Oct 31, 2010

Brief run down

Nothing of major import over the past couple days, but a few things worth noting.

I've been carrying the PM9 for a few days now. It's light and easy to carry, definitely on par with the 642. 6+1 of 9mm compared to 5 of .38Spl is a personal choice, I'm fine with either. I remain unimpressed by the High Noon that it came with, although it's better than the JMG I have for the 642. (The belt clip on the JMG has shredded a couple of t-shirts.)

I've gotten some excellent holster suggestions from folks and will be making a choice/ordering in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I received my latest flyer from MidwayUSA, and happened to notice that they had the Maxpedition K.I.S.S. on sale for $40. I've been toying with the idea of a tactical man-purse (it's OK if it's tactical, right?) for a while and decided it'd be worth trying for $40. Maxpedition's info can be found on their site. Short form: slightly lighter-weight fabric and fewer bells and whistles than the standard Versipacks. I added the three-magazine pouch and universal holster, and expect I'll be turning this into a variation on the get-home bag. Two mags of .40 or 9mm, a flashlight, and slip in the appropriate pistol as needed.

I did manage to convince the CFO that acquiring the Mossberg 500 mentioned before was a good idea. We picked that up Thursday, along with a few boxes of Hornady SST slugs. I ended up opting for 20ga, and will be heading to the range soon to get the scope zeroed. It looks like the sale has continued for another week, so if you're on the fence about a great multi-purpose shotgun, you still have time.

Oct 29, 2010

Holster muse

I expect I'll be ordering a better IWB holster for the PM9 in the next week or so... the only question is, which one?

I had an IWB model from Lobo Gun Leather with the 242. Quality is top notch but I didn't really carry the gun often so can't comment on long-term comfort.

I have an inexpensive IWB from JMG Holsters for the 642. While functional, it leaves a bit to be desired. The High Noon that came with the PM9 is in the same boat - it holds the gun securely, but isn't ideal.

I've narrowed down my choice to either another IWB from Lobo (about $60) or a CrossBreed Minituck, which is ugly as sin, a little more expensive, and I have ZERO experience with - but it gets excellent reviews.

So - is there anyone out there who has experience with BOTH the Lobo and the Crossbreed? I'd also welcome input on just the Crossbreed.

Oct 28, 2010

Ridin' light

As mentioned, I just got a new-to-me Kahr PM9. Properly registered *spit* today, and now carrying it. This thing disappears even better than I'd hoped. Gun love! (Currently in a High Noon holster which is functional but uninspired. Lobo leather will be ordered soon.)


I picked up a copy of Toby Keith's "American Ride" CD earlier this year. It's been in and out of my CD player in the truck. It's not a bad disc, but seems somewhat uneven.

Listening to it during my drive to Albany this week I had time to really ponder the last song, "Ballad of Balad". If you haven't heard it, have a go:

The lyrics are, without a doubt, good for a chuckle, but they should also give you pause. Contrast that with this live recording, from a USO Tour in Kandahar, AFG:

You or I can listen to it and chuckle at the references. "Two bottles of water and a cold MRE." It's easy to chuckle at the song. The soldiers listening go nuts - because they have had the experience, and it's shared suffering.

It got me to thinking - there are very few jobs in the world that result in the close-knit groups you'll find in the military. Each and every one involves some kind of risk, and it's always shared. Firefighters, police, soldiers...

There is a level of intimacy achieved in those jobs rarely found anywhere else. Some firefighters and police officers spend more "awake" time with their coworkers than with their own families. A deployed solider, of course, lives with his unit. There have been attempts to express this camaraderie in drama and cinema through the years - through the centuries! - but very few efforts have succeeded.

Perhaps the best-known and most often referenced is a bit of Shakespeare:
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!"

Most folks don't have the rest of that speech memorized. (Myself included, I had to look it up to get the exact wording.)

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
-- From "Henry V"

Five hundred years ago, The Bard was describing the brotherhood of arms and the envy that outsiders feel for the love and respect within the brotherhood.

I've been a firefighter for nearly nine years. I've been in a few twitchy situations, and have made friends that I would trust my life to... but I still have moments of regret for not joining the military.

When I left college in '99, I was on the edge of joining the Army. I had talked with the recruiter several times, taken a practice ASVAB (98th percentile), and had an appointment to finalize and sign the contract. I did a lot of thinking and walking in the nights before that appointment, and ended up calling the recruiter the morning of my appointment to cancel.

It's easy to play what-if in life. If I had signed up, I'd likely have had a pretty good choice of MOS thanks to my ASVAB score. I was interested in aviation, though - helicopters generally and AH-64 Apaches in particular. Two years after signing up, it would have been a fair bet that I'd have been shipping out to the sandbox. Who knows from there?

I still have moments when enlisting seems like a good idea - then reality comes crashing back in, and I have to acknowledge that I am not in a place in life where I can do that... Nor do I relish the idea of shipping out to get my ass shot at.

The men and women who have made that decision and are out there on the front lines have my utmost respect and admiration. There is no way in the world to thank them enough for what they do - but please try. If you have the means to do so, please think about donating to the Wounded Warrior Project. They're one of the unquestionably good service member support agencies out there.

I don't care if you support the war(s) in the Middle East. I think we need to stop playing global cop, personally. But the troops are not the ones making the policy decisions that put us in the desert to begin with, nor the troop increases and "surge" that's kept us there. Support them.

Support the men and women - the teenagers - who are getting by and trying to support a family on minimal pay and food stamps. They are the future of our country. Cherish them. Celebrate their brotherhood. Admire it. And remember it, not just on St. Crispin's day, but every day.

Oct 27, 2010

Gun Porn

Weer'd asked for pictures of the Kahr. Who am I to deny my adoring fans?

kahr 002

kahr 003

kahr 004

kahr 009

kahr 008

The velvety stuff on the grip is a Brooks Tactical AGRIP. Super-thin (you can read the Kahr logo through it), grippy without being tacky, and quite comfortable. It was on the gun when I got it, and I don't intend to remove it.

642 and 1911 for size comparison. The PM9 is the same height as the 642, about an inch shorter, and 3/8" thinner. Weight is comparable. You could carry the 642 AND the PM9 and still not be up to the weight of a steel 1911A1.

Will the PM9 replace the 642 for carry? Not 100% of the time, but there will certainly be times it's more appropriate!

Quarantine, Laws

New Jovian Thunderbolt proposes an interesting scenario.

The quarantine starts now, and lasts until Groundhog Day. Yes, 90 days.

Electricity, water, and gas supplies will be sporadic. For instance: the water may go off on day 2 and never come back, or it may stay on a week, and go off a week, that sort of thing. Sewage is not a problem.
Go ahead. Game it out. See what happens. Read the whole thing for the whole story.


In other news, I picked up a new-to-me Kahr PM9 yesterday. (PM9094, specifically.) I traded away my S&W 242, which was a neat gun but wasn't "doing it" for me. The trade involved a drive to Albany and back - about seven and a half hours round-trip - but was still cheaper than paying transfer and shipping fees on both ends. ($50 bucks in gas instead of two $25 transfer fees plus $25 shipping on my end, and same on the other guy's end.)

We met at his range, gave each gun a going-over, shot our prospective trades, and shook hands. Then we each left with a new-to-me gun.

I'm sure there will be people wringing their hands and whinging about the "loophole", and that we're not doing background checks, and neither of us is a licensed dealer.

Guess what? New York has some of the most draconian laws in the country when it comes to handguns. In order to possess a handgun, you have to have a permit. In order to get that permit, you're getting a background check, with references.

Each time I purchase a handgun, I receive a purchase coupon that has to go to my dealer (or the person I'm buying the gun from). This coupon is provided and signed by the judge in my county.

The guy I traded with had to give me a coupon too. I saw his pistol permit. I'm reasonably sure he's not a prohibited person, and there's no damn "loophole" there. So wring your hands, whine, complain that there's "there oughta be a law" - but realize that there IS a law, and the law-abiding are following it.

There doesn't need to be another law, there needs to be enforcement of the existing laws. You commit a violent crime, you go to jail or prison. Period. Not probation. Not paroled in a fraction of your sentence. What is the purpose to sentencing someone to multiple life sentences - served concurrently - and then paroling them in twenty years? No more concurrent sentencing, no parole for violent criminals. Seems easy, doesn't it? (Yes, we would have to build more/bigger prisons. Or maybe parole some of the non-violent-crime inmates...)

Oct 25, 2010

Clearing out

In an effort to make some space (and money) for things I'll use, I'm getting rid of some of the things collecting dust around here.

Canon Elan 7e kit:
Camera body w/ strap
BP-300 battery pack/vertical grip (rather hard to find, can run the camera on AA or CR123 batteries)
28-90 f/4-5.6 lens (Canon)
75-300 macro lens (Sigma)
IR remote
Camera bag
a few boxes of Fuji 35mm color print film, various speeds, possibly expired

I used this for about two years, did a fair bit of my own work with it, one wedding, and then switched to all-digital. It's a workhorse camera and in *excellent* condition. Canon claims 4 frames per second and a top shutter speed of 1/4000s, although I rarely tried that - film is too expensive to go through a roll in nine seconds! Shutter count is around 10-12,000.

The "e" on the model indicates eye-controlled focus, which IS very nifty - there are seven autofocus points, and you simply look at the one you want the camera to focus on. It takes a little getting used to, and doesn't work with some eyeglasses, but DOES work. Great for fast action stuff.

$250 shipped in the US.

sell 005 by zer_cool, on Flickr

Sony PSP (Playstation Portable) game system
With charger, manual, case, screen protector, 1GB memory stick, Sony headphones/inline remote, and following games (all in cases, with instructions):
-- Archer McLean's Mercury - puzzle game similar to the old tabletop
-- Burnout Legends - smash 'em up driving game
-- CapCom Classics Collection - collection of classic arcade games
-- Field Commander - strategy combat game
-- Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories - part of the GTA series
-- Lumines - puzzle game similar to Tetris
-- MediEvil Resurrection - sidescrolling arcade game
-- Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters - continuation of the classic series
-- Sega Genesis Collection - collection of Sega classics, including
the Sonic games and several more

$150 shipped in the US.

sell 006 by zer_cool, on Flickr

CRKT "Lake Bandera 2". Two available. One NIB, one was in my pocket for a month or two, still in excellent shape. NIB $25 shipped, gently used $20 shipped.

sell 001 by zer_cool, on Flickr

CRKT "Point Guard". Combo edge. NIB. $25 shipped.

sell 002 by zer_cool, on Flickr

CRKT "MUK". Four available, all NIB. $12 shipped.

sell 003 by zer_cool, on Flickr

B-Square saddle for Remington 870 12ga, with BSA 30mm Green Dot sight. Excellent condition, has been used gently for one turkey season. One scratch on left side. $60 shipped.

sell 004 by zer_cool, on Flickr


I spent a bit of Sunday afternoon helping a friend clear up a fallen tree at their house. Before I'd gone over, she told me I'd need a big saw, because her 16" wasn't doing the job. I was trying to picture the tree that fell, and couldn't figure out how a 16" saw wasn't big enough.

The answer was easier than I'd expected:
Maintenance is everything.

If you own a home and have trees, a chainsaw of some kind is a worthy investment. If you lose one big branch and have to call a tree service, you've likely spent more than the cost of a basic chainsaw on one service call.

If you're in suburbia - half- or quarter-acre lot with a couple trees and a house - you can likely squeak by with an electric chainsaw. They're great for pruning and trimming, or cutting up a large limb that's fallen. They require minimal maintenance beyond sharpening the chain and keeping the bar oil topped up. Just keep in mind that you'll be working with a Very Sharp Thing near an extension cord, and be careful.

Once you're edging up to an acre and maybe some heavy brush, it's time to forego the electric saw and pony up for a gas-powered model. Don't rush out and buy the biggest most powerful saw you can afford; buy the saw that's appropriate for your usual tasks. If you expect to run the saw five or six times a year to clear up some brush and limbs, or clean up a windfall, you don't need a 60cc (or bigger) behemoth with a 20" bar. A 35cc model with a 14" bar should do anything you'll need most of the time, and won't fatigue you more than necessary.

If you've got woods that you plan to timber, or heat with wood, it's time to look at the larger pro-level saws. 50-60cc, with an 18" bar will fell almost any tree and let you limb and buck it without wearing yourself out or overloading the saw. (There are, of course, even bigger saws out there, but if you need one of those, you're probably not reading this for saw advice!)

Chainsaws are like guns, of course - if you ask five people what model is best for you, you're going to get six answers. I freely admit to being a fan of orange paint. If I'm buying a saw, my first answer will always be, "Stihl". A distant second is Husqvarna, followed by Jonsered. My personal saw is a Stihl MS-180 with a 14" bar. It's light, powerful, and handles everything I've asked of it. They run about $200 brand new from a Stihl dealer.

If I needed a mid-range saw, I'd probably look at a Stihl MS-270 ($450), and for a big saw, I'd be shelling out for an MS-360/362 ($650). There are plenty of used saws out there - including at your local shop. If you know what you're looking for, a great deal can be found. If you're not careful, it's easy to lose money on a saw. Like buying a used gun, if you don't know, take someone with you. I lost a bit of money on a saw that wasn't everything it appeared to be. Not much, but enough to make me more cautious in the future.

Of course, the saw isn't the only thing you'll need. Proper safety gear can save you - literally. Gloves, helmet, chaps, and boots are important. If you don't respect the saw, even for one second, it can seriously injure or kill you. My little MS-180 turns at 14,000rpm - about six times faster than your car motor cruising down the highway, and twice what most NASCAR motors run. That kind of engine speed translates to the chain moving at about 45mph. You are not faster than the chain, I promise.

After you've picked your saw - and ideally, as part of the same purchase (ask for a discount on accessories with the saw, the worst they can say is no!) - you should pick up at least one extra chain, bar oil, 2-stroke oil, a chain file, sprocket grease gun (if needed, not all saws do), extra scrench, extra sparkplug, and a couple plastic wedges. Milk crates are great for carrying all this stuff around.

As an aside, I *highly* recommend purchasing your saw from a shop that specializes in chainsaws and outdoor power equipment. The folks at Home Depot or Tractor Supply aren't necessarily going to know the difference between a 0.325" or 0.375" chain pitch, or why it's important to match chain gauges, or if you want a safety chain or skip chain. If you're buying from the local shop, ask to try a saw before you buy - many of them will have demo saws and a few logs to work with. Ask them to show you how to sharpen your chain and adjust the tension. You still may screw it up down the road, but an honest mistake is how you learn.

I can't teach you everything about sawing in a blog post - it's just not possible to explain the nuances and subtleties of really running a saw. I'll hit the high points, though:

- First and foremost: SAFETY FIRST. 30,000 people go to the ER with chainsaw injuries each year. Don't be 30,001. If you are tired, drunk, or under the influence of a drug or narcotic, it's not a good time to be sawing. Work, THEN play.

- All the gear all the time. Like bikers with their leathers, it's that "one quick cut" that will bite you.

- Size your saw and bar to your work. A 16" bar on a 45-50cc saw will handle almost any residential task, and a 20" bar on a 60cc saw will handle almost any firewood job.

- Take breaks. Running a saw is hot, energy-consuming work. You have to be focused on what's in front of and around you the whole time the saw is running. Most saws have a fuel tank sized to run the saw for about 30 minutes. When the tank is empty, take a break. Sit down, stretch, drink some water, service the saw, and then get back into it.

- Maintain your saw. Whenever you fill the gas tank: fill the bar oil, touch up the cutters (one or two strokes of the file is all it needs), check the chain tension, and scrape out any obvious excess dirt.

- If you've hit a nail or fence insulator or rock while you're cutting, swap chains and set the damaged one aside as a utility chain for the next time you're working on the ground.

- Change your sparkplug every 100 hours or every other year.

- Clean the air filter every 5-10 hours of cutting, replace as needed.

- Make sure you run the right blend of gas:oil mix. 50:1 is fairly common now, but older saws may run 40: or 32:1. (REALLY old saws were as rich as 8:1.)

- Every couple months of regular use, take your chain to the shop to have it professionally sharpened. This will get rid of any burrs or misaligned teeth from your home sharpening, and should also get the rakers to the right depth.

- A good sharp saw will throw chips, not dust. If you're cutting and seeing dust, the saw is trying to grind through the tree instead of cutting. Stop, sharpen and tension your chain, and try again.

- Finally: SAFETY LAST. 30,000 people go to the ER with chainsaw injuries each year. Don't be 30,001. If you are tired, drunk, or under the influence of a drug or narcotic, it's not a good time to be sawing. Work, THEN play.

A chainsaw is a hell of a tool, and knowing how to use and maintain one will serve you in good stead for most of your life. Hope this helps!

Oct 24, 2010

Deal alert

For those of you in the market for an all-around shotgun, it's a good week to head over to Dick's Sporting Goods.

They are advertising the Mossberg 500 "Field/Deer Combo", in 12- or 20-gauge, for $280.

The 500 is not a fancy shotgun. The stock is inexpensive wood with little to no figure, the action will be a little rough until it's been run through a few hundred rounds, and the bluing is nothing to write home about.

However, it is dead-nuts reliable, and in this package, includes a field (smoothbore) barrel and a scoped fully-rifled barrel. 12 or 20 is a personal choice, but I'm planning to talk the CFO into adding one to the safe.

A little side note about Dick's (and big-box "gun stores" in general): Don't go to one looking for pro help. They don't consider "gun knowledge" to be a critical qualification. Knowing which end goes bang is usually sufficient. You can usually find a good deal on some fairly generic guns - witness above - but if you're looking for something a bit more esoteric or high-dollar, it's a good idea to find your local gun store.

Followup, Names

I neglected to tell you what time I'd be pulling the trigger in that video post.

Around :40, I think the whackjob would have my attention.
At :45, I'd have my hand on my gun, maybe even cleared leather but kept it out of sight.
At :48 he's going to be looking down a .357" hole.
And at :55 ... boom.

(Like Wally said, don't want to ding my rims! Then again, there is a REASON I got 16" steel wheels on my truck instead of 17" alloys...)


There have been several posts around the blogworld about naming guns (or knives).
I think Tam may have started it.
Brigid rang the bell with this one.
Borepatch goes back in time.

Several folks I know have named their guns. One person I know names things compulsively. Cars. Houses. Apartments. Some folks seem to name things by flipping through the phone book, others with a sense of irony.

Here's the thing about you phone book namers... Words have meanings. If you're naming something with a personality - and believe me, some guns have personalities - it needs to tell you its name. It will. It might take a bit of time to do it, but anything that's worth naming will name itself. (For instance, our dog Dixie is absolutely convinced her last name is "goddammit!")

I haven't named any of my guns. Like Tam, I believe they're tools. There are certainly some I have a sentimental attachment to, but none of them have deserved a name. (No Snubby from Hell in my safe!)

Oct 22, 2010

A little exercise, Part II

In my last post, I asked what you'd do.

First: the driver of that car was in a lousy spot. Not her fault; it's traffic. It's not *always* possible to leave yourself an exit path, but try hard. (Pro tip: sidewalks are perfectly acceptable exit paths when you are in fear of death or grave bodily injury.)

Always keep an eye on what's around you when you're stopped in traffic. Watch the panhandlers, window-washers, etc. Drive with your doors locked. (Many cars lock them for you when you put the car in "D" - those of us who drive stick don't have that feature.) The driver in that video had NO IDEA what was coming, as s/he rocked out with Garrison Keilor.

Crazy dude with bat takes a swing at my truck while I'm stuck in traffic? I'm already reaching for the carry piece while I'm moving forward. Your BEST defense is ALWAYS to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE. The car in front of me? So I mush it's bumper. So what? Maybe I do hop the curb; flatten a sign pole or something. So what? Sheet metal is cheap.

If Mookie there steps in front of my truck while still swinging - well, he stepped into traffic outside a marked crosswalk. Darn shame what happened! In all honesty, though: you are making an honest effort to RETREAT from a deadly threat. If he is moving to prevent that escape and gets injured or killed, that was his decision.

You're driving a 20,000,000-grain bullet, kids. One that kills 45,000 people in the US each year. I know the deep-seated instinct to not hurt the car (beginning the first time Dad let you borrow it - "If you bring this back with ONE scratch on it, you'll wish you hadn't come back!") but always remember that things are replaceable. Use the tool you have available to you.

When he swings his bat at the driver's window (I can't tell if it breaks; it's irrelevant), it's time for him to be staring down the barrel of something. That is crystal-clear fear of imminent death or grave bodily injury.

If a look at the smiling face of Mssrs. Smith et Wesson doesn't convince him that perhaps this was a victim selection failure, they will be required to speak up on the matter.

If you're going to carry a gun, make sure you know you can do that. Make that decision well ahead of time. You can't bluff with a gun; if the situation warrants pulling your gun you must be willing to use it. Most states don't distinguish between the "threat of" and the "use of" deadly force.

A little exercise for you

There is plenty of crazy out there, folks. Plenty. Or perhaps, there are plenty of crazy folks out there. Either way, you get the idea.

Poking through Arfcom to entertain myself this morning, I found a link to this video:

You can watch the first thirty seconds if you want; it's not really necessary. Short-form translation: I'm a bad dude and can do what I want.

Watch it a couple times if you need to. Then tell me what you would have done, at what point (time stamp).

My answer will be up later today.

Oct 21, 2010

Winter Preparations

The squirrels are out in full force these days, rustling through the leaves looking for missed acorns and other edibles. While they drive me nuts as a hunter (it took me forever to distinguish between "squirrel rustle" and "deer step" and I still goof it up sometimes), it should be a solid reminder to all of us that it's time to make sure we're ready for winter.

Tires are going to be a bit softer as the weather cools - get them back to proper pressure. Rotate them. Replace them if needed or swap them for your snow tires.

Get your oil changed and your antifreeze checked.

Put on fresh wiper blades, switch to winter-mix washer fluid.

Make sure your car has a spare blanket and a few pocket heaters in it.

Make sure you've got at least a few days worth of food tucked away at home.

Get your flues and chimneys cleaned and inspected.

Switch your ceiling fans from "down" to "up".

Pull out window A/C units and close your storm windows.

Drain the garden hoses and put them away.

Put Sta-Bil in your lawnmower and run it through for a bit.

Change the oil in all your power equipment. Mowers, generators, tillers...

Run your two-strokes dry.

Make sure your stored gas is treated and full.

Have your oil or propane tanks filled.

Split and stack one more cord of wood.

Put a few flats of bottled water in the basement.

Make sure all the ammo is organized and the guns are clean.

Change the batteries in your clocks, smoke detectors, and CO alarms.

Put away the Tevas and get out the Bean Boots.

Have a little campfire, enjoy an evening with friends, admire the colors, and smile because you're ahead of the squirrels. Hooray for opposable thumbs!

Brief range trip

It's been far too long since I got to the range for ANY kind of recoil therapy. With gun hunting season fast approaching, it was time for me to get out and check the zero on my guns. I took advantage of some of the beautiful weather we've been having and headed out, shotgun and muzzleloader in tow.

I started with my muzzleloader. I had some issues with this last year; specifically, my sights had gotten banged around hard enough to throw them WAY off. I fixed that but didn't take a deer with it. Earlier this year I found the right base to mount a scope and put a fixed 2x scope on top. (Don't get me wrong: the fiber sights T/C puts on their guns are top-notch, but I prefer a scope.)

At the range, I got it settled into a bench rest and boresighted at 25m, then loaded and shot one to make sure I was on paper. Three minutes right and five minutes low. Made the adjustments I wanted and the second shot was one minute right and seven minutes high.

I backed the target out to 100m and checked elevation. 4MOA high and 1/2MOA left. In other words, my windage is fine, but the elevation wasn't where I wanted it yet. I dialed it back down, and took one more shot. Dead center windage, a hair over an inch high. In other words, perfect - I'd be comfortable using this out to 150m or even 200m with a little holdover.

Since I was running short on my preferred bullets (T/C Shockwave sabots, 250gr) I ran a bonded Shockwave from a non-benched position to double check. It widened out the previous hole.

A note about modern muzzleloaders: they have the accuracy to compete with nearly any cartridge-firing rifle. Most of them will handle "magnum" powder loads - that is, 150gr of black powder or substitute equivalent. I don't see the point in abusing myself or my equipment like that, particularly with the results you can see here. 100gr-eq of 7-7-7 (two "50-50" pellets) with a Winchester 209 primer, underneath a T/C Shockwave 250gr spirepoint sabot.


Done with the muzzleloader, I pulled out my trusty 870 - slightly battered, but it's been a great gun. For deer season, it wears a 21" fully rifled barrel with rifle sights and gets loaded with Remington CopperSolid 1oz sabot slugs. I have yet to hit a deer that requires tracking with this setup; interpret that how you may.

Shot one was WAY left - barely on paper. A bit of adjustment on the windage brought it to about where I wanted and a third shot shows it to be about four inches low at 75yd. I didn't have any more slugs with me (or an allen wrench to adjust elevation) so called it good with a mental note to move the sights up one notch before the season starts.

My shoulder is a bit sore now - I don't shoot hard-recoiling guns that much, and usually with more than a flannel shirt as padding. Of course, when there's a deer in the sights, recoil becomes a non-issue.

One month until gun season opens...

Oct 20, 2010

Dangerous Foods

Whipped up a broccoli salad last night. This is good stuff - easy to make, tasty, filling. Makes a great side dish, or take it to a potluck.

However... If you are prone to flatulence, it's about the most epic food out there. Whether or not this is a bad thing is entirely up to you.

5-6c. broccoli florets, rinsed and drained (these need to be no bigger than bite-size)
12 strips bacon, cooked to crispy and chopped or crumbled
1 medium red onion, chopped
1c. large raisins
1c. roasted/unsalted sunflower seeds

Combine above in large bowl.

1c. mayonnaise
2T. sugar
2T. balsamic or cider vinegar

Beat together and pour over salad, toss until well coated. Serve.

Seriously, you're going to give Uncle Joe's "pull my finger" a run for its money.

Oct 19, 2010

Vote them OUT...

ALL of them.

I uttered these words to my mother a week ago, while in the midst of a "what's wrong with the world" discussion.

She blinked and said, "But then we'd have a bunch of people who have no idea how things are supposed to work running the country."

I nodded, "'The way things are supposed to work' has gotten us into this mess. We need some folks who haven't been playing the game for their whole life to get us out."

Mom clammed up.

It's true, kiddies. When did "politician" become an acceptable career path? If you wanted to be an attorney and practice for a lifetime, then retire and maybe put in a term or two in one political office or another, that's one thing. But graduating from BigBucksU with an eye on a position as a staffer, then maybe stepping up to that seat in ten or twenty years? Bah. Get a job!

Oct 16, 2010

Hunting, Part 11: Hang It, Slice It, Dice It

In Part 10, you field-dressed your deer.

The hard parts are all done. Really.

Load it in the truck and head for home. Report your take if your state requires it. (New York does.) Some folks will tell you to rinse out a deer. I say don't - unless you punctured the bladder and spilled urine, or it was gut-shot and the abdomen was full of stomach contents. You're going to hang the deer for a little bit, and meat that's exposed to air will spoil quickly. The layer of blood on top helps keep the meat from spoiling.

If the forecast for the next week won't keep your deer cold enough (35-40F is ideal, warmer than 50 during the day presents potential problems), or you want a mount made, skip the next part and take your deer straight to your butcher (or butcher it yourself).

Find a good place to hang the deer. Somewhere under cover is the best - in a garage, shed, or barn. You're going to need a solid eight or ten feet of overhead clearance in order to get a pulley and gambrel up and still have room for a deer.

Get the deer on the floor under the gambrel, and put a slice in each back leg. This should be above the "knee" and between the bone and tendon, about 2-3" long, and all the way through the leg. Put one arm of the gambrel on each side, and start hauling that bad boy up. You want it hanging high enough to keep the entire body - including the forelegs - off the ground. Lash it off, put a piece of cardboard or newspaper underneath to catch drips, and go clean up. Have a cup of coffee, a big breakfast, and relax.

How long to let a deer hang is one of those classic hunting-camp debates; right up there with .270 vs. .30-06. I've done the "straight to the butcher" route, and I've let them hang 4-5 weeks (in appropriate weather). In my opinion, right in the middle is ideal - 3 days if you're on the warmer side of things, and 2 weeks if nights are below freezing. After that time, load it back in the truck and drive it to your butcher of choice.

If you are having a mount made, as mentioned above, make sure you tell your butcher! Most of them take the hide as part of their payment, but if you are getting a mount, you're keeping the hide - so you will pay a bit more for the processing.

Have your taxidermist picked out well in advance. Ask friends for recommendations, and if possible, look over their work. If there's an "Outdoorsman Show" in your area, local taxidermists will often have a table with samples of their work. Be prepared to cough up a large chunk of change - good work is expensive and takes time, but is well worth it.

You'll be allowed (encouraged) to look over existing mounts and through catalogs to pick a pose that suits you and the mount - so have a place for the mount in mind ahead of time. Long gone are the days of straight-on shoulder mounts. Head level, head down, head up, head left or right, and any combination of these. Ask the taxidermist for recommendations. A good one will have a good idea of how a particular mount will look best and should ask you a little about where it's going to hang.

A mount is a very personal thing. It's a reminder of a day in the woods, or a child's first deer, or, yes, a trophy. I have one mount - and it's not a spectacular deer. It was a large (250+ estimated live weight) eight-point with a broken brow tine, but it was a spectacular day in the woods as well as my first buck. It cost significantly more than a decent shotgun - and I wouldn't trade it for the world.


I think that (finally) wraps things up. Eleven posts, a whole lot of words, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If there are questions you still have about hunting, let 'em fly - I'll answer to the best of my ability.

Astute readers may note that in Part 9, I switched from "we" to "you". This was a conscious change on my part. A friend can go scouting with you, help you hang stands, clear lanes... but only one person can pull the trigger. You.

Oct 15, 2010

Hunting, Part 10: Rough Cuts

In Part 9, you went and found your deer, and made sure it was dead.

Now it's time to get dirty. If you're going to take any pictures of your kill, now is the time to do it. Take a rag or a few paper towels with you to wipe up any obvious blood, and tuck the tongue back in the mouth for a more professional (and tasteful) picture.

Field dressing (or "gutting" if you prefer) is not a clean process. With experience, you'll find that you're able to do it with less mess, but no matter how you swing it, you're going to be elbow-deep in a deer. Much like reading the wind, this can be a tough process to describe, and you're going to make some mistakes here and there. It's not the end of the world, and you'll learn.

I mentioned before that some hunters like to use the shoulder-length veterinary gloves. I don't bother. I do recommend the use of long-wrist exam gloves, ideally the heavy-duty kind. My personal preference is "P2" style gloves. They have fine dexterity, but are at least moderately resistant to punctures. A shot deer is likely to have some bone and/or bullet fragments inside it, which can be sharp. Additionally, you'll be working blind with a knife that is shaving-sharp.

Speaking of knives: I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. You are not John Rambo, and you're not hunting the deer with the knife, just gutting it. You don't want a long blade. Three to four inches is the ideal size. My personal favorite is a Buck DiamondBack Guide. It's inexpensive, sharp as hell, takes an edge easily, and the blade profile is great for working in an abdominal cavity. It really should be shaving-sharp; I run mine across a fine diamond stone before every single hunt, regardless of whether it's been used since the last one.

So, you're standing over your deer. The very first thing you should do is fill out your tag. If an EnCon officer happens across you gutting a deer without a proper carcass tag, you have the potential for some issues. Once it's filled out, slip it in your pocket, and start looking over your deer.

Look closely for bullet entrance and exit wounds, and look for any extra wounds. An extra hole or some scarring could indicate that another hunter already tried for this one, and there may be an old bullet or even a broadhead arrow floating around inside. If you think there might be, use extra caution, but get to work.

Roll up your sleeves and glove up. Roll the deer on its back and stand so you're looking at it from the back end. I will often tie one of the back legs to a tree to hold it out of the way while I work.

Cut a circle around the anus of the deer, as deep as your knife blade will go.

From there, make a longitudinal cut towards the rib cage, just barely penetrating the skin. To do this, I'll hold my knife with three fingers and extend my index finger along the spine of the blade. This helps push the entrails back and out of the way so you don't puncture those. If your deer is male, cut to one side or the other of the "bits".

Run the cut all the way to the breastbone, right down the center of the abdomen. If you've made this cut correctly, you should have a thin membrane bulging with the contents of the deer's abdomen. Grab a pinch of that and make the same kind of cut - all the way up, but this time, just slicing the membrane out of the way.

Roll the deer on its side. Most of those guts should flop out in one reasonably contained pile. You'll likely need to run your knife along the inside of the abdominal walls on both sides, and up to the spine, to free up the membrane on both sides. The lower end of the intestine may still be attached by some fibers where you cut around it before - just work your knife in a bit further from the outside and around it again. It should pull loose after that. If you want to save the liver, cut it apart and set it aside in a plastic bag now.

You should now have a relatively empty abdomen with one connection still in the body - the esophagus. If you look up inside the deer, you'll see the diaphragm separating the chest from the abdomen. Run your knife all the way around the edge of that. Be prepared for a fair bit of blood that had been retained in there, from your perfect shot that destroyed the heart and lungs. ;-)

Reach in - carefully - and scoop out whatever organs you find. Some folks will save the heart; if you want to, put it in the bag with the liver. You'll find a couple tubes still in there: the esophagus and the trachea. Now this is probably the hardest cut you'll have to do, since it takes two hands and is a blind cut. With your free hand, reach as far up and in as you can and get a firm grip around them. With your knife hand, carefully slice through both and pull them free.

That's it. You should now have a (relatively) empty deer!

Hook up your drag and start the long trudge back to your truck. If there's snow on the ground, one of those orange plastic toboggans works wonders for moving deer, and cleans up easily to boot - the kids will never know! Once you get back to your truck, put the tag on the deer. If it's a doe, cut a slit in the middle of an ear and use a zip-tie to attach the tag. If there's antlers, use a zip-tie to attach the tag to one.

Oct 14, 2010

Hunting, Part 9: After the Shot

In Part 8, you pulled the trigger.

If everything went according to plan, there is now a deer within reasonable proximity to you with holes in vital organs. You took the shot, watched him run off, made note of where he went, and sat back down to replay it in your mind and relax.

No, seriously, sit the hell down and RELAX. Call your hunting partner and let him know. Watch the squirrels. Watch the leaves. Read a magazine. Watch for another deer if you're feeling confident.

If you start tracking a deer as soon as it's shot, you're going to be pushing an injured deer. They'll keep running from you, trying to find a spot to bed down and die. A deer that is pushed hard after being shot can cover a tremendous distance, and will end up with muscles loaded with lactic acid and adrenaline. All that gets you is tough and gamey meat.

Wait twenty or thirty minutes before you climb down*. Do so safely; unload your gun, lower it down, unhitch yourself from the tree, and make your way down. Hunter Ed classes will tell you to go looking for your deer with an unloaded gun. I don't agree with this. Load it back up and find where you shot the deer. Go slow. Look for blood, hair, scat - anything indicating an injured animal. Mark the area. Either push a stick into the ground, or hang a small piece of toilet paper from a tree branch.

Start walking the direction you saw the deer go. You're looking for drops of blood. If you're lucky, these will be large and obvious, but that's rarely the case. Walk to the side of the path the deer took so you don't disturb any sign they left. In addition to drops of blood, look for hair, broken twigs, upturned leaves or dirt, or scat. Each time you find one of these things, mark it as mentioned above. Don't stick your fingers in the blood - those tiny little drops are all you have if you need to backtrack. (I do mean tiny, too. I tracked a deer that I shot with a .270 through five-foot-tall goldenrod in the middle of summer, following spots of blood no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. It's tedious, time-consuming work, and it's your responsibility.)

If you completely lose the trail, there are a few options, none of which are fun. The first thing to do is to go back to the last place you had definite blood - not just tracks, but wet red blood. Start working your way outward in a spiral pattern, going slow and keeping your eyes peeled. When you find a spot, mark it, and repeat the process. You may find that the deer made a 90-degree change in direction. As you walk, look from side to side. Look under brush. It's not uncommon for a deer to run a fair distance, then double back and hunker down under some brush to hide.

If that doesn't work, you can try tracking lights - there are a few out there from various makers. I haven't tried any, but the idea is the use of an UV light to make fresh blood fluoresce.

Another option, if you've exhausted everything else, is tracking dogs. DeerSearch.org is available in New York - they provide trained dogs to track wounded deer that are otherwise untrackable. Check out their web site, and if you do need their services, PLEASE give them a donation - these hunters are giving up their own time to help us out.

How far are you going to be tracking? If you're lucky, only a couple hundred yards. A deer shot perfectly through both lungs and the heart can still run a solid quarter-mile before collapsing. An imperfect shot can take them even further - which is why not pushing them is so critical.

If you're tracking in snow, your job is, obviously, much easier. Tracks are clear as day, blood is blatantly obvious, and the deer will (hopefully) stand out against the snow. The methods should be the same, though - it's entirely possible for a deer to cross a stream and you'll be backtracking or walking in the creek to find where it came out. Preserve the track as much as possible.

Once you've found your deer, it's time to make sure it's dead. A good (but not perfect) indicator is the eyes: if they eyes are open and it's not moving, it's likely dead. If the eyes are closed, it's probably still alive. To be absolutely sure, use a stick and poke an eye - a live deer is going to react to this, a dead one (obviously) won't.

If it's not dead, you have two options: Wait or shoot it again. I fall solidly into the "shoot it again" camp. Part of hunting is making a kill as cleanly and humanely as possible. That means a mercy shot if needed. A good revolver is perfect for this; .357Mag or .44Spl (my preference) are both great utility cartridges and will finish a deer without destroying any more meat than necessary. Don't aim for the head or neck. Place your shot above and just behind the front leg, into the chest. Two shots is my usual, just for a little quicker death.

At some point, you're going to be looking an animal in the eye when you kill it. It's not an easy thing to do, and seeing the spark fade from their eyes is a humbling moment. After you've done that, say a little thank-you to whatever floats your boat - the deer, the woods, Yahweh, or the FSM. This is as intimate with the omnivorous food chain as it's possible to be. Meat does not come shrink-wrapped on styrofoam trays. It starts as a living, breathing, animal. You have to respect that as a hunter; if you can't, I'd prefer not to share my woods with you.

* - There is ONE exception to waiting. That is when an animal you've shot has been wounded to the point of immobility but is still within immediate sight. I've had this happen a few times; the best thing to do is climb down and finish the animal quickly and humanely.

Oct 13, 2010

Hunting, Part 8: Take the Shot, Mav!

In Part 7, we've picked our spot and been very patient.

Hopefully, there's now a deer in range.

Decision time!

First and foremost: is this deer able to be legally harvested? Do you have a tag for it? Does it meet any antler restrictions?

Wait, antler restrictions??

Some states are trying out ways to improve the quality of the herd and increase the age of the herd. Lots of hunters are taking spike bucks and small forks, instead of letting them go another couple years to turn into nice six- and eight-point mature bucks. Trial programs are generally point restrictions of the, "At least three points on one side," variety.

Private landowners who are trying to bring home a trophy rack are also trying what's called "Quality Deer Management" in order to see some bigger racks. They'll often have a standing rule that you must shoot a doe before you can take a buck, and any buck taken must have six or more points, and/or a spread outside the ears, etc. They may also eliminate non-typical racks on a shoot-on-sight basis. On a large piece of private land, this can work wonders if all the hunters buy in to it. Anecdotally, hunters are seeing more big racks - in points, spread, and mass.

Presuming you have a tag, and it meets antler restrictions (either state-issued or a QDM program), or is a doe (antlerless), it's time to decide if it's worth shooting. There are plenty of deer out there that aren't worth a shot. This year's fawns are still going to be very small deer, and a fair number of last year's won't be much bigger.

Whether a deer is worth shooting gets into ethics in a major way. If you're a trophy hunter, you know what's a trophy to you. I'm of the mindset that, "You can't eat antlers." I'm hunting for meat, not for a trophy. That said, if there is a nice rack standing next to a nice doe, all other things equal, I'm taking the rack. If you're a new hunter, you're probably in the, "If it's brown, it's down," phase - and that's ok. Most hunters get out of that in the first season or two and will be a bit more selective about what they're taking. Of course, if it's late in the season, the freezer is empty, and you haven't had a chance at anything ... well, most anything goes at that point.

Now we get into shot placement and ethical shots, and I've got some wonderful illustrations here. Pardon my MS Paint skills, and any picture can be clicked for a larger view. I've roughly outlined the place to aim for on each deer. The "perfect" killing shot will be through the heart and both lungs. This doesn't happen often. A lung and the heart, both lungs but no heart, neck/back ... that's reality. You'll be contending with weird angles and moving targets.

We'll start with the textbook broadside shot. They really don't get much better than this. Unafraid, watching the world, with a clear shot into the chest.


This is a more common view, known as the "quartering away" shot. Because of the angle, you need to aim a bit further back on the deer to have a good chance of hitting a vital organ - but you don't want to penetrate the entrails.


This one is pretty questionable in my book. The angles are bad, you can't really tell where the chest is, and curled up like that it's very easy to miss by a little and end up with a gut-shot deer. A grunt call or a whistle ought to get this deer to stand up, presenting a better shot for you.


Now here's a gimme, right? Nice deer, good backstop, just a few twigs in the way... Only problem: that slug or bullet is going to go through the chest, tear up the heart and lungs - and keep on going. Right into the entrails. You'll end up with a soupy bloody mess of lung tissue and partially digested browse. Not a pleasant thing to deal with, and really not an ethical shot. Wait five minutes; she'll turn one way or the other and present a better angle.


How about a two-fer? Can you tell where one starts and the other stops? You've got a decent angle on the one in front, but your slug may well go right on through and only injure the second. A wounded deer can run for, quite literally, miles - and as an ethical sportsman, it's your responsibility to make every effort to recover a wounded animal. The one in back might as well be purely head-on - see above. Again - wait. They'll turn and/or separate, and you'll get a shot.


This fellow is at a full-on gallop. Something spooked him, and he's un-assing the area pronto. There is no such thing as an ethical shot at a deer running like this. Let me repeat that. There is no such thing as an ethical shot at a deer running like this. You can try a couple things. A quick shout, or yelp, or whistle may stop him long enough for you to get a shot. Or it may not - in which case you should just settle back and enjoy watching him run, then start looking for the next one.


These are, of course, just a few examples, and you will need to use your own judgment and sense of morality in making shots. I can't tell you what's right or wrong, just my opinions. If you want to dump a magazine at that running button buck*, that's your discretion. Just remember that a lawyer comes free with every bullet you fire and there are going to be other hunters in the woods.

With the deer in your sights, the shot should be instinctive. Just like a day at the range, right? Front sight, take a breath, let half out, hold it, squeeze, follow through... Yeah, right. Buck fever is a very real thing, and doesn't apply exclusively to bucks. Having a deer in your sights will jump your heart rate in a very real way. The gun will feel shaky, you may fumble (or forget) the safety, you'll get a bit of tunnel vision... Take a deep breath and calm down.

A miss is wasted ammo, and a spooked deer. At $2-3 per shot for premium hunting ammo, that gets expensive real fast, and doesn't fill the freezer. Get your sight picture, find a rest for the gun if you can, and make the shot count. Call your shot. Know where it hit, and watch how the deer reacts. A missed deer will usually jump straight up or ahead. A gut-shot deer will hunch up around the bullet. A good chest hit may hunch up but will usually stumble a little.

After the shot, watch the deer. Don't climb out of your stand or blind, don't try for another deer, just watch the one you shot. See where it runs and how it's running. Is the gait uneven or a solid run? Is it heading for thick cover or water? Open fields? Watch it until you can't see it anymore, then sit your butt back down and concentrate on remembering what you just saw. Did the shot feel right? Did the deer act "hit" or just spooked? Where did it run? In your mind, mark the exact spot it was in when you took your shot, and the exact path it took as it ran. Which trees did it go around? What brush did it go through? (If you are hunting in snow, this is made far easier, but don't assume you'll have that benefit.)

Tomorrow we'll cover tracking...

* - How can I tell that's a button buck? Look at the head. A doe will have a more slender, domed head, particularly when viewed from the front. A button buck will have a square shape from the antler bases, which are pretty easy to see in profile as small nubbins above and behind the eyes. Am I 100% sure? No, not in this case. But it's a good indicator to remember.

Taking Lessons from Squirrels

We've been putting up a fair bit of food lately; getting things stocked up for the coming winter when a little taste of summer can come from a jar. We've been working through existing stocks of things and replenishing as needed, buying in bulk when possible, and generally staying ahead of things.

We went through ALL of our stored food Monday night and made a list of what we had.

The end result was staggering. Three hand-written pages of stuff, sorted by location, and covering all the food groups. We've quite a bit of venison from last fall that needs to get used up; stew and chili will be in the near future. Lots of rice. Lots of tomato products that MrsZ has put up from our farm share. Beans. Peas. Prepared stuff that we froze and tucked away for easy meals later on. Plenty of pasta. Tuna fish. Popcorn. Oil. Dry milk. Canned fruits and jams.

We could survive for quite some time without a trip to the store if we needed to, and that's a great feeling.

MrsZ has been making an effort to can more things lately, thereby saving our precious freezer space for the things that really don't can well (venison loin and steaks, bread products, and so forth). Tonight as I headed to work, she was just closing the pressure canner on seven quarts of stock. Good rich stuff, bits of chicken, lots of vegetables, some watermelon rind (seriously, this works - try it!)... there's probably another 7-10 quarts waiting to be canned, and I'll be making another 6-8 quarts from each of the chicken carcasses I roasted today.

Good stock is magical stuff; it outstrips bouillon or store-bought stock by orders of magnitude, and can be tweaked to your own tastes if you really like. It adds depth to soups and makes casseroles into amazing dishes. And it's not hard to make. Just throw a bunch of whatever you have around - bones, wilty vegetables, onions, carrots, celery, freezer-burned meat, etc - into a big pot of water and let it simmer for a while. Separate the solids from the liquid and freeze (or can) the liquid. Voila, stock!

Oct 12, 2010

Hunting, Part 7: Have a Seat

In Part 6, we found a place to hunt.

We have yet to place our blinds or stands, though, and that's what we're going to do next.

You've been doing your off-season scouting, right? Sat on the edge of a field at dawn or dusk, with an appropriate beverage in hand? Wandered the woods looking for scrapes (torn up patches of ground) and rubs (bark taken off trees)? Found the shallow spot in the creek where deer cross? Found a bedding area? Found a feed area? Figured out the topography?

Deer aren't smart animals. Anything that will stand in front of a 4,000lb vehicle going 60mph with the horn blowing does not count as intelligent. They are, however, wily. Some might even say paranoid.

There are thousands of pages written in countless books and magazines about how to predict where the deer will be. Some of it is good advice, some of it is crap. I don't care how much hunting that editor in New York City has done; a tactic that works for whitetails in upstate New York probably won't work for Texas mulies, or for New Mexico elk, or Colorado pronghorns. Predicting where the deer will be is a matter of experience, hard luck, and occasionally, some good luck.

These wily critters have an amazing ability to disappear in the tiniest ripple of ground - a swale that won't hide a dandelion in springtime can cover a 250-pound ten-point buck in November. They move cautiously, they have phenomenal hearing, and a sense of smell that will put a dog to shame. Countering (or trying to counter) all these things is part of the hunt.

Once you've found where the deer are moving regularly, it's time to find a promising spot. Know your limitations, and that of your equipment. If you're hunting with a slug gun, 300 yards across a cornfield is not a promising spot. If the deer are moving out of the woods in a particular corner of a field, it's a fair bet that you could set up on one side or the other within easy shooting distance of that corner.

Which side? Figure out where your prevailing wind is coming from, and set up either cross- or down-wind from the corner you've picked. There will certainly be days that the wind won't be coming from the prevailing direction, but if you've picked a good spot for two days in three, that's putting the odds on your side.

Maybe you've found a small ravine or dip that the deer move through - and they will move in dips as much as possible, to stay out of sight and out of the wind. Set up on an edge above it, downwind from the direction the deer are coming from.

Rubs and scrapes are ways for bucks to mark territory. They'll tear up the ground and urinate on it, or tear the bark off a tree and rub their head against it, transferring some of their scent. They'll also pull down small branches in the area and nibble on them, again, transferring scent.

Found a scrape that keeps getting freshened up? It's a fair bet there's a dominant buck visiting it on a regular basis. They have a tendency to move when it's dark, but there will be does and non-dominant bucks that will visit it also... and they'll show up during daylight. Pick a good overlook and be patient. (You can tell a fresh scrape because the dirt will be bare and freshly turned over, leaves will be pushed aside, etc.)

Maybe you know where the best watering hole is. When you're out walking, look for tracks near ponds and streams. Find a promising spot, and be patient. Side note: many states outlaw shooting an animal that is standing in water. It's an ethics/fair chase thing; please abide by it.

If you're able to, get your stands and blinds set up well in advance of the hunting season. Go out and use them occasionally out of season - sit and watch the world for an hour, have a cup of coffee, read a book, whatever. Just get the deer used to the stand being there, and non-panicked about people being in the area. As the season approaches, you'll get to see bucks sparring for dominance, and squirrels doing their fall harvest, maybe a fox or coyote. If you hunt small game, you may want to take a .22 along with you, although I prefer to leave my deer grounds alone until after deer season.

Check your shooting lanes. If you have permission, clear them as necessary. I've taken between-the-trees shots on deer, and it's nerve-wracking. Getting twigs and saplings out of the way will reduce the odds of a shot going wild because it winged a branch. Make sure you look for your backstops. All four rules apply when hunting; doubly so because there may well be another hunter nearby. (One of the advantages to hunting from a stand is that your shot is, by default, pointing towards the ground.)

About two weeks before the season, it's simply time to leave the woods alone. Don't hike, don't scout, don't check cameras, just leave things as they are.

Once the season begins and you're out there hunting, the key to getting deer is ... patience. There are some folks who hunt and seem to have filled a tag or hit their bag limit within hours, some will hunt all season with no results. I've been hunting turkey for six years; I have shot at several and never killed one. I've also seen the opposite end of the spectrum with deer. Having literally been on a stand for twenty minutes and having a nice deer walk right under you is a wonderful feeling.

My first season of deer hunting saw me in the woods nearly every single day with no results. Cold, snow, wind, it didn't matter; I was bound and determined to get one. I tried my own pick of spots, I tried the spots my hunting buddy suggested, no luck. Meantime, he killed several in spots that I'd turned down each day. The next-to-last day of the season taught me that lesson in patience. Days in the woods resulted in a nice-size button buck with my name on it.

Patience, however, isn't always measured in days. One thing I was told early on in my hunting adventures was, "When you're cold, and tired, can't take it anymore, and just want to go home and get some coffee and sleep, wait another fifteen minutes. You'll be amazed." I've tried hard to take that advice to heart, and it has paid off. Last year in particular - I'd had it at 9:00. I was cold, it was damp and miserable, and I was exhausted. I stuck it out until 10:00, and brought home an eight-point.

However, eventually, there will be a deer in front of you, and that's when everything changes...

Oct 11, 2010

ZerCool, cephalopod

Hiroshi, occasional #GBC denizen and blogger I hadn't read much of, is doing some research with an octopus.

He's named it after me. (Obviously. I like sandwiches too, and try to stay in my den unless I see easy food nearby.)

I am still chuckling.

Btw, Breda, about that tentacle pron...

Oct 10, 2010

Hunting, Part 6: Over the River and Through the Woods

In Part 5, we loaded our pockets.

So, gun in hand, it's time to head out... but where do you find a place to hunt?!

It's a tough question in many areas. Suburban sprawl has eliminated many areas that used to be game-rich fields and forests; now they're game-rich subdivisions*. Many farmers are trying to make a little money in the off season and lease their land to hunters. Private land is almost always posted. Landowners are worried about liability issues and reluctant to open their property to strangers.

There are still options, though. Public land is open to sporting uses - and this includes hunting - in almost every state. Check your laws, of course, or contact your local DEC office for advice on what areas are open. Many state parks will allow hunting in some form. For instance, there are several state parks within a half-hour drive of my house. All of them allow bow hunting but not gun hunting. State and national forests are open to hunting. Again, within a half-hour of my home, there are upwards of 20,000 acres of state forest land. Some wildlife conservation areas can be hunted, usually on very limited terms and on a lottery basis.

Public land is just that: public. You don't have any more or less right to it than anyone else out there, which comes with some interesting benefits and penalties. You may be out there hunting, and someone could ride their horse up the trail you followed in. It's entirely possible to encounter someone who is vehemently anti-hunting. You may find a drunk idiot out there with his .577Tyrannosaur just waiting for Bambi to step out. These are generally negatives.

On the plus side, no one can tell you to leave. If an anti-hunter is trying to goad you into doing something stupid - don't. Walk away, get a license plate if you can, and call the local DEC office. Harrassing hunters is illegal in most states. Don't yell, scream, swear, or unsling your gun. Write off the day and hope that DEC catches up with them with a couple love notes.

Also to the good, public land tends to be hunted hardest on the fringes. As deer are pressured, they move to lower-pressure areas. Most hunters are lazy and won't walk more than 4-600 yards from the closest road. In a large management area, it's possible to go a mile or two in from a road and hunt land that hasn't seen a hunter in years. The deer may well be relatively un-panicked, and large. You'll have to drag your trophy buck back that whole distance, but there are those who would argue that it's worth it...

In other words, don't write off public land.

Of course, the real joy is having private land to work. Being able to hang stands and clear lanes at your own discretion, spend enough time there to find the honey holes, that sort of thing. Not many of us are lucky enough to own enough land to be functional hunting grounds. (10-15 acres is a rough minimum, IMHO.) So where do you find it?

Ask around! The worst thing someone can say is, "No."

If someone is teaching you to hunt, hopefully they're taking you on land that they're familiar with. The man who taught me most of the hunting I know married into a family with a large chunk of land; he is generous enough to let me continue hunting it each year. He's allowed me to hang a couple stands or adjust his, clear shooting lanes, and essentially have run of his land at my convenience. Of course, this comes with a cost: I made a friend for life, help him cut firewood a few days a year, and occasionally have to suffer through drinking a six-pack with him. Terrible, I tell ya.

If you live in a rural area, ask around at some of the farms around you. Don't show up the week before hunting season, either. Show up in late winter, before the farmers are in the spring planting rush. Introduce yourself, be polite, ask if you can arrange some kind of a barter. Do you have a skill worth something to them? Carpentry? Electrical work? Maybe they would be happy to have some help baling hay in mid-summer. If it costs you a sunburn and a couple days pitching bales in order to hunt some prime land, it's worth every hour. Offer to share some of the meat you take with them.

Perhaps you've got family with some land. I was lucky; MrsZ's family raises beef cattle about two hours away from us and has nearly a half a square mile of land that I have free access to. I have to share it with some other hunters (they came with the property when her folks bought it), but it's full of BIG deer.

Another option, which may require a bit of careful thinking on your part, is a classified ad on Craigslist or a local bulletin board (try the feed store). Explain who you are in general terms, offer a barter for meat or labor, etc. I did this a few years ago and got a great response from one couple - there are now three of us who hunt a 40-acre parcel. I share a bit of meat with the owners each year and always offer to help with their homestead chores.

The last option, of course, is to buy your own hunting property. It may not be a cheap option, but land is generally a solid purchase if you can afford it. Heck, get together four or five close friends and buy a slightly larger piece; build a small cabin and turn it into deer camp. Undeveloped land can be found for very reasonable prices if you're willing to drive a bit.

I just looked at a real estate site that specializes in land, and these grabbed my eye:
- 20 acres, adjacent to state forest, $35,995
- 42 acres with new cabin, $69,995
- 97 acres, adjacent to state forest, $119,995

Inexpensive? Not at all. Worth it? That's up to you. But it's a great way to know you'll have a place to hunt as long as you want it. (Six people putting in $25,000 each would buy that last one and put in a fairly nice cabin.)

Also, keep an eye out for an "ASK" sticker. It may look like this one, or similar. Most state game agencies are promoting this kind of thing with landowners who are open to hunting but still post their land. (Hunting on posted land is legal, with the landowner's permission.) Call them at a reasonable time and you may be surprised at the reception you get.

Wherever you end up hunting, it's a good idea to ask the landowner to sign a short statement saying that you have permission to hunt the property you're on. If a DEC officer chats with you, it removes any question about trespassing. You should also offer to sign a liability waiver for the landowner. It's not their fault if you slip and hurt yourself, and they shouldn't worry about what an injured hunter might do to their insurance premiums.

Once you have permission to hunt an area, try to do some off-season scouting. Deer don't change their movement patterns much over the year, only the time that they move. Farmers in particular should be able to point you in the direction of the hot spots. My father-in-law can point to four or five spots around their property where deer can be seen just about every day, and tell you what time they'll be there.

Look for tracks in mud, worn paths in the leaves, and as fall gets closer, scrapes in the dirt and rubs on trees. Oval-shaped spots of flattened hay or grain are a dead giveaway for a bedding area. Sit on the edge of a field at dawn and dusk, and you'll see the deer filtering in and out of the fringes of woods. Once you've done some off-season scouting, you know where to start looking when the season opens.

* - Driving to work one night I nearly hit a deer standing in the road in an affluent neighborhood. He stood there and watched me while I counted fourteen points (typical), then ambled off to munch on some ornamental shrubbery. I've never seen that many points on a live deer, nor such a spindly rack. No mass to it, just spread and points. Commenting to a hunting friend, he laughed and said, "Well, it's hard to bulk up on rhododendrons!"

Oct 9, 2010

Slight Delay

There's going to be a brief interruption in the hunting series. I'm out of town for the weekend and didn't get any more in the can ahead of time. Throw out some questions or discussion in the meantime!

Hunting, Part 5: Possibles

In Part 4, we got dressed.

Now we've got to fill all those pockets or pouches. There are a LOT of things that you'll find useful over the course of your hunts, and you'll fine-tune the list to your own preferences as you go along.

Many hunters choose to carry a small daypack or fanny pack for all their stuff; I try to get most of it into my pockets for half-day hunts and will use a small daypack for anything longer.

In the "good ol' days" this was a "possibles bag": it held most anything you could possibly need for a day afield. That's still a good rule of thumb, but I try to expand it a little bit: I carry everything I could reasonably need in a day afield, plus enough to survive a night outside. It doesn't really take much - I don't need comfort, just the essentials.

In my pockets, I'll carry:
- a full reload for my hunting gun. This generally means throwing a full box of shells (5) into a pocket.
- a full reload for my sidearm. (Six rounds; I carry a revolver when I hunt.)
- a flashlight. LED lights don't break, don't burn out, and batteries last nearly forever. Check your game laws for what's legal.
- a small headlamp
- a mylar "space blanket"
- a couple extra heat packs
- a handful of rubber gloves
- a lighter and some tinder (cotton balls rubbed thoroughly in vaseline and stuffed in a film can - awesome stuff)
- my phone
- an energy bar or two (Clif bars are great stuff)
- a bottle of water
- 20 feet of one-inch nylon web - primarily as a drag, but it's generally useful stuff
- a handful of zip-ties and a few feet of 550 cord
- a sharpie marker
- my wallet, with ID, license, and game tags
- any game calls I might want
- two super-sharp knives, one fixed-blade and one folder
- binoculars
- my tree harness

If I'm carrying a daypack for a longer day, some of this stuff will get shuffled into the pack, and I'll add a lunch, another water bottle or thermos of coffee, a dry pair of socks, a poncho, a short roll of toilet paper, and perhaps a paperback.

Why all this stuff? Well, it's served me in good stead. Most of it is pretty obvious, but some, less so.

Zip ties are great for attaching carcass tags; they don't untie, they don't blow away, and if you do get a rack, you don't have to notch an ear to attach the tag - just put it on the main beam.

The two knives I carry have slightly different profiles; one (the folder, a Buck 110) is great for starting a field dressing job, the other (fixed, a Buck Diamondback Guide) for working in a chest cavity. A side note on hunting knives. You aren't John Rambo; you're not killing the deer with the knife, just dressing it out. An ideal hunting knife has a blade 3-4" long and is shaving-sharp; the blade profile is personal preference.

Rubber gloves keep your hands at least moderately clean when dressing a deer. Many folks use the shoulder-length veterinary gloves for dressing. I don't bother. Roll up your sleeves and accept that you are going to get some blood on you.

There are lots of ways to move deer after you've dressed them. If you have an ATV, bully for you; they do make life a lot easier. Where I hunt they tend to be less practical due to the undergrowth. I'm never far from a road or cornfield that I can get my truck to, but a drag of 400 yards isn't uncommon. A 20-foot piece of web can have a loop tied in each end, then get half-hitched around the neck of the deer. Slip the loops over your shoulders and start walking. MUCH easier than trying to keep a grip on a foreleg or antler, and allows you to lean into the load.

Is it possible to carry everything with you that you could want in the field? Of course not. You'd need a small truck to do that, and a certain part of hunting is minimalism. I confess, when I started hunting, I had no idea what I'd need and tried to carry everything but the kitchen sink. It's a self-correcting condition - a full pack gets HEAVY, and you'll quickly pare it down to your own comfort level.

Astute readers may notice that I *don't* have a compass on the list above. This is both an oversight I'm aware of, and a conscious choice. There are three places I hunt on a regular basis, and I'm confident enough in my ability to read the topography there to not want a compass. Additionally, most of them fall in the semi-rural one-mile-grid layout of roads; I can't walk very far in any one direction without hitting a road along the way. If you're hunting in an unfamiliar spot, you absolutely should carry a USGS topo map and compass, and - more importantly - know how to use them.

Always make sure at least one person knows or will know where you'll be hunting, and what time you'll be back. I often hunt alone, but I will call my hunting buddy and let him know I'll be on his land, or leave a note for my wife. If you're going to miss your expected return time, make every effort to let someone know. As mentioned, I mostly hunt within a one-square-mile area, but a square mile is a LARGE piece of land to search for a missing hunter.

Oct 8, 2010

Hunting, Part 4: Dress for Success

In Part 3, we talked about what gun to use.

Now it's time to get dressed. How you dress is going to depend not only on where you are hunting and the forecast, but the style of hunting you prefer.

Most of my hunting is done in November or December, in upstate New York, where highs average around 30-35F and lows in the single digits are not unheard of. It's quite possible to get up in the morning and head out in a hard frost or light snow at 20F, and by lunchtime be sitting in the sunshine and 45-50F.

Key word #1: Layers. Lots of light- and mid-weight layers insulate better than one big heavy jacket, as well as allowing easy adjustment to changing weather conditions.

Key word #2: Wool. I'll freely admit that there are lots of amazing synthetics out there now. In fact, I use them extensively. However, for durability, comfort, and insulation even when wet, wool is king. Avoid cotton at all costs. It doesn't wick, it doesn't breathe, and it doesn't insulate the instant it gets wet.

How many layers you need is up to you. If you're a still-hunter (stalking from tree to tree) or spot-stalk hunter, you'll be doing a lot of walking, and fewer layers are necessary. If you're hunting from a blind or stand, the cold seeps into your bones faster than you can imagine. I always go by the simple rule:

You can always take a layer off, but you can't put on what you don't have with you.

When I dress for an average day in the woods, my list looks something like this:
Poly-blend underwear
Underarmor Cold Gear leggings
Poly-blend longjohns
Lightweight wool leggings
Winter-weight BDU pants (treat the lower half with Camp-Dry to keep your legs dry)

Underarmor Cold Gear mock turtleneck
Heavy sweatshirt
Light flannel shirt (violating my own rule about cotton)
Some combination of a three-way coat
Orange "brush" camo vest

Underarmor hood
Fleece and/or wool watch cap
Glomitts (similar to these)

Poly sock liners
1-3 pairs of wool socks
LL Bean Maine Hunting Shoe

All of this can, of course, be adjusted to your own climate and preferences. If you're going to spend a long time in your stand, you might consider swapping the Bean boots for some kind of pac-boot (heavily insulated mickey-mouse boots - Danner Pronghorns or similar). If it's extra cold, I will cheerfully put on a set of insulated overalls on top of everything else. Chemical heat-packs are a staple, get purchased in ten-packs, and used liberally.

If rain is a part of your hunting weather, it's well worth investing in a good set of Goretex rain gear. Deer will move in almost any weather, and if you're out there when they are, you're the one filling your freezer.

What camo pattern do I use? Might as well throw a dart at a board. I have jungle camo, Mossy Oak, RealTree, and probably a few others that aren't officially named. It really doesn't matter what you use. Deer are colorblind; hence the reason we can (and should) wear safety orange without spooking them. The pattern you wear doesn't matter, so long as it's moderately irregular and breaks up your outline a bit.

Side note: If you're hunting truly cold weather, at some point you will end up looking like the Sta-Puft marshmallow man. Trust me: the deer don't care. The warmer you are, the more comfortable you are, and the longer you can spend in the field. The longer you're in the field, the better your chance of spotting and taking that monster buck you've been looking for.

Oct 7, 2010

Hunting, Part 3: The Gun

In part 2, we discussed getting your license.

Alright, you've got your hunting license. For the sake of argument, we'll presume you intend to hunt deer, since that is probably the most-pursued game in North America, and we'll assume you're going to be hunting with a firearm.

How do you choose what gun to use? The very first bit to consider is what is legal where you intend to hunt. In New York, there is an odd mix of legal tools for hunting, based upon what county you are hunting in. Aside from a few small (metropolitan) areas that are bow-only, shotguns, handguns, muzzleloaders, and bows are legal everywhere in the state. The less-densely-populated counties also allow rifles.

As an all-purpose gun, it's VERY tough to beat a solid pump shotgun. It is legal statewide and can be used for every animal that's legal to hunt, simply by changing the shells you're loading. Small game? Load up a #6 shell. Turkey? #4s. Ducks? #2 steel. Geese? BB steel. Coyotes? #4 buckshot. Deer? Foster slugs, or even swap to a rifled barrel and shoot sabot slugs. If you can only afford one gun for hunting, my hands-down recommendation would be either a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870. 12ga or 20ga doesn't matter; either one will handle any game in New York with aplomb.

If you're a rifle hunter, the options are almost limitless. New York states that ANY centerfire rifle is legal for the hunting of large game. While that does include things like the .17 Remington and .218 Bee, those aren't exactly ethical choices. A hunter is responsible for the cleanest, most humane kill possible. Using an appropriate caliber is one of the best ways to do that.

Don't compensate for poor marksmanship by using a larger caliber. Get something you can shoot well, and practice with it. Know your limits. A gut-shot deer will go just as far whether it's shot with a .243 Winchester or a .338 Lapua Magnum; the LapMag will just destroy a lot more meat on the way through. In my opinion, the .243 is the minimum ethical caliber for whitetails. It's a mild-recoiling, accurate round, and premium hunting loads are readily available. In states where it's legal for youth to hunt large game with a firearm, the .243 is widely considered a great "first deer gun".

Want bigger? .30-30 Winchester, .270 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield are perhaps the best-selling hunting rounds in North America. If you wander into a general store in Smalltown, USA and need a box of hunting ammo, you're likely to find at least one of these three. The .30-30 in a lever-action carbine is a wonderful woods and brush gun; it's light, fast handling, and accurate. Its downfall is the long shot; the maximum point-blank range* of a .30-30 is about 200 yards.

The difference between the .270 and .30-06 is small. They are both powerful cartridges (in fact, the .270 is based on the same case as the .30-06) and capable of handling nearly any game in North America. Both have a maximum point-blank range of about 300yd, and both can be effective well beyond that distance when used by an experienced hunter. Which is the better cartridge? That's entirely up to you. Try asking that question at deer camp some time, but be prepared to argue about nothing else for the rest of the night. (Personally, I use a .270 with 130gr bullets.)

There are plenty of folks who hunt successfully with even more powerful rifles. Things like the 7mm RemMag, .300 WinMag, .338, and on and on. They absolutely work. I think they're overkill for whitetail. For things like elk, caribou, or brown bears - by all means, use a larger cartridge. Just practice with it and learn not to flinch.

Back to the shotgun. Slugs (a big-ass bullet) fall into two categories: "foster" slugs and sabot slugs. Foster slugs are one step above a musket ball; they are big chunks of lead with horrible ballistics and mediocre accuracy. From a smooth barrel (as most shotguns are), a 4" group at 50 yards is pretty normal. Given that the vital area of a deer is 6-8" in diameter, a shot much beyond 75 yards is questionable. Inside that range, however, a foster slug is absolutely devastating. If you expect to be shooting further, it's time to upgrade to a rifled barrel and sabot slugs.

Sabot slugs wrap the slug in a plastic wad that is discarded shortly after leaving the barrel. This wad engages the barrel's rifling and imparts the spin to the slug. Much like throwing a football, the spiral allows for much great accuracy, and sabots are often more aerodynamic than foster slugs in order to extend their range. A properly sighted-in rifled barrel on a shotgun can print a 2" group at 100 yards, but the ballistics of the slug effectively limit the sabots to 150-200 yards.

So, to recap:
One gun hunting: Shotgun.
Rifle for large game: .243 to .30-06, take your pick.
Rifle for larger game: Go magnum.

* Maximum Point-Blank Range is defined as the farthest distance at which a dead-on hold keeps the entire ballistic path inside a given radius. The radius is usually on the order of 3-4", as the vital area of a deer is about 7-8" in diameter. A MPBR of 200 yards, for instance, means that if you hold your sights dead-on at that range, the bullet will be no more than 4" above or below the line of aim all the way to the point of impact.