SHOT Show Isn’t All Shooting And Killing Stuff

January 31, 2012

You can hardly turn on one of the hunting channels these days without someone taking disabled kids, wounded vets, or some other special case into the field.  It’s a great thing, and an excellent use of the resources the hunting shows and their sponsors have available.

The SHOT Show reflects that philanthropic aspect of the industry as well as all of the shooting and hunting.  Several organizations that support the military were represented, as were the more traditional organizations such as 4-H and Kids and Clays.  If I tried to write about all of them, I’d be at it for days.  However, I attended press conferences for a couple that serve as good examples of what’s going on.

First of all, Bushnell Sport Optics threw a breakfast for the media.  After a run-down of their new products, they came back to the Folds of Honor program.

Folds of Honor was created by USAF Major Dan Rooney after his second tour in Iraq.  The mission of the organization is described on the Folds of Honor website as follows:

The Folds of Honor Foundation is rallying a nation to ensure no family is left behind in the fight to preserve American freedom. Through scholarships and other assistance, we give back to the spouses and children of soldiers killed or disabled in service to our country. We provide healing, hope and an opportunity for dreams to be realized…with the support of people like you. We feel this is our duty as citizens of the greatest country in the world.

This is Bushnell’s second year as a partner in the program.  Among other things the optics giant is doing, they’re offering a rebate on certain rangefinders.  The customer can then opt to donate part or all of the rebate to the Folds of Honor Foundation.  At this year’s presentation, Bushnell presented a check for $200,000 as a result of the generosity of the corporation and its customers.

Another cool aspect of the presentation this year was the appearance of Craig Morgan.  Morgan is a country musician as well as an outdoor television host (All Access Outdoors on The Sportsman Channel).  He performed a pair of songs he’d just written, and made an announcement about some work he might be doing soon to support the Folds of Honor Foundation.  I’ll let ya’ll know as soon as the news is official.

Later in the week, as I was sitting in the press room, a couple of NSSF people came through the room announcing a press conference.  I looked up and saw outdoor media luminaries like Jim Shockey and Jim Zumbo heading into the conference room, so I figured this might be worth checking out.

And it was…

The conference was to announce the kickoff of the Outdoor Legends Tour, a goodwill tour of outdoors “personalities” who would be heading over to “somewhere in the southeast asia area” to visit the troops.  Included in the group were Shockey, Zumbo, Michael Waddell, Brenda Valentine, Cuz Strickland, and many others.

From what I understood (where the heck did I leave my notes?), the tour would be similar to USO tours, only the celebrities would mingle directly with the troops, shaking hands, distributing swag, and generally doing what they could to provide a positive impact on morale.

As I mentioned, these are only a couple of the numerous programs and organizations driven by American outdoorsmen and the industry.  There’s an opportunity for all of us to take the hunt to a different level, share our heritage, and help out some folks who could really use a little extra good in their lives.

Something About A Labrador

January 30, 2012

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about labs.  I’ve owned, trained, and shown a handful of different dogs, and I’ve loved them all.  But labs hold a special place for me.  Maybe it’s because they’re the only dog I’ve owned that hunts with me.

No dog ever lives as long as we wish it would, but I’ve had particularly bad luck with my last two.  Both of them died young, one mysteriously (Lucky) and one from lymphatic cancer (Cyrus).  Of course, it wasn’t much easier with my previous dogs who lived long, full lives.  You just get so attached…

Anyway, after almost a year of waiting, hoping, and planning, I got a call a couple weeks ago from the breeder who sold us Cyrus.  I’d been hoping to get another pup from her, but it was starting to look like it just wasn’t going to happen.  Then she called with the news I’d been waiting for!  The pups were here, and I was welcome to come take my pick of the males.

So here he is!   Igneous Rock (Iggy), seven weeks old, is the newest addition to the household.  By next fall, he should be ready to chase birds… although right now I’m not sure if it’ll be CA waterfowl and pheasants, or TX quail and waterfowl.

Doesn’t matter.

The main thing is, we’ve got a new pup!

Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead-Free Ammunition Trends From SHOT 2012

January 27, 2012

To be honest, I really didn’t have high hopes of learning anything new about lead ammunition at this year’s SHOT Show.  Of course I knew the manufacturers like Barnes, Hornady, and Nosler would be adding new calibers to their menus.  That’s an ongoing effort, and probably much needed as more and more voices are being raised against lead ammo around the country.

Why is it much needed?

Unless the hunters and recreational shooters around this country get up and start fighting this thing, California-style ammo bans are going to start popping up all over the U.S.  That’s not just pessimism on my part, folks, the machinery is already in motion.  Anti-lead propaganda is running rampant in editorials everywhere and the uneducated are eating it up while almost no reasonable voices are challenging the lies and misinformation.  This is how policy happens.

So, with that in mind, maybe it’s a good thing that a “trend” I thought I saw coming last year is really starting to develop.  I guess it started with Remington a little earlier.  Their initial lead-free ammunition featured the Lapua Naturalis bullet.  They phased that out and moved to a proprietary copper bullet, the Remington Copper Solid (they did something similar when they moved away from Hevi-Shot to their own heavier-than-lead shot pellets).  By switching to their own bullet, they reduced the dependency on a third party, and also reduced the cost to produce.

At the 2011 SHOT Show, I learned that Winchester was releasing their own lead-free bullet in the Power-Core 95/5 (and also in the newer RazorBack XT).  They didn’t phase out the successful Nosler ETip, but if the Power-Core takes off, I can see where their dependency on Nosler will decrease… especially with the price difference between the ETips and the Power-Cores.  Right now, I expect they’ll keep both lines, with the ETips in the “Supreme” (black box) line, while the Power-Core will fall into their standard (silver box) line.

This year I learned that Federal-Premium is now rolling out their proprietary lead-free bullet, the Trophy Copper, which will be loaded in their Vital-Shok line.  I haven’t had a chance to use this one yet, but I’ve got a request in for a few boxes to sample.  From what I hear, though, the engineers at Federal have taken the criticism of other lead-free bullets into consideration and made a concerted effort to develop and deliver a bullet that expands well at a wide range of velocities, and also provides a better ballistic coefficient to enhance longer range performance.

Meanwhile, Barnes is expanding their line of factory-loaded cartridges in the Vor-TX line.  I’ll try some more of these out on game soon, but on paper, I found that the Vor-TX does shoot well out of my Savage.  The point of impact is somewhat different from the 180gr ETips I’ve been shooting, but the groups are pretty tight.  Maybe I’ll get the chance to try these out on a Hill Country hog later this year.

Hornady, of course, has been loading their GMX bullet in the Superformance line.  Those of you who’ve been following the Pig Man tv program have probably heard him rave about the performance of this bullet.  I’ve shot some of my own handloads on paper, and the bullet does perform well at the range.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get a chance to put these into the field.  I hope to change that later this spring.

Bottom line, I think it’s fair to start hoping for some more affordable, lead-free ammunition over the coming year.  That may turn out to be a very good and timely thing!


Detailed Write-up On The Benjamin Marauder

January 26, 2012

Some of you may be sick to death of my posts about the Benjamin Marauder, and to you I apologize.  I really hadn’t intended to write about it again so soon, but then I read this great article on  The write-up covers a level of detail that I simply didn’t (and won’t) get to, and it is really good stuff for the more technically minded.  It’s also some good stuff for anyone thinking about hunting with one of these rifles, as he gets into kinetic energy at various ranges. 

If you don’t want to actually read the article, here’s how he sums it all up.  It’s not too different from my own summation, except he gets here with a much more detailed examination.

The Benjamin Marauder is interesting. It isn’t a firearm and it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to one. Compared to other air rifles I have worked with, the Marauder is well made, nicely finished and a good performer. As marketed by Crosman, the gun is lethal on lawn and garden pests, small game and some smaller predators. As is the case with other quality PCP guns, owning and shooting one is an investment, into the rifle and in the support systems required to make it a daily shooter. For situation where neighbors are relatively close in, noise is a problem, as are bullets that carry a long distances, the .25 Caliber Marauder may be one of the best solutions.

Guided Hog Hunts In CA With The Williams Family

January 25, 2012

One of the most common questions I think I get on this blog is, “can you recommend a good place to go hog hunting in California?”

I can.

Actually, I can recommend a bunch of good places.  Unfortunately for some folks, these good places aren’t open to the public.  You either have to know someone really well, or you have to pay.  That’s just the way it is these days.  There are some public lands you can hunt on, and some even have relatively good opportunities… the key word is “relative.”  But if you want good odds of success in this state, you’re going to have to go on private ground, and this usually means going with a guide.

My friend Colby Williams and his dad, Mark, have been guiding in the Central Coast area for several years. In fact, Mark is pretty well known in the area and has been guiding for hogs since they first became a viable game animal.  I’ve recommended them to hunters for quite some time, but every time, I had to dig around on the web to find a phone number.

Well, that’s no longer an issue.  I just got a note from Colby, letting me know that Hog Wild now has a website:  Take a look, and if you’re after a good guided hunt opportunity, you’ll find all the information you need.


Favorite Hog Rifles From The 2012 SHOT Show

January 24, 2012

Every year at the SHOT Show I try to come up with a list of my favorite things.  This year is no different, so I thought I’d give some thought to which of the new rifles I’d like to carry on a hog hunt.

The options are fairly wide, but since I didn’t really spend any time with the ARs or military stuff, that’s sort of out.  I do have to admit to a certain satisfaction at the .416 Barrett.  Any rifle that allows me to shoot stationary clay pigeons from almost 1000 yards away… well, that’s just fun.  But it’s kind of loud, and anyway, I’m not really interested in shooting game from that sort of range.

And then, there was the RAC AR-12, shotgun.  This is a semi-automatic shotgun modeled on the AR-15 (hence the name).  I played with one a bit at the skeet range, and while I couldn’t get the hang of it enough to hit a clay, it was sort of fun just to shoot.  I wonder how it would handle slugs?  I didn’t ask, but maybe I should have.

Regardless, I doubt I’d have a lot of interest in hunting with this gun, but it would definitely be a conversation-starter!  I can only imagine the looks you’d get unpacking this thing at the duck club!

Really, I’m more of a traditional rifle sort of guy, and I do like my lever actions.  My old Winchester 94 was a trusty tool in the whitetail woods, and my Browning lever action in .243 has also been a real deer slayer.  However, Mossberg has really pushed the envelope a little too hard with this year’s entry… the 464SPX.

So what did I like?

Well, I’ve already written about the rifle that really caught my attention…  the Savage Hog Hunter.

While I’d prefer a different caliber selection, this setup really worked for me.  I’ve always been a fan of Savage rifles, both for reliability and accuracy.  The accu-trigger isn’t a new thing anymore, but I still think it makes a really good rifle great (although it took some getting used to).  Topped with the Leupold HOG scope, the rifle is quick on target and should be the ticket for rapid follow-up or on hogs breaking cover at close range.

As with most of the other offerings from Savage, the Hog Hunter is priced right too, at around $500 without the scope.  The scope retails for a shade less than the rifle… not cheap, but I still believe you pay for quality in optics.

Another rifle I thought would be great for hog hunting is Winchester’s reborn Model 71, chambered in .348win.  I stumbled onto this rifle during the range day, and couldn’t stop myself from putting a few rounds downrange.  It’s a sweet feeling rifle, and the .348 doesn’t kick as bad as you might expect.

I don’t know a ton about the .348, but from my reading it’s a very capable round to 200 yards.  With the iron sights on this rifle, I think you could have a blast on hogs, and kill them cleanly too.  The only downside I can see is that the MSRP on this thing is a bit over $1400.  That’s a lot of money for a levergun, but if you’re into the classics, it may be worth it.

I had to reach a bit to come up with my last selection.  It was close, between the new Thompson-Center Dimension and Ruger’s new American rifle.

The Dimension is a pretty cool piece of work.  I think the guys at TC (and Smith and Wesson) covered the bases well when they designed this gun… right down to the preset torque driver for assembling the barrels and actions.  With an MSRP of around $600, and additional barrels for about $200, it’s not an unaffordable addition to the gun safe.  Accuracy is supposed to be pretty impressive too, although I haven’t shot one for accuracy.  But I just couldn’t fall in love with this thing.

Ruger, on the other hand, has released a new line of affordable rifles in their American line.  These are lightweight, but sturdy rifles, priced in the mid-$400 range.  They are intially available in four common calibers, .243, .270, .308, and 30-06.

I didn’t get the chance to shoot the American on the range, but I handled the heck out of a couple on the show floor later in the week.  These are not beautiful rifles by any stretch of the imagination, and they don’t have a lot of “wow” factor, but they appear to be designed for functionality.

I’ve shot the M77 in a lot of variations, and it’s a solid rifle that can take a beating.  If the American is of any comparison, it’s going to be a hot ticket item… especially for budget-conscious hunters.

There are a lot of other great rifles out there, but I had to select a small handful to make this manageable.  What did stand out about this particular group was the price (excepting, of course, the M71).  Gun makers haven’t forgotten about the budget-conscious hunters out there, and with the general quality of modern rifles these days, you simply don’t have to spend a fortune for a really high-quality gun.  I think that’s a very good thing.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Is The Lead Ban Saving The Condors?

January 23, 2012

In a report a few years ago, the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) wrote a fairly extensive report on the state of the California condor.  In it, as many other reports have stated, the writers concluded that unless lead ammunition is completely removed from the environment, the condor program will never be a success.  But what they also said is that even if lead is abolished, the success of the condor reintroduction is a tenuous proposition.  There are simply too many factors aligned against this big bird. (You can read the whole thing here.)

A new report (that sounds an awful lot like the old reports) was recently released by the San Diego Zoo, and suggests that humans are still the biggest threat to the survival of the condor.

Scientific paper shows California condor still threatened by human activities  

A recently released scientific paper authored by San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research scientists shows the leading causes of death of the endangered California condor in the wild are human influenced, with lead poisoning being the primary factor in juvenile and adult birds.

The study documents the deaths of wild California condors at all release sites—California, Arizona and Baja, California, Mexico—from the inception of the reintroduction program in October 1992 through December 2009. The study found that 70 percent (53 out of 76) of condor moralities can be attributed to human influences.   For nestlings (birds younger than 6 months of age), 73 percent of known mortalities can be attributed to the consumption of microtrash, such as bottle caps and small pieces of broken glass, plastic and metal. Lead toxicosis, from the ingestion of spent ammunition, was the most important factor in juvenile condor mortality (birds between the age of 6 months and 5 years) and was the only significant cause of death in adults (birds 6 years old and older). Eight of 23 birds that died of lead poisoning still had metal or lead fragments in their gastrointestinal tract. Condor 422 was in the wild for six months and was exposed to lead four times prior to its death.

“The most important mortality factor for the combined free-ranging populations was lead toxicosis,” states the report. “The evidence that the principal source of exposure is lead ammunition is overwhelming and includes the recovery of lead shotgun pellets and bullet fragments from the upper GI tract where lead is readily absorbed and tissue lead isotope signatures that match lead ammunition and not other sources of lead.”   In addition, the paper cites exposures to lead that coincide with deer hunting season, the condor’s foraging activity in popular hunting areas, high numbers of lead-bullet fragments in hunter-killed carcasses and lack of other lead sources in condor habitat.   “Although lead toxicosis from spent ammunition still threatens the survival of the California condor, one of our most iconic species, the good news is that solutions are available in the form of nontoxic ammunition,” said Bruce Rideout, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research director of wildlife disease laboratories. “We can make this a win-win situation if we choose to.”   Additional human-influenced deaths included 11 power-line collisions or electrocution. However, no fatal collisions or electrocutions have occurred since 2007, when power-pole aversion training was introduced for condors being prepared for release into the wild. During the study period, four birds died by gunshot and one by arrow. Two birds ingested zinc-core pennies, which led to zinc poisoning.

Parent feeding of microtrash to nestlings was the most important cause of death in this age class. Biologists have been clearing nest caves of trash prior to hatching and periodically throughout the nestling stage to reduce this problem. It has helped, but the cause of this behavior by adult birds remains open to speculation. One belief is the parents are feeding what they believe to be bone or mollusk-shell fragments—but is actually trash—as a calcium source for the chicks. Others suggest it is a substitute for small stones and sticks that aid digestion. Polished bone fragments are now being provided as a calcium source for adults to feed to nestlings.



From The WTF Files – Tejon Suspending Hunting Activities?

January 21, 2012

Color me shocked, dismayed, and a little bit disappointed. I just saw the news this morning that the Tejon Ranch will be suspending all hunting activitivies for the immediate future. They’ve even gone so far as to cancel memberships and return member fees.

According to the article I just read from, the ranch is doing this in order to review their hunting practices and wildlife management approach.

Tejon Ranch Company will work closely with the DFG in examining every aspect of the Ranch’s hunting program. The Ranch’s goal will be to institute best hunting management standards and practices, including a full examination of whether allowing unsupervised access to the Company’s 422 square miles of Ranch property may have contributed to this unfortunate series of events.

“While it’s in the long term best interests of conservation for hunting to continue on the Ranch,” said Stine, “we believe a short-term suspension of our normal operations are necessary to determine the best way to operate the hunting program to ensure that these actions never again occur on Tejon Ranch, even if that means severely restricting hunting access to the Ranch.”

Of course, this is little more than a euphemistic way of saying that they’ve caught so much heat over last May’s allegations of illegal mountain lion hunting that they’re scrambling to appease a handful of detractors.  It’s become fairly typical of Tejon Ranch to overreact this way, whether it’s banning lead ammunition or giving away control over a huge part of the property for “conservation”.

It’s no secret that, at the heart of all of this are the Ranch’s efforts to develop a large sector of the property for housing, golf courses, and a resort.  They’ve bent over backwards with efforts to get the environmental organizations to stop fighting their development plans.  And the problem with this is that they don’t seem to realize that, the more they give, the more these organizations will take.  This is not compromise.  Tejon is never going to make it “OK” to develop pristine wild lands.  All they’re succeeding at doing is drawing the noose tighter around their own necks, and in so doing, they’re stringing up their customers as well.

A key goal of the “investigation” is to determine if unsupervised access to the ranch by hunters and members presents an unacceptable risk of poaching and other illegal activity.  I’m not sure what this means in the long run, but for now I’m hearing a lot of disgust and anger from members and hunters, and I can’t blame them.  Even though the alleged mountain lion poaching was supposedly carried out by employees and friends of the Ranch staff, the finger appears to be pointing at the hunters and members who pay to hunt there… folks like myself, and the hundreds of people like me who’ve enjoyed hunting on that beautiful place.

Seriously, anytime the ranch gets heat for anything, whether it’s lead ammo, illicit mountain lion hunts, or some idiot killing a condor, the rest of us bear the burden of increased regulation and restrictions.   I believe a company should stand up for its customers, rather than allowing them to bear the blame for this sort of foolishness.

I love hunting the Tejon Ranch, and even though I’m leaving California, I’d looked forward to coming back to hunt there with my friends on a regular basis (I still have a lifetime license in this state).  But in light of this action and the apparent reflection on all of us who’ve hunted there over the years, I’m beginning to think I’m done with the place.  Just maybe, when the ranch decides to implement whatever new program it has in mind, folks should tell them, “no, thank you.”

What’s The SHOT Show All About? A Video Revue…

January 19, 2012

Here are a few perspectives of the SHOT Show from YouTube.  I’ve got some of my own stuff coming, but thought you might enjoy seeing what some other folks are looking at.

First, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, a promo from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Then there’s this piece from Media Day at the Range. And yes, the tactical guns were the stars of the show again this year. Check out the Gatling gun, by the way… 5000 rounds went through this thing on Monday!

And now for something completely different… but oddly cool…


A Brief Moment of Protest And Politics

January 18, 2012

We interrupt this SHOT Show coverage for a brief message about censorship and the bills pending here in the US that will weaken the freedoms that we, as bloggers, forum members, and social networkers have really taken for granted.

There are, as I understand it (and I’m, sadly, not as up on this as I probably should be), two key bills up for consideration in Congress.  These are SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).  On the surface, both seem not only benign, but valuable tools to fight online piracy of music and video.  But on a deeper look (which I have taken), the bills present significant risks to the many small voices on the Web.

In essence, both of these bills would be aimed at stopping the major search engines and social networking sites from providing links to sites that have been accused of piracy.  There’s a key word there…. “accused”.  The wording of the bills, particularly PIPA, is vague, and leaves a lot of room for abuse.  This potential for abuse is significant, because the drivers behind the bill are big media companies, such as the music and movie industry, as well as big movers in the world of gaming.  If allowed to carry that level of sway, all they have to do is accuse a website or network of violations and that website will be shutdown.  No proof of guilt is required.  The burden of proof is on the accused, rather than the accuser… a direct conflict with our traditional model of justice.

As you might imagine, this legislation opens the doors to the shut down and harassment of small sites and networks.  It’s a stifling force on the freedom of speech and expression that drive the Internet.

Anyway, I invite any of you to read up on the issue.  This morning, President Obama effectively shelved the SOPA legislation, but the PIPA bill is still under consideration.  Educate yourselves, and then speak out!  Send emails and phone calls to congress to tell them you oppose this censorship.  And then, hope for the best.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled SHOT Show posts.


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