Sunday, August 30, 2015

Havalon Knives.... Just a good idea.


A couple of years ago, my mother in law gave me a Havalon Piranta with a box of replacement blades as a Christmas gift. I was skeptical at first, the little knife was wickedly sharp and the small blade was thin and brittle. I wondered how it would hold up to field duty. I did a short review here last year, but that was after a couple of caribou.

I can now report that I've used the Piranta and its larger sibling, the Barracuta, on over a dozen big game animals and the report is just splendid. I've cut up critters with a lot of knives over the years but these are the best ideal going.

For those new to the party, the Piranta is a small knife designed to hold a #60 autopsy scalpel blade. The Havels company has been in the scalpel business for over three decades and extending their medical business into the taxidermy supply and hunting market was simply a good idea.

A few salient points to remember-

1) These are sharper than believable, BE CAREFUL.

2) They are not knives, do not twist or bend the blade or they will break. 

3) If you're using a lot of force, stop and change the blade or change your technique because you're getting ready to hurt yourself.

I've also been surprised at how much I've come to utilize the Havalon. In fact, the last four caribou I've broken down I've used nothing but the Piranta and the Barracuta with the bone saw blade. I've seen a lot of guys packing big fixed blade knives but I honestly can't see needing more than the 2.75" blade. I also received the Barracuta last year with the 4.375" blade and I must admit that I use it more when butchering at home than in the field. The bone saw blade only fits the larger arbor of the Barracuta and that is about the extent of it's field use for me.

As a disclaimer, I must inform the reader that I'm not sponsored or supported by Havalon in any way. I received both of mine as a gift from family members and buy replacement blades through normal retail channels. They are simply a good product that I'm passing on to you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Saying Cheese....

"Of course I smile in my trophy photos. In a world where too many people go hungry every day, how can I not smile?"- Hodgeman

Monday, July 20, 2015

Use Enough Gun

Looking through my analytics, I see that a piece I wrote some time ago about selecting the perfect Alaska rifle is hands down the most popular piece I've written here. It has consistently generated more page views, and not unusually, more email than any post to date. You can view the original here.

In that piece I only mention 4 cartridges- the .270, the .30-06, the .300 and .338 Winchester Magnum. A guy could select one of those and be a happy hunter for the rest of his days.

Since then, I've received several pieces of correspondence regarding other cartridge choices. I tend to view such discussions as a lot of fun (who doesn't like to discuss guns and cartridges?) but as much fun as they are...they are largely pointless.

What do I mean? I'll explain. Most cartridges between .270 and the .338WM will perform so similarly in the hands of the average hunter...there's basically no difference in the field at all. Comparing the .270 Winchester to the .280 Remington to the .30-06 or the .300 Winchester to the .300 Weatherby or .300WSM are all just drawing distinctions only discernible on a ballistic chart.

Critters rarely read ballistic charts.

There is one class of cartridges though that I'm getting a lot of correspondence about though that I have to draw the line on. The cartridges all have one thing in common- small bores, average velocity and very long for caliber bullets and all are pretty much marketed for long range shooting. Typical numbers are the .260 Remington, the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 6.5x284 Norma.

For long range shooting, they are the cat's jammies and for deer hunting they do just fine when loaded with hunting bullets. Many of the target and match bullets loaded in these cartridges are completely unsuitable for hunting big game though, so choose wisely. The 6.5x284 is often compared to the trajectory of the .300 Winchester Magnum and it's true. In terms of energy and effect on game the 6.5 just isn't close. Not in recoil either. In long range target shooting, high recoil will ruin scores. Almost all the top competitors have moved from the big magnums to the .25s and the .264s.

But big game hunting isn't long range target shooting. The typical hunter won't fire more than a couple of boxes of cartridges a year. A fraction of what a competitor will fire in a single match. A hunter looking to shoot a moose or caribou will do better with something harder hitting since the accumulated effect of recoil never takes hold. As compelling as the 6.5s are for long range shooting...Alaska hunters are better armed with something heavier.

Use Enough Gun.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Memory Collector

And now for something a little different...

Here's a short film by a couple friends of mine, starring another friend of mine on a caribou hunt. I knew they were up to no good while we ate burgers in Fairbanks on their way up. I think it turned out pretty well.

Enjoy.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rimfire Madness....the CZ-USA 452 'Special"

I've written several times in the past that I have a real affinity for the bolt action .22 Sporter. I cut my teeth as a wee tot on an ancient Marlin bolt rifle. These days the rifle resides at the ancestral home and technically belongs to my nephew...as if technical ever mattered much as far as ownership was concerned. Some time in my college years, I was smitten by the prospect of the .22 autoloader and had a long string of them...each a little more clunky than the last.

Finally, some time about my 30th birthday I treated myself to a real treat- a Kimber 22. Stocked in nice walnut the rifle was really too pretty to hunt with. It was pretty much the most expensive rifle I owned at the time, even more expensive than my matching Kimber 84M. But it was a purchase I didn't regret at all- that rifle literally transformed me shooting ability from talented amateur to, well, serious amateur. All humility aside- the rifle made me an honest to God rifleman.

I shot that rifle more than anything I've shot in my life.

It was the first rifle that I owned that I got good enough with to shoot up to the level of the rifle and it only came with thousands of rounds down range. The rifle would hit a dime at 50 yards with relative ease and on calm days a quarter at 100 yards wasn't unreasonable. My small game hunting became something else entirely- several hundred hares, a slew of feral rabbits and a pile of grouse fell to the rifle. If it was under something like 80 yards, it was as good as done if I had any sort of rest at all.

But like every other sad story of my life... I parted ways with the rifle to fund some project or another.

Fast forward a couple years later. My son's 10/22 autoloader was equipped with a trigger only a liability lawyer could love. I decided that I had to rectify the bolt action sporter mistake for good.

A visit to the local hook and bullet had just the remedy for my disease- a CZ model 452, this one a "training rifle" with a long barrel and a tangent rear sight. I took it home immediately. Not a cheap piece by any means- the Czech economy is still stagnant and the meager asking price is a genuine bargain for a rifle stocked in wood and machined out of blued steel. At first I mounted a Nikon 4x on the rifle and found that it had the wonderful accuracy the CZs are known for- not quite what my Kimber would do...but close. After a while I decided to try the tangent sights and once the scope was pulled off I fell in love again with shooting an iron sighted rifle. I took it hunting...the squirrels and ptarmigan out to ranges of 50 yards were simply in trouble.

Why bring this all up?

Well, shooting with a rimfire is one of the best ways to get good at shooting, but only if the rimfire feels like a centerfire and you shoot it like a centerfire. In the not so distant past a lot of folk's rimfire shooting was loading up a high capacity magazine in something semi-auto and just letting it rip downrange. I've seen it far more than enough to know that it's common. A perusal through the gun rack will reveal a lot of rimfires that are made to look like submachine guns and a lot of other stuff.

Fun maybe, but I have a hard time taking it seriously.

Especially given that in the post-Sandy Hook era finding any sort of quantity of .22LR ammunition is next to impossible. I've not personally seen more than a few boxes of .22 ammo on the shelf in the last 4 years and all priced roughly double. Burning that up in what amounts to a playtoy makes no sense to me.

But one at a time, through a good rimfire rifle...that'll stretch that $10 box of 50 into something worth the coin. The CZ is certainly a good rimfire rifle. Out of a box of 50, I've missed exactly 2 shots at game- that's a lot of protein for the price of a box, even at current prices. Perhaps its time we re-evaluated what the .22 is.... a serious gun for serious hunting and target shooting.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Travelling...a Nice View

I've been on travel the last couple of weeks, doing a fair bit of hiking here in TN. Here is the view from a long abandoned (but still standing!) fire tower on the northern terminus of Bay's Mountain. The tower is an hour's hike from Bays Mountain Park headquarters.


The tower itself is a relic from days long past. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a job relief program from the Great Depression that began in 1933, built this one and many like it in what was perhaps the first look at a nationwide conservation natural resource strategy. The CCC ran until 1942 when the World War II draft rendered it obsolete.

During those lean 9 years, 3 million young men built parks, roads and bridges as well as planted 3 billion trees, and completely changed wild land firefighting techniques. The workers got $30 a month (they had to send $25 home to their family) as well as 3 squares a day (tough to find in the Depression), shelter, and clothing. An interesting chapter in American history to be sure.


Here is a recruiting poster from the CCC, circa mid 1930s.



Back to the AK summer in a few days!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Startling Results.... The Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker .270 Winchester

A few weeks ago I wandered into the big Hook and Bullet store up in Fairbanks with instructions from the wife to go get myself something that goes bang as is her habit from time to time when fiscal matters are sunny enough to allow such a purchase. Of late, my exclusive interest in shooting sports revolves exclusively around high powered hunting rifles.

I looked around at length at the rack. I'd been interested in trying something new for a while now, something smaller bore and excellent accuracy with limited recoil. A rifle meant for sheep and caribou up high, mule deer and antelope, maybe those spooky Coues deer living into the big canyons of the Southwest. I looked long and hard at found something that I'd never had before. A Browning X-Bolt. It was trim, felt good and while I've never been much of a Browning fan this one had a very interesting appeal.

My main point of contention with American rifle makers is that they seem to over build things... certain companies excel at minimizing dimensions (Kimber's petite 84M for example), but when you buy a Remington 700 in .223, the receiver diameter is the same as for the .375 H&H. Just a lot of metal you don't really need to get the job done. I know why they do it, but it still seems out of place.

The X-Bolt has an almost European sort of aesthetic... which makes sense when so much of Browning's design team is European, a relationship that goes clear back to the turn of the 20th century. The receiver is pretty trim for a long action cartridge and sit low in the stock. The stock is also pretty trim, thin in the forend with a bit of a chamfer. The safety is where you typically find it on Brownings- on the tang and there is a well thought out chamber lock disconnect on the root of the bolt handle which allows you to remove a chambered cartridge without disengaging the safety. The safety, thoughtfully, locks the bolt- a feature I like.

There are several variety of X-Bolts in different finishes and given my proclivity for mountain hunting in harsh weather- I chose the "Stainless Stalker"...and all stainless steel metal work with a polymer stock finished in what Browning calls "Duratouch". The stock just feels nice. I picked up a model in .270 Winchester. My last .270 was a very traditional blued/walnut/ quarter ribbed Ruger that was, frankly, too darn nice to pack around in the mountains. This Browning should be better in that regard.

I picked up a set of Warne "Maxima" bases and rings. The bases attach to the rifle with 4 screws (hence the 'X' in 'X-Bolt') and while you'd think it's for strength, it's not. The bolts third lug raceway runs between the mounting holes allowing a much thinner receiver ring. Very nice. A Leupold VXIII 2.5-8x36 completed the setup which came in ready to hunt at a respectable 7.6 pounds on my hanging scale. Not a true lightweight in today's market, but still a light rifle that carries, balances and shoots well.

I began the shooting chores the way I usually do. From the bench I ran a target to the 100yd berm and loaded the magazine with 4 of the very pedestrian Federal "Blue Box" 130gr loads. I tend to start with Blue Box because I've gotten outstanding results in the past in a variety of rifles and it's, well, cheap. I fired one round and saw it land on the target 4" to the left of the centerline and I made the adjustment.

The next three rounds did this...

That's a 100yd, 3 shot group that's right at .75"...the easiest rifle I've ever got shooting well and sighted in.

Given that benches aren't common out on the tundra, I did some more shooting and turned in this 7 shot group at 300yds...from sitting.

That'll do. Just fine.