Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Minimum Practical Hunting Battery- A Discussion

I'm currently out of Alaska, in Tennessee, and reminiscing at my folk's house among artifacts and locations of times past. While perusing some old magazines that had been forgotten, I came across a pretty interesting quote. This came from a 2002 copy of Guns And Ammo magazine, specifically from the "Cooper's Corner" column although I've seen the quote in print other places and the Jeff Cooper commentary on it in other places as well. This came from the Jeff Cooper's Commentaries Volume 10, Number 7. After ruminating on the article I thought it worth consideration and comment. Please note that although I'll mention a couple of specific makers don't construe this as a product review, I only use these as example from my personal selection.

By Jeff Cooper-
"Shooting Master John Gannaway points out that all you really need is a 22 and a 30-06. While I go along with that, I cannot avoid making a couple of perhaps unnecessary additions. First of all, the 308 is the ballistic twin of the 30-06 now with modern loadings, and even without the modern loadings the differences are too slight to matter. So your Steyr Scout in 308 will do what you need, unless you are a specialist. Certainly you need a 22 rifle, and there are scores of good ones around, but also you can probably establish need for a 22 pistol. This is most obvious if you live in the country. And then there is the matter of the shotgun. Some people really need a shotgun, both for home defense and for recreation. So I guess I would expand my minimum list to include a Steyr Scout, a Marlin 39 22 (particularly an older model without the cross-bolt safety), a compact 22 self-loading pistol, and a good grade self-loading 12-gauge shotgun. That is four guns, hardly enough to satisfy an aficionado, but certainly enough for others. Living as I have all my life amongst shooters, I cannot think of anyone who owns only four guns. On the other hand I think that when you get up into the hundreds you are overstating the case."

After thinking about this for a while I realized that the overwhelming majority of my hunting has been accomplished with the exact battery mentioned in the piece- the .22 and the .30-06. While in a previous piece I mentioned the relative unimportance of caliber in a hunting rifle and how it's not something to get wrapped around the axle about; I have done a great deal of hunting with the .30-06 Springfield as well as it's near ballistic twin the .308 Winchester. I've used both cartridges in several rifles each and the results in the field are basically indistinguishable from each other. While a bit underpowered for things like brown bears and such I've never found them wanting for the most hunted game animals in N. America- the deer family- at most reasonable ranges. In Alaska, the .30-06 is likely responsible for more game than any other cartridge. Although I firmly believe the .30-06 achieved its enormous popularity largely through circumstance than overwhelming genuine merit- I will readily give it its due. And it's due is that it is a wonderful all around hunting cartridge.

I've also hunted with several other calibers that fall into more specialized areas like the .223 and .22-250 for varmint hunting and the .375 H&H for slightly bigger critters. Although I'm fascinated with rifles and all the various permutations of cartridges I must admit that the small stuff and the big stuff are rather niche uses that are genuinely small markets in comparison to the more common "deer rifle". While I do on occasion hunt creatures that really call for either bigger or smaller than the .30-06/.308, and have a more recent interest in the range afforded by the various .300 magnums; the vast majority of all North American hunting (mine and everyone else's) is readily accomplished with the .30-06. While I've used a number of rifles from Remington, Winchester, Ruger, Steyr and Sig; my current "bread and butter" rifle is a Kimber Longmaster in .308. My wife gave it to me for an anniversary several years ago and it's special for that reason but its also the most consistently accurate rifle I've ever owned, as well as beautiful in the way really good walnut stocked rifles are. It's a bit heavy for mountain hunting and I'm loathe to damage that beautiful finish; but it's a joy to hunt with and I've done a good bit with it even in Alaska's fierce climate.

The .22 Long Rifle is a world standard for small game hunting and I've used it with great effect since I was a youngster. As I'm writing this the "hand-me-down" bolt action Marlin is in Dad's gun cabinet begging to go out and play. I've not shot this specimen in several years and its exact age is indeterminable (I'm thinking I'm the 4th or 5th person in my family to "own" it). As a youth I dragged this thing all over the woods and mountains with no small joy. It's finish is trashed, the stock is dinged and it's on its third firing pin but I love this old thing- they really don't make them like this anymore. Sometime in my teens I got the automatic bug and had a long string of various .22 self loaders but I never really fell in love with any of them. As a cartridge I expect I'll be shooting squirrels with the .22 long after my body has aged and I've abandoned the pursuit of larger game altogether. Stalking small game with the .22 will make the hunter more skilled and is a joy in itself- worthwhile time spent. The .22 really is the cartridge the hunter should start with and stay with in my opinion.

When I turned 30 I found myself a birthday present in the form of a Kimber 22 Classic Varmint (unfortunately now discontinued) that is the cosmetic twin of my much loved Kimber Longmaster .308. I know cosmetics should have little to do with a hunting rifle but you've got to have something to enjoy looking at when there's no game. The owner of the small gunshop (a longtime personal friend) was going out of business and made me the offer I simply couldn't refuse. I topped that rifle with a quality scope and proceeded to drive tacks. The rifle is certainly much more accurate than I ever am, it has a great trigger and balances off hand like nothing else I've ever shot. I bought it sort of on a lark, thinking it would make a great understudy for its "big brother" but I've been small game hunting more and more and its much more than an understudy- its a great hunting rifle in it's own right.

To get around to Cooper's additions to this minimum battery list- specifically the .22 handgun and the shotgun; I must admit no genuine love for either. I have had a small variety of .22 handguns that were simply too underwhelming to me in terms of utility or recreation to keep around. When I'm big game hunting on foot I generally will shun toting any extra weight in the form of a pistol- even a light .22 for grouse and such. Around the house, pest dispatch is easily accomplished with a .22 rifle and small game hunting with a rifle is preferred by me in general. While great fun to "plink" with, I've never really had a lot of genuine use for a .22 pistol.

In a similar vein I've never really had a lot of love for the shotgun. I've owned a few reasonable examples but never really fell in love with aerial gunnery. I never enjoyed waterfowl hunting although I admit I've never given it much serious effort and upland game was scarce enough where I lived in my youth that I bored of it quickly. It seems aerial shooting always required things I didn't have available- duck boats, retriever dogs, pointer dogs, and so forth. For small game hunting as previously mentioned I've always preferred a rimfire. As a kid I quickly abandoned the locally popular practice of shotgunning squirrels- too noisy and messy in my opinion and as an adult I greatly prefer the extra range afforded by the rimfire for hares and grouse (legal in Alaska but not many other states). I do admit the shotgun is the most versatile of all hunting weapons but it's never really been my choice for the type of hunting I enjoy.

I realize a lot of folks will have a different take and that's OK but the hunting products industries and their respective marketing departments are consistently pushing products toward the hunter that have little basis in "need" at all. While I readily admit that I enjoy all the technical minutae that accompanies the shooting and hunting pursuits, I often question if you were to strip all that away and get the modern hunting battery to its basic form- what would you be left with? I think mine is typified in the .30-06/.308 and the .22 and I have a wonderful example of both so my cup runneth over.

What does your minimum practical battery look like?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Howdy Bashful...

My bear hunting partner sent me a surprise in the email box this evening. For those of you who need a recap we've been pursuing bears in an area that had some really big grizzly tracks and a bait station that put the hiatus on grizzlies. Well my buddy had a genius of an idea and placed a trail camera near the now defunct bait station to see if he could get a glimpse of this elusive giant.
That is a right nice bear visiting the area at a bright and early 5:33AM. Long legged, lanky and big; hard to tell in the picture but presumably its a boar due to the fact its alone (no cub, either pics or tracks) and its a lot bigger than sows generally get in the Interior. I'm hoping to post a picture with some size references superimposed on the photos. I know my .300 Magnum feels smaller all the time now. Great, a rifle inferiority complex to deal with!
Here's a close up just prior to the camera getting the stuffing knocked out of it the next night. Notice the nearly human looking eye. The appearance of the bear's eye and skinned carcass gave many Native cultures the understandable respect of bears as a close relative of humans. Natives in Alaska (and the Lower 48) generally regarded the bear with tremendous respect and a source of potent spiritual power. A simply magnificient and powerful animal.
Sadly I'm not in Alaska at the moment to give chase to this wonderful animal. Upon hearing the news that my father had been diagnosed with cancer, my family has travelled out of state to spend time with him. Blogging has been on the back burner but I couldn't wait to share these photographs. I hope to be back to a more regular schedule soon.

Looks like this big fella will have to wait a while...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Spring Hiking- Photo and Captions

I took the family out for some hiking this past weekend. We went about an hour south, into the mountains, to see how spring was progressing and had a wonderful time. Snow covered this area just a couple of weeks ago and shady areas still have some snow in them.

I have tried to come up with a theme or something to write about but due to personal circumstances the well is pretty dry.

So instead, I'll just post some pictures of a beautiful Alaska day.

Here's a shot of spring foliage on the open tundra.

It had the most wonderful fragrance when your walked across it- much like a fresh lemon.

Here's a pretty unremarkable beaver lodge.

Even the unremarkable ones are pretty remarkable when you think about it.

Here's a location my son dubbed "Echo Canyon" for the obvious reasons.

The wind kept blowing scree down the sides making an eerie noise of constant rockfall.

This canyon extends for several miles. Looked in vain for sheep. After all hunting season is a mere 3 months away!

Here's a landscape that looks like it belongs on Mars. Red rock (bearing iron deposits and such) with a large greenish chunk of sulfur bearing rock protruding from it.

The geology here is nothing short of amazing. Everything at odd angles and a variety of minerals meeting in weird layers.

The colors give the place its name- Rainbow Mountain.

More to come- best of summer to you all.