Monday, December 28, 2015

Small Game...Overlooked Bounty


         It is certainly true that when it comes to Alaska, most people think of big game hunting. We have some of the most interesting big game species in the United States. The Alaska/Yukon moose and plains bison are among the largest game animals hunted in this hemisphere, we have three species of bears, and we have Sitka deer and caribou not to mention sheep and mountain goat. As good as our big game seasons are, our small game seasons are even better. Small game is numerous enough that a small game hunter can, literally, hunt 365 days a year. Where moose season might only be a couple of weeks to a month long- hares and squirrels can be hunted year round and in most places grouse and ptarmigan can be hunted from August through the end of March. Even our waterfowl season lasts until December.

            I haven’t written much about small game hunting in the past, but upon reflection that really isn’t fair. I hunt small game more than I do large game and even on big game hunts I will take small game as targets of opportunity. So what I’ve decided to do is to produce something of a small game primer for the Greatland. I’m actually only a couple species away from my “Small Critter Alaska Slam”. That is a term I just made up on the spot…but you get the idea. Method of take here isn’t regulated in most places with the exception of waterfowl. Upland game can be hunted with shotguns, rifles, air guns, archery and in many cases, trapped. There are certain zones limited to shotguns or archery due to safety concerns, but they are really fairly limited when compared to the rest of the state.

            Alaska Department of Fish and Game have three classes of “Not Big Game”.  They are Fur Animals, allowed to be taken on a small game license by residents and include squirrels, beaver, coyote, fox and lynx...think of them as animals not generally eaten (although beaver isn't bad and lynx is delicious). Small Game, which I discuss below in detail and include grouse, ptarmigan and hare and are allowed to be taken by both residents and non-residents alike. The last classes are Unclassified Game and Deleterious Exotic wildlife and include such oddities as porcupine, cormorant, as well as feral domestic animals. Waterfowl are managed under separate regulations. Below are what is generally considered "Upland Game".

Grouse
            I am something of a grouse junkie and we have four species here. I can hunt three in my immediate area and I do so, often, with relish.

            Spruce Grouse are a large grouse that dwells in mature boreal spruce forests. They are often called “stupid chickens” or “fool’s hens” given their propensity to simply hang tight in cover and rely on their (very good) camouflage to protect them from predators. Most spruce grouse flush only when approached very closely and sound like a helicopter taking off. When you’re sneaking through a thicket, having one explode out of cover a few feet away is often a heart stopping experience. That said, I’ve taken spruce grouse with a shotgun, .22 rifles, and a bow of all things. They are not particularly good eating, so I largely ignore them these days. Some people love the flavor, but they tend to be meaty, dark and have a flavor like spruce tips, which is their preferred winter food source. My favorite way to hunt them is “spot and stalk” with a .22 rifle, they flush so close and tend to be in such thick spruce forest canopy that shooting on the wing is generally unproductive.

            Sharp-Tailed Grouse are another large grouse that tends to inhabit grassland and broken prairie habitat. I live near some of the best sharp-tail country in the state and I love hunting these birds. They are great fun to hunt with a shotgun in the early season- much like you would hunt pheasant in the lower-48. After the season wears on, the birds get nervous and tend to simply run away or flush from well outside of shotgun range. In the later season or in pressured areas, hunting with a .22 is more productive. I tend to limit myself to the shotgun on these birds lately and simply love long hikes in sharp-tail country with my Benelli and my dog. Flavor on these tends to be very good and in tacos reminds me of dark meat pork. These are the birds that made me a bird hunter.

            Ruffed Grouse are slightly smaller that Spruce or Sharp-tails and inhabit stands of re-growth poplars and aspen trees. They are easily my favorite grouse to eat, being much lighter in flavor and color than other grouse species. They are a suitable substitute for white meat chicken in most dishes and in many ways, are what all chicken should be. Flavor is very similar to free range chicken, not the Styrofoam protein substitute that’s more widely available at the grocery.  They are, in every sense of the term, the “chicken of the woods”. I’ve taken ruffed grouse with shotguns, .22s, head shot them with a center-fire, and my favorite method is currently the air rifle. Much like spruce grouse, their habitat doesn’t favor wing-shooting. I love the air rifle since approaching ruffed grouse isn’t terribly difficult and the single pellet doesn’t damage meat. Shooting delicate birds with a shotgun tends to destroy too much of the delicious meat of these birds for my taste. These grouse (like most game birds) have highly cyclical populations. I love it when they are up cycle and eat them at every opportunity. On a low cycle, I might go two or three years without seeing more than a handful.

            Sooty Grouse are one of the species I’ve not yet taken. These inhabit Southeast Alaska on the Coastal mountain ranges and are similar to the Blue Grouse found in the Rocky Mountains. These birds live in coastal, old growth rain forest. The typical hunting method is “hear and stalk” and was featured on a recent episode of Steven Rinella’s  “Meateater”. The general idea is to hear the male mating call that gives the species its nickname, the hooter. Once located, you then stalk to the large tree its living in and you glass the bird in the branches. Sniping them with a scoped .22 is the “go-to” method. These are most likely the most specialized and difficult of all the grouse species to hunt due to the difficult terrain and peculiar nature of the birds. It sounds easy on paper, but is reportedly far more difficult in practice.

Ptarmigan

            Alaska has all three species of ptarmigan (Lagopus) scattered throughout the state and I’ve taken all three. A member of the grouse family, they inhabit open mountain country and are wonderful and charismatic birds that make a roosting cry that sounds like “O-O-O...Ohio”. All three species are seasonally camouflaged in white plumage in winter and mottled brown in summer.

            Willow Ptarmigan are easily the most plentiful and widely distributed throughout the state and inhabit the willow flats found along glacial streams and rivers low lying tundra. In fall they are found in small family groups but in winter can flock up in the hundreds. I’ve taken these with both .22s and shotguns. Wing shooting can be very effective when approached like pheasant; a covey can often be jumped several times in succession. The meat is dark purple and they have a strong, liverish quality that some people don’t like. It is unlike other game birds and is complex in flavor. Ptarmigan is featured heavily in Icelandic and some Scottish cooking and is on the menu of Arctic dwellers everywhere.

            Rock Ptarmigan are very similar in appearance to Willow Ptarmigan. In fact, many people can’t tell the difference except by the terrain they inhabit. From a practical perspective, the terrain difference in enough to cause a slightly different hunting tactic. Rock Ptarmigan inhabit higher country, much more open, with lower vegetation growth and tend to be harder to approach within shotgun range. Wing shooting "rocks" can be challenging and I love to pursue them on Nordic skis in the winter. I will also typically have a .22 in camp for shooting rocks in caribou camp for a source of camp meat. In the pot, they are indistinguishable from willow or white-tailed ptarmigan.

            White-tailed Ptarmigan are smaller in body and less prolific than Rocks or Willows. The species is also the sole year-round alpine dwelling bird in all of N. America. White-tails are found exclusively in the alpine zone and coveys tend to be smaller and less densely populated than other ptarmigan species. They aren’t as widely distributed as well. These are readily indentified by their all-white tails (present year round) unlike Willows and Rocks which have a black band on the tail. I have only taken White-tails with a .22 as a target of opportunity while pursuing sheep and early season caribou high in the Alaska Range, but wing shooting could be possible for the specialist, in a fashion similar to chukars. High climbs in rocky, exposed country are the norm for these birds.

Hares
            Alaska contains two species of hare, the snowshoe and the Alaska hare. I have only pursued snowshoes to date.

            Snowshoe hares are a small to medium hare species widely distributed throughout Alaska, Canada and the Rocky Mountains. They are seasonally camouflaged, all white in winter and a typical brown in summer. Average weights are 3-4 pounds. Hare populations are highly cyclical and on up years can be unbelievably prolific. I’ve taken hares with .22s and shotguns in both summer and winter. They can be quite good eating in given preparations but prior to hunting hares the reader is encouraged to research tularemia which is present in Alaska populations and can be harmful to humans. My preference is to hunt them in winter in conjunction with sharp-tails. A piece of Alaska lore is to only hunt hares in months with an "R" (presumably for Rabbit) to protect against tularemia risks. While it precludes hunting hares in the warmest months of summer when infection rates are highest, I use safeguards when butchering hares year round to be on the safe side. Hares are also commonly taken in snares in winter.

            Alaska hares are much larger than snowshoe hares and only found on the Western coast of Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula. Typical weights are around 11 pounds but individuals up to 15 pounds have been recorded. It is a relative of the Canadian Arctic Hare and among the largest living lagomorphs world wide. They are typically hunted with small bore center-fire rifles that the indigenous inhabitants of the area favor as well as caught in nets during drives or snared. I have spent very little time hunting on the Western coast and Peninsula. Most of my time there has been in pursuit of work duties rather than hunting. Alaska Hares are impressive and I hope to eventually get one. They are reportedly much better flavored than snowshoe hares.

            So there you have it- a brief primer on all the small game species in the state. For the non-resident it is quite the bargain for the meager cost of a non-resident small game license and enough to interest even the specialist small game enthusiast. I must admit that I love chasing the small game species enough to do so frequently. While big game gets the lion's shares of the press and attention, it is really a shame that the small game species aren't more appreciated.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Survival...the .223 Cartridge.

I occasionally get some interesting mail. A few weeks back, I wrote about the .223 Remington cartridge and espoused my opinion that it makes a pretty poor big game rifle when one considers the available options.

A few days ago I received an email asking me my opinion on what I thought about the .223 as a "survival cartridge". Well, that's an awfully big subject. "Survival" could be anything from being stuck on your own in a wilderness setting awaiting rescue for a few days to a full blown, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario.

Since the author of the email didn't specify- I'll choose the practical more than the fanciful. Let's say you're on your own at a remote cabin and your float plane is delayed for a few days due to foul weather. It's not an imaginary situation- it happens every year here to at least a few hundred people. Combined with a freak accident in which your food supplies went over the bow of the canoe and down the rapids would leave you in a precarious sort of situation. In such a circumstance, any sort of device to procure some grub would be a welcome addition, a .223 included. I'm something of a minority when it comes to "survival rifles"- most are such a collection of compromises that they give up much utility. I've got a normal, light, scoped, bolt action rifle in .223 and it'd be fine in such a scenario.

Consider that I know many Native people out and about in Bush Alaska who rely on the .223 nearly exclusively for food procurement. I think you'd do just fine with the .223. In my travels I've been to several villages where the only discernible high powered rifles were Ruger Mini-14s firing ball ammunition. I've even seen a photograph of a young girl who'd just decked a rather large polar bear at close range. While such things show you what's possible with the .223, it's highly unadvisable.

Most of my Inupiat friends shoot the .223 and they shoot seals, hares, ptarmigan and the occasional caribou and manage to do quite alright with it. While I do believe the .223 lacks a lot to be desired in a big game cartridge, it is nearly ideal for head shooting seals. I've never shot a seal (I'm prohibited by law from doing so) but I've seen Native friends do it. It typically is a close range shot, from a good rest and very, very deliberate. Such shooting is perfect for an accurate, low recoil cartridge and Canadian Inuits have used the .222 Remington for years in a similar fashion. Shooting caribou in winter on barren ground makes for easy tracking in snow.

My Inupiat friends also shoot small game like hares and ptarmigan with the .223 and it does fine. Meat damage isn't as bad as you'd think. This last weekend I shot several ptarmigan with my .223 while predator hunting at about 100 yards or so with no meat damage at all. I've done much worse with a shotgun. Hares are often shot in open country at longer range as well and generally aren't approachable to within shotgun or .22 range when winter hits.

One thing to consider is that most Native folks aren't going to carry a bunch of different guns- they're going to carry one and a light .223 fits the bill perfectly. In that vein, the .223 works but I still can't see it as a weapon of choice for the big game hunter who is purposely pursuing larger game. As a survival rifle it would fit the bill and extend your range quite a lot on small game over a .22LR or shotgun and still be in the realm of possible should a larger animal present an opportunity. In times of desperation, you make do with what you have.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Heather's Choice!

As frequent readers of this blog know. I view most of the common freeze dried backpacking chow as one of the seven levels of hell. I've been known to chop up a ptarmigan into one, or more frequently just go hungry rather than choke one down. In a heavier camp, I'll drag around cast iron and a cooler and real eggs.

But that's not always possible when you're backpacking or rafting.

Enter one Heather Kelly of Heather's Choice. She started in her Anchorage home in 2014, providing meals on a pretty limited basis. Since then, her chow has found it's way to Everest- and into my camp.

Here's an excerpt:
"Originally created for those who rely on lots of calories to fuel them in the backcountry, our meals provide healthy, lightweight, sustainably sourced food without sacrificing taste. What we've come to find out is that people from all walks have recognized the importance of our meals; sailors, pilots, military personnel, and those who value emergency preparedness.
We use the highest quality proteins to create balanced, satisfying meals. Our current menu includes smoked wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, 100% grass-fed bison, 100% grass-fed elk, as well as humanely harvested venison, antelope and quail. These proteins not only provide you with high-quality nutrition, but are also sourced in a way that's environmentally friendly."
She had me at salmon, bison and elk...
Now she's looking to grow and funding it through a Kickstarter campaign....a concept I'm not sure I understand, but then again- I'm an old guy.
But this old guy is putting his money where his mouth is...and thinks you should too.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Everyman Rifle Project....or A Bang Stick for Everyone Pt. 1

It's the onset of Middle Winter, in the lower latitudes they have 4 seasons and so do we...but we have early, middle and late winter making up three of them. Middle winter is the time of short daylight hours, frigid cold temps and long periods indoors. 

In short- the perfect time for a writing project. 

In looking back over the analytics and correspondence, many folks were interested in my last multi-part project on the .30-06 and several more have expressed a lot of interest in "budget" rifles like the Ruger American and Savage Youth Combo that I've reviewed over the last couple of years. Such writing is always fun even if it does take me a little while to finish it. I must admit, I've never been particularly impressed with the way most gun magazines test rifles. For one, they get a gun from a vendor- it may be cherry picked for accuracy or it may be a random selection from a bin, no one knows. Second, they always take the gun and shoot it with a variety of loads or even tailored handloads until they get something that shoots a "sub MOA" group. Third, rarely are any problems reported on the rifle and if they are, it's minimized.

The bottom line is that gun tests in magazines and blogs very rarely match the way rifles are used in the real world. For instance, I saw a test reporting "outstanding accuracy!" on a budget gun by shooting $85 a box ammunition through a bench clamp. While the test is valid, it ignores the fact most folks shooting $300 rifles are never going to spend $85.00 on a box of ammo or ever shoot the rifle from such a device. With that in mind, what I'm proposing is to do something a little more real world and in order to keep myself on the intellectual straight and narrow, we have to devise some rules. 

So here they are:
1. Budget Rifle- must be a rifle marketed toward the entry market. For instance, the Ruger American, the Savage Axis, The Savage 11, The Remington 783, The Winchester XPR and the like. We will be somewhat limited on the variety based on what we can scrounge up for test. This is largely driven by Rule #2. An MSRP of approximately $500 for a bare rifle will be the cut off point. There is some discretion on this point driven by the local market being somewhat higher than the Lower 48 and some makers having grossly inflated MSRPs (I'm looking at you Ruger) over what you typically find them for at retail.

2. Test Rifle- must be a privately owned rifle acquired through normal retail channels. None of these rifles will be acquired from a distributor or manufacturer. These are all the personal property of someone, some of them are mine, some of them belong to friends of mine borrowed for the testing. In short, these are a representative sample of what commonly hits the marketplace.

3. Ammunition- we will select 2 varieties of hunting ammunition per cartridge out of the readily available box store stock sticking to major makers' lower priced offerings. Federal "Blue Box", Remington Core Lokt , Winchester Power Point and similar. No match ammo or "Premium" makers will be involved in the test. Real world buyers of these rifles don't buy 12 boxes hunting for optimum loads and they don't spend double the cost of the rifle on a few boxes of shells. 

4. Shooting- the rifles will be fired for three shot groups, 3 times by two shooters...or 18 rounds per ammunition type at 100yds. The shooting will occur over an improvised rest, consisting of a folding table, chair, and a backpack (the way guys with $300 rifles do it!). No ransom rest or bull bags. Results will be reported in a table with no "Do-overs", "Mulligans" or "Called Flyers". The 12 groups will be averaged and reported as the definitive "Accuracy" of the rifle. I fully realize that we could squeeze a bit more accuracy out of them by using a concrete bench and bull bags but here's the reason- the same two guys are going to shoot every rifle- which statistically levels the field and the nearest concrete shooting bench is a hundred miles away.

5. The "Good, Bad, Ugly" Report- the rifle will receive a score on objective criteria such as "Feeds from magazine" as well as some subjective criteria such as "Fit and Finish". I'm still thinking about the best way to this but it will likely look like a value added analysis ( I may be overthinking this a little). It's hard to score rifles on things like stock fit and balance and so forth so we'll try to steer clear  of elements without a firm metric. We'll report such things as a "Notes" entry.

There's the criteria and at this point, I'll invite readers to suggest edits to the rules. I'm very much open to suggestions on this but I need to nail it down before the shooting starts. So please make your suggestion in the comments of via email. 

Thanks,
Hodgeman

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to take this time to wish all my readers a very, happy Thanksgiving. I'd contemplated a piece wherein I list and talk about all the things I'm thankful for, but that would be a very long article indeed.

Suffice to say, I feel blessed beyond measure- a great year, great friends, and many adventures enjoying the beauty and bounty of the land. I wish the same for you too.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Hodgeman

Monday, November 23, 2015

Moving North. Some Unsolicited Advice.

I've gotten the question in email now a few times and in person a lot.  So I'll post this out there.

There are three separate types of regulations for Alaska hunters:
1. Non-residents- U.S. Citizens who don't live in Alaska
2. Non-resident Aliens- non-U.S. Citizens who don't live in Alaska
3. Residents- U.S. Citizens who live in Alaska.

Residency is slightly complicated but basically requires moving to Alaska and living here full time for the previous 12 months. Residency comes with a lot of benefits for hunters, the first being that a full bore hunting/fishing/trapping license is a mere $62 and lot of areas and tags are resident only.

For the Non-Resident folks-

I often get asked by people who relocate here about ponying up the substantial dollars for a non-resident license while they're counting down the 12 months to residency. Often thinking they'll get out there for an early win on moose or caribou. Well, a non-resident hunting license is $230 and you'll need a non-refundable moose tag for $400 (or a caribou for $325).

In short- don't. The rationale, few folks can hit the ground running after moving here. Moving here can be a bit daunting and a whole lot expensive. You'll not likely have much (if any) scouting, you'll be unfamiliar with the terrain and regulations and your chances of success are pretty slim without some inside help. If you want to hire a guide then of course all bets are off and you should buy a non-res license.  If you are a non-resident alien- you'll need to hire a guide for all big game anyway.

What to do? My recommendation has always been to buy a small game license in that first year. For  a couple of reasons. One, small game hunting is a great way to meet other hunters and learn how to read regulations and scout areas. Two, we have some phenomenal small game hunting that is worth spending the time exploring. A non-resident small game license is a mere $20 and is likely the best non-resident hunting bargain up here.

So far, a few folks have taken this advice and most reported they were happy to have done so. One gentleman reported he couldn't manage to find a grouse, much less a moose, his first year here and was happy to have not spent the substantial bucks for a big bowl of non-res tag soup. His second year he had a new resident hunting partner introduced by a mutual friend and some good ideas about where and how to hunt and was successful as a first year resident.

Just some food for thought.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The .223 Debate... Go Big or Go Home

I recently received a piece of correspondence asking my thoughts on the .223 as a big game rifle. I've written briefly on the subject a couple of times and it seems that you can't get on a hunting or shooting forum without seeing this topic come up repeatedly. I only frequent a couple of hunting forums regularly but the topic is a perennial one.

I could approach the topic from the usual way- which is to procure a whole bunch of data and provide a detailed analysis in regards to the foot pounds of energy at differing ranges, trajectory tables and so forth. Since I've actually shot big game with a .223, I could provide an anecdotal example or two as well. But, I'm not sure I really want to do that.

I'm sure the debate will carry on about using the .223 for deer regardless of what I write about.

I will acquiesce that modern bullets have done nothing but improve the .22 centerfire cartridges, in fact all cartridges are more effective than ever with the excellent bullets we have today, but I have a hard time accepting the .223 as a deer cartridge. I've shot a number of big game animals with the .223 and I have to admit, I wasn't really impressed. At close range, with a good bullet... it worked. I also lost the only deer I ever wounded to the .223 as well. I've seen a deer shot with a .22-250 that dropped so fast that I suspected a spinal hit but it was a behind the shoulder lung shot. I could talk about all that stuff in great detail.

But I won't.

I'd like to reframe the question from being about the .223 and other .22 centerfires to virtually all other larger centerfire cartridges out there. What you notice is that when you look at the .270 or the .308 or one of the endless 7mm cartridges.... no one questions their effectiveness as a big game rifle. No one. People will argue about which one is their favorite, or the most accurate, or the most efficient, but not their effectiveness. Elmer Keith loathed the .270 (or at least its most vocal proponent- Jack O'Connor) but still used the cartridge for mountain goat. Even when you step down to the mild .243 Winchester, no one really questions whether you're talking about a deer rifle or not. The only debates I've seen are when you get to elk or moose, but even big Western mule deer are seen as .243 country. Most states that regulate a minimum cartridge start with the 6mm/.243 bore. Why? Because it works. I've seen a few deer and a couple of caribou readily decked with the .243 Winchester.

It's my suggestion that the absence of argument about those standard bore rifles should speak very loudly when choosing a cartridge. Want to kill deer? No one will tell you the .270 won't do the job. Want to deck an elk? Say .30-06 and you'll get little disagreement. Want to kill a caribou? Carry a 7mm and no one will bat an eye. Respond with a .223 for any of those animals and people will be doubtful. With good reason. In Craig Boddington's "North American Hunting Rifles", he pretty well sums it up as "not big game rifles" and leaves it at that. Cooper derisively referred to the .223 as a "poodle shooter". Many people with far more experience than I have are leery of the .223 on deer sized game.

In my experience, the .223 can work...but you need a good bullet and you need to get close and you need to be really picky about your shot. You might be in for a long tracking job or you might want to take head and neck shots. I'm of the opinion that if you need to make those kinds of stipulations, you really should be thinking about a heavier cartridge to start with. Deer are relatively easy to kill and a .270 will pretty much be forgiving of bullet construction and poor angle, but not the .223. In the bigger cartridges you can argue about what works better but they all work. Virtually any of the standard "deer guns" with a soft point bullet will kill most big game dead as Sunday's fried chicken. I can't say that with the .223.

I've never seen the point of relying on the absolute bare minimum cartridge when shooting for blood when far better choices are so readily available.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Early Season, Opportunity and Desire- Pt. 2

As the bugs hatched out and became unbearable, we relocated camp to a large gravel flat near a large lake. The wind from the lake would help knock down the bugs and the lack of vegetation gave the wee beasties fewer places to hatch from. While most folks concentrate on the ubiquitous mosquito, the most dreaded insect in this corner of Alaska is the biting gnat. The creature goes by several names- the biting gnat, the biting midge and the "no-see um" the proper name is the one almost no one refers to them by, Ceratopogonidae. No matter- they all refer to a terrible creature, who gnaws a bloody hole in your skin and then apparently craps in the hole for spite. The gnats lay eggs and hatch out in the tussocks of damp mountain tundra and walking across it can raise unbelievable clouds of them. Once they detect a mammal- the females home in and commence to feed on blood as part of the reproductive cycle. Many people have terrible allergic reactions to the proteins in their saliva and break out in huge welts. Camping on dry gravel bands and bars, particularly in wind prone locations can reduce the exposure. Insect repellant is largely ineffective.

As insignificant as the gnats are- they would play a larger role later tonight.

After relocating camp, we finished butchering the caribou and hung it up beneath a tarp. The tarp would protect it from sunlight and rain while allowing the cooler breeze to reduce the temperature of the meat. In the cooler temps the meat could safely hang in camp for a couple of days without risk of spoilage. My friend Gary joined us in camp that evening and after a quick late lunch, we assembled his inflatable raft and set sail down a series of chained lakes for an area we'd been successful last year. It was a short trip and we made quick work with a small outboard on the raft.

We arrived and beached the raft. We climbed a pressure ridge and established a glassing post on the most prominent ridge top. The dry gravel at the top combined with the non-stop breeze of the lake channel kept the gnats at bay, only an occasional one would stray into the area. Finding caribou took less than 5 minutes. A large bull fed his way into view. He looked a long way off but as typical on the tundra, ranges are difficult to estimate. Gary got into a prone position over his daypack and lined up. I  did likewise with my .270.

I asked Gary if he was comfortable with the shot, "It looks long, are you steady on this one?"

He replied, "Yeah, I've got it. No problem."

His .338 boomed and I watched the bull hunch up at the impact. It was a solid hit and the bull staggered and stumbled. We waited for a couple of moments waiting for the bull to tip over.

Except, he didn't. He started walking and stumbling away.

"Give him another." I called out- watching intently through the binoculars.

Gary fired again. Miss. And again....miss. With each successive shot the bull put more distance on the range and got more intent on fleeing.

"Shoot him now!" Urged Gary. His voice was intent now that the bull was obviously wounded and his rifle was empty. I peered through the scope on the .270... the bull was strongly quartering away and I simply aimed for the middle and fired. Boom! No reaction. I fired again with no effect. The .270 is zeroed for 250 yards the fact I was undershooting him made me think this bull was a distressing distance away. I held the horizontal wire on the bull's back line and as carefully as I could manage, squeezed a round off. Boom! With a significant delay I heard the kugelschlag, the sound of the bullet striking game come back. It was a sharp crack rather than a hollow whomp which indicated I had struck bone. The bull collapsed with a shattered rear leg. I fired my last round out of humanity trying to end his life as quickly as possible. It broke my heart when I saw a clump of dirt fly up in front of the caribou.

My remaining ammunition was located in the boat, along with my rangefinder. It was about a 5 minute hike back down and then a 10 minute climb back up. As I got ready to tear off, Gary found 2 rounds in his day pack. Rather than fire them from our perch, we made a plan. I would stay on the ridge and guide Gary through hand signals to the wounded bull which would allow Gary to dispatch it at close range. I would follow with the packs once he located the bull. As Gary picked his way across the tundra on a near dead run through the brush, it was apparent the bull was much farther than either of us though. A little map and Google Earth work would later reveal the initial shot was very near 450 yards- much farther than either of us would have knowingly attempted- and the final shot was on the order of 550 yards. After an agonizing period of time I saw Gary enter the small basin with the bull and heard the report of the rifle, followed by another.

It was finished.

I followed a few minutes later after retrieving the packs from the raft. The bull was huge. The first hit had hit the bull a little too far back, in the liver. The wound would have been fatal but the caribou could have went a considerable distance. The second wound had smashed the upper femur of the onside rear leg. The bull was bleeding heavily and would have died fairly soon had Gary not shot it in the neck to end the suffering. We both felt horrible at how this happened. We both really try very hard to avoid this kind of thing. It was Gary's first experience with anything but a bang, flop, DRT shot. It was unfortunately not my first. We both hope it to be the last. I know that it does happen, occasionally animals just die hard. It doesn't mean I like it.

We set about to field dress the animal, more somber than usual, without the chit chat or cheerful way we usually go about the work. It also became uncomfortable as the breeze died and the gnats came out in force. It also got far worse, once Gary realized he had forgotten his headnet which is the only way to seek refuge from them. We tried every trick in the book, we gutted the animal and then pulled the carcass several yards away- hoping to lure the midges to the pools of blood and entrails. It worked, but only a little. After a brutal 20 minutes, Gary resorted to putting pieces of rolled up toilet paper in his ears to keep the gnats out of his ear canals. I would occasionally hear him cursing under his breath but otherwise he was silently suffering the bugs and a heavy heart.

After perhaps a half hour, I looked up and saw something moving across the tundra. A large bull was walking right toward us. I still had a tag in my pocket and a rifle full of ammo. I decided against it and went back to work butchering. I looked up again, the caribou's larger cousin had joined them and they were standing there, staring at us stupidly. The second bull was perhaps, the largest bull I've ever had opportunity to shoot. I went back to cutting, the wheels turning. We had to finish Gary's caribou and pack it to the raft, it would require two trips through the buggy tundra. Then we had to travel an hour up the lake to camp. If everything went right, we'd arrive right at dark. Right at dark provided I didn't shoot a second bull.

I looked up again, the bull was only 15 feet away as I held the rifle in my hands. I only had to raise it and shoot. I could have killed it with a spear. I thought very hard about what to do next. I looked at Gary, he had a trickle of blood coming from his ear and his face was looking puffy from the bites. Midges were all over our bare arms mixing our blood with that of the caribou. I knew he'd never say a word or complain if I doomed us to another two hours out here in purgatory. He'd never complain about a ride across the lake in the dark guided by headlamp. Internally, I couldn't wrap my head around causing any more death today. Or additional suffering. I'd had enough.

"I'm going to regret this tomorrow." I said as I snapped the safety on and dropped the rifle on my pack. Relief swept over Gary's face and my heart sank a little. I'd just had enough of it all for today.

The caribou snorted loudly and walked away in a long wide circle and disappeared over the edge of the plateau.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The GAMO Fusion Pro... Pest Control Champion.

 I have a long running war against The Red Menace aka Red Pine Squirrel.

It's not that I hate them per se, but in the north country the lowly pine squirrel plays a huge part of the boreal ecosystem. Enough so that their numbers and reproductive rate can easily push them from "common" to "plague" status. I'll say outright that all the squirrels I've killed were completely legit- AK has no limit and no season on squirrels for either hunting or trapping, and unusual for here, no harvest requirement. I grew up hunting squirrels back East. Big tree squirrels that made great table fare and a long days hunting might bag three or four. Up here I can shoot three or four before I finish my first cup of coffee in my PJs off the front porch.

Our last winter was a mild one, with a bumper crop of pine cones and while I enjoyed it immensely, I knew the shoe would drop.

The squirrel explosion happened. While I'm sure some readers will take offense, I'll be happy to point out that red squirrels are a pest of the highest order. They'll wreck a bird feeder in about 3 seconds, they'll tunnel under your foundation, the get into the attic and pack off your insulation. I've even had them destroy the wiring harness of a jeep. Most rural homeowners do what I do- shoot them. Some folks poison them but that has lots of unintended consequences so I discourage it at every opportunity. The goal isn't exactly eradication, but to at least thin the numbers enough locally that you're not overran.

My favorite piece of equipment for that has long been the lowly .22 Long Rifle firing the anemic CB Cap. Squirrels are neither a long range target, nor particularly hard to kill- in fact, the 29gr conical bullet lumbering along at 700fps is just about perfect. Low noise, less danger of shooting through the neighbors house- the CB makes short work of a red squirrel sitting on a branch 20' overhead barking his head off at you. You get an exit about 1 in 5 but the residual energy is pretty low and the bullet generally hits the tree behind.

That is until the latest ammunition paranoia swept the country. Locally available supplies become nonexistent and have been for several years now. A local scalper was asking $100 for a 100 round box. A price at which I hope sees him holding on to them for decades to come. Once the last squirrel fell to my last CB round, I knew something had to give.

Enter- my faithful and observant spouse. For Father's Day she surprised me with a pretty thoughtful gift. A GAMO .22 caliber air rifle, complete with a scope and a noise suppressor. Note, that suppressors for firearms are highly regulated in the U.S.- not on an airgun however. Accuracy was surprisingly good- good enough for backyard pest control for sure. The amount of noise generated makes even the whisper quiet CB seem loud. The noise generated sounds like anything but a rifle shot. It will fire a .22cal pellet that weighs 14g at about 900 fps. While I wouldn't rate it nearly as effective as the .22LR round for small game, it is certainly the equal of the CB round and more than sufficient for back yard pest control.

After shooting a couple dozen squirrels I noticed a tendency to undershoot them with the scope. The pellets looping trajectory combined with the considerable distance between the bore and centerline of the scope made undershooting at close range pretty easy as well as overshooting at medium distances. For hunting at variable ranges the scope was just a handicap. I can hit squirrels with open sights a lot farther than I'd shoot one with an air gun.

I simple scraped the scope off and called it good.

To date, several dozen of the plentiful pests have fallen to the air rifle and I've really come to appreciate it. In all fairness, it has sparked something of an interest in air guns and I'm already looking at one of the pre-charged guns....

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Early Season, Opportunity and Desire- Pt. 1

The early hunting season in Alaska starts in the first week of August in my area. The weather is generally warm and dry with long days and short nights. The moose opener was a bit of frustration, we saw plenty of bulls but none in the limited hunting area we had. When the second week opened, we moved into caribou country. My family and I pitched a camp late on a Thursday night and my partner, Gary, would be down after work on Friday evening.

I awoke pretty early at dawn. It must be said that dawn in early August is on the order of 5:00AM and while the family slept soundly, I snuck out to the edge of camp with my spotting scope, binoculars and a big mug of coffee. I've habitually been an early riser in a household of late sleepers and I've come to love those early mornings drinking coffee in the stillness of a sleeping house. In the field however, that first hour of the day is magic hour. I saw several cow moose milling about and even more caribou feeding on the ridge tops a couple miles to the north. There was no need to go after them, I was at peace just sitting here with the world waking up around me.

After a period of perhaps 45 minutes or so and getting near the bottom of my coffee, a lone caribou- a  small cow- appeared out of the brush at something on the order of 500 yards away. She was making pretty good time and would traverse to within a hundred yards or so of camp as she worked her meandering way down the drainage. I had plenty of unhurried time to study her. She was fairly small and I debated shooting or not, but then again, small cows tend to be some of the best eating caribou out there. I decided that having fresh meat in camp would be a great way to welcome Gary to the start of the weekend and my friend Brian was supposed to be in the area that evening as well. Nothing like starting off a weekend of hunting with fresh tenderloin.

I chambered a round.

By this time the caribou was in some head high brush about 150 yards from camp. I could approach closer without being spotted and I eased my way off the hilltop and planned to intercept the caribou as it popped out of the brush in a marshy bottom. Several agonizing minutes later I was in the sitting position, looped up and ready as the caribou went perfectly broadside as she exited the brush. I was moving in slow motion when the caribou was already full steam. She spotted me sitting there and leaped four or five times in alarm- that four legged spring much like an antelope or gazelle and was apparently going to flee the country.

I did the only thing that occurred to me at the moment- I whistled. In some part of the quadruped brain there is this unusual instinct that deer, caribou and moose all seem to exhibit. When startled they tend to run a short distance and then stop fully broadside to look at what spooked them for perhaps a second or two. At my low whistle, the cow stopped and looked. Perfectly still and perfectly broadside at a mere forty yards. I settled the crosshairs on the neck- the only deliberate neck shot I've  taken in years and years- and pressed the trigger.

The results were as instantaneous as one would expect. The rifle cracked and the caribou fell stone dead in a pile, perhaps as clean a kill as one could hope for. I approached the animal and saw that the bullet had done its job. The .300 on a body shot would have wrecked the carcass at this range and I didn't want to waste a scrap of it. The shot had hit high in the neck and I would loose a little burger, but all the other eating parts were pristine. I walked back to camp and roused the family. neither had heard the shot and were quite surprised when I told them we had a caribou to butcher.  When made quick work of it and finished just as the heat of the day caused the bugs to hatch.

It was the start of a great weekend.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Fall....

Well friends, it is fall here in the Great Land. We've just wrapped up the early hunting season and many folks are eagerly awaiting the winter hunts that open in a few weeks.

I've had a splendid season to date, spending 29 days hunting in the two month season. My companions and I enjoyed great weather (well, as good as it gets here anyway), injury free hunting and stellar success. A great year all around.

One thing I haven't done....is post here about it much. That'll change some in the coming weeks as there are lots of exciting things to report and some truly wonderful experiences to share.

Stay tuned!

These photos were taken from the same location... a mere 48 hours apart.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Havalon Knives.... Just a good idea.


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

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

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

A few salient points to remember-

1) These are sharper than believable, BE CAREFUL.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Saying Cheese....

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Use Enough Gun

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

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

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

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

Critters rarely read ballistic charts.

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

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

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

Use Enough Gun.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Memory Collector

And now for something a little different...

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

Enjoy.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why bring this all up?

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Travelling...a Nice View

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


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

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


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



Back to the AK summer in a few days!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next three rounds did this...

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

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

That'll do. Just fine.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Gear Nerds and Kit Tarts...Beginner's Conundrum

I will freely admit it... I'm a Gear Nerd.

I just genuinely like some of the latest and greatest products to come down the pike. I'm not very gadgety however, I just like very good versions of a very basic set of equipment that hasn't really changed much over the years. Since I'm firmly in middle youth, I've seen the rise of the cult of mountain hunting, the rise of ultralight backpacking, the rise of modern archery, and the rise of the ORV. I've also seen several rather esoteric concepts come and go over the years as well.

I'm certainly not against folks trying to make a buck or two, or kill a buck or two; but at some point this hunting things can turn on us. We can spend an enormous amount of dollars on stuff that really doesn't do much for us in the field. I know, I've got a pile of stuff that I don't have a use for anymore and if I'm honest, never really did. A lot of the marketing surrounding hunting is geared to get folks who are passionate about the chase to continue it in the off-season by spending money year round. Not really anything wrong with that per se, but it isn't maybe the best use of resources.

I had a very interesting conversation with a young man I'm starting to mentor a bit. He just got residency and is now in the process of equipping himself and has a ton of questions. I have to admit, I started hunting long ago as a kid, I was dirt poor, and there simply wasn't the plethora of options available. So much specialization has crept into the industry that just picking a very basic set of gear from the huge variety available is something of a daunting task- particularly for the neophyte who likely has little clue how such things might perform and typically doesn't have the budget to make mistakes.

So here is something of a primer on some of the most basic pieces of kit and some options.

1. Boots- if you are a Western hunter, you simply must have a good set of boots. There are more options than you'd believe possible but you only have one set of feet. I've been on multiple hunts that were ruined due to ill fitting or poorly performing boots. Spend whatever you can afford, ignore all the marketing messages and get a good stiff pair of boots the FIT YOU. If you're an Eastern whitetail guy you can largely wear whatever you please- I've killed multiple white-tails in whatever pair of sneakers were handy. Rubber boots seem to be the rage among white tail guys these days, no issue there either.

2. Rain Gear- you can spend a little or a lot, but good rain gear is a requirement in Alaska and a lot of other spots. For the budget conscious, a set of Helly Hansen Impertech is tough to beat. It doesn't breathe like Gore-Tex types but inexpensive breathable rain gear is often a disaster. For that matter, expensive breathable rain gear is often a disaster. Ignore the marketing- if your wallet is thin, Helly's. If you can spend a bit of coin, get the best mountaineering stuff you can swing.

3. Tent- the current craze is toward ephemeral shelters that maximize space and minimize weight. That's not a bad thing so long as it doesn't compromise waterproof and wind resistance, in a lot of cases- it does. You can get a perfectly serviceable tent for a couple hundred bucks (or used for much less) that will keep you dry and warm and not fold up in the first stiff breeze. I'm kind of old-school when it comes to tents so I'm unfazed by a lot of the newer designs and trends until they've been around for a while. I've seen a lot of tent designs die over the last 30 years.

4. Binoculars- if you're a Western guy, buying the best binoculars you can manage is not a bad idea. You can get perfectly serviceable binos for $300-500. If you're an Eastern whitetail guy, you might skip them altogether. Everyone waxes poetic about European Alpha glass...I do too. I may eventually buy some, but there are always other things to spend money on that seem to take precedence.

5. Backpack- every hunter should have a pack. Western guys and backpack hunters will typically have a large pack with a frame to carry camp or haul meat. Eastern hunters should still have a small daypack with necessities to take to the stand. You can spend a whopping amount on some pretty specialized packs these days with such exotica as carbon fiber frames and very lightweight fabrics. I've been bitten by the bug, but the results were mixed- I've got a collection of dead packs that didn't make the grade as a result. My favorite heavy haulers are a plain aluminum frame pack that cost $60 at an ACE Hardware store and a considerably more expensive Mystery Ranch NICE. Both of them have carried (without exaggeration) a ton of meat.

Now, just given these 5 items- the neophyte hunter can troll forums and read some of the more popular hunting magazines and come away with the idea that they need to spend at least the amount of a decent used car to get the equipment they need to be an effective hunter. Lots of energy and investment is spent on marketing to generate exactly that notion.

Pardon me folks...but that's pure, unadulterated horse poop.

Sure, good gear makes hunting more comfortable and using good grade gear is a pleasure in itself. There is a certain "pride of ownership" in shouldering a nice pack or peering through high end glass. Studying manufacturer catalogs and reading about other people's experiences online and in person can be endlessly entertaining. But that's not exactly the same thing as hunting.

I'll be the first to admit that I like some of the best equipment out there. But, don't misunderstand me at all, I'd not give up a single day in the field if I wasn't so equipped. Get the equipment you can manage and get out there and hunt. While the manufacturers and purveyors won't tell you the truth, I will.

The ONLY thing that kills critter is time in the field- and you can't buy a single additional second of it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The 7-08 Remington....or Mr. Manners Goes Shooting

I've been messing around with the 7-08 Remington now for a couple of years and have gotten enough field experience to go ahead and offer up this piece. Don't mistake this for something exhaustive, it's not; but it does offer an introductory look at what I consider one of the best balanced cartridges out there in my (not so humble) opinion.

Sometime back in 1958 or so, some enterprising fellow necked down the then new .308 Winchester and stuck a 7mm (.284") bullet in it. The idea stuck and it survived as a frequently seen wildcat in one form or another as the 7/308 until Remington decided to offer it legitimacy as the 7-08 Remington in 1980. Ballistically speaking, it is simply the very old and very good 7x57 Mauser in modern guise and the cartridges don't have enough difference in performance to even talk about. Come to think about it, it's not really much different than the .280 Remington in most factory loads and not far off the .270 Winchester either. If there's a better performing quartet of cartridges under .30 caliber, I just don't know what it is.

The 7-08 can fit into a true short action and can be built into a rifle of surprisingly moderate weight and generally does well with barrels as short as 20". The cartridge also generates a surprisingly mild recoil and is commonly touted as an idealized youth and ladies rifle and found in small carbines just like the one I outfitted my son with. I'm very good with all that, but I believe to think that it's just a good ladies and kids gun does the cartridge something of an injustice.

It's just plain good.

What the 7-08 has going for it is extremely good manners. The cartridge doesn't beat you to death with recoil. The muzzle blast isn't fearsome. The cartridge does well in short barrels and a standard 22 or 24" tube will yield great results. The cartridge also has a tendency for stellar accuracy. Stoked with the proper projectile, it might just be the ideal deer cartridge for all of N. America. Built into a true lightweight rifle, it might just be the idealized sheep gun. If you build a rifle with some heft to it, it becomes a bench gun with enviable performance.

It's really pretty sad, but I came late to the 7-08 party. If I'd have found the 7-08 back in the day, I'd likely have never owned a .308...or even an '06. I know for sure I'd have never bought a .270 if I'd arrived at the 7-08 first. That's pretty high praise indeed. I don't think it's a giant killer, certainly outclassed for moose and grizzly, but for the guy who hunts deer, caribou, hogs and black bears it's likely the only rifle you'd ever need. I'm not an elk hunter but I would go bigger, although I know a couple folks who took their elk with the 7-08 without undue drama.

If there's one drawback to the 7-08, it's that companies keep loading it with bullets that are far too tough for the mild speeds the 7-08 generates. For instance, the Federal 140g Trophy Bonded load leaves the muzzle at 2800 and at 200 yds is going along at 2300 feet per second. By the 300 yard mark it's down to 2100. That's an awfully tough bullet to expand well at 2100. I'm probably in the minority here, but at these old fashioned speeds there's simply nothing wrong with old fashioned bullets. The ancient Nosler Parttion, the soft Ballistic Tip (Hunting), the Speer Hot-Cor and Remington Core Lokt have all performed well at these speeds for decades. No need to re-invent the wheel here.

Almost everyone makes a a good rifle these days in the 7-08, including the typical carbine length rifles with shortened stocks for smaller statured folks but it doesn't stop there. Remington chambers their wonderful Mountain Rifle in 7-08 and Kimber chambers it in their 84M action in several models. For the Eastern deer junkie, their Adirondack would be a superb backcountry gun. Sako, Browning, Winchester...heck, almost everyone makes a 7-08 to almost any taste. A friend even has one in his Remington 700 Tactical...a heavy barreled tack driver that kills deer with regularity on his farm.

With mild recoil, a moderate report and good bullet performance over normal game ranges with standard bullets...there's just a lot to like when you go shooting with Mr. Manners, the 7-08 Remington.




Friday, April 17, 2015

The Vestigial Man

Author's Note: Something a little different and more creative than I normally do.


The Vestigial Man
I detect within myself the yearning for things real. Not the illusory perception that comes from staring into an illuminated rectangle all day; but the tactile, the concrete, the solid.

I have become uncomfortably comfortable in a society too accustomed to life in the abstract; moments of fancy, of imaginary heroes in vain battles, catalog solutions to vexing problems lived only in the mind.

Somewhere down in my core, I crave the damp, close feel of the woods and the brilliant starkness of desert and the vast emptiness of night. I find an empty place in my soul and my nostrils for the sound of the arrow striking home and the acrid smell of blood. A long forgotten part of me senses something vital is missing and longs for dirt under my fingernails and drinking from bubbling springs.

Without the sensation of movement that comes with the stroke of the paddle, the gait of a horse or the stride uphill; I suddenly lose my sense of place. Effortlessly gliding and rolling from hither to yon; without the exhaustion I don’t know how far I’ve travelled or where I am.

I fear I’m lost.

My black and white life is lived in the churning of electrons, sustained by eating flaccid, soulless meat; my existence ruled hour by hour by the clock. I’m trodden endlessly amid the wheels turning everywhere. The wheels are so hard at work turning the wild land into timidity, my time into money and my dreams into ashes. I exchange all of my time for the coin of the realm and find that it is never enough. That ancient man killed his food with a stick and tilled the ground with a stone and still had time to develop art and language and leisure is a marvel to me, the modern man.

A modern man who almost forgot who he is, the ancient man.

That any remnant of him remains in me is a mystery. I hear the creaking of a taut bow in my dreams. I have visions of sprouting kernels amid the moist earth. I can smell the scent of drying meat and wood smoke through the vents. I see deer by the road and envision cedar shafts striking flanks. I’m confused; there is no place in my orderly asphalt world for such things. No experience in the digital world the vestigial man in me can relate to.


The yearning for things real remains regardless- the taut drawn bow, the paddle dipped in the water, the sound of deer in the oaks, the taste of venison cooked over open fire- vague recollections from forefather’s lives long ago lived. 

The modern man views such things as diversion from real life, to the vestigial man they are real life.