Monday, November 26, 2007

And so it goes

Deer seasons are never the same from year to year and this year was no exception. I like to think of myself as a fair durable and rugged sort of guy who can certainly handle what comes his way if he puts himself out there to do it. Take for instance, rain. Now, I've been hunting a long time. I've been caught in more than one down poor and carry a poncho with me on just about every excursion into the field. It seems I have a bit more to learn about such things.

I have never, not in my whole life, been as soaked as I was at noon on Monday after sitting under a tree, under a poncho, through six hours of rain. Every single article of clothing and piece of gear was just saturated. When the wind started blowing I made the executive decision to head in, dry my clothes, and warm up. Right about 1300 things got done drying and I was content to pack it in but then the rain stopped. Now here was something I could work with. I went with a much lighter load carrying only my knife, my Blackhawk, and my standard damp weather fleece gear and off I went.

One thing I have to give to the whole 'hunt in the rain' thing... it is damned quiet. I decided it was time to stop sitting and start stalking. The place I deer hunt is covered with cedar thickets and scrubby maples with some old growth hardwood mixed in just to keep it fun. The bucks were going to be in the cedars if they were there at all. It took me nearly two hours to work my way up the 500 yards to the line where cedars stop and hardwoods begin. I paused for a knee and 10 minutes of breathing to let some of the knots in my legs ease. (That stalking walk can be rough on the muscles... :-) My hands were steaming through my gloves and my breath was visible in the air. The rain was back and pretty cold and clouds were black to grey and the dark of the cedars was black as night aside from the openings to the grey sky.

I heard him before I saw him. I am pretty sure the same was true for the deer. I swung the 44 up but I was behind and he was fast. I missed. I watched him bound away in complete awe of the size of him. I didn't get a full count of points but he was not more than 20 and probably more like 10 or 12 with a really nice beam as whitetailed deer go. As he ran off I listed for gunfire to let me know I had scored one for the neighbors but heard nothing. He got away clean. Hmmm.... I have on more day to hunt. Uhh... Wooo Hooo!

After that I decided it was time to pack it in for the day. It was nearly 4 and light was starting fade faster than usual in the rainy, cloudy, nasty looking sky. As soon as I hit the porch I called the wife all a-jitter with tales of monster bucks, riches, shaving adds, hunter of the year.... Oh to be me in the rain in November... the joy of it. Then she said, "The youngster was up until 1 AM and still has a fever. If you didn't get your deer today, get it tomorrow morning and come home." Ugh. Now here I am, two hours from home, two days to deer hunt for the whole year, and my one and only baby girl is call-the-doctor sick with Mommy's nerves clearly reaching the end. What's a Dad to do.... Two things came to mind and in this order:

First, it was with no small amount of disappointment mixed with a father's worry that I showered and packed before those who own the house were in for the evening. When they arrived, I advised of the situation, bought everyone dinner, and then drove for home leaving my buck in the trees for some other hunter to bring down. I hope the hunter was worthy and not just a lucky knucklehead out for a rack.

Second, I considered, in my hour and fifty minutes of solitary driving what a piss-poor pile of luck this had been. One week of gun season and I have a sick little one. I am not mad at or aggravated by her being sick. I am just very disappointed in my luck this year. How, I riddled, could I get to do this (deer hunting) more? And then Pandora's Box opened for me. Archery... plain and simple bow and arrow work would solve the problem for me once and for all. I have actively avoided this path in the past given my tendencies towards obsession and the kind of freedom this would allow me. Enough of that restraint nonsense then.... Archery it is. Just add it to my list of projects I guess.

To close this, the bits of follow-up good news go like this:

  1. The kiddo slept like a log after I got home and woke up on day two of deer season feverless and feel loads better. Mommy slept until noon. She owes me... about a bow's worth of stuff I'd say.
  2. About two years ago I bought a bow that has set in its case since the day it arrived... and it doesn't suck. Time to get it out I guess. I am so hopeful that I can be ready by January. It looks like things may be shifting for me. Maybe I can deer hunt in the morning and squirrel in the afternoon... or maybe just deer hunt. Either way, I need more time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

About 20 hours to go ....

I got to spend some time yesterday doing last minute scouting around my chosen spot. It's a tricky thing to see what's going on but not disturb anything or spook any of the local critters. Fortunately some good binoculars and a few turns around the roads on the farm showed me what I needed to know. I will have trouble sleeping tonight.

The only downside tomorrow looks to be the weather. 30 hours of rain will begin about 3 tomorrow morning. Tuesday will be better but Monday is going to be wet. No way around it. As a tough-as-hell old guy asked me once, "Some poeple just want to talk about doing a thing and some people just want to do it. Which kind are you?" I know who I try to be... Monday and Tuesday are what I am going to get this year so I am going to do it and try not to waste away any time whining... Cold wet deer huntingkick the crap out a fourth floor cube any day.

The place I am being allowed to hunt for the second time is a really nice hobby farm turned residence. The folks who own it even open their home to me for a couple of days without question. Thanks goodness for good people. I am blessed yet again. I spent some time talking with them about strategy, etc. after my scouting yesterday. While we talked I lost count at 12 deer crossing the back yard. I seriously contemplated sitting on the porch, out of the rain, and scoring my 150 lbs of deer burger in the dry. My final tought was that it was too much like cheating and laided out for them my plans based on weather and projected wind directions. While all about thining their deer, they were pleased that I would never be closer than 100 yds to the house.

I'll get to packing gear after lunch today. I am hopeful to get moving before dark tonight to get there early enough to join into the other tradition of the deer season... the best of three Euchre match. Good people are pretty easy to find but good people who see things in a way complimentary to your own is a lot harder. I wlll be glad for the visiting. Good luck to all if you're out for the season opening tomorrow. Be safe.

Monday, November 19, 2007

November die Hirsch Jägerfeier

I have a hard time with this part of the year. Work starts to pile up as the business starts to see the end of Q4 out on the horizon, the wife begins the annual frenzy to by Christmas gifts, Holiday travelling begins in earnest in just two days.... and in Ohio, Deer Season begins the Monday after Thanksgiving. Now the issue becomes clear. I am compromising how good I am at everything to go turn Bambi and into chops and summer sausage. There are few better forms of the game than this one. Hunting whitetails in Ohio, in late November, in the rain, at the close-in ranges you can only find in a woods of cedars and second or third growth oak and maple.

Now, to understand my love for this you need to grasp all the levels on which elements come together for me around my hunt. Let's begin with the obvious and work our way back to esoteric and even then only hit the really big ones:
  1. My favorite, favorite handgun in the entire world has a purpose for 48 to 72 hours during this week. The 44 Bisley Blackhawk knows few equals for shootability and power and I intend to put it to good use. Last year I used my second favorite handgun, Thompson Encore in 454 Casull. It actually cartwheeled the deer side over side. I decided it was too much for this task. I still love it but this year will just be me and the Blackhawk...
  2. This is the real hunting game. This is what all the prep and practice work stalking the squirrels is all about. For two or three days you hunt, remain silent and as motionless as possible, strike your target from cover, and don't miss and you get a half a freezer full of some good stuff. The reward thing is just really solid.
  3. I am a navy buff. Specifically I love submarines. See the first part of this post for a description of conditions. Speaking metaphorically, it is very much like the sub game. You can't really see very far so you listen a lot. If you are moving it is way easier for the target to hear you and for you not to hear him. Silence is the only way to be successful and patience to a nearly disturbed, far ebyond rational level is required . You will be waiting a long time most days for one shot that may come and go in 10 to 15 seconds. It is just a great, great sport and my favorite part is becoming the deadly black hole in the trees and waiting for my deer.

To be fair, my least favorite part of it is dressing and cleaning the damned things. It's not vomit gross or anything... there's just that moment where the carcass transitions in the brain from living quarry to parts to be sorted out and handling the first leg the first time is always a bad feeling for me. The fur makes it tough. Especially if a shoulder is broken or something. Just an odd feeling for a bit. I worked in a butcher shop for a number of years in high school and once I get moving it gets more like that with each cut, and I know how to tolerate that...

Anyhow, it is go time. The Blackhawk is sighted. The ammo is punchy. My gear is in order. My spot is picked. All that remains is getting through Thanksgiving and getting up on Monday and not going to work. (OHHHH Yeah... no cubical again. Fu&* Yeah!!)

It was last year that I was able, for the first time, to be in the woods at what I considered a good time before daybreak (2 hours or so) and got myself situated. All years previously I had been driving or just running late or whatever. Last year I got to do it right. My reward was the knowledge that the night sky is not really black but an amazing deep shade of blue. Orion was perched just right in the western sky and I, also for the first time ever, saw enough deer to pass up a few before I put the smack down. I hope this year is half as good. It will be amazing...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Hunting Stuff, More Gun Stuff

So go figure, I was out hunting Monday... again. I have a most excellent life right now. I hope it lasts... It was a great day of really great weather with no special philosophical or physical achievements. Just a solid day of quiet in a breezy woods. I snapped some pics but most were not as good as I would have liked. It may be time to invest in a real camera. Anyhow, here are a couple of shots from the trip...

A nearly leafless squirrel alley this time of year but the good news was the rain. It made the approach in all that ground-fall silent as a submarine. I had two shots in very short order. Of course, I missed them...

While moving down this stream I did locate quite by accident a long ago fractured geode with some of its original crystal structure in tact. Being something of a rocker I was all pumped up and missed at least on more shot looking at rocks... Overlapping hobbies... bad for execution I think.

This is a great little pond hidden away back against the base of the hills and the cedar groves near the above stream. Nice place to pause for lunch especially on a less than hot day with the sun out. Nice and warm.

All in all, just a great day I wish I could say I was getting bored with this but I am not. I love this stuff like my wife and breathing. It just must be a part of me. This is my corner of the world to obsess about it.

The dryness this year has been mostly bad. One side effect though has been the small falls in the streams I hunt are mostly dry. It allows a whole different approach to game when you can move down the bed on dry rock.

These little guys mark the jumping off point for picking a path in. Usually nothing Niagara-like going on there but man... nothing at all several times in a row is probably not good. Let's hope the dryness improves.

So to close, just because I love it, I have to drop this pic of my newest creation. I've just finished the first round of stock finishing prior to bedding and I am really pleased. Have a look. It is my finest work to this point. The pic is not that good but like I said, maybe it is time for a new camera. Black Friday has to be good for something... And yes, I drink too much Coke Zero.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Irrational Love of the Gun Thing and the Yen for Blogging

So, you know how some guys go to tool sales or go to lots to look at cars when the year is ending? You know how that woman you know (wife, best friend, whatever) goes shopping for shoes on sale or how any item, no matter how unrequired, is better and now worth owning at 50 or more percent off? Do ya know? Yeah. I know too. I do this with gun parts and I am bad... Hello, my name is JP. I am a gun junkie. I haven't been rational about these things in 20 or more years... (here you say Hi JP...)

Man it's bad sometimes... Here, to make the point more clear, is a list of stuff I have working right now:
  • So about a month ago I was out trolling the sponsor's sites and discovered that the Whistlepig Gun Barrel Co. had an 18 in, scratch and dent barrel on sale. Holy shizzle! BOUGHT! Then, last week I was out trolling MidwayUSA's site after a request for a review came in my email and wouldn't ya know it... There was a closeout on Fajen unfinished sporter thumbhole stocks for the 10/22 in their grey laminate. Oh no. Another bargain. Well... uh... BUY THAT SUCKER! (It matched the barrel and the black reciever... must have... and oh yeah... I'm not done yet) Now I'm sanding a new stock and buying bedding kits and researching finishes. God knows what I will do with it but I guess converting my last stock 10/22 to something all custom is just the way to finally stop the madness. (Nah, but I will say so anyway)
  • Richard's Microfit Stocks is a company in California that makes gunstocks. They are known for two things: Making great stocks and not delivering them quickly. (8 weeks for standard stuff and much, much longer for the rest...) Chad Ottman Inc is my primary firearms dealer. Chad's a good guy who keeps his eyes open for me when I have a specific request. A while back I was looking for a bolt action 22 WMR. Chad pinged me back to let me know that he had Savage 17 HM2 he could let me have at a great price so I bought it. I, of course, ordered a new stock 5 days later from Richard's. It showed up this week. Oh no... Gun-Building-OCD overdrive.
  • A while back I barrelled a 10/22 action with a Clark Custom Match barrel. Of course no stock I had in house would do so I ordered a different target stock from Richard's for this one. (I ordered this one in May. See what I mean about slooooowwww?) I will need a new trigger and some new optics for this one as well. I mean it is a target rifle after all... Needs to be good. :-)
  • You've all seen my posts about the quest for the ideal config hunting rifle, recorded in previously. (If not, check it out) It's still my favorite implement for the small game bloodsport I engage in from time to time...

Man I just love doing this stuff. In the age of video games and virtual workspaces it is gratifying beyond reason to 'build' things that you take into the field or to the range and experience first hand. Using any tool, device, machine, etc. to which you can ascribe a sense of personalization and personal investment, in my opinion, provides exponential enhancement to the activity being performed. It's why I try to work on my own cars when I am able, why I made my own golf clubs when I was a golfer, why I love to build these rifles, and why (I think) I love to write about this stuff. I enjoy reading the stories and positions of most other hunters / shooters/ etc. It turns out I needed to read about my own too. (and yes, I love me) I seem to have quite a bit of fun... ;-)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Field Report - The Squirrel-Slayer Part Deuce in Action

Every once in a while I gain some satisfaction from knowing my own likes and preferences well enough to translate them into a thing I really enojy. My rebuilt, replacement squirrel rifle (See this post for the why of the rebuild. See this post for build details) is such an answer to the question of just-for-me squirreling implements. It also gives me a bit of pride for making such a solid shooter in my home-grown, self taught gun shop. I'll discuss some details here but it suffices to say that, short of a few minor tweaks to trigger and scope settings, this is a keeper.

I've had it out hunting 4 times now and to the range for sighting and function testing. The results are so pleasing I am reluctant to recount them here for fear of jinxing it... but we'll see how it goes and take my chances.

At the range I used about 200 rounds, all CCI Blazer, to get the scope all tweaked in and doing what I wanted. In addition I then set out on a course of fire for testing involving mixed ranges, rates of fire, and targets. In all cases during the initial workup there were no failures to feed, no misfires, and no failed ejections. It would seem the new extractor and hammer / hammer spring combo were worth the trouble. This makes me pretty happy. I read many things online and in various publications about rifles that function this well and honestly never expected to own one let alone make the parts into one myself. It's just really satisfying. As accuracy goes, I can say that once I got the scope and rifle aligned so that things hit where the scope said I was pointed, it was tough to miss if I did my bit with controlling the trigger. What a shooter it turned out to be. I was able to consistently hold it in the 9/10/x rings on the 50 foot slow fire target without too much trouble. It's defiantly minute o' squirrel.

As a hunter's rifle goes, this one suits me more than any I have ever fired, rimfire or otherwise. While I (like any father would :-) take pride in every inch of this creation I can say that there are some strengths and weaknesses to highlight.

As strengths go (a strength for the purposes of this discussion is what I see as an outstanding quality of the configuration) this rifle is extremely light and is just one heck of an instinctive pointer for shooting in a hurry. The aluminium shrouded barrel is light as a feather. Coupled with the B&C fiberglass stock, the aluminum scope rings and base, and the other lighter weight stock components of the 10/22 action and you get a rifle of about 4 pounds, scope and all. Compared to the factory stock weight of 5+ pound without the scope I'd say we have an improvement in form and function. As instinctive pointing goes, the B&C Premier thumbhole stocks are topnotch for the 10/22. Alignment on the target axis just happens and leaves time to focus on tweaking and adjustment prior to the shot. My only real gripe with the stock was resolved with a small piece of cotton camo tape placed where the web of my thumb typically lands. Fiberglass on a cold day stays cold. That sucks. So I fixed it.

In terms of shortcomings only one thing really stands out and I am not sure it is the rifle's problem. Squirrel hunting with a scope is a bitch-difficult undertaking. I can't lie about. It makes an already challenging shooting expedition a more challenging and perhaps needlessly complex exercise. Now, what I have to say here before it sounds like I am just down on the scope config is that hunting for most all of my life has been an open sighted endeavor. Scopes are for targets and really fine precision shooting. This is how it developed for me. Hunting squirrel and deer and turkey in Southern Ohio Hardwoods and Cedars is pretty much about a close in, shoot fast, hit hard type of marksmanship. (not everyone will agree with this. Again this is more about my approach than anything I think) My handguns for deer season and every squirrel rifle of mine up to this season has been an open sighted implement. The bottom line here I guess is that I am in need of more work with the scope in high speed situations. Then again I may just see about have a front sight notch cut. There's a chance I may be turning into an old dog and not have an interest in new tricks... :-)

All in all, it was worth the encounter with the wife and subsequent skirmishes about the money and purpose and my need for yet another rifle. It seems now, in taking stock of where things sit from a functional inventory perspective, my first answer of a gun per purpose may have been the wrong way to go. Perhaps owning one or two really good ones is better than owning 20 mediocre ones. And all of this from one rifle build and the space between my ears. The surprises just keep on coming I guess....