Monday, July 21, 2014

Ultralight Gear and the Curse of the Were-Goat

Sometimes I sit down to write out a piece and it's formed out perfectly in my mind. I just sit down and the words, thoughts and ideas flow from brain, to fingers, to keyboard and to you- the reader. Sometimes the idea that I want to convey has already taken crystalline form long before your ever click onto the url or read it in your feed.

There are other times, however, that I sit down and wrestle with thoughts and opinions in print as if the act of writing were some form of catharsis and you, dear reader, are mere spectators to the inner workings of my thought. I must report that this piece is much more that latter than the former.

Among activities this fall, I am joining a hunt with my friends John and Gary in pursuit of Rocky Mountain Goat and Black Bear and to access that rugged country we will require the assistance of a bush pilot and the standby of bush aviation- the Super Cub. I must admit that even though I have some experience in light aircraft I never really used one to support a hunt before even though it's a  fairly common occurrence here. We'll leave a dirt strip in a nondescript field somewhere south of Glenallen and about 45 minutes later we'll be deposited one by one on top of the Chugach Range along a long spine of a ridge at 5000' above sea level. With any luck we'll look down on the goats and spot bears for miles.

The restrictions placed on the access by Cub are that we each can take ourselves and 70 pounds of equipment maximum into the hunting area. While that doesn't present any significant challenges with some good planning and discussion of who will bring what with them. It does somewhat complicate things in that certain sacrifices have to be made. Vehicle based hunts that I do tend to veer heavy since I usually have the family or a new hunter along. We go for comfort and why not? The vehicle carries the weight and we day hunt from a fairly luxe camp. Float hunting or ATV hunts are just slightly lighter versions of the same. I do comparatively little backpacking these days but the durations are shorter and I tend to stay within a day's march of the road system in any case so planning for every possible contingency just isn't required- a Spartan camp and we bail if the weather gets bad or someone falls ill.

Not so much in the big mountains. None of us really have substantial goat hunting experience in this area and goats tend to live where sheep fear to tread. Every year more Alaska goat hunters perish in the field than in all other hunting excursions....combined. Even within my fairly small circle of friends I count two who have been evac'd after bad falls that broke bone. Bad weather is common and hampers those efforts, so with that in mind we get to work planning our gear and the trade offs become apparent. Most comfort items are out, more safety items are in and we're always right on the razor's edge of weight limits.

It is working within those limits that have caused me to realize exactly why so many remote hunters and backpackers are so weight fixated and veer toward the lightest such equipment available. But I wonder...Does that always make sense? I will admit outright that UL gear is better than it's ever been and far more available. In the olden days when UL backpacking was basically Ray Jardine and a couple dozen misfits, we hiked the Appalachian Trail with 50 pound base loads and those guys in sneakers carrying a knapsack with a sheet of visqueen and a  tin of peanut brittle seemed to be on a stunt or a dare more than anything else. These days a base load for a 7 day backpack hunt can be under 40 pounds including your rifle and as I age the idea of walking around on a day hunt with a feather light load appeals to me and I've messed around with the ultralight gear off and on with a confusing mixed bag of results.

When I drew my sheep tag I bought some UL gear in earnest since that was a 7 day walk in hunt. I bought the "State of the Art" carbon fiber framed uber light pack and it was such a miserable P.O.S. that I nearly burned it on the mountain and hauled my stuff rolled up in my tent like a giant hobo pouch. That state of the art has now been upgrade/redesigned three times since then even though that was only 2011. I went back to my Mystery Ranch 6500- which is a huge and nearly bombproof pack that weighs 10.25 pounds...three times more than the wunderkind new kid but it works and has hauled a literal "ton of meat" off of the mountains. I gotta admit though, when working within tight weight restrictions such a heavy pack seems a bit egregious.

I'm also a proponent of light rifles. Or used to be. Never mind- I'll illuminate. In the way back when, when I was learning to hunt, rifles were heavy. An average scoped sporter weight rifle of average dimensions tipped the scales at about 10 pounds or more. One of the first serious attempts by an American maker at a "lightweight" was Winchester's beautiful Featherweight model. Even then. It weighed 7.5 or so pounds without a scope and ready to hunt it's closer to 8.5 or even 9 pounds. So when the more recent crop of rifles came out that could deliver a 'ready to hunt' '06 or .270 at an honest 7.5 pounds that was something. My Steyr Scout at 6.8 pounds was among the lightest production rifles available when it was released and even then the gun press howled about the fierce recoil. It's now regarded as chunky by the UL crowd.

My friend John just bought a new Kimber 84L....scoped it weighs exactly 6.5 pounds in .30-06. I kicks harder than I thought an '06 could. John named it "the angry little gun". But beyond recoil, it's a difficult rifle to shoot. Every slight twitch is magnified and every stiff breeze seems to sway the muzzle. It's an accurate rifle but you really have to work your butt off to put it to use. After sprinting up a mountain or thrashing through a bog I wonder how it will shoot with the hunter huffing and puffing? I'm betting it'll be tough to settle down in the field. Back in the day O'Connor wrote about not dropping a rifle below about 7.5 pounds- he might have been on to something with that but it's common now. Playing around with an even lighter Mountain Ascent at under 5 pounds makes me think we've hit diminishing returns in that department. It felt like shooting a high powered soda straw.

Lightweight tents are another area. Some of what passes for shelter gives me the heebie jeebies...especially when you go into the mountains in fall. A good tent is a make or break piece of kit and while I totally get the awesome weight reduction by using a tipi or a tarp supported by a couple trekking poles, what do you do when the wind hits 75 mph? Could be trouble of the hypothermia kind. Another acquaintance of mine was rescued after spending 3 days rolled up in his super light weight tent that failed under wind and snow load during a late summer blizzard. I'd have no issues skipping along the AT with one of these tarp tents in the summer or even fall but in the mountains you might need a more durable shelter. I've got friends that swear by them, but I've not come around to the idea yet.

I'm all for carrying less pack weight but I still need the equipment to do what I need it to do. A tent has to protect me from crappy weather, a pack has to both carry and stabilize a reasonably sized load off a mountain, and a rifle has to be able to shoot accurately under field conditions. It also can't weigh so much that I can't get it to where I'm going.

On the ultralight front I will say that most of the gear is reasonably good but often misapplied in the north but several of the ultralight gear adherents that are friends of mine seem to never take the same setup twice. One friend of mine spends 100+ days a year in the field but he's constantly changing tents, packs, rain gear, etc., I truly believe that he hasn't taken the same basic gear on two trips in a year yet. There's nothing wrong with that of course, but it doesn't tell you much about the longevity of the equipment either. A justifiable retort would be that heavy gear can wear out or fail just like UL gear can and that's true. Some heavy gear is no better and sometimes worse than a UL counterpart that weighs in at two or three times less.

Longevity and durability though tie directly to price. Most of the UL gear is priced according to its niche market status. That means that the UL 1 pound down sleeping bag rated to 20F is likely going to cost you well over what a generic synthetic 4 pound 20F bag is going to cost.  How much? maybe something like 20X more. The majority of the UL gear is priced like that- some of it has production numbers in the dozens and a lot of it is produced domestically which is something of a bright spot for me since mass produced goods in Asia typically have quality control issues but you are going to pay for that.

The other part of outdoor gear in general and UL gear in particular is that it seems that the industry is very fashion oriented. Everyone is producing gear and changing specs and materials year to year and many of the enthusiasts just budget to replace substantial portions of their kit annually. Nothing wrong with that but I'm a slightly frugal guy too. I can't justify a $500 pack every spring or a "new and improved" tipi shelter or titanium spork for every season. It seems though that for the true UL enthusiast that is the price of admission and many are willing to pay it. On the counterpoint, many of the traditionally minded folks scoff at such dainty gear and those who like it and will say that a hunter should just "man up" and carry a real gun and sleep in a canvas tent, etc, etc, etc. I primarily see those guys, however, hunting from trucks and huge ATVs. Once I walk a mile or two from the trail or road I seldom see any of that crowd.

So I'll close this out no wiser than when I started. Only realizing that a balance is required and that's true of most things in life.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pooping in the Woods...and Other Happy Thoughts.

When you spend as much time outdoors as I do, you eventually have to "Do the Doo", "Do #2" or plain old just have to crap.

It's OK.

Really, it is. Mankind has been pooping in the woods for a very long time now and in some parts of the world it is still very much standard practice. Why this is so uncomfortable or such a mystery absolutely bewilders me. It seems when people wanders from the comfort of home and running water the basics aren't so basic. But bewilder it must since when you spend as much time as I do outdoors you'll encounter where others have felt the urge to answers nature's call and well...

Left a huge mess.

So it is with no small amount of chagrin that I feel compelled to offer up a primer on handling something that most people do on a daily basis and you'll have to forgive me for the indelicacy that comes along with such a topic. So with that formality out of the way.

1. Location, Location, Location- for God's sake people. Stop pooping on the trail. While you might feel like your excursion into the wilderness has you in the wilds all alone, someone will come down that trail. How do I know? Cause there's a trail and they're seldom made for traffic of one. So please- find yourself a location off trail to handle business and for you dog people out there, that goes for Fido too.

2. Dig a Hole- carrying a small trowel or shovel isn't that big of a hassle and makes a convenient tool to make yourself what in the Scouts we called a "Cat Hole". Use your imagination on that one, but the concept is fairly basic. Dig a hole, poop in it and cover it over. Simple. You don't have to carry a shovel or trowel in many areas either- just roll over a rock or log, do your thing and roll the log or rock back in place. Done and no tools required. Burying your waste is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but scat is an attractant in bear country.

3. Burn your Paperwork- The illustrious TP will last for a very long time out in the elements and nothing is more stomach churning that coming across someone's used paperwork out in the woods. Simple solution- strike a match and burn it. Do be careful and don't burn down the forest but it shouldn't be too much effort for the woodsman (or woman) to manage a small paper fire. In combi with #2, your #2 and paperwork ashes disappear under a rock or soil and no one is the wiser. This is very important in areas where groups camp since a number of people utilizing an area can create quite the mess. In some of the more popular hunting areas I frequent you can't walk behind roadside bushes without seeing a field of "tundra flowers" made of used TP.  Yuck.

4. Wash Your Hands- Your mom was right on this topic. Wash up. In many areas surface water exists in quantity. Rinse off your hands in a convenient stream, rivulet, pond or puddle and then utilize some hand sanitizer. Using soap in surface water is usually not such a great idea, a little hand sanitizer just evaporates without a trace. On another topic...extend that advice when you're at home and office as well. Not washing up is just plain gross. I mean it, gross. Nothing is worse than being in a public restroom listening to the gastric after effects from Taco Tuesday and hearing said occupant walk out without washing up....freakin' barbarian.

5. Do your Calisthenics- When you remove the great porcelain throne, a lot of folks become rather confused. In simplest terms, the third world squat is certainly convenient for the athletic among us. If you've got bad knees or are overweight that might be problematic- back up to a tree or rock or other object. A length of rope or strap around a tree can support you "lineman style" which is particularly useful in areas with mainly evergreen trees. A hunting partner of mine once leaned back against a spruce tree and got a large quantity of pine sap in his hair and other unmentionable places. Not much fun there and it plagued him for days. You know, if you know you're doing an excursion- you might want to practice a bit to handle the inevitable.

On other topics... as a guy #1 tends to be a pretty uneventful affair but for the ladies it can be a challenge of equal magnitude. Some newer products like the "P-Style" and the "You Go Girl" are more than catchy double entendres... female acquaintances report that they work and make taking care of business far easier. Especially in areas with little vegetation or in winter conditions. I'll leave it to my lady readership to let the Google do the searching.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

About that Milk Carton...or Zombie Guns in the News

I am glad to report that rumors of my disappearance have been greatly exaggerated. For those of you who are putting together a campaign to have my best "grip and grin" printed on a milk carton, please stand down.

I hate to make excuses for the sometimes lengthy gaps that appear between posts, but breaking my own rules is something I frequently excel at. I noticed it had been 2 months since my last post and it elicited some inquiries to my health and well being. In short, I'm fine. I had a minor surgery with a few days of recovery which would have been an ideal time to write had I any wits about me. Summer has been exceptionally busy. I've been clearing some land in the hopes of protecting the home front from the inevitable wild land fire that will blot this patch of black spruce from the map one day- when, not if, mind you- so a lot of effort has been spent running the chainsaw and hauling wood and brush around. Although that's technically an outdoor activity, it sure isn't much to write about.

On other note, I've enrolled in a program of higher education and that's taken a fair bit of time as well. The curriculum so far has been pretty writing heavy- averaging something like 2500-5000 words per week and that my friends will empty the well pretty fast when it comes to recreational prose. When I have free time not on the keyboard or saw, more writing is just not something I'm motivated to do.

So there- with that excuse out of the way- I'd like to answer some correspondence publicly. I've gotten a few inquiries over the last few months asking my thoughts about the best "zombie gun". Being fresh out of reanimated corpses to shoot, I can only assume the question is regarding a class of firearm best described in terms we used to talk about as "self defense" arms. I fully hope the "zombie craze" in the arms market will fade into blessed oblivion soon but the typical reference to zombie is typically one toward self defense against humans as opposed to predatory attacks by animals or in regular hunting arms. Admittedly it's not a topic I've broached much, since I'm much more interested in hunting arms than martial ones so take my opinions with a grain of salt since I have no experience and little training in the genre.

For general beating around in the bushes and riding around in the jeep, I tend to very much like the very pedestrian 12 gauge pump shotgun. Plain. Cheap. And effective as hell to boot. At typical self defense ranges a load of buckshot just plain works. I know it's not all sexy and full of marketing messages and patriotic overtones and glow in the dark bullets but a run of the mill Remington 870 (or almost any other maker) with a fist full of high brass '00' buck is a fight stopper and the sight of a shotgun tends to scatter bad guys like light on cockroaches. For the occasional hunter and recreational shooter, becoming proficient with the shotgun doesn't take long and in the self defense role it's good qualities on grouse and marauding bears still apply.

For goodness sake- stop with the gun-nerd, mall cop ninja wannabe crap and stop hanging crap off your shotgun. You do not need the following items:
1) a twelve shot magazine tube.
2) a pistol grip
3) a flashlight
4) a laser
5) a bayonet
6) and almost any other accessories with the label"tactical" or "zombie" in the advertising.

A plain vanilla shotgun. And buckshot. That'll do. I got no qualms with a short barrel or a long one- your preference and in most instances it'll make no difference in use at all. A short barrel is easier if you're working around farm vehicles or inside a structure and I have been fond of the 20" smoothbore version with rifle sights that Remington (and others) make for deer hunting. Several makers have produced "combos" for the budget minded hunter- usually including a longer 26" or 28" bird barrel and a 20" deer barrel with some form of open sights. That's a pretty nice combo.

I did get one inquiry specifically asking about the AR-15 variants. I've expressed my utter disdain for the AR platform before and in a self defense role I just don't see it as better than (or even equivalent to) a shotgun. I'll make no friends with the statement- but I find the proliferation of high power rifles for defensive use disturbing and I don't care one whit whether it's in the hands of a private citizen or a police officer. A rifle is a tool of offense in my book- the basic tool of armies, hunters, et al.- and it bothers me a little to see a black carbine riding around in an urban squad car. Call me old fashioned, but the "riot gun" is a real cop's tool and I don't care for the melding of policeman and soldier in our society. In the hands of a citizen as a defensive tool it's been the darling of the shooting world for a while and everyone is touting it's advantages. Most of which make me form little noises that sound like "humph".

For a defensive rifle I think the old school concept of lever action carbines chambered in pistol cartridges make more sense. The longer barrel gives the ammo a little more steam but the real advantage is the added sight radius. A little Marlin carbine or Winchester Trapper in .357 or .44 (or 38-40, etc) makes an efficient combination that's easy to handle and easy to shoot as compared to a pistol. I know it's fallen out of favor in recent years, but it works and is reasonably easy to master.

For handguns, I tend to think they're more about placebo effect than real benefit. A lot of folks sleep better at night knowing one is in the bedside table and I guess I got no real beef with that but several years of watching people shoot handguns under pressure leads me to think that most people overestimate their ability by a sizable factor. Becoming a proficient hand gunner takes a lot of time and a lot of ammo and most folks just don't take the time and make the effort to get there. Case in point- there are numerous true legends of police officers (who receive more training than the average citizen albeit minimal) and bad guys exchanging volumes of fire in hallways and other crowded areas without hitting anything. A lot of police shootings involves far more missing than hitting so perhaps the handgun's best attribute is portability more than anything else. Interestingly, citizen self defense shooting tends to have a higher hit ratio- which I largely attribute to "home field advantage" and closer range.

For times when fitting into a holster, a pocket or other suitable packing method is advisable I tend to prefer the double action revolver. The manual of arms is simple, easy to master (the operation, not the shooting), and pretty hard to screw up. I really like the line of Smith and Wesson "J Frame" series of 5 shot snub nosed revolvers. The one detriment is that these revolvers tend to be very hard to shoot accurately- which is a bit misleading since self defense with a pistol is largely a near contact endeavor. Around the house and on the trail I favor the bigger framed single action revolvers due to the more powerful chamberings available. I tend to be pretty rural so I'm usually thinking "wildlife" more than "bad guy" when fiddling with a handgun. Bottom line- even though I'm an experienced hand gunner, if something bad is going to happen I'd much prefer the shotgun than anything else.

Friday, May 2, 2014

.22 Long Rifle... Has the Sun Finally Set?

The humble .22 Long Rifle cartridge saw the light of day in 1887 after being developed by the J. Stevens Company and as of this writing is an unusually old 127 years old in the sporting arms market. At one time I used to believe that the .22 would exist and be loaded to the end of time (along with the even older 45-70, but that's another story) but today I'm not so sure.

Since the first politician in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting uttered the words "Gun Control", ammunition supplies have been spotty and nothing has been universally harder to find than the humble .22LR. Why this is so is likely something we'll never know in it's entirety but of late, the accumulated .22 production capacity of the US is running flat out and market demand is apparently far outstripping supplies. Locally up in the Great North, folks unscrupulous scalpers are commonly asking $80 for a 500 round brick that was commonly available for $20 not that long ago. Store shelves are nearly always empty and once in a while a small shipment arrives- it's picked over in a matter of hours, if not minutes, despite various store policies limiting folks to 1 box or perhaps 3 depending on where.

This sharp uptick in demand has got some folks in something of a tizzy, wondering why manufacturers don't invest major capital to develop new production and also many shooters wonder where all this current production is going. This current production certainly isn't being shot up. Hanging out at local shooting ranges in day's past, it was nothing much to see a group of shooters blast off a 500 round brick or more in an afternoon.

Not anymore. Folks shooting .22s might pop off a 50 round box.

As a maker, knowing the near total sum of .22 ammo is sitting on shelves and closets sure wouldn't spur me to invest millions in producing increased volume. Of course, nor would the very low profit margin .22LR ammo has normally carried either. Since .22LR tooling is pretty much dedicated to only .22 (unlike center fire rifle tooling which can be reconfigured to other center fire ammo), I can see where a producer might be reluctant to spend the capital investment to produce the shooting equivalent of the penny which, oddly enough, costs more than it's value to produce.

So, I've got to wonder- will shooters start passing on the .22LR? In days past every serious shooter had at least one or two, but with supply issues plaguing that aspect of the sport, will tomorrow's shooters find something else? Airguns are a natural fit and many of today's samples are easily the equivalent of the .22LR with regards to accuracy and power in the game fields. Oddly enough (or maybe not), shotgun shells are unaffected by this buying frenzy and a lot of small game enthusiasts simply moved to the scattergun. Or will it be something else new entirely?

I believe it's time for some innovation to come along out of the free market and give shooters something affordable and available in the small arms market. Maybe it's time the .22 faded on off into the sunset.

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.