wound cavity about four inches or so out from the center. The results are very impressive fatal kills.
Also, I guess my concern about a .223 Remington caliber being adequate for deer is not totally valid. However, bullet placement is critical here as in any other case. If you put the bullet in the right spot, the animal is normally done for. I now had three deer under my belt and I was really starting to warm up to the Smith & Wesson rifle. It took a bit of practice to get used to the two stage military style trigger, but it became easy to use. My Smith & Wesson M&P 15PC “Compliant” has the 20-inch stainless barrel and is finished in the Realtree camo. It also has a twin to it, except on this model the stock is flat black in color. I chose the camo model when offered by Matt. I like its looks. Although I did not have an opportunity to spend much time shooting for accuracy, I knew the rifle was a shooter.
We closed out the event with another fabulous dinner and we all had a great time. We ended up taking 20 deer which was right about what they wanted us to accomplish. Without a doubt, the new DRT line of ammunition works and has demonstrated its ability in taking game.
When I got back home, I took out my pet .223 Remington rifle and fed it some of the 60-gr. DRT HP ammunition. I got repeated three-shot, one-inch groups at 100 yards. It is accurate ammunition. I might add DRT also offers other calibers and loads, including handgun ammunition as it expands its ammunition line
Please refer to the side bar for specific information and data on the rifle, scope and ammunition.
As to the Smith & Wesson M&P rifle, I have a model on order and can’t wait to shoot and spend some extended time with it and get some hunting in. I might add the East Fork Ranch offers a variety of hunts including trophy and maintenance, plus some cull hunts for the budget minded hunter. I certainly had a great time and so will you.
On the Cover: Author with two of the well-known Country-Western singing Mandrell sisters. Louise on the left and Irlene on the right.
Smith & Wesson M & P 15PC
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Action: Gas Operated Semi-Auto
Capacity: 10 rounds
Overall Length: 38.5 inches
Stock: A2 Buttstock
Barrel length: 20 inches
Weight: 8.2 lbs. no magazine
Trigger Pull: 4.5 lbs. 2 stage
Barrel material: Stainless Steel
Upper & Lower: 7075 T6 Aluminum
Finish: Synthetic Stock
Trijicon Accupoint 3-9 x 40mm
Reticle: Std. Crosshairs
Other: Accupoint Illuminated
Dynamic Research Technology (DRT)
.223 Rem. 60-grain HP
Velocity: 2900 fps
East Fork Ranch
Swarovski Optik North America
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