For that reason, picking the “best” cartridge for deer hunting is sure to evoke strong feelings. Many gallons of ink, and maybe even a little blood as well, have been spilled on this exact topic.
Add to the mix the fact that deer vary significantly in size across their range and are found in a number of different habitats — both often necessitating the use of a different cartridge for optimum performance — and you’ve got a tricky situation on your hands.
However, there are still a few different cartridges that always seem to rise to the top in the debate. Here are my picks for the seven best deer-hunting cartridges.
Before I get started, please understand that the purpose of this article is not to bash anyone’s “pet” cartridge. Just because it does not appear on this list does not mean that I think a particular cartridge is “garbage.” Indeed, there are dozens of outstanding cartridges out there, but not all of them can make the list of the best deer hunting cartridges.
Developed by necking a .308 Winchester cartridge down to 6.2mm, the .243 Winchester is considered an entry-level deer-hunting cartridge in most states. With bullets available in a variety of weights ranging from 55 to 105 grains, the .243 Winchester is well suited to a number of applications, especially deer hunting.
This little cartridge has developed a reputation for being extremely effective on deer, not to mention being accurate, flat-shooting and having a mild recoil. These attributes make the .243 Winchester one of the best deer-hunting cartridges around for small-framed hunters, such as women or children.
7mm Remington Magnum
The 7mm Remington Magnum is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges for hunters needing to take longer-range shots. Most 7mm Magnum loads feature bullets with high ballistic coefficients fired at high velocities, giving the cartridge a flat trajectory.
While this sort of performance is not needed by the average deer hunter, it gives hunters the ability to take shots with confidence at ranges out past 250 yards. Even with all of that power, the 7mm Remington Magnum has a manageable amount of recoil, which also helps explain its popularity.
Developed in the 1890s for the Winchester Model 94 rifle, the venerable .30-30 Winchester was one of the first cartridges designed specifically for smokeless powder in the United States. Though the cartridge is pretty anemic on paper by modern standards, the .30-30 Winchester has been cleanly taking deer for more than a century, so it is clearly an excellent deer-hunting cartridge.
At ranges of 150 yards or less, the .30-30 Winchester is one of the best in the business. Combine this with the fact that most rifles chambered in .30-30 are handy, quick-pointing lever-action rifles, and you can see why the .30-30 is so popular among hunters in the southern and eastern United States.
It’s really tough to determine which cartridge has killed more deer in the United States over the last century: the .30-06 Springfield or the .30-30 Winchester. Regardless of which one is No. 1, it’s pretty clear that the .30-06 Springfield is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges in existence.
It is flat-shooting and powerful with a manageable amount of recoil, and there are dozens of great rifles chambered in this outstanding cartridge. If you had to choose one cartridge to hunt with for the rest of your life, you could do a whole lot worse than the .30-06 Springfield.
In a nod to all of the hunters out there who prefer to hunt deer with a pistol, I had to include a good pistol cartridge on this list. It’s hard to think of another pistol cartridge that has accounted for more dead deer in the last half-century than the .44 Magnum.
At one time it was the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world. Even though that is no longer true, it is still one of the best deer-hunting cartridges around for hunters who use pistols or carbines.
The .44 Magnum’s big, slow and heavy bullets deliver bone-crushing power and have plenty of power to ethically take even the biggest deer out to 150 yards or so.
A personal favorite of mine, the .45-70 Government is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges for hunters who need a good “brush gun.” While some would criticize the .45-70 Government for being a little on the big side for deer, there really is no such thing as using “too much gun” on any animal.
This is especially true with the .45-70 because not only does it deliver bone crushing power, but it also does so while using a heavy bullet at a moderate velocity. Because of this, the .45-70 does not produce large amounts of ruined, blood-shot meat, like other cartridges (including the 7mm Magnum or sometimes .30-06).
Like the .30-30, the .45-70 Government is most often available in handy lever-action rifles, making it a great choice for close-quarters shooting. Additionally, the .45-70 also has a manageable amount of recoil. At close range, there are few other cartridges that can compare with the .45-70, especially if the owner also wants to hunt larger species such as bear, elk and moose.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the United States is allowed to hunt using centerfire rifle cartridges. Instead, some states restrict hunters to using shotguns during their modern firearm seasons. That is the reason it is on this list.
Using a rifled slug barrel and topped with a scope, a 12-gauge shotgun is quite the deer slayer out to about 150 yards or so. A 1-ounce (437.5 grains) lead slug is absolutely deadly on a whitetail deer.
Additionally, using buckshot (the name is no accident), a hunter carrying a 12-gauge shotgun is ideally armed for a close range encounter with a deer. Though it is only effective out to about 30-35 yards, buckshot is a great choice for shooting a moving deer (like when using hounds) or when hunting in areas with thick vegetation.
Thomas Jackson’s great grandparents were criminals. John Jackson and Elizabeth Cummins were both convicted of larceny in England and were punitively dispatched to the New World in 1749 alongside 150 other convicts. On the voyage across the Atlantic, John and Elizabeth fell in love.
Once their obligatory bond service was complete in 1755 they were married. Their grandchild Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born in 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia. He was the third child of Julia and Jonathan Jackson. In his youth, Thomas went by the nickname “The Real Macaroni,” though the origins and significance of that term are not well understood.
Typhoid took his six-year-old sister in 1826 and his father some three weeks later. The boy’s remaining sister Laura Ann was born the day after her father died. Thomas and Laura Ann were close as children, but Laura Ann ultimately sided with the Union. Thomas grew to become a Confederate General of some renown. As a result, their relationship remained fractured until his death.
Thomas Jackson entered the US Military Academy in 1842. Jackson’s lack of formal education hamstrung him upon his arrival at West Point, but his legendary dogged determination compensated. He graduated 18th out of 59 in his class of 1846.
Jackson got his formal introduction to war in Mexico. As a young officer, he distinguished himself at Chapultepec. For a decade starting in 1851 he taught at Virginia Military Institute where he was unpopular with his students. Along the way he was twice married. His first wife died in childbirth. His second, Mary Anna Morrison, lived until 1915. When the South seceded in 1861 following the attack on Fort Sumter, Thomas Jackson threw his lot in with the Confederacy.
In July of that year, Jackson commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. At a critical moment in the fight, Jackson beat back a determined Union assault. Barnard Elliot Bee, himself a distinguished Confederate General who ultimately lost his life in combat, referred to Jackson as a “stone wall” in the face of the enemy. The name stuck.
After an initial setback attributed to flawed intelligence, Stonewall Jackson dominated the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1862. Through truly exceptional tactical acumen, Jackson and his troops defeated three separate Union armies in the field. He exercised his martial gifts at places like Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, developing for himself a reputation as a cunning and insightful combat leader. At Chancellorsville Jackson’s 30,000 Confederates launched a devastating surprise attack against the Federal flank that drove the Union troops back fully two miles.
The General’s Theology
Thomas Jackson has been described as a fanatical Presbyterian. His deep and sincere faith drove everything about his life while making him all but fearless in battle. He once opined, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me…That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
Like most exceptional personalities, Jackson was also a bit strange. He held a lifelong belief that one of his arms was longer than the other. He would frequently hold the perceived longer of the two aloft for long periods in an effort at equalizing his circulation.
General Jackson highly valued sleep and was known to fall asleep at times while eating. His prior service as an artillery officer had severely damaged his hearing. This made communication difficult at times. He also had an abiding passion for fresh fruit like peaches, watermelons, apples, and oranges. His real weakness, however, was lemons. When they could be found Jackson would frequently gnaw whole lemons in an effort at soothing his digestion. General Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor and a colleague, wrote, “Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.”
Stonewall Jackson and Slavery
No information age treatise of a prominent Confederate can be complete without dragging slavery and race into the narrative. In the late 1850s, Jackson owned six slaves. Three of these–Hetty, Cyrus, and George–were received as part of a dowry from Mary Anna’s father upon their marriage. Two others supposedly requested that Jackson purchase them based upon his purported kindly local reputation. Of the two, Albert was purchased and worked to gain his freedom. Amy served as the Jackson family cook and housekeeper. The sixth was a child with a learning disability who was received as a gift from an aged widow.
In what was considered a fairly radical move for the day, in 1855 Jackson organized and taught Sunday School classes for blacks at his Presbyterian Church. Of this ministry, Pastor William Spotswood White said, “In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind…His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father…He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” I obviously cannot speak to what any of that was really like, but Reverend White was clearly a fan. Not diminishing the repugnant nature of slavery as an institution, but it was clearly a different time.
The Death of Stonewall Jackson
After a wildly successful engagement against Joe Hooker’s forces during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson and his staff were making their way on horseback back through friendly lines. They encountered sentries from the 18th North Carolina Infantry who mistook the party for Union cavalry. The pickets shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” but fired before receiving an adequate response.
Frantic remonstrations from the command group were answered by Confederate Major John D. Barry’s command, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!” During the course of the two volleys, Stonewall Jackson was struck three times.
Two rounds shattered Jackson’s left arm. One ball entered at the left elbow and exited near the wrist, while another struck his left upper arm three inches below the shoulder. A third ball struck his right hand and lodged there. Several members of Jackson’s staff along with their horses were killed. The poor visibility and incoming artillery fire added to the confusion. Jackson was dropped from his stretcher at least once during the subsequent evacuation.
Battlefield medicine during the Civil War was unimaginably crude in comparison with today’s state of the art. The standard treatment in the face of significant damage to an extremity was amputation. As there were no safe and effective anesthetics available these surgical procedures were typically fast, frenetic, and fairly imprecise.
A Confederate surgeon named Hunter McGuire took the arm, and Jackson was moved to the nearby Fairfield Plantation for recovery. Thomas Chandler, the plantation owner, offered the use of his home. However, Jackson, ever concerned about imposition, insisted he be maintained in a nearby office building instead.
The germ theory of disease had not yet come to drive battlefield surgery, so secondary infections of combat wounds were ubiquitous. Jackson developed a fever and pneumonia as a result of his injuries and succumbed eight days later. As the end approached he said, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”
General Jackson’s final words, uttered in a delirium immediately preceding his demise, lend further insight into the man’s character. Attended by Dr. McGuire and a trusted slave named Jim Lewis, his final words were, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…” Then he paused and uttered, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Stonewall Jackson then breathed his last.
The fatal bullet was ultimately recovered and identified as a .69-caliber projectile. Union troops in this area typically fielded .58-caliber weapons. The 18th North Carolina Infantry was most commonly armed with older larger-caliber muskets. This discovery sealed the suspicion that Jackson had been felled by friendly fire. This was one of the first incidents wherein forensic ballistics identification was used to establish the circumstances surrounding a violent death.
While the American Civil War ultimately saw the introduction of cartridge-firing repeating rifles like the Henry and Spencer, most combatants on both sides were armed with single-shot, muzzleloading rifled muskets of various flavors. Union troops had the luxury of greater standardization due to their more advanced state of industrialization, while Confederate units frequently had to make do with a hodgepodge of weapons. Regardless, in this particular circumstance, the science of ballistics told an unfortunate tale.
The Rest of the Story
Upon learning of his friend’s injury Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote, “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”
He sent this message to Jackson via a courier after his surgery, “Give General Jackson my affectionate regards, and say to him: he has lost his left arm but I my right.”
When told of his death Lee confided to a friend, “I am bleeding at the heart.”
The Battle of Gettysburg took place a mere two months after the death of General Jackson. As any student of Civil War history will attest, Gettysburg was an iffy thing indeed. The entire outcome of the war potentially turned on a handful of decisions made under the most arduous of circumstances.
Had Stonewall Jackson been at Lee’s side during the chaotic maelstrom of Gettysburg the battle might very well have turned out differently. Had Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia been able to take the day and subsequently march on Washington, Lincoln could have been forced to sue for peace on the steps of the White House at the point of a Confederate bayonet. Had that been the case our world would obviously be all but unrecognizable today. Sometimes the most momentous events turn on the smallest things.
Ripping down historical monuments in a fit of emotion strikes me as viscerally unsettling. In 2001 the Taliban blew up the 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan and were rightfully reviled as a result. It really should be possible to appreciate historical figures without dogmatically embracing the causes they represented or obliterating the evidence of their existence. For all have sinned, even in modern woke America. If left intact alongside contextual information these monuments could serve as object lessons to enlighten generations yet to come. If freedom from moral stain becomes a prerequisite for veneration then I fear we may be destined to become a nation bereft of monuments.
The Germans referred to their massive 1944 counteroffensive through the Ardennes as “Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein” or “Operation Watch on the Rhine.”
We called it the Battle of the Bulge. Regardless of the terminology, this sweeping attack represented the Germans’ final hope at staving off unmitigated disaster.
The stakes really could not have been higher. Success might mean a negotiated peace. Hitler hoped to turn the US and the UK against the Soviets for a united fight against the forces of Bolshevism. Failure would mean abject defeat and a ravaged homeland. Such pressures on young men can precipitate some fairly egregious behaviors.
Kampfgruppe Peiper led by SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper represented the vanguard of the 6th SS Panzer Army commanded by Sepp Dietrich. Racing against the clock and an ever-dwindling fuel supply, Peiper’s panzers crushed American resistance and punched deep into the Allied rear. The farther they pushed the more precarious their situation became and the more desperate they grew.
On December 17, 1944, German SS troops captured some 120 American troops from the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. Desperate to continue the advance and lacking the facilities to manage prisoners, SS troops opened fire on the unarmed Americans. 84 Allied soldiers were killed.
Sepp Dietrich, Joachim Peiper, and their immediate subordinates were all tried after the war for murder. There resulted 43 death sentences and another 22 defendants sentenced to life in prison. None of the executions were actually carried out. Peiper was eventually released from prison and settled in Traves in Eastern France. In the early morning of July 14, 1976, unknown assailants set Peiper’s house alight. The unrepentant Nazi died of smoke inhalation.
The Malmedy Massacre came to define the Battle of the Bulge. Once word of the shootings got out very few SS prisoners survived to see the inside of a prison camp. Through the shaded lens of history it is easy to look down our long Roman noses at the SS troops involved and rightly revile them. However, our own behavior in this regard was not without blemish.
Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, kicked off on July 9, 1943. The command structure for this convoluted operation was complex, but LTG George Patton commanded the American ground element. In the lead-up to the invasion, Patton was in rare form.
Patton addressed his officers prior to the invasion so as to dispense last-minute command guidance and encourage his men. Many of the troops involved in Operation Husky had not seen combat before. Emotions were running high.
One of Patton’s regimental commanders, Colonel Forrest E. Cookson, later testified that General Patton had stated, “If the enemy continued to resist after US troops had come within 200 yards of their defensive position, surrender of those enemy soldiers need not be accepted.” Some of Patton’s troops apparently took that directive quite literally.
Event Number 1
Green troops from the 180th Infantry Regiment were given the task of capturing Biscari Airfield and linking up with the US 1st Infantry Division. The 180th so struggled in the first two days of the invasion that the Division commander MG Troy Middleton considered sacking the Regimental commander. By July 14th the men of the 180th were tired, frightened, and frustrated.
SGT Horace West was tasked with securing a group of some 45 Italian and 3 German POWs. The prisoners were stripped of their shoes and shirts to discourage attempted escape. West and a few others marched the prisoners about a mile back from the lines before peeling off eight or nine for submission to the Regimental S2 (Intelligence Officer) for questioning. SGT West then borrowed a Thompson submachine gun from his company First Sergeant Haskell Brown. When the 1SG asked why he wanted the Thompson, West replied that he was going to, “Kill those sons of bitches.”
SGT West directed his men to turn away and raked the group of unarmed shirtless prisoners with automatic fire. Once he had the group knocked down he swapped out magazines, switched his Thompson to semiauto, and shot each of the fallen POWs through the chest. The following day the Regimental Chaplain discovered the 37 bodies and alerted his superiors.
Event Number 2
CPT John Compton, commander of C Company, 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment, was undeniably strung out. He had been without sleep for three days, and his company had taken an absolute pummeling. Persistent and relentless sniper and mortar fire exacted a horrible toll.
By the time Compton got to his objective at the Biscari Airfield, they had already taken heavy casualties. Of the 34 men in Compton’s 2d Platoon, fully a dozen were either dead or severely wounded. Italian snipers had fired upon wounded American troops as well as the medics dispatched to tend to them. The pressure of such grinding sniper activity weighed heavily on Compton and his men.
When Compton’s company finally seized their objective they took some 35 Italian prisoners. These Italian troops were located in a dugout fighting position from which the sniper fire had been coming previously. Several of the Italians were in civilian clothing when they were captured.
Through an interpreter, an American squad leader named SGT Hair asked the Italians if they were the ones who had been shooting at the American wounded. The Italians refused to answer. SGT Hair reported all of this to his platoon leader, 1LT Blanks, who duly passed it on to CPT Compton. Compton said simply, “Get them shot.”
With CPT Compton in tow, his men formed an 11-man firing squad, lined up the unarmed Italian soldiers, and gunned them down. A few of the POWs attempted to run. When the dust cleared Compton’s men had killed them all.
The Thompson submachine gun was designed to fight the First World War. The first operational prototypes became available within days of the 1918 armistice. With no massive government contracts to fill, General John Taliaferro Thompson marketed his handy little meat grinder to Law Enforcement and civilian users. Abuse by such sordid characters as John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd bought us the onerous National Firearms Act of 1934.
Everything about the Thompson is wrong. It is too heavy, too unbalanced, and too complicated. However, when the US was dragged kicking and screaming into WW2 it was all we had available. In competent hands, the Thompson was nonetheless a reliable and effective close-combat tool.
The M1 Garand was called simply the M1 by those who wielded it. At 9.5 pounds and 44 inches long the M1 was a beast of a thing. However, the .30-06 round it fired was inimitably powerful. A friend who carried one in WW2 once told me that so long as you hit a German soldier center of mass with the M1 he was down and out immediately.
The M1 soldiered on from 1934 until 1957. I actually saw images taken from Haiti that showed security guards armed with M1 rifles in the news just last week. The M1 rifle was one of the most critical weapons in the American arsenal during WW2.
The Rest of the Story
News like this is all but impossible to suppress in a congested war zone. Eventually, word got back to General Omar Bradley who confronted Patton over it. This was Patton’s subsequent entry in his war diary that evening, “I told Bradley that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the Officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad. Anyhow, they are dead, so nothing can be done about it.”
Patton was later informed that the 45th Division’s Inspector General found “No provocation on the part of the prisoners…They had been slaughtered.” Upon further introspection, Patton purportedly said, “Try the bastards.”
SGT Horace West admitted to the killings but claimed that a combination of fatigue and LTG Patton’s ambiguous orders were mitigating circumstances. He was convicted of premeditated murder by court-martial and sentenced to life in prison. Eisenhower, ever eager to avoid an unnecessary scandal, remitted his sentence on November 24, 1944. West was restored to active duty and served in combat until the end of the war. He received an honorable discharge and lived out his days in Oklahoma. He died in 1974.
CPT John Compton was court-martialed over the deaths of the 36 prisoners under his charge and used a similar defense, particularly relying upon LTG Patton’s directives regarding prisoners resisting within 200 yards of friendly forces. He was acquitted on October 23, 1944, and transferred to the 179thInfantry Regiment. Two weeks later he was killed in action fighting in Italy.
The winners write the history, and war is bad. Normal men forced into such abnormal circumstances are frequently driven to do things that seem unnatural from the comfort of our living rooms. The very act of combat is the most repugnant of human pursuits.
The Axis was ultimately defeated and with them went their death camps and dark aspirations for world domination. However, it took hard men doing hard things to put the final nail in the Nazi coffin. Sometimes war takes those hard men to some particularly dark places.
“Somewhere, somehow, somebody’s going to pay,” was the tagline for the 1985 Schwarzenegger action movie Commando. This classic stylized bloodbath orbited around a retired special operator named John Matrix whose daughter is kidnapped. The archetypal evil mastermind takes the little girl in an effort at motivating Schwarzenegger’s super-soldier character to overthrow a small island nation-state on his behalf. The central theme, should you wish to think this deeply about it, explores the limits to which a devoted father might go to protect his child.
According to www.moviebodycounts.com, for his era, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Hollywood’s deadliest actor as determined by total on-screen kill count. Commando was his bloodiest movie by the same metric. His record has since been eclipsed by more modern fare, but he was the unchallenged 1980’s king of gory vengeance. As an aside, one scene that was proposed but later cut had Schwarzenegger chopping a henchman’s arm off with a machete and then beating him to death with it. His dialogue was to have been, “Thanks for lending me a hand.” Sheesh…
John Matrix logged seventy-four kills in Commando. Among them fifty-one people were shot, seven were blown up by emplaced explosives, and five others succumbed to hand grenades. Another five met their gory demise thanks to an M202 rocket launcher.
Two faceless disposable bad guys got cut into pieces by thrown circular saw blades, one person was stabbed to death, and one particularly unfortunate rascal was impaled on a hissing steam pipe. As an aside, Schwarzenegger’s youthful daughter Jenny was none other than 13-year-old Alyssa Milano, the modern face of the Me Too movement.
Commando was actually a pretty silly movie. The guns were cool, but the dialogue seemed like it was penned by a Third Grader, and the acting simply reeked of cheese. I’m nonetheless not too proud to admit that I had a life-size movie poster from the film plastered on my dorm room wall back when I was a college student. However, a year before Commando hit the big screen, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, saw a very public example of just how far one real guy might actually go to avenge a crime committed against his child. That guy’s name was Gary Plauche.
Leon Gary Plauche was born on November 10, 1945, in Baton Rouge. He served in the US Air Force and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. After leaving the military he became a heavy equipment salesman and also worked as a cameraman for a local TV station. Though he had a temper, he was known for his affable demeanor and quick jokes. Plauche fathered four children—three boys and a girl. Gary was separated from his wife June in the early 1980s. This was predictably hard on his kids.
In 1983 Gary’s 11-year-old son Jody began taking Hapkido lessons from a 25-year-old ex-Marine named Jeffrey Doucet. Jeff Doucet had humble beginnings. He dropped out of school in Ninth Grade and, as a child, lost a sister to a rattlesnake bite. The discipline and exercise intrinsic to the martial arts seemed good for Jody. Doucet took the kid under his wing and cultivated a bond that appeared to be therapeutic given the circumstances. Doucet was a regular visitor at the Plauche home and frequently gave Jody a ride to the dojo for training.
Authorities later determined that Jeffrey Doucet had been molesting the young man for more than a year. In February of 1984, Doucet kidnapped Jody and took him to a motel in Anaheim, California, near Disneyland where he sexually assaulted the kid repeatedly. Meanwhile, the authorities scoured the country looking for them both.
Doucet eventually allowed Jody to make a collect call to his mother. The cops traced the call to the motel and staged a raid. Law Enforcement officers hit the hotel room, rescued the child, and took Doucet into custody without incident.
Jody was returned home on March 1, 1984. Once he was safe the details of the protracted abuse came to light. Gary, who was 39 at the time, was interviewed by a news crew in a ghoulish effort at ascertaining his feelings on the situation. He told the interviewer that he did not know what to do and just felt helpless.
Two weeks after Jody returned to Louisiana, Jeffrey Doucet was extradited from California to Louisiana to stand trial for child molestation and sexual assault. Doucet’s Flight 595 out of Dallas landed at Ryan Field in Baton Rouge, and Doucet was led through the terminal in handcuffs. Meanwhile, wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, the aggrieved father Gary Plauche stood nearby at a bank of pay phones speaking with his best friend. He cryptically whispered into the phone, “Here he comes. You’re about to hear a shot.”
In the immediate aftermath of what was to come it was assumed that local Law Enforcement officers had tipped Plauche off regarding the timing and location of the transfer. Plauche enjoyed friendships with many of the local cops, so this was not an unreasonable assumption. It was later determined, however, that a former co-worker from the local ABC television affiliate WBRZ-TV was Plauche’s source of intel. Then as now tragedy sells, so the media slathered the sordid story with attention.
This bit is all pretty unsettling when you think about it. Humans in the Information Age are drawn to calamity like politicians to other peoples’ money. Throughout this whole ghastly episode, TV crews hounded the major players in search of that Pulitzer-grade image that might graphically capture one man’s anguish in the face of something so epically horrible. At 9:30 pm with the manacled child molester Jeffrey Doucet passing just behind him, Gary Plauche gave the world those images.
Plauche retrieved a small revolver of unknown make from his boot, stepped alongside Doucet, placed the gun to the right side of his head, and fired a single .38-caliber hollowpoint round. The cops subdued him immediately. Plauche’s friend Deputy Sheriff Mike Barnett can be heard on the tape asking him, “Gary, why? Why, Gary?”
Plauche tearfully answered, “If somebody did it to your kid, you’d do it, too!”
The sex criminal Jeffrey Doucet fell into a coma and died in hospital the following day. Video footage of the horrific scene has taken on a life of its own. Michael Moore used it in his anti-gun documentary screed Bowling for Columbine. The clip also featured prominently in an unsettling compilation of real-life video killings titled Traces of Death 2 released in 1994. It was viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube prior to its removal.
Gary Plauche was charged with murder in the second degree but subsequently pled no contest to manslaughter. He was given a seven-year suspended sentence along with five years’ probation and 300 hours of community service. He completed all of this in 1989.
Opinions were mixed on the outcome of the Plauche case. Some felt that shooting a man in the head in cold blood in an airport warranted more than probation and community service. Others believed that the circumstances surrounding the crimes committed against his child absolved him of responsibility. Plauche’s defense team made a compelling argument that Doucet was a charismatic manipulative predator who had used Plauche’s family challenges to take advantage of his son.
Psychological assessments alleged that Plauche was so traumatized by these events that he was unable to discern the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killing. Any parent can imagine the unfettered anguish this might precipitate. The judge in the case, Frank Saia, ultimately agreed and opined that Plauche represented no risk of further criminal behavior. He felt that sending Plauche to prison would serve no material purpose for the state.
It was later revealed that Doucet and Plauche’s wife June were having an affair at the time. This revelation just served to muddy the waters further. However, forensics determined that Doucet’s assault on Jody occurred just as had been alleged.
In 2019 Jody Plauche released a book titled, Why, Gary, Why? The Jody Plauche Story. The book was described thusly, “Through his own incredible story of using his past for good by helping others, he shares how any reader who has suffered great trauma can move on and not let the past define him or her.”
I’ve not read it myself, so I can’t comment on its contents. However, the excerpts I have found do yield insight into Jody’s subsequent attitudes about the shooting.
He wrote, “I think for a lot of people who have not been satisfied by the American justice system my dad stands as a symbol of justice…My dad did what everybody says what they would do…Plus, he didn’t go to jail. That said, I cannot…condone his behavior. I understand why he did what he did. But it is more important for a parent to be there to help support their child than put themselves in a place to be prosecuted.”
In his final interview prior to his death, Gary Plauche showed no regret for killing Jeffrey Doucet and stated that he would do it again if given the opportunity. In 2011 Plauche had a stroke as a complication of diabetes and was placed in a nursing home. He died in 2014 at the age of 68.
Of his father, Jody wrote, “A lot of people remember the guy who shot somebody. I remember someone who would pick up stray animals…someone who was just a kind soul, a gentle person.”
In May of 2017, a father of three named Troy Johnson donned a ghillie suit and stalked a 12-year-old girl as she was heading to school in New South Wales, Australia. The 31-year-old abducted, subdued, gagged, and raped the child. Police searched his home and seized several items of evidence that supported the resulting charges. There were allegations of other assaults and attempted assaults as well. This freaking loser supposedly suffered some kind of medical episode after his arrest and was subsequently hospitalized. He appeared in the Wyong Local Court after his discharge and was ultimately sentenced to 28 years in prison.
I struggle to comprehend what could drive a person to do something like that. Not meaning to sound uncharitable, but whatever his “medical episode” was, I can only hope it was something fairly agonizing. Most anything involving a power drill, a propane torch, or an intractable intestinal blockage would be OK with me. What makes this whole sordid tale pertinent to today’s discussion, however, was his attire. The ghillie suit has a long and fascinating military history.
Gille is a Scots Gaelic term that describes a young man who works outdoors. Gille Dubh translates to “Black-Haired Youth” or “Dark-Haired Lad.” The Gille Gubh is some kind of bizarre earth spirit adorned in moss and leaves that figures prominently in Scottish mythology. The general understanding is that ghillie is a poorly-translated version of this term.
Our Australian comrades call their ghillies “yowie suits.” This is a reference to the yowie, a mythical aboriginal creature akin to the Sasquatch. While there are a dozen or more local names for this thing, they all describe a hairy ape-like hominid that stands and walks upright. I rather suspect the yowie accounts for more than a little lost sleep among Australian children.
The ghillie suit is simply a camouflage outfit designed to meld a sniper into the background vegetation and leave him essentially invisible on the battlefield. In years past, ghillie suits were handmade as part of sniper training. Traditionally, this involved sewing strips of burlap of various colors onto an old camouflage uniform until the end result was adequately leafy and bulky.
The first recorded use of the ghillie suit in combat was by the Lovat Scouts during the Second Boer War. This Scottish Highland Regiment was mustered by Simon Fraser, the 14th Lord Lovat. The first batch of troops for this motley band was drawn from gamekeepers, professional stalkers, and similar men of the earth who toiled on Scottish estates.
The Lovat Scouts were initially commanded by the Honorable Andrew David Murray with Lord Lovat as 2IC. After 17 months in action, Murray was killed and Lord Lovat took command at age 29. He served until the end of the war in 1902.
At the dawn of the 20th century military tacticians were still trying to define themselves in the age of long-range repeating rifles, high explosives, smokeless powder, and belt-fed machineguns. In the Lovat Scouts we find soldiers well informed in fieldcraft and marksmanship. When combined with some innovative leadership these rugged men ultimately changed the way wars were fought.
The Lovat Scouts were attached for a time to the Black Watch, but that relationship ended in the summer of 1901. A year later the Lovat Scouts returned to England and were disbanded. With chaos on the horizon in Europe, the Lovat Scouts were reformed in 1903 as two regiments. From these troops were drawn a group of dedicated sharpshooters that became the British Army’s first operational battlefield sniper unit. The unit was dissolved and reconstituted another time or two before finally finding itself deployed as two separate regiments in September of 1915 to Gallipoli.
The First War to End All Wars
The WW1-era Lovat Scouts Sharpshooters were formed into ten platoons. Each platoon was led by a commissioned platoon leader and consisted of 21 soldiers and NCOs. That first sniper unit totaled 220 specially-trained men. In a fairly prescient bit if tactical acumen, each platoon was subsequently attached to a particular Army Corps to be tasked out to subordinate units as needed.
These sharpshooters were indeed renowned for their facility behind a rifle. Their weapons were typically variations of the standard-issue Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) that equipped most of the British Army. The SMLE was itself exceptionally capable for its day. However, it wasn’t necessarily their facility as snipers that so endeared the Lovat sharpshooters to their supported units.
These early snipers were highly esteemed for their covert intelligence-gathering skills. On a battlefield bereft of drones and spy satellites, the accurate establishment of enemy locations and dispositions made the difference between success and failure. While using little more than 20-power spotting scopes these skilled warriors could offer great detail on enemy movements within ten miles and still offer reliable insights out to twenty. Major Vernon Hesketh Prichard, a legendary soldier and adventurer whose story we will no doubt explore eventually in this venue, was quoted as having said of the Lovat sharpshooters, “Keener men never lived…if they reported a thing, the thing was as they reported it.”
When faced with the prospects of protracted trench warfare, the British set out to equip their sharpshooters with precision rifles worthy of their mission. At first, these dedicated marksmen were equipped with a motley array of repurposed scoped hunting weapons. However, by 1915 the British government began mounting 3x and 4x scopes atop SMLE and P14 Enfield rifles. During the course of the war roughly 10,000 rifles were thusly converted. The optics on these weapons were not standardized until 1918.
Though the SMLE fed from a detachable 10-round box magazine, most loading was still undertaken by stripper clips from the top. As a result, early scopes featured offset mounts to allow access to the rifle’s action from above. Later versions were center-mounted to facilitate a more effective cheek weld. These weapons had to be either loaded from the bottom using magazines or loaded from the top one round at a time. A skilled rifleman was expected to fire between 20 and 30 aimed shots per minute.
The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk I was first introduced in January of 1904. The SMLE’s 25.2-inch barrel represented the sweet spot halfway between that of the original Lee-Enfield rifle and the carbine version. The SMLE was distinguishable at a glance by the stubby little bayonet boss protruding just below the muzzle. The subsequent WW2-era Mk IV sported a small length of barrel at the nose. The definitive WW1 version of the rifle was the slightly-modified Mk III introduced in 1907. British Tommies affectionately referred to the SMLE as the “Smelly.”
The basic ghillie suit changed very little for nearly a century. If properly executed such a contrivance was almost unnaturally effective. However, those traditional burlap ghillies had their downsides.
Frayed burlap is notoriously flammable. On a battlefield contaminated with such vile stuff as white phosphorus, incendiary rounds, smoke grenades, and similar pyrotechnics the ghillie suit can be a simply epic fire hazard. Two snipers assigned to the 11th ACR burned to death during combat operations in Iraq when their ghillie suits were set ablaze. Additionally, burlap soaks up moisture like a sponge. Once a burlap ghillie suit gets wet it becomes unnaturally heavy. Wet burlap close to the skin for long periods in cool climes can precipitate hypothermia as well.
Modern sensors rely upon thermal detectors and IR imagers that can significantly degrade the effectiveness of traditional visual camouflage. While a generation ago such gear had to be mounted in the nose of an attack helicopter and cost as much as my hometown, nowadays thermal sights of surprising effectiveness are within financial reach of your typical middle-class pig hunter. As regards thermal technology, with each passing year the prices go down and the capabilities go up. Traditional ghillie suits don’t do much to conceal a person’s thermal signature.
While this might not seem like a big deal, a ghillie suit also attracts burrs and twigs like some kind of magnet. Once you’ve rolled around in the brush in one of these things for a while it becomes a gigantic mass of prickly crap. Most normal people wouldn’t care, but it’s impossible to keep a field-worn ghillie suit tidy.
The Next Generation
We Americans have a well-earned reputation for smothering our problems in science and technology. In 2007 the US Army Soldier Systems Center undertook a program to develop an enhanced ghillie suit material. Where burlap or jute had all those detriments described earlier, this new stuff was purportedly water-repellent and fire-resistant. After extensive field testing at the Sniper School at Fort Benning, this new material was incorporated into the FRGS (Flame Resistant Ghillie System). Testing began in 2018 on the IGS (Improved Ghillie System), a modular design intended to be even safer, more comfortable, and more effective.
Though they have really changed very little over the past century, the ghillie suit remains an integral part of the modern sniper’s kit. Wherever men institutionally kill each other there will be precision marksmen decked out in fluffy earth tones creeping about in the brush visiting death upon their enemies. Born in South Africa in the late 19th century, the ghillie suit remains a timeless sniper tool even today.
Several times a week you can hear gunfire echoing from Brandi Joseph’s scenic Southern California property. A licensed firearms instructor and dealer, Joseph decided to open Fortune Firearms in December to serve a growing and rapidly changing clientele.
“There is a huge uptick in female owners,” Joseph said. “Women are getting trained; women are carrying… liberal and conservative.”
Proof of that change pulled up Joseph’s long, dusty driveway in the San Jacinto Valley just before 10 a.m. for a Saturday social, of sorts. A group of seven African American women stepped out of their cars seemingly eager to start their first firearms training session.
“Our society and climate is changing… it’s just better to be prepared for your own safety and protection. That’s how we feel,” Laronya Day, who organized the outing, said.
Now in their early 50s, the women have been friends since they were kids in Los Angeles, about two and a half hours from Joseph’s business. And most of them acknowledge they lean left politically.
“Do you have some friends who would be totally turned off by this?” we asked Charlean Ward. “Absolutely,” she responded. “That’s their choice; I’m exercising my choice.”
Jamie Beverly looked less certain, if not uneasy. “Seeing all the guns on the table, I was like ‘ugh,’” Beverly said. “Would you ever want to carry?” we asked her. “I don’t think so,” she whispered.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Joseph led a detailed instruction, teaching the women about everything from the types of handguns best suited for self-defense to how to load and disarm a firearm. Only after the women had repeatedly loaded the cartridge, inserted the magazine, chambered the gun, and then doing it all in reverse, did Joseph determine they were ready to fire at their paper targets.
Echoes of gunfire rippled through the rural valley as the women pulled their triggers.
‘I definitely am more closeted being a gun owner’
About an hour east of Los Angeles, Yessica Mendez and her wife Crisia Regalado met with their instructor Tom Nguyen at Burro Canyon Shooting Park. But Regalado, 25, admits she at first wanted nothing to do with guns.
“Just the sounds… the vibrations of each impact… made me very jittery and shaky and I had to excuse myself out of the range,” Regalado recalled. “I don’t know, it just triggered something inside of me and it made me scared.”
Mendez, 30, was equally disinterested in guns at first. But in recent years she’s felt a growing need for self-protection.
“I’m a Mexican woman in a same-sex relationship; I need to feel safe. I need to feel protected,” Mendez said. “And right now the laws and the things that are going on don’t make me feel safe and don’t make me feel protected.”
She convinced her wife to join her for a training session with Nguyen, who began LA Progressive Shooters in 2020.
“I never intended to become an instructor, but the need from the community was there,” Nguyen said. “And there’s also folks from my own liberal community who see me as, ‘oh you like guns you must be a gun nut.’ But that’s not really it at all.”
Nguyen says his clients are mostly liberal and from all backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations. He prides himself on creating an inclusive student base.
“The more I educate those who are formally anti-gun the more they actually realize that there’s more nuance to it,” he said.
Both Mendez and Regalado now have their own guns and are working toward getting their concealed carry permits. But they avoid talking about their guns with friends, who they say are firmly anti-gun.
“They’re really not open to understanding,” Mendez said. Adding that she feels more comfortable discussing her same-sex relationship with friends than her guns. “I definitely am more closeted being a gun owner, for fear of retaliation.”
Finding common ground at the range
Both Mendez and Regalado at first worried about the type of people they encounter at the gun range, many of whom, they say, advertise their conservative politics in what they’re wearing or listening to.
“It’s mostly all men, mostly all white men, older men like 70s, 80s,” Mendez said. “Seeing people looking at us, and kind of just staring… It always makes us more uncomfortable. Because we’re like, ‘oh my God are they going to come and tell us, like, get out of here… you don’t belong here.’”
Instead, they’ve gotten a different reaction.
“They’re like, ‘Hey, you’re doing well, but can I show you something that might help you more?,” Mendez said.
Mendez says not only has it changed her impression of those individuals, but she also believes it’s given some a different perception of people like her.
“When I (came) back the next day, (one of the men) was like, ‘Hey! I saw your wife out there – she looks nice. Tell her I said ‘hi’.”
Still, as a Mexican-American immigrant in a same-sex marriage Mendez feels pulled in different directions politically.
“But at the end of the day I have to choose. Am I going to choose guns? Or am I going to choose my relationship? And I will always choose my relationship, but it’s just like a shame that we can’t come together and feel safe,” she said.
De-stigmatizing lawful gun ownership
Gun sales in one of the country’s few black-owned gun shops, Redstone Firearms in Burbank, California, soared post-pandemic and have remained steady, according to co-owner Jonathan Solomon.
“It’s not just one demographic. It’s not just one ethnic group. There’s just not one level of income… it’s a wide variety of folks that come in here now,” he said.
While white men have the highest rates of gun ownership in the US, one survey shows that in the first half of 2021 roughly 90% of retailers saw a surge in gun sales to African Americans. The same survey found that about 80% of retailers reported an increase in firearm purchases by Hispanic and Asian Americans.
Solomon, a former police officer, opened the shop about nine years ago with his wife Geneva. He says his new, diverse customers are primarily buying their first gun for a shared reason: self-protection. But he warns them to pay close attention to the rapidly changing regulations on firearms.
“It’s a consistent education when it comes to gun laws, especially in California,” Solomon said.
California is consistently rated among the states with the toughest gun laws. There are strict policies aimed at dissuading hasty gun purchases, including a 10-day cooling off period from when you buy a gun to when you can take it out of the store. And getting a concealed carry permit in places like Los Angeles can take more than a year and include background checks and interviews.
“It’s really convenient to think that if we just ban an object, if we just ban guns, then all of our problems would be solved – all of society’s problems would be solved – but that’s not true,” said firearms instructor Nguyen.
Nguyen said more and more residents are willing to put in the time and go through the hurdles to legally buy and carry a gun. And he says most of his clients support tough gun regulation so long as there’s clarity, consistency and still a path toward legal gun ownership. He only hopes they incorporate education and training into that process.
“I want to de-stigmatize lawful and responsible gun ownership,” Nguyen said.
‘I just feel liberated’
After completing their two-hour class at Fortune Firearms, most of the group of seven childhood friends were noticeably more comfortable in their new-found knowledge.
“I just feel liberated,” Ward said. “I feel like, let’s move to the next step: license to carry, get the concealed weapon.”
Data from Harvard found that more than half of new gun owners are likely to be women. Joseph says many of her clients are more liberal women who don’t advertise that they’re carrying.
“Most people have (in mind) the cookie-cutter firearm owner… right-wing…. But then there’s the other side that is quiet. They own guns. They’re buying them. They’re stockpiling ammo. It’s just not on their Facebook pages and it’s not their profile pictures,” she said.
Day is now planning to move forward with carrying after Joseph’s class. “With all the things that you see on the news, things are happening more… in so many public areas, movie theaters, Walmarts, grocery stores…. It’s like there’s no limit now,” she said.
But gun ownership is not for everyone. Even after their course, within the close-knit group of friends there are differing opinions toward firearms.
“I think it’s great that more people are being educated and taking steps to protect themselves and protect their families,” Beverly said. “But for me personally, I’m still leery. I don’t think I would purchase (a gun).”