Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shake- N- Bake.... the Arctic Oven Pipeline.

I'll readily admit that I've been a fan of the Arctic Oven line of tents since I saw my first one at a sports show in Anchorage many years ago. I'm not alone in my admiration of them, in Alaska and much of the Arctic north they are THE cold weather tent of choice and are a fixture on the Iditarod trail, hunting camps and mining operations almost uniformly. The only reason I never took the plunge is the cost for such a tent is pretty steep (more on that later) and the weight and bulk was always too much for the type of adventuring I do. A regular Arctic Oven weighs in at something like 70+ pounds with a stove and takes a very large duffel to haul it in. This is not a critical statement- they are not built for the mobile sportsman but are intended to replace and outperform the centuries old canvas wall tent which are a fixture of much of the West. In fact, when compared to a traditional wall tent the Arctic Oven is lighter and far easier to pitch but compared to a mountaineering's huge, and heavy. Being that my style of hunting precludes that much bulk and weight I've been an admirer, but one from afar.

All that changed a couple of years ago when they started to produce a large tunnel tent, called the Pipeline. I looked pretty hard at them but they lacked the feature I was interested in most in the rest of their line- the ability to add a stove. The world has plenty of great base camp tents but adding a stove takes camping to a whole new level. All that changed again when the Arctic Oven folks got so many requests to add stove jacks to the Pipeline they finally offered it as a standard feature. Age also had something to do with it too. Now I'm camping with a family rather than solo most of the time and while many guy hunting companions are content to shiver away, soaked to the bone in a 3 pound ethereal wonder shelter while the wind threatens to fold the whole works around your head.... most spouses and kids are not. I tried a "faux camper" built around a cargo trailer but found the whole notion just...too much as well as impractical for any hunt that leaves the roadside.

The Pipeline fixes a lot of that... at 19 pounds plus 6 pounds for the stove and accessories it is certainly not a tent that you would consider backpacking with but it is certainly in line with other base camping tents that you might haul on an ATV, carry on a canoe trek or raft trip or (what I'm going to do) roll the works into the back of a Super Cub airplane and get dropped in the back country. The stove adds the ability to warm yourself and dry wet gear, the lack of which is frequently the source of most Alaskan hunting misery. I can do ok hunting through the rain, but several days of wearing the same soaked gear and boots ceases to be any fun. Since August and September are the rainiest months of the year as well as packing early season snows- a typical caribou or moose hunt often turns into a marathon sufferfest.

Some features of the tent itself- the tunnel tent design withstands wind and has been proven in the mountaineering community for years. That same tunnel design cuts down on the number of poles and structural elements and the weight of those same elements when based on the amount of volume the tent has. One drawback is that the tent is not freestanding- it must be staked down as it requires some degree of tension on the pegs to remain standing. It is a 6'x12' tent with 18"vestibules at both ends. If we were talking "mountaineering standards" this tent would sleep 6 people...but whoever wrote those standards must enjoy spooning with their companions and do their camping without any other gear at all. If you weren't using the stove you could sleep four with gear and not be overly tight using the vestibules for gear storage. Using the stove three would be doable and for a duo it would be extremely comfortable. For a solo hunter as a long term base camp this would make a luxury palace utilizing a low cot giving spacious volume.

The stove is a simple, non folding sheet metal type utilizing a 3" pipe. The stove is not airtight (none of these really are) but has a circular air control in the door and a damper in the first piece of pipe off the stove. You would want to be cautious damping the fire too much but some degree of control is possible with this method. The firebox is small and the maker suggests adding a layer of sand or gravel to the bottom before firing to protect the metal from direct contact with burning material- sand and gravel are nearly universally available so it's not really a big deal. A steel grate to is available if you want to use charcoal only but I see no reason to use a grate since charcoal will burn fine on gravel.

Speaking of fuel- I powered my stove with a couple of handfuls of dry twigs I snapped form a brush pile. In this small stove you're limited to sticks and twigs about 6-8" long and about 1" in diameter. I considered briefly a propane powered stove but thought differently once I considered using charcoal if wood fuel was not available. The amount of fuel required to heat the tent is minuscule even in cold temperatures. A 30F, a handful of dry twigs brought the temperature to 70F within 5 minutes and in 10 minutes it was 90F at the apex of the roof. I've got several friends who heated their tent with a propane lantern down to 15F without issues. The tent does have high and low vents for fresh air but I'll admit I'm leery of using a propane lantern as a heat source.

The workmanship on the tent is first rate- essentially handmade to order in Fairbanks, Alaska and perfected for use in this environment over years. After talking with the staff and picking up my tent I must admit it is refreshing to purchase an item from people who not only actually make a product but use it themselves. This stands out in stark  contrast to something from a mail order house or retail outlet that was produced a half a world away through a litany of sub contractors and makers- many who may have little ideal the cost of equipment failure in the Arctic winter or even less about the concept of camping and hunting in general.

More to come, but I've got to admit I'm looking forward to using this a great deal in the years to come on my adventures. The ability to dry out gear and sleep warm is of tremendous value and my "middle youth" bones think its a great idea.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The .30-06 Project....or Eating Ballistic Celery, Pt. 4

I'm going to wrap this little experiment in the 4th part by looking at some of the outliers, some of the bullet weights not commonly encountered in .30-06 ammo, and as you'll see- some things just make you scratch your head.

We'll start off on the heavy end- The Sumo Wrestler.

220 grains of lead all bundled up and capped with a round nose. I'll say at the beginning that I'm surprised that ammo companies still load this. It's been around since almost the very beginning and today could be regarded as an anachronism- but first, an explanation.

In the ye olde days all cup and core bullets were essentially the same design- thin gilding metal jackets over soft lead cores. These bullets when driven to what we'd consider "normal" velocities would simply explode on impact and a couple things happened. In some parts of the world, hunters just gave up on the expanding bullet idea (Bell, notably) but other folks decided that more lead equalled more dead and simply made the expanding bullets heavier which in itself did a couple of things- the greater mass  slowed the bullet's MV which in turn slowed impact velocity to something survivable and the added material made fragments (if they occurred) to be large enough to penetrate well on their own. To folks who'd cut their teeth on a 94 in WCF or one of the blackpowder behemoths- the amount of penetration possible with the '06/220gr RN would have been unbelievable. For that matter, it was considered not inappropriate when Hemmingway knocked a rhino spinning with one.

In the North, it was widely held that you carried some 220s for bear protection or to shoot at a moose up close and you shot 150s or 180s for everything else. Given the relatively immature state of bullet technology back in the day- that advice made a lot of sense, but in today's world of bonded and mono metal bullets it is just an artifact of times gone by. It was also widely held that heavy bullets penetrated brush better, modern testing has proven that pure bull crap, so we won't discuss it further.

Why not just use your 180 grain bonded bullet instead of that lumbering lead beast? Modern controlled expansion bullets will penetrate just as deeply as the old 220gr...without the 100 range penalty the 220gr gives with it's 2400fps muzzle velocity. There is simply no point in it not to. In my test rifle, my dusty old 220gr Corelokts grouped about 5" at 100yds. Hardly stellar and certainly not useful in open country considering it's already 13" low at 300yds with a 200 yard zero. The 220 turns the '06 into a 200 yard gun and if you're worried that much about oversized critters then by all means get a bigger bore rifle. That result isn't unusual- that box of Corelokts is dusty because out of all the '06 rifles I've owned- not one of them shot the heavy stuff that well.

The ability to shoot the heavy for caliber bullets is widely touted as an advantage the '06 has...but I believe that's hardly an advantage any longer in the world of the Barnes TSX and Trophy Bonded Bearclaw. You simply give up too much accuracy and range for the same penetrating power with a modern projectile.

When you go to the other end of the spectrum though- The Flyweights make even less sense.

In the rural South several folks I know pressed the '06 into the varmint rifle role by inserting a 125gr bullet into the chamber. At first glance the 3140fps MV looks impressive...but hold on a second. First of all, I've never had a rifle that would get that much with the 125gr...3050 is about the tops in a 22" barrel. With a 200yd zero, the 125 is shooting exactly 0.8" flatter than a regular old 150gr at 300yds.

Yep, you read that right- 0.8" as in eight tenths of an inch which is simply statistical noise in the great scheme of things. It shoots no flatter than a 150gr load and is only 1.6" flatter than the all purpose 180gr load... at 300 yards. That's basically nothing. I've noted that much variation in the same bullet weight between brands.

In my test rifle the 125 gr shoots decent enough- about the standard 2MOA I've been getting out of everything else but the catch is the pattern is 11" left and 8" higher than the rest of the groups.  The thought of re-zeroing the rifle just to use 125gr on varmints or small deer and then rezeroing for 150-180grain ammo for bigger game just makes my head hurt. I suppose the 125 might recoil slightly less than the 150s but it wasn't enough for me to detect in my 7.5lb rifle and certainly not worth the hassle of screwing around with the scope.

Sorry- but that 125gr load is just the answer to a question nobody asked and is pure marketing.

And if that wasn't bad enough the next load is far worse- the famed 55gr Accelerator. I was actually holding on to a partial box of these for some odd reason or another. The ballistic table puts these at a rated MV of over 4000 feet per second or the equivalent of the hot 220 Swift. Why a guy would need to turn his big game rifle into a blistering, saboted .22 is beyond me but it's been in limited production for almost half a century now.

In my test rifle I fired 5 rounds and found 3 .22 cal holes in the 30" target - more or less scattered randomly about.  The other two either failed to hit the target or centered into one of the other .30 cal holes (pretty darn unlikely). Bottom line is though- 3/5 on a 30" square at 100 yards is not exactly varmint accuracy. Heck, on good days I've beat that with an iron sighted revolver and it's a cinch with my scoped 100yds! Despite the fact that it shoots theoretically flatter than a 125 or 150gr bullet, it lacks enough accuracy in my rifle (and I suspect most others) to hit varmint sized creatures at much beyond bayonet range.

I also fail to see how a 55gr sabot or a speedy 125gr bullet is somehow more desirable or deadly on a varmint or predator than a 150-180gr conventional big game bullet. I suspect marketing has something strongly to do with it...bottom line the .30 cal is oversized on anything regarded as a varmint or small predator like a coyote, fox, lynx and the like- regardless of the projectile.

In conclusion...

The very good and very old .30-06 is more than an acceptable hunting cartridge for many animals around the world. It's most useful bullets weigh between 150 and 180grs and there's almost no difference in trajectory out to practical hunting ranges, so pick the weight your rifle likes best and one that's constructed with your intended quarry in mind- the bigger the animal, the tougher the bullet should be. Bullets that are  heavier and lighter than those weights are probably not terribly useful in the field. It's better to choose one bullet weight and type and stick with it for the most part.

To that effect- the '06 is a fine choice for hunting, albeit not a terribly exciting one.

Footnote: After the shooting portion of this test was conducted, the rifle was sold to a friend of mine who wanted it. As good as the rifle was, it simply didn't do anything more (or less) than my current game rifles. I'm certain at some point another '06 will cross my path.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The .30-06 Project....Eating Ballistic Celery, Pt. 3

The Heavyweight...180 grains.
In the early part of the 20th Century, when the '06 was first getting it's legs under it, bullets looked much the same as they do today on the exterior- except they were far different internally. The jackets tended towards thin and the bonding process common today in which the bullet jacket and core are molecularly bonded together was still several decades off. Those early bullets when pushed to previously unheard of velocities by smokeless powder quite frequently just came apart on impact. Ballistic engineers back then handled that in a couple of ways. The first was to simply make the bullet "full patch" or as we know it- "full metal jacket" in which the bullet is designed for zero expansion by virtue of a continuous gilding metal jacket. Such ammunition was frequently used in sporting applications back then but serious wounding and slow, sloppy kills were the result. In modern times this type of ammunition is frequently prohibited by law for hunting and common decency prevents us from using it in the few places where it is legal outside of very special applications in which it is appropriate.

The other way they helped that bullet survive the impact velocity is of more interest to us. They simply made it heavier. Where the 150gr could hit 2950 fps and often ruptured on close shots, engineers made the bullet 180grs which slowed it down to 2650 or 2700 fps or so. The result is one of the most splendidly boring ballistic combinations ever devised by man. The bullet would survive an almost point blank hit and if it did rupture the fragments were large enough to be effective on their own. Penetration was greatly increased and hunters soon learned that two holes are better than one when it comes to letting hot blood out and cold air in. In fact, for a guy switching over from the .30WCF or even one of the big black powder rounds the amount of penetration was staggering from the these heavy for caliber bullets at moderate speeds. This result was not only great on big bodied deer but on elk, moose, name it. The 180gr@2700fps was THE cartridge that made the '06's reputation as a game cartridge. When combined with a rifle scope the American hunter was deadly to previously unheard of distances on larger game than ever before and the cartridge became a worldwide success and today counts for an enormous number of game animals.

In my own experience I've used it and it works. In my test rifle the 180gr. Corelokt produced groups of 2" with regularity- good, but not stellar, although one would have to come up with a pretty bizarre scenario where that wouldn't suffice as a hunting rifle to typical ranges. Performance on game was perfected decades ago and most .30 caliber 180gr projectiles are made to function at '06 speeds to perfection and most deliver the goods. As far as gun writing goes this whole bit makes me want to yawn in the worst way. Effective, cheap and plentiful is how I'd describe the 180gr '06 cartridge.

I do find it interesting that people insist on using the newer, tougher projectiles in the 180gr '06. Really tough bullets like the TSX, Bear Claw and Etip- those bullets are made for magnum speeds not the plodding velocity the '06 generates. Plain Jane cup and core bullets for the '06 have been around for a century and were perfected a generation or two ago. There is simply no replacing the sheer amount of R&D and real world experience that has went into .30-06 ammo...regardless of what the marketing message might tell you.

And speaking of marketing...

The Middleweight ...165 grains.
A fairly new product, the .30-06 (and .308) 165 gr bullet was touted as being the ultimate compromise in velocity and bullet weight. Let's be honest here- there isn't enough trajectory and velocity difference to make any of these more appealing than the other. The difference between the 150, 160, and 180gr over 300 yards isn't more than a couple of inches and no one can typically hold that in the field anyway. Bullet performance is likewise uniform since we figured out how to taper and bond bullet jackets long before the 165gr load saw the light of day. It is there though and has gained acceptance in the marketplace although I think the 165gr weight is best served in the .308 Winchester since it's short on case capacity to shoot the 180gr to really useful velocities. There is no reason to overlook it in the '06 if you have a rifle that likes it though, but it really doesn't serve much of a technical purpose. It shoots almost as fast as the 150, it kicks a little less than the 180... but the only real difference is on the ballistic table and you can't kill anything with one of those.

My rifle shot it pretty much the same as the 150 and 180gr. and while there is nothing really wrong with it; you sure don't gain much range over a 180 and you sure don't get much more bullet than the 150gr. It may be my old age showing, but I just can't think of a real advantage for it. It is, for all practical purposes, the answer to a question no one asked.

In reality, outside of my traditionalistic prejudices, the '06 shooter will be well served shooting either 150, 165 or 180 grain bullets of good quality for almost anything that walks in N.America and most other places. If I had moose or elk on the menu (or hunted in serious bear country) I'd lean toward the 180 and if I primarily hunted eastern White-tailed deer or antelope I'd lean to the 150 but there really are no wrong answers if the hunter is a good shot and gets to practical range. Shot placement and bullet construction trumps everything else and the '06 has a lot of offer there.

Monday, March 10, 2014

26 Nosler, Something New…or Not So Much

As many of you are aware, a new cartridge was introduced by the Nosler company this year- the 26 Nosler and the first cartridge to bear the company name on a headstamp. And while I don't have one (and am unlikely to acquire one) a couple of readers asked my thoughts since I'm an unapologetic fan of Nosler bullets and rifles.

What it is-
A very large cased 6.5mm cartridge intended for open country shooting. It's 129 Long Range Accubond bullet is rated at 3400 fps at the muzzle and the company claims it shoots flat to 415 yards.

What it isn't-
Magic or, particularly, new.

While few cartridges shoot as flat as this- there are many when zeroed at 300 yards will shoot within a few inches of what this one does and a couple even shoot flatter. I'm not against a company throwing a better mousetrap out there and I do think this would make an excellent sheep, deer and antelope cartridge when paired up with an accurate rifle of moderate weight. Nosler's M48 fits the bill on that one. But it's not that much different from a lot of existing cartridges in it's class. Immediately the .264 Winchester Magnum and the 7mm Remington Magnum come to mind and well as some of the excellent Lazzeroni and Weatherby magnums. When one crosses the pond the 6.5 has some great numbers like the 6.5x68.

I've got a couple of concerns just reading the press release:
1. Barrel life- it's gotta be short. That much overbore is going to be darn hard on barrels and while I'm a hunter first and 700-800 rounds might present a lifetime of hunting… there is no denying that a lot of rounds downrange will take it's toll. That's something of a trifling detail since barrels are better than ever but the next point is more concerning to me.

2. Bullet performance- the LR Accubond is somewhat softer than the company's excellent Accubond that I've used to great effect the last several years. It has to be to expand reliably at long range (it's raison d'être). at the muzzle though I'm very concerned that soft bullet when coupled with high speed impact will result in bullet fragmentation. I'm also concerned that up close the meat damage will be fearsome much like my partners 300 RUM shooting the 150gr Scirocco.

3. That 6.5 bore- there is no denying that in the US the 6.5 (.264) bore is about as popular as the clap. The wonderful 6.5 Swede has next to no following here. The .264 Win Mag is for all intents and purposes deader than fried chicken expect for it's cult following and the equally good .260 Remington is in much the same boat. The 6.5 Remington Magnum is part of cartridge history. The 6.5 Creedmore and the 6.5x284 have some following among the F Class crowd but outside of the enthusiast's circle they have little following. While the 26 Nosler is likely a technically fine cartridge, Americans have shown little interest in the bore size going back a century.

I'll admit I do have something of an interest in the cartridge as a specialist's weapon for mountain hunting but I'm also more pragmatic and have little interest in owning a bunch of specialized weapons for different hunting scenarios and absolutely no interest in long range shooting at all. In fact, one can browse what I've written and see my interest largely lies in more general purpose pieces and a decided hatred of long range shooting.

While the gun press has broke blood vessels yelling the new cartridge's praise…the word on many of the shooting and hunting forums and among the gun buying public is greeting this offering with either a decided yawn or outright derision. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this one in the next few years.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting Old…or Confronting Your Prejudices.

Getting old is hard. Among all the physical things that happen like the aches and pains that accompany parts of your anatomy that your twenty year old self never knew you had- there is the tendency among those who live long enough and still pay attention that you will eventually have to confront your own prejudices.

As a guy whose been a lifelong rifle nut, I've had a long standing hatred for "budget" rifles. Back in the day even good grade rifles were plagued with problems and even custom jobs were a dicey proposition when it came to accuracy. I heard all the claims back then and got burned pretty hard a couple of times on rifles that were supposed to be inexpensive performers that turned out to be anything but. I've been burned on good grade stuff that was dropped at the gunsmith shortly after picking it up from the dealer.

The record on scopes back then was as equally dismal- good grade glass from a name brand maker cost a lot of money and everything else basically sucked for half the price. Fogging, imprecise adjustments, crosshairs that disintegrated before your eyes and more commonly- just dim, crappy images were the norm. I knew more than one hunter who basically just shot a aperture sight- at least as good as the middle of the road scope back then and far more reliable.

So friends, it's no wonder that my prejudices pushed me toward the front of the catalog- where all the good stuff was. It cost more, it generally performed better, as was usually more reliable (or last if it wasn't, it had a warranty). I left the low grade stuff for the neophyte, the casual duffer who wanted something to hunt with from time to time but really wasn't an enthusiast to be taken seriously.

And there I stayed.

I've sneered at most of the economy stuff and if I was being polite I'd just ignore it. But something I didn't expect happened. While I was spending hard earned dollars on top shelf equipment and having a thoroughly good time hunting and shooting with it- the low end stuff got better.

A lot better.

As CNC machining and manufacturing spread and became the new norm for industry- all those cheap, crappy guns and cheap crappy scopes suddenly got something of an upgrade. With CNC, it's no harder to get .001" than .005" tolerances since it's all basically done in the workstation- the day of the master craftsmen watching the dial extra close for some extra pay is long over- with the tolerances sorted out digitally the materials themselves got the upgrade. In the competitive industries (especially optics) each manufacturer spends a certain amount of money researching and developing new materials and processes to give themselves an edge over the competition and those technologies have a tendency to migrate down the line as the years roll by…after all - they spent the money to develop it, why not leverage it in the lower end line when something else has come along to be  the "New Thing"?

Even those manufacturers who aren't at the leading edge of industry do a little "R&D" of their own- "replicate and duplicate"- by taking last year's "Big New Thing" from a competitor, copying it,  and making it their "New Big (Cheaper than Theirs) Thing". And such is the pace of industry. Who can win when they do this?

You do.

I've had the extreme pleasure of helping several people over the last year assemble "budget" rifles and then helping them learn to shoot and as a result I've gotten to spend some time at the range with guns I'd have simply overlooked a few years ago as "low grade" and never given them a second thought. In the process I've eaten some crow and plenty of humble pie. Some rifles from Tikka, Savage, Ruger and Thompson. Rifles that all cost 1/4 to 1/3 what a new Winchester or Kimber will set you back and without exception each of those guns was equipped with a "low end" scope from Nikon, Burris, or Leupold.  Not anything from those makers' premium lines- but the $150-200 line- common stuff like a VX-1, Fullfield II, or Prostaff.

And the results were far from merely acceptable. Most were spectacular when you consider the meager cash outlay.

The Tikka/Leupold was likely the most expensive combo of the bunch ($800) and would shoot right with my much loved Nosler/Zeiss….for 1/4 the price. A genuine 3/4 MOA rifle with 3 factory loads of hunting bullet. I'd have thought it a fluke, but another friend bought one like it and it shoots as good as the first. Perhaps the worst of the gang was a Thompson Center with a "mediocre" performance of 1.25 MOA and it still outshoots my Kimber on most days.

So while my advice for many years was "Buy the best you can manage", it's no longer appropriate as the gulf between "entry level" and "best" is nowhere near the chasm it formally was. These days the extra cost commanded by the top shelf makers for their premium line is mostly for baubles and bits- gadgets and features on rifles that most hunters neither need nor want or optical glass so good the difference is imperceptible to the human eye. For the hunter and shooter- we are truly living in the salad days.

These days my advice is- "Buy as good as you need and that'll be less than you think."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hodgeman now posting content on Facebook.

As promised… I'm now posting some content on Facebook.

I'll continue to post long form content here but I've taken on a project with the incomparable Mrs. Hodgeman where we discuss our DIY Paleo lifestyle… plenty of hunting and fishing content as well as  more recipes, more Paleo diet information as well as Mrs. Hodgeman's excellent photography. Most of the gun crank stuff will stay here.

At any rate- for those of you who use Facebook you can find us at:
Primal Ramblings

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bubo virginianus…The Great Horned Owl.

Spotted this guy on our grouse hunt yesterday. The Great Horned Owl- widest ranging and most common of the large owl species.

Here's the particulars from The Alaska Owlmanac:

The Great Horned Owl is about 18-25” long. It has prominent ear tufts creating the “horned” appearance. Its large size and white throat, or “bib,” distinguish the Great Horned Owl. It is Alaska’s only large owl with ear tufts. The back of this raptor is various shades of brown and gray, mottled with white and buff. The underparts are white, tinted with buff and barred with dark brown or black. The facial disk is reddish, and the eyes are deep yellow. In flight, these owls are recognized by their large heads, very short necks and white throats.

Hunting Techniques and Prey:

Great Horned Owls rely mainly on their accute vision to detect prey and tend to hunt in the twilight hours near dusk and dawn. Snowshoe hares are their primary prey, but they will eat whatever they can get their talons on including small mammals, birds and even fish. Great Horned Owl populations fluctuate with changes in prey populations. (no wonder we couldn't find a grouse…)
These birds live primarily in forested habitats. They invariably nest in old hawk, eagle, raven, or squirrel nests, but may occasionally nest in a large natural cavity of a hollow tree or cliff edge. They hunt in fields, meadows, old burns and along forest edges.


Usually give a five-noted, deep, resonant hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo song but variations are common. Unlike other owl species, both male and female Great Horned Owls sing. Intensive courtship calling occurs from December through March but they regularly call throughout the year.