January 12, 2015
A new year always brings new regulations to fish and game departments around the country. North Carolina, for example, is holding public meetings now to discuss new captive cervid laws, intended to provide safeguards against disease, such as CWD. Louisiana is looking at changes, such as adjustments to hunting regulations to allow handguns during primitive weapons seasons, while Georgia hunters are asked to provide comment on proposals that include switching over to a single, statewide deer season.
While most states are working on regulations to manage the wildlife they already have, Montana is making plans to keep some wildlife out of the state altogether. On tap in the Big Sky state is a proposal to ban the possession, import, or hunting of wild hogs.
Under Senate Bill 100, the Board of Livestock would have the authority to ban the possession and hunting of wild hogs and could establish penalties for those not abiding by the rules. The board could also control and eradicate the animals.
So far, Montana is one of 11 states that have not reported a population of wild (or feral) hogs, and both wildlife officials and the livestock industry want to keep it that way. A primary concern is disease, such as brucellosis or pseudorabies, which could infect domestic stock with catastrophic effects.
And why do Montanans think such a law is justified? Well, we continue to see Adam Henry award candidates, like Wesley Dean Kirton, of Oklahoma, who think it’s a great idea to import and release feral hogs to provide a hunting opportunity, as well as to “train” his hog dogs. According to officials, some of the hogs he released onto his 40 acre farm tested positive for pseudorabies. This is no small thing, seeing as how the area of Oklahoma where this took place is also the home of most of the domestic swine farms in the state.
“It will have an impact on the industry itself and cause our prices internationally to go down nationwide and also prevent exports and just the price to go up,” Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture Dr. Justin Roach said.
It’s no secret that the biggest reason feral hogs have spread so widely and so rapidly across the US is transport and release, both legal and illegal, by hunting interests (in some cases, the states themselves actively relocated and encouraged populations of wild hogs). While I can see that, early on, some folks didn’t realize that releasing hogs into the native habitat was problematic, those days are passed. The publicity around the “pig bomb” has been widespread, and claims of ignorance no longer garner sympathetic acceptance. It’s not an “innocent mistake” to turn an invasive, non-native species loose into the environment.
I know it’s a bit of a pipedream, but I long for the day when new regulations are based solely on wildlife management issues, and not in response to hunters behaving badly.
December 29, 2014
I usually try to find some time to get into the field when I’m back home (in NC) for the holidays. My brother, Scott, is always good for finding a way to set up some sort of opportunities, whether it’s chasing whitetails at his place, or getting out along the Cape Fear river for ducks… and that’s what we did on Saturday morning.
It wasn’t exactly an “epic” hunt, but as I don’t get many opportunities to hunt waterfowl these days, it was an excellent morning. It was cold, but not too cold. A low fog kept things interesting, and kept us hidden. Wood ducks aren’t generally bad for flying around in the stratosphere, but they seemed pretty happy to buzz us at tree top level… offering reasonable shots with low levels of frustration.
But the best thing was that Iggy finally got the chance to do what he’s bred for… retrieve waterfowl. He’s fetched doves for me (which he hates). He’s retrieved squirrels. And, as I’ve written many times, he’s a pretty darned good blood-trailer. But we have never had the chance to work with ducks. I wasn’t sure how he’d perform, to be honest. But the first bird came in, crossing left to right, and I made a clean, one-shot kill. The drake woodie splashed right across from the boat, about 20 yards away and in plain sight. Iggy marked it, leaning forward eagerly. I checked, to make sure my brother’s dog, Macy, wasn’t going for the retrieve, and when I saw she was steady, I sent him.
It was like he’d been doing it his whole life. There was no hesitation… no second thoughts. He swam straight to the mark, picked up the bird gently, and brought it back to hand like a champion.
A little later, we had a trickier opportunity. The bird evaded Scott’s first shots, and then my first barrel. My second barrel is full choke, and it throws a really tight pattern. I hate to shoot decoying birds with it… but it’s the ticket for that longer shot. The load of #3, Black Cloud pellets caught up with the bird and practically upended him. He was going down hard, but he managed to round a slight bend in the creek before he splashed.
Iggy broke without a command, a bad move, but I didn’t want to correct him and risk him losing his mark. He took off swimming against the falling tide, and soon disappeared from sight. We could hear him swimming, and then there were some splashes. He was gone a while, and Scott suggested that we push off the boat and go get him. I was about to agree, when I noticed that the sounds were starting to get closer again. I saw his wake first, and then his head as he swam proudly back to the boat with another drake woodie in his mouth.
So yeah, I know I can’t take much credit for the genetics and instinctual behavior of my dog. But I was pretty proud anyway.
To top it off, a little while later, Scott knocked down another wood duck, just across from the boat. Iggy held steady this time, and honored as Macy bailed out and made the retrieve.
September 17, 2014
It’s been seven years since I last chased elk in Colorado, and every one of those years has brought an intense longing (aka, jonesing) to get back into the high country and do it again. And, finally, I was able to make it happen.
Tomorrow morning, I’m hitting the road for Montrose, CO. There, I’ll meet up with my friend, Dave and our other friend, Dave, and we’ll all meet up with my friend and favorite CO outfitter, Rick Webb of Dark Timber Lodge. We’ll follow him along the backroads and climb up to his cabin in the higher country, along the edges of the Uncompahgre Wilderness… and beginning on Saturday, we’ll be afoot and in pursuit of the great wapiti.
I checked in with Rick a couple of weeks ago, and the bulls were just beginning to bugle. The weather has been all over the place, but it’s looking promising for the next seven or eight days. We’re close to a new moon (instead of the full moon I battled last time I was there). I’ve been shooting the bow daily, and daydreaming about watching that broadhead disappear into the tawny hide of a big bull. Or, it could be a cow, or a raghorn. I’m not really picky. Like almost any hunter, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity at a trophy animal, but I’m there to put elk venison in the freezer. The cool thing about this hunt is that it’s an over-the-counter, either sex tag.
But I’m really not writing this to crow about my impending, awesome trip. It’s more to let you know that the Hog Blog is probably going to be even quieter than usual over the next seven or eight days. I haven’t checked, but last time I was there, Rick didn’t have Internet at the lodge… and even if he does, based on previous experience, I’m probably not going to be very motivated to do much blogging. We generally head out before daylight and don’t get in until well after dark. I think our average day on the last hunt was in the neighborhood of 18 miles of Rocky Mountain terrain, and that’s all at around 8000 to 9000 feet elevation. My ass will be dragging by the time dinner and showers are out of the way.
So, if you’re one of the small handful of folks who pop by regularly to see if there’s anything new (sporadic as it’s been lately), don’t worry. The blog isn’t dead.
I’m just gone hunting.
August 20, 2014
I know, CA hunters are already hard at it, with A-zone rifle underway, and archery seasons cranking up across most of the rest of the state. Kinda late to say, “get ready for the season,” huh?
But here’s news (at least to me) that I think some CA hog hunters will be happy to hear. According to an article I just saw in the Red Bluff Daily News, northern California hog hunters will have a new opportunity, starting on September 1, as the DFG and US Fish and Wildlife Service will be opening up hog hunting in the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the article, the hogs are doing significant damage to the riparian areas that the FWS has worked so hard to restore along the river. Hunters will help alleviate the damage, both by killing some of the hogs and pressuring others out of the sensitive areas. These hunts are shotgun and archery only. The season will run from September 1 through March 15, and will only apply in units of the refuge that already allow hunting. Check local regulations before venturing out.
Of course, down here in the Lone Star State, an awful lot of folks are looking forward to the September 1 dove season opener (Northern and Central zones). Down in the southern edge of the state, dove hunters will have to wait a week to get in on the action. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, there should be a boom of birds this year. I know that, down here at the Hillside Manor, I’ve been seeing a pretty fair number of birds. Closer to the agricultural areas around Uvalde and Sabinal, birds seem to be everywhere. Lots of cut corn fields, cotton, and sunflower fields are keeping them active and fat.
Something else the TPWD has done for 2014 is set up an online tool to apply for “Drawn Hunts”. These are hunts on both public and private property that offer some opportunities like archery hunts for Mule Deer in Big Bend, alligator hunts over in the eastern part of the state, or even guided, scimitar-horned oryx hunts at Mason Mountain. Some of the hunts include a fee if you’re drawn, while others only cost the price of entering the drawing (this varies from a few bucks to $10 or so). Obviously, these drawings can be tightly contested, as only a few openings exist for most of the hunts, but the rewards can certainly be something to get excited about. Deadlines for each drawing are posted on the site, and most of the hunts include a specific set of dates. You’ll want to make sure you read everything thoroughly before you sign up, but definitely, sign up! In a state like Texas, with so little public land, this is one way to get out and do some hunting in prime locations… often with very limited pressure or competition.
Me? I’m pretty much ready for the doves (besides the occasional Eurasian collared dove I shoot for snacks), but this year I’ve really started looking forward to deer season. There are two bucks that have been pretty regular visitors this summer, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching them grow… well, I can’t help thinking about getting an arrow into one of them. I haven’t decided if I want a shot at Funkhorn (or if presented, can I take the shot after watching him for so long?) or at the traditional 8-pointer. I guess my mind will be made up should the time actually come.
August 15, 2014
Big thanks to my friend, David, for sharing this story and pictures. Like him, I’ve been putting in for the Grizzly Island tule elk hunt for years (since 1997) without success. Congrats to Serra for drawing this hunt!
How’d it work out? Here are David’s own words and photos.
About Tule Elk in California and the Tag Lottery
For as long as I have been hunting, I have put in for the lottery drawing for a Tule Elk tag at the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. The wildlife area is home to a few hundred head of Elk and although they are free range animals, they rarely go far from the wildlife area and when they do, they always return. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the elk herds here and throughout the state. Their stated goals are to maintain healthy elk herds, reestablish elk in suitable historic range, provide public educational and recreational opportunities involving elk, and to alleviate conflicts involving elk on private property. Part of the management plan calls for a limited number of animals to be harvested by hunters. The number of tags in a given year can vary but the competition to win a tag is steep, sometimes there are more than a thousand people trying for the same tag. For instance, last year’s period 5 bull hunt had two tags allotted with over 1600 applicants. That is a 1 in over 800 chance; not very good odds. I know people who have been trying to obtain a tag their entire hunting careers and have never done so. Imagine my surprise when I logged in to the DFW website to check our draw results and saw that my daughter, Serra, had won an antlerless tag. We would be hunting in the first hunting period, August 12-15 (on her 16th birthday no less). With more animals to be harvested this year, maybe the odds were in our favor, maybe the hunting gods were in a good mood on drawing day or maybe it was birthday luck. Whatever it was we weren’t questioning it. We were thankful and we knew we had a lot of work ahead. We had to incorporate scouting trips and a whole ton of shooting practice into the 2 months from the tag drawing to the actual hunt.
Serra has had a license since she was 12. She has taken deer, quail and ducks. She hunts deer with a Marlin 1898 in .44 Remington Magnum. A fine gun for a deer out to 100 yards but for elk, we would need to step it up a bit. We knew, from our experiences duck hunting on the wildlife area that these animals can get so close to you that you can see their breath in the cold foggy mornings. Nothing like duck hunting and to have a bull elk walk right through your decoy spread. At the same time, they may stay several hundred yards away. Whatever the case, we knew that we had to be prepared for a wide range of shots. For this hunt, Serra would use my Browning BAR Semi-Automatic in .300 Winchester Magnum. This is a very flat shooting gun and can handily take down a big animal out to several hundred yards. The gun was a gift from a very dear friend. After shooting it some, my friend and I had a muzzle break added to it to reduce the recoil. Between the semi-automatic action and the muzzle break, there is hardly any kick to it at all. Perfect for my daughter; she could shoot it a lot and not worry about the kick and just focus on improving accuracy. We practiced on various targets from bowling pins to cans, to bottles to traditional targets. We practiced shooting at various yardages with the targets at different elevations from ground level to eye level to above eye level. This gave us small targets to shoot at different sight lines and it gave her the confidence to make a pin-point accurate shot knowing that if she was off a little from a tiny target that the mistake would not be so detrimental on a large animal.
Next we had to scout the wildlife area in an effort to find a large group of cow elk and learn their patterns. Luckily, we live about 40 minutes from the area so we could take some trips after work and on weekends to scout it out. The first trip, we found some bulls but not a single cow elk. We were a little down on this but we ran into a game warden who took time to congratulate Serra and to explain their habits and patterns to us. He told us to give it a couple of weeks and come back. He said that the Cows were pretty spread out but in a couple weeks the smaller bulls would be herding them up in preparation for the rut. Heeding his advice, we returned in a couple of weeks and just as predicted we were finding large groups of cow elk being herded by rag-horn bulls. One group in particular had over 65 head of elk, most of them cows. This was the group we would continue to follow and watch until we had the pattern figured out. We knew where they were going to be and at what times and we even formulated our plan for the stalk and the kill. This was going to be easy I thought. I had visions of a short stalk and about a 60 yard chip shot. I think I heard the hunting gods (the same ones that showed us favor in giving us the tag) giggle. Actually, I heard one of them do a spit-take followed by bellowing laughter.
Prior to opening day, DFW hosts a mandatory orientation. The tag winners, six in all plus their spotters/helpers, attended the orientation. It is led by Pat, the area manager, Orlando the area biologist and the local game warden (I forgot to get his name). They cover everything from safety to elk habits and patterns to giving you tips on where they have been seeing the elk and strategies for getting close. Their goal is to ensure safety during the hunt and to help you to be successful. They did a superb job. They also provide you a phone number so that when you harvest an animal, they can respond out to pick it up. They collect a myriad of scientific data including live weight and biological samples such as the front teeth so they can determine age.
Opening day started early, with the alarm going off at 3am. It was unusually cool for a summer morning. The wind was strong and fog was blowing in from the bay. My good friend and neighbor, Matt, would be accompanying us on the hunt. I am disabled and although we would hunt as a group he would help guide Serra to the animals and get close enough for a shot where I could not. As we drove into the wildlife area in the cool dark morning, a big bull elk and a spike elk bolted from a creek bottom up and over the gravel road. They were running full bore as they crested the road. They had been out on private land all night and were returning to the wildlife area. This got the heart rate going. Was it going to be this easy with elk just crossing right in front of us? I heard another hunting god snicker. Read more
June 20, 2014
The age-old battle over the bird-feeder between homeowner and squirrel is the stuff of much humor, as well as the never-ending source of frustration for some people. The quest to build a squirrel-proof bird feeder has lined the pockets of many an “inventor”, but when it comes to thwarting these agile, clever little thieves… well, success has been generally limited.
Personally, I say, “if life gives you squirrels, make fried squirrel for dinner!”
Until recently, I haven’t really had much of an issue with the squirrels. Most of them stay up in the woods, happy to feed on acorns and such, with the occasional foray to the deer feeder. They don’t eat that much, and I kind of like to watch them when I’m deer hunting. Here at the house, I’ve also let them be. Until this spring, there were only one or two who’d show up from time to time to gnaw on the big suet block, but they generally left the other feeder alone. They provided great entertainment, particularly when Iggy would go charging off the porch and launch himself into the yard to chase them.
I guess a little spring magic happened, though, because suddenly there were not two, but five or six squirrels hopping around the oaks in the front yard. A suet block would disappear in a day, and they even figured out how to shake the seed out of the “squirrel proof” finch feeder. It was too much.
I keep the Benjamin Marauder by the front door anyway, because I’ve been working on thinning the jackrabbits who graze my barn pasture. That’s another critter I wouldn’t ordinarily worry about, but it’s amazing how much grass those things can eat… and in the drought conditions, grass is a precious commodity. I’ve been making rabbit chili, braised hare, and my own take on a dish I saw over on Hank Shaw’s Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook blog, chilinron. There are still a few left in the freezer, and the “on-the-hoof” supply seems nearly limitless.
But anyway, the other afternoon the squirrels were particularly active. Three of them had literally emptied the finch feeder in a few hours and were scampering around, collecting whatever seeds were left in the area. Iggy would run out and chase them into the oak trees, and then they’d descend almost as soon as he set foot back up on the porch. The time had come. I grabbed the Benjamin.
A couple of notes about using the Marauder for this work.
First of all, it’s amazingly quiet… not dead silent, of course, but the noise level is way below that of the .17hmr or .22lr that would be my usual small-game guns. At the first shot, the remaining squirrels took some notice and ran a short distance into the trees. I’m fairly certain the crack of a .22 would have sent them off into the woods. As it was, I was able to shoot all three squirrels in relatively short order. (As an aside, no one out here much cares about a little gunfire in the ‘hood, but for use in a more suburban environment, the quiet-shooting Marauder is a very positive attribute.)
The second thing about the Marauder is its accuracy. I’ve been shooting those jackrabbits out to 75 yards across the pasture. I’ll admit to requiring a bit of Kentucky windage to make the longer shots, and there are a number of misses… but I only try for head shots. Jackrabbit bones are brittle and tend to explode into little shards, so I avoid shooting them through the body. It just wastes too much meat (and there’s not much there to begin with). Squirrels are, skeletally speaking, similarly fragile. Fortunately, these shots were all within 25 yards, and that Marauder is ridiculously sharp-shooting at that distance. Quick, clean kills were the rule… one, two, three.
Finally, there’s the safety factor. I have a neighbor about a quarter mile across the canyon from my house, so that precludes much use of the .22 or .17 for shooting out of the front yard… especially up in the trees. Despite its power and accuracy, the Marauder is still an air rifle. Barring a phenomenally perfect angle and tailwind, it’s highly unlikely an errant pellet would come anywhere near their house. Even if it did, it would not be carrying enough velocity or energy to do any harm. (I still avoid shooting directly toward their house, of course, but I’m not too worried about mishaps.)
At any rate… from the bird feeder to the frying pan. Seems like a fair deal to me.
June 19, 2014
Sorry, couldn’t help the post title. Wonder how much misdirected traffic that will pull in…
Anyway, there are a handful of interesting things going on but I’m still gathering details. In the meantime, I thought that it’s about time I started posting up some Texas hunting news, along with news from CA. So here’s a good one to start with:
The Public Hunting Program is launching a new online-only drawn hunt system for 2014-2015 hunts. Starting in early July, you can search for hunts by category and location, apply for hunts and check drawing status, all online.
Drawn Hunts offers affordable hunting experiences on public lands in more than 24 different hunt categories, including eight Youth Only hunt categories. This includes hunts for desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, exotics, turkey and more.
This year, all applications will be submitted online and the “Applications for Drawings” booklet will no longer be printed and mailed. Instead, an online catalog of all 2014-2015 hunts will be available.
With the new online-only Public Hunt Drawing System, you can now:
- Apply multiple times in the same hunt category and apply up until midnight the day of deadline
- Receive email notifications once selected
- Print or store permits on a mobile device to display when needed
- Use your unique Customer ID number as your identifier
- Pay any required application or permit fees by credit card
- Apply for antlerless deer tags on US Forest Service areas
Learn more about the Drawn Hunts application process. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 389-4505.
As I’m learning more about Texas, I’ve found that there are actually some pretty intriguing public hunting opportunities around the state. Obviously, compared to other western states, Texas has very little public land available to hunters. At the same time, though, the land that out there is extraordinarily diverse, with opportunities for everything from alligators to desert bighorns. Learn more on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
May 15, 2014
Well, look at me. My very last post was about cleaning out my blog roll and removing folks who haven’t been posting regularly… and here I let the whole, bloody week slip by without so much as a peep. Ah, well… I’ll fall back to my favorite Whitman. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. etc.”
All that aside, I just haven’t had a lot to report of late.
There’s some occasional news coming in from my news feeds in regards to feral pigs and wild boar, but I tried the news aggregator approach here before, and I don’t think it added much value to the blog. There’s a certain sameness to most of the news articles anyway… sort of an, “if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” atmosphere. I’ll sum it up.
Wild pigs are in X neighborhood (or county, township, community, state). They’re bad. People are scared. Officials are trying to do something about it that may include:
- shooting them
- trapping them
- scaring them away
I’m also keeping an eye on news related to lead ammo, of course. And it looks like there’s a strong movement afoot in Rhode Island to ban lead for hunting… led by none other than our friends at HSUS. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do an entire “Lead Ban Chronicles” post on this one. I did, however, provide counterpoint to an editorial on the topic in the Providence Journal online edition.
On the other hand (and the other side of the Atlantic), according to this piece from Ammoland news, Norway is considering a repeal of their ban on lead shot outside of wetlands and clay shooting courses. Here’s the guts of the story from that site:
The Norwegians have concluded, following sustained lobbying from the Norway Hunters’ Association (Jegernes Interesseorganisasjon), that there is no evidence of any real harm from the use of lead in shotgun cartridges and they believe that none of the alternatives to lead ammunition are as effective.
The Norway Hunters’ Association summed up the key facts for a repeal effectively – the amount of lead discharged throughout the countryside has a negligible impact on the environment, in comparison to both the potential welfare implications of using alternatives and the unknown environmental implications of those alternatives. The arguments about alternatives to lead shot are well rehearsed (read more about alternatives in our own Case for Lead here), but the simple fact is that it is vital we meet our responsibility to kill wild game in the most humane and effective way.
An interesting side note in this article is that Norway’s neighbors in Denmark are apparently adding tungsten to their list of banned shot materials, along with lead. As the US military found out in their own “green ammo” testing, tungsten is a carcinogen, and is actually less stable in the ground than lead. Thus, it presents a greater risk of leeching carcinogenic material into groundwater sources. Tungsten is commonly used as an alternative material for lead-free shot, and has also been used in the development of lead-free rifle and handgun bullets.
Personally, I think most of the risks are miniscule and overstated, but it should give folks pause in the blind, headlong rush to ban lead ammo and give some serious thought to what we’re replacing it with.
Finally, on a local note, the Hillside Manor deer herd is coming along nicely. While some of the bucks were still wearing headgear right up into the first of April, I’m also seeing the first nubs of new growth on several others. We only killed one buck here last year, and pressure was pretty light at the camps around us, so I’m expecting to see a bunch of last year’s youngsters coming into their own this coming season.
I’m heading out this weekend for a hunt with a group of guys from CA, AZ, and UT. We’ll be looking to put some meat in the freezer. On the list are aoudad ewes (I haven’t eaten aoudad yet) and axis does… as well as any unfortunate hogs that stumble into view. At least one of the guys is hoping to tag a trophy-quality animal as well. If nothing else, that should give me some pictures to put up next week.
March 26, 2014
I did notice that a lot of the young bucks that usually come to the feeder have shed already (except one little spike who is currently a unicorn), but this guy was still sporting full headgear just a couple of weeks ago.
I’ll be checking the juniper thickets over the next couple of weeks, in hopes of picking these guys antlers up before the mice get them.
I may as well hunt sheds. The turkeys are playing mean games with me right now.
November 4, 2013
Just a little something that I thought of this weekend, with the opening of rifle season down here. I pulled out my go-to rifles, the Savage 30-06 and Browning Lever Action .243. Both of these rifles have always been tack drivers, and each has taken a fairly good number of game animals.
I set up a couple of targets at 100 yards, figuring that I’d shoot four or five shots just to get the feeling back in my trigger finger. I’ve done plenty of rimfire and pistol shooting over the summer, but the big guns didn’t get out much. I leveled off the 30-06, and squeezed off a crack. The 180gr ETip screamed off down range and…
Where the hell did it go?
I pulled out the Leicas and scanned the target. I can’t remember which brand these targets are, but they’re the ones with the reflective layer under the black, so you can spot your hits easier. After a moment, I realized that the yellow spot way over on the right edge of the target was not a number, but my bullet hole. I must have pulled it pretty bad.
I settled in behind the scope again, got my breathing nice and easy, squeezed the Timney trigger (at 2 1/4 lbs., it doesn’t take much), and sent the second round about 1/2″ above the first shot. My third shot went just to the left of the first. It was a nice little MOA group, but it was over 4″ to the right of where I was aiming.
I made the adjustments and got the group to settle just at the top of the 1″ bull. I thought, while I’m at it I should give these Barnes Vor-TX loads a try. These are launching a 165gr. tipped TSX (TTSX) bullet, so I was curious how much different the point of impact would be. I stuffed four of them into the mag and settled in. My first shot was about an inch higher than the ETips, almost dead over the bullseye. My next three all landed almost even with the ETip group, but maybe an inch and a half to the left of it. The group was a little bigger than I got from the ETips, maybe 1 3/4″, but I can’t say that was the ammo… and it was still a really respectable group for a hunting round. My plan is to hunt with the Barnes Vor-TX ammo this season, since I have yet to take any game with this cartridge.
Happy with the Savage, I set it aside and loaded up the BLR. Now I’ve had this rifle for close to 30 years, and it got a lot of use. It has always been scary accurate. I’ve shot holes in dimes with it at 100 yards, and even used to hang a beer can from a piece of kite string, and then shoot the string. But the trick about this rifle is that it’s got a wispy-thin barrel, and .243 is a pretty hot round. You have to let it cool off after a few shots, or the group will start to walk across the target.
The BLR didn’t like Barnes ammo when I tried it a few years ago, and Winchester was good enough to provide me with some of their new (at the time) XP3 ammo. The XP3 shoots lights out from this rifle. Unfortunately, when I dug my ammo out I realized I only had about seven rounds left. “Oh well,” thought I. “I’ll shoot a three shot group to verify zero, and that will leave me four rounds for Kat to use to shoot her deer.”
To make the long story shorter, my first group settled about four inches high and six inches right of the bull. I made adjustments, but now I had a decision to make. Use up the last of the XP3 ammo, or switch to something else. I had about a half box of rounds on top of the safe. They were in a Winchester silver box, but instead of the nickel cases these were brass. I decided to give them a go, and stuffed three of them into the mag.
The first shot was almost exactly 12:00, but still almost six inches high. My second shot went right by about two inches, but was only about one inch high. My third shot was about two inches below the second. What the hell?
It turns out that the ammo in the box was mixed. There were some 85gr Barnes TSX mixed in with what I think were 100gr Winchester PowerPoints, along with a third bullet that I couldn’t recognize (it was coated, so I think it was some kind of Winchester Premium line). Just for kicks, I tried it again. The Barnes bullet went in about four inches high and an inch or so to the right. The Power Points hung together, just to the right of the bull and a little high. I think I was getting fatigued at this point, because I landed the coated bullets all over the place. It was time to stop. The next day and well rested, I was able to get the Power Points into about a two inch group, about one inch high of the bull. Even though I know this rifle is capable of more, that was plenty good enough for shooting deer.
The whole experience was a sobering reminder that it’s a good idea to re-check the zero on our hunting rifles at least every season, even if you don’t think it’s necessary. For example, even though both are topped with identical Leupold VX-II glass, the two rifles I sighted in this weekend have had very different lives.
Because it’s always on standby down here, the Savage spends a lot of time bouncing around in the truck. It’s travelled all over the country, often just riding on the back seat or in the rear floorboard. The dog walks on it. Groceries get set on top of it. All things considered, it wasn’t a big surprise that the scope had shifted. I account for this, however, by shooting it from the bench at least a few times each year.
But the BLR lives in the safe, except during hunting seasons. Last year it came out once, Kat shot a deer with one well-placed shot, and it got cleaned and put away. The distance from the safe to the stand wasn’t more than a 100 yard walk. Before that, it’s been over two years since I used that rifle on a hunt. I shot it a little bit in the interim, mostly messing around off-hand behind the barn, but this weekend was probably the first time that rifle has been on a bench in three years. My guess is that it was off last year when Kat shot her deer, but four or five inches of variance didn’t really matter on that 75 yard shot. The bullet may have gone a little high and wide, but it was still well within the kill zone. But if that deer had been 200 yards out, across the pasture, the result might have been very different.
Besides the obvious, I don’t know why scopes tend to go out of zero from time to time. Manufacturers like to make big claims about the ruggedness and reliability of their optics, rings, and bases. And I think most modern scopes are pretty danged solid. But when you think about it, the mechanics that hold and adjust the crosshairs and mirrors of a modern scope are relatively delicate things. They’re subject to all sorts of forces, from recoil to air pressure and humidity. Even rocks change over time. It should be no wonder that our optics do too.
Checking zero shouldn’t require a whole box of ammo, or a whole lot of time. It’s a reasonably small effort that can pay out big rewards in the end, though.