Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Just Sayin'

As I've been going through Hunter Education and NRA Smallbore with my son, it occurs to me that it's far more effective to gun proof your children than child proof your guns.

Just Sayin'

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trail Boss...Perfect Reduced Loads.

In my ever onward search for useful info, I stumbled onto a product called "Trail Boss" a few years ago. Originally manufactured to fuel the demand for black powder type loads in the fast growing sport of Cowboy Action Shooting, it excels at filling voluminous cases with it's doughnut shaped granules and makes a safe alternative to charging huge black powder cases with tiny charges of smokeless powder. For instance, in the huge .45 Colt case you could easily double, triple or even quadruple charge your round with smokeless powder- with the disastrous results you might anticipate.

I'm conspicuously absent of such uses being a magnum rifle enthusiast, but in an obscure corner of the makers website it lists a formula for making reduced rifle rounds in any centerfire rifle case. Basically, you figure out the volume of powder you can put in the case without compressing the load and voila'- that's your max load. For a starting load, simply multiply that max load by 0.70 (70% of max). I insist you read up on Hodgdon's site for more info, but it's as easy as that. A couple of years later, load data for many common cartridges appeared.

What use is that you may ask? I'll list several and many more exist- only limited by your imagination. In this interesting age, supplies of rifles and many common cartridges have been overwhelmed by market demand. While the supply chain issues will resolve themselves eventually, it doesn't help the hunter needing something done in the current season. While a smaller rifle can often be pressed into service in the role of a larger one, pressing a large one into service of a small one is often disastrous. Here are some examples that I use reduced loads for.

1. Introducing newcomers to shooting sports. Limiting beginners to nominal recoil levels is a great idea and a role often filled by the ubiquitous .22LR. But what to do when the beginner is ready to progress beyond the rimfire but not yet ready for full bore magnum rifles? There are many options available such as the .223, .243 and .250- but in these days you may not have access to a smaller rifle or even with something like a .223, finding ammunition isn't the easiest task. The solution is easy- turn your magnum bruiser into a soft shooting centerfire with a reduced load. A nominal .300WSM cartridge firing a 180gr bullet at 2950 feet per second can pack a vicious wallop. My Trail Boss load fires a 150gr. at about 1700 feet per second and is practically recoilless yet gives the feel and report of a true centerfire rifle. Trail Boss isn't the cheapest powder, but it's certainly cheaper than any factory reduced load or smaller bore rifle ammo these days.

2. Fur bearers. This is a perfect example of a larger rifle not filling the role of a smaller one satisfactorily. For those of us who harvest fur bearing critters- destroying a pelt defeats the purpose altogether. I shot one of my first fur bearing animals with a .308 Winchester with full throttle 150 grain ammunition. The result was nearly a disaster- it was a perfect facing shot and the fox literally split up the seam and the hide was entirely salvageable, A broadside would have destroyed it completely. My Trail Boss loads replicate the old British "Rook Rounds" like the .300 Rook and .310 Cadet almost perfectly and they were used for fox shooting in merry old England with perfect satisfaction for decades. Calling generally yields shots under 150 yards and pelt damage with these low velocity rounds is negligible and the trajectory is sufficiently flat for lynx and fox. In fact, I've come to believe these are superior to the high velocity centerfires like the .223 and .22-250 for harvesting fur within the limits of it's trajectory due to the limited pelt damage.

3. Emergency Rounds/ Filling the Pot. Much has been written about the utility of a "survival gun" or "camp gun" used to take small game in hunting camp or in an emergency. Creatures like grouse, squirrel and hares are a welcome respite from freeze dried meals and other convenient camp foods that are long on ease and short on taste. Flooding last year strained many hunters supplies when rising rivers  stranded them on the wrong side of civilization. It's often been suggested the hunter should carry a .22 pistol or revolver, a small rifle and even Jack O'Connor frequently packed Model 42 shotgun in .410 for such work. But I am most frequently hunting on foot with camp on my back, carrying an extra gun (even a light revolver) is not on my list of preferred equipment. I carry enough crap already. Several companies made chamber adapters to fire pistol cartridges from rifle chambers but accuracy and function were pretty sketchy. Solution- a handful of reduced loads in the pack, sighted for the top of the bottom thick wire allows shooting a grouse or hare with ease should you find some begging to be dinner without burdening you. It's also very useful should you need a "finisher" on "down but not out" game and want to avoid further meat damage.

These are just a few examples of how one could use reduced cartridges to press a high powered rifle into the role of a smaller one. Remember, for safety's sake to NEVER just reduce powder charges below minimums- the result could be catastrophic. Use a powder that allows safe case fill and gives velocities that are in the range that will not destroy the small game and fur bearers. I love the big boomers- but they are sometimes too much of a good thing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Don Quixote and the Windmill

Being a writer, I believe in the power of words. Words have enormous influence on our lives and those around us from our earliest babbling to our last ones. Words that encourage, words that express love,   words to teach, words that heal, as well as words that curse and words that condemn. I believe that words have meaning and carry gravity far beyond our comprehension.

I am, however, perplexed of late with this preoccupation of the modern world to bandy about words of invention to describe something that doesn't logically exist. One such word I've heard a lot lately is gun culture. Being a lifelong shooter and hunter, I can only assume that I belong to this so called gun culture and have for many years. A large number of my friends and associates belong to this same culture of the gun.

But I don't even know what it means.

I've been blessed with an active life across a lot of miles and I've met a lot of people- some I love and some I hold in less than stellar esteem. They've been from all walks of life and every political persuasion you can imagine. For instance- the subsistence hunters of Alaska's barren North Slope to backwoods farmers in Tennessee, from an Olympic champions to deeply suspicious White Supremacists, from police officers and army officers to out and out thugs and street gangsters it has been a wild and wooly ride. Looking at that group of people as a whole, I can't see many traits or factors that they hold them together culturally. In all but the broadest sense, all of those people had only one thing common- they were all gun owners.

Are they all The Gun Culture? Culturally all of these folks have their own identity- some of it racially derived and some of it self chosen but as a lot you'd be hard pressed to find a more diverse group of people in the U.S. It's like taking MMA, water polo, cricket and monster truck racing and calling it all "The Sports Culture". Is our culture derived by what we own? If that was the case then why isn't there a "car culture" or a "house culture"? There are certainly people who are enthusiastic about those items to be sure; but if those people were suddenly homeless or forced into a life of pedestrianism would they suddenly be absent their culture?


Culture goes deeper than that. One of the things that you constantly hear in the current gun debate is a comparison of America to other places that have similar rates of gun ownership. One never hears much about a Swiss or Austrian "gun culture" or a Finnish or Spanish or Italian or Australian "gun culture" even though all of the those countries have high rates of private gun ownership. One thing that strikes me odd is that most of those places don't have anywhere near the level of cultural diversity that America does. America certainly is a culturally diverse place but I think a gun culture is something we don't have. We have a lot of different cultures with guns.

The gun culture doesn't exist except in the minds of people who don't want it around- that windmill is still turning Don Quixote. Hit it again.

I realize we are in the middle of a great debate on guns in the U.S., and without revealing my personal views on the matter, all I can say is both sides of this debate are busy filling up the airwaves with meaningless drivel. Whether it's ridiculous legislation, fairy tale statistics, hyperventilating news reports or this latest trend...

Made up words whose power is just an illusion. A windmill to terrify the simpleminded.

Come on folks- we're better than this. If we're going to discuss the topics let's at least use language that means something and make an attempt at debate with integrity.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hunting with Retro Jack...the .270 Winchester.

I've got to admit outright that I've never been a .270 fan. I loved reading O'Connor as a child and some of the earliest experiences I have with hunting and shooting literature were his last few years of columns in the magazines at the barbershop. Even though I loved his writing and hearing of great hunts with "his" .270, I've always gravitated to the .30 calibers. One reason- back then you could buy FMJ range ammo in the '06 and .308Winchester for considerably less than any sporting ammunition. Looking deep into my ammunition collection recently, I found some .308 ammo with a $5.00 sticker (those were the days!). .270 ammo hasn't been that cheap in my lifetime. So, the .270 has been well established for a long time, I've just never paid it much mind.

That's not to say the .270 isn't a very good hunting cartridge and hasn't developed a track record on game that's truly impressive. Even today- cartridges developed for mountain hunting frequently just replicate what the .270 has been doing since 1925. I won't go into all the numbers since they've been put out there for a long time by better writers than me, but a 130 gr bullet at 3150 fps makes for a powerful and flat shooting rifle on deer and sheep sized game. Lately the .270 has been "downgraded" to a 130 gr at 3050 but no matter, that's still flat shooting and more than enough medicine for even large deer. Early on, ammo makers developed a 150 gr bullet at 2850 which O'Connor saw little point in but others have used very effectively around the world.

Fast forward to middle age and another of O'Connor's developments crossed my path. I've heard it debated about how much O'Connor was directly involved in the design of the Ruger 77 but considering he was considered one of America's foremost authority figures on hunting rifles at the time it makes logical sense that Bill Ruger might have consulted with him on the subject. I had been a user of the Ruger 77s for some time and had always coveted the top of the line M77 "Express" Rifle. Bill Ruger was a well known "anglophile" when it came to interwar period guns and the "Express" came so equipped with features common from those British pattern sporting rifles- quarter ribs with folding leaves, barrel bands, and a first rate stock. I was in love. I only rarely saw one in a store and generally at a time when I had little money. Once I walked into my favorite gun haunt in Anchorage and saw a matched set- an '06 and a .375 in the "Magnum" version. The price tag was about what the car I was driving at the time was worth. Just about the time I could actually afford one, they dropped from the catalog. I chalked it up to opportunity lost.

One day a friend of mine came to me and asked if I'd be interested in purchasing an "Express" in great shape and barely fired. I was immediately interested and figured it was a rare chance at acquiring an object of desire from my youth. "Which cartridge?", I enthusiastically inquired, hoping for an '06.

".270 Winchester", came the reply.

I was slightly less enthused at that point, always considering the .270 something of an odd duck despite it's widespread use. I examined the rifle and it was flawless and I purchased it immediately. The serial number placed it as an extremely early Express with a pre-production number. I had some thought about rechambering it into a 338-06 or a 280 Ackley but I hesitated given how good of shape the rifle was actually in. Some further research into the .270 shows that many hunters have used the .270 on deer and sheep for sure but even bigger game like elk and moose and even grizzly have fallen to the cartridge. O'Connor used one on a lot of big game without reservation and even Alaskan hands like Russell Anabelle used it quite a lot. Modern bullets have done nothing but improve the cartridge. A brief trip to the range showed promise- the heavy rifle in the light cartridge resulted in extremely light recoil and despite the usual rough M77 trigger, the rifle showed surprising accuracy. The thought of hunting with it didn't seem too outlandish anymore.

Something else crossed my radar as well. The retail firm of SWFA had recently commissioned Leupold to reproduce what I thought was one of the most useful scopes ever devised- the M8 3x. A long, straight tubed scope in fixed power- it allowed mounting on even magnum actions and the lack of an objective bell allows low rings on rifles with quarter ribs. It's pure aesthetics but a ponderously big scope sticking high off the action just ruins the lines of a rifle in my opinion and from a practical perspective often precludes good shooting because the firer can't get a good cheek weld. Thinking back to some of O'Connor's writings I remembered him being quite enamored (and possibly shaping my own early bias toward) with low magnification, fixed power scopes. In O'Connor's day it would have been a Weaver 330 in Stith mounts; in mine its a Leupold 3x in Ruger rings.

A Trader Keith webbed cotton sling my wife gave me as a gift several years ago was the cherry on top.

So after assembling the "retro" rifle the numbers come out something like this- an 85 year old cartridge, a 20 year old rifle made to look like a 100 year old one, and a new scope patterned after a 75 year old model all whole-heartedly endorsed by a man whose been dead for decades. The result is satisfying in appearance and early range results show promise in the field; so hopefully I'll have some new adventures to tell with this project. Aside from the relative weight of the end results, maybe old Jack really knew what he was talking about.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Homebuilt Ski Pulk- a'la Backpacking North

Since writing my piece on hunting from skis, I received several inquiries about building/making/buying pulks suitable for the purpose. I've responded to a few but a longer post was in order that I just don't have time for right now...but lo and behold what showed up in the feed!

Here is a great post via Backpacking North where he builds a very simple and effective ski pulk similar to the one I built from a Paris Expedition sled.

You can read it here-  at Backpacking North.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Kill a turkey, help a hunter.

Below is an excerpt of an email sent to me by the Real Avid guys...passing it on down the line if any of the readership is interested.

"Hey Guys,

I know you've got a lot going on - but I was hoping you'd consider sharing a link.

PH Stu Taylor was accidentally shot while hunting in Africa - leaving him in pretty rough shape. Real Avid sponsors The Zone TV Show with James Brion - who also owns Gobble n Grunt Outfitters in Nebraska. He's auctioning off (3) 3 Day/2 Turkey hunts at GnG - with all proceeds going to benefit Stu and his recovery.
The links are below, and more info is listed on the auction pages. The last link is for a hunt that will be filmed for The Zone TV Show on Sportsmans Channel.

If you've got the time - I'd appreciate your help spreading the word, even it it is just a tweet.
If you know anyone else who you think would be willing to share - I'd appreciate it.

I've personally hunted Gobble n Grunt - and it's AMAZING! I can honestly say I've never seen that many turkeys in one weekend before.

Hope you have a great weekend.

Link to the auction- HERE