Saturday, June 18, 2016

Youth Shotguns...Too Little, Too Late.

I got into some different correspondence today...specifically about starting off a youngster with a shotgun. The question was, "What .410 is best to start a kid with?".

The answer: "There isn't one."

It seems a time honored tradition that you start a young hunter out with the diminutive .410 shotgun. In days past it was typically a single but pumps and even a couple of autoloaders have been manufactured. The rationale behind the choice is that the light recoil will encourage better shooting. If it were a rifle, I'd agree. But it's a shotgun, so I don't. Not at all.

Here goes the long winded explanation. The shotgun kills with pellets. The number of pellets gives you pattern density. Pattern density dictates how far away you can kill stuff.  Simple? Not really. The typical .410 load of #7.5 shot is 1/2 to 11/16 ounces.  The typical 20 gauge is firing 7/8 to 1 and 1/4 ounces of shot.  That's 175-241(.410) compared to 306-437 (20 gauge) individual pellets in an individual shell. Considering it only takes one lethal pellet to kill... the 20 gauge is clearly a more powerful and lethal round. Hands down, no way around it. The 20 gauge will fire more pellets, have higher pattern density and be lethal at a longer range and be way more forgiving.

What about recoil? The .410 firing a 3" load in a 5.5 gun generates 10 ft/lbs of recoil force compared to 16 ft lbs for a light field load in a 20 ga. Is that significant? Maybe if you have your kid shooting 12 rounds of trap every day but for the average kid getting to blast a box periodically and maybe go shoot a grouse or some rabbits... it amounts to nothing. Any kid old enough to carry a lethal gun can stand up to 16 ft/lbs of recoil force, which is roughly equivalent to the 7-08 in a light rifle. There are a number of light loads available and a slightly heavier 20 gauge is going to have less felt recoil than a light .410 gauge.

My first shotgun? A .410. My kid's first shotgun? A .410. The wrong choice on both counts. A generational bad decision that keeps propagating.

My early attempts on squirrels with an ancient, hand me down .410 were abysmal and I quickly learned I was far deadlier with a .22 to much further than the .410 could be counted on. My son's results were much the same- after he let fly at a rabbit at a mere 20 yards and the rabbit ran off he was dejected. Dirt flew up all around the rabbit but he never left a drop of blood. He was simply in a hole in the pattern of the feeble payload. A 20 gauge would have provided one dead rabbit. It was shortly after this affair that I outfitted my son with a small frame 20 gauge pump and his lethality in the field went from zero to 100% in a single season. He took squirrels, hares, grouse, ptarmigan and loved that if he could get within thirty yards- he could seal the deal. He never made a comment about the recoil either. I've long held that recoil is only felt at the range. On game, I can't recall anyone ever talking about recoil- even at stout levels.

The .410 is very pleasant to fire, but lacks the killing power to give kids a good chance on game. I feel you're better off letting them feel some thump and give them some field success than playing softball on recoil and giving them a lot of frustration in the field. I think as a community we get this wrong all the time. 

So what good is the .410? The .410 is a wonderful little cartridge and can make a wonderful light shotgun in the hands of a pro that points like a magic wand. In the hands of a kid it's a frustration, in the hands of an old master- it's a joy. The light gun weight and low recoil make shooting pleasant and the lack of pellets provide the level of challenge that many accomplished folks crave. Kids are still learning the basics and nothing like field success encourages more practice. 

The .410 is widely promoted as ideal for beginners and that's all wrong in my book. We should be promoting it to the masters, right alongside the 28 gauge. 

For a kid- the 20 gauge firing light loads is where it's at.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The .308 Winchester....or Mr. Big Enough

I get a pretty routine amount of correspondence regarding cartridge selection for Alaska hunting and a typical query goes something like this..."I've got a .308 but I want to go moose hunting..." or some variation on that theme. Typically, someone will have a rifle they've used elsewhere but after reading a bunch of Internet chit chat they have become convinced that their deer gun is suddenly inadequate for hunting in the North. They might come to that conclusion through a variety of reasons- moose, bears, long range, or some combination of the above but all come to the conclusion that the somehow...inadequate.

On the other hand, I'm pretty plugged into the Alaska hunting community and am friends with a large number of very successful hunters. I was treated to a photo last week of a couple of friends of mine- a married couple- who explore much of Alaska and hunt extensively. The photo was from their spring bear hunt on Kodiak Island chasing the island's world famous brown bears. I'll not spoil the story should they ever decide to tell it and, besides, this story is about the .308 Winchester. Suffice to say the archetypical animal that inspires thousands to purchase true elephant guns in their pursuit fell to a single broadside shot from a .308 Winchester. And this couple are not just some lucky fools who happened to make it work once. They hunt bears, goats, sheep, moose, caribou and everything else on a near constant basis. Hubby is something of a rifle crank like I am but the wife is a "dyed in the wool" fan of the .308 in her bobbed Kimber Montana. It's the rifle she shoots the most, shoots the best and has bagged about one or five of everything there is to shoot here. Including now, a nine and one-half foot Kodiak bear...on the heels a 62" moose a couple years ago and a mountain goat last year.

Putting the 180 grain bullet at a plodding 2600 feet per second where it goes is much more important that a heavier bullet or a faster bullet.  The fact that the world's most popular hunting cartridge is now the .308 isn't likely an accident either although worldwide acceptance isn't a wholly deciding factor alone- look at the AK47...easily the most common rifle on the planet with little to recommend it.

I'll digress....

I've had a very long association with the .308 and have taken a sizable number of animals with it, including my nicest caribou- a true old giant of a beast as far as caribou go. I wandered away from the .308 some time back, partially out of sheer boredom but I could easily go back to it as an all around rifle. I would do so with total confidence too. I've had .308s from Remington, Kimber, Winchester and of course, my Steyr. There's nothing I wouldn't hunt in Alaska with any of them. I handled a wonderful Sako Carbonlight a few months back and while the price tag could induce a coronary....I could happily hunt with it until the end of my hunting career and never look back.

There are plenty of old gun hands who dismiss the .308 as "inferior" or "weak" or any other such nonsense claims. Reading some of the older writers, they claim it's only good for Girl Scouts or to cycle through the M14 shooting diminutive Communists in some far off land. It was poppycock then and it still is.

 I'll not bore the reader with the tale of the .308- that history is well documented- but we'd do well to remember that the ballistics that made the storied reputation of the .30-06 are exactly the ballistics offered in modern .308 ammunition. A 150gr at 2800, a 165 at 2700 and a 180gr at 2600. Modern .30-06 ammunition will typically get about an additional 100 feet per second added to those figures in sporter length barrels. It's my experience that those 100 fps do exactly nothing in terms of greater wounding or trajectory over typical distances. The bonus is that the .308 is available in some really great rifles- of particular interest are the super light rifles and carbines like those from Kimber and Sako. There is not a real advantage in picking the .308 in a 9 pound rifle.

However, a 6 pound rifle is a completely different matter and a short action will typically drop 6-8 oz from the weight of the action. It's no trick to get a hunting ready rifle in .308 under 7 pounds and not unusual to get under 6 pounds. The .308 case is a model of efficiency and gets full ballistic potential from barrels as short as 20". A svelte little carbine like the Sako Finnlight or Kimber Adirondack might give you a tangible advantage as you climb through 5000' or whack your way through some alder choked hell. That's a much more tangible thing to consider than some arbitrary numbers in a ballistic table.

We'd also do well to remember that while a certain level of power is desirable, ability to shoot proficiently is mandatory. Having cool nerves and utmost confidence in your ability will serve you better than the latest "uber magnum" headstamp. Knowing where to shoot something and that the bullet will hit what you aim at is far more important than any other factor in killing animals. There's a 9.5 foot Kodiak bear that learned that last week... and we should too.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thoughts on Alaska Bowhunter Education and Certification

I've been an archer now for something just over two months and while this piece isn't exactly intended for the experienced bowhunter, it is something of an answer to a whole bunch of questions I had that I never got adequately answered prior to taking the class.

Alaska, and several other states, require a bowhunter certification prior to hunting big game with a bow that meets IBEP standards. Right after I got my bow, I was a little dismayed to find that the only certification class in my immediate area was going to occur just 5 weeks away. In short- I passed the tests with flying colors and this is sort of a review of the process to making that happen. While the exact shooting test varies a little from place to place and instructor to instructor, the process is pretty much the same.

I opted for the "Online Course w/ Field Day" option. That means that I took the classroom and written testing portion online. You need something on the order of 4 or 5 hours to take the online portion- depending on how well you do with that sort of computer based training. I'm sort of an old hand at it since my employer invests heavily on CBT and a portion of my academic coursework was virtual as well. You have one year to pass the Field Day Qualifier once you pass the online portion of the course.

Expect no surprises. My course was through , a vendor for a whole lot of states' hunter education, bowhunter education and muzzleloader education programs. It was a logical breakdown of bowhunter and archery basics into several modules with a multiple choice quiz at the end of each module and a 50 question test at the end. You can read the modules or select an audio file to read it to you and there are a number of videos that play. The videos are geared for about the 6th grade level (this is, after all, a company that contracts hunter education) in a slightly campy first person format. So, if you're a grizzled graybeard or an archery pro you might feel a little bit patronized. You will need to pay attention though and answer the questions appropriately since your status is not reflective of the test. Most of the material is straight up cut and dried so a passing score is pretty much guaranteed if you have even a basic ability at reading comprehension. You also have unlimited attempts at the test should you need it. In my state, I had to wait for the passing grade to upload to the state fish and game before I could register for the field day.

The Field Day Qualifier was something of a bit of worry for me. Since I didn't have a long background in archery, I had a limited frame of reference as to what constituted "good enough" shooting. I shouldn't have worried. If you can shoot an 8" group at 30 yards reliably the test will be a breeze. The longest shot I've ever heard of in the Field Day was 35 yards and mine was 26 yards. I only used the top pin (sighted at 20yds) throughout the whole course. In retrospect, a 10, 15, 20 and 25 yard pin would have been more useful than my 30, 40 and 50 yard pins.

The Field Day started in the classroom and we had about an hour of paperwork and review with some miniature animals and a broadhead demonstration. Safety is a pronounced component of the course with a lot of emphasis on tree stands. Tree stands are pretty rare in my area, but they are by far the single most common mechanism of injury for hunters nationwide. After the class work and review, we moved to the range.

The course of fire was pretty simple. Four 3-D targets, two arrows per target and you had to fire at least one lethal arrow on all four targets and a fifth arrow into one of them. The closest shot was ten yards and the farthest was twenty-six with an eighteen and a twenty-one making up the middle. These are completely realistic shooting distances straight out of the IBEP guidance. The targets were standard 3-D type  foam animal targets and the hits were judged by the instructor based on lethality in real life- not the scoring ring. For instance, on a quartering away target a hit behind the ring could be 100% fatal while a hit forward in the ring might only be a wounding shot. More on that in a minute.

Half of the shots were kneeling and two were from an elevated stand that replicated a tree stand. Nothing seemed surprising in hindsight and anyone who would contemplate shooting an arrow at game should be able to pass the shooting proficiency test pretty readily. Despite that fact, a couple of the folks in my group of six did not pass on the first try. If you fail to qualify on the first try, you may be allowed to shoot again that day at the instructor's discretion. In all, I found it a worthwhile experience and I would wager that more states will require such education in the future- much like the now universal hunter education requirement among all states. I feel that the course will make me a better bowhunter in the long run.

I've heard the blood trailing exercise can be challenging. In our class, with ample snow was not, just like real life. At least there was some advantage to taking the course in winter conditions.

Some Tips:
1. Practice, practice, practice- If you show up to qualify and blow the dust off your bow just prior you will likely not do very well (saw that with one individual in my group). I probably fired a thousand arrows in the 5 weeks before the course. That was probably overkill, but I was going in both blind and a noob to boot. As mentioned, if you have a properly sighted and tuned bow and can hit decent groups out to 30 yards, you'll have zero difficulty.

2. Shoot from kneeling, a stand and from close range- with today's short axle lengths and high speed bows that advice seems silly. But we had to shoot half from standing and a quarter from a stand, be prepared. The only dicey shot I made was the ten yard shot from a stand that resulted in a steep down angle on a small target...I had to think about that one and purposely aim under the impact point. A lot of folks shot clear over the top of it. If you have a longbow the kneeling shots might be a real problem, with a modern 30" compound my shots kneeling were better than standing.

3. Know you animal anatomy- scoring rings don't matter but vital shots do. Know where to hit an animal with an arrow. You'd think this would be self explanatory in a bowhunting course but you'd be surprised. The coursework covers shot angle and vital zones in detail. One of the targets I shot at was a Velociraptor due to technical difficulty with a deer target- since I was first in the cohort to shoot, I simply asked the instructor to define the kill zone for me and he was happy to oblige. I'm not only good to go in Alaska, but qualified for Isla Nublar (obscure Jurassic Park movie reference) as well.

4. Be prepared for weather- the class runs rain or shine and in my course that meant 5F and snowing like crazy. I put a couple of "Hot Hands" packets in my gloves to keep my fingers warm between shots. Easy. Depending on where and when your class happens- rain gear, bug dope, or hot hands might be appropriate. You want to do your best, and standing in a blizzard or rain storm while 30 people shoot first might be a distraction if you're not prepared. I was glad for a small group of six in that regard, but that's unusual- most classes in Anchorage or Fairbanks are 25-30 people.

5. Bring a rangefinder- You are allowed (nay, even encouraged) to use a rangefinder in the shoot. However, you are not allowed to share information with other students. Rangefinders are cheap and easy to use these days....bring one, you won't be sorry.

6. Be a sportsman (or sportswoman)- The instructor is almost assuredly a volunteer on his or her own time motivated only be promotion of archery. Be courteous, be punctual, and be a good sport. If you aren't shooting well, ask the instructor to give you a pointer or two. The two guys that taught my class were first rate and extremely helpful and arguing with them isn't going to help your case. You can, in fact, be failed for "unsportsmanlike conduct". I've heard stories from other classes but didn't experience any of that drama in my group.

7. Use the "right" bow- You are allowed to use any bow in the class. You may be a dedicated "trad" guy, but traditional archery guys fail the course most frequently. One of the guys in my class missed the entire animal three times with his recurve. He would have benefitted from more practice for sure, but he could have passed easily with any generic compound bow. I offered him the opportunity to use mine on his re-shoot, but he declined. Another gentleman brought a bow that was clearly too powerful for him and failed his first attempt. If you can't draw the bow seated or draw back in a straight line you need to drop back poundage.

Another student brought his 80# bow set to full power... he was a great shot and he passed easily, but he drove arrows so deep into the target that pulling them in cold weather was a challenge. It was challenging for everyone but he ended up destroying a half dozens arrows and a target in the process. There is no advantage or requirement for a high speed, high poundage bow for the qualifier. On that note- if your class will be during cold weather, lubing your arrows with silicon spray or WD-40 will make pulling them a whole lot easier.

Best of luck to everyone and while the qualifier isn't super easy, it is straightforward. Passing it with a little prior practice and forethought should not be a problem.

Best shooting,

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Contents of a Man’s Pockets...(a Rant)

(Author's note: this is the closest thing you'll get to men's fashion advice in this column...)

There seems to be a movement afoot wherein grown men become very conscious about the contents of their pockets. The movement is called EDC, which is an acronym for Every Day Carry. While I will wholeheartedly agree that grown men typically have responsibilities that require the lugging about of certain material goods, the movement has taken on an air of man-boy dress up. I get that adult life can indeed take some very weird turns, and as a good Boy Scout you should “Be Prepared”. Sometimes that train of thought can run on some pretty bizarre tracks.

Case in point, in researching one of the many blogs dedicated to EDC, readers of the blog take some sort of photo of their “EDC Kit” and post it up for other readers to comment upon. One thing that struck me, is that most of the photos had far more crap in them than most folks carry on a daily basis. One sample had a full size 1911 handgun, a spare mag, a small revolver, two flashlights, and (no kidding) three knives as well as one multi-tool. I doubt very seriously any grown man packs that much crap on a daily basis going about a workaday life- even a workaday life that might involve physical violence. One thing curiously absent was a key ring. Given the presumption that the poster was indeed a grown man, one would assume you’d have some level of responsibility for managing a key of some sort. Close to 10 pounds of steel rummaging around in your pockets or belt and no key to a house, car, office, etc. I call Walter Mitty on this one.

One of the things that also struck me strange is the counterpoise to the entire EDC movement, which is The Minimalists. It is not  unusual for these folks to not carry much at all-no watch, no wedding band, only a tiny sliver of aluminum or leather that holds a driver’s license and a couple of credit cards. No cash, certainly nothing in the way of a firearm, no pocketknife. About the only thing for certain is a giant, honking smart phone which might very well replace a full sized computer in their home. It is as if any sort of material good is a physical encumbrance that goes beyond what is acceptable. A wallet or watch might slow them down or tax their stamina beyond the limit. I’ve even seen ads for a new smartphone technology that eliminates the need for a credit or ATM card- your phone can be used to get cash or pay for purchases directly. Sounds like a complete disaster.

So here is my view from middle age in my not so humble opinion on what every grown man ought to carry on a daily basis.

The required…
1.     Wallet- if you’re a grown man, you need a wallet. Period. You’ll need to carry some form of ID, most likely an ATM and credit card, insurance card, a photo of the family for the married man (or a list of phone numbers for the bachelor). In my youth, I’d sure hate to trust the number of a knock out redhead I just met to some digital ether. And speaking of phone numbers, a grown man ought to have a business card or two in there. Nothing fancy, but opportunity strikes when you least expect it. A wallet also needs to be leather. A nylon number that closes with Velcro is fine if you’re in junior high- adulthood is different.  A well-made wallet can outlast you. A wallet with a chain attached to your belt? Do I really need to go there?

2.     Cash- to go in that wallet. There is nothing that points to adolescence like being financially naked. There is simply no excuse for a grown man to be rolling around with just a couple of bucks. While I’ll admit there is a practical limit here; a man should be able to buy a tire, buy dinner, and buy a few groceries or a tank of gas without whipping out the plastic. A surprising number of life’s minor disasters can be readily solved by the application of a couple of Benjamins. Nothing says “adult” like paying the dinner tab (and the tip) with a single bill of currency in the check and walking out of the restaurant.

3.     Watch- a grown man is going to have some level of responsibility. Part of that responsibility involves getting to places on time. Punctuality is the basic level of respect you give other people- give it and expect it from others. I know your dang phone has a clock on it, I get it; but a man looking at his watch and a man looking at his phone portrays two very different messages. I can subtlety (or not so subtlety) glance at my watch and frown at some chatty Kathy to let them know that I value my time and have more pressing matters to attend to. Looking at your phone just makes you one more of zombiefied masses so common today.

 And speaking of a watch, it needs to do two things- tell the time and tell the date. Gadgetry need not apply. Calculator watches were cool when you were a kid and there is simply no need for a watch with an altimeter and GPS to keep you moving smoothly through your day. A giant dive watch is only appropriate if you’re a professional diver or a submarine captain (you’re neither so don’t). The construction of a watch is also important. A jewel encrusted golden monstrosity identifies you as a cheesy used car salesman or some other similar over-compensator trying desperately to impress when you bring nothing of value to the table. A plastic digital watch is practical and frugal- but as a man of some means you get some leeway here- a stainless or titanium watch is always a good move and appropriate everywhere in all situations. A good watch is an investment, spend some of that hard earned money and you only need one. (Ladies, a nice classic watch is the perfect gift).

4.     Jewelry. Unless we’re talking a wedding band, don’t. Class rings, frat rings, etc. are a nice memento but have no place in an adult wardrobe. In a similar vein, bracelets, chains, pinky rings, etc. make you look like a complete douche. A man’s jewelry is a wedding band and a watch. Period. And speaking of wedding bands- an appropriate wedding band is plain. A woman’s engagement ring and wedding band is a sign of prowess and status. A man’s wedding band is your wife marking her territory, no need for flash here. Metal type isn’t particularly important; gold is traditional, platinum is really too soft for a man’s ring and titanium and other exotic materials are just fine and perhaps more practical. The newer “action bands” made of plastic or silicon are tacky. If you’re engaged in high risk activities like sky diving, MMA fighting or running a machine mill where a ring presents a hazard…just take it off. Tattooed wedding bands? Just no.

5.     Pocket knife- carry a dang knife…you are not a child. Unless you’re on a plane then you should have a knife in your pocket. There is no need to go wild here. A knife is man’s first tool and contrary to all the shrinking violets out there- a knife is a terrible weapon. As a grown man you will undoubtedly have to open mail, open a box, cut a rope or some other similar task that requires a blade. A giant knife is generally not required, after all I’ve butchered a bull moose with a 3” folding knife and bigger would have been a hindrance rather than a help. Multi-tools can be handy but on most folks they look as nerdy as packing a shortwave radio. A good quality knife says a lot about the man carrying it and the world is chock full of perfectly acceptable ones. Oh, it should be sharp, a dull knife carries a message too… a bad one.

6.     Key ring- as a grown up you likely have some keys. You’re probably in a senior enough position to warrant a key to the office or other workplace. You should have a key to the house or apartment. Despite the proclivity of automakers to drift toward keyless cars, most of you will need an automotive key, depending on locale- you’ll have a post office box key. A simple key ring is fine. They’re keys, not a fashion statement. Needless to say, you should avoid nonsense key fobs like fart noise makers and what not. A functional key fob like an LED button light is totally ok. If your key ring looks like you work at the county jail, you might need to rethink what you’re packing around. Needless to say, a beer bottle opener on your key ring identifies you as a juvenile who lacks either an imagination or a rudimentary understanding of physics.

7.     Phone- adult life will almost certainly require you to carry a phone in the modern era. Consider it a necessary evil or a minor inconvenience at best. The zombie hordes run around all day staring into their phones oblivious to everything around them. That’s stupid- while rare, if you walk around in Condition White all the time someone might cut off your head and put it on a stick. Be present where you are and for God’s sake, don’t look at your stupid phone while being addressed by your superiors. It’s rude, and they won’t forget it.

      As an aside on the phone: Texting. Texts are for limited communications… like “Can you pick up a gallon of milk?” with the response of ”Will do.” That’s texting appropriately. If you need to carry on a long discourse with several decision points just call them- you have a phone in your hand after all. The younger generation seems to have forgotten that phones are for talking. I’m in the minority here, but I hate texting. It’s the lowest echelon of human communication.

The maybe….
8.     A pistol- lots of fluff on this one. Some folks habitually carry a firearm and others do so vocationally. I’ve got no issue with either provided it’s kept within the limits of reasonable. I’ve seen a number of folks packing heat in the open; it’s legal here but it still makes you look like a mouth breather man-boy playing livestock movement technicians and indigenous peoples (unless you also happen to be wearing a uniform). A gun is not a fashion or political statement, and anyone who tries to make one either needs a serious butt kicking.

Packing heat should be a serious and discreet activity for a lot of good reasons and that means concealed. That would favor smaller weapons and given the popularity of concealed carry in the modern era, makers produce a whole host of suitable pieces. A look at someone’s daily carry gives you a good idea of their occupation, their level of paranoia, or more likely their proclivity to fantasies about zombies and foreign invasions. Most of the opinion on knives and watches translates here- too big is bad, too gadgety is bad, too tiny is bad. If you find it required to pack a service pistol, a reload and a smaller revolver on top of that I would suggest either a new job, a shrink or a new zip code.

The “Just say no”….

There is a never ending list of paraphernalia that folks carry around. I’ve seen tactical flashlights on a lot of lists- could be handy in a given situation but most likely not in everyday life. I’ve seen some pretty esoteric stuff too- like a 6” long titanium prybar. I have to wonder how often a guy might suddenly need a prybar without warning and if you did how well a 6” version would work. I’ve also seen a whole host of miniaturized tools. As a guy who’s done a lot of mechanical work, substitutions for actual tools usually just spell disaster in the form of busted knuckles and stripped bolts. I know the appeal is that you’ll suddenly need a 10mm wrench and your savvy preparations will save the day when you effect whatever repair with a mini tool you just happened to have in your pocket. Truth be told, you’ll spend $50 for a worthless titanium piece of stock with a 10mm EDM hole in it that you’ll forget about every single time you need a 10mm wrench. It will then live in the bottom of a drawer or your glove box forever.

I’m a wilderness guy and have a whole kit of goods that I take there. On a lot of folk’s lists I saw a lot of fire-making kits, compasses, small axes, and one guy claimed to EDC a breakdown spear point. Given that most of these folks are straight up urban cube rats, I find it hard to believe that on the way to the office they’ll suddenly need a friction fire, a fresh cut sapling to make a fish spear and to navigate cross country out of the blue. There’s prepared and then there’s out of touch with reality.

To end my rant, I get that modern life has stripped a lot out of masculinity. Being a man who makes his living staring into an illuminated rectangle all day certainly doesn’t have a satisfying snap like gunning down big game and roasting its flesh over an open flame does. I even get that in today’s precarious times that the downward tug of a pound and a half of stainless steel .45 automatic on your hip sure does ease the apprehension about driving through certain parts of town. We’re men, it is part of our ethos to be the prepared, to be the fixer, the problem solver. For many of us, that’s a part of life that is sorely lacking. But buying a whole bunch of bespoke gadgets to fill your pockets with won’t fill the void, for that you need confidence and you earn that with callouses. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snowmachines...more Dangerous than a Loaded Gun.

An interesting few days in the news regarding snow machines (snowmobiles for you Canadians and other illiterate types)...just kidding, snow machine is a fixed part of the Alaska lexicon, other places? Not so much.
But I digress-

In a widely circulated story- an intoxicated man hit two Iditarod teams in two seperate incidents over the weekend killing a dog and injuring three more. In another breaking story, husband of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, is in intensive care after being mangled by a snow machine over the weekend as well.
But those are just a couple of stories that achieved circulation due to the notoriety of those involved. Just about every week some anonymous Alaskan will strain a machine through the trees at high speed or ride one through a hole in the ice or simply get stranded out in the toolies..some of the worst off will trigger an avalanche. Some get rescued, some get medi-vaced, and some get buried. Some just never get found. The really stupid add booze to an already precarious situation. 
Bottom line, snow machines as a mechanism of injury know few peers. Be careful out there folks.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Archery as Therapy for the Malaise of Middle Age

I'll say at the outset that this is pretty different for me. I've recently taken up archery and have been enjoying it...well, the point of this piece is that it is more than enjoyment. It's therapy.

Between my professional life as a project manager/planner, an organizational restructuring project, technical writing, a pretty well received op-ed, academic concerns and venting my spleen on political matters in print- it's left my nerves frayed.

While I'll not bore the reader with an exhaustive discussion of my work life; being the H.M.I.C. of dramatic change is not easy. People resist even positive change and are deeply suspicious of even the purest motives that come with evidence. Change that doesn't come wrapped in such gilded bona fides- well, you can guess. The end of the work day usually ends with a long sigh. On top of that, there is the usual technical writing that accompanies that sort of work. I like it. Sort of.  It's writing, but it's dry and devoid of character by design. I've previously compared it to working in a dusty barn- try as you might you can't help but choke on it. It makes me yearn for the days I worked in construction- at the end of the day my body was tired but my mind was clear. My current effort entails sitting on my ass for ten hours and leaving too tired to think.

While I'll not go into a political discussion (it's neither the intent nor scope of this blog) I will say that the current contentious environment is taxing on the mind. I'm much too old to resign the political arena to my elders and much too young to resign myself to death before I feel the effects of the decision making of the political class. I've written, briefly about it here and there, but I've had to take on the role of outside observer lest it make me absolutely crazy. I did write an opinion piece about the current public land debacle that got picked up by the Anchorage paper and was pretty well received. It was widely circulated on conservation list servers and I felt pretty good about that. Still, in politics it seems like I worry excessively about tempests I can do little about.

Which brings me to archery.

Coming home with a bunch of conflicting thoughts bouncing around inside my head isn't really the best way to end the day. When I pick up the bow, those thoughts get quiet. The less contentious get forgotten. Pretty soon I'm not focusing on rate of return or earned value management or delegate assignments or state house bills or much of anything else of that ilk.  I'm focusing on compressing 70 pounds of draw weight energy and concentrating it onto the tip of a 30" long carbon fiber arrow. Then unleashing that energy into an equation that is both relatively simple and damnably complex with the hope of driving an arrow into a spot the size of a tennis ball some 30 yards away. And I do it over, and over, and over.

While I know nothing about "zen", I do know a little about fly-fishing. The physics are there in plain sight but do the slightest thing wrong and the whole system collapses. With the bow, drop your string arm elbow and your point of impact radically changes. Change your anchor and you may not even hit the target. Forget to open your grip and you might sail an arrow into the ethereal beyond. Shooting well requires a complete focus on what you're doing. As I've learned, if you're shooting the bow and thinking about something back at the office you'll soon be thinking about where your $12 arrow just went.

When you're at full draw you had better be all in the here and now. Unlike rifle shooting, the bow requires a presence. With the rifle, everything except my breath, the trigger and the crosshairs goes away. With the bow I have to be acutely aware of my feet, my back, my arms, my neck, the angles of my legs, the pressure of the release against the back wall. I can break a rifle down into pure math- feet per second, ballistic drop, foot-pounds of energy, time of flight. I can't do that with a bow. That's why bow ads and reviews are so full of subjective language. Non-sensical words like "shootability", "smooth" and "forgiving". Even the mathematical standard for how fast a bow will shoot, IBO speed, has almost zero bearing on how fast it will shoot in the real word. It is delightfully frustrating.

My job as a planner requires that I spend a lot of my day in the future and my endeavors as a writer usually entails a substantial dwelling on the past. As an archer however- the discipline demands being in the present.

And that's just what I needed.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Something New...or Strings and Sticks and Assorted Pokey Things

My wife generally observes my birthday by dropping me off kicking me to the curb out of a moving vehicle in front of the sporting goods store with instructions to "go buy something." If it's not been a very good year, i might walk out with a box of shells or a pack. A good year has seen a nice rifle or two, a shotgun and a new pair of binos. Since I'm firmly ensconced in my "middle youth" I generally just skip intermediary steps and buy what I want from the outset since I'm likely going there anyway.

I've hemmed and hawed about archery for a couple of years now. I haven't shot a bow even semi-seriously in decades but it is something I've been wanting to try again for no particular reason other than it is a facet of hunting I've got little experience in. Alaska doesn't really have much in the way of a "bow season" the way the Lower 48 does, but we do have a few areas that are relegated to archery only and some fantastic tags there.

This year, I got kicked to the curb outside the archery shop. Which was pretty expect to see some archery content in the future. As of now, I've been shooting it for a couple of weeks and managed to take the online portion of my IBEP certification (required in Alaska for bowhunts). The bow is a Mathews No-Cam HTX, which came highly recommended by my archery oriented friends and I have to admit- it's been far easier to pick up than I imagined.