May 23rd, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Sixteen-year-old Macie Stewart is a proven champion on the wrestling mat and on the hunt.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

Sitting at timber’s edge, we waited for the dense fog to lift. We’d been in position for nearly 20 minutes, but couldn’t get a clear look at the roaring red stag, some 200 yards away.

In February of this year, Macie stood atop the podium where she was crowned state champion wrestler in the 106-pound division. The 16-year-old junior at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, Macie has high expectations on and off the mat. (THURSTON HIGH SCHOOL)

I was with noted outfitter, Gerald Fluerty of Wildside Hunting Safaris, and we were in pursuit of red stags on the North Island of New Zealand. I’d filmed TV shows with Gerald before, but this time I was carrying a camera, hoping to capture some action on film.

The hunter was Macie Stewart, a 16-year-old high school student from my hometown of Springfield, Oregon. It was her second day of the hunt, and while she’d passed on a couple nice stags, the rut was in full swing and the valleys echoed with roaring red stags; she was in no rush to end the hunt.

Finally, the fog cleared just enough to confirm the stag in front of us was a shooter. Inching into a better shooting position, Macie got set up in the shooting sticks and waited for the stag to stand.

Moments before darkness consumed us, the fog fully lifted, the massively racked stag let out a deep, guttural roar, and then stood up from his bed. That’s when Macie let him have it with her .308. The stag stumbled and fell.

“Oh my gosh, he’s way bigger than he looked through the scope,” said Macie as we approached the downed stag. Gerald and Macie exchanged high fives and hugs, as this was a moment each will remember forever.

And in a wrestling match, she would have scored two points for a takedown.

Less than a month prior to her late March hunt for red stag in New Zealand, Macie was on the wrestling mat in Portland, Oregon’s Memorial Coliseum. Here, she became the first girl in her high school’s history to earn a state wrestling title. From athletics to hunting, Macie Stewart has achieved a lifetime of success, and she’s only a junior at Thurston High School.

At the age of 13, Macie traveled with family and friends to Wyoming, where she took this beautiful pronghorn as part of a TV show. Macie has grown up in a family that hunts, and travel is a big part of her passion behind the hunt.

“I SHOT MY FIRST BLACK-TAILED deer when I was 10 years old, on Oregon’s Mentored Youth tag,” Macie recalled. “I was with my dad, and it was the day before Halloween. It was a fun hunt, but I messed up something on the camera and I lost all the photos of that deer. I didn’t think much about it then, but now I really wish I had them.”

“I like looking back at the pictures of my hunts because they bring back so many memories that went along with it, not just of the animals, but of the people, the places, and so many other things that go with the hunt,” Macie said. “There are so many fun memories that hunting creates.”

Macie began her wrestling career in sixth grade. “Even before I started wrestling, I was around it a lot,” she explains. “My brother, Zane, who is two years younger than me, started wrestling when he was five, so I was always around it and liked it a lot.”

Less than a month after earning her state title in wrestling, Macie was hunting red stag in New Zealand. Here, Macie and her guide, Gerald Fluerty, approach the monster stag Macie took following a long, patient wait.

Early in high school, Macie tried cheerleading and softball, and while they were fun, to her they just lacked something. “I’m a really competitive person,” Macie elaborated. “But I also love the family feeling wrestling has. Everyone in wrestling is like a family, and when you meet up at big tournaments with other schools, it’s like a bigger family. It’s fun and everyone supports one another. I also like the intensity that goes with wrestling, so that’s my sport, what I do year-round either with my school or in clubs.”

I’ve been on many hunts with Macie and her father, Chris Stewart, over the years. Chris and I took Macie and my son, Braxton – who are the same age – to Wyoming for an antelope hunt when they were 13. They both got nice bucks on a truly memorable hunt. On another hunt in Oregon’s Coast Range, Macie got a Roosevelt bull five minutes after Braxton got a bear. That was a fun night in camp. Braxton also filmed Macie taking a five-point Roosevelt the season before that.

When asked if she gets nervous, Macie smiled, and said, “No, not really nervous; I get excited, but not nervous. I don’t know why.”
SHE DIDN’T FEEL NERVOUS when she stepped onto the mat for the state title match either. She’d entered the tournament as the number one seed, which can add pressure to anyone, let alone a kid. She won the semifinal match by a big margin, and though her title match lasted three full rounds, Macie won 6-0.

“I was in pretty good shape heading into state,” Macie shares. “I felt good, but not overconfident.” She feels that way on many hunts, too.

She wasn’t nervous at all during the final moments of her red stag hunt. I know of many seasoned hunters who would have been on edge with the long wait and anticipation. “That stag wasn’t going anywhere, we were hidden really well in the trees and the wind was good; we just needed the fog to lift so I could get a shot. That hunt was all about patience.”

“Being in good shape is the key to success on the mat and in the woods,” Macie notes. “And having wrestling season be the same time as hunting season helps, a lot. Hunting deer and elk isn’t easy, and when I push hard on those hunts, they’re actually great workouts that help me keep in shape for wrestling.”

Macie points out other correlations between hunting and wrestling and how they benefit one another.

“Wrestling makes you mentally tough, so the patience part of hunting comes easy to me. The challenges encountered while wrestling also prepare you for so many situations where you need to be mentally strong in life, and have perseverance, and I see that a lot when I’m hunting. Sometimes I want to sleep in instead of go hunting, but when I get out there, I’m always glad I went.”

She goes on. “When you cut weight in wrestling and you finally win, it’s a great feeling, because you put in so much work to get to that point. It’s like hunting. You put in all this hard work and it comes down to one shot, and when you make that shot, it’s so gratifying. Wrestling and hunting teach you to never give up, because if you quit, you’ll never reach your goal.”

“My favorite part about hunting is being outdoors and getting to travel to other places,” Macie said. “Hunting has allowed me to see some really cool things I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. I also love eating wild game; that’s all our family eats. It’s way better tasting than meat from a store, and way better for you. Being a wrestler you have to be in good shape, all the time, and eating wild game keeps me fit, no doubt.”

Macie with a great public-land blacktail she took last October, one of a half-dozen good bucks she’s taken since age 10.

WHEN ASKED HOW MANY BLACKTAILS and Roosevelt elk she has to her credit, Macie had to think, and still didn’t know for sure. “I don’t really keep track of that kind of stuff,” Macie smiles. “To me it’s more about the experience and the memories, not about numbers.” But she did recall some of her more challenging hunts.

“I’ve had some tough blacktail hunts,” Macie recalled. “There was one big three-by-three a couple years ago. Dad and I spotted him from a long way away, and we had to patiently stalk through the woods, then the edge of a logged unit. Finally, we got to within 50 yards of the bedded buck before we could see him. He was really hidden and we had to move carefully on that one, but it wasn’t easy because it was getting dark out.”

“Last year was a fun hunt, too,” Macie continued. “My brother had shot a big buck in a unit, and packing that buck out, there was so much sign that we went back the next day and spotted another big buck in the same unit. We could only get to about 300 yards, but I got prone and felt really solid, and connected on the shot. That buck had a giant body. We quartered and packed that thing out, but had to go get help from some of our wrestling buddies to do it.”

When asked what she most recalls from her hunts, Macie didn’t hesitate. “The people and the places are what stand out most in my mind,” she said. “This New Zealand hunt was extra special because Mom was with me, while Dad and Zane were hunting another area. That was the first time she’d been with me when I shot an animal, in all these years.”

“I also loved the way people in New Zealand hunt,” Macie added. “When we hunt at home, we stay out all day. In New Zealand we got up, ate breakfast, went hunting for a few hours, came back for a big lunch, where their family joined ours, went back out hunting until dark, then their whole family was together again with us for dinner. It was like Thanksgiving every night.”

With May upon us, where will you find Macie Stewart? She has a spring bear tag, so you can bet she’ll be spending time in the woods. She also has a demanding spring and summer wrestling schedule, one that takes her around the country, possibly the world. Last year she qualified for a tournament in South Africa.

What I appreciate most about Macie Stewart is how hard she works. Be it wrestling or hunting, she’s diligent and positive. She doesn’t brag, flood her social media sites with boastful images of animals she’s taken, and she has nothing to prove to anyone.

I’ve been on many hunts with Macie, and not once has she cared about putting on makeup, fixing her hair, painting her nails or worrying about what she looks like in the photos. Macie is an accomplished hunter, statechampion athlete, and a hard worker who will be an achiever in life, no matter what she decides to do. ASJ

Western Oregon’s Macie Stewart is an accomplished hunter and athlete. She sees many correlations between the demands of hunting and athletics, both of which benefit one another.

Editor’s note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author and TV host. His show, The Hunt, can be seen on Netflix. To learn more about the show or New Zealand hunting, visit scotthaugen.com.

Posted in Women and guns Tagged with: , , , , ,

May 16th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

THREE NEW BOWS ADDED TO GEN-X LINEUP

FULL LINE OF BOWS NOW AVAILABLE FOR HUNTING, BOWFISHING AND TARGET ARCHERY

 

Gen-X Archery is adding three new models to their line of bows, expanding their offering to a full range of hunting, bowfishing and target shooting bows that  combine versatility and velocity with simplicity and power.

 

“These three new bows round out our offering to archery enthusiasts from beginners to avid bow hunters,” said Todd Bahnub, President of Gen-X. “All of our bows are made in the U.S., and continue our tradition of offering durable bows with great features and technology that stand up over time. We call it the Gen-X Factor.”

 

The three new bows include:

  •  X-Versa offers premium power packed into a compact size. Perfect for shooting in tight spots or as a low profile bow, X-Versa features the patented Versa Cam System technology, making draw length adjustments simple with no bow press required. Starting at $249.
  • X-LR8 is a premium level performance compound bow for advanced game hunting.  Engineered for maximum speed and accuracy, X-LR8 also features the patented Versa Cam System. X-LR8 delivers a bow-press-free adjustable draw weight and customizable draw lengths from 19-30 inches along with ergonomic riser and grip designed for stability and a superior hunting experience. Starting at $289.
  • X-WON is a fully adjustable target bow for archers of all skill levels, offering a smooth draw and steady release.  Optimized for range shooting, the X-WON features the Opti-Mod Cam System, along with adjustable draw lengths and up to 70 lbs of adjustable draw weight. Priced at $299.

 

The three new bows round out the full Gen-X collection which also includes:

  • X-Dawn (formerly known as the Gen-X) is an entry-level hunting bow that features Progressive Let-Off technology, making shooting easier for archers at any level. With an adjustable draw weight up to 40 lbs, X-Dawn shoots arrows at higher speeds which is ideal for both in the field and on the range. Starting at $139.
  • Cuda brings Progressive Let-Off technology to bowfishing. Kits come equipped with a Zebco 808 Bowfisher reel, a fiberglass arrow with a safety slide and an arrow rest. With adjustable draw weights up to 40 lbs, the Cuda is ideal for snap shooting fish with ease. Starting at $199.

 

The new Gen-X bows are sold as stand-alone bows or as kits, except for the X-WON which is bow only, and are available for purchase at their newly updated website: www.genxbows.com.

About Gen-X Archery:

Gen-X Archery offers a full line of premium bows for hunting, bowfishing and target archery, all made with pride in the U.S.A. For more information visit: genxbows.com

 

Posted in Industry News Tagged with: , ,

May 11th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Despite the continuing impact of inflation, you can still find some excellent hunting rifles that won’t break the bank.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE DICKERSON 

Progress and the march of time can be very hard on the wallet, especially when it comes to hunting rifles. Consider, if you will, the classic Big Three of American hunting rifles. According to a 2004 gun-value reference in my collection, you could at that time buy a new Remington 700 BDL rifle for about $500, and the ADL model went for even less. A new Ruger Model 77 All-Weather rifle could also be found for less than $500, and the same could be said for a Winchester Model 70 Black Shadow.

In testing, the Mossberg Patriot in .25-06 Rem. produced sub-minute-of-angle best groups with five factory loads.

Today, the latest incarnations of these flagship models of American hunting rifles all have a suggested retail price of close to $1,000. In little more than a decade, these iconic American rifles have essentially doubled in price.

Not everyone can afford to lay out that kind of change for a hunting rifle. The Even fewer can afford semicustom or custom rifles, and if you have to ask the price of, say, a fine European double rifle, you may want to be sitting down when you hear the answer.

Of course, gun makers are well aware of this economic reality and have scrambled in recent years to produce more affordable guns for the masses. Many of these guns won’t win any beauty contests. Some may be described as downright ugly. Actions may be less than silky smooth, and stocks may bend in a stiff breeze. They’re often described rather euphemistically as “budget-friendly” or “entry-level” rifles. These are, of course, handy phrases when you’re trying to avoid using the word “cheap.”

Another look at Mossberg’s Patriot shows why it is one of the most feature-rich and aesthetically pleasing offerings among budget-priced hunting rifles.

Have the manufacturers cut corners on these guns? You bet they have, but they had to in order to make the guns less expensive to produce and offer them at what are, by today’s standards, crazy-cheap prices.
TODAY, VIRTUALLY EVERY MAJOR mass-manufacturer of hunting rifles has added an inexpensive rifle to their product lineup. While some have derisively called this a race to the bottom, I don’t exactly see it that way. Sure, I’m fond of guns that have richly figured walnut stocks, elegantly engraved receivers, and fit and finish reflective of old world craftsmanship, but those guns won’t smack deer into the freezer any more effectively than most of today’s more affordable rifles. Advances in manufacturing processes and materials now enable gun makers to offer inexpensive rifles that resist the elements, work reliably and shoot tight groups – and that’s all many buyers, especially first-time buyers, are looking for in a hunting rifle.

Browning’s affordable AB3 rifle offers features like a button-rifled barrel, Inflex recoil pad, tang safety and bolt unlock button. (BROWNING)

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more popular inexpensive rifles currently on dealers’ shelves. Since there must, I suppose, be rules to the game, I’ll limit this discussion to rifles that you can buy at a real-world price of $500 or less.

Remington’s entry in the bargain hunting rifle category is the Model 783, which has a free-floated, button-rifled barrel and pillar bedding. (REMINGTON)

Consider, for example, the Thompson Center Venture rifle, with which I’ve had a fair amount of experience. These rifles feature a free-floated barrel with 5R rifling and pillar-bedded action. I used the Venture Compact model chambered in .308 Win. on a memorable Texas deer hunt, dropping two whitetail bucks and two does with four shots guns over two days of hunting. Several other outdoor writers did the same. I didn’t subject that rifle to accuracy testing, but I did test an identical gun chambered in .22-250 Rem. Five of six factory loads shot sub-minute-of-angle best groups, easily living up the rifle’s MOA accuracy guarantee. I was impressed enough that I bought a Venture Predator rifle, chambered in .204 Ruger, and it regularly shoots half-inch groups with its preferred load. That’s more than can be said of many more expensive rifles. You can find the Venture for less than $500, but if that’s too rich for your blood, you can look for the no-frills TC Compass rifle for less than $400.

The TC Venture is one of the author’s top choices in bargain-priced hunting rifles.

Another $500 rifle I’ve had some experience with is the Winchester XPR rifle. The one I tested, chambered in .30-06 Springfield, put six different factory loads into groups averaging 1.3 inches, but that’s only part of the story. It dropped a 165-grain Federal load with Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets into average groups of 0.58 inch and a best group of just 0.31 inch. This gun is quite similar to the Browning AB3 rifle. Both have decent triggers, a boltunlock button, 60-degree bolt lift and detachable box magazines. Both are offered in a variety of configurations and calibers, and if you shop around, you can find either one on sale for about $500.

One of the most aesthetically pleasing and feature-rich offerings among the bargain-priced rifles is the Mossberg Patriot. This rifle’s lines are very much in a classic configuration, and you can get it with stocks that are walnut, laminate, black synthetic or synthetic Kryptek Highlander camo. Standard features include drop-box magazines, fluted barrels with recessed crowns, a spiral-fluted bolt and adjustable trigger system. I tested one in .25-06 Rem., and five different factory loads turned in sub-MOA best groups. Surprisingly, I’ve seen the basic black synthetic model retail for less than $300.

 

The Winchester XPR rifle in .30-06 shot tight groups for the author using a Federal Premium 165-grain load with Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets.

ANOTHER POPULAR ENTRY in the value-priced category is the Ruger American Rifle. I haven’t tested one yet, but have just received the Predator model, chambered in – wonder of wonders – 6mm Creedmoor. I plan to give this one a thorough workout as soon as I can obtain enough ammo to put it through its paces. Available in several configurations, this rifle has an adjustable trigger, cold hammer-forged barrel and a tang safety. It utilizes an integral bedding block system to free-float the barrel and has a removable rotary magazine. The one-piece bolt has three locking lugs and a 70-degree throw to allow ample room for mounting scopes on the bases supplied with the rifle.

According to Big Green, also known as Remington, the bargain-priced Remington 783 is “not dressed to impress, it’s dressed for work.” With a MSRP of $399, the 783 has freefloated, button-rifled barrels mated to receivers that are pillar-bedded to a high-nylon-content synthetic stock. The rifle is equipped with an adjustable trigger and, notably, detachable steel magazines. The bolt has two locking lugs and a 90-degree lift.

The author reports that the Winchester XPR rifle has a decent trigger, 60-degree bolt lift and detachable box magazine.

The main thing going for the Savage Axis rifle is the fact that it is, well, a Savage. That usually means you can expect good out-of-the-box accuracy. With an MSRP of around $368 and a real-world price of around $330 for the basic model with a black synthetic stock, you’ll get a rifle that uses the classic Savage locknut approach to set headspace set to minimum. This has always driven some purists mildly nuts, but it significantly contributes to the accuracy Savage rifles are known for. Barrels on the Axis are button-rifled. The two locking-lug bolt is unusual in that it uses a floating bolt head design, which theoretically also contributes to accuracy. Detachable box magazines are part metal, part plastic, with metal feed lips. Triggers on the Axis models I’ve seen aren’t overly impressive, but at a cost of about $450, you can step up to the Axis II rifle and get the Savage Accutrigger and a Weaver Kaspa 3-9×40 scope.

The Ruger American Rifle has quickly become one of the most popular of the economy hunting rifles. (RUGER)

Savage rifles, including the budget-friendly Axis and Axis II (shown) models, are known for their outof-the-box accuracy. (SAVAGE)

These rifles and others like them may not be your firearms cup of tea, but taken as a group, they fill an important gap in the marketplace. They give people who might not
otherwise be able to afford a decent rifle an affordable entry point into hunting. If we’re going to preserve our cherished hunting traditions in this country, we’re going to need their participation – and their votes – in the years ahead. That’s worth thinking about the next time you bypass the bargain-rifle section of your local gun store. ASJ

The author used a Thompson Center Venture Compact rifle to take two whitetail bucks and two does with four shots over a two-day hunt in Texas.

Posted in Long Guns Tagged with: , , , , ,

April 11th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Gamo’s annual Squirrel Master Classic continues to remain on target with kids and adults alike.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY LARRY CASE

Many of us started out shooting a BB or pellet gun at a target and graduated to small game like rabbits and squirrels. Some of us did the other way around. But it seems that in these times of shrinking hunter numbers fewer and fewer of our young people are going down that path. Four years ago Jackie Bushman of Buckmasters fame decided to do something about that and created the Squirrel Master Classic. The event is held every year at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge west of Montgomery in Alabama’s legendarily rich-soiled “Black Belt” region.

Bone Collector cameraman Hunter Rollins captures footage of outdoor TV’s Kenneth Lancaster.

Kenneth Lancaster with a squirrel and his Gamo gun.

The Squirrel Master Classic could be classified as a friendly competition, as it pairs up teams consisting of an outdoor TV personality, a young person involved in 4H Shooting Sports, outdoor writers, and a squirrel dog handler. The teams compete in a morning and evening squirrel hunt with a shooting competition at midday. This year, the range was supervised by world champion shooter Doug Koening, whose most recent major win (as of this writing) came at the 2016 NRA Bianchi Cup.

Vicki Cianciarulo of Archer’s Choice and Travis “T-Bone” Turner of Bone Collector sight in their air rifles before the competition.

Scoring is simple. The team with the most squirrels and most points earned in the shooting competition wins the competition. In order to qualify to take part in the event, the six 4H shooters in this year’s classic had to compete with other 4H’ers for the privilege. The lone girl in that half dozen, Moriah Christian, outshot all of her colleagues during the shooting competition.

Six 4H shooters qualified to join the competition: (left to right) Joseph McFarland, Jeremy McFarland, Luke Christian, Dawson Kissik, Jackson Umlauf and Moriah Christian.

ALL HUNTING AND COMPETITIVE shooting is done using Gamo air rifles, the event’s sponsor. Each hunter this year were supplied with Gamo’s new Swarm .22-caliber pellet rifle (see sidebar), which features a 10-shot detachable magazine, eliminating the need to reload after each shot.

While the competition is intense for the coveted squirrel trophy awarded to the winners, the real emphasis here is on the young hunters. The TV personalities attending this year – Jackie Bushman, Michael Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner, Kenneth Lancaster, Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo, and Richard Eutsler – along with Gamo president Keith Higginbotham and others at the event all recognize the need to encourage and nurture young people in hunting and the shooting sports.

Host Jackie Bushman (left), Kenneth Lancaster and ‘T-Bone’ Turner at the noon squirrel weigh-in.

Despite an influx of new shooters to the squad, T-Bone’s Team Bone Collector took the competition honors for the third consecutive year.

The coveted Gamo Squirrel Master competition trophy.

In the end, Turner’s team (which I was fortunate enough to be a member of) took the trophy, and while we were very pleased I saw no smiles bigger than those of the young 4H shooters. They had a day in the beautiful Alabama woodlands following some feisty squirrel dogs, shooting air rifles, and spending time with some of their media heroes. It was a day they will not forget anytime soon – nor will I, for that matter – and that, my friends, is whole idea of the Squirrel Master Classic. ASJ

The first squirrel of the day brings smiles to everyone at this year’s Squirrel Master Classic, including Luke Christian (left), Mo the squirrel dog, and Butch Morton.

Posted in Competitions Tagged with: , , , ,

April 9th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

On any continent, the Barnes LRX offers hunters eye-opening accuracy potential and deep penetration at long distance.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY PHIL MASSARO

“How far?”

The two simple words said much more than they implied. First, both Poen van Zyl and I clearly understood we each knew which of the reedbuck rams were to be killed, and second, it was down to a matter of the mathematics involved in taking him cleanly. Based on my professional hunter’s momentary silence, I responded with a brief question of my own.

“One-fifty?”

“Just hold on the point of the shoulder, and squeeze the trigger.” Poen van Zyl may have thought in Afrikaans, but knew how to guide a visiting sportsman in English. The Schmidt & Bender’s crosshairs quickly settled on the ram’s shoulder, and I broke the trigger of the Heym SR30 like you’d snap an icicle in two. Even through the recoil, I could see the lean reedbuck fold and collapse to its death; the .300 Winchester Magnum had once again done its job, as it had on so many other African species. Though the rifle and optic were new to me, the cartridge and bullet were not; I have come to love the .300 Winchester Magnum, and the Barnes LRX is among the best projectiles the company has ever produced.

The Barnes LRX bullet is available in 6.5mm, .270, 7mm, .30 and .338 calibers. (BARNES)

Barnes Bullets – the success story of Randy and Coni Brooks – has its roots in the brainchild of Fred Barnes, who saw the need for quality softpoints in a number of different calibers. Fred had a limited success, but his name surely carried on, defining a trend in modern bullet construction that is equal parts revolutionary and genius.

I am on the young end of the gunwriter age spectrum, but at 45 years old I am also wise enough to know whom to contact for the story. Randy Brooks and I have had more than one conversation, albeit via telephone, regarding the roots of his company and the development of the Barnes X bullet. As the famous story goes – and as it was related to me directly – the good Mr. Brooks was glassing for Alaskan bears when the impetus for a genre of projectiles popped into his head. “If the lead core is an issue with bullet separation, why not take the lead out?” And thus the Barnes X monometal softpoint was born. And while that bullet gave me equal parts exhilaration and fits of mania, I loved the design. Being an all-copper bullet, the Barnes X was designed to expand into four petals, giving a devastating balance of expansion and penetration. The original design had some issues with accuracy and copper fouling, but that was all rectified with the release of the Barnes TSX – or Triple Shock X – bullet, which has three large grooves on the bearing surface to reduce fouling and improve accuracy.

The Barnes LRX, original and after expansion.

The TSX, and its tipped counterpart, the TTSX, both serve most hunting scenarios perfectly, the LRX – or Long Range X bullet – has a sleeker profile and higher ballistic coefficient, to retain as much energy as possible downrange, and keep the trajectories flat. The LRX retains the royal blue polymer tip of the TTSX, but the ogive is engineered for the best downrange performance, and will indeed show the benefits over the flat base spitzers out past 250 or 275 yards.

The LRX, like all Barnes bullets, are praised and noted for their weight retention, as the monometal construction prevents any jacket separation – because there is no jacket – but it’s the accuracy potential of the LRX that truly opened my eyes. I’ve loaded this bullet in several different cartridges – with the best results coming from the .30-caliber magnums – and all of the accuracy has been more than acceptable. But it seems that the 175-grain .30-caliber LRX has garnered a special place in my heart.

The 175-grain Barnes LRX worked very well in the .300 Winchester Magnum and .30 Nosler.

While testing the new .30 Nosler, I utilized a number of bullets – bullets that have, in the past, produced fantastic results – but the best performer by far was the 175-grain LRX. Delivering ½ minute-of-angle accuracy and velocities on par with the .300 Weatherby, I know this combination could easily handle everything in North America, and 90 percent of the African species. In the Heym SR30 HPPR – the straight pull, High Performance Precision Rifle – it easily prints ½ to ¾ MOA five-shot groups using handloaded Barnes 175-grain LRX bullets.

The Heym SR30 HPPR and a reedbuck taken with the Barnes LRX. (Inset, below) With a steep boat tail, polymer tip and sleek ogive, the Barnes LRX makes a great long-range hunting bullet.

For the record, that reedbuck didn’t stand a chance; the shot went exactly where I intended it to, and the buck fell as if the very hand of God struck him. Two more of his kin did the same, at ranges from 125 to 250 yards, and I couldn’t recover any of the bullets; the LRX gave excellent penetration. The Barnes LRX and that Heym SR30 kept the Mozambican village of Peau well fed. If you appreciate the performance of the Barnes bullets – more than 90 percent weight retention and deep, deep penetration – combined with the best accuracy of the lot, try some LRXs and I’ll bet you’ll be happy. They’re available in 6.5mm, .270, 7mm, .30 and .338 calibers. ASJ

The first Mozambican reedbuck taken by the author with the .30-caliber Barnes LRX.

 

Posted in Ammo Tagged with: , , ,

March 10th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Like the hot desert wind of the same name, Scirocco II bullets are powerful and unrelenting.

 STORY AND PHOTOS BY PHIL MASSARO 

The .338 210-grain Scirocco II.

I had been frustrated with the terminal performance of my .300 Winchester Magnum, as the cup-and-core bullets – which flew very well when punching paper – were giving too much expansion when used in the New York deer woods. I needed a stiffer bullet, yet wanted to take full advantage of the flat trajectories and wind deflection characteristics of the spitzer boat-tail bullets. I did a bit of research, and found an advertisement for the Swift Scirocco II. The ad copy touted a newly engineered jacket, which would improve the accuracy of the bullet. I ordered a box of 100 .308-caliber 180-grain Scirocco IIs, and headed to the bench. I had developed a load for this particular rifle that gave just under minute-of-angle accuracy, so decided to start there (it was well below maximum), and see what the new bullets would do.

I firmly believed the first three-shot group was a fluke – my wiggles must’ve accounted for my waggles – as it printed just under a half inch, but when the second and third did the same thing, I was a convert. They gave good velocities out of my 24-inch barrel – 2,965 feet per second, to be precise – but would they perform as advertised in the field?

The .338 Winchester Magnum is well served by the 210-grain Scirocco, giving the cartridge a flat trajectory and good terminal ballistics.

You see, the Scirocco is a bonded-core boat-tail bullet, with a very thick jacket and a black polymer tip. It is designed to not only fly accurately – which it proved to be true – but to give the consummate blend of expansion and penetration. Many cup-and-core boat tails have a tendency to have the copper jacket separate from the lead core upon impact at higher velocities, and that didn’t make me happy. The Scirocco’s thick jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core to hold things together should you strike bone, yet the jacket tapers down toward the nose, allowing for good expansion. That expansion creates a larger wound channel, which destroys more vital tissue and causes death sooner.
MY FIRST FIELD TEST was in Wyoming, where I would be hunting pronghorn antelope. Anyone who has hunted the Great Plains of the American West knows that the wind is always blowing, and sometimes it blows good and hard. I found the antelope I wanted after a couple of hours glassing the prairie, and it required a stalk of just over a mile. I lay prone over a small mound, with cactus everywhere it shouldn’t have been, and settled the crosshairs of my Winchester 70 on the buck’s shoulder 215 yards away. Even through the recoil, I could see that the antelope’s feet drew up to his body as he fell earthward, stone dead, and in that moment, this bullet captured my undivided attention.

The Scirocco II offers good expansion at a wide variety of velocities, and works well in mild cartridges like the .308 Winchester right up to the magnums.

I used it the next spring on a black bear hunt in Quebec. While I knew the shots were going to be inside of 75 yards, as it was a baited hunt, I wanted to see how the bullet would handle the tough shoulder bones of a bear. Canada’s ever-changing weather kept the action slow for the first few days, but a warm-up later in the week drew the bears out like moths to a flame. A 200-plus-pound boar decided to pay a visit to my bait, and I decided to ruin his day. I had loaded the 180-grain Scirocco in my .308 Winchester, to a muzzle velocity of 2,450 fps, and the bullet took him without issue, despite punching through both shoulders. I couldn’t recover either bullet, which was no problem with me, but I was highly impressed with the performance.

Since then, I’ve loaded this bullet in many different cartridges, from the 6.5×55 Swede and 6.5-284 Norma, to the 7mm Remington Ultra Magnum, to many of the .30s including the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield, the .300 Holland and Holland Magnum, and the huge cases like the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum and .30-378 Weatherby Magnum. I’ve even loaded the 210-grain Scirocco in the .338 Winchester Magnum with great results.

The 180-grain .30-caliber polymer-tipped Swift Scirocco IIs make a fantastic all-around big game load.

THE OUTCOME IS USUALLY THE SAME: almost all of the rifles (with the exception of one particularly evil .264 Winchester Magnum) gave subMOA accuracy and excellent field performance. The few bullets we’ve been able to recover from game animals have retained between 80 and 95 percent of their weight, with expansion running right around 2 times to 2.5 times caliber dimension. My wife loves the 150-grain Scirocco II in her .308 Winchester, as it offers less recoil yet great terminal ballistics; her Savage Lady Hunter prints ½-inch groups with this load.

This Wyoming pronghorn fell to the author (right) and his .300 Winchester Magnum and a 180-grain Swift Scirocco II.

The Scirocco is available in calibers from .224 up to and including .338, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go hunting with this bullet in any situation shy of the truly large and dangerous game that requires a larger bore and heavier bullet. With the Scirocco, between my own hunts and those of friends and colleagues, we have taken animals ranging in size from deer and antelope to caribou to African plains game to elk and moose. Swift only makes two softpoints – the Scirocco and the A-Frame – and that’s one of the best combinations on the market. ASJ

The .308 Winchester 180-grain Scirocco load that cleanly took this Quebec black bear.

Posted in Ammo Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

March 8th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

The gun that made it safe for the Winchester to win the West.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Christian Sharps already had some limited experience with breechloaders when he patented his fallingblock action in 1848. He’d worked at Harpers Ferry where the Hall breechloaders were made, and many people have assumed that that was where the seed was planted in his head to design a better breechloader.

But designing that “better mousetrap” was only the beginning for the young gunmaker. Unfortunately, Sharps had difficulty in selling or marketing his idea. Over the next three years, he had a number of different business partners, and the total output of rifles and carbines he produced was very low. At one point, Sharps sold his patents as well as his interests in the company, receiving a cash agreement plus $1 per rifle made. Then, very late in 1851, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was formed and that’s when things finally got rolling.

A number of the features of the Sharps rifles were redesigned, primarily to make various parts more adaptable to increased production. While the models of 1849, 1850, and 1851 were all basically hand-fitted and hand-finished, beginning in 1852, models were built with a much greater dependability by using machines for fitting and finishing. This is all related here in a highly summarized form, but it is generally accepted that the Model 1852 Sharps is the first rifle to be in the form or profile that we recognize as the famous Sharps rifle.

A Hartford ’74 with a No. 1 heavy barrel, chambered for the .50-70. The author (inset) proudly poses in colorful period regalia with his favorite .44-77 over his shoulder. (BJ LANES)

THE 1852 MODEL WAS THE FIRST of the highly recognizable “slant breech” Sharps, with the breech block at a back slant instead of being vertical. It was also the first Sharps to be produced in the thousands of rifles rather than just in the hundreds. The very distinctive slant-breech Sharps were made as military-style rifles and carbines, plus sporting rifles and even a few shotguns. The slant breeches included the models of 1852, 1853, and the very rare tall-hammered Model 1855.

Incidentally, it was carbines of the slant-breech Sharps that were smuggled to John Brown and his followers, hidden in cases that were marked as “Bibles.” A preacher, Henry W. Beecher, was an abolitionist who supported Brown. That’s where the slang expression referring to a Sharps rifle as a “Beecher’s Bible” came from.

Some Sharps cartridges: .44-40 Winchester (for comparison), .44-77 paper patched, .44-90 paper patched, .45-70 carbine load, .45-110, .50-70, and the Big .50 – .50-90.

With the model of 1859 another notable change was seen – the beginning of the vertical-block actions.  The reason for going to the vertical breech block was for operation of a more effective gas seal.  This is the model of the Sharps that really went to war, our Civil War, and some of these rifles that went to Berdan’s Sharpshooters were equipped with double set triggers.

Further updates and slight improvements were made in the New Models of 1863 and 1865, and the reputation of Sharps rifles for accuracy, particularly for long-range shooting, got began to build during that War Between the States. Afterwards, when self-contained cartridges were being considered much more seriously, the late models of the Sharps rifles with the vertical breech block were updated and converted to chamber those cartridges, primarily the new government cartridge of 1866, the famous .50-70.
THIS IS THE ERA OF THE SHARPS rifle history that I find the most interesting. It was the cartridge-firing Sharps rifles that “went West” in search of the buffalo herds, and in the hands of hunters and frontiersmen who needed a rifle that would perform at long range. These were the Sharps rifles that proved to be legendary.

The author’s .44-77 again, a semicustom Classic Hartford model with 28-inch barrel.

The Model 1969 was the first sporting model of the Sharps rifles that was made for use with centerfire metallic cartridges. It was chambered for the .50-70 Government and it also introduced a new Sharps cartridge that was designated as the .44-2¼-inch, with .44 for the caliber and 2¼ inches for the length of the case, as guns for it were marked on their barrels. That .44 fairly quickly became known as the .44-77, which was the UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge Company) loading for it, and it became the most common and popular cartridge in the Sharps rifles until the .45-70 edged it out in popularity beginning in 1876.

Despite their heavy usage and good reputation, the Model 1869 rifles were made for only two years. In 1871, the Model 1874, the Sharps rifle that many people remember the very most, was introduced. And yes, you read that correctly. Although the Model 1874 was first manufactured in 1871, it went unnamed for three years. It was finally given recognition when the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was reformed as the Sharps Rifle Company in 1874. It is also a fact that Christian Sharps died in 1874 and the designation for the rifle might stand as a monument to him although I doubt if that was really intended.

A five-shot group fired with the .44-77 using grease-groove bullets.

But no matter why the naming delay occurred, there is no doubt that the 1871 debut of the Model 1874 was timed perfectly. The great buffalo hunts were just beginning, and the Sharps – with its powerful long-range cartridges – were just what the buffalo hunters wanted. Both the .44-77 and the .50-70 made names for themselves, and the .44-77 was the most produced Sharps chambering during the Hartford era. But the buffalo hunters kept asking for longer-range cartridges, so in 1872 both the .44-90 and the “Big .50,” (what we today refer to as the .50-90) were introduced. Those cartridges, particularly the .44-90, made more long-range shots possible, and good shots out to 1,000 yards were not unknown.

It was during that time when the “buffalo wars” were fought, including the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls. That’s the legendary battle where 28 buffalo hunters withstood the attack of several hundred Indians from a collection of tribes. The hunters’ success is generally attributed to the long-range Sharps rifles which most of them were using. One hunter, Billy Dixon, is credited with the long shot that truly became a legend, shooting an Indian off of his horse at a very long range. The actual distance for that shot is lost to time, but various claims put it at more than 1,000 yards to over 1,500 yards.
IN EARLY 1876, the Sharps Rifle Company moved their factory from Hartford to Bridgeport, Conn. Some changes were made in the rifles, so a Bridgeport Sharps is generally recognizable to the trained eye when compared to a Hartford model. For instance, the silver-colored pewter nose cap on the forearm was generally no longer used. More important than that, the famous Sharps .44- and .50-caliber cartridges were no longer chambered except for special orders. That’s when the .45-70 became the most popular cartridge in the Sharps sporting rifles lineup, and what we call the .45-110 (Quigley’s cartridge) became the leader in long-range shooting.

Shooting over crossed sticks, the author aims at a target over 800 yards in the distance. (ALLEN CUNNIFF)

In 1878, Sharps introduced their hammerless model, the SharpsBorchardt. While the Model 1878 had certain advantages, it was not particularly popular in the West. The big buffalo hunts were rapidly coming to an end, and with them the demand for a rifle with the “personality” of the big Sharps was also diminishing. The Sharps Rifle Company closed their doors for good in 1881.

Still, the Sharps rifles deserve a fair amount of credit for opening the West up for other brands of rifles. What had been the “wild” West was pretty well tamed by the time the Winchester ’73 appeared on the scene. There were a few .44 rimfires shooting the Henry cartridge at the Battle of Adobe Walls, but odds are those were mainly fired from revolvers. The .44-40 simply hadn’t made it out West at that time, and it is a simple fact that the Winchester repeaters had neither the range nor the punch of the big Sharps.

Today, however, we can still enjoy some “Sharps shooting” because excellent modern copies of the old rifles continue to be made, and remain in high demand. These include those manufactured by the C. Sharps Arms Company (csharpsarms.com) of Big Timber, Mont., which made each of the guns you see pictured in this article.

The author’s best Sharps for longrange shooting is this Hartford Model in .44-90 caliber.

And so, whether your target is a live buffalo bull on ranches where they can still be hunted, or a paper target posted at 1,000 yards, firing a big Sharps with lead bullets and black powder loads remains a long-range thrill. And while shooting one of the newly made Sharps rifles, you can’t help but have the feeling that you’re holding history in your hands. ASJ

Posted in History Tagged with: , , , ,

March 7th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

How one rifle and load became a go-to combo for deer-sized game.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE DICKERSON

As an outdoor writer, I’m often asked what my favorite rifle is. My standard answer, especially when I’m in the field, is whatever rifle I happen to be holding in my hands at any given moment.

But that’s not entirely true. We all have our favorites. For some, it may be a beat-up rifle that’s been handed down from generation to generation. It may be one with high-grade wood and fancy engraving. Many prefer turnbolt-action guns. Some swoon over a fine double gun, while others may shoot only an AR platform rifle. A favorite may be a rifle that shoots tiny little groups, or one that’s light enough to pack up steep mountains. For some, it might be the only rifle they own – or one that literally saved their life.

One of the author’s favorite rifles for deer-sized game is an original Weatherby Vanguard chambered in .257 Wby. Mag. It’s been much modified from its original configuration with the addition of a fine Timney trigger and a Fiberguard stock.

In truth, I have several favorite rifles for several specific jobs. For deer-sized game, however, one rifle in my collection has accounted for more animals than all of the others combined. It’s not the fanciest rifle in the safe, nor is it the most expensive. It’s the one I’ve made more great memories with than any other.
THAT RIFLE BEGAN ITS LONG RUN with me many years ago as an original Weatherby Vanguard rifle, chambered in .257 Wby. Mag. It had a Tupperware stock and creepy trigger, so it did not long stay in its original configuration. I installed a fine Timney trigger and swapped the stock out for a pillarbedded Fiberguard stock, in an attractive tan color with black spider web finish.

I long ago lost count of the number of deer and hogs I shot with this rifle in the coastal mountains of central California before I left that state for more gun-friendly environs. It was with me when I shot my first pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, and it was the rifle I used to bag a record-book pronghorn in New Mexico. There’s a nice axis deer on my wall, thanks to that rifle, and a snarling javelina. The rifle has taken mule deer in several Western states, and was the one I used to take my best whitetail buck, a barrel-chested 11-pointer nudging the 160 Boone and Crockett mark.

It was also the rifle I held when I made a running shot on a whitetail in the state of my birth, Kentucky, a number of years ago. He was an old buck, with thin, broken-up antlers,
and wasn’t much to look at. But it was a hunt I’ll never forget. It was the first time I had seen many of my relatives in nearly two decades, and I was able to share a venison dinner with them from that homecoming hunt, surrounded by the warmth, laughter and happiness I remembered so well from my childhood. Sadly, many of those relatives are no longer with us, and I think of them every time I pick up the .257.

This large axis deer fell to the author’s Vanguard pushing a 120-grain Nosler Partition bullet out of the muzzle at 3,300 feet per second.

And that, as Forest Gump would say, is all I have to say about that.

LAST YEAR, I REALIZED THAT the rifle had become something of a safe queen. I was spending so much time testing and hunting with new rifle models that I had little time left to shoot or hunt with my own guns. Determined to remedy that, I carved a day out of my schedule last December and visited my friend, Bryan Wilson, of Frio County Hunts. Bryan runs a great hunting operation on his family’s lowfence, high-quality hunting ranch in south Texas.

He had been keeping an eye on a big-bodied, 5½-year-old, eight-point buck that made regular appearances on game cameras. His antlers weren’t going to get any better, and he was bossing around some younger bucks with greater trophy potential, so that made him a prime candidate for my freezer.

Sitting in a blind with Bryan in the predawn darkness that December morning, we watched deer filter out of the thick south Texas brush and into an open field in front of us. It took some time before we had enough light to make out antlers, and bit more time before we could count points. There were a couple of younger, promising bucks in the field, and far down a sendero to our left, we spotted a truly spectacular young buck. But none of them were on the menu. We were after the boss eight-pointer.

And then he appeared, walking slowly and confidently down a long path to our front before entering the field. The younger bucks watched him nervously, and it was clear that this old fellow ruled the roost. I watched the buck feed for a while, and then reached for my old friend with the words “.257 WBY MAG” stamped on the barrel. I centered the crosshairs of the Leupold scope on the buck’s vitals, and touched off the Timney trigger, which is set to break crisply at a trigger pull of a hair over 2 pounds.

The author used his Vanguard to take this recordbook pronghorn antelope in New Mexico.

AS IT HAD SO MANY TIMES BEFORE, a 120-grain Nosler Partition bullet found its mark. The buck ran about 20 yards, staggered for another 10 yards, and fell over. That bullet, in factory loading, is all I’ve ever fed the rifle, and it will shoot sub-MOA groups with the load all day long. Launching the 120-grain Partition at .257 Wby. Mag. velocity, the rifle has proven to be nothing less than a death ray. The vast majority of animals I’ve shot with that rifle and load simply dropped in their tracks. A few made it 30 yards or so, as this big buck did, but none have ever required any tracking to recover.

I’ve been on several hunts where people, after watching the rifle perform, have offered to buy it from me on the spot. Needless to say, it’s not for sale.

The .257 Wby. Mag. was reportedly Roy Weatherby’s favorite caliber, and it’s easy to understand why when you take a close look at the ballistics. The 120-grain Partition load I favor steps out at a bit more than 3,300 feet per second from the muzzle. Using the old-timer’s trick of zeroing the rifle to place bullets 3 inches high at 100 yards, it is dead on at 300 yards, and a bit less than 4 inches low at 350 yards.

This means that, for the vast majority of hunters and the majority of hunting situations, you need only hold steady on the vitals to make a clean kill out to 350 yards.

Notably, that .257 isn’t the only Vanguard in my safe. I also have a Vanguard sub-MOA model chambered in .300 WSM. It has the same Timney trigger installed and the same stock, albeit in a different color. I also have this rifle zeroed at 300 yards, with a 150-grain Winchester XP3 load grouping 3 inches high at 100 yards. The trajectory is nearly identical to that of my .257 zeroed at the same distance. Picking up that rifle is, for all practical purposes, the same as picking up the .257. It, too, has accounted for its fair share of game, including a scimitar-horned oryx in Texas. These are large animals, weighing up to 460 pounds, and the Weatherby handled the job nicely.

You may, by now, not be surprised to learn that I have yet another Vanguard rifle in my safe. This one is the newer Vanguard S2 Back Country rifle, a featherweight rifle weighing just 6 pounds, 12 ounces. Chambered in .30-06 Springfield, it’s a real tack driver, especially with Federal’s VitalShok 165-grain Trophy Copper load. I also have this rifle zeroed to group bullets 3 inches high at 100 yards. They’ll impact less than 4 inches low at 300 yards, allowing for a dead-on hold at that distance, and I’m looking forward to putting the rifle to good use.

All of this, I suppose, lends a lot of truth to the old adage, “Beware the man with one rifle.” Or, in my case, two or three. ASJ

The author most recently put his old favorite Weatherby Vanguard rifle, chambered in .257 Wby. Mag., to good use on a whitetail hunt with Frio County Hunts in south Texas.

Posted in Long Guns Tagged with: , , , , ,

March 3rd, 2017 by Sam Morstan

The author and a Weatherby Vanguard .375 H&M Magnum pursue feral pigs in the ‘Earthquake Capital of the World.’

STORY AND PHOTOS BY BRAD FITZPATRICK

Halfway between California’s Bay Area and the sprawling urban megalopolis of Los Angeles lies the Central Coast, a range of green hills and oak forests. It’s home to a good portion of the Golden State’s remaining agricultural land, and in hamlets such as Parkfield (population 18 or 34, depending on whether you believe the city limit sign or the abandoned railway car in the center of town) you’re more likely to see flatbed pickups and cowboy hats than sports cars and hipster garb. The Central Coast is so far removed from the hustle of Hollywood that it’s hard to remember that Parkfield and L.A. are only a few hours’ drive apart. At Santa Lucia Outfitters’ hunting camp outside of town there are no lights visible at night except the field of stars stretching from one horizon to the next. There’s no road sound, just the hum of wind through the pines.

There’s no hiding the fact that the ground will occasionally move beneath your feet in this area of California’s Central Coast.

Idyllic as this landscape may appear, however, the green hills and old-growth oaks mask a powerful secret. Just below the surface of the earth, two enormous tectonic plates, the North American and Pacific, are pressing against one another with incredible force in a zone known as the San Andreas Fault. In Parkfield, there’s an earthquake every single day, a fact that makes this tiny town the self-proclaimed “Earthquake Capital of the World.” Most shakes are small and unnoticeable. But many of the local residents I spoke with assured me that when a big one hits, I would have no trouble noticing.

On this visit, though, I was out to create some seismic tremors of my own. I was testing Weatherby’s new Vanguard in .375 H&H Magnum, a big bore for the brand’s budget rifle line. Parkfield is just down the road from Weatherby’s headquarters in Paso Robles, and the Central Coast ranch country around these towns has, like many other places in the country, been overrun with feral swine. In the region’s steep canyons and dense forests, the pigs enjoy reprieve from area hunters and reach impressive proportions on a steady diet of acorns, barley crops, and tubers. As you no doubt know, they’re a big nuisance to farmers and detrimental to native species, and their numbers are increasing rapidly.

Many Parkfield businesses and residents take pride in the town’s designation as the Earthquake Capital of the World

THE WILD HOG’S ABILITY TO SURVIVE in California and elsewhere is due in large part to the species’ ability to adapt to human habitation and avoid detection. Though they’re myopic and relatively easy to approach when the wind is right, hogs are anything but stupid. On the first night of the hunt we were stalking a sounder of perhaps 30 adult pigs and shoats. The sounder was scattered across a field of short-cropped green barley 100 yards from an oak forest. It was evening, and the sun had disappeared below the low hills behind us. Long shadows stretched across the flat valley below, and we were busy looking over the sounder when one of the pigs spooked and ran for the forest. The remaining hogs followed suit immediately, rushing full-tilt for the trees en masse. The last two shoats, not much bigger than a football, disappeared less than 10 seconds after the first pig broke for cover. The swirling winds had betrayed our position, and that was all that was required to spread panic amongst the hogs and send them straight to cover.

the white diagonal slash across the hillside at center is the San Andreas Fault.

Most Central Coast hog hunting consists of driving backroads or glassing hillsides in search of pigs. So, with our group of hogs gone from that particular field, guide Jim Martinez, Weatherby’s Brad Dykhouse and I started scanning the hills with our binoculars in search of our next target. There was a particular cleft on a hillside opposite our location that caught my attention. It was a dirty white, jagged ribbon that ran along the top of the face of slope, not a road or a cattle path but similar in appearance. I leaned toward Jim.

“What’s that mark on the hill over there?” I pointed at the scar that ran along the mountain.

“That’s a fault line.”

Seeing a fault line, the same type of geological rift that lifted the Rockies and the Himalayas far above the earth’s surface was unnerving, for sure, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I shrugged and started glassing the hillside once more.

The mountains of the Central Coast are often referred to as “rolling” hills, but that characterization was not devised by anyone who has had to climb them in search of pigs. After a few hours of following Jim up and down those slopes on a quest to find our prey we were looking for, I ceased to refer to them as anything but mountains. Fortunately, the peaks provided a perfect vantage point from which to scout the next draw (and then the next) for pig activity.

Guide Jim Martinez of Santa Lucia Outfitters glasses the horizon for hogs. (JOHN MACGILLIVRAY)

It was early April, and the weather was perfect. The all-day sunshine warmed the hills, and as evening approached the cool thermal winds started rushing over the face of the mountain, bringing relief from the afternoon heat. It felt far more like mule deer or elk hunting than pig hunting, the three of us sitting back against the hillside watching the valley below and the opposite slope for any sign of hogs. Brad managed to catch up with his hog in just this fashion, positioning himself on a steep ridge when a sounder crossed the face of the opposite slope on their way to lower ground and hidden pools of water in the oak forests below. Brad’s chosen pig, a buttermilk-colored sow, stepped clear of the trees at 180 yards and a single shot from his Vanguard .308 did the job.

My pig hunt occurred in lower country, along a winding creek bed lined with oaks. There were still plenty of vantage points from which to glass pigs, but it didn’t require quite the climb that Brad’s hunt demanded. With Jim in the lead we crested a rounded hilltop and sat three abreast on the grassy rise glassing the shadowed agriculture fields below. Between our vantage point and the creek was a narrow field, and as the sun sank down below the tops of the hills the pigs started appearing out in the open country at the edge of the forest. A brace of sows came first, a red and black with so many fast-moving shoats underfoot that it was impossible to get an accurate count. More pigs came, more sows with young as well as dry sows that hadn’t been bred. There was a boar among them, a young male with short teeth and a sleek black coat. Jimmy dismissed him. We were looking for something larger.

Author Brad Fitzpatrick lines up a shot, while guide Jim Martinez (foreground) and Weatherby’s Brad Dykhouse glass the target. (JOHN MACGILLIVRAY)

As the sun set and the air cooled, a form appeared in the trees. It was lighter in color than the other pigs but considerably larger and heavier. The big boar slipped out of the trees at the tail of the sounder, easily identifiable because of his impressive size and a large black patch of skin on his hind leg. Jim looked him over in the glasses, but the long snout and tail, impressive bulk and visible tusks left little question that this was a shootable pig.

Jim ranged the boar at 200 yards, a long shot for the area but still manageable with the .375 H&H Magnum. The problem was that the ridge, with its uneven ground surface, didn’t offer us a very good shooting position. We could make it work, but I wanted to be sure that I had a solid rest.

Successfully hunting crop-raiding hogs – the sows and piglets at bottom are in a barley field – can take a village. (JOHN MACGILLIVRAY)

Before I could get in position the lead sows turned 90 degrees along the creek and one by one they disappeared into the oaks and down into the drainage below, vanishing from sight one by one. The boar followed, appearing as a shadow passing through the wide oak trees before finally slipping over the hillside and out of sight.

“Just wait,” Jim said as he watched the pigs through the grey trunks of the pines and oaks. “I think they’ll come back up.” He lowered the glasses and looked up and down the creek. “They have to come back out eventually.”

I turned around and looked at the valley behind us, and less than 100 yards away I saw the form of a big, mahogany-coated boar standing alone in the field. “Jim!” I said. “Jim!” He looked at me and I gestured in the direction of the boar. It turned out that Jim had known that pig was there all along, and while his proximity to our position and lack of sows with which to compare convinced me that he dwarfed the white pig on the opposite side of the field, Jim knew better. Pigs are notoriously hard to judge if you don’t know what to look for, and I’d been fooled by the pig’s position. Jim said he believed the pig opposite our position in the creek was about 100 pounds heavier.

Humbled and happy that I hadn’t screwed up and shot a much younger boar, I decided to make a move. If we could slip down the slope, we could cut the range by about 50 yards and I could get in position to take a shot from a more solid rest. When the trees swallowed up the last of the shoeboxsized piglets across the field, we crawled down through the green oats and set up where we could wait for the big white pig to give us another chance. One by one, the pigs started to reappear in the barley, the haggard sows and their demanding broods. Jim, Brad and I counted the pigs and watched for the white boar. One by one they appeared, black and reds and a couple very large brown pigs, but no white one. Where had the boar gone? How had we lost him in the shallow swale? We glassed the sounder from the leading sow to the last pig, watching as they moved across the field away from us.

“There he is,” Jim said. The boar had found one of the few remaining patches of surface water in the creek bed and had rolled in it, covering the length of his side in brown mud and camouflaging him in the sounder. When he doubled back to check a sow, he revealed himself as the white boar we’d initially seen.

The author’s hard-earned boar succumbed to one 300-grain .375-inch TSX bullet, and literally dropped it in its tracks. (JOHN MACGILLIVRAY)

“You think you can make the shot?”

It was just over 150 yards, no problem for the .375 H&H from a steady rest. I settled down behind the Leupold VX-6 1-6x illuminated scope and centered the bouncing red dot on the point of the boar’s shoulder. I held firmly to the rifle and slipped the safety forward into the fire position.

“When he stops,” Jim said. I waited until the pig paused in the center of the field, well away from the sows and the swarming shoats. I pressed the trigger, taking up the slack in the Vanguard’s two-stage trigger until it came taut. Then, with one light press, fired the shot.

The .375 roared and the earth seemed to tremble as I rose up in recoil, but by the time I came back down into the scope the pig lay motionless in the short-cropped barley field. A cloud of dried mud and dust hung in the air above the dead boar.

By the time we’d finished dressing the pig and had him skinned and hanging in the meat locker it was well after dark. The last purple light of day was vanishing over the hills and the first bright stars were appearing in the sky. There was just time to return to the lodge, wash up, and eat dinner. The next morning we were scheduled to start hunting turkey.

Two days later when I left the Central Coast we pulled up to the same stop sign on Route 46 where James Dean had been killed decades before. On our right, far out across an agricultural field, there was a herd of tule elk visible through the waves of heat. It seemed the perfect end to the hunt, the sharp fault line between two very different worlds. To the south was L.A., its glowing lights visible for miles. Behind us, the interior of the Central Coast was much the same as it had been for millennia. As badly as I would like to have spent more time in this secret piece of wilderness, I had to return home, and that meant heading south. The car turned and we headed off. ASJ

The new Vanguard .375 H&H Magnum from Weatherby provides top-end power at a budget-conscious price to the venerable rifle family. For this hog hunt, Weatherby’s Vanguard Synthetic .375 H&H was topped with a Leupold VX-6 1-6x scope.

Posted in Hunting Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

March 2nd, 2017 by Sam Morstan

With the introduction of two MSR-10 rifles for hunting and long-range shooting, Savage Arms gives shooters some excellent choices.

Story by Craig Hodgkins | Photos by Savage Arms

 

Savage Arms’ new line of next-generation semiautos comes to the marketplace with an attitude – the company has cleverly co-opted the MSR acronym for branding the guns, using the tagline “MSR now stands for Modern Savage Rifle” – but the guns are poised to deliver in the field and on the range as well, with everything from expanded caliber choices and badass designs to a full suite of custom upgrades packaged as standard features.

The new MSR-10 Hunter is part of a four-gun family of next-gen semiautos from Savage Arms. (Inset) The Long Range ships with one 10-round magazine (foreground) and the Hunter uses a 20-rounder.

Although the four-gun family includes two MSR-15 models in 5.56mm (the Recon and Blackhawk), our focus here will be on a dynamic duo of aptly named, hard-hitting MSR-10s, the Hunter and the Long Range. And while the company’s slick new AR-15 rifles are already gaining a reputation as straight shooters, the chance to zero in on building a better AR-10 was a perfect fit for Savage – offering opportunities to play to the brand’s strengths, including longrange accuracy and innovation.

SAVAGE MAY BE BEST KNOWN for its extensive collection of bolt-actions for hunting, competitive shooting and plain old plinking, but the company has also been in the AR business, off and on, for years, quietly creating custom barrels for other manufacturers.

Simply put, the AR-10 platform offered Savage engineers a chance to innovate. According to Al Caspar, president of Savage Arms, “One of the stumbling blocks to unbridled creativity with the AR15 platform is the nagging need for conformity – in other words, keeping the rifle compatible with a variety of accessories. With AR-10s, there are far fewer such constraints. Savage engineers were able to think outside the box to bring gamechanging features to both the MSR Hunter and MSR Long Range.”

While developing its modern, precision AR-10s, Savage also addressed other longstanding shortcomings of MSRs designed for larger cartridges.

“For example,” Caspar added, “AR10s have traditionally been heavy, bulky and unwieldy. We tackled these issues head-on, shaving off unnecessary weight and trimming size with a smaller, lighter chassis that strikes a perfect balance between performance, fit and function. As a result, both the MSR-10 Hunter and MSR-10 Long Range feature a compact AR-10 design that feels and handles more like an AR-15.”

The buttstock on the MSR-10 Long Range is a Magpul PRS Gen3.

“Savage’s new AR-10s also feature custom-forged uppers and lowers for a look unlike anything afield or on the range, plus a free-floating forend that locks down so tight you can bridge a scope mount from forend to receiver with no loss of accuracy. Tactical Blackhawk! grips, buttstock and flip up sights are also standard.”

Professional 3-gun competitor Patrick Kelley knows a thing or five about the needs of long-range shooters, and he knows the Long Range model well, having been involved in early testing of the gun.

“It’s got all the cool features that a free gunner would want in one package,” said Kelley at the recent SHOT Show in Las Vegas. “A longer gas system, 5R-rifled barrel, Melonite coating, 22-inch barrel length for 6.5 Creedmoor, 20-inch in .308 Win. An M-Lok hand guard.”

“The upper and lower are both proprietary,” Kelley added, “and shorter in length, which allows us to make the gun more compact, bring the center of balance back closer to the center line of the shooter, which makes for better handling. The bolt carrier group is also lighter than a standard bolt carrier group. Again, less reciprocating mass means a lower recall impulse.”
“It’s got every feature in it it should have,” Kelley concluded, “at a price point that will make you smile and make you want it all the more. (This) rifle has all the cool features that little boutique gun makers can do, but in one rifle from a large manufacturer: Savage Arms.”

A closer look at the muzzle of the Long Range model.

BOTH MSR-10S ARE AVAILABLE in .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor chamberings, each of which offers applications in hunting and long-range shooting. The .308 Win. is a fine all-around choice for big game, not to mention a top traditional pick of snipers and other long-range shooters. A relative newcomer, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a long-range performer developed for target shooting but perfectly capable in hunting applications as well.

The nonreciprocating side charging handle on the Long Range model.

Savage tailored barrel length to caliber and purpose. The .308 Win. version of the MSR-10 Hunter sports a 16-inch barrel (and weighs just 7.5 pounds), while the 6.5 Creedmoor Hunter carries an 18-inch barrel. MSR10 Long Range barrel lengths are 20 inches for the .308 Win. and 22 inches with 6.5 Creedmoor.

Regardless of length, all barrels are button-rifled and paired to their particular action with Savage’s obsessive attention to precise headspace control. To further enhance accuracy while reducing fouling, the bore features innovative 5R rifling. And to extend barrel life, Savage applies an ultradurable, Melonite QPQ surface hardening treatment inside and out.

Although the MSR-10 Hunter hit the market too late for extensive range testing before our monthly print deadline, American Shooting Journal columnist (and current cover boy) Mike Dickerson enjoyed obvious success with the brand-new gun on a recent west Texas hog hunt. (MIKE DICKERSON)

With roughly 10 million modern sporting rifles already in the hands of American gun owners, there’s no denying the platform’s appeal for a variety of uses. And, after talking to thousands of shooters online and in person at ranges across the continent, Savage knew exactly where to aim with their new line. The company is convinced that both new MSR-10s will quickly find a place in the hands and hearts of discerning shooters, and with early results trending so favorably, it would be hard to argue otherwise. ASJ

Posted in Long Guns Tagged with: , , , ,

February 28th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Choosing the right loads and chokes is all part of preparing your turkey gun for spring success. 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY TROY RODAKOWSKI

Whether you prefer a 20-, 12- or even a 10-gauge shotgun to go after your spring gobbler, the time is now to pick the right load for maximum effectiveness. You might only get one chance at that trophy bird, so why not give yourself the best opportunity at a quick clean and ethical harvest?

Using range finders and shot-tracking equipment such as the Bullseye system can be very helpful.

There are many turkey choke tubes on the market, and folks often ask me which one is best. I always tell them to pick a choke designed for your gun and the load you plan to shoot. But whatever you do, choose something, because you shouldn’t head into the woods without a turkey choke. Trust me, you are not doing yourself any favors by not having one.

Choke tubes come in four standard sizes, commonly known as cylinder choke (C), improved cylinder choke (IC), modified choke (M), and full choke (F). Essentially, turkey chokes are extra full. Once upon a time, the standard for shotgun patterns was the 30-inch circle and what percentage of the pellets in a shotgun shell was delivered inside that area. The idea was to have an evenly distributed pattern inside the circle, but modern turkey hunters want something tighter than that.
TURKEY CHOKES ARE DESIGNED specifically to keep your pattern tight at various distances. Turkey shells have more of a powder charge than a typical shotgun load, and this is where this distinctive choke will pay dividends. The general rule of thumb is that it takes three pellets to break a clay target and six pellets to take down a small game bird.

Counting the number of pellets in the vitals is key to finding the best patterning load for your gun.

Of course, as the size of the game bird increases, so does the number of pellets that are needed for a successful shot. In other words, it takes more pellets to kill a turkey than it does to bag a quail! Shot size is also important, as a larger shot will be needed to take down a turkey. In order to choose your chokes, you want to predict how far away your shot is going to be.

Hunters go after spring turkeys using a variety of methods; so one load won’t be perfect for everybody. But everyone can pick the perfect load to match his or her style of hunting. First, determine which size shot you like best – 2¾-, 3- or 3½-inch shells loaded with size 3, 4, 5 or 6 shot? Again, you need to shoot several through your gun and see which one patterns best on paper. There are even pelleted blends with specially designed wads for greater distance. Last year I hunted with Federal 3rd Degree Turkey Loads, copper-plated lead pellets in size 4, 5 and 6 shot. I was impressed with the effectiveness through my gun prior to season, especially at intermediate ranges.

There are old fixed-choke guns that will shoot certain loads better regardless of other factors. I like to start out with standard No. 6s and see what the pattern looks like before trying something different. My father has an old Remington 870 fixed full choke, and he seems to shoot size 6 loads through it best. Newer 20-gauge shotguns will shoot size 7s at 1,100 feet per second, and these are great for a young hunter or beginning sportsmen or -women.

FOR HUNTERS ON THE MOVE, lighter guns with good loads chambered in 3- and 3½-inch size 4 or 5 shot with velocity over 1,100 fps are more desirable. Regardless, a hunter needs to practice with several loads and determine which one works best. I like to find at least two that pattern well, choose one that I prefer and have another on standby. Why have two, you may ask? Well, I have found that not all loads are readily available especially during season, so this way I don’t find myself running out of shells halfway through the month of May and have to scramble to find another type that I’m comfortable with. Does that sound like planning ahead? It sure does.

Blends of copper and lead with specially formulated wads have increased pellet density and range for gobbler gunners over the last few years.

The bottom line is, you want the largest possible percentage of pellets in the vitals as possible. Pattern your gun according to the type of terrain you’ve chosen to hunt. For example, if you are hunting thick brushy country, make sure to pattern for 30 yards or less, and in a more open environment pattern out to 40 yards. Counting your pellets at each range and figuring out your kill percentage provides valuable information.

You will be very surprised at the different performance of various loads at the similar ranges. The ideal pattern for a turkey gun is 100 pellets within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Achieving this density essentially means that there should be a large enough percentage of pellets in the vitals to ethically harvest your turkey.

These loads have been very consistent for the author over the years.

WHEN PATTERNING YOUR GUN, remember to always shoot from a stable rest,
bench or sled. I like to use my Bullseye camera system (bullseyecamera.com) or other digital range finder to help simplify the process. This also helps save time running up and down range and changing targets. No matter what shot size you choose, the pattern should equate to 25 to 35 percent (on average) of pellets in the vitals or 10-inch diameter. Density is the key ingredient in determining which load you prefer and works best.

You can make your own targets out of butcher paper or print out your own. Several outdoor companies sell high-quality shoot-n-see style targets that can be found at Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and other sporting goods retailers. A general rule and helpful reminder is that most turkey guns are patterned for 40 yards or less, since this distance is universally considered “ethical” to shoot and harvest a bird.

But spring is nearly upon us, so now is the time to quit reading about turkeys and get out there to burn some powder in preparation for a great season. ASJ

It’s not easy to bring down these amazing birds, so why not take a little time to make sure your time counts. A favorite shotgun with a turkey choke and a consistent load is all you need.

Posted in Hunting Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

February 19th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, our man afield offers 10 timely treks chosen to provide a happier hunting ground for you and your sweetheart.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

February is here, and with it, excitement and so much to do. Winter projects are wrapping up, spring is around the corner, and love is in the air. The second month of the year graciously provides us with an entire day to honor our special someone, and if you’re looking for something extraordinary to get your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, consider a hunting adventure you’ll remember forever.

The Haugens pose with Tiffany’s massive black bear, taken on a spring hunt in Canada. The day after this, Scott connected on a giant cinnamon phase bear, making for one of the more memorable hunts the couple has shared together.

I’m not talking hard-core hunts in foul weather for trophy class animals, where freezing temperatures and extreme terrain prevail. I’m referring to fun hunts to share where game abounds, the weather is mild, the action fast-paced, the terrain is easily managed and the days afield not overly long. Of course, you need to set aside time for some relaxed sightseeing and romantic dinners, which may come over a campfire, but if you’re together, it’s just that much more special.

Throughout our 26 years of marriage, living in Alaska and overseas, my wife, Tiffany, and I have been fortunate to hunt many places together. Here’s a list of some of the most memorable hunting experiences we have enjoyed together. I believe you will enjoy them as well.

1. BEAR BOUND

Spring is one of the most productive times to hunt black bear in North America. Be it over bait in the states that allow it, or spot-and-stalk-style hunting in the lush, grassy meadows of the Pacific Northwest, there’s no shortage of great bear hunting opportunities.

Idaho allows bear hunting over bait, and color phase bears run high in some areas. Sleeping in and hunting the evening hours will make it feel more like a vacation than a hunt. Spotand-stalk hunts can be had in multiple Canadian provinces, too, where bear densities are mind boggling and the terrain is easy to negotiate. Just be sure to bring mosquito repellent.

Bear meat is some of the best eating wild game out there. Get the hide off fast; remove the fat from the muscle and get the meat quickly cooling, and you’ll be enjoying it for months to come.

2. TURKEY TIME

There’s nothing quite like being in the spring turkey woods: warm days, wild flowers blooming, birds singing and lovesick toms gobbling like crazy. Turkeys can be hunted in every state but Alaska.

One epic turkey hunt for you and your sweetheart is in Hawaii, where the birds thrive. Florida is another wonderful option for a couples hunt. Texas, South Dakota and western Oregon are also great places to hunt turkeys, and see some beautiful sights along the way.

Wherever you go, make sure to hit the state or states where multiple tags are available. If you have the time, driving to and hunting different states can be easy to do, and may offer great side attractions in the form of museums, historical points of interest and, of course, restaurants. Don’t overlook fall turkey hunting, which can be exciting, especially with a dog!

The Haugens have traveled to many countries, experiencing memorable hunts along the way. Here, the couple is in Zimbabwe, where Tiffany took her first waterbuck. After the hunt, they toured Victoria Falls.

3. HOG HEAVEN

Ask my wife what her most memorable hunt was, and she’ll likely reply hunting hogs in Florida. Our whole family was along on this unforgettable trip, and atop a monster truck-like swamp buggy, we pounded bacon with ARs, shotguns and rifles. It was a thrilling way to hunt, and an effective way to put a dent in the overpopulation of pigs on the land we hunted. It also yielded a couple coolers full of some of our favorite wild game to eat.

Texas has high pig populations, and baiting and spot-and-stalk approaches can be employed there. Sitting in a blind over bait offers a level of addicting anticipation that needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

California has great, year-round hunting for wild hogs. Spring and fall are favorite times, as the pigs are actively feeding and the weather is very comfortable. Of course, California swine often resides near vineyards, making it easy to find something to do in the evening together as well.
4. QUACK ATTACK

Be it an early-season teal hunt, a midseason outing for local birds or a late-season adventure for migratory fowl, spending time in the duck blind together is relaxing. Of course, the earlier it is in the season, the more comfortable the weather will be. Then again, late-season, high-volume hunts in the cold can offer unmatched shooting action that can keep you warm.

With a dozen decoys, a call and some basic gear, getting equipped for hunting waterfowl is easy.

If you don’t have access to good public lands, gaining permission to hunt on private property is much easier than getting the green light to hunt deer or elk. Don’t overlook your goose hunting options either, for these can offer great action around the country, be it for Canadas or snows.

Thanks to comfortable weather, easy terrain and lots of animals, pronghorn hunting is considered by many to be the perfect couples hunt. On this adventure, the Haugens were joined by their older son, Braxton.

 

Not only can hogs be hunted many ways, their numbers are high and on the table they’re among the best of the best. Here, Tiffany is all smiles with a hog she took with an AR, one of many pigs her and her husband would take on this trip.

5. PRONGHORN HITS

The perfect couples hunt for big game has to be pronghorn. The weather is nice, animals are plentiful, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to start the day, and if you blow an opportunity on a buck, you’ll soon be commencing a stalk on another.

While some states only offer pronghorn tags through a lottery system, others have over-the-counter options. Parts of Wyoming offer overthe-counter tags for nonresidents, for both buck and doe, making it the top state for such a hunt. Consider putting a bipod on the rifle, or at the very least, use shooting sticks, and practice out to 300 yards, as shots can be long in this open country of the West. These hunts are big hits among couples and families.
6. VARMINT MASTER

Varmint hunting offers high-volume, fast-paced shooting action to couples eager to head afield. Be it prairie dogs in the spring, summer, early fall, or ground squirrels farther West, there is a lot of great shooting to be had.

Prairie dogs occupy many of the Rocky Mountain states and open plains, and the fact they do so much property damage means finding a place to hunt isn’t that difficult. The last prairie dog town my wife and I hunted in Montana, stretched for more than 7 miles and was over a mile wide. Needless to say, we experienced a lot of shooting.

In eastern Oregon and northern California, Belding’s ground squirrels abound, and firing more than a thousand rounds per person, per day, is common in some of the alfalfa fields overrun by these varmints.
7. PLEASANT PHEASANT

While the season for wild pheasants has come to a close, there are numerous bird preserves that offer outstanding hunting opportunities around the country, even in Alaska. In most states, preserves are open through March, and reopen again in August or September.

Not only are these high-percentage hunts, but the accommodations can be as fancy as you want to get, which can be appealing to couples. Then again, you can find affordable operations, allowing more bangs for your bucks in the form of pheasant, chukar, quail and occasionally more exotic species.
8. DOVE LOVE

My wife and I gone dove hunting together for nearly two decades. Early in the September season, when the weather is hot, we enjoy floating rivers and hunting birds off gravel bars. Later in the season, we move to fields and travel routes connecting feeding and roosting areas.

While early-season hunts are warm and comfortable, many states have extended their seasons into October, and the shooting for migratory doves in large flocks can be exceptional. These are some of the best eating birds out there.
9. WHITETAIL QUEST

One of the country’s best deer hunts to experience with your sweetheart is for whitetails. Blacktail deer hunting is physically demanding, often taking place in wet, brushy country. Mule deer habitat can be rugged and the weather less than hospitable. But when it comes to whitetails, North America’s most hunted big game animal, the options are many.

Since whitetails occupy so much river bottom and farmland habitats, the terrain is easy to negotiate. They can be hunted from late summer into winter, and with high densities, seeing deer is almost guaranteed and the chances of punching a tag are high. Whitetails can often be hunted from ground blinds, making it comfortable for both of you when temperatures drop. If looking to put meat in the freezer, there are some good over-the-counter options, and easy-to-draw tags in many states.

Author Scott Haugen and his wife, Tiffany, take in a stunning sunset after having doubled on Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming. There are some great turkey hunts for couples to enjoy around the country.

10. ADVENTURES ABROAD

Don’t overlook the joy of traveling abroad to hunt with your loved one. This is also a great opportunity to combine a hunt with a vacation.

New Zealand is tops when it comes to hunting prized red stag, and more, and the people and the country are simply wonderful. Australia also offers some good deer hunting in its southern and western states.

Africa is a place that offers a lot, both in terms of species to hunt and sites to see. Plains game hunts are affordable, with kudu and gemsbok topping the wish list of many hunters.

This Valentine’s Day, consider giving your spouse a hunt as a way to say “I love you!” With this gift you’ll both be able to spend time in the field together, and travel through some great parts of North America, even the world. ASJ

Editor’s note: Scott Haugen is a fulltime freelance writer of 20 years. He recently began a booking service geared to help others enjoy hunting and fishing adventures around the world. Learn more at scotthaugen.com. 

Posted in Hunting Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

February 15th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

The Norma Oryx is designed to provide a perfect blend of expansion and penetration, and is available in calibers both popular and rare.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY PHIL MASSARO

The 180-grain, .30-caliber Oryx, in original form and expanded

Three does jogged across the little valley below me, pausing only to look over their shoulders. It wasn’t long – a matter of seconds – before I heard the telltale grunting.

He wasn’t the biggest buck I’d ever seen, but he had eight points and a big body, and at that stage of the season he was a shooter. Head down, searching side to side, neck swollen, he cruised along giving the does’ scent the utmost attention.

At 90 yards, he stopped and gave me a quartering-toward shot, and I placed the crosshairs of the 6.5-284 Norma just inside his foreleg, gently breaking the trigger. At the shot, the buck flipped backward onto his back, legs in the air, and stayed in that position. The 156-grain Oryx had taken him through the heart and lungs, and proceeded to exit just behind the offside ribs, killing him instantly.

Norma also provides premium-grade, quality brass cartridges, including these for the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, available as factory ammunition (shown) or as component parts.

THE ORYX IS A PREMIUM BULLET, designed for a perfect blend of expansion – to create a large wound channel – and penetration – to ensure that the wound channel reaches the vital organs. Usually designed in a semispitzer profile, the bullet’s copper jacket is engineered to be thinner at the nose, to initiate expansion, yet gets thicker toward the flat base of the bullet.

In addition to getting thicker, the rear portion of the jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core to make sure that things stay together. Chemical bonding, resulting in what we call a “bonded core” bullet, prevents bullet breakup, and slows the expansion process down to allow the bullet to penetrate deeply. It is one of several methods used to resist overexpansion, a problem common to standard cup-and-core bullets at high-impact velocities, and the Norma Oryx does this well.

Norma loads the Oryx in some rare calibers, such as the .308 Norma magnum.

Being a semispitzer, the Oryx may not possess the high ballistic coefficient (BC) figures that some of the sleek, polymer-tipped hunting bullets may have, but at normal hunting distances that doesn’t pose a huge problem. Inside of 400 yards, shots can be made with a bullet in this conformation, and the additional terminal performance can make a big difference when it really counts; should tough shoulder bones, thick hide, or gristle plates need to be penetrated, the Oryx will definitely hold together for you.

Norma loads the Oryx in their factory ammunition, in calibers from .224 inches all the way up to .375 inches. The smallest are a good choice for those who wish to use a .22 centerfire on deer and other similar game. The standard big game calibers, say from 6.5mm up to 8mm, can be used with an additional level of confidence, should the shot angle be less than desirable.

The .375 300-grain Oryx.

The heavier calibers, from .338 inches up to the .375 inches, will take full advantage of the Oryx’s stature, as these calibers are often used to pursue the largest animals that can be effectively hunted with a soft-point bullet. Norma offers the Oryx in mid- to heavyweight projectiles for caliber, at standard muzzle velocities. Retained weight is often high – above 90 percent in most instances – with expansion usually doubling the original diameter.
THE ORYX IS AVAILABLE IN MOST of the popular calibers, such as the .270 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, .375 Holland & Holland and .300 Winchester Magnum, but also has embraced some of the rarities, like the .308 and .358 Norma Magnums, as well as the Weatherby and Blaser Magnums. Hailing from Sweden, Norma loads many of the metric calibers, like the classic 7×57 Mauser, 9.3x63mm, 8×57 and 9.3x74R, as well as some of those lesser-known calibers here in the States like the 7×64 Brenneke and the 7x65R.

The American PH line includes the 6.5-284 Norma, with the 156-grain Oryx bullet.

Norma also offers the Oryx as a component bullet for the handloader, so for those of you who like to hunt with your own ammunition, the Oryx remains a viable option.

In the field, I like the Oryx for any situation where a difficult shot angle may be the only shot you get, or in an instance where stopping an animal may be necessary. The Oryx would make a very good choice for a hunter who wanted to use his or her .270 Winchester for elk; at 150 grains, the heavy-for-caliber bonded core slug will definitely hold together well enough to reach the vitals. I also like the Oryx for many of the African species, as well as for our North American bears. Thinking lion and leopard, as well as eland and wildebeest, the Oryx – in a suitable caliber – will provide enough expansion to shred the vital organs, yet will break those tough shoulder bones that guard the vitals.

I also think that a .338 Winchester Magnum or .375 H&H Magnum, loaded with a heavy-for-caliber Oryx, would make an excellent brown bear combination, and would certainly handle any black bear that ever walked. For a hunter who wants to pursue bears with his standard deer rifle, the Oryx will handle the shoulder bones and put that bear down quickly. For those who hunt deer with the popular .243 Winchester, the Oryx will surely get the job done, at just about any angle.

The classic .30-06 Springfield is even better when mated with the Oryx.

Is it accurate? My 6.5-284 Norma will print three of those 156-grain Oryx bullets into ½ MOA groups, as will my .300 Winchester Magnum with 180-grainers. My .375 H&H puts three 300-grain Oryx bullets into exactly 1 inch at 100 yards. For a trio of hunting rifles that will handle most all of the big game scenarios across the globe, that’s more than enough accuracy. ASJ

In the .375 H&H, the Oryx bullet makes a good choice for truly large game.

Posted in Ammo Tagged with: , , , , ,

January 7th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Before heading out on a trek, hunters need to ask themselves a simple question: How many knives do I really need?

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

When it comes to hunting knives, what do you really need? The question is straightforward, but the answer can become complicated by thoughts of what you want, rather than what you actually need. Personally, I own dozens of knives. They are great tools, and serve a range of purposes. But when I go afield, I keep it simple.

On all the hunts I’ve been fortunate to embark upon around the world, I almost always take only one knife afield. This knife has to be able to withstand punishment and perform to my liking, and it’s also got to be lightweight. When scaling granite peaks for mountain goats and sheep, ounces can feel like pounds after a few days.

When you get an animal down, the field dressing, skinning and quartering begins. Each of these tasks can be completed with one knife, and once you know the connective tissues and how to work a knife around them, you can even leave the saw behind.

When you get an animal down, the field dressing, skinning and quartering begins. Each of these tasks can be completed with one knife, and once you know the connective tissues and how to work a knife around them, you can even leave the saw behind.

MANY KNIVES ARE DESIGNED for specific purposes, but for hunting, I don’t feel as if I need multiple knives. On a recent hunt, I met up with a buddy in Alaska. It was his first trip to the Last Frontier, so he wasn’t sure what to fully expect. He cracked open his gun case and inside were six knives, including one with a heavy, 12-inch-long blade and a ball compass on top. I laughed. He didn’t. “What are you doing?” I quizzed. “I didn’t know what knife to bring, so I brought a bunch,” he smirked.

We were going on a grizzly and black bear hunt across open tundra. About the only thing we needed a knife for was carrying out routine tasks, and to skin and butcher any bear we killed. In my opinion, a person needs only one knife for those tasks.

As with all fly-in hunts to remote drop camps, weight is a concern with bush plane pilots. With strict weight limitations, and given the fact we were going to be gone for over a week, I wanted to take all the weight we could in food, clothes and essential gear, not knives we’d never use. When my buddy asked what knives I was taking, I held up one, a 3-inch-bladed Kershaw knife, specifically their Skyline model. “No, really, what knives are you bringing?” he asked again.

“Oh, I forgot this,” I smiled, holding up a compact sharpening steel. I explained how all skinning, field dressing, caping and deboning can be done with one knife, and that it doesn’t have to be big. I’ve broken down numerous deer, elk, bear and African game with a 2-inch blade, and many with a 3-inch blade. Using bigger blades than that is fine, if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but if you’re just embarking upon the world of hunting, big, bulky knives aren’t necessary.

This year marks my 40th year of big game hunting, and I’ve always kept things simple with my knife choices. You look for a knife that fits your hand, keeps an edge, and is constructed with a handle that won’t slip when covered in blood, fat or water.

You don’t need big, long blades when it comes to handling game in the field. Knives with 2-, 2.5- and 3-inch blades are enough to handle breaking down deer and elk-sized game. The author has used the orange-handled Kershaw Skyline knife to skin and quarter everything from brown bear to deer, elk to Cape buffalo in Africa.

You don’t need big, long blades when it comes to handling game in the field. Knives with 2-, 2.5- and 3-inch blades are enough to handle breaking down deer and elk-sized game. The author has used the orange-handled Kershaw Skyline knife to skin and quarter everything from brown bear to deer, elk to Cape buffalo in Africa.

I know many hunters who take their personal-carry knives afield, and that’s great if that’s what they like. Some folks prefer fixed blades over folding knives, and vice versa. Personally, I like a fixed-blade knife with a handle that’s easy to clean of dried blood and gut content.

A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR when choosing a hunting knife is getting one with quality steel that’s easy to attain an edge on. While softer blades may dull more easily than hard steel, they are easier to regain an edge on when in the field. Knowing the anatomy of the animal you’re breaking down, and using the knife to cut, not saw or force through bones, will help in maintaining an edge on your knife. All cuts are easy to make and should not be forced, especially through joints and cartilage.

Animal fat can quickly dull a knife, which is why it’s critical to have a quality steel to easily hone that knife. At the same time, cutting through cartilage, tendons and ligaments can be tough on knives, making quality steel even more important. Having a blade you can hone in the field – one that reacts to a good steel – is important in regaining that edge in order to continue safely and efficiently breaking down an animal.

While it’s occasionally unavoidable, try to refrain from cutting through hair and into dirt. Sometimes big animals like elk, moose and bear are impossible to move around by yourself, meaning a cut may slice through skin and hit dirt, which dulls a knife. When cutting the hide, do so from the skin side, not down through the hair. To do this, make a small hole where the cut will begin, then get the blade inside the skin, cutting upwards through the hide. This will help keep an edge and should allow you to get through multiple animals before having to sharpen your knife again.

When your knife does become dull in the field, sharpen it right away, for a dull knife leads to bad cutting techniques, and that’s how accidents happen. When hunting, I rely on two simple yet very effective sharpeners. In my daypack, I’ll take one sharpening steel afield to touch up the knife while breaking down animals. My favorite is Kershaw’s Ultra-Tek blade sharpener, a 600-grit oval steel that’s very lightweight and works wonderfully in quickly regaining an edge. When back in camp, if I need to further sharpen the knife, I’ll use a whetstone or a Work Sharp guided field sharpener.

Rarely do I take a compact folding saw afield when deer hunting, for a deer’s skull – the only part of an animal I use a saw on – isn’t so heavy that it needs to be split, like moose, caribou and elk do. When quartering big game in the field, I don’t use a saw to split the pelvis or remove the legs, neck or ribs – that’s all done with a knife.

Having the right knife to get the job done is important. Here, the author removes the cape from a mule deer in spike camp using the same 3-inch bladed Kershaw knife he relied on to gut, skin, quarter and debone the buck.

Having the right knife to get the job done is important. Here, the author removes the cape from a mule deer in spike camp using the same 3-inch bladed Kershaw knife he relied on to gut, skin, quarter and debone the buck.

ONE WORD OF CAUTION when embarking on a big game hunt where you’ll be breaking down an animal in the field, and that’s to be aware of the state’s recovery laws. Most states require a proof of sex to accompany the meat from the field to camp or home. This is usually best retained by keeping the genitals attached to one hindquarter, and/or bringing the head of the animal out. When bringing the head out, if sawing off the antlers to cut down on weight you’re packing out, cuts are often required to be made below the eyes, so the eyes are intact. Some states require the meat to stay attached to leg bones, too, meaning complete boning out of meat while in the field may not be legal.

If you will be transporting game heads across state lines, know that multiple states require the brain to be removed from the skull. This means you’ll need a saw to cut through the brain cavity, so be prepared. Prior to heading afield, make sure you know the meat recovery and transport laws of the state you’ll be hunting in.

Find a knife that works for you and familiarize yourself with how it handles. Practice at home, rubbing fat and blood on the handle and getting it wet to see how it performs. Once you know what a knife is capable of, as well as the anatomy of an animal and how to disarticulate its joints and muscles, you’ll see why a simple blade is all that’s really necessary. ASJ

Elk hunting in the backcountry can be demanding, yet to break down an animal, all you need is one quality knife and a sharpener, maintains the author, here reaching the end of the trail with a pack string carrying his bull out of the woods.

Elk hunting in the backcountry can be demanding, yet to break down an animal, all you need is one quality knife and a sharpener, maintains the author, here reaching the end of the trail with a pack string carrying his bull out of the woods.

Editor’s note: For copies of Scott Haugen’s comprehensive DVD, Field Dressing, Skinning & Caping Big Game, send a check for $20.00 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. This, along with his many books, can be ordered online at scotthaugen.com.

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