Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Hunting- Mid season review....Winners and Losers

Well, hunting season has been in full swing for several weeks now and while I've got several interesting hunts to write up and little time to do it in, here's a brief review of this season's winners and losers including a few new products I've tried.

Arctic Oven Pipeline Tent- Winner. My new favorite home away from home on vehicle supported hunts. I've used this tent about 30 days so far and it's wonderful. By mountaineering standards this is like a 6 man tent, but I'm not some spooning mountaineer. You could easily do four. I've used it for three without over crowding and it's a great tent for two guys and a LOT of gear. I used it solo for four days with the wood stove installed and it's the best of field shelters. Slept dry and snug through a few bouts of torrential rain and howling wind. Two enormous vestibules provide additional storage and there's enough tie outs to ensure it only comes off the earth via explosives.

Havalon Piranta- Winner. A tiny little knife that holds an autopsy scalpel blade. Wickedly sharp to the point of scary. It goes through critters like a light saber. I skinned an entire caribou on a single blade...when it's dull, simply discard and snap on a new one. It rankles the traditionalist in me, but this thing is sharper than any knife you'll own. A couple words of wisdom here- it's not REALLY a knife, it's a scalpel. DO NOT USE EXCESSIVE PRESSURE OR TWIST THE BLADE. It's not meant for that so leave popping ball joints to another knife. For the hunter not being a ham fisted fool, this thing is the bee's knees for it's meager price tag. You must keep your wits about you because you will cut yourself to the bone before you know it (second hand knowledge, thank God).

Badlands Bino Bivy- Winner. A chest harness that keeps your binoculars dry and secure. I've used mine about 45 days so far. It's a little bit heavy and a whole lot expensive, but it works well with a pack or by itself. It has an expandable pocket on the back that fits a rain jacket, extra layer or a water bottle. It has some interior pockets that work great for storing tags, ammunition, a fire starter, a Leatherman, etc.

Zippo 4-in-1- Winner. A unique multitool that features a small axe, a saw, a hammer head and a tent stake puller. I normally shun such things as being a collection of unsatisfactory compromises but this one is ok. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't want to cut a cord of wood with it, but for busting some kindling, sawing some limbs, or driving some tent stakes its a good deal. Mine lives in my tent bag and has perform great so far. It's strictly light duty but used in that role, it's good.

Now for the "Not so Good"...

My Back- Loser. I injured myself on opening day portaging a 90lb whitewater raft over a goat path of a trail around a waterfall. Only trip I'm glad to have not shot anything on. A boat load of doctor visits, pills, X-rays and a MRI. "Degenerative Disk Disease"...a misnomer that doesn't do it justice. Ouch.

Alaska Communications- Loser. Sort of. Expansions in infrastructure now mean I have cell service in a lot of my hunting area. I can no longer vanish into the wild and not be expected to stay in touch. Ugh. A bright side, I've been updated some Facebook stuff in real time. Slightly enjoyable in that regard.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Public Correspondence...the One Rifle

Time to answer the mail again. I've received a variation of this one fairly regularly over the years so here goes. "Hodgeman- if a person could only have one rifle to hunt Alaska, which do you recommend?" For starters- I recommend you ask a better question. If I asked Tiger Woods if he could play 18 holes of golf with a single club, which would he choose, I wouldn't expect an answer that made sense. Golf doesn't work like that and neither does hunting. While I have talked about "generalist rifles" a great deal, we need to realize there are limits. Alaska is a big place and the animals that inhabit it are widely varied from the small Sitka deer to moose, bison and the great bears. While Sitka deer are readily taken with a 22-250 or a .243 Winchester those rounds are hardly appropriate for moose hunters or to pursue grizzly. Likewise, the wonderful .375 H&H is a convincing "all around" big game rifle around the world but to press it into service shooting foxes or lynx called in close is more than a little egregious. So while picking a .300 Winchester or a .30-06 as a primary hunting rifle is often a good move- there are plenty of situations that call for something different.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

.308 vs 7.62x51....explained!

I received this correspondence today and found it interesting, both as a long term aficionado of the .308 Winchester and as someone who has worldwide readership. While most sporting ammo in the U.S. is the commercial version of the .308WIN, overseas it might be another matter entirely... A very nicely done infographic from my acquaintance Scott over at

Infographic by

308 vs. 7.62x51

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Outdoor Cooking....Beyond the Pouch.

 I must confess that I am not an overly picky eater. I like good food but when it comes to preferences I have very few and that typically extends into the outdoors. I'm happy to have something to fill the void in my stomach, if it's hot and tastes good then those are bonuses. I have noticed a real tendency by outdoors folks toward dehydrated backpacking meals and on backpacking trips they are pretty good. They tend to be light and convenient and taste has improved remarkably over the last few years. But; as "unpicky" as I am- I still avoid the dehydrated stuff whenever I can because after a couple days of steady dehydrated meals my digestive tract rebels in a big way. That much salt and preservatives passing through can cause something of a reflex in some folks and dealing with it on a trip can be a regular hassle.

I just returned from a 3 day float trip and while some folks would be content to simply chow down on packets of rehydrated slump,  I decided to eat well and the raft's cargo carrying ability allowed me to do just that. As an experiment we tried a vacuum sealer in conjunction with some pre-cooking and freezing and the results were pretty spectacular for camp cooking. I hate to try to make camp cooking a  big production because time spent cooking is not time spent doing other stuff that I'm there to do in the first place.

For the first sample meal we took some breakfast sausage and fried it up at home, we drained it and let it cool. The we took some frozen bell peppers and onion pieces, added it to the sausage and vacuum sealed it in a two person portion. Into the freezer it went. The idea was to pull if from the cooler and reheat it in the skillet with a bit of olive oil and then crack a couple of eggs onto it for a quick and easy breakfast scramble. In execution is worked perfectly- in fact after a couple of days it was still a little frozen. Depending on your climate you should get this to make it at least a couple of days unless you're camping in death valley.

The next meal featured a helping of hash browns. Basically a shredded potato that we dried some excess moisture out of with some paper towels. This went into the vacuum bag with some more frozen peppers and onions and back into the freezer. I cut a kielbasa into pieces and put them into a vacuum bag and froze that. On day three we  took the hash browns out of the cooler (cold but not frozen anymore) and sautéed that with a liberal amount of olive oil in the skillet. When the potatoes were just starting to brown I tossed in the sausage and heated it. It was a hearty and filling meal of real food. After a couple of cold, rainy days on the river a good meal of real food was a big boon to our spirits. Perfect!

For snacks and lunches we took nuts, jerky and dried fruit and vacuum sealed it into serving size vacuum bags- it made grabbing a quick bite easy and convenient.

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.