SHOT Show 2014 – Range Day (a day late)

January 14, 2014

Merkel RX HelixWhat did I learn at the SHOT Show Media Day at the Range this year?

Well, I saw some interesting stuff.  I found out that Cabelas is running out a line of nice guns (shotguns and rifles), including a pretty sweet Turkish side-by-side that has all the things I love best in a SxS… splinter fore-end and double triggers.  I shot some clays with the 20ga version and it just sang to me that wicked siren song.  If I remember correctly, MSRP will be well under $1500, which isn’t too bad at all for a SxS these days.

I learned a little about a potential new, lead-free bullet and shotgun slug material which, if it pans out, could be huge in reducing the cost of lead-free ammunition.  More on this later, as I learn more about the stuff.

But as important as anything else, I learned that I don’t handle the big, hard-kicking guns so well anymore.  I woke up today with a Crowded boothssplitting headache, a painfully stiff neck, and a right shoulder that is only now loosening up.  I guess I should know better, but maybe a little whiplash will make the lesson stick this time.

Overall, the Range Day wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be… but it was pretty much everything that I expected.  ARs dominated the day, along with variations on the personal defense/combat/competition handguns.  Conversations were punctuated by the rattle of full-auto gunfire, which, depending on where you were standing would either add a period or an exclamation point to whatever you might have been saying.

Between the “bullpups”, carbines, and “precision, long-range rifles”, I simply didn’t see a whole lot to get excited about.  I made a pass along the one firing line that had the majority of traditional rifles, and didn’t see a whole lot that made me want to wade into the crowded shooting benches for a closer look.  Maybe I’ll see something on the floor today.

There were a couple of outstanding moments, though.  First was the Merkel RX Helix (pictured at the top).  It’s a straight-pull rifle, similar to the Blaser R-8 in both function and quality.  Pricewise (about $3700), this isn’t something that every hunter can afford, but it will sure make you drool with gunlust.  The fact that you can interchange barrels without the use of a tool, makes it almost seem like a bargain, though, as you can add a couple of additional calibers without buying additional rifles.  I shot the .308 version at the range, and I am really starting to like that straight-pull for quick follow-up shots.  The rifle is balanced nicely, and I didn’t feel much recoil at all while shooting off-hand or from a sandbag.

While most people at the Kimber booth were playing with some new variations on Kimber’s already sweet 1911, I noticed a relatively tiny bolt-action over on the rifle bench.  The Kimber Adirondack is their latest, ultra-light offering.  At a shade over four pounds, this thing feels like a BB gun.  Unfortunately, the sample rifle wasn’t operable due to a mix-up (the shooter was sent to the show floor, and the show demo with the cut off firing pin was sent to the range), so I didn’t get to see what recoil would be like.  The Kimber rep swore it wasn’t bad at all.

Speaking of BB guns…  I stopped by the Crosman booth to see what they might have going on this year.  I guess the biggest news is the new Benjamin Marauder, with synthetic stock.  Compared to my wood-stocked Marauder, the new guns are much lighter and far more ergonomic.  I sent a few .22caliber pellets downrange and was impressed to see that accuracy was just as good as the older version.  I’ve also been getting more interested in a break-barrel air rifle, since the biggest drawback for my Marauder is keeping my air tanks filled (not many SCUBA shops around Camp Wood).  I had a chance to try out the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2, and while I’m no expert on air guns, I was reasonably impressed.  I know there are fancier air guns out there, but I see no reason that this wouldn’t be perfect for whacking squirrels or small varmints and pests.

There was a bit more, but I’ve got work to do and almost 12 and a half miles of displays to visit… and not much time to do it.

So please, stay  tuned…


AR Mania At 2014 SHOT Show?

January 10, 2014

As I’m gearing up for SHOT, I can’t help but be a little concerned.  I sure hope there will be some “traditional” hunting rifles and shotguns to play with on Monday.  If I based my assumptions on the inundation of SHOT Show press releases I’ve received, the only thing in Las Vegas will be ARs… parts for ARs… and ARs.

Look, I’ve got very little against the AR platform (more recently dubbed “Modern Sporting Rifles”), except that I don’t care for them.  Aesthetically, I find them sorely lacking.  I guess I’m getting old, but I think they’re ugly as sin.  Give me the artistry of a nice Sako or Blaser… technology and beauty in one, sweet, functional package.  Or even if I had to go to a synthetic stock (it’s no sin), I still find a bolt gun or lever-action much more to my tastes than some modular, space weapon.

Performance-wise, if you want a quality AR you’re going to spend the equivalent of a higher-end bolt-action (some of the better ones cost as much as a custom rifle).  Sure, there are “less expensive” ARs, but good luck finding one that shoots or handles half as well as a basic Savage 110 or Remington 700.  It’s just not likely to happen.

And forget about the big-bore, “sniper” guns.  They are a kick in the ass to shoot, of course, but only if you’re shooting someone else’s ammo.  And while I won’t rush to judgement on other folks’ happiness, I don’t see much joy in shooting a deer or elk from two zip-codes away.  I’ve got no use for them.

I have yet to see anything from Browning/Winchester, Ruger, or even Remington touting the latest bolt-action or lever-action… much less anything in the form of a double-barrel shotgun.  The handgun manufacturers are representing, but if you look at what they’re offering, it’s almost all semi-autos, designed for fighting off the zombie hordes, serial killers, and third-world militia.

Even the ammunition makers are rolling with the trend.  A big chunk of the Winchester press release is about ammo designed for self-defense firearms with stuff like “Train and Defend”, “Defender”, and Win1911.

Am I slouching toward obscurity… clinging to the past? Did I miss the memo?

Seriously, I recognize that the AR platform, or MSR, is a huge part of the industry right now.  I’ll definitely be interested in learning a little more about some of the new stuff, although I doubt I’ll be relaying a lot of it back to you guys… unless you ask.  The Hog Blog is, after all, about hunting.  Hunting guns are what I’ll look at, regardless of configuration.  But I’m human, and I’ll be paying the most attention to the guns I love best.

That’s just how it is.

The Survivors – Next Season’s Crop?

January 9, 2014

This may be a little over-optimistic, since there were still a couple of weeks of buck season left when these pictures were taken, but it looks like we may have a decent crop of bucks to carry us into the 2014 deer season.  It’s also a given that these pictures didn’t capture every buck still living in the canyon, much less the ones who are hanging out on the other side of the ridge.  But it was fun to go through the camera and see who’s around.

I have a feeling this guy will go down if he crosses my path next season.

I have a feeling this guy will go down if he crosses my path next season.

This is the buck Kat was supposed to shoot.  He's no monster, but he looks pretty solid for this area.  Of course, next season he'll be even better!

This is the buck Kat was supposed to shoot. He’s no monster, but he looks pretty solid for this area. Of course, next season he’ll be even better!

This guy didn't give me any good photos, but I think he's promising.  Hope he made it through the last couple of weeks.

This guy didn’t give me any good photos, but I think he’s promising. Hope he made it through the last couple of weeks.

I know, he won't be mature in September, but he'll be bigger than this.

I know, he won’t be mature in September, but he’ll be bigger than this.

This little guy has a lot of antler growth ahead of him, but his body isn't looking too bad.

This little guy has a lot of antler growth ahead of him, but his body isn’t looking too bad.

This guy looks a lot like the one I shot last year.  Genetics at work...

This guy looks a lot like the one I shot last year. Genetics at work…


Mid-Week Pondering The Thaw

January 8, 2014

Polar vortex.

I just like to say it.

Kudos to the guy who came up with that monicker, by the way.  It’s like something you’d hear from a Saturday afternoon flick on the Sci-Fi Channel.  It conjures images of flash-frozen pedestrians, and skyscrapers coated with crushing ice while the hero struggles heroically to save the hot, scientist-lady who manages in at least one scene, to strip down to a form-fitting sports bra (no nudity on SciFi)… despite temperatures hovering around absolute-zero.

We didn’t get the cold too bad down here at Hillside Manor.  I think the lowest we saw was right at 20 degrees.  It was cold enough to make me turn off the extra water lines at the barn, and I was certainly sweating the one, uninsulated pipe under the manor house, but all was well and the plumbing is still intact.  The horses are not icicles, and Iggy the Ice Monster seemed to enjoy it (except he couldn’t convince me to come out and play with the frozen hunk of deer hide).

It was nice to see that we can still have “winter”, even if it is only in short bursts of polar air.  It arrived a little too late for me to get the definitive hunting experience of shivering in my tree stand, but at least I had the chance to let my cheeks get rosy while I was feeding the horses a little extra grain.  I expect we’ll have another snap or two before the days get much longer and warmer.

I don’t want to get into a whole thing about “global warming” or “climate change,” because I’m really not qualified to address it from a scientific perspective.  But as someone who has spent the better part of a half-century outdoors, I do think I’m qualified to say that something is definitely going on.  Change is at hand.  Winter is not what it was when I was a kid.

Growing up in coastal North Carolina, winter was never really “harsh”.  But freezing temperatures weren’t uncommon overnight, even in late fall, and I recall playing and hunting over icy ditches and frozen puddles.  November deer hunts almost always resulted in stinging, icy toes following the walk in through frosted grass and long, frigid sits in the sandy duff under pin oaks and longleaf pines.  I remember praying for the sun to get up high enough to thaw my feet and hands before they simply broke off.

That hardly seems to be the norm lately, as my last several winter trips back to NC were more suited to long t-shirts or maybe an occasional pull-over.  You might see a day or so of cold snap, but then things turn mild again right away.

Of course, I’m not keeping the records or tracking the trends, so maybe some of this is just the flaws in my memory.  But I don’t think so.  Things are changing… for good or ill, I can’t say, but they’re changing.


Business Or Censorship? The Curious Cases Of Dick Metcalf And Phil Robertson

January 6, 2014

Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that there are rewards for laboring in relative obscurity, as I do here at the Hog Blog.  Since I am the entire editorial staff and management, there’s very little debate over what I choose to publish, and the impacts of making an unpopular choice are pretty nominal.  I’m not at all concerned about advertisers, and while I certainly would like to maintain a productive relationship with manufacturers and their marketing/PR teams, I am not exactly beholden to their wishes.  If I like a product you’ll hear about it.  If I don’t, you’ll hear about that too.  (I haven’t reviewed any “bad” products in a while, but that’s because I usually reject products about which I have serious doubts.)

But such is, obviously, not the case with the major outdoors media outlets.  If you don’t make the advertisers happy, you lose your advertisers.  Without advertisers, no matter how awesome your content may be, you don’t get to publish.  Quality writers and editors cost money.  Publication costs money.  And, unfortunately, subscriptions don’t usually cover those costs.  Advertisers make up the difference and provide the profit margins to make the owners/shareholders happy.  It’s a simple formula, regardless of the genre of your media outlet… from guns and ammo to quilting.

This all gets a little trickier when your advertisers’ products also constitute a significant portion of your content.  You can’t have much of a quilting magazine if you don’t occasionally cover sewing machines.  So if an article editorially eviscerates the latest Singer machine, you can bet Singer isn’t going to be all that excited about picking up that full-page ad in next month’s edition.  Editors (and writers) have to be very careful about how they balance honest reporting and the need to keep those dollars coming in.

Still, none of this should be news.  Even if you never really considered it, it doesn’t require a stratospheric IQ to recognize the reality that commercial media production is a business, and it’s driven by profit and loss.  Ideology isn’t unimportant, but it’s always tempered by economic reality.

So I’m coming the long way around to the point, I guess.

The name Dick Metcalf probably doesn’t mean much to most folks, particularly those who aren’t members of the NRA or readers of Guns and Ammo magazine.  But I’m betting that plenty more folks would recognize the name, Phil Robertson.

Robertson made some pretty ill-considered remarks during an interview, and those resulted in an outraged uproar from some pretty powerful activist voices.  There were threats of boycotts, which put pressure on advertisers to pull their ads from Robertson’s popular TV show.  As a result, the A&E Network that hosts Robertson’s show “suspended” him.  This caused a counter-uproar from the viewers who also threatened boycotts, and the network re-capitulated by ending the suspension.  Someone at A&E did the math, and the numbers came out in Robertson’s favor.

But where Robertson’s actions upset a group of people who probably don’t watch his program in the first place, Dick Metcalf did something even worse… he pissed off his own audience.

Metcalf is a long-time gun writer who, until recently, ran a regular column on the back page of the Guns and Ammo magazine.  He also co-hosted the Guns and Ammo tv program on the Sportsman Channel.  In October, Metcalf’s column included some commentary that suggested that constitutional rights like those guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment aren’t absolute, and that they should be regulated to some extent.  To the “no-compromise” gun rights crowd, his comments were nothing short of traitorous.  The uproar was immediate, and Metcalf was rapidly processed out of the magazine and shown the door to obscurity.

Dick Metcalf isn’t the first gun writer to make himself a pariah through a few ill-chosen words.  Jim Zumbo was an extremely popular outdoors writer, and a standard at Outdoor Life magazine… until he decided to blog about his personal opinion in regards to the use of “assault rifles” for hunting.  Zumbo saw no use for these guns in the field, and ignited a firestorm which resulted in his subsequent dismissal from Outdoor Life, as well as his removal from some hunting TV programs.  Many folks thought Zumbo was altogether finished, until he showed right back up on the scene, apparently making amends for his comments by hunting with ARs and making some positive comments about them.  After showing proper humility and contrition, his byline began to appear again in print, and his character once again appeared on outdoor television.  Will Metcalf follow the same arc?  I don’t know… but I wouldn’t be surprised.

In light of these events, there’s been a lot of misguided discussion about the First Amendment and how the censure of these celebrities is some sort of violation of their rights.  It’s not, and I find it a little sad that anyone would need to have that explained.

In regards to freedom of speech, the First Amendment tells us that:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In the cases of Robertson, Metcalf, and Zumbo, the Government had nothing to do with anything.  None of these guys was cited, locked up, or even threatened with legal action because none of them broke any laws.  In fact, the whole thing was a pretty clear demonstration of unabridged free speech, because the celebrities spoke their minds and the opposition spoke theirs as well.  Right or wrong, good or ill, everyone had their say.

But freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from repercussions.  We’re all responsible for the things we say, up to and including the reactions of the people who hear us. A Ford salesman is welcome to stand on the lot and expound on the virtues of the Dodge Ram over the Ford F150, but he shouldn’t be surprised when the Sales Manager shows him to the egress.  In the same way, if a writer or TV personality says something that threatens the business interests of their employers, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they are summarily unemployed.  It’s just business.





2013 – A Look Back At A Chaotic Year

January 4, 2014

The Trophy WallIf I really wanted to do a retrospective of 2013, I’d have a hard time putting the pieces in place.  July mingles with January in the jumbled and chaotic haze that has been the past year.

From a hunting perspective, as my second whitetail season winds down here at the “Hillside Manor Ranch”, I find that it’s creating a different set of memories and experiences.  I can, and sometimes do, find myself hunting right off the back porch.  A long hike is out to the corner of the pasture where my treestand overlooks the “murder hole”.

There’s no question of “if” I’ll get a deer, but more about how many I think we can eat in the eight months before the next season opens.  Even this weekend, as the buck season winds down (does and spikes are open until the 18th), the biggest question in my mind is not whether I’ll get one, but whether or not I should go shoot another deer.  We have three in the freezer now, including my two does and Kat’s six-pointer.  Do I really want to add one more?  Because I know, if I want to kill one, all I have to do is go out there with the bow or rifle (admittedly less of a sure thing with the bow)…

Of course this confidence doesn’t necessarily take away from my love of the hunt, nor does it lessen the satisfaction of providing a year’s worth of red meat.  But there are many times when I really miss humping the hills and canyons for the elusive blacktail or hog.  I reminisce about the satisfying exhaustion you can only get after thigh-burning climbs, or from packing a big boar out of the deepest hell hole.  You don’t get that here, because I guess that’s the trade-off for easy hunting.  Hard hunting is its own reward, even if you end up with unfilled tags.

So I didn’t do any of that sort of hunting in 2013, and that was reflected in the content of the Hog Blog.  While I spent a fair amount of time hunting, most of that time simply didn’t justify a write-up.  It would have become pretty banal after a time or two.  How many times can you read about my morning or evening in the stand, watching the beauty of the day coming or going?  Deer came and deer went, and sometimes I passed a shot, sometimes I had no shot, and occasionally I got busted before I could decide.

Of course, I had some great times, like when John came out to visit and hunt axis with me and when Kat shot her first whitetail buck.  But those times all sort of blur in the craziness of work at my “day job”, the back injury that laid me up most of the winter (and the ongoing visits to the specialist in San Antonio), and the never-ending list of projects and chores to be done on a small ranch property.  I’ve also been busy settling into my new Texas digs… a process that is still ongoing.  It’s just chaos.

So I’ve been on vacation since December 11.  We went to Ireland for a week or so, and spent some time with my family in NC.  It all wrapped up with a week here at the manor.  While the time off has had its own sort of chaos, it’s also given me some much-needed time to try to get my head back together.  2013 was, in many ways, a rough year.  Rewarding, sure, but rough.

I expect 2014 will have a whole new set of challenges, planned and unplanned, but it’s also going to have some changes.  I will make the time and effort to get away from the homestead and do some “hard” hunting, even if that means going out of state.  I’ve been invited, for the third year in a row, to hunt turkeys with my friend Ron Gayer in New Mexico.  I have also made a commitment to myself to get back up to Dark Timber Outfitters in Colorado for elk this season.  It’s been a long time since I last hunted elk, and I have declared that 2014 will break that long, dry spell.  I’m even bouncing around the thought of trying to make it back to California for a hog hunt.

Something else that was missing in 2013 was my annual trip to the SHOT Show.  It was the first show I’d missed in 10 years, and I felt personally let down, not to mention the feeling that I’d let the Hog Blog readers down as well.  The impact of missing the show included a loss of contact with some gear manufacturers, which resulted in a dearth of gear review opportunities over most of the year.  I’m already booked to attend this year, albeit briefly, and I’m looking forward to it as always.  It’s kind of like a second Christmas!

Other than all that, I don’t really have big resolutions for 2014.  I would say I’ll try to update the blog more regularly, but honestly, that will depend on what I have to say.  More hunting and new experiences always translate into stories and commentary, and now that I’ll be back at work after my long vacation, I’ll be spending more time at the computer.  As usual, I’ll be keeping abreast of the lead ammo issue, and I’ll try to help separate the politics and misinformation from the facts as things develop.  And SHOT should provide me with a fresh source of gear to review along the way.

So, even though it’s four days late, I bid adieu to the chaos of 2013, and lock in a heading to make my way through 2014.  Happy New Year!



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