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.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Savage 7-08...Southpaw Goodness

Some time back I wrote a fairly extensive rant about the firearm industry's lack of responsiveness to the needs of youth and lady hunters with respect to making arms for that specific segment of the market. Of particular note was the relative lack of youth sized rifles in left hand configuration. Fast forward a few months and I'd been looking for my son an appropriately sized rife for the southpaw in him.

I found several makers with left hand versions of adult rifles and nearly everyone makes a youth rifle. Only a couple of companies however combined the two for a left handed youth rifle. Savage and Browning.

I've got to admit I had a predisposition against the Savage from many years ago when I had one of the company's 110s in .30-06 I'd taken as some sideways trade. The details of the trade completely escape me now, but I'm pretty sure I got the worse end of it.

It was pretty much the ugliest rifle I'd ever seen.

Like all of the Savage 110s at the time, it had the bulbous and rather hideous looking barrel nut attaching the barrel to the action. Savage's unique method of attaching the barrel to the action was a marvelous piece of cost cutting production engineering as it allowed for extremely precise headspacing on a gauge. That extremely precise headspacing also was the catalyst for something rifle cost cutting engineering was not known for…. extremely good accuracy.

That ugly as sin rifle shot with beautiful accuracy. It was good for minute of angle with any bullet weight you cared (back then that was 150s, 180s and 220s) despite an inexpensive scope and mediocre trigger. In those days, MOA capable rifles didn't grow on trees like they do now so it was something of a spectacular find. I hunted with it off and on and finally traded it off to a buddy when I acquired another rifle- also an '06- made by the German firm of SIG. I was quite taken with SIG's line of handgun and my hopes were the rifle would be as good.

It wasn't.

It was a finicky and perverse rifle and the only load I could get to shoot slightly decently was the somewhat bizarre Winchester Silvertip (the OLD Silvertip, not the current one) in 125gr at a blistering 3400fps.  I only wish that SIG had shot as well as that second hand Savage despite costing several times more. It was a trend that I'd rediscover many years later. I don't know why I've told you all that nonsense- possibly the disappointment lingers. The market responded in kind since that SIG hasn't been made in well over a decade and Savages litter the shelves of sporting goods stores in America and a lot of the rest of the world.

So with my hatred of the Savage barrel nut firmly in place bolstered by bad feelings at a rifle that didn't figure into the modern equation of selecting a youth rifle- the Browning it was. I placed an order with the local "hook and bullet" for delivery by Christmas.

And waited. And waited. And waited. I finally received a call from the "hook and bullet". The rifle was a "no-go" . Apparently Browning when they made this wonderful little left hand rifle only made a few dozen and they flew off the shelves. The dealer called the distributor, the distributor called his distributor, and that distributor called the factory. Maybe they'd make some more next year but this year's lot was sold out. Crap.

A few weeks later I was in the Hook and Bullet Superstore up in Fairbanks doing some other Christmas shopping when  I sauntered over to the extensive gun counter and asked by chance if they had a left handed youth gun….any cartridge, any maker. The clerk dug through the rack of rifles that spanned most of the rear wall of the store, 8 guns deep and came up with only one.

A Savage.

I kinda quelled the old predisposition and looked it over. Decent looking machining. Business like black plastic stock with a soft recoil pad. Matte black finish on all the metal except the bolt. A Nikon 3-9x on top….hmmm. I cycled the action and leveled it at an impressive kudu mount over the gun counter and pressed the "Accu-trigger".


A very satisfying break. Surprisingly so. I turned the rifle over and looked at the chambering. 7mm-08 Remington and that was a good sign. The 7-08 was on the very short list of cartridges I considered appropriate for a youth gun. The 7-08 started life shortly after the .308 Winchester when some enterprising wildcatter necked the .308 case to 7mm (.284). The world has as many good 7mm bullets in as many weights as there are .30 caliber bullets so the appeal was understandable. The 7mm/308 was finally legitimized when Remington turned the fairly popular wildcat into factory fodder in 1980 and the moniker morphed into the name we know today- the 7-08 Remington.

Common loads are 120gr@3000fps and 140s@2800fps with a smattering of others available and factory fodder more or less replicates the century plus old 7x57 Mauser (or .275 Rigby for my English friends!). It's hard to imagine that a decent 140gr smacking into a caribou or deer or even a moose in the boiler room wouldn't be sufficient.  In the older guise as a 7x57- a veritable boatload  of creatures had been knocked spinning. Using the heaviest bullets available one WDM Bell had killed more than a few elephant by using superior marksmanship combined with excellent knowledge of elephant anatomy. As a wildcat and later as a factory round the 7-08 quickly became known as an excellent game cartridge and is now loaded by nearly everyone and available in a number of rifles. As a bonus the efficient round has a fairly mild 13 ft/lbs of recoil and a moderate report even in shorter barrels. I probably wouldn't hunt grizzly or bison with the cartridge but everything is on the table.

In short- it should kill completely out of proportion to it's level of muzzle blast and recoil. Perfect for a huntress or youth rifle where hard kicks and ear splitting muzzle blasts aren't generally good things. Moving my eye forward I saw they'd finally machined down that bulbous barrel nut into a unit that had lines more similar to conventionally mounted barrels without giving up it's wonderfully precise headspacing.

I turned over the store's hang tag… $499.99. Considering it that is more or less came complete and ready to sight in and hunt that's a very good deal.

"Write it up." I told the clerk as I handed it back across the counter. "It looks like a long skinny package is under the tree this year."