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.