[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]lthough not a soldier himself, Rudyard Kipling was familiar with the British army, their weapons and methods of ﬁghting. No doubt he had soldier chums who were happy to tell him about the best girl they had, the Brown Bess musket.
From about 1722 to 1838 the Long Land Pattern musket (Bess’s oﬃcial name) was the standard-issue long arm for all land forces in the British military. This weapon ﬁred a .75- to .78-caliber ball. As this was the era of British expansion, Brown Bess saw duty around the world. From India to Waterloo all the way over to those pesky American colonies, this was the gun that did most of the ﬁghting, and when mounted with the standard 17-inch bayonet it was deadly indeed! Think of an M1 Garand that stayed in service for over 100 years!
THE ORIGIN OF THE NICKNAME Brown Bess for this pattern musket seems to be uncertain. Some say it was an aﬀectionate reference by the British soldiers to Queen Elizabeth I. King George I was, in fact, German and did not speak English (go ﬁgure), and others think it could have been an interpretation for the German braun Buss or brawn Buss, meaning strong gun or brown gun. (Büchse is an old German word for rifle, in the sense of a hunting weapon.)
Most experts on this musket, however, seem to think it is more likely the overall appearance of the weapon: dark brown wood on the stock and a barrel that often had a brownish tint due to the method of “bluing” the metal at this time known as russeting.
History is wonderful and if you are as crazy about guns as I am, you could get lost in the details and minutiae of any ﬁrearm. I will admit, however, that there is something better than just reading about it – hands-on shooting. The feel of the gun, the burning powder in your nose and getting your hands dirty – there is no substitute for this.
So, where can you actually learn to load and ﬁre a Brown Bess musket? Glad you asked! Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, of course!
This 301-acre historic site features hundreds of restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings. Costumed interpreters tell the stories of the men and women in this 18th-Century city – black, white and Native Americans were all here. Some were slaves, some were indentured and some were free. When you come here, you will learn the challenges these people faced and you can also learn to ﬁre the Brown Bess!
BRAND NEW THIS YEAR, Colonial Williamsburg has opened a ﬁring range where guests can learn to load and ﬁre this treasured musket. If you enjoy history (which you probably do if you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg), take the time to feel history in your hands by shooting these historical treasures.
Even though we were visiting the colonies and not Her Majesty’s home in England, the day my wife Helen and I visited Colonial Williamsburg, we were treated like royalty. Joe Straw, public relations manager for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and all of the staﬀ went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
OUR FIRST STOP was the gunsmith shop. To be honest, I could have spent the entire day in there. As with much of Colonial Williamsburg most of this sweeping landscape is just like stepping back in time. Try to imagine walking into an 18th-century gunsmith shop. It’s all here! The guns, the powder horns, the tools and every accoutrement that you can think of and some you might never have realized existed, all with the absolute authenticity and attention to detail that Colonial Williamsburg is known for.
I stood in awe of the blacksmith’s shop next door as a ﬂat piece of metal was repeatedly heated, hammered and forged around an iron rod, transforming it into a riﬂe barrel. I had always been curious about this process and wondered how it was even possible. There I stood as sparks danced with each blow of the hammer and black smoke rolled.
I was very fortunate to spend some time with George Suiter, the master gunsmith here. Suiter has been working in this gunsmith shop for over 30 years and after about 10 minutes of speaking with him I had already forgotten more about making these riﬂes than I would ever know. Suiter makes these Colonial-era “riﬂe guns” right in this shop and people can order their very own. The waiting list is quite lengthy, currently eight to nine years, and on average a riﬂe will fetch about $20,000.
“The best way to preserve a trade is to practice it,” Suiter told me, “ … and that is what we do here at Colonial Williamsburg.” He assured me that one would never ﬁnd tools in this shop which were not true to the time period.
I also spent some time talking to Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. Goldstein is the coauthor of The Brown Bess: An Identiﬁcation Guide And Illustrated Study Of Britain’s Most Famous Musket. This is, at the very least, an exhaustive study of the British Land Pattern musket. I do not believe you could be a serious student nor a proper collector without owning this book.
JOE STRAW WAS ULTIMATELY ABLE to hustle me out of the gunsmith shop and took Helen and I to the musket range. A highly capable group and just as knowledgeable in their craft awaited us. You will ﬁnd this level of commitment and passion all over Colonial Williamsburg, and this is also depicted in the clothing and demeanor.
Portraying a Colonial-era militia man, armorer Justin Chapman met us at the range with a host of well-trained helpers. Chapman gave us an extensive safety and background brieﬁng on the Brown Bess, as well as a period “fowling piece.” The “fowler,” we were told, would be a muzzleloader that would have likely been used by colonists at the time. A predecessor to the modern shotgun, it could be loaded with bird shot or ball load, making it very versatile for the hunting colonist.
Both the Brown Bess and the fowler are smoothbores (no riﬂing in the barrel). They could be loaded quickly, but are not especially accurate over 50 yards. For the European style of combat used at the time, where armies marched in formation to within range of their foes and then sent volleys of lead chunks at them, the Brown Bess was a deadly weapon; for the long-range shooter, not so much. A British soldier was expected to be capable of ﬁring four shots in one minute. After a few volleys of ﬁre, a charge was ordered using those wicked triangular 17-inch bayonets. The line that could stand against such a charge was stalwart indeed!
MY WIFE HELEN HAD the privilege of being the ﬁrst visitor to ﬁre a round on the brand new musket range here. I enjoyed watching her do that as much as anything on this trip. There is something about watching a new shooter that warms the heart. The look on her face after the smoke and boom of her ﬁrst shot was priceless. When she was asked if she wanted to shoot again, she immediately replied, “Of course!”
When it was my turn to shoot, I found that it was not difficult to hit the NRA target, as the musket was more accurate than I had expected. The Brown Bess has no front sight, but the small lug where the bayonet attaches serves as one. Again, this was not meant to be a sniper riﬂe. Quick and easy to load, I could see how shooting this type of muzzleloader could be addicting. Straw had to drag me oﬀ of the range before we all froze
to death – it was a cold March day – and I shot up all the powder and ball in the county.
AT THE END OF THE LONG DAY, Helen and I would not be denied another stroll down Colonial Williamsburg’s streets. It was a blustery evening with not many visitors around. I stood and peered down Duke of Gloucester Street; nobody was in sight outside of those in period attire. Far down the street I could see a soldier in uniform hastening into the evening gloom. Trouble was coming, but in the end came freedom and the rise of the greatest country the world had ever seen. Just for a minute I imagined it was 1774, and I was there. ASJ
The 2016 Archery Trade Association (ATA) show was in full swing at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, and it was packed to the gills. I stood amongst a throng in a long line that did not seem to be moving. A guy next to me was telling no one in particular how beautiful Ms. Eva Shockey was – for the fifth time! Another Eva admirer standing in front of me was giving a running commentary of her career in the outdoor and hunting industry– he seemed to be well informed.
As I have never been good at waiting for anything, I considered bolting from the line before someone could say “Hey! Don’t you want to see Eva Shockey?”
Well, of course I wanted to see her, but like a cottontail rabbit kicked out of brush pile, I jumped out of line and sprang full speed down a crowded aisle. I guess I am a bit of a coward. I was supposed to procure an interview with Eva, but chickened out again.
EVA SHOCKEY HAS BECOME the face of women in the hunting movement, and that is a big deal. There have been exactly two women to grace the cover of Field & Stream magazine in the last 100 years: the first lady was Queen Elizabeth; the second Eva Shockey.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that the increase in hunting participation from 2008 to 2012 among males was only 1.9 percent; among women it was 10. In those four short years, the number of female hunters jumped from 3.04 million to 3.35 million. Did Eva have anything to do with that? Many would say yes!
Being the daughter of Outdoor Channel-icon Jim Shockey and often appearing with him on his programs did not hurt her start in the industry. But even in the limelight of her father, Eva is developing and blazing her own niche in the hunting world.
These days, Eva is considered a women’s hunting advocate superstar, not just Jim’s daughter. I saw this time and again as I walked the aisles of the ATA show. Passing by a booth where she was signing autographs and taking pictures with adoring fans, many of them young girls and ladies, it seemed clear she had a special bond with them.
I didn’t think I had much hope of landing an interview with her on my trip, but I made a call to a lady who knows everybody. “Be over here at our booth at 4:30,” she said nonchalantly. “You’ve got fifteen minutes for an interview.” I showed up early, still not believing it, and within few minutes, here came Eva and her manager –pretty as you please.
They are both polite and gracious as can be. To be honest, that was not what I expected. There are celebrities in the outdoor world who act like rock stars. This is not the case here, and soon Eva and I were sitting at a table talking as if we were on the front porch having sweet tea.
AMERICAN SHOOTING JOURNAL What is your life like right now?
EVA SHOCKEY Very busy and exciting because every day I learn new things, talk to new people and try new products. I just got married in June (2015), and have a wonderful husband named Tim Brent who is also a hunter and a professional hockey player. So, between his hockey schedule and mine, it is pretty hectic!
ASJ Did you grow up hunting?
ES I grew up around hunting. My dad has been a hunter for my entire life, and we’ve had TV hunting programs for 15 years (currently Uncharted and Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures – all on Outdoor Channel), so I was always on his trips. I didn’t actually start hunting seriously until after college when I traveled for my first big-game hunt in South Africa. Since then, I have not stopped.
ES I loved it. I was always curious about it, and wanted to do something to spend time with my dad. He was obviously very passionate, and I wanted to see what it was he loved so much. The first animal I hunted was a warthog [laughs], because I was not sure I would like it, so I wanted to hunt something that was kind of ugly [laughs again]. After that I was hooked and jumped into all of this rather quickly. I didn’t intend for this to become my career.
ASJ Do you enjoy archery and bowhunting?
ES Yes, I love archery! I have been shooting a bow for a while now, but in the past three years I’ve become more serious about it. People who bowhunt know that it takes more time to hunt this way than it does to hunt with a gun. I split my time 50-50 between bow and gun hunting, but I am growing more and more in love with my bow.
ASJ There are more and more young women who seek you out and follow you as an inspiration. What do they tell you and what do you share with them?
ES The number of girls involved in hunting has really increased from just seven years ago when I started. I often hear that they appreciate me because I am a lady who hunts, and I don’t go into the woods pretending to be a guy. I don’t start swearing and spitting as soon as the hunt starts. I don’t want to be a guy. I stay true to myself – as ladylike as I can [laughs a little], classy as I can. I’m still me just wearing camo. That’s my biggest thing! You don’t have to be masculine to hunt, and you can just be yourself and love the outdoors.
ASJ That really hits home with the ladies, I bet.
ES I think so. There are different kinds of girls who hunt, but for me, this is just who I am. I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for being a woman who loves being in the woods while wearing camo and doing the same things that any guy out there does.
EVA DOESN’T HAVE to apologize, indeed! She is the face and the voice of the greatest force to reach the outdoor and hunting arena in the past century – women hunters.
The industry is lucky to have her. ASJ
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]M[/su_dropcap]aybe, just maybe, you are ready for a little help with your shotgun shooting. Like a lot of us, you have been banging around for years, and you are just OK. To be perfectly honest, maybe you seem to leave each session, whether in the field for birds or on the range for clays, with a feeling somewhere between disappointment and desperation. You know you can do better, you want to do better, but you just don’t know how.
If you have the collective eyesight, reflexes, strength and coordination of an eagle, a bull elk and a young mongoose all rolled into one critter, you won’t need to hear any of this. Just take up your old shotgun, however ugly and ill-fitting it may be, and go out and shoot stuff. If you are not exactly in that category, maybe you want to read on.
Here is the deal: Not only am I going to talk to you about the benefits of taking up some shotgun instruction, I am going to suggest a place for you to go, and I think that you are going to like it.
If you are a serious shotgunner and you haven’t heard about the gun club at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., well, you should have. It is considered one of the top-tier, premier resorts in the world, and more locally it’s a National Historic Landmark.
Since 1778 guests have been visiting this beautiful area, and the Greenbrier, for the healing mineral springs found on the property. Today, The Greenbrier boasts over 55 activities on its 10,000-acre estate, and if I tried to tell you everything the resort had to offer, I would be in more trouble with the editor than usual. What we can talk at length about is their gun club.
Like the resort itself, their gun club has a long and fertile history. Since 1913, 26 presidents, royalty, captains of industry and celebrities have shot here – and you can too. If you are thinking, as I did, that you might be a little intimidated taking shotgun lessons at a world-class resort, don’t give it another thought. I had a sneaking suspicion I might be told to hold up my pinky finger while shooting; it wasn’t like that at all.
The staff and instructors at The Greenbrier gun club were wonderful, and made me feel at home right away. I was pleased to see that the instructors were from the area (they were all old grouse hunters), and I was impressed to learn that all of them had been trained by John Higgins and Justin Jones, world-renowned trap, skeet and sporting clay professionals, from the British School of Shooting. So, what you have are instructors steeped in deep southern Appalachian hospitality, but trained as instructors in one of the premier shotgun schools in the world. What a mix!
If you don’t want to travel with your own firearms, they have house guns ready to use. For sporting clay enthusiasts they offer Beretta 686s, both the Sporting and Onyx models, and for the trap folks, visitors can use the Browning over-and-under Model BT99 and BT100.
Curtis Kincaid, Homer Bryant, Mike Adkins and Jimmy Fraley, the instructors I worked with the day I was there, were seasoned and clearly capable of instantly spotting a shooter’s mistakes; it was uncanny to work with them. More importantly, while I was on the range with these guys, I had a great time. Teaching without preaching, learning while enjoying – this is the environment great instructors create.
On the sporting clays course with Kincaid, he, of course, picked up on some of my shotgun faults, which are legend. Kincaid addressed each problem patiently and systematically, explaining every step. More of the details from this formal lesson will have to wait for another time, but we can go over some of the basics.
Safety, safety, safety. I was happy to see that they stressed gun safety from the very beginning – muzzle control, fingers off triggers, making sure of targets, the whole nine and a half yards.
Stance and mounting the gun. Some of the information Kincaid provided, I had heard before, but not delivered in such a simple, step-by-step manner, which is aimed at doing one thing: making the student a better shooter. We all know that if our stance is off, we will miss. Kincaid took the time to explain why, and demonstrated how to teach a beginner the proper method for mounting the gun and bringing it to bear on the target. Kincaid has the shooter do what he calls “mount and bow.” The student mounts the shotgun on their shoulder and aims upward approximately 45 degrees. Once in this position, he has the shooter bow or lean forward, putting about 70 percent of their weight on the front foot. This is one of the very first things they teach to new shooters. It is the basis for everything that comes next.
Your eye is the rear sight. Big, bright front sights on your gun are counterproductive, according to Kincaid. You don’t look at your sights; rather, you look at the bird.
These are just small examples of the many topics we covered during my time there, and frankly, they can explain their techniques better than I can. There is so much more Kincaid and the boys have to share. Whatever your level, you will walk away a more proficient shooter without a doubt.
If you want to take your shotgun shooting to another level, be pampered at a world-class resort, and visit amazing countryside, check out the gun club at The Greenbrier. Tell the guys I sent you, but don’t believe half of the stories they tell about my shooting! ASJ
Author’s note: You can visit the world-class Greenbrier resort’s website at greenbrier.com, and getting there is easy via Amtrak or flights directly into the Greenbrier Valley Airport. There is no excuse not to indulge.
Posted in Product Reviews Tagged with: Appalachia, Beretta, Browning, Curtis Kincaid, Fine dining, Greenbrier Resort, Homer Bryant, Jimmy Fraley, Larry Case, Mike Adkins, National Historic Landmark, Skeet, Sporting Clays, Trap, West Virginia, White Springs
If Dave Miller was a hunting dog, I would want one of his pups. He is that good. Miller has what my hunting buddy, when he rates a pack of new bird dogs, would call “fire in the belly.” I think when Miller wakes up in the morning he leaps out of bed and is immediately turning and burning, whatever his mission. You may shoot a shotgun, I do shoot a shotgun, but nobody shoots a shotgun like David Miller.
On May 16, 2015, the western Missouri man set the Guinness Book of World Records for the most clay targets shot in one hour. When the final horn blew and the smoke cleared Miller had done it: 3,653 clays broken while shooting a shotgun from the hip, and at night!
When the shooting had started an hour before, the actual world record attempt seemed almost surreal. I stood behind the platform and listened to his shotgun firing, but the rate at which the shots were going off seemed impossible. How could anyone hit anything firing this fast? The crowd watched as the targets streamed into the air and exploded with an almost machine-like consistency. That’s Miller, a shootin’ piece of machinery.
During that hour targets were thrown continuously with absolutely no pauses. In order to achieve this, Miller had to have 30 CZ-USA shotguns fitted with two Nordic Component magazine extensions that held 16 shells total. Each shotgun was set up exactly the same way, including Miller’s special leather strap to hold his hand in place. Several gun bearers and loaders stood by with ready-to-shoot shotguns so Miller could just grab and go as the clock ticked down. Miller would blast through all the ammo in one gun, then he would throw it down and reach for the next one that was handed to him. He had to do this throughout the entire hour without ever slowing down, stopping or taking a break. Even with all of the gun-change interruptions, he still shot 83 percent of the total clays thrown. I was there. I saw it and let me tell you, boys and girls, it was a sight to behold. I would be happy with that on any day at the neighborhood skeet range [grin].
How did all this come to pass?
Glad you asked. As it turns out, and somewhat oddly enough, one does not simply call up Guinness and say, “Hey guys, I shot a couple thousand clay targets the other day, put me down for that record, if you would!”
What had to happen was this: Miller and attorneys from CZ-USA (where Miller is the shotgun product manager and exhibition shooter) worked with representatives from Guinness and the National Sporting Clays Association. During the event, Guinness had to have a representative there to confirm the count and actually present Miller with the official award.
But even before that, Miller got the idea by watching a TV show with his girlfriend Kelly Lindley and her two children, Will and Sydney. The program featured people attempting to break world records. Will told Miller that he should attempt a world record with his shotgun. Miller says he didn’t think much about it at the time, but the idea stuck. This was the beginning of months of planning, testing and building to make the idea and the new dream come true.
The target throwers and the rate at which they launched the clays were a major concern. Too fast and Miller could not focus on the flying target; too slow and there would not be enough time to get all of them broken in an hour. It had to be just right. The rate of fire during the attempt was about four- to six-tenths of a second; about every half of a second a target was being thrown for Miller to shoot. This sequence required 16 Mayville Engineering Company target-throwing machines to work in unison. That is putting some serious lead down range.
When the big day came, the atmosphere of the expectant crowd was
similar to a state fair, except with lots of shotguns. It was almost as if they were waiting for Evel Knievel to jump the Grand Canyon. I thought this was better.
The amount of equipment and personnel needed to complete this monumental task included:
• 30 CZ Model 712 or 912 shotguns;
• 16 MEC target-throwing machines, designed to hold and systematically throw clay targets into the air;
(All of them performed flawlessly during this event.)
• 6,400 clay targets;
• 5,000 shotgun shells;
• 25 to 30 gun bearers and loaders;
• A plethora of volunteers, helpers, friends, family and supporters.
Miller, a more humble guy you may never meet, thanked supporters, friends and family continually during this event.
If I know Miller, he is already working on a new project, and you can bet it involves a shotgun. When you have fire in the belly, you don’t stop when you set a little thing like a world record. ASJ
Author’s note: The Heartland Trap and Wobble Skeet Range near Harrisonville, Mo., hosted this epic event and you couldn’t have found a better or friendlier setting than this neighborhood gun-club atmosphere. Owner Steve Sheerer personally made sure the event was a success for everyone. You can visit them at heartlandtrapandskeet.com.
Posted in Shooters Tagged with: 3653, Clay Killer, CZ 712s, CZ 912s, CZ USA, David Miller, Guinness Book Of Records, Guinness World Record, Heartland Trap and Skeet, Larry Case, Mayville Engineering Company, MEC, Nordic Component, NSCA, Pheasants Forever
I know that when you hear the word “Weatherby,” shotguns are not the first thing that springs to mind – more like a line of fine, high-end rifles. Well, I think that is going to change. I want you to consider the Weatherby SA459 Turkey model. This is a very nice lightweight (6¾ pounds) semiauto shotgun tricked out with a pistol grip, Real Tree Xtra green camo and a Picatinny rail. You will hear more from me about this shotgun, but for now I would rather you hear it from Haley Heath of The Women of Weatherby team, who has some experience with this hunting firearm. “Since I started shooting the Weatherby SA-459 Turkey Shotgun, I gained a great deal of respect for this gun. It’s a shotgun like no other, with qualities that you don’t find on any other brands, such as the larger pistol grip. This feature is a great for turkey hunting since staying still and quiet while in a comfortable holding position is so important,” Haley said. “This turkey season everyone in my family hunted turkey using the Weatherby SA-459 Turkey Shotgun. My 10-year-old son, Gunner, waited over 30 minutes for the perfect shot, and when he finally took the long shot, he dropped the large tom. Even at his young age, he completely gave credit to the Weatherby shotgun for helping him stay steady and comfortable. As a wife and mother of two, I am always looking for a gun that will work for my
whole family, and the Weatherby SA-459 Turkey is that gun for me!” ASJ
All right, it may be true confession time, but for quite a while the whole concept of the female hunter may have been a little lost on me. Outdoor TV, the source of much good and much bad, is to blame. Something about young women who look like models shooting whitetail bucks in a class that the average hunter will never see – much less get the chance to hunt – is somehow perplexing to me. Now, before you get out the tar and feathers, just remember that maybe I come from a time when this was not the norm.
“I am a serious hunter and all I’ve ever wanted was a gun truly made for me.
Try not to be too hard on an old ex-game warden shotgunner who might not be used to this. Hope springs eternal, however, and recently I came upon a bright spot in this journey. I met Haley Heath in the Weatherby booth at the NRA convention in Nashville this year. Heath has been a veteran of the outdoor and shooting industry for many years, and through her I saw things in a new light. Heath is the real deal: a hunter and a shooter. She was kind enough to talk to me for a bit and tell me her story.
“Since I was a little girl, sharing the outdoors with more females and children has been my mission. As a wife and mother of two, I have loved working in an industry that not only supports and encourages families in the outdoors, but now more than ever supports me as a woman,” she said.
Heath told me that when she started in the outdoor industry, over nine years ago, she owned two restaurants and worked a full time job at Bass Pro Shops. The problem was that she still had a desire for a career that provided more time doing what she loved, as well as time to be with her children. After almost a decade of doing just that, she is very proud to pass on her passion to her 10-year-old son Gunner, and daughter Dakota, who is 8. She was quick to say that she had the support of her husband Kemp, who also works with Weatherby.
“The girls found our fort, guys…
“At the beginning of my outdoor career there were a few female hunters and shooters, but the numbers have skyrocketed over the past few years. Trade shows rarely had well-known female hunters and shooters signing autographs at their booths like we have today. Instead, the only women you’d see were paid models to help attract visitors to company booths.”
Heath noted that as the number of females getting into hunting and shooting started to grow, companies thought shrinking their products and coloring it pink was the way to go, or simply trying to place a youth firearm in our hands. Fast forward to the present and she thinks women can feel confident and comfortable being a hunter or shooter, thanks to the support of companies like Weatherby and programs like The Women Of Weatherby.
The Women of Weatherby is a platform where novice to expert female hunters and shooters can seek and share information, tips and product recommendations. Weatherby is also seeking input to design a rifle made for women, by women.
“Being part of the Women Of Weatherby is what I have spent my whole career trying to achieve for women like myself,” Heath said. “I am a serious hunter and all I’ve ever wanted was a gun truly made for me. I don’t want a pink gun or a youth model. I am a woman and I am a hunter!”
As I said, a rifle made for women by women. The women of Weatherby are: Rachel Ahtila, a Canadian hunting guide; Karissa Pfantz, a college student and outdoorswoman who is new to the outdoor industry; Jessie Duff, who is a world champion shooter on Team Weatherby; and Heath, wife, mother, huntress and TV host. All of these ladies will be doing weekly blogs and responding to women’s questions, thoughts and opinions.
The girls found our fort, guys, we may as well get used to it. Heath and The Women of Weatherby are one of the groups that will blaze the trail for all women in shooting. ASJ
The Scattergun Trail
Story and photos by Larry Case
“It takes hundreds of decoys and a thousand is even better”
I used to get tired hearing about the good old days. Older hunters and fishermen are the world’s worst when it comes to relating how great it was in the “good old days.” I don’t hear this so much anymore; maybe because I have become one of the old guys that talk about how great it used to be.
As far as wildlife and game populations go, in many respects we are better off now than 50 years ago. With deer and turkey there is no question but our smaller game, that is a story for another time.
In one area of waterfowl hunting however, we are completely off the charts and that is with snow geese. Known as “light geese” in the waterfowl identification world, this group includes the greater and lesser snow goose, Ross’s goose and some variations including hybrids of these.
Snow geese, especially the greater snow goose, can cause great damage to the habitat they feed in. Geese are grazers and pull different grasses and plants out of the ground while feeding; they will also dig into the soil with their powerful beaks to extract more of the roots. This may not sound like a big deal until you think about oh let’s say, 10 thousand geese descending onto one field. Those are the kinds of numbers these geese may travel in.The arctic tundra, where these birds nest,is very fragile with a short growing season. The snow goose was literally eating himself, as well as other birds and wildlife, out of house and home – something had to give.
Long story short, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to change some rules to allow for a much greater harvest of light geese. This meant longer seasons (107 days in some states) extending into March and restrictions on things like plugged shotguns and electronic callers were removed. They clearly wanted hunters to knock down some geese!
“the damage they can do to crops, well, you just have to see it to believe it”
What has emerged in the past 15 years or so is a new genre of waterfowl hunting. Even though this is February, it is considered spring hunting as the season often runs into March and April depending on what state you are in. Hunters who are obsessed with this (believe me, these guys are out there) basically start in the south around Texas to Arkansas and follow the white geese on their northern migration.
I wanted to talk to someone on the snow goose trail and I found Josh Dahlke lying in a muddy field in Arkansas. Josh runs the popular website ScoutLook.com. This site is the cat’s meow for keeping hunters and fisherman updated on the latest weather and conditions for your area. There is a ton of information and articles on whatever kind of hook and bullet arena you play in.
Josh was hunting for snow geese with Eaglehead Outdoors outfitters; these guys are the real deal and chase them as they move north from February to April. “I know these geese cause damage to the tundra when they get to their breeding grounds,” Josh told me “but here in the states, the damage they can do to crops, … well, you just have to see it to believe it. We found a huge flock of snows staged next to a 40-acre winter wheat field, here in Arkansas, and by the next day, that field was totally obliterated – nothing left but mud.”
Even though the snow geese flocks can number in the thousands, Josh Dahlke was quick to point out that this is not always an easy game. “These birds get shot at all the way to Canada,” he said, “They have seen decoy spreads all along the route and can be “dang” smart. To be successful at this it takes a lot of work, driving (hundreds of miles) and scouting, finding the geese and then setting up massive decoy spreads. A few dozen decoys just won’t do it. It takes hundreds of decoys and a thousand is even better. The average hunter can’t do it,” Josh explained, “that’s why if you want to try this, you may want to give an outfitter a call.”
Even though we are talking millions of geese here, there are no guarantees. When conditions are right however, you can stack up a lot of snow geese. Josh told me about a time when his party took 64 geese and sometimes the numbers can go much higher than that. The daily limit in some states is as high as 25 with an unlimited possession rate.
I may not make it on a snow goose hunt this year – but then again I might. I still have some squirrel hunting to do and then spring turkey to think about. If you want to go, you might give the guys at Eaglehead Outdoors a call, 320-224-3614, www.eagleheadoutdoors.com. I hope you get to shoot so much that you burn the barrel off that shotgun.
Josh Dahlke used the Winchester Blindside ammo on this snow goose hunt. If you are a waterfowler and have not tried it, you need to check it out.
The basic premise for why these shotgun shells are so deadly lies in Winchesters revolutionary HEX™ shot technology. The shot is shaped like a hexagon – they look like tiny dice. When fired from a shotgun shell, this shape is devastating to anything it hits; Imagine hundreds of miniature tumbling bricks. This means bigger wound channels than with a conventional round shot. Also, because of the hex shape, the shot is actually stacked neatly within the shell casing. More shot can be placed into the shell, up to 15% more. Is this going to help you take more ducks and geese? You can bet your sweet Benelli it is.
Winchester Blindside Shotgun Ammunition
Blindside ammo also has a really wicked diamond cut wad that delivers a beautiful pattern and what is really interesting, Winchester introduced a high velocity version of Blindside last year. These shells offer 12-gauge loads of #5’s and BB’s moving at 1675-fps. That is screamin’ my friend.
Josh Dahlke told me the consensus on his hunt was that those using the Blindside ammo experienced less cripples and the high velocity loads helped with snow geese as you often have long shots. If you are a duck and goose hunter you just might want to take a look.