Sunday, December 11, 2016

.22 Aguila 60gr. Subsonic Sniper or....a Dry Treatise on Bullet Stabilization

I'll say right at the beginning, I am an unrepentant grouse junkie. Particularly, ruffed grouse. I'm sure some folks in the sporting dog/tweed jacket/ double game gun crowd would think I deserve to go to hell for my approach, but I am an avid eater of ruffed grouse and will shoot them with relish whenever I find one. Up here (and most places they live actually), ruffed grouse are a highly cyclical species, and the years they are'd better take advantage of them because you might not even see one the next year.  I will and have shoot grouse with whatever weapon I have closest at hand. I've taken grouse with shotguns, .22s, centerfire rifles, airguns, archery tackle, a slingshot and one fortunately thrown stick of firewood.

Earlier this week, I finished up working on some writing assignment and went out for a bit of air before the sun set. Of course, the sun was setting at 3:00 in the afternoon this time of year, but no matter. The important thing is, I saw a trio of ruffed grouse happily roosting away in the swaying branches of a balsam poplar just across my rural road. I hastily donned boots, a jacket and grabbed my much loved CZ .22 from the rack and headed out to round up supper.

Being that I try to be a good neighbor, I tend to try to reduce the racket of gunfire around the house. I've shot a number of critters with CB caps, shorts and assorted flavors of "subsonic" ammunition. As a contributing factor, stocks of .22 ammunition are only of late starting to be more available and I'm still unable to replenish my supply of CBs and CCI Green Tag subsonic ammunition. A few weeks ago, the local hook and bullet got in some Aguila ammunition and the proprietor suggested I try the 60gr Sniper Subsonic. And that was what the rifle was loaded with.

I trotted across the road, rifle in hand, and was soon under the bare branches of the poplar looking up at the plump undercarriages of the grouse. A shot into the underside of the grouse does a couple of things, it absolutely kills them and doesn't tear up the edible bits on the breast or legs. At the shot the first grouse simply folded up and fell off the branch. The shot wasn't loud, just a pop a little louder than my suppressed air gun makes. The remaining two didn't even twitch and soon shots two and three had them in hand with the first. Satisfied with grocery shopping, I carried them inside to dress them out.

By this point in my life, I've shot and butchered (literally) hundreds of small game animals with a .22 rifle and at least two dozen varieties of ammunition. I've never seen anything quite like the carcass. The range was pretty short, 40 or 50 feet, but speed alone couldn't account for the mess the round made of all three birds. The hardest hit had a hole in the back large enough for three fingers to fit in. Grouse are lightly built creatures and a .22 most generally bores a caliber sized hole clean through. Even expanding rounds like hollow points generally won't expand much, if any, on the trip through a grouse or ptarmigan. Besides, the Aguila round isn't an expanding design at all.

The Aguila is simply a .22 Short casing with an extra long plain lead bullet stuck on top of it. It's rated for a moderate muzzle velocity of just 950 feet per second. Holding one up to a ruler shows the bullet is just over 1/2" long or so depending on the heel of the bullet in the case- which by .22 Rimfire standards is simply enormous. The Aguila people suggest that they only be used in barrels that are 20" long or more for best accuracy and my CZ is equipped with a 25" barrel. A little research on the Internet had numerous folks suggesting that the bullets are barely stable in flight and tumble on impact causing significant damage.

And that my friends...sounded like a bunch of hooey.

So I did what any self respecting rifle crank and shooting geek would do. I set up a test. It wasn't even much of a test. I simply took the ammo out at 25 yards and shot a common cardboard box. For a control I shot 5 rounds of CCI Stingers, a 32gr bullet at 1640fps. It's both ends of the .22 ammunition spectrum- a long heavy bullet loping along and a short light one smoking along at twice the speed.

This is the result from the Aguila-

And this is the result of the CCI-

As you can clearly see, the CCI punched nice clean round holes through the cardboard. The Aguila punched oblong holes and looks like the bullets were impacting sideways...because that's exactly what they did. No wonder those grouse were so torn up, they had a spinning 60 grain, 0.224"x 0.625" cylinder of lead smashing through them. While the effect was deadly, an unstable bullet gives lousy accuracy. If those grouse had been in a higher tree or simply further away, I might have missed completely despite being within "gimme" range with an accurate .22 rifle. While my test wasn't geared for accuracy- the group size was three times that of the CCI Stinger and that bullet is pretty mediocre in my rifle. (Authors note- the test was simply firing offhand while freezing in the arctic air. No commentary on my shooting, I was simply looking for impact marks.)

My CZ has a barrel that is 25" long, well over the suggested length by Aguila. I attempted to conduct the same test with my Ruger Bearcat revolver and after 5 shots, hadn't managed to even hit the target. Since it was -11F, I assumed the accuracy is so dismal from a handgun that it was pointless to keep shooting until I hit one by luck. My CZ (and most other .22s on the market) have a barrel twist of 1 turn in 16". That's been the standard twist rate on .22s for just about forever and is completely adequate for virtually every variety of .22 ammunition out there...except this one apparently.

I must confess. At this point, I'm not even sure what this ammunition is good for. I suppose a person could have a .22 LR barrel fabricated with a faster twist, perhaps to use this ammunition with a suppressor, but you'd have a spendy, purpose built gun to use with a single variety of ammunition.  Some rifles may in fact stabilize this ammunition, but I would certainly suggest you try it first before you lay in a large supply. It looks neat, and for close range work it did suffice with tremendous result, but nothing you could rely on at any reasonable distance.

It's an interesting concept, but at this point I'm inclined to regard it as a novelty.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Practical Hunting Battery- Revisited

It's cold outside, time to get back to blogging a bit. I've had a very busy fall season.

Back in the way back when, circa 2009, I wrote a piece about the minimum practical hunting battery. It's been one of the most viewed articles I've posted. That was eight years ago and my hunting has changed a little since then as well as some new things on the market and other market forces are at work.

The Big Game Rifle- The centerfire hunting rifle is the centerpiece of most folks hunting battery over much of the west as well as the rest of the country. While folks continue to attempt to press the AR platform into the big game rifle role, what we're really talking about here is a scoped bolt action. New rifles are lighter and more accurate than ever. Something on the order of a .30-06 or .300WM is probably about right. I've experimented with quite a few cartridges since I wrote that first piece and came away unimpressed with several. I've shot game with the 7-08, .270, .338WM and two flavors of .375. For an "all around" rifle in Alaska, the .300 or '06 makes a sensible choice. My current favorite rifle, a Nosler 48 in .300WSM has performed splendidly on a number of animals up to, and including, moose. A rifle in the finished weight of 7.5-8.5 pounds is about right for the balance between portable and shootable. In deer country, the 7-08 would be better than fine and it's my preference over the .270 Winchester. With modern bullets, the .338 and .375s are just much more than you need for the bulk of N.American hunting.  A good bolt action with a decent scope in '06 or .300 is all you really need.

I've largely abandoned cartridges larger than that. My frequent hunting partner has made some great shots with his .338 as well as his .375 H&H. It worked, but there is only one degree of dead. I'm impressed with modern bullets and powders more and more and think that until game gets very large, the .30 cal is more than capable. I tipped over a bull moose this year with my .300WSM at a lasered 360 yards. Not sure more gun would have really helped much. I've done a lot of hunting with the .308, the .30-06 and the .300 and never really regretted it. In the Lower 48, a hunter could easily get by with the .270 or 7-08 and never come up under gunned.

The Rimfire - Market forces, being what they are, have largely seen the availability of .22LR vanish for much of the previous 7 years in a lot of the country and in my location- I went 4 or 5 years without seeing a single box on the shelf. I was a huge fan of the .22LR. Not so much now. What the intervening years did was turn me into much more of a shotgunner. I still have a pretty nice .22 rifle, but I seldom shoot it for anything other than the off grouse or marauding squirrel. The bulk of my small game hunting is now done with a shotgun. I've also taken up water fowling since the original article was written. I think the rimfire still has a place in most folks' hunting arsenal but non-exisant and more spendy ammunition took the luster off of it for me. My current .22 is a CZ 452 Trainer with a nice set of iron sights.

I'm not sure that the .22LR market will ever truly recover to a state I recognize, but if I were picking a rimfire today to go forth and shoot small game and get in some low cost practice- I'd go to the .17HMR and never look back.

The Shotgun- I took up shotgunning a few years ago when I picked up a Benelli M2. I kinda messed around with it some but the utter lack of .22 ammunition really got me going. I really think if a hunter is going to have one shotgun to do it all- a self loading 12 gauge with a 3" chamber has much to recommend to it. It's overkill for the majority of grouse hunting, except spooky sharp tails in open country, but it's perfect for ducks and geese. You could try to get by on waterfowl with a 20 gauge, but that's mostly a waste of time in the era of steel shot. I even picked up an 18" barrel for it to keep in camp.

Once you start exploring some of the offering with shotgun ammunition- things get interesting. I've even taken mine predator calling- loaded with Heavy-Shot "Dead Coyote" ammunition. I've enjoyed using the shotgun more and could easily see my way to a whole rack of them- but if I had to pick one, a 12 ga. 3" auto is it.

On that note. The construction of that self loading shotgun matters too. After messing with some gas operated guns- the kick a fair bit less but they weigh a lot more and seem pretty fussy. The Benelli Inertia system is now being copied by several makers and it flat out works well and isn't overly heavy or complicated. If I were shopping for a new shotgun- Inertia drive would be where I started.

The Extra-
I've tried a bit of this and that over the last few years. An air gun was pretty neat and I've done some good hunting with it. I've also gotten into archery, great fun but I haven't pursued big game with it yet. I've used some antique shotguns as something of an aesthetic pursuit. Though, at the end of the day- those three guns are what i reach for when I head out and I'm pretty confident I could use those three pieces for 99% of any hunting I'd do.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Youth Shotguns...Too Little, Too Late.

I got into some different correspondence today...specifically about starting off a youngster with a shotgun. The question was, "What .410 is best to start a kid with?".

The answer: "There isn't one."

It seems a time honored tradition that you start a young hunter out with the diminutive .410 shotgun. In days past it was typically a single but pumps and even a couple of autoloaders have been manufactured. The rationale behind the choice is that the light recoil will encourage better shooting. If it were a rifle, I'd agree. But it's a shotgun, so I don't. Not at all.

Here goes the long winded explanation. The shotgun kills with pellets. The number of pellets gives you pattern density. Pattern density dictates how far away you can kill stuff.  Simple? Not really. The typical .410 load of #7.5 shot is 1/2 to 11/16 ounces.  The typical 20 gauge is firing 7/8 to 1 and 1/4 ounces of shot.  That's 175-241(.410) compared to 306-437 (20 gauge) individual pellets in an individual shell. Considering it only takes one lethal pellet to kill... the 20 gauge is clearly a more powerful and lethal round. Hands down, no way around it. The 20 gauge will fire more pellets, have higher pattern density and be lethal at a longer range and be way more forgiving.

What about recoil? The .410 firing a 3" load in a 5.5 gun generates 10 ft/lbs of recoil force compared to 16 ft lbs for a light field load in a 20 ga. Is that significant? Maybe if you have your kid shooting 12 rounds of trap every day but for the average kid getting to blast a box periodically and maybe go shoot a grouse or some rabbits... it amounts to nothing. Any kid old enough to carry a lethal gun can stand up to 16 ft/lbs of recoil force, which is roughly equivalent to the 7-08 in a light rifle. There are a number of light loads available and a slightly heavier 20 gauge is going to have less felt recoil than a light .410 gauge.

My first shotgun? A .410. My kid's first shotgun? A .410. The wrong choice on both counts. A generational bad decision that keeps propagating.

My early attempts on squirrels with an ancient, hand me down .410 were abysmal and I quickly learned I was far deadlier with a .22 to much further than the .410 could be counted on. My son's results were much the same- after he let fly at a rabbit at a mere 20 yards and the rabbit ran off he was dejected. Dirt flew up all around the rabbit but he never left a drop of blood. He was simply in a hole in the pattern of the feeble payload. A 20 gauge would have provided one dead rabbit. It was shortly after this affair that I outfitted my son with a small frame 20 gauge pump and his lethality in the field went from zero to 100% in a single season. He took squirrels, hares, grouse, ptarmigan and loved that if he could get within thirty yards- he could seal the deal. He never made a comment about the recoil either. I've long held that recoil is only felt at the range. On game, I can't recall anyone ever talking about recoil- even at stout levels.

The .410 is very pleasant to fire, but lacks the killing power to give kids a good chance on game. I feel you're better off letting them feel some thump and give them some field success than playing softball on recoil and giving them a lot of frustration in the field. I think as a community we get this wrong all the time. 

So what good is the .410? The .410 is a wonderful little cartridge and can make a wonderful light shotgun in the hands of a pro that points like a magic wand. In the hands of a kid it's a frustration, in the hands of an old master- it's a joy. The light gun weight and low recoil make shooting pleasant and the lack of pellets provide the level of challenge that many accomplished folks crave. Kids are still learning the basics and nothing like field success encourages more practice. 

The .410 is widely promoted as ideal for beginners and that's all wrong in my book. We should be promoting it to the masters, right alongside the 28 gauge. 

For a kid- the 20 gauge firing light loads is where it's at.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The .308 Winchester....or Mr. Big Enough

I get a pretty routine amount of correspondence regarding cartridge selection for Alaska hunting and a typical query goes something like this..."I've got a .308 but I want to go moose hunting..." or some variation on that theme. Typically, someone will have a rifle they've used elsewhere but after reading a bunch of Internet chit chat they have become convinced that their deer gun is suddenly inadequate for hunting in the North. They might come to that conclusion through a variety of reasons- moose, bears, long range, or some combination of the above but all come to the conclusion that the somehow...inadequate.

On the other hand, I'm pretty plugged into the Alaska hunting community and am friends with a large number of very successful hunters. I was treated to a photo last week of a couple of friends of mine- a married couple- who explore much of Alaska and hunt extensively. The photo was from their spring bear hunt on Kodiak Island chasing the island's world famous brown bears. I'll not spoil the story should they ever decide to tell it and, besides, this story is about the .308 Winchester. Suffice to say the archetypical animal that inspires thousands to purchase true elephant guns in their pursuit fell to a single broadside shot from a .308 Winchester. And this couple are not just some lucky fools who happened to make it work once. They hunt bears, goats, sheep, moose, caribou and everything else on a near constant basis. Hubby is something of a rifle crank like I am but the wife is a "dyed in the wool" fan of the .308 in her bobbed Kimber Montana. It's the rifle she shoots the most, shoots the best and has bagged about one or five of everything there is to shoot here. Including now, a nine and one-half foot Kodiak bear...on the heels a 62" moose a couple years ago and a mountain goat last year.

Putting the 180 grain bullet at a plodding 2600 feet per second where it goes is much more important that a heavier bullet or a faster bullet.  The fact that the world's most popular hunting cartridge is now the .308 isn't likely an accident either although worldwide acceptance isn't a wholly deciding factor alone- look at the AK47...easily the most common rifle on the planet with little to recommend it.

I'll digress....

I've had a very long association with the .308 and have taken a sizable number of animals with it, including my nicest caribou- a true old giant of a beast as far as caribou go. I wandered away from the .308 some time back, partially out of sheer boredom but I could easily go back to it as an all around rifle. I would do so with total confidence too. I've had .308s from Remington, Kimber, Winchester and of course, my Steyr. There's nothing I wouldn't hunt in Alaska with any of them. I handled a wonderful Sako Carbonlight a few months back and while the price tag could induce a coronary....I could happily hunt with it until the end of my hunting career and never look back.

There are plenty of old gun hands who dismiss the .308 as "inferior" or "weak" or any other such nonsense claims. Reading some of the older writers, they claim it's only good for Girl Scouts or to cycle through the M14 shooting diminutive Communists in some far off land. It was poppycock then and it still is.

 I'll not bore the reader with the tale of the .308- that history is well documented- but we'd do well to remember that the ballistics that made the storied reputation of the .30-06 are exactly the ballistics offered in modern .308 ammunition. A 150gr at 2800, a 165 at 2700 and a 180gr at 2600. Modern .30-06 ammunition will typically get about an additional 100 feet per second added to those figures in sporter length barrels. It's my experience that those 100 fps do exactly nothing in terms of greater wounding or trajectory over typical distances. The bonus is that the .308 is available in some really great rifles- of particular interest are the super light rifles and carbines like those from Kimber and Sako. There is not a real advantage in picking the .308 in a 9 pound rifle.

However, a 6 pound rifle is a completely different matter and a short action will typically drop 6-8 oz from the weight of the action. It's no trick to get a hunting ready rifle in .308 under 7 pounds and not unusual to get under 6 pounds. The .308 case is a model of efficiency and gets full ballistic potential from barrels as short as 20". A svelte little carbine like the Sako Finnlight or Kimber Adirondack might give you a tangible advantage as you climb through 5000' or whack your way through some alder choked hell. That's a much more tangible thing to consider than some arbitrary numbers in a ballistic table.

We'd also do well to remember that while a certain level of power is desirable, ability to shoot proficiently is mandatory. Having cool nerves and utmost confidence in your ability will serve you better than the latest "uber magnum" headstamp. Knowing where to shoot something and that the bullet will hit what you aim at is far more important than any other factor in killing animals. There's a 9.5 foot Kodiak bear that learned that last week... and we should too.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Contents of a Man’s Pockets...(a Rant)

(Author's note: this is the closest thing you'll get to men's fashion advice in this column...)

There seems to be a movement afoot wherein grown men become very conscious about the contents of their pockets. The movement is called EDC, which is an acronym for Every Day Carry. While I will wholeheartedly agree that grown men typically have responsibilities that require the lugging about of certain material goods, the movement has taken on an air of man-boy dress up. I get that adult life can indeed take some very weird turns, and as a good Boy Scout you should “Be Prepared”. Sometimes that train of thought can run on some pretty bizarre tracks.

Case in point, in researching one of the many blogs dedicated to EDC, readers of the blog take some sort of photo of their “EDC Kit” and post it up for other readers to comment upon. One thing that struck me, is that most of the photos had far more crap in them than most folks carry on a daily basis. One sample had a full size 1911 handgun, a spare mag, a small revolver, two flashlights, and (no kidding) three knives as well as one multi-tool. I doubt very seriously any grown man packs that much crap on a daily basis going about a workaday life- even a workaday life that might involve physical violence. One thing curiously absent was a key ring. Given the presumption that the poster was indeed a grown man, one would assume you’d have some level of responsibility for managing a key of some sort. Close to 10 pounds of steel rummaging around in your pockets or belt and no key to a house, car, office, etc. I call Walter Mitty on this one.

One of the things that also struck me strange is the counterpoise to the entire EDC movement, which is The Minimalists. It is not  unusual for these folks to not carry much at all-no watch, no wedding band, only a tiny sliver of aluminum or leather that holds a driver’s license and a couple of credit cards. No cash, certainly nothing in the way of a firearm, no pocketknife. About the only thing for certain is a giant, honking smart phone which might very well replace a full sized computer in their home. It is as if any sort of material good is a physical encumbrance that goes beyond what is acceptable. A wallet or watch might slow them down or tax their stamina beyond the limit. I’ve even seen ads for a new smartphone technology that eliminates the need for a credit or ATM card- your phone can be used to get cash or pay for purchases directly. Sounds like a complete disaster.

So here is my view from middle age in my not so humble opinion on what every grown man ought to carry on a daily basis.

The required…
1.     Wallet- if you’re a grown man, you need a wallet. Period. You’ll need to carry some form of ID, most likely an ATM and credit card, insurance card, a photo of the family for the married man (or a list of phone numbers for the bachelor). In my youth, I’d sure hate to trust the number of a knock out redhead I just met to some digital ether. And speaking of phone numbers, a grown man ought to have a business card or two in there. Nothing fancy, but opportunity strikes when you least expect it. A wallet also needs to be leather. A nylon number that closes with Velcro is fine if you’re in junior high- adulthood is different.  A well-made wallet can outlast you. A wallet with a chain attached to your belt? Do I really need to go there?

2.     Cash- to go in that wallet. There is nothing that points to adolescence like being financially naked. There is simply no excuse for a grown man to be rolling around with just a couple of bucks. While I’ll admit there is a practical limit here; a man should be able to buy a tire, buy dinner, and buy a few groceries or a tank of gas without whipping out the plastic. A surprising number of life’s minor disasters can be readily solved by the application of a couple of Benjamins. Nothing says “adult” like paying the dinner tab (and the tip) with a single bill of currency in the check and walking out of the restaurant.

3.     Watch- a grown man is going to have some level of responsibility. Part of that responsibility involves getting to places on time. Punctuality is the basic level of respect you give other people- give it and expect it from others. I know your dang phone has a clock on it, I get it; but a man looking at his watch and a man looking at his phone portrays two very different messages. I can subtlety (or not so subtlety) glance at my watch and frown at some chatty Kathy to let them know that I value my time and have more pressing matters to attend to. Looking at your phone just makes you one more of zombiefied masses so common today.

 And speaking of a watch, it needs to do two things- tell the time and tell the date. Gadgetry need not apply. Calculator watches were cool when you were a kid and there is simply no need for a watch with an altimeter and GPS to keep you moving smoothly through your day. A giant dive watch is only appropriate if you’re a professional diver or a submarine captain (you’re neither so don’t). The construction of a watch is also important. A jewel encrusted golden monstrosity identifies you as a cheesy used car salesman or some other similar over-compensator trying desperately to impress when you bring nothing of value to the table. A plastic digital watch is practical and frugal- but as a man of some means you get some leeway here- a stainless or titanium watch is always a good move and appropriate everywhere in all situations. A good watch is an investment, spend some of that hard earned money and you only need one. (Ladies, a nice classic watch is the perfect gift).

4.     Jewelry. Unless we’re talking a wedding band, don’t. Class rings, frat rings, etc. are a nice memento but have no place in an adult wardrobe. In a similar vein, bracelets, chains, pinky rings, etc. make you look like a complete douche. A man’s jewelry is a wedding band and a watch. Period. And speaking of wedding bands- an appropriate wedding band is plain. A woman’s engagement ring and wedding band is a sign of prowess and status. A man’s wedding band is your wife marking her territory, no need for flash here. Metal type isn’t particularly important; gold is traditional, platinum is really too soft for a man’s ring and titanium and other exotic materials are just fine and perhaps more practical. The newer “action bands” made of plastic or silicon are tacky. If you’re engaged in high risk activities like sky diving, MMA fighting or running a machine mill where a ring presents a hazard…just take it off. Tattooed wedding bands? Just no.

5.     Pocket knife- carry a dang knife…you are not a child. Unless you’re on a plane then you should have a knife in your pocket. There is no need to go wild here. A knife is man’s first tool and contrary to all the shrinking violets out there- a knife is a terrible weapon. As a grown man you will undoubtedly have to open mail, open a box, cut a rope or some other similar task that requires a blade. A giant knife is generally not required, after all I’ve butchered a bull moose with a 3” folding knife and bigger would have been a hindrance rather than a help. Multi-tools can be handy but on most folks they look as nerdy as packing a shortwave radio. A good quality knife says a lot about the man carrying it and the world is chock full of perfectly acceptable ones. Oh, it should be sharp, a dull knife carries a message too… a bad one.

6.     Key ring- as a grown up you likely have some keys. You’re probably in a senior enough position to warrant a key to the office or other workplace. You should have a key to the house or apartment. Despite the proclivity of automakers to drift toward keyless cars, most of you will need an automotive key, depending on locale- you’ll have a post office box key. A simple key ring is fine. They’re keys, not a fashion statement. Needless to say, you should avoid nonsense key fobs like fart noise makers and what not. A functional key fob like an LED button light is totally ok. If your key ring looks like you work at the county jail, you might need to rethink what you’re packing around. Needless to say, a beer bottle opener on your key ring identifies you as a juvenile who lacks either an imagination or a rudimentary understanding of physics.

7.     Phone- adult life will almost certainly require you to carry a phone in the modern era. Consider it a necessary evil or a minor inconvenience at best. The zombie hordes run around all day staring into their phones oblivious to everything around them. That’s stupid- while rare, if you walk around in Condition White all the time someone might cut off your head and put it on a stick. Be present where you are and for God’s sake, don’t look at your stupid phone while being addressed by your superiors. It’s rude, and they won’t forget it.

      As an aside on the phone: Texting. Texts are for limited communications… like “Can you pick up a gallon of milk?” with the response of ”Will do.” That’s texting appropriately. If you need to carry on a long discourse with several decision points just call them- you have a phone in your hand after all. The younger generation seems to have forgotten that phones are for talking. I’m in the minority here, but I hate texting. It’s the lowest echelon of human communication.

The maybe….
8.     A pistol- lots of fluff on this one. Some folks habitually carry a firearm and others do so vocationally. I’ve got no issue with either provided it’s kept within the limits of reasonable. I’ve seen a number of folks packing heat in the open; it’s legal here but it still makes you look like a mouth breather man-boy playing livestock movement technicians and indigenous peoples (unless you also happen to be wearing a uniform). A gun is not a fashion or political statement, and anyone who tries to make one either needs a serious butt kicking.

Packing heat should be a serious and discreet activity for a lot of good reasons and that means concealed. That would favor smaller weapons and given the popularity of concealed carry in the modern era, makers produce a whole host of suitable pieces. A look at someone’s daily carry gives you a good idea of their occupation, their level of paranoia, or more likely their proclivity to fantasies about zombies and foreign invasions. Most of the opinion on knives and watches translates here- too big is bad, too gadgety is bad, too tiny is bad. If you find it required to pack a service pistol, a reload and a smaller revolver on top of that I would suggest either a new job, a shrink or a new zip code.

The “Just say no”….

There is a never ending list of paraphernalia that folks carry around. I’ve seen tactical flashlights on a lot of lists- could be handy in a given situation but most likely not in everyday life. I’ve seen some pretty esoteric stuff too- like a 6” long titanium prybar. I have to wonder how often a guy might suddenly need a prybar without warning and if you did how well a 6” version would work. I’ve also seen a whole host of miniaturized tools. As a guy who’s done a lot of mechanical work, substitutions for actual tools usually just spell disaster in the form of busted knuckles and stripped bolts. I know the appeal is that you’ll suddenly need a 10mm wrench and your savvy preparations will save the day when you effect whatever repair with a mini tool you just happened to have in your pocket. Truth be told, you’ll spend $50 for a worthless titanium piece of stock with a 10mm EDM hole in it that you’ll forget about every single time you need a 10mm wrench. It will then live in the bottom of a drawer or your glove box forever.

I’m a wilderness guy and have a whole kit of goods that I take there. On a lot of folk’s lists I saw a lot of fire-making kits, compasses, small axes, and one guy claimed to EDC a breakdown spear point. Given that most of these folks are straight up urban cube rats, I find it hard to believe that on the way to the office they’ll suddenly need a friction fire, a fresh cut sapling to make a fish spear and to navigate cross country out of the blue. There’s prepared and then there’s out of touch with reality.

To end my rant, I get that modern life has stripped a lot out of masculinity. Being a man who makes his living staring into an illuminated rectangle all day certainly doesn’t have a satisfying snap like gunning down big game and roasting its flesh over an open flame does. I even get that in today’s precarious times that the downward tug of a pound and a half of stainless steel .45 automatic on your hip sure does ease the apprehension about driving through certain parts of town. We’re men, it is part of our ethos to be the prepared, to be the fixer, the problem solver. For many of us, that’s a part of life that is sorely lacking. But buying a whole bunch of bespoke gadgets to fill your pockets with won’t fill the void, for that you need confidence and you earn that with callouses. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snowmachines...more Dangerous than a Loaded Gun.

An interesting few days in the news regarding snow machines (snowmobiles for you Canadians and other illiterate types)...just kidding, snow machine is a fixed part of the Alaska lexicon, other places? Not so much.
But I digress-

In a widely circulated story- an intoxicated man hit two Iditarod teams in two seperate incidents over the weekend killing a dog and injuring three more. In another breaking story, husband of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, is in intensive care after being mangled by a snow machine over the weekend as well.
But those are just a couple of stories that achieved circulation due to the notoriety of those involved. Just about every week some anonymous Alaskan will strain a machine through the trees at high speed or ride one through a hole in the ice or simply get stranded out in the toolies..some of the worst off will trigger an avalanche. Some get rescued, some get medi-vaced, and some get buried. Some just never get found. The really stupid add booze to an already precarious situation. 
Bottom line, snow machines as a mechanism of injury know few peers. Be careful out there folks.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Archery as Therapy for the Malaise of Middle Age

I'll say at the outset that this is pretty different for me. I've recently taken up archery and have been enjoying it...well, the point of this piece is that it is more than enjoyment. It's therapy.

Between my professional life as a project manager/planner, an organizational restructuring project, technical writing, a pretty well received op-ed, academic concerns and venting my spleen on political matters in print- it's left my nerves frayed.

While I'll not bore the reader with an exhaustive discussion of my work life; being the H.M.I.C. of dramatic change is not easy. People resist even positive change and are deeply suspicious of even the purest motives that come with evidence. Change that doesn't come wrapped in such gilded bona fides- well, you can guess. The end of the work day usually ends with a long sigh. On top of that, there is the usual technical writing that accompanies that sort of work. I like it. Sort of.  It's writing, but it's dry and devoid of character by design. I've previously compared it to working in a dusty barn- try as you might you can't help but choke on it. It makes me yearn for the days I worked in construction- at the end of the day my body was tired but my mind was clear. My current effort entails sitting on my ass for ten hours and leaving too tired to think.

While I'll not go into a political discussion (it's neither the intent nor scope of this blog) I will say that the current contentious environment is taxing on the mind. I'm much too old to resign the political arena to my elders and much too young to resign myself to death before I feel the effects of the decision making of the political class. I've written, briefly about it here and there, but I've had to take on the role of outside observer lest it make me absolutely crazy. I did write an opinion piece about the current public land debacle that got picked up by the Anchorage paper and was pretty well received. It was widely circulated on conservation list servers and I felt pretty good about that. Still, in politics it seems like I worry excessively about tempests I can do little about.

Which brings me to archery.

Coming home with a bunch of conflicting thoughts bouncing around inside my head isn't really the best way to end the day. When I pick up the bow, those thoughts get quiet. The less contentious get forgotten. Pretty soon I'm not focusing on rate of return or earned value management or delegate assignments or state house bills or much of anything else of that ilk.  I'm focusing on compressing 70 pounds of draw weight energy and concentrating it onto the tip of a 30" long carbon fiber arrow. Then unleashing that energy into an equation that is both relatively simple and damnably complex with the hope of driving an arrow into a spot the size of a tennis ball some 30 yards away. And I do it over, and over, and over.

While I know nothing about "zen", I do know a little about fly-fishing. The physics are there in plain sight but do the slightest thing wrong and the whole system collapses. With the bow, drop your string arm elbow and your point of impact radically changes. Change your anchor and you may not even hit the target. Forget to open your grip and you might sail an arrow into the ethereal beyond. Shooting well requires a complete focus on what you're doing. As I've learned, if you're shooting the bow and thinking about something back at the office you'll soon be thinking about where your $12 arrow just went.

When you're at full draw you had better be all in the here and now. Unlike rifle shooting, the bow requires a presence. With the rifle, everything except my breath, the trigger and the crosshairs goes away. With the bow I have to be acutely aware of my feet, my back, my arms, my neck, the angles of my legs, the pressure of the release against the back wall. I can break a rifle down into pure math- feet per second, ballistic drop, foot-pounds of energy, time of flight. I can't do that with a bow. That's why bow ads and reviews are so full of subjective language. Non-sensical words like "shootability", "smooth" and "forgiving". Even the mathematical standard for how fast a bow will shoot, IBO speed, has almost zero bearing on how fast it will shoot in the real word. It is delightfully frustrating.

My job as a planner requires that I spend a lot of my day in the future and my endeavors as a writer usually entails a substantial dwelling on the past. As an archer however- the discipline demands being in the present.

And that's just what I needed.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Something New...or Strings and Sticks and Assorted Pokey Things

My wife generally observes my birthday by dropping me off kicking me to the curb out of a moving vehicle in front of the sporting goods store with instructions to "go buy something." If it's not been a very good year, i might walk out with a box of shells or a pack. A good year has seen a nice rifle or two, a shotgun and a new pair of binos. Since I'm firmly ensconced in my "middle youth" I generally just skip intermediary steps and buy what I want from the outset since I'm likely going there anyway.

I've hemmed and hawed about archery for a couple of years now. I haven't shot a bow even semi-seriously in decades but it is something I've been wanting to try again for no particular reason other than it is a facet of hunting I've got little experience in. Alaska doesn't really have much in the way of a "bow season" the way the Lower 48 does, but we do have a few areas that are relegated to archery only and some fantastic tags there.

This year, I got kicked to the curb outside the archery shop. Which was pretty expect to see some archery content in the future. As of now, I've been shooting it for a couple of weeks and managed to take the online portion of my IBEP certification (required in Alaska for bowhunts). The bow is a Mathews No-Cam HTX, which came highly recommended by my archery oriented friends and I have to admit- it's been far easier to pick up than I imagined.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The 7WSM.... An Unloved Cartridge Bargain.

I must admit that in years past, I was never a fan of the 7mm bore. I had mostly .30 calibers and a couple of .270s. It was a prejudice that really wasn't grounded in anything...just a notion floating around in my brain. I've written a couple times now about the 7-08 and how we've found good success with it. I've also written a couple of times about inexpensive rifles that just perform far beyond what their meager prices should warrant.  I've also written about the innate Scot's thriftiness that I've inherited... little did I know that all three of those things would come together in a rifle.

I was perusing one of the community yard sale boards and came across a rifle. A Winchester Stainless Classic. The asking price wasn't out of line, but it was chambered in the red headed stepchild of the WSM family...the 7WSM. Same concept and case as the rest of the WSMs...basically a 7mm Remington Mag in a short action- 140gr@3200, 150gr@3100 and 160gr@3000fps. On the ammunition market, the 7WSM has proven about as popular as the clap.

I've truly enjoyed the .300WSM but the7WSM in this rifle simply left me cold. I just ignored it.

After seeing the rifle hang around for a bit and the owner drop the price a couple of times...I thought that the rifle had potential as a donor for a custom .300WSM at some future date. So I called the owner and basically said something to the effect of, "I have no interest in a 7WSM. I'll give you $400 for the rifle so I can take it apart for a project." I was a little surprised that he bit, and I was the owner of a "new to me" Winchester.

When I got the rifle home I cleaned it and discovered that it likely didn't have more than a couple boxes of ammo down the bore. Everything internally was essentially new and the exterior only had a couple of handling marks. Big whoop- when I'm done, it will have a bunch of handling marks. The trigger was a horrendous 10lbs or more and the hot glue that Winchester puts on the adjustment nut was still there. The black plastic stock had no bedding and full contact with the barrel channel. The trigger was easy enough to fix since it was the old style "Pre '64" trigger that everyone loves- a nice 3.5lb pull was easily achieved with a lighter and two open end wrenches. The stock would require a lot more to fix but I thought- what the heck, I'll shoot it "as-is" and see what it will do.

I rounded up a one piece DNZ scope mount and mounted an older Zeiss Conquest 3-9x40 that I had laying about. The scope put the rifle at 8.5lbs on the nose. I took it to the range.

Three rounds downrange did this-

That's three rounds of 140gr Winchester "Ballistic Silvertip" at 100 yards.  Fired off a shaky folding table over a backpack stuffed with a jacket.

1.25"....that'll kill stuff as far as I'll shoot at it.

I'm thinking that I can work with this one and get it to group better by using a better bench and working on the bedding but that's largely just an ego booster. In the field, this gun over a pack from the top of a pressure ridge would kill a caribou from a very long way off.

Not bad for a $400 rifle wearing a used scope. If you can find one, not such a bad deal when compared to what else you can buy at that price.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

.300 Winchester Short Magnum....15 years of Short and Fat.

We've just seen the end of S.H.O.T., the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show. In the U.S., this is the most likely venue for new product introductions from almost everyone in the industry. While I greeted the offerings this year with a giant yawn- consisting mostly of AR variants and pieces parts- this wasn't always the case.

Way back in 2001, the folks at Winchester introduced the .300 Winchester Short Magnum in the midst of what some folks have called the Second Magnum Craze. The introduction followed the typical Winchester playbook- great hype in a full court press of magazine articles and a marketing blitzkrieg. One could not open a sporting or shooting magazine without reading an article extolling the virtues of the "Short Magnum".

Most of it was pure baloney.

Claims of reduced recoil in the form of "reduced ejecta" sounded just science-y enough to be plausible. Claims of velocities exceeding the well established .300 Winchester Magnum were everywhere you looked. Hyper-ventilation over the joys of a shorter bolt throw were shouted from the heavens. We were treated to a plethora of dead critter photos in print, apparently only possible from the new cartridge.  In those days, Winchester was a behemoth in the industry and new guns and ammo sold pretty well.

It didn't take long for the ever-cynical shooting community to unleash its own torrent of hyperbole. I was told point blank by a savvy rifleman that the cartridge was doomed to obscurity and cash spent on such a rifle was practically flushed. Work with a chronograph soon revealed that Winchester's data had a bit of "blue sky" in it as well (not the first time for that one either) and most folks with production guns with 24" barrels were getting 2900 fps and a bit of change with the 180gr bullets, far short of the promised 3100 fps. Most folks who pulled the trigger on one got belted with enough recoil to make claims of "reduced recoil" sound like the complete rubbish it is. According to a number of Internet Bwanas, the rebated rim practically guaranteed your mauling at the paws of charismatic megafauna when your gun jammed. Some early rifle had feeding issues that did nothing to alleviate those concerns either.

In those days, you could log into your favorite forum or BBS (remember that!) and read pages of technical minutiae from both sides and when Winchester introduced their follow on family of short cartridges in .270, 7mm, and .325,  as well as Remington's competing "short mags".... things kinda went tilt. Suddenly the market had a glut of cartridges that all, pretty much, did the exact same thing.

What both sides of the debate missed was pretty much everything.

I came along to the .300WSM in 2006, when I (somewhat reluctantly) purchased a rifle I was in love with. My rifle was a lightweight.... a 6.5 pound rifle for carrying into high and rocky places.  I wanted something with enough oomph for the odd grizzly or moose and with enough reach for Dall sheep and caribou over open country. Ammo was fairly expensive compared to .30-06 fodder, but in all reality- most hunters just don't shoot their rifles all that much and with recoil numbers in the 25-29 foot pound range...don't really want to.

A string of dead critters later and the .300WSM did not disappoint. Since then, every big game animal I've taken with one exception has been with the cartridge. I've now had 3 of the WSM family and just recently purchased a Winchester 7WSM for eventual custom work. My favorite rifle shoots 180 grain bullets into 3/4" at 2925fps with boring regularity. None of the WSM rifles I've had exhibited feeding issues and every one of my acquaintances who have WSMs do not regret the purchase. They just happily head to the field and kill stuff.

While it may sound like I'm a fanboy, I'm not. The cartridge is, what it is- nothing less or more. A very effective cartridge that gets near .300 Win Magnum performance in a handy sized short action rifle. It's now 15 years old and pretty near ubiquitous on sporting good retailer's shelves and cataloged by almost everyone making guns and ammunition. I expect that it will not be teetering on obsolescence any time soon. It's not magic either- it's just a brass bottle for holding gunpowder and a pretty good one at that.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ballistic Chit-Chat.... Anecdotal Evidence Pt.3

The last couple of years I've posted some results of the terminal performance from the cartridges I've seen used this hunting season in a effort to add to the collective body of knowledge.

You can find the previous versions HERE and HERE

So in the similar vein to previous year.

300WSM/ 180 Accubond- I took four animals this year with my pet Nosler .300WSM and the 180gr Accubond bullet. The first was a small cow caribou shot at a estimated 40 yards, one shot- bang, flop, DRT. Couldn't be more pleased. Despite nearly full muzzle velocity at impact the bullet did not fragment. Caribou number two was a middling bull shot at a laser ranged 255 yds. One shot broadside and the bull collapsed in a heap. Everything forward of the diaphragm was soup. No bullet fragments were found. Caribou three was a large cow shot at a laser ranged 345 yds. I shot twice and hit both times in the low lungs. One of the shots shattered the breastbone. Again, no fragments or bullets recovered and minimum meat damage. The fourth animal was a unique experience- a wolf shot at an estimated 20'. Shot twice- once too far back and once in the nose that exited below the pelvis- pelt damage made my taxidermist smile at his hourly rate. Not recommended for that purpose- but the encounter wasn't exactly planned (or even desired). The 180AB might be the best general purpose bullet for the 2800-3100fps .300s like the .300WSM, .300WM, .300RSAUM, .300RCM, .300H&H and high performance .30-06s.

300WSM/ 180 Federal Soft Point- this is most likely a conventional Speer soft point bullet. Two shots at a middling sized cow at a laser ranged 250yds. Both showed good expansion and the caribou expired  on the spot. This is a good economic load for open country shooting at deer, caribou and similar critters.

338WM/ 180 Accubond- I saw two caribou shot with this load this year. Both large bulls. One was shot at truly long range- 400+ yards that needed substantial follow up. The tough Accubond in .338 didn't really expand well. The second was shot at 80 yards. The hunter fired three times although he first hit was totally fatal. No fragments found, even on wound channels that contacted bone. The tough Accubond is perfect for this cartridge.

7-08 Remington/ 140gr Federal Fusion- this load accounted for two caribou. One a middle sized cow at 100 yards. One and done. Good expansion and exited. The second was a small bull shot at 55yds. Two shots- the first a quartering to that hit slightly high, contacted the spine and tracked under the backstrap and put the bull down. The second was a finisher shot at point blank a few moments later. The first bullet was recovered as shown below. These expanded very well at closer range with higher impact speeds which validated my theory from last year's longer range disappointment. These would do very well at typical deer ranges on deer sized animals. For longer ranges, I'd think a softer or faster bullet would do better.