Just A Quickie

March 10, 2016

I’ve been pretty busy and preoccupied of late, and updating the blog has simply not been at the top of my agenda. Apologies for that.  I’m taking a breather now, just to jot this note today (and to keep the blog feed alive).

I have made a mental effort to crank something out, here and there.  I just haven’t been able to get traction, potentially because I’ve been idle for so long that the backlogged ideas are totally overwhelming.  There’s a lot going on, from Missouri where there’s a proposal to ban sport hunting for feral hogs, to Minnesota’s proposed ban on lead shot in a wide swath of State-managed land.  Turkey season is just around the corner, my hunt for huntable hogs is ongoing (but not going far), and I’ve got some new boots to review.

Of course, there’s politics.  Talk about being overwhelmed!

But then, I tend to stray away from general political commentary for many reasons, not the least of which is the knowledge that I’m sorely under-qualified to make meaningful analysis of most of it. There’s a lot I don’t know about economics, foreign policy and diplomacy, and so many other things.  The big picture is far larger than my personal experience, and while I certainly may discuss ideas and opinions with certain individuals, I’m not sure they’re entirely informed.  When I do talk politics, I usually try to talk as much to get educated as I do to educate.

Sadly, an awful crowd of folks aren’t similarly constrained.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Take that literally.  With a lot of knowledge, you can build the hydrogen bomb, but with a little knowledge, you can use it.


Hog Blog Gear Review – Firearms Guide Goes Online

March 2, 2016

It’s sort of become an unofficial, perennial tradition to review the latest version of the Firearms Guide, firearms reference (previous reviews are here, here, here, and here).  This began with my first meeting of Editor-in-Chief, Chris Mijic and his wife, Ksenia, back in 2010, at SHOT.  Every year since, I’ve come to look forward to seeing them in the Press Room at SHOT, and every year since, they’ve sent me the latest version of their excellent reference guide for review.

I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution from CD-ROM to DVD, as well as a constantly growing list of features and content.  For 2016, they’re finally taking the big step to a full, online offering.  The new Guide is subscription-based, and the new format will enable the team to update and make corrections constantly (the current plan is 26 updates per year… basically, an update every two weeks).  The possibilities this brings are as wide-open as the challenges Mijic and his team faced to make this huge platform change.

At its heart, the Firearms Guide is a searchable database of firearms, and even in the initial iteration, it was amazingly comprehensive.  I believe this, the sixth edition, includes something like 61,000 firearms.  This, alone, made the Guide an excellent resource for writers and gun aficionados.  In addition to listings and detailed descriptions of the guns, the list includes schematics and take-down instructions, which makes this a valuable reference guide for gunsmiths… both professional and amateur.

With each iteration, the Guide has added new features.  Some, like printable targets, are just cool little add-ons.  Some are useful functions, such as the guide for matching up U.S. calibers with European equivalents.  Others are real value-adds, such as the ability to compare firearms, features, and MSRP which makes the Guide a one-stop shop for folks interested in buying a new gun.

New, this year, they have added gun values (based off of the 100% – 30% condition ratings) to each listing. This makes the Guide even handier for folks looking to buy, sell, and trade used guns.  While resources have long been available where you could go get a gun value, most of them serve that single function.  The Firearms Guide has the benefit of offering all of the other features, along with gun values.  It’s something I think every gun shop and smith should have at their fingertips, and as I mentioned, it would be pretty useful for the amateur as well.

So, how’s it work?  Chris sent me a temporary subscription so that I could go in and get a feel for the system.  Honestly, it’s pretty good, but there is still room for some tweaks, particularly in the search functionality.  However, if you just want to look up a Stevens 311, or a Barrett M98, that’s pretty simple.  And once you find the gun (or guns) you’re looking for, getting the rest of the information is really easy.  All of that being said, the very nature of an online resource makes it ideal for tweaking and adjusting based on user feedback.

What about the subscriptions?

To allow for varying levels of need and expertise, there are multiple subscription levels from All Access ($49.95/yr) to Handguns Only ($19.95/yr) or only AR/AK platforms ($14.95/yr).   There’s even a monthly, recurring subscription of $5.99/mo.    The subscription options are all clearly laid out on the website.

It’s probably not the kind of thing every hunter needs to have laying around, but it’s an excellent resource if you find you need (or want) a deeper view of guns and ammo.  For the writer who writes about guns, either full-time or occasionally, it’s a really good research tool.  For the gunsmith, it’s a good way to stay up to speed on the guns that are out there, as well as to find the schematics for assembly/disassembly.  And for the gun shop owner, buying, selling, and trading guns… I think it would be as indispensable as the old “blue book”.  If any of this sounds like you, I’d suggest checking it out.

Another Hog Blog Spotlight – Project ChildSafe

February 23, 2016

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that, when it comes to public relations, the firearms industry and lobby has sometimes been its own worst enemy.  While organizations like the NRA have done a reasonably good job at recruiting a strong membership of gun owners, they’ve done so with fairly polarizing tactics and a bit of all-or-nothing rhetoric that has turned away many gun owners, not to mention alienating folks who don’t own, and don’t like firearms.  (I say this, by the way, as a fully-paid Life NRA member.)

The truth is, outside of the “faithful”, most people have formed a lot of ideas about what the firearms industry is about… and to many of those people, it’s not a pretty picture.  A common perception is that the firearms industry is focused only on getting as many guns into the hands of as many people as possible, and to hell with any negative consequences.  So, for example, when a child gets his hands on a gun and accidentally shoots someone, a lot of folks want to lay blame for the problem at the feet of the firearms industry because, “all they care about is selling guns.”

That’s a shame, because it’s not an accurate assessment.

Despite the NRA’s prevalent place in the public eye (and public opinion), it’s fair to say that the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) is the real face of the firearms industry in the U.S.  As the trade association of the U.S. firearms industry, with the stated goal of promoting, preserving, and protecting hunting and the shooting sports, the NSSF speaks for most gun and ammo makers, and holds an influential position when it comes to driving policy and public relations for its members.  In that role, the organization has done a number of things that deserve the spotlight… but due to the hyper-politicized nature of the topic, those programs have remained relatively obscure.

One of those programs is Project ChildSafe.  I’ve written about, or mentioned, the project several times over the years (such as here, here, and here), but I feel like I need to keep pushing what they’re doing.

Most people I’ve spoken to, including many hunters and gun owners, have no idea what Project ChildSafe is about.  The handful who have heard of it think it’s a program to give out gun locks… which is accurate enough in a small way.  But that’s not all.

Here’s what the organization says about itself:

Project ChildSafe is a real solution to making our communities safer. More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies have partnered with the program to distribute more than 36 million firearms safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories. Through vital partnerships with elected officials, community leaders, state agencies, businesses, the firearms industry and other stakeholders, Project ChildSafe has helped raise awareness about the safe and responsible ownership of firearms and the importance of securely storing firearms to help reduce accidents and access by unauthorized individuals.

In other words, what Project ChildSafe is about is safe storage, which can include gun locks, but also revolves around education and information.

I had the chance a week or so ago to chat with Bill Brassard, NSSF Director of Communications, and talk to him about the project.  I hoped to get a little better understanding of Project ChildSafe, and what might help get the message out to more people.

One of the first points Brassard made is that the project relies on its partnerships with communities and local law enforcement to promote the message.  “Our goal is to have community partners,” he told me.

The way this works is, the NSSF provides media kits, information, and gun locks to community organizers (usually law enforcement).  The partners then manage and host gun safety events, using the materials the NSSF provided.  The idea is for these partners to manage communication with local media outlets to publicize their local events.  As more agencies and communities learn about the program, they can engage with NSSF to host their own events.

The challenge, he explained, is that in many cases communities wait until something happens before taking any action.  Not that it’s ever too late to get the message about safe firearm storage, but the idea is to prevent shooting incidents before they happen.

The other challenge to this reactive scenario, of course, is that the story becomes about the guns and the tragedy.  As Brassard pointed out in our conversation, the media (particularly the major media outlets) tend to focus on the politics of guns.  To an increasingly cynical public, the NSSF coming in after the tragedy with a safe storage program seems almost disingenuous. The actual message is lost in the uproar.

What is that message?

I asked Brassard to nail it down for me.

“Secure storage is the number one way to prevent firearms deaths,” he said.  “There is a safe storage solution for every circumstance, and every budget.  There is no excuse for leaving a loaded firearm laying around.”

It is absolutely true, as he pointed out, that unintentional shootings have declined steadily over the years, largely as a result of improved education (hunter safety, firearms handling, etc.) and the increased accessibility of safety equipment such as locks, storage boxes, and safes.  Statistics show pretty clearly that safety campaigns have been quietly succeeding, even if most people have not noticed.

But statistics don’t mean squat when it happens to you or someone you care about.  This is why the message of Project ChildSafe is still important.  “Own it?  Respect it.  Secure it.”

If you’ve bought a new gun from Winchester, Browning, Savage, or several others, you have probably seen that little badge inside the box… right there, in the package beside the cable lock.  It’s a great reminder, but of course it only reaches the folks who just bought a gun.

I think, as a tagline, that’s OK.  But personally, I’m more in line with Mr. Brassard’s words.  “No excuse.”

There’s no excuse not to secure your guns.  These days, with affordable biometric hand safes, a lock in every gun box, and even the modicum of common sense, I have a hard time believing anyone who claims they “couldn’t” lock their gun away.  You could.  You just chose not to.

You can’t teach a kid not to pick up a gun.  You can teach a kid that it’s “bad” to play with guns, but no amount of teaching can overcome the juvenile monkey-brain.  If you listen to interviews of the parents of kids who have shot themselves, or shot other kids, almost all of them “thought” their kid “knew better.”  Kids do stupid things because their minds aren’t fully developed.  They don’t really comprehend permanence.  They don’t think Mom or Dad would leave a gun laying around if it were really that dangerous.  It’s just a second… and that’s all it takes.

And it’s not just kids.  That gun you keep by the bed for “security” isn’t very secure while you’re at work.  The shotgun in the closet… just keeping it out of sight doesn’t keep it out of reach.  This is how guns make it to the streets and into the hands of criminals.

Look, if you have a carry gun (and a legal right to carry it), then carry it.  Don’t leave it laying in a place where someone can walk off with it.  If you don’t want to pack it, then store it.  Lock it up.  Do us all a favor.  Do yourself a favor.

There’s no excuse not to.

Learn more about Project ChildSafe on their website at






Hog Blog Spotlight – The Camouflaging Our Differences Program

February 11, 2016

One of the things I have always tried to do with this site is to identify and highlight great programs related to hunting and the outdoors.  I, obviously, haven’t done much in a while… but I’ll be working on changing that.  Here’s something now.

I’d heard a little bit about Camp Compass over time, but never really knew much about it. Then, this morning I got a press release about the program and a new video they’ve released.  While I really love the idea of the program that gets inner city kids exposed to the outdoors, the thing that caught me up in this particular message was the focus on using the opportunity to break through racial (and gender) barriers.

So, anyway, take 10 minutes and check out the video.  There’s a Go Fund Me campaign as well, if you feel inclined to chip in a little cash to the program.  Or maybe it’ll stir you to start or get involved with something similar yourself.

Lead Ban Chronicles – New Lead-Free Gear Preview

February 8, 2016

Lead Ban ChroncilesA few weeks back, at SHOT, one of the new products I was particularly hot to see was the Iron Rig decoy weights.

I know, “decoy weights?”

Well, the thing about these weights is that they’re lead free.  Not only are they lead free, they’re being advertised as lead free, which means it’s not just an afterthought.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing and talking about the lead issue, but my focus (like many other writers) has been on ammunition.  The thing is, fishing tackle has been an ongoing topic in efforts to remove lead from the environment.  Push aside the politically driven arguments for a moment, and consider that an emphasis on fishing tackle makes total sense, since lead is arguably more ubiquitous in fishing than it is in hunting (and there are far more fishermen than hunters).

Before you break your neck trying to follow my train of thought, I bring up fishing because waterfowl hunters have, for ages, used fishing weights to anchor our decoys.  And these weights are almost always made of lead.  Hence, any regulation that affects the use of lead in fishing tackle will impact waterfowl hunters as well.

How likely is a ban on lead fishing weights in this country?  It’s hard to say, but if I must prognosticate, I’d say a national, general ban is still a long ways off.  However, on an incremental level, I think we’re already seeing it start.  Some states, including California and Washington, are already making moves to prohibit the use of lead (of any kind) in sensitive waterways.  The Federal agencies overseeing wetlands and wildlife are also looking at restrictions on lead in the waterways they manage.  It’s not unreasonable to expect some lead tackle prohibition in National Parks, National Monuments, and possibly National Forests in the relatively near future.

On my only full day at SHOT, I had a chance to have a nice chat with Jena Muasher and Scott Griffith, the marketing team for Big Game International.  One of the first things I asked was what drove the decision to produce a lead-free decoy weight.  The general response was that the company saw the “writing on the wall”, and wanted to get ahead of legislation that would restrict the use of lead weights.  More specifically, they pointed to California regulations that appear to be on track to eliminate the use of lead tackle by 2019 (a contentious issue, of course, but not an issue on which I’m particularly well-informed).

So, why cast iron, decoy weights?

The simple answer is that it was an easy choice.  As Scott explained to me, the goal was to make changes that did not reduce performance.  Cast iron is heavy and relatively easy to cast in the sizes and shapes that are used for decoy anchors (it’s more of a challenge for smaller fishing tackle, which is another issue).  It’s also inexpensive, relative to lead, which actually enables a lower cost to the hunter.

Unfortunately, the weights available for display at the show are simply prototypes, so I wasn’t able to carry a handful home to test out before our season ended this year.  However, Scott and Jena told me the plan is to start getting these to market by summer, and promised to get some out to me to try out.  I’m particularly interested in seeing how these things hold up in the salty environment where I do much of my hunting (NC coastal salt marshes and brackish rivers).  You can bet I’ll be letting you know how it all pans out.



NSSF Open Letter re: President Obama’s Statements On Gun Control

January 26, 2016

In a moment, I am going to share a full-page ad from the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) with a small grain of salt. I am not in lockstep with everything this industry organization has to say. I think, at times, the NSSF has pushed the bounds of reason (e.g. using misleading and unbased information to garner opposition of the lead ammo ban). By and large, though, the NSSF is extremely consistent in what it is… a foundation to represent and promote the interests of the shooting sports industry. Understand and accept this, and their messaging is logical and en pointe.

What is presented in this “Open Letter” is pretty much spot on, and while I’ve heard a lot of anti-gun voices contesting these points, it is difficult to deny the facts.

The NSSF has, indeed, taken a wide variety of actions to address illegal firearms sales (pushing for NICS enhancements, promoting the “Don’t lie for the other guy” campaign against straw buyers, etc.), promote and enhance firearms safety (firearms training for retailers, Project ChildSafe, gun lock campaigns), and encourage the enforcement of existing firearms legislation.

It’s also a fact that many of the Presidential statements on gun control, as well as those from some other Democrats, have misrepresented the realities of firearms commerce and availability in this country. They have done so, relying on the viral nature of misinformation to spread across the uneducated voter base. Unfortunately, the NRA has such low credibility (because they too often use the same tactics), that any counterpoint they offer is dismissed out of hand by the general public. That’s the NRA’s own doing, though… their own diseased chickens, come home to roost.

Nevertheless, in the interest of offering up a counterpoint to the vocal and widespread arguments of the anti-gun contingent, here’s the NSSF’s “open letter” to the President.  Take it as you will, keeping in mind the source… and feel free to offer your rebuttal here if you’d like.  However, I am unlikely to dive into a deep argument about the 2nd Amendment or firearms regulation on this site.

And, as always, if it gets ugly I’ll apply the Delete key with extreme prejudice.


2016 SHOT Show – Day End Wrap Up

January 19, 2016

Well, the noise level is dropping by a few dozen decibels as the crowds are filtering out toward the taxis and shuttle buses.  Day One of the 2016 SHOT Show is pretty much winding down, although probably not as fast as I am.  I didn’t have high hopes of accomplishing much today, but I actually got around to more than I’d expected.

Apologies for the use of Press Pack images, but as mentioned earlier, I left my camera in NC.  I did take photos and video with the GoPro, but my USB port is being finicky.  In other words, real-time photos just aren’t gonna happen right now.

It started in the New Products room, which is usually one of the best places to get a feel for what I’ll see on the floor.  Well, unless you want one more of a million ways to customize your AR, I can’t say that this visit was particularly productive.  Scattered in and amongst the uppers, actions, barrels, and accessories, there were a couple of products I thought might be worth following up.  Unfortunately, a technical glitch cost me my list of products (you use a bar code scanner to mark the things you want, and then there’s a printer at the exit where they print out your list).  I’m pretty sure, for example, that I did not flag a $3000 thermal imaging weapon sight or the Century Arms C39v2 AK pistol.

Since the New Products list provides something of a map for my visit to the floor, I was left a little rudderless (and yeah, I could have shouldered my way through the khaki clad hordes to try another list, but really?).  So I wandered.  I had a couple of specific things in mind, so I figured while I looked for those, I’d just see what stood out to me.

garmin_rino650First of all, I slid by the Garmin booth to see what they’ve done with the Rino.  The Rino, for those who don’t know, combines a FRS radio with a GPS navigation system.  If you’re talking with someone else on a Rino, it will post their location on the map, which is a cool feature when you’re in big country or out on the water.   The latest version, the 650t, still does this with many performance improvements and extra features over the many years since I bought mine, and still lists for about the same MSRP, $549.   I do like the USB port for upgrades and updates, as well as charging.  I also like that it allows you to upload files to other Garmin users.  So when you tell your buddy to bring the horses, you can send a picture of the big bull you just shot, while the Rino transmits your coordinates for the pick up.

Earlier, I was bemoaning (again) the absence of nice wood in gunstocks.  Yes, the synthetic stocks are great stuff, but it’s still nice to enjoy the beauty of a well-finished piece of lumber.  Purely by accident, I stumbled into the Ithaca booth.  On display, right at the front, was one of their new bolt-action rifles, stocked in an classic piece of maple, tiger stripes and all!  When I spoke to the rep and complimented the beautiful work, he informed me that not only are they offering fine wood on their rifles and shotguns; they are offering custom stocks for other firearms as well.  Who knew?

Wild West Guns Co-PilotMany years ago, I found a customized version of the Marlin Guide Gun, manufactured by a company called Wild West Guns.  They’d turned an already solid rifle into a really cool (in my mind) piece of weaponry.  It was designed, initially, for bush pilots and Alaskan hunters who needed something portable (did I mention it’s a take-down rifle) in big bear country.  I think the one I looked at was chambered in .50 AE.  Anyway, the company has done a lot since then, and when I saw their sign on the booth, I had to slide by and drool a little bit.  The guns have gone through some iterations, but something I thought was really cool was that they now have their own chambering… the .457 WWG.  This is basically a magnum 45-70.  According to the rep I spoke to, it will also shoot standard 45-70 ammo, as well as (in single feed operation) .410 shotshells.  That’s a lot of versatility, and if you think of this as a backcountry survival rifle, that’s a lot of options available for everything from smacking small game and birds for the pot, to keeping the grizzly bears at bay.  It doesn’t come cheap, though, at $2979.00.  But what good things do?

There are a few other things that I will get to later, because they’ll take more than a few hundred words.  But if you want a teaser, one of those things is a new offering from Morakniv.  You may (or may not) remember I reviewed their Bushcraft knife a couple of years back.  This new knife, the Garberg, promises to be even stronger and more versatile.

I also spoke with the folks from DRT ammo about their non-lead, controlled expansion, frangible bullets.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with my previous frangible experience (it was not DRT ammo), but the rep told me that they’ve made some improvements specifically to resolve some of the issues I had.

Finally, I stopped by the NSSF Project Childsafe booth.  I’ve written about this project before as well, but I think it’s time to take another look.  I’ve planned an interview with a representative from the organization this time, and hope to offer a little more insight into what they are all about.  In the meantime, check them out for yourself.

That’s it for now.  They’re running us out of the Press Room.

2016 SHOT Show – Day 1 Updates And Additions

January 19, 2016

Well, here I am, ensconced in the Press Room at the 2016 SHOT Show.  As the week progresses, something in the neighborhood of 63,000 attendees will pass below and above this third floor sanctuary.  Well, it’s a sanctuary of sorts, since only press and our guests (interviewees and such) are allowed in here.  But then, it’s still crowded and noisy, but there’s free wi-fi and lots and lots of press kits, resources, and knowledgeable folks.  It’s also a great place to meet up with friends and contacts.

At any rate, like always, I’m doing a little pre-work before I hit the floor.  Since I have really limited time to browse the 630,000 square feet of booths and displays, it pays to have a plan.  In the course of my studies, I’ve found a little more info on some of the stuff I saw yesterday.

To begin with, if you want to learn more about the new Browning ammunition, they have a site just for you.  Checkout  It’s actually a pretty full line, which makes sense since Browning tends to have all their ducks in a row before they roll out any new, branded merchandise.  I think it’s an interesting choice for Browning, by the way.  I’d sort of expected some sort of merger with Winchester Ammunition instead of branding their own line.  But there ya go… I don’t sit at the back tables to understand these things.

The Browning X-bolt I was shooting yesterday is the Hells Canyon Speed bolt-action.  I guess it’s a new configuration, with a composite, camo stock.  I’ve sort of gotten over my lament at the disappearance of fine wood (it’s still there, but mainly in pricier rifles), and the weight and balance that can be achieved with the composite stocks is pretty amazing.  The 30-06 I was shooting weighs in around 6 1/2 pounds, and with the brake, really has minimal recoil.  I really liked shooting this rifle, and at a MSRP around $1200, it falls in the upper mid-range.  There’s a pretty wide range of short-action, long-action, and magnum chamberings as well.  Of course, retail availability may be a challenge, especially at first.

Just one more note for Browning at Range Day.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait my turn with it, but the “reintroduction” of the Sweet 16 has made a big splash with some shotgun fans.  It’s not quite the A-5 our grandfathers shot, and the lines have changed a little, but watching it at work on the range suggested that it’s probably going to be popular.

Stay tuned for more, I’m heading to the floor!


2016 SHOT Show – Day 1 At The Range

January 18, 2016

It’s sort of a game I play at the airport before and after the SHOT Show.  Waiting at the gate for my Las Vegas departure, I try to spot other Show attendees.  Sometimes it’s easy.  Tactical clothing or camo gear is usually a giveaway (although flying from Texas or North Carolina, passengers wearing camo aren’t necessarily winning bets).  Other times, it’s polo shirts with outdoors corporate logos.  Sometimes, it’s just a sense of the Industry types.  That one is harder to describe, but they’re usually discussing strategies, show set-up, or client lists.  I catch myself eavesdropping (hey, don’t say you don’t do it when you’re sitting by yourself at an airport), listening for names or brands.

And suddenly the plane boards.  (As I boarded, I realized that I’d left the camera in my duck hunting jacket.  Oh well… a blog about the SHOT Show and new gear doesn’t really need photos, does it?)

And I’m in Vegas (not so suddenly, but you don’t want to hear all that stuff in between).  I travel with a big, soft-side, camo suitcase.  Most of the time, it’s easy to pick out at baggage claim.  Guess what.  It’s not so easy at SHOT.  Camouflage of every stripe is rolling onto the conveyor, in big bags and small.  I almost grab the wrong bag… twice.

I’m up at 04:00, because time difference and stuff.  Hotel rooms in Vegas generally don’t offer coffee pots, so I roll downstairs to get a cup in the casino.  (There’s a Starbucks beside the elevator, but I don’t drink that over-roasted, overpriced crap.  Sorry.  If you like it, good on ya.  I think it’s nasty.)  A guy strolls over and pulls up the stool next to me, exaggerated motion and baggy eyes suggest he’s been making the best of his visit so far.  He’s wearing a logo shirt with a brand I recognize.  He mumbles a greeting, and has somehow made me out as part of the SHOT crowd too.

We chat for a moment, and my coffee comes.  I’ve just dropped a couple of bucks into the poker machine, and I’m playing hands while we chat.  He orders a coffee and two shots of tequila.  The shots arrive and he slides one over to me.  He seems like a nice guy, so I hope he’s not offended when I decline.  He’s not… more for him.  We talk a while, and I actually triple my money in the poker machine.  But I’ve got stuff to do, so I make my excuses and exorcise myself from his morning.  I feel for how he’s going to feel later.

That little story really has nothing to do with my morning at the SHOT Show Media Day at the Range.  I just figured I’d toss it in.

I’ve looked forward to this for a while.  It’s even valid to say that it’s the only reason I came to SHOT this year.  I enjoy shooting, and getting my hands on the new stuff… sending rounds downrange and enjoying different trigger pulls, the slick action of well-machined bolts, the balance of a well-made firearm, and so on.  I dig the innovation and creativity that meld with the gunmakers’ art.

I didn’t get much of that this year.

“Underwhelmed.” is the word that came into my mind, as I limped to the bus at noon.  I just wanted to go back to the hotel.  I usually stay until they shut down the range and chase us home, but not today.  My bright-eyed excitement dulled within an hour, as I wandered through booth after booth of AR platform rifles, semi-auto handguns, and other tacticool stuff.

I get that people like these guns, and I’m fine with it.  It’s like Starbucks coffee.  It’s a taste, I guess, but it doesn’t suit me.  A nice, classic cup of Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, properly roasted… that’s my thing.  And when it comes to firearms, give me a well-made bolt-action, or a nice lever gun.

There were a couple of nice lever guns, by the way.  Browning/Winchester had a selection of models on hand.  Most of the rifles weren’t new, though.  Like the Model 94 some TV guy was shooting when I stumbled into the booth, the rifles were primarily on hand to showcase the expanded line of Winchester’s Deer Season XP ammunition line.  The Deer Season XP ammo features a polymer-tipped bullet that is designed for rapid expansion.  This year, they’re adding to the line to include ammo for lever-guns, including the 30-30, 45-70, and .44-40 (I believe… I’ll learn more tomorrow at the Show.  This is where my camera would have been a handy thing.).

I also took a few shots with the Browning X-bolt, again, not a totally new design but I believe it’s a new model.  It’s a lightweight rifle with an integral brake (as opposed to the old BOSS).  I need to learn a little more about it, but it was amazingly light, and the 30-06 I was messing with shot like a dream… very little recoil and a really good trigger.  More to come on this one, although I probably won’t be adding one to my safe.

Probably the coolest (on a very short list) things I got to put my hands on today weren’t really firearms at all.  The Pioneer Airbow from Crosman/Benjamin is essentially a pneumatic speargun for use on dry land.  It slings an arrow (sort of a hybrid crossbow bolt/arrow) at approximately 450 fps, and it’s amazingly accurate.  The stock design is a little front-heavy, but it balances about like a quality crossbow.  Unfortunately, it’s not legal for hunting in most states at this time, but there’s no question this thing will be deadly.  And yes, for those of you who are thinking it… this is a gadget.  While I guess the argument could be made that there’s a niche for the Airbow, it’s really just a cool, gimmicky thing.  With an MSRP around $850, it’s not a cheap gadget, but for someone looking for something different, it definitely fits that bill.

My other “favorite” of the day was also from Benjamin.  Several years ago, they rolled out the Rogue, a .357 air rifle.  It was cool, but there were apparently issues.  The issues have been resolved, it seems, in the new Bulldog.  The Bulldog is a PCP gun that really slings the 145 gr., Nosler bullet downrange.  The specs suggest that it’s pushing about 800 fps  At the range today, I was ringing the steel buffalo target at 100 yards with relative ease.  The trigger on the Bulldog is also pretty nice, compared for example, with the Marauder I’ve been shooting at home.

And, sadly, that’s pretty much it.  I didn’t shoot any ARs today, although there were certainly plenty of opportunities.  There were also a fair number of suppressors to demo, which is actually pretty cool as they gain more acceptance in the hunting world.  The shotguns were nice enough, but the selection was the most limited I’ve seen in a few years.  I didn’t have anything specific in mind, though, and nothing really stood out to me.

Maybe I’m just jaded.  Maybe “traditional” sporting guns have had their day, and the ARs are just something we’re going to have to embrace.  But this was the least exciting SHOT Show Range Day I’ve ever experienced.

Lead Ban Chronicles – AZ Lead Ban Lawsuit Back On The Table

January 14, 2016

ILead Ban Chroncilest’s been quite some time since I did one of these.  I hope I remember how.

Actually, the lead ammo issue has been simmering quietly along for a while now.  It’s boiled up occasionally in Minnesota, where the discussion has ebbed and flowed (I love mixing metaphors), but the state is apparently moving steadily toward a ban on lead ammo for all hunting on state wildlife areas.

Interestingly, the topic has also been pretty heated in the U.K., as “environmental” groups have been pushing a strong line of rhetoric targeted at confusing/convincing non-hunters/shooters.  It’s largely based on the same unfounded or over-hyped arguments that we heard here in the U.S., pointing at the “risk” of lead shot poisoning humans and even the groundwater.  Likewise, the counter-arguments focus on the centuries of lead ammo use vs. the absence of related cases of lead poisoning in game consumers.  As they have pointed out, there’s more lead in the typical bottle of beer than there is in a pheasant or grouse killed by lead shot.

Of a little more interest here in the U.S., it looks like an appeals court is going to allow the Center for Biological Diversity (and crony organizations) to go forward with a lawsuit against the US Forest Service in  Arizona.  The suit charges that the Forest Service is failing to protect the endangered California Condor by refusing to ban the use of lead ammo on Forest Service lands.  The suit was denied earlier, because the plaintiffs were unable to show that the use of lead ammo harmed them personally, but the appeals court sees it differently.

This is sort of a big deal because of the amount of hunting land managed by the US Forest Service in Arizona.  Probably most notable is the Kaibab National Forest, which is one of the premier, big game hunting destinations in the U.S.   It may be extraneous to note that the widespread, voluntary use of non-lead ammo in this area by hunters has already resulted in an apparent reduction in lead-poisoning cases for scavengers like the condor and eagles.

It’s also important because if this suit is successful, it opens the doors for similar suits across the condor habitat, including Oregon and Utah.  It may also provide ammunition for lawsuits in other states, although without the banner of an endangered species for leverage, I can’t say how it will play out.

In much older news, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) back in October.  Does this sound like a win for sportsmen?  On some levels, I think so.  Secreted away in the language of this Act is a provision that clarifies, once and for all, that the EPA does not have authority to restrict or control ammunition components (e.g. lead).  That should close the book on the CBD’s efforts to sue the EPA to ban lead bullets.  Of course, this act has nothing in it that limits the powers of other state or federal agencies to regulate ammunition.

Stay tuned.  After the SHOT Show (next week!), I should have a little more news on the lead front…

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