Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year… Looking Back, Looking Ahead.

I've got to tell you friends- 2013 was a great year on the outdoors front and I'm looking forward to 2014 with great anticipation.

2013 saw several firsts- being selected to serve as Field Staff for a couple of manufacturers as well as negotiations for a couple more are in the works for 2014.

2013 saw me attending the Backcountry Hunter and Angler Rendezvous in Boise, Idaho as well as teaching at Becoming an Outdoors Woman in Alaska. Hopefully both will be on tap for 2014 as well.

Per several reader requests, I'll be putting up a "Hodgeman's Outdoors" Facebook page in the very near future as well as upping the involvement of Mrs. Hodgeman in the form of photography. One sharp eyed reader declared that my photos look like incidental snapshots taken with a cellphone while Christy's look wonderful.

Guilty as charged. More of her photography is on tap for 2014.

Also per several reader requests, more "field to table" articles and more technical articles focused on the affordable end of the equipment spectrum. Just maybe the start of a "Eating Caribou 101" or "Nom Nom Moose" book. I've sought to make outdoor and hunting adventures approachable for as many people as possible and while writing about expensive rifles taken on exotic wilderness hunts is a lot of fun, it's by no means required to hunt Alaska's big game- I'm endeavoring to show some hunts conducted with minimal amounts affordable equipment that should be approachable for almost anyone.

2013 saw a lot of great hunts and trips and 2014 (hopefully) will hold some more.  A couple of new things this year though. As much as I love hunting in Alaska there are other places I've want to hunt. First up, I'm taking Evan to Tennessee for a special whitetail youth hunt in my old stomping grounds among the deep oaks of Appalachia. Second, Mrs. Hodgeman has wanted a nice trip for our impending 20th anniversary for several years.…so at her urging we've booked the trip of a lifetime- to Africa. We'll be taking the family to hunt our way through northern Namibia after some of the coolest plains game and bird species the continent has to offer. You'll want to stay tuned for that.

So in closing….Happy New Year to you all and may it be filled with adventure and success.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from Sonny von Poopenstein- Wonder Pup at Large.

Just a note from Sonny wishing you "Merry Christmas" from the family. Hodgeman isn't available for his usual Christmas message. It appears this entire "flying reindeer" thing has got him so worked up at the notion of combining bird and big game hunting that he's out on the lawn looking skyward with a buckshot loaded shotgun…sheesh. Nobody tell him….ok?

Friday, December 20, 2013

First Blood and the Ruger American Compact- Part 2

The hunt commenced in the wee morning hours since we wanted to arrive in the hunt area at daybreak and we'd need to drive nearly 100 miles to get there. Eric and I loaded the boys into the truck and away we went. On the way down I got to talk some coaching to both of the kids as well as some refreshers for Eric. We decided that Isaac should get first crack since this would be his only big game opportunity of the fall due to some out of state travel.

We spotted caribou just outside our area in the early dawn light. A fresh, this blanket of snow covered the area and the temperatures were just under freezing. The caribou migration had been very slow and the animals had taken a real beating in the late spring snow. In fact, state hunts had already closed and only subsistence tags were still open.

We crossed into a small valley- one of my most regularly successful areas and the site of a number of caribou taken over the years. We spent a couple of hours glassing there and…nothing. So we moved to a large lake that I'd been successful at previously and took a long hike among the rolling hills that ring it. The caribou in migration hit this terrain feature and even though caribou are excellent swimmers, they tend to go to shallow narrows and cross in mass. We hike back a couple of miles to such a spot and set up an overwatch on it in the hopes a migrating band would move past us. We sat there and glassed for several hours and saw nothing at all except some caribou on a high ridge top several miles to our north and a couple thousand feet up- much to far to pursue.

By this time the boy's enthusiasm had waned and the chill breeze had dampened their spirits and we hiked back to the truck by a circuitous route punctuated by frequent stops to glass. In the small rolling hills- the caribou could appear nearly anywhere but they chose not to. Upon arrival at the truck we met my good friend and frequent hunting partner Shiloh. He'd been hunting the area and hadn't seen as many caribou as we had. After lunch and letting the boys warm up we decided to move back to our original valley and glass there some more.

On our way back to the valley we crossed a large flat and found a large herd moving east headed into our hunting area. We planned to stage an ambush and catch them as they filtered in but they never showed up. It's long been said that if you have some inkling of what a caribou is going to do next then you know much more than a caribou so I wasn't surprised when the entire herd just failed to materialize. By this time it was getting rather late in the day and while the kids were winding down I was encouraged. The word crepuscular means that an animal is most active at dawn and dusk and many hunters who sleep in and clock out mid-afternoon are missing the best part of the day. I suggested we head for a spot a couple miles in and climb into some high rocks that I'd bagged a couple of caribou at before and wait for the dusk and see what happened.

We climbed into the perch and began to glass. The shadows had grown long when we spotted something about a mile into the valley on a small ridge overlooking a narrow lake. A lone caribou. We watched it with some interest as it would feed for a while and then lay down for a few minutes, then rise and walk around and feed some more. When it was laying down you would often lose sight of it despite the fact it was laying out on a ridge top on bare tundra and you knew almost exactly where to look.

We held a conference of war.

This was the only caribou we'd seen that day in our hunting area and it was getting late. The animal was about a mile away and even an experienced hunter would be hard pressed to make the stalk in time for a last light shot and Eric didn't have much experience and Isaac none at all. After brief discussion we decided that since this was Issac's first and last big game hunt of the season he'd make the stalk with Eric. There was no way we'd all sneak up in the animal and it was my hope that father and son would enjoy the experience even though I thought it had little chance of success. Evan and I would follow the stalk with binoculars and then after hearing a shot (supposing one occurred) we'd follow along with the field dressing gear and backpacks.

I'd never really followed a really long stalk with binoculars like this before and I've got to say I found it interesting to see the route from my perch. It was also interesting to note that from their perspective they chose several routes that I would not have chosen given my better vantage point. Apparently the high ground advantage applies as much to hunting as to war. After what seem an unbelievable amount of time- Isaac and Eric were within range of the caribou. While I would have been content to shoot the beast from a couple hundred yards away, they kept in going until they were just 30 yards away.

The caribou stood up and looked at them in alarm. I was pretty sure this was over as the caribou bolted. I was sure that Isaac would be thrilled with the stalk and getting so close to the animal. The caribou had other plans though and after bolting straight away, circled back and stood on the ridge line at rock chucking distance from the two hunters giving Isaac a quartering to shot.

Oddly, through the glass I saw the recoil of the shot before I heard it and saw the impact to the caribou who broke into a death run. After perhaps 40 yards the animal's legs buckled and tumbled down a small ravine and was still. The cow was shot through the lungs and the bullet severed the large artery in the back haunch- the animals reaction was one of pure instinct and brief.

Done. First blood and a textbook clean kill.

Evan and I gathered up the packs and headed to them just as the sun had vanished. The wind had picked up as the earth cooled in the high mountains and I was sure we would finish this by headlamp and flashlight before we got all the meat back to the truck. I surmised that it would be a long night and I was right. We would arrive back at the pickup just shy of midnight with both boys bloody and exhausted from fighting the alders in the dark with heavy packs and I've got to admit I was pretty tired as well.

Isaac unloaded the rifle and was placing it in the case and remarked the it had a lot of scratches and it was filthy. Seeing the look of pain on his face when one realizes that a new prized possession has gotten a new nick, I just grinned at him and said, "That's what you got it for- don't sweat it. You and your rifle did well…You're not planning on opening a museum with it are you?" He just gave me a little exhausted grin.

Both kids would be fast asleep in the back seat of the truck long before we got home, a very good day for a certain new hunter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The .30-06 Project or….Eating Celery, Pt.1

I received a correspondence the other day that basically took me to task for ignoring (in the author's opinion) the greatest hunting cartridge of the twentieth century….the .30-06 Springfield. The author then enumerated all the various uses of the cartridge and how wonderfully versatile it is for a worldwide hunter and particularly, a North American one. After a few emails back and forth, I determined the author was a fairly young man, a 25 year old hunter, and his enthusiasm for the old '06 was certainly ardent and technically, spot on.

I do admit, I have largely ignored the '06 in the annals of this blog through no malice on my part. The couple of times I've tread close to the '06 have generated several comments about the cartridge and even though it's over a century old now, it is still one of, if not the single most popular hunting cartridge in America and perhaps, the world.

The main issue with the .30-06 is that as an outdoors writer there's just not much to say that hasn't been said many, many times before by figures with more experience and authority on the subject than I'll ever have. There's also the fact that as a hunting cartridge the '06's standard defining ballistics are well….boring. The '06 has defined the standard for the N. American big game cartridge for ages and no new cartridge in the category survives long without being directly compared to it. So much so in fact that any new cartridge that merely replicates those ballistics doesn't stand much chance in the marketplace. The .308 Winchester survived due to military adoption- that virtually guarantees commercial acceptance- but the very similar .30TC never achieved any market share at all and was born with a toe tag on. The .280 Remington just lingers for some reason or other and the .270 needed Jack O'Connor's gilt edged typewriter to manage a Number 2 finish- despite being a "technically" better cartridge. I've even gone so far to say that if the '06 were introduced as a 21st century cartridge we'd all yawn. A 180 grain bullet at 2700 feet per second in today's marketplace is basically ballistic celery. Only standing out in it's blandness.

That said, however, the .30'06 is a cartridge I've used quite a lot and the record I've had on game with it   is every bit as bland as the ballistics chart. For instance-  "Saw a deer, shot it, it died." I don't like talking numbers, but the journal entries like that are numerous enough to get the sense that the '06 is in no way a marginal cartridge for shooting medium sized big game animals. All of that experience happened many years before I started this blog though and reaching back into history to tell such a mediocre story seems like a proverbial Grand-dad showing the kids vacation slides from the world's second largest ball of twine. Most of the old photos are long since misplaced, including the one showing me kneeling by 4 whitetails taken with 4 shots from my Sig SHR 970- but I digress. Looking forward is what counts.

The fact that I consider the '06 "ballistic celery"in no way detracts from its value as a hunting cartridge. Among people who couldn't care less about such things as ballistics charts and having a unique and powerful cartridge- the '06 does duty year after year and generation after generation; knocking critters spinning and putting meat on the table before going back into the closet to live until next fall where it will come out and do it all over again. One of my good friends, a wizened old geezer (his words, not mine) has hunted for 50 straight years with the '06 and the 180 grain Remington Core Lokt. Elk and bears, deer and moose, and sheep and goats- they've all fell to his battered rifle, the bulk of them from a single shot behind the shoulder. I would wager to guess the bag for that hunter and rifle goes well into the triple digits and is now providing a fourth generation with wild protein on the plate.

So it's now at the urging of my new, young acquaintance that I plan on embarking upon something of a project- to explore the .30'06 once again. A couple of things happened- the first being that my deteriorating neck vertebrae have rebelled against recoil and recoil above the '06 level now gives me fits that frequently outlast the hunt. My beloved .375s and my newly acquired Rigby all went to other homes with younger hunters and I suspect after reading the careers of other gun and hunting writers that perhaps the condition isn't so unusual since I see many of them transitioning to milder cartridges as the odometer racks up a few miles. I, for one. plan on continuing this outdoor lifestyle as long as possible and at the urging of my doctor will limit the recoil I expose myself to. Since I'm not that old and have a good long while yet to hunt (God willing, I hope) then I consider it prudent advice. I won't even rule out the much maligned muzzle brake if that's what it takes.

The second event, a good friend offered me one of his rifles- an unfired Kimber Montana in .30'06. It's one of the older ones built on the magnum action that holds 5 down and has enough magazine length to seat long bullets way out to the lands. It also has a 24" barrel which will allow me to get the full potential of the '06 cartridge in every bullet weight. The rifle weighs 7.6 pounds with the Leupold scope mounted and that should be enough to keep the kick from belting me from under my hat but light enough to pack up the mountains.

And speaking of feeding the rifle- the catalog of ammunition for the old cartridge now lists some 200 entries. More than I ever thought possible. Many of the bullets and performance levels simply didn't exist back in the day I carried the '06 in the field, so that at least may add a little flavor to the blandness. A quick check reveals that factory loads run from the 55 grain Remington Accelerator all the way up to 240 grain Woodleigh Weldcore. For a "one gun" sort of hunter this will take the rifle from replicating a 220 Swift (55gr @4000fps) all the way to the loads that simulate what Hemingway used to pot a rhinoceros with every conceivable variation in between. We've come a long way from the choices being- "Remington or Winchester, 150 or 180 grain?" down at the local hardware store. I hope to be able to talk a bit about the newer ammunition that is reportedly making the cartridge better than it's ever been. In that vein, I'll try not to hand load for the rifle given the overwhelming variety of factory loads available and the moderate price point that millions of units in production brings with it. Even in these economic times- $20 a box is still readily found. It's one of the few rifle cartridges that make reloading look like a worse deal than it actually is.

So there you have it- a new project to embark upon. Hope you'll enjoy.