Sunday, March 26, 2017

Being a Generalist in an Era of Hyper-specialization

I must confess that life in the era if hyper-specializtion is wearisome.

When it comes to hunting and hunting rifles, I am a huge fan of the "general purpose" category. I have been a fan of Cooper's "Scout Rifle" concept since it's inception and have done some very good field work with it. While many look at the Scout as a very specialized rifle, in truth- it is simply one man's vision of what a general purpose rifle looks like. A rifle good for just about anything you'd want a rifle to do.

If you read the hunting writers of times past- they very much liked the idea of the general purpose rifle as well. Guys like O'Connor and Whelen would often hunt much of the world with a single rifle and cartridge and proclaim the virtues of the "one gun hunter". Much of the .30-06's storied reputation was from early 19th century hunters prowling the edges of the world and taking virtually everything with the '06 and a crude telescopic sight. Even the variable scope sight was conceived as a way to accommodate as many uses as possible into a single scope.

Creating a general purpose implement is frequently more difficult than creating something specialized around a specific purpose. Generalization creates a series of compromises and balancing those compromises requires a pretty thorough understanding of the many facets of the items use. Specialization requires deep understanding of a single facet. It's my opinion that it takes a lot more skill to make something "good" for everything than it does to make something "perfect" for one thing.

I'm good with it to a point, but we often take that into the realm of the ridiculous.

Case in point- the 6mm Creedmoor cartridge.

About a decade ago, someone developed the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge in the interest of enhanced performance for long range shooting. They desired a cartridge that would shoot high B.C. bullets supersonic to 1000 yards, mimic the trajectory of the .300Win Magnum, and have less recoil. The 6.5CM does all of those things and riflemen have flocked to it in droves primarily spurned by the recent fad of long range hunting. Neophyte hunters are proclaiming its praises as retaining high energy and awesome long range ballistics and many are suggesting its the perfect 600 yard elk rifle.

Horse apples.

The 6.5CM as a hunting cartridge doesn't do jack squat that the .300WM didn't do in 1963 and still does today albeit with more recoil. The 6.5CM's ballistics are virtually identical to the .260 Remington  which is incidentally identical to the very old 6.5x55 Swede from the late 1800s. What the rifle marketing department did was take the 6.5CM, twist the barrel tighter so a longer, higher B.C. bullet would stabilize and sell it to people as a brand new long range death ray and scads of young hunters are gobbling the thing up. The rub is those super long and super sleek projectiles perform pretty sketchy on game animals.

In the interest of even more long range target work, they've now necked this 6.5CM to 6mm and call it the 6mm Creedmoor. The initial rationale was Precision Rifle Course competitions so the round could be fired fast at long range through an AR-10 type rifle. "Why?" seems to be sort of elusive, but there you have it. PRC mimics field shooting for game in no way whatsoever.

If the 6.5CM is the 260 Remington ballistically...then the 6CM is pretty much indistinguishable from the .243 Winchester circa 1953 although most rifles will come with a tighter twist. How this differs from a "Fast twist .243" that's been available for years somehow escapes me. I've already been contacted and asked what I think about the 6CM for long range moose hunting. Just because someone sticks a new name on the case and sticks a bullet in it that looks like something from an Area 51 test lab doesn't make it a good hunting round or even a good idea.

I'm all for a better mousetrap, but at this point we're simply rebranding ballistics we've had for three generations and that seems silly.

Meanwhile the common as dirt .30-06 with a 4x scope is seen as incapable of shooting something outside of a pen.

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 up...you'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 .308...is 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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thoughts on Alaska Bowhunter Education and Certification

I've been an archer now for something just over two months and while this piece isn't exactly intended for the experienced bowhunter, it is something of an answer to a whole bunch of questions I had that I never got adequately answered prior to taking the class.

Alaska, and several other states, require a bowhunter certification prior to hunting big game with a bow that meets IBEP standards. Right after I got my bow, I was a little dismayed to find that the only certification class in my immediate area was going to occur just 5 weeks away. In short- I passed the tests with flying colors and this is sort of a review of the process to making that happen. While the exact shooting test varies a little from place to place and instructor to instructor, the process is pretty much the same.

I opted for the "Online Course w/ Field Day" option. That means that I took the classroom and written testing portion online. You need something on the order of 4 or 5 hours to take the online portion- depending on how well you do with that sort of computer based training. I'm sort of an old hand at it since my employer invests heavily on CBT and a portion of my academic coursework was virtual as well. You have one year to pass the Field Day Qualifier once you pass the online portion of the course.

Expect no surprises. My course was through Hunter-Ed.com , a vendor for a whole lot of states' hunter education, bowhunter education and muzzleloader education programs. It was a logical breakdown of bowhunter and archery basics into several modules with a multiple choice quiz at the end of each module and a 50 question test at the end. You can read the modules or select an audio file to read it to you and there are a number of videos that play. The videos are geared for about the 6th grade level (this is, after all, a company that contracts hunter education) in a slightly campy first person format. So, if you're a grizzled graybeard or an archery pro you might feel a little bit patronized. You will need to pay attention though and answer the questions appropriately since your status is not reflective of the test. Most of the material is straight up cut and dried so a passing score is pretty much guaranteed if you have even a basic ability at reading comprehension. You also have unlimited attempts at the test should you need it. In my state, I had to wait for the passing grade to upload to the state fish and game before I could register for the field day.

The Field Day Qualifier was something of a bit of worry for me. Since I didn't have a long background in archery, I had a limited frame of reference as to what constituted "good enough" shooting. I shouldn't have worried. If you can shoot an 8" group at 30 yards reliably the test will be a breeze. The longest shot I've ever heard of in the Field Day was 35 yards and mine was 26 yards. I only used the top pin (sighted at 20yds) throughout the whole course. In retrospect, a 10, 15, 20 and 25 yard pin would have been more useful than my 30, 40 and 50 yard pins.

The Field Day started in the classroom and we had about an hour of paperwork and review with some miniature animals and a broadhead demonstration. Safety is a pronounced component of the course with a lot of emphasis on tree stands. Tree stands are pretty rare in my area, but they are by far the single most common mechanism of injury for hunters nationwide. After the class work and review, we moved to the range.

The course of fire was pretty simple. Four 3-D targets, two arrows per target and you had to fire at least one lethal arrow on all four targets and a fifth arrow into one of them. The closest shot was ten yards and the farthest was twenty-six with an eighteen and a twenty-one making up the middle. These are completely realistic shooting distances straight out of the IBEP guidance. The targets were standard 3-D type  foam animal targets and the hits were judged by the instructor based on lethality in real life- not the scoring ring. For instance, on a quartering away target a hit behind the ring could be 100% fatal while a hit forward in the ring might only be a wounding shot. More on that in a minute.

Half of the shots were kneeling and two were from an elevated stand that replicated a tree stand. Nothing seemed surprising in hindsight and anyone who would contemplate shooting an arrow at game should be able to pass the shooting proficiency test pretty readily. Despite that fact, a couple of the folks in my group of six did not pass on the first try. If you fail to qualify on the first try, you may be allowed to shoot again that day at the instructor's discretion. In all, I found it a worthwhile experience and I would wager that more states will require such education in the future- much like the now universal hunter education requirement among all states. I feel that the course will make me a better bowhunter in the long run.

I've heard the blood trailing exercise can be challenging. In our class, with ample snow cover...it was not, just like real life. At least there was some advantage to taking the course in winter conditions.

Some Tips:
1. Practice, practice, practice- If you show up to qualify and blow the dust off your bow just prior you will likely not do very well (saw that with one individual in my group). I probably fired a thousand arrows in the 5 weeks before the course. That was probably overkill, but I was going in both blind and a noob to boot. As mentioned, if you have a properly sighted and tuned bow and can hit decent groups out to 30 yards, you'll have zero difficulty.

2. Shoot from kneeling, a stand and from close range- with today's short axle lengths and high speed bows that advice seems silly. But we had to shoot half from standing and a quarter from a stand, be prepared. The only dicey shot I made was the ten yard shot from a stand that resulted in a steep down angle on a small target...I had to think about that one and purposely aim under the impact point. A lot of folks shot clear over the top of it. If you have a longbow the kneeling shots might be a real problem, with a modern 30" compound my shots kneeling were better than standing.

3. Know you animal anatomy- scoring rings don't matter but vital shots do. Know where to hit an animal with an arrow. You'd think this would be self explanatory in a bowhunting course but you'd be surprised. The coursework covers shot angle and vital zones in detail. One of the targets I shot at was a Velociraptor due to technical difficulty with a deer target- since I was first in the cohort to shoot, I simply asked the instructor to define the kill zone for me and he was happy to oblige. I'm not only good to go in Alaska, but qualified for Isla Nublar (obscure Jurassic Park movie reference) as well.

4. Be prepared for weather- the class runs rain or shine and in my course that meant 5F and snowing like crazy. I put a couple of "Hot Hands" packets in my gloves to keep my fingers warm between shots. Easy. Depending on where and when your class happens- rain gear, bug dope, or hot hands might be appropriate. You want to do your best, and standing in a blizzard or rain storm while 30 people shoot first might be a distraction if you're not prepared. I was glad for a small group of six in that regard, but that's unusual- most classes in Anchorage or Fairbanks are 25-30 people.

5. Bring a rangefinder- You are allowed (nay, even encouraged) to use a rangefinder in the shoot. However, you are not allowed to share information with other students. Rangefinders are cheap and easy to use these days....bring one, you won't be sorry.

6. Be a sportsman (or sportswoman)- The instructor is almost assuredly a volunteer on his or her own time motivated only be promotion of archery. Be courteous, be punctual, and be a good sport. If you aren't shooting well, ask the instructor to give you a pointer or two. The two guys that taught my class were first rate and extremely helpful and arguing with them isn't going to help your case. You can, in fact, be failed for "unsportsmanlike conduct". I've heard stories from other classes but didn't experience any of that drama in my group.

7. Use the "right" bow- You are allowed to use any bow in the class. You may be a dedicated "trad" guy, but traditional archery guys fail the course most frequently. One of the guys in my class missed the entire animal three times with his recurve. He would have benefitted from more practice for sure, but he could have passed easily with any generic compound bow. I offered him the opportunity to use mine on his re-shoot, but he declined. Another gentleman brought a bow that was clearly too powerful for him and failed his first attempt. If you can't draw the bow seated or draw back in a straight line you need to drop back poundage.

Another student brought his 80# bow set to full power... he was a great shot and he passed easily, but he drove arrows so deep into the target that pulling them in cold weather was a challenge. It was challenging for everyone but he ended up destroying a half dozens arrows and a target in the process. There is no advantage or requirement for a high speed, high poundage bow for the qualifier. On that note- if your class will be during cold weather, lubing your arrows with silicon spray or WD-40 will make pulling them a whole lot easier.

Best of luck to everyone and while the qualifier isn't super easy, it is straightforward. Passing it with a little prior practice and forethought should not be a problem.

Best shooting,
Hodgeman.

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.