Monday, December 8, 2014

Gun Safety, The Remington Decision

This past week saw the announcement by Remington that as part of a settlement in a class action lawsuit, Remington would replace the trigger/safety units on what essentially amounts to almost every Model 700 rifle made. That's about 8 million rifles.

In the long, drawn out affair that is the Remington 700 trigger we've been made privy to a lot of sad stories of people who were killed or maimed by their friends and relatives in accidents that a bunch of folks have sourced back to the trigger safety. Some of the stories are heart-wrenching at the best and soul crushing at the worst. It is without judgement on these folks that I present the following. This is not a piece written as a "coulda, woulda, shoulda" type piece or condemnation of those folk's skills or even an implication that they lacked skills. I've done some stupid stuff in the field, and so have most other folks if they'll own up to it- the only difference is that we're all still vertical.

So I'll present here the "4 Rules of Firearm Handling" for about thousandth time in my career and for at least the 5th time in print. Why? Because no matter how safe you think you are- you need to read it again. You need to teach it, again. Until you recite it in your sleep. I don't take credit for the 4 Rules, they are widely attributed to Jeff Cooper, the inventor of the Modern Technique, which is really a fancy way of saying he taught us to fight and kill with something other than a musket or a Colt Single Action revolver.

So here they are.

1. All Guns are Always Loaded- this does not mean, as has been widely disseminated, that you keep all guns loaded, all the time. It means that you treat every gun, in any condition like it has live ammo in the chamber. What Rule 1 establishes is uniformity of purpose. You don't have to memorize rules for loaded and unloaded guns. Just treat them like they are all loaded, regardless, because some of them are and some aren't and the single most frequent thing heard after a negligent discharge is "I didn't know it was loaded." Rule 1 dispenses with that- they are ALL loaded whether they have ammunition or not.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy- to further simplify this rule is to say, don't point a gun at something you don't intend to shoot. This rule encompasses a prohibition against all kinds of acts- horseplay, "scoping" for game with the riflescope, and general inattentiveness to where you are pointing a weapon. It is this rule that makes the whole "faulty safety" concept so infuriating. If the weapon was managed as to not point at other people, then the material condition of the safety is irrelevant. That is not to alleviate a maker of responsibility for their wares, but guns are mechanical devices and can, for a wide variety of reasons, become broken, jammed, dirty, ill adjusted and just flat fail- but when the safety fails Rule 2 keeps us alive.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target- this one suffers the most. When many people pick up a gun, their finger moves to the trigger as if by forces as inevitable as gravity. I've seen this one cause a negligent discharge in an action pistol match. Luckily for the everyone around, the shooter was observing Rule 2 and the shot hit the dirt several feet downrange. The Range Master was not understanding- disqualified from the match and unable to return to the facility until he completed a hunter education or range safety course. Keep your "booger hook off the bang switch" until you're ready to shoot. You see this one so commonly broken by the Hollywood action star it has become modus operandi for the masses. Bad show.

4. Be sure of your target- even in this advanced age of safety training and an endless stream of information at our fingertips, you still hear the occasional moron talking trash at the hardware store about "brush shots" or "sound shots". Often people chuckle at such foolish, I wish it was an immediate "Get out of jail free" card to whip the bejeezus out of them on the spot. You simply must positively identify your target and, furthermore, what is behind it before you put your finger on the trigger and fire. Hunter education has done much to hammer this home and blaze orange requirements make it easier but there is room to improve as "hunting accidents" still happen.


There are the 4 Rules (with commentary by me)...can you improve upon these? Certainly, but adherence to these 4 will prevent most injuries.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Worst...and Best Shot of my Hunting Career

The fall hunting season had been an aggravation. I had sustained a substantial back injury right out of the gate by hauling an inflatable raft over a mountain goat path masquerading itself as a portage around a waterfall. Neither my partner or I had expected it to be nearly so rough but we got into a position of having half of our camp on one side and half on the other as darkness began to fall and at that time I made a terrible decision. I strapped the entire rolled up raft onto my pack and took off down the mountain. Somewhere halfway down I stepped on a piece of inclined rock and something in my lower back just let go. The pain was immense but I managed to get the raft the rest of the way to water. The rest of the trip was horrible. I even managed to yell at a bear sniffing around the camp that night in such a cross voice the bear scampered off. I was pretty happy about that, I doubt I could have even gotten up if I'd wanted.

A trip to the doctor confirmed what I feared- an aggravation of an old injury. He would do his best to keep me out of surgery but I had to do my part. Which essentially was- don't carry anything and take it easy. I protested to the doc (who was also a hunter) that I had a long anticipated goat hunt planned in just two weeks. He looked at me sternly and just replied, "No, you don't." So the fall just drug on... I went on some hunts, all taking it easy. In the car, close to the road, on the wheeler. Several attempts to camp just led to frustration and a long sleepless night of not getting a wink of sleep. Unable to get any rest, I pulled out of one trip early and cancelled another all together. I will say, that I have some very good friends and hunting partners. Gary was very understanding when I had to leave early from camp and he was excellent about helping me not hurt myself worse than I already was. Another friend of mine who I was mentoring volunteered to ride along on a weekend hunt and serve as chief packer in exchange for showing him how to field dress an animal should we be so fortunate to get one.

The hunt commenced pretty normally. We rolled through several of my favorite areas and seeing nothing, travelled further west looking for the herds. We came to a feature called "Crazy Notch" and on the western side of the most unlikely mountain pass you'll see we found them. We climbed a small pressure ridge and spotted several dozen caribou over the next 7 or 8 hours but none came within rifle range except for one cow. She was about 250 yards away and I believed she'd come closer, instead she vanished. I must admit I was feeling the pressure at this point. We were 6 weeks into the season, the bottom of the freezer was visible and I had a new hunter along for the ride. Sometimes when you feel that internal pressure- you don't always make good decisions.

As we made our way back through the steep sided pass just a few minutes before dark, my partner spotted a couple of caribou on the side near the top. They were traveling quickly and would soon be over the summit. I made a snap decision and made perhaps the worst shot of my hunting career. I snapped into sitting position and looped into the sling. I peered through the scope in the dim light and settled the crosshairs just as the animals stopped and peered back down the steep slope at us. Ka BOOM! I have noticed the sound our Germanic brethren call the kugelschlag several times over my life- that is the sound of a bullet striking the ribs of a slab sided animal. It sounds like a guy whacking a side of beef with a mallet or a bat, or in odd instances like a cardboard box being dropping on cement. At close range the sound of impact isn't very distinct against the report of the rifle but at about 150 yards it will stand out as a distinctly separate noise.

Except in this case that sound of bullet striking home occurred much later than I thought it should. I had made a terrible shot in the fact I had been so focused that I didn't realize that this animal was over 350 yards away. Much further than I thought- the worst shot of my career.

I worked the bolt quickly found the cow again in the scope. She was regaining her footing and started to run to the west on a course that would take her over the summit in just a couple of seconds. I applied generous lead- with the crosshairs standing out in front of the animal- and caressed the trigger again. Ka BOOM! The rifle thundered in the tight canyon we were in and I heard the sound of the bullet striking home again, this time accompanied by a sharp crack as the bullet found bone. The cow tumbled from inertia end over end through the bushes and for a second I thought she might fall all the way to the bottom before coming to rest on a small ledge.

My inexperienced partner looked at me in disbelief and exclaimed, "What a shot! That was unbelievable!". I was shaking badly, knowing that the second hit was a lot of luck and without it we'd be headed to the top to conduct a long and, likely, fruitless tracking job in the dark. We dropped our rifles and stripped packs down to just essentials given the steep nature of the terrain. I dropped my .357 Magnum into my pocket as afterthought thinking it would be a comfort packing the meat back down to the road in the dark and not wanting to haul a rifle all the way up the steep face. We made our way up quickly and had to detour around several vertical sections. My partner was a big guy and much heavier laden than I and I wanted to find the animal while we still had a little trace of light in the sky so I sprinted ahead. When I found the ledge, the caribou did the most unexpected thing- which was tried to stand.  She was unable due to a broken shoulder and spine. I grew sick to my stomach and drew the small revolver and fired twice. I'm certainly not a novice with a pistol but due to adrenaline, fatigue and lack of breath, I just flat missed despite being only a few yards away.

By this time I was growing more disturbed. I take every effort to prevent this kind of thing and I was only so much happier that my partner was still down the mountain. I briefly considered that I just had 3 rounds left in the cylinder so I charged the last few feet and fired a single action shot at near point blank range and caribou collapsed. Finally. Down for good. I shouted back to my partner who had no idea what had just transpired that all was well and that I had finished off the caribou with the pistol. I walked into the low bushes and though about retching for a moment and stripped off my jacket to let the cool mountain breeze dry me off as my partner made his way up and the sun's rays in the West faded to dark. I was relieved. Meat at last.

My partner was in shock when he finally saw the animal on the ground- much larger than he expected. He'd never been this close to any large, wild animal before and its size impressed him. I had regained my composure somewhat and was able to resume my role as mentor as we took some photographs. The distance would later turn out to be 356 yards and a 58 degree up angle. I've passed up much better shots than this on numerous occasions and I can't exactly pinpoint why I took it this time but thankful I was. My first shot had hit a little far back and had destroyed the liver. It was a fatal hit but not immediately so. The second had hit the shoulder blade and due to the extreme uphill angle, smashed the spine. The caribou was indeed only moments from succumbing to the wounds and unable to escape when I topped out and perhaps the time wasn't as long as it seemed right then. I was pretty happy to have the handgun to apply a quick coup de' grace and finish what I started.

Later that night after the work was done and we had the caribou off the mountain, after we had made camp, eaten a quick meal and turned in; my aching back stirred me from slumber. I painfully crawled from the tent into the cold mountain air. There was a layer of ice on the fly and built a small fire. Looking skyward and shivering, the aurora borealis blazed overhead. We had meat on the pole, a fire in the camp and an Aurora in the sky- all was right with the world.

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 BulkAmmo.com.

Infographic by BulkAmmo.com.

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.

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 tent...it'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 .22LR...at 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, bears...you name it. The 180gr@2700fps was THE cartridge that made the '06's reputation as a game cartridge. When combined with a rifle scope the American hunter was deadly to previously unheard of distances on larger game than ever before and the cartridge became a worldwide success and today counts for an enormous number of game animals.

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

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

And speaking of marketing...

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

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

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

26 Nosler, Something New…or Not So Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting Old…or Confronting Your Prejudices.

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

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

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

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

And there I stayed.

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

A lot better.

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

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

You do.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hodgeman now posting content on Facebook.

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

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

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


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bubo virginianus…The Great Horned Owl.



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

Here's the particulars from The Alaska Owlmanac:

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

Hunting Techniques and Prey:

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

Voice:

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Emergency Fire Starting- Zippo Outdoor Demonstration

On a grouse hunt today I decided to test out the Emergency Fire Starting Kit from Zippo Outdoor. Most of us have some degree of familiarity with Zippo's best known product- a fluid powered lighter. In years past these were pretty much standard fare among outdoors folks so when I looked at the "Emergency Fire Starting Kit" I kinda wondered what was going on.

When you look at the product- it's apparent they didn't reach too far for design inspiration- it's an orange molded plastic case that's basically the exact same size and shape of a Zippo lighter. That is where the similarity ends however- where a standard Zippo is generally made of metal and requires lighter fluid to power it, the Emergency Fire Starter has a flint wheel and a compartment that holds 4 tinder sticks. The case looks at least water resistant enough for all but determined drowning and is a pleasing orange color so dropping it in the forest doesn't guarantee it's immediate loss. As an aside- I've ranted for years about how makers of vitally important gear often make it matte black, earth tone or even camouflage to sell it to armchair commandos who don't even know where the woods are. Bravo to Zippo for not "tacticooling" this product.

Every outdoorsman who's spent more than 2 minutes thinking about starting a fire in dire circumstances has experimented with the "cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly" crammed into a 35mm film canister. And well they should since it works pretty well and most folks have ready access to the components. But since the invention of digital photography film canisters are harder to find and let's face it- fiddling with a greasy mess of a cotton ball is kind of a pain in the butt and then you have to have some form of sparking mechanism. The Emergency Fire Starter provides the sparking mechanism and 4 "tinder sticks" that appear to be some type of woven cotton fiber coated with some form of paraffin wax. The instructions advise to open the stick up and fluff up the fiber a bit before striking and once the cotton catches the spark the melting paraffin provides more fuel. In my tests the tender stick burned for more than 2 minutes by itself which is plenty of time to light a tinder bundle if you have any sort of experience making a fire at all. In fact, I'd probably cut each stick in half and give myself eight "lights" versus the four but I digress, it's hard to imagine an emergency scenario where a person would realistically need to build more than four fires. Well, at least this side of the widely publicized zombie Apocalypse that is.



Here are couple of my thoughts on the product. It absolutely works as designed.  I've built a bunch of fires by a lot of different means and typically in my kit have at least a couple of different methods and this one for it's intended purpose is excellent. I've had a wide range of ferocium rods and what not and while you can certainly build a fire using natural tinder to catch a spark there are certain conditions where it's probably more drama than you want to put up with. One of the major failings of ferocium rod fire building is that it usually requires two hands. With an injury to a hand or arm it may prove impossible to do so. I found the Zippo kit to be quite easy to do one handed and basically as easy as operating a butane powered lighter. I know many dedicated outdoors folks who like to practice arcane fire lighting methods like bow drills and so forth for aesthetic reasons and while it's a worthwhile pursuit,  if it boils down to me getting a fire or getting hypothermia- I'll take modern convenience thank you very much. I personally think planning to rely on arcane techniques in a true emergency is more Walter Mitty, Armchair Commando than anything else.

So why not just use a butane powered lighter? I'm glad you asked (you did ask didn't you?). For one, in modern air travel, carting around butane and naphtha powered lighters (or even matches for that matter) is generally verboten since some nit wit tried to detonate his underwear on a plane. For a great many folks adventure starts at the airport, so it's nice to have an option that doesn't have those restrictions (at least to the best of my knowledge at this writing). More importantly, it is also an item you can stow in your pack and it will be ready to use should the need arise. There's no gas to leak out, no cardboard to draw moisture and as long as you keep the cotton reasonably dry it will work without maintenance of any kind which is something naphtha powered lighters don't do at all and butane lighters don't always do well. It's also relatively wind resistant unlike matches. I for one think they've done a great job marrying the bulletproof reliability of a sparker with the convenience of a lighter.

Since the ability to build a fire in an emergency is one of the critical "make or break" moments for the outdoorsman in trouble, having at least two reliable methods of doing so is largely seen as the minimum. Since these are readily found for under the meager price of $10, there's no reason to not look at this as a great option for one of them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Real Avid Gun Boss Cleaning Kit- Video Review

The folks at Real Avid were kind enough to send me one of their Gun Boss cleaning kits and asked me to do something a little out of the norm for me- a video review.

So here you go-


Sunday, January 5, 2014

The .30-06 Project…..Eating Ballistic Celery, Pt. 2

The Welter Weight: 150 grains

In the way back when of the dawn of the 20th century, smokeless gunpowder was making serious inroads into ammunition and all of the world's primary armies had made the transition. They made the transition the usual way- in stages. Simply adapting big chunks of lead on top of smokeless. The velocities that smokeless made possible were astounding and quickly outstripped lead's ability to hold together and not blast right past the barrel's rifling. Engineers made that transition quite early by applying a jacket of "Cupro-Nickel" to stand up to the barrel speeds. Not too long later they began to realize that the new speeds these rounds were capable of could result in arms capable of tremendous range- provided they did something about the bullet's shape. All of the early bullets were generally heavy for caliber and round nosed- not generally unlike sporting ammunition of the late nineteenth century- and had the ballistic coefficient of a brick. So the dawn of the 20th century saw something else gain widespread traction. The spitzer bullet. Long, tapered, wind bucking points made the bullet fly further, faster and with more accuracy. To make a civilian hunting bullet, some engineer somewhere just filled the point off to expose a little lead to the impact so the whole thing would mushroom like a flat nosed hunting cartridge. The expanding spitzer was born.

Not to go into a long discourse of military arms development, but it's curious that the '06's parent round, the .30-03 was introduced in 1903 with a 220gr. round nosed bullet. Essentially born too late since arms development was already favoring lighter, spitzer bullets at higher speeds. It didn't take long for Army brass to realize they were already behind the arms race in the days prior to WWI. So they modified the '03 case and the Springfield rifle to fire the 150gr bullet at a speed of 2700fps and change.

The .30-06 Springfield was born.

Early American sportsmen didn't exactly beat down the door to grab the new cartridge. America's hunting fields back then were largely lever action country and levers and early autos accounted for most of the game and game cartridge development until the next big thing. War. When WWI was over the landscape had changed dramatically. Millions of young men had trained and fired the '06 in combat and found the '06 would outrange their old 30-30 or .32 Special by what seemed like half a mile. The U.S. government did something else- they sold off the old stocks of war material for pennies on the dollar. In today's political environment we think it bizarre and somewhat unbelievable but the U.S. government sold hundreds of thousands of '03 Springfields and many millions of rounds of ammunition through the mail for darn near the price of shipping. And the '06's place in U.S. sporting arms was secured. It would be a fixture in sporting arms for the next century…right up to present day. As an aside, the widespread adoption of the '06 as the standard hunting cartridge for N.American game doomed several dozen very good cartridges to instant obscurity- .351 Winchester, .30 Newton, .32 Special, .300 Savage…none sold well after that. The fact the '06 performed well in the woods and was available for very moderate cost during the Great Depression gave it a real edge in the market. Even the vaunted .270 Winchester would get off to a slow start. "Does almost the same thing for twice the price", was how even the .270's biggest proponent put it…none other than Jack O'Connor.

So it's fitting that I start my look at the '06 where the cartridge was born- the 150gr bullet. In the 21st century with modern powder the case can propel that bullet to remarkable speeds and most companies load it to something between 2900 and 3000 feet per second. There are a lot of lighter bullets and heavier bullets available but I'd wager the 150 grain is likely the most common. It's available in many types- FMJ, "cup and core", bonded, monolithics, solids, tipped….virtually every type of bullet made is available as a .308" 150 grain. In the future I will  have an article that addresses each of these types so don't get bogged down in the verbage.

I rounded up a selection that I had on hand- Federal Power Shok, Remington Core-Lokt, and Winchester Power Point- and headed for the range. All of these rounds represent the "entry level" hunting cartridge, a plain Jane "cup and core"loaded to 2900 fps and a little change. I fired a couple of three shot groups with each and each grouped about the same out of the rifle and oddly enough- to about the same point of impact (an effect I didn't expect and I wouldn't count on it in your rifle). The average group was a respectably consistent 1.75". Felt recoil was mild after a decade of shooting decidedly more powerful rifles. While in today's hypersensitive accuracy environment a 1.75 MOA group seems out of place and not exactly newsworthy when you read of "sub MOA" every time you open a page. We would do well to remember that this ammo is manufactured in the millions of rounds annually and sells for just a little north of $20 a box. It is not advertised as a precision product and pretty well represents the plain "imitation vanilla" of the ammo available to us today. You could sure spend a lot more on ammo for your .30-06 smoke pole…but do you need to?

What could a hunter do with a 150 grain standard bullet out of an '06? Well, just about anything really. It wouldn't be my choice for elk or big moose and for darn sure not my choice for a brown bear, but most of the hunters in America are chasing just two species now- white tailed deer and feral hogs. In fact, I know several hunters who have spent their entire long hunting careers and never so much as fired a shot at anything other than a white-tail deer and the 150 grain bullet is pretty much perfect medicine for one and in the long history of the '06- bullet performance is pretty much perfect for the job as well. When it comes to wild hogs I can't pretend to have much experience there but many pretty savvy hog hunters go after them with either the equivalent or even less. Despite the propensity of the outdoors media to "over-dramatize" many things, I just can't see a two hundred pound hog needing more killing than this.

What about other stuff? Black bears are certainly not that heavily built nor that big and in most places they're hunted  the ranges tend to be short- I wouldn't feel under-gunned here despite hysterics that the word "bear" encourages. The 150 grain is right at home shooting for antelope with it's flat trajectory and mild recoil that encourages good shooting. It's also hard to imagine any sheep alive that wouldn't readily succumb to a 150 grain bullet. A really big bull caribou is the size of a middling elk and while the 150 grain wouldn't be my preferred cartridge for them, I've used it and it's on the right side of the margin. A very average sized caribou is much smaller though, about the size of a mule deer, and the cartridge would do (and has done) extremely well. Mountain goats tend to be, pound for pound, the toughest game animals in N.America- they also live in some very nasty country. Wounded goats also have the spiteful tendency to launch themselves down cliff faces and while the 150gr. is easily capable of killing a goat, I'd probably err on the side of "too much is just enough." I don't want to kill a goat, I want to flatten him. As I write this though a friend of mine's daughter is having a very nice goat scored for the book…and she shot it with an '06 with a 150gr. bullet.

In fact, if I were looking for just one load to hunt all Lower 48 species- the '06/150gr would be it. One of the things that makes the '06 "ballistic celery" is the fact that it's just so adequate for everything we hunt here at the ranges we normally hunt them at. In the modern age, we tend to have many thousands of marketing messages thrown at us- super tough premium bullets, shooting at extreme long range, screaming velocity, unrealistic accuracy reports- most of which have little bearing on what we've done with the '06 for over a hundred years.

Which is killing average game at average range with 150 grain cup and core bullets.

While we could stop the story here- a hunter armed with a decent rifle and a supply of 150 grain hunting bullets can in fact darn near do it all- we won't. There's a lot more to cover on the .30-06.

Up Next….Pt 3: The Middle Weight and the Heavy Weight:  165 and 180 Grains.