2017 Fall Hunting Report

Nothing quite hurts your pride like running a hunting blog and not filling your tags, but that is exactly what happened to me this year. I still had a fantastic season despite the fact that I had already written it off as a “maybe Ill go hunting this year” kind of a season. That was the result of me going back to school this fall, meaning that my free time would be weekends only and it would be a delicate balance of employment, homework, and hunting. As it turns out, luck was on my side and I was able to go out hunting every weekend this season. I put on a lot of mileage this season, averaging about 15,000 steps, or about 12km a day. My typical hunting day was get up at 615, walk out to my spot and wait for a deer to come on out, once I got tired of sitting I would walk around my parents farm and slowly make my way back to the house for breakfast, then in the evening I would go to “The Lease Land” and hike in to an old trappers cabin, long since collapsed in, and wait until dark there. This season I didn’t see much for whitetail deer, which is all I had a tag for. But, as you could imagine, with that much time and mileage outside I managed to see some pretty neat things. So maybe let me run down a little list here:

A rabbit – You just dont see lots of those in that area

A few grouse – not rare but they still manage to get your heart rate up when they seem to thunder out from under your boots

an impression in the snow from where a bird of pray picked up a small rodent

4 Coyotes – the first was in an open field in a snow storm about 60 yards from me I stood up and moved  to try and get a better look at it, it had no idea I was there despite all my noise making. Another was the biggest coyote I had ever seen, it was easily the size of a golden retriever. Someone said it may have been a wolf but it looked too thin featured for that to be correct. I also saw what I thought to be a cougar but turned out to be a coyote. I was just coming through a fence and in the distance I saw something tan coloured that ducked down and slinked away in a very fluid cat-like fashion. I also could have sworn I saw a long thin tail waiving behind it. I walked up to where I had seen it and found only coyote tracks… maybe theres something to those old native stories of coyotes being tricksters and shapeshifters after-all.

a herd of 17 mule deer- I was walking across the eastern portion of my parents farm and spotted a small group of mule deer so I had a seat in the snow and pulled out my binoculars to watch, they were about 500 yards away. At first it was a large buck with seven does. As I was watching, a coyote snuck out of the bushes near the group and was immediately run off by three of the does. I continued to watch the group and slowly more and more mule deer started to show up. At first it was a much smaller buck and a single doe. This was all mind blowing to me, then even more showed up. By the end there were at least 3 very large bucks and two or three spikers and forkers. All mingling together, I would have though with mating season so close they would have all been fighting each other but no, they just moseyed and ate. I would have never believe that mule deer would herd up in that large of a group.

3 white tailed deer- I saw all three on the last two days of hunting. The first was in the morning when Erin and I were sitting watching a spot that had a lot of tracks and rubs, way off to my right was a rather portly whitetail doe. I wasnt in a position to take that shot and I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway, for a few reasons; first it was on a ridge meaning a miss would send that errant bullet miles away, the second was she was standing in brush which can deflect or slow a bullet causing a wound instead of a kill, lastly she was quartering away meaning a proper placed shot at her would almost certainly result in the loss of one of her shoulders minimum. The next day after my morning sit I went for a walk and stumbled into a buck and doe pair again shrouded by bushes, in hind sight I may have had enough fire power to cut through the branches and hit that buck, but he wasn’t very big and my freezer isn’t very empty so there was no real purpose in risking it beyond giving me something to write about, but if the day comes where I fall into the hole of taking an unethical shot just to give me content for my blog I think it will be time I shut this website down.

I dont know if I would call this season successful or not. I learned a lot, saw some amazing things, and spent a great deal of time outside. Its hard for me to call that a failure but at the same time I’ve still got my tags tucked into my binocular case… there is always next year I guess.

Some bird got lucky hunting which also means some mouse had a bad day. That dark dot is blood.

Erin snapped this when she headed back to the house and I took the long way back and ran into all those mule deer. Notice my left hand, I never go too far without a snack handy.

I was using a cell phone and binoculars at 700 yards and you can still see a bit of the antlers on the one in the middle, he was quite large.

Mule deer buck (far right) and does. These were 500 yards away on a hill we routinely shoot at from 1km away (long range shooting is not used for hunting purposes)

 

Me glassing the tree line, it was on the ridge in the background that I spotted that first doe. I spend more than a few hours at this spot leaned on this tree this season, I would be lying if I said I felt that time was wasted.

 

I hope your season was as fun as mine and maybe even a little more fruitful and if not, just remember, next year will come and there will be deer then too…. and they will be bigger. We’ve just gotta find them.


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So Long Old Friend

It was recently announced that Wholesale Sports will be shutting its doors. I feel it is important that I pay my respects. 

When I was a kid, it was always exciting to come to the city because it meant we might go to wholesale sports. I can still remember the layout of that old store and how I would drool over the airguns. When the new location opened, I couldn’t believe how spacious it was. When I finally moved to the city for university I, of course, applied. I told the manager I was willing and able to work in any department. I was hired on in the camping section with the understanding that I would train and fill in for other departments when they needed it.

It was at that camping kiosk that I read my first Capstick book. That turned into a lifelong addiction to books on African hunting and exploration. It was from that old used rack that I bought my first deer rifle. I paid $450 for a used Ruger M77 in .243, I’ve still got the sale papers for it buried away in my safe. It was also that job that financed by trip to New Zealand and Fiji. When I got back from Fiji I had $0 in my account but I walked into the store and was given a job, at the gun counter this time. It was all those conversations with hunters over the years that made me decide to take up bear hunting. It was those Capstick books that convinced me to write about it, and it was a coworker who told me to send my story into Alberta Outdoorsmen. It ended up being my first published story. When I finished university I moved on to a job on an oil rig. It paid well but was short lived, I was laid off and Wholesale saved me again, this time with a job in their warehouse. That job helped keep Erin and me afloat until our wedding and trip to South America.

My first deer rifle

I don’t know what their reason for the shutdown was but I would speculate they placed the blame on outside competitors and overall market down turn in the face of Canada’s current recession. I also have some strong held beliefs that some things could have been done much better, but that is simply a byproduct of working on the ground floor of a company for nearly a decade… You get to see behind the curtain from time to time.

Wholesale has announced that their last day of business will be December 28, 2017 until then there will be a continuous clearance sale. So when we go to cash in on the sales and pick the flesh from the bones of the dead.. lets try to remember that this old relic of the past was once a hub of education for young hunters. It also helped more than one person become who they are today… for better or for worse.


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Doe Hunting and Illegal Outdoorsmen

I was sitting in a ground blind placed along a row of bales. I was on the hunt for a doe that I had missed a 40 yard shot it with my bow a few weeks earlier. I was still working on my archery skills, I am good out to 60 or so yards on a target but I found when a deer comes into range I tended to get a bit of “buck fever” which is strange because I have shot some nice bucks in the past without so much as a tremor. For some reason, when a doe wanders with 50 yards I get my heart thumping so bad I don’t bother risking taking the shot sometimes, tracking an arrow wounded deer is a terrifying prospect that would cause me loss of sleep. This particular day I was trying two new ideas. First I was using a ground blind instead of just sitting motionless against the bales. I had found that deer would come to within about 20 yards of me but would naturally spook and flee as I tried to draw my bow to make a shot, a blind seemed a simple solution. The second tactic was that I had a decoy doe out in front of my blind. I did some quick research the night before and found that putting out a doe decoy early in the season will bring more does in and that is what I was after. The plan seemed rather fool proof since every time I sat in that area before I had a few deer within range but just nothing that would stay close enough and still enough while I drew my bow. Many hunters pride themselves on certain strengths; some are amazing shots, some have a never quit attitude, some can stalk silently, others can think like a deer. I think mine, were I to toot my own horn for a moment, would be my ability to learn. Cold hard research works for me, reading about tracking deer got me my largest deer to date and I am always on the prowl for more information. This set up I had concocted with the use of various internet resources was sure to be a hit, the decoy would lure them in and the blind would conceal my movement as I drew the bow. It was nothing revolutionary but it was two tactics I had never needed to use for rifle hunting.

As I sat waiting for the deer to start wandering out, I heard a truck come down the dead-end road that led to the corner of the field. The truck came to a stop and in the silence of the October afternoon I could vaguely hear their conversation. “Oh look! a big whitetail buck!” I immediately started looking out the windows of my blind, all I saw was my big doe decoy. Is it possible there is a big buck behind me? There was some more chatting and some shuffling in the truck before it occurred to me that they might be lining up a shot on my decoy! I was watching the truck through my binoculars but the cab itself was obstructed by some trees so I couldn’t quite see if they were leaning a rifle out the window. Suddenly I heard “wait wait, there is a ground blind by those bales!”. The truck immediately made a U-turn and vacated the premise, almost as though they were doing something they shouldn’t, somewhere they shouldn’t be. A few minutes later I heard the report of a rifle from the direction they had gone. It upset me that I wasn’t able to get a license plate number off of the truck. It got me thinking, doing things the right way is not that hard. In fact, to me it almost seems easier. All I have to do is sit in my field and wait. If they are doing what it looks like they are doing they have to drive around looking for deer, shoot one that is likely running away from the noise of their truck, then retrieve it and leave the area before the fish and game department come running to the sound of a rifle shot out of season. Then they still have to make it home without getting stopped. All at the risk of their hunting rights and ANYTHING deemed an accessory to their poaching, including the automobile in use.

Hundreds of years ago, when all big game animals were considered the property of royalty and the common men and women of the land were left to starve, poaching might have been considered noble. The story of Robin Hood has him as a poacher, technically. They had to outwit animals, and the royal guards, all at the risk of their own lives, the pay off being food for their families. In modern-day North America poachers are usually people trying to do things the easy way, and its shameful. Poaching gives us all a bad name, and believe me public opinion of hunters is not high right now, we do not need anyone making it worse. In my grumblings of people breaking the rules, I was reminded of a time when a close friend wanted me to break a law they didn’t see a use for. A friend of a friend had said she would pay $700 for a bear’s gallbladder because her grandmother wanted it for “medicine”. As coincidence would have it, I was bear hunting that spring.  In Alberta, as well as in most places, it is illegal to sell any part of a hunted animal. At the time I flatly refused simply because I didn’t want to break the law, despite $700 being a considerable sum of money in my fast nearing empty bank account. My friend tried to talk me into it with the reasonable arguments of “you aren’t going to use it anyway, better to sell it instead of throw it out” I was tempted, lordy I was tempted, but I stood strong. The subject was dropped and never really came up again because I failed to fill my bear tag that year. I realize now that I made the right decision for more reasons than the law. Upon further review I think encouraging ancient traditional medicines that use parts of animals is a terrible thing for a hunter to do. Sure it was just a black bears gallbladder, but its the same ideology that is leading to poaching and extinction of rhinos. I am glad I chose not to be a part of that. Poachers, and those that encourage or enable poaching destroy what hunters try so hard to create, they also often get lumped into the same categories as hunters by people who don’t care to do any research on the subject. As hunters we need to do our best to separate ourselves from poachers, even if its something small like selling a gallbladder or shooting a deer a week before or after the rifle season, all of these little things add up and contribute to big things, big things we don’t want to be a part of.

I sat in my blind going over how I hoped those guys were just scouting and that rifle shot was someone else getting sighted in for the upcoming rifle season. Suddenly two does wandered into the edge of the field about 90 yards out, one was noticeably larger than the other. They slowly made their way toward my decoy, I was relieved to see that my plan was working, maybe… at the very least it wasn’t scaring the deer away, so I am counting it as a success. In my mind this was the doe I had missed a 40 yard shot on weeks before, lucky it was a clean miss and not a wounding shot. I was trying to range her as she approached my decoy,  knew she was somewhere around 30 yards but my range finder was having trouble reading through the mesh windows on the blind. Finally it spat out a number, 25 yards. I decided my best bet was to put my 20 yard pin just high of center on the kill zone and any drop would still be where I want it to be. I slid forward onto the edge of me seat and came to a full draw, I checked the level on my sight, I was dead on and my heart was pounding. I took aim and released, the deer reacted to the sound of the bow and crouched down a few inches, the arrow flew clear over her shoulder. I had missed again, and to add insult to my injured pride, I had lost the arrow into the tangle mess of the fields stubble. The deer looked around, unsure of what happened and trotted to the edge of the field, I looked at her closely with my binoculars. Not a mark on her luckily, a clean miss is by far better than a bad hit. I think my problem is I need more practice shooting from a sitting position and I definitely get too excited when an animal walks into range. It’s nice to know the excitement of hunting hasn’t worn off on me, but it also gets a little infuriating, especially since I am actually a really good archer… when there aren’t deer around.


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Button Buck

I was sitting in my blind… The same blind I had been sitting in day after day for the past few months. It sat on the edge of a pile of bails in the corner of the field. I had started there sitting on pail with my bow across my lap, by now bow season had come and gone and I had along the way upgraded to a ground blind and a folding chair. I had also upgraded to an old Steyr-Mannlicher rifle chambered in .270 win that my aunt and uncle had given me. They had decided that they didn’t want their guns anymore and gave them all away. I was more than happy to accept it. When I first got it, it had a scope but I found it didn’t shoulder very well with it on because the scope sat too high. So I took it off and sighted it in at 100 yards with the iron sights, just as the factory intended. That old gun with those iron sights made me a little nostalgic for something I never had… I love to read, especially books about the old adventure hunters in the early and mid 20th century like Capstick, Corbett, Bell, and Selous. They all used open sights, mostly because optics technology was in its infancy, and partly because the reliability of sights. They were all also prone to fancy European rifles. Holding and shouldering this rifle, every time I blinked I could imagine standing in a humid jungle waiting for the Man-Eater of Kumoan to walk around a rock. Needless to say, I am fond of this rifle and am prone to waxing poetic about nearly any rifle. So lets move the story along.

New Rifle

New Rifle

A close up of the action

A close up of the action

There I was, sitting tired in my blind. I had faced crushing embarrassment and disappointment during bow season. I had missed four, yes 4 shots, at does with my bow up to that point. They were all clean misses and they were all my fault, for four different reasons. The first was a forty yard shot, that is a distance I can easily shoot in practice with field points, but I didn’t realize that broadheads fly drastically different at that range. I grouped my hunting arrows and found that beyond 30 yards the group just opened up too much to be reasonable. The second miss I was too excited and rushed, it was buck fever, plain and simple, well except for the fact it was a doe. This was really starting to drain on my confidence since I am usually a very talented marksman. The third and fourth happened back to back on the same deer. First I misjudged my distance and shot clear over her back. She snorted and circled around and stopped 20 yards from the blind, a perfect broadside shot was looking at me.. I drew my bow, took a deep breath, and steadied the top pin right perfect behind the shoulder. My release was perfect, there was a strange flump sound and the fletching grazed the bottom of her ribs. She looked at me funny, and trotted off unscathed. I sat flabbergasted staring at the hole in the side of my blind. I had been holding my bow too low causing me to shoot through the side of the blind, thus slowing my arrow and ruining its trajectory…

After these misses I started to think I should sell my gear and take up golf. I remember what an old co-worker of mine once told me. He was an older fellow and had certainly been around the block a time or two and was undoubtedly the best salesman I ever knew. He once told me, all he ever wanted to do was be a farmer he said “I tried and tried for years to be a farmer, my wife and I bought a place and we worked it right down to our last dime. We had rainy springs, drought in the summer, and falling grain prices. I tried and tried, and God simply wouldn’t let it happen.”. Now I am not a particularly religious man, but you’ve almost gotta believe in divine intervention to miss those kinds of shots. Maybe I just want meant to be a hunter.

My wife, of course, figured I was just being silly and gave me a pep talk.. Or maybe she saw how much a set of golf clubs is worth? Either way, she reminded me that that is the nature of hunting and if it were easy I probably would have a different hobby. I had the whole month of November off and she had no intention of letting me and my wounded pride sit on the couch. So I packed up and headed to my mom and step-dads farm, I had historically had good luck there and this year I was awarded a tag for a mule deer doe. I spend just over a week sitting in my moms house hoping the weather would drop. It was simply too hot to go hunting, anything I shot would spoil before we could butcher it and get it in the freezer… My options were to go north to my dads where it was colder, or go look at golf clubs, at least then I could enjoy the heat. I opted to go home for a day and then head north to my dads.

I packed my new to me .270 and headed north. I immediately changed into my hunting gear when I arrived and went to my same old blind that had caused me so much doe frustration during the bow season. I sat for a few hours with my rifle across my lap hoping something would walk by. Finally, just after sunset before last legal light, a doe wandered out to the edge of the field, about 100 yards out. I watched her with my binoculars, she wasn’t small, but she certainly wasn’t big. There were also two more deer behind her, I could barely see them in the trees. I was losing light fast and had to make a decision, I flipped the safety off on the gun, then she turned. I flipped the safety back on and waited.. This happened a few more times. Finally I decided that’s it, now or never. I flipped the safety off shouldered and aimed. I could barely make out the black steel bead on my rifle against her sides in the darkness. Finally she turned broadside and I squeezed off a round. It sounded like the blind was going to launch into orbit, my ears were ringing, the shoot-through-mesh in front of me shredded and the blind filled with smoke. I chambered another round and looked at my doe on the ground. She was thrashing a bit, as they sometimes do.. it hurts to see and I considered shooting again but it would be at the cost of meat which was my purpose for shooting her.. Then she stood up again, and I realized I hadn’t made a very good shot. I quickly shouldered and shot, she went down this time without a twitch. I set the timer on my watch. I like to give deer at least five minutes of peace and quiet after I shoot. I need that time to organize my thoughts, let what happened sink in, calm down, and make a plan. I also like to give that animal a few minutes of peace in their final moments. If they are still alive, I dont want to scare them or have them jump up and run. I never take my eyes of the deer during this time. I had a friend who told me he once shot a beautiful white tail buck, it dropped like a bag of hammers. So he got up and did a victory dance, complete with a spin or two and when he turned around, his deer was gone, never to be seen again, no blood trail, nothing. Don’t get cocky, and do not take your eyes off the prize.

The shredded mesh in the blind.

The shredded mesh in the blind.

I dug out my tag, texted my dad to come get me with the truck and then headed over to the doe. I walked up from behind and touched her eye with my barrel to ensure she was dead. This, I am told, is the best way. If the animal is at all conscious it will blink, so its an easy and clear test, approaching from their back also ensure that if they are alive and they get up and run, they wont do it over you or give you a quick kick. I looked at my shooting, The first shot was high and far back and the second shot was a little higher than I wanted. It had hit both lungs and the spine. It was the absolute highest I could have hit and still be considered “kill zone”. I also noticed that it wasn’t a she, it was a he. It turned out to be a very small buck, his antlers were only little buttons hidden under his fur, hence being called a button buck, so it still counted as an “antlerless” which is convenient for me.

The safest approach is from "above" always assume its still alive

The safest approach is from “above” always assume its still alive

I was relieved to have some meat for the freezer. I was also reminded persistence pays off and that shooting iron sights is not as easy as it seems. Like many things, it is slowly becoming a lost art. I found that with that course sight the entire kill zone disappeared behind it, yet I have seen people shoot amazing groupings at much farther distances with similar sights. I guess more practice is warranted. I also decided to try butchering this deer myself, it went well, but it was obvious I need much more practice at it.

Completely deboned and butchered

Completely deboned and butchered


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Hunting Photos

Hunting photos, trophy pictures, grip-n-grins, field photos… its all the same thing. If you have been on the internet there is a chance you have seen a hunting photo or two. Usually with a caption about the people in it being monsters or murderers. If you’ve posted a hunting picture on the internet, you’ve probably been called a murderer or a monster. It would appear that is the price a modern sportsman pays… one of many payments it would seem.

Just Another Day On The Internet

Just Another Day On The Internet

The question comes up again and again by the masses of the internet: “why would you take a picture of yourself with a dead animal?”. For this question, there are many answers, and from many different people. One common reason, is that its a way to remember the event and the accomplishment. People want photos of themselves at the tops of mountains, the ends of races, and holding trophies after the big game. Hunting is no different, you just spent hours, days, weeks wandering through the woods or mountains trying to find an elusive wild animal. All of that was after months of preparation, planning, and hopefully, practice at the gun or archery range. After putting all this time, effort, and money in, people want a photo to remember that moment of success.

Not Everyone Cares For Hunting Photos

Not Everyone Cares For Hunting Photos

Another reason is so that the photos can be shared with friends, family, and other hunting enthusiasts. This is where the problems start, many people, myself included, love to share hunting photos on the internet. Sharing online is a great way to make digital friends who live a similar analog life. The problem is that those photos inevitably end up in front of someone who doesn’t understand why it exists, and often feels the need to say something about it. If you post hunting photos online, you are going to get hatemail, at this point its just a fact of life. I learned this quickly via twitter and instagram. That said, some photos attract more vitriol than others. The photos that create the most hate all seem to have something in common, poor choices in photographic technique.

Ever notice that photo of a girl with her boot on a dead lion and a great big grin makes people angrier than a picture of a professional hunter, with an expression of content, crouched beside an equally dead lion? Its deceptively simple, respect for the animal goes a long way. Even amongst hunters, this comes up and gets debated, but the majority of sportsmen appear to agree. When taking a hunting photo, respect for the animal should be top concern. This animal just died to feed you and your family, it deserves your respect. Keeping this in mind while taking photos can go a long way in improving your final product. Do little things to make the animal look dignified, try to clean blood off of the animals nose and face and tuck its tongue back in. Make sure you don’t stand or sit on the animal. Many people don’t even feel comfortable stepping over the animal.

I have also seen people try to use items for scale, this can be tricky because you do want to show how big your animal is but putting a beer can in a dead lions mouth to show its teeth (yes, I’ve seen this done) might send the wrong message on the respect front. Use yourself for scale, people know how big the average person is and can make sense of it from there. This brings me to my next point, forced perspective. I’ve seen many photos, often of elk hunters it seems, sitting a couple yards behind the animal in hopes of making the antlers look bigger by comparison, its obvious and a little cheesy. If you feel you need to misrepresent the size of the animal, you might be hunting for the wrong reasons.

I should Have Moved The Deer Away From The Pool Of Blood For The Photo

I should Have Moved The Deer Away From The Pool Of Blood For The Photo and Smiled A Little Less

The most commonly debated part about hunting photos is the smile. How much smile is too much? For this there is no real right answer. You just accomplished an amazing thing that you worked hard for, of course you are going to want to smile. But if the smile gets too big it can look a little crazy and send the wrong message. It effectively turns into a tight rope walk. My thoughts are: don’t force a smile. You’re likely in a pretty good mood when you’re taking a hunting photo so just relax and let your natural facial expression be what shines through. If you happen to be a big smile type, try taking a photo of you stifling it and see, it might look a little better. The key to the smile, much like all of life, is to just be yourself.

The quality of the photo is another thing that is important to remember. You put a lot of effort into getting here so you might as well get a good photo. Some simple things can be done to make the picture better: clear the foreground of twigs, branches and tall grass, and try to get a clear or solid background so the antlers don’t fade into brush or trees behind you. Low angles are also your friend, get the photographer to crouch to be at the same level as you and the animal, this will make the animal the focal point of the photo. It will also help you get the sky as the background which will again draw focus to you and the animal. Keep in mind that this is a photo you will likely be showing a lot of people, so you might want to make sure you take a moment and clean yourself up a little. You’re not modelling so don’t get too worried but make sure your hair isn’t a mess from wearing a hat and your hands aren’t covered in blood from field dressing. Having your firearm or bow in the photo is a great idea, just make sure it is pointed in a safe direction. No matter the situation, keep firearm safety in mind. Maybe out of respect, try not to rest the butt of the rifle on the animal.

Example Of A Bad High Angle Shot

Example Of A Bad High Angle Shot

I don’t know that I have ever taken a “perfect” hunting photo, nor do I think anyone has. The best we as hunters can do is try, just remember to respect the animal and try to make it a quality photo. As long as we are trying, I think the effort and intention will shine through to people we show them to. Lastly, make sure you take a lot of pictures. With digital cameras you can take multiple pictures from slightly different angles and see which looks better once you see it full sized. Some of my most memorable hunts I have made the mistake of taking only a single blurred cell phone picture simply because I was excited and didn’t think to take more than one snapshot. Which reminds me, don’t forget to bring your camera.

I Forgot My Camera, A Friends Blurry Cell Phone Picture Is All I Have

I Forgot My Camera, A Friends Quick Cell Phone Picture Is All I Have

The Best Hunting Photo I Have Taken Yet

The Best Hunting Photo I Have Taken Yet, and I Still See Things I Should Do Better Next Time


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Gun Buying Tips

In my university days I spent the majority of my free time working the gun counter at a hunting store, this was primarily to have extra money to spend on frivolous things like food and rent. It was a good job, and much like hunting, I began to spot patterns. In this case it was in customers and their approach to purchasing. A common question from customers was “What do you have in a 308?” my response, depending on the customer and how much I had been able to sleep the night before, was often either to simply turn around and face the large wall covered with rifles and sarcastically say “these”. Usually, I would explain that we carry a wide variety of rifles in a variety of calibers and then proceed to ask about other sought after features to narrow the search field. The problem is simple, most people know, more or less, what they are after it just doesn’t seem that way because they go about it almost backwards. Its an easy mistake to make but one that low paid employees working early weekend mornings during the busy season lose patience for. Gun shops typically sort their inventory by type of firearm, then brand, then model, then calibre. So I have decided to try and lend a hand to help everyone get what they want faster.

It is important to first know what you want the gun to be used for: is it for hunting, defense, target practice, long range shooting? From there break it down farther: what kind of hunting? What distances? From there it’s a good idea to have features in mind such as wood or synthetic stock? Blued or stainless barrel? Next suggest brands that you like or would like to avoid. Within this previous criteria be clear on which features you are or are not flexible on, there might be the exact gun you want except it will be blued and not stainless would that be ok? From there if you have a price or price range in mind say so. Many retail stores have a strict policy where employees are not allowed to ask this because it’s a bit too personal of a question. But knowing this can really help the salesman get you something reasonable and spare you the awkwardness of them digging out a top of the line HS Precision, when you are more in the market for a Mossberg (Both fine rifles in their own way). After all that, suggest a few calibers that you would be interested in, keep in mind with a hunting rifle most calibers are pretty similar performance-wise within 300 yards which is a pretty far shot for most hunting situations. If you do have a specific calibre in mind, that’s not a bad thing, but it will be helpful to explain why, otherwise the salesman might suggest other calibres that are equally suitable but more available at that time ex: “I’ve had a lot of luck with it”, “I already have most of the reloading equipment for that calibre”, “me and my hunting friends decided to all get the same calibre so we can share ammo in a pinch”, “Me, my son, wife, or daughter have shot this calibre before and found the recoil to be manageable.” These are all reasons I have heard and respected.

From there it’s just a matter keeping a few small tips in mind. First always try to be polite, the quality of service you receive in ANY business is really proportional to how nice or rude you are to the staff. Its also not uncommon for salesmen to give slight discounts to polite customers, I know I’ve done this more than once. Also keep in mind that not every gun in every calibre will be available especially in smaller shops. If there’s something specific you want you may have to order it, even if it’s common (common usually means a lot of people are buying them).

Don’t be afraid to ask other customers their opinions of guns and calibres, they are there because they are into guns. Make sure to ask the employees their opinions of guns and calibres because these are the people that hear about the success and failures of equipment from customers coming back, they also process any warranty issues and can tell you which companies are having a bad run of guns. Keep in mind, from both customers and employees, you often hear opinions which are easily, and often, bias. I once worked with a man who felt Weatherby brand rifles were the only ones worth owning.

Lastly make sure you hold every gun you are considering buying to make sure that the fit, finish, and feel is there. Every gun feels a bit different to every person and you want to be sure before you buy because most shops won’t take a gun back based on not liking the look or the feel, especially if it has been fired.

Below is a checklist I have made that might be helpful. Also, here is a downloadable version (gun buying checklist), you can print it, fill it out, and take it in with you next time. Hopefully its helpful. Make sure to comment below and let me know what you think, what I should add, and what I should change?

 

Gun Buying


Posted in How-To, Hunting, Marksmanshipwith no comments yet.

Bear Season

This past bear season, was likely my last hunting season for a good long while. As many of you know, Erin and I are engaged and plan on taking a trip after our wedding. This means that I will be busy, then gone, during the fall deer season and may not be back in time for the following spring bear season, there’s even a chance that I will still be gone, or just be busy readjusting, when the next fall season shows up. That means it could be up to two years before I get another chance to go hunting. But I guess that’s the way life goes when you have wanderlust.

I came into this bear season organized and ambitious. Weeks before the season opened I began cleaning out the expired food in my cupboard, fridge, and freezer, I also got several friends to do the same. I then went out to my moms farm and set up my bait. It was a basic blue metal barrel wired to a tree with some holes cut in it just big enough for a bear paw to fit in. I filled it up with old popcorn, pasta, and some ground beef that had overstayed its welcome in the freezer. I was sure to take all the wrappers off of all the food. I then built a basic ground blind about 20 yards away by nailing some old grainery wood to some trees.

 

20 Yards From the Blind to the Bait

20 Yards From the Blind to the Bait

My goal was simple, I wanted to shoot a bear with my recurve bow. I was well practiced out to 25 yards and felt more than confident in my abilities at 20. That said, whenever I went out to the bait I would bring a rifle with me and lean it up beside me, in case things did exactly work out for me. Needless to say my mother and my fiancee had some concerns… I guess some people have no sense of adventure these days.

The first few weeks were very uneventful, for the most part winter was still strong so bears were still in hibernation. As the weather warmed up I began to take it more seriously. Almost every weekend I would drive out to my mothers house to sit at the bear bait, I would also practice with my bow everyday I was there. I wanted to be sure I could make full use of any opportunity luck and mother nature gave me. I also made a point of being more prepared to process and save the meat from any bear I was able to shoot. To my everlasting shame; I was ill prepared the first time I shot a bear and was only able to save and eat a very small portion of it. I do take comfort in knowing it taught me a valuable lesson in being prepared, but that wastefulness still bothers me, and likely always will.

I found that changing up the target improved my accuracy

I found that changing up the target improved my accuracy

Finally the winter broke and the snow melted. There were reports of bear sightings everywhere and there was still just over a month left in the season. That gave me six weekends to get my bear, the race was on. The first of the weekends I mostly saw mosquitoes, lots and lots of them, and a mule deer that ran right passed me and the bait station as though it was being chased.

The following week, a friend of mine from work asked if I wanted all the old expired food out of his freezer, I assumed he knew I wanted bear bait… I gladly accepted the offer and said I would be by in a few days, assuming he would leave a small bag of food in the freezer for a day or two. I was mistaken, he had left a big garbage bag on the floor of his attached garage. His, then 28 weeks pregnant, wife came home to a house that smelt like old thawing meat, he got an angry text and I went straight to his house after work and picked it up. We were all aware of how close he and I had come to facing the wrath of an angry pregnant woman, far more dangerous than any bear if you ask me. The meat then sat in my detached garage for two weeks making a rather impressive stench, I imagine every dog in the neighborhood was on hi-alert that week. The following weekend I wasn’t able to go out, being an adult is terrible, far too much responsibility.

Finally a weekend arrived and I was out at the farm. I tossed the, now slightly rotten, food from my friend into the bait barrel. Its strange how often it comes in handy that I have a strong stomach for smells. The barrel now filled and emitting scent, I had a seat in the blind and waited, the first day nothing came. The second day, a coyote ran up to the bait and then changed his mind at the last second, I think he maybe spotted me shifting in my seat as he was running up. This bait was beginning to look hopeless, did I set it up wrong? was I in the wrong area?

The following weekend Erin came out with me to visit my mom and sister and do some bike riding as both my mom and sister had recently bought new bikes. Erin, not being a hunter, made it very clear that she didn’t want to sit in a mosquito infested swamp and wait for me to shoot a bear (my words not her’s)….. women right? Given how slow the season had been going so far, I felt like a weekend doing something else might be just what I needed. We arrived at the farm Saturday morning and we went to top up the bait quick, I had a little bread bag filled with some old bread, leftovers from a restaurant we went to, and some other odds and ends. We arrived at the bait to find that something had tore the bottom off of the barrel and pretty well licked it clean, there was nothing left in or around it. I folded the bottom of the barrel closed and threw my pint of food in. I knew this was trouble, if a bait goes empty bears will stop coming to it.

Torn open and empty

Torn open and emptied

I put the half a bread bag worth of food into the barrel knowing it wouldn’t last til the following weekend.

A little bit is better than nothing I guess

A little bit is better than nothing I guess

I was upset to find that the trail camera hadn’t taken a single photo throughout the entire incident. So I have no proof of what came there or when, for all I know it could have been Sasquatch. The rest of the weekend was spend mountain biking along the old cow trails through the woods. It was exciting and probably even more dangerous than bear hunting, Erin and I had a blast.

The second last weekend came, and I headed out of the city as fast as I could, on Friday, and stopped at a farm store on the way out. I picked up  two bags of oats mixed with molasses, I figured that would be nearly irresistible to a bear… I was tempted to eat some myself on the drive. I filled the bait, it had been emptied again, but there was so little food in it that it could have been birds or coyotes scavenging.  I sat for two days and didn’t see anything. The next weekend I went out again, it was the final weekend and I spend most of both Saturday and Sunday sitting in that blind waiting. Again, nothing showed up, and all too soon bear season was over and I had little to show for it.

No bear this season, to me, doesn’t mean a failed season.  I learned a few things and came up with a few good ideas to try again next time. In hind sight, when I saw that the bait was empty I should have ran to the farm store that day and gotten something to put in. I also should have set the trail camera up better: fresh batteries and lower to the ground for better detection. I learned that rancid meat makes way better bait than fresh meat, of course that one was kind of obvious.. Like any addicted hunter, I’ll keep trying until I succeed… then I’ll try and do it again.

 


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The Hawk Kept Flying

One thing that outdoorsmen will always do, is be late getting home. No matter how long they claim they will be gone, or how long they intend to be gone, they will always be later than stated. Its not our fault really, time just changes when you’re outside, especially if you’re like me and get distracted easily.

I remember a few years ago I watched a film called “The Missing“. Its a great film and it has a quote in it that I’ve always felt struck a chord with me:

Samuel: [long pause] There’s a Apache story about a man that woke up one morning and saw a hawk on the wind. Walked outside and never returned. After he died, he met his wife in the spirit world. She asked him why he never came home, he said “Well, the hawk kept flying.”

[pause]

Samuel: There’s always the next something, Maggie. And that will take a man away.

(from WikiQuote)

Now back to where I was going with this.. Oh right, getting distracted, I guess that happens even in my writing. Anyway, I set up my bear bait just before the season opened, when it was still nice and cold outside. Not surprisingly, nothing showed up on the trail cameras over the next few weeks.

A while later, the first weekend of the season actually, I decided to go have a sit in my little handmade blind. I figured nothing would show up, there were still no pictures on the trail cameras and nothing missing from the bait barrel. I figured it would be nice to just sit and relax for an hour or so and maybe see if I could spot anything that needed adjusting, maybe some branches trimmed to give me a shooting lane, things like that. A few minutes in, I realized that my blind was in short supply of something to sit on and crouching just wasn’t pleasant. Not worrying about blowing my cover, I stood up and started to walk around the area looking for a good log I could commandeer and use as a seat. Most of the ones I found were too rotten to support my body mass. Suddenly, in front of me on the trail, there was a great big, terrifying…. pile of moose poo. Then it hit me! A thought, not the moose poo, it was stationary. Where there’s moose poo, there’s moose, where there’s moose, there’s antler sheds. So I abandoned my log hunt for a shed hunt. I didn’t find much, I never seem to do well while searching for sheds it seems.

After some walking around I came to a clearing at the edge of a pond and glanced up across it and saw two beavers sun bathing on top of their lodge. I can’t help but feel the expression “busy as a beaver” might be misleading, or are these beavers the exception?  Either way, I decided to try and get some pictures of these lazy beavers. I walked up to the waters edge and snapped a few pictures with my phone, but they just looked so far away. So, I came up with a plan, I walked back to the quad and drove it around to the far side of the pond where I could get a closer look at the beavers. I walked slowly and silently toward them, I froze like a statue every time one of them turned to look at me. Finally I was about five yards from the water and about ten yards from the lodge and they spotted me. They dove into the icy water, I crouched there silently for what felt like minutes, finally they resurfaced through the thin layer of ice. The cracking ice made that amazing sound, a mix of lazer beams and rubbing polystyrene together. They both looked right at me, I refused to move a muscle. Slowly they both swam back to their home, climbed on top of it, and started licking and shaking the water from their fur.

I slipped ever closer, this time without notice. The toes of my hunting boots were in the water, this was as close as I could get without swimming and I didn’t feel like wrecking my hair. I had my rifle with me, like I always do in the bush, I carefully maneuvered it onto a patch of grass where it would stay dry. I then dug my phone out of my pocket and snapped some more pictures. Eventually I was noticed and the beavers dove back into the water, this time seemed to have a little more panic. I decided that was enough stress for two animals trying to enjoy the sun, I grabbed my rifle and snuck back to the quad, all the while trying not to arouse anymore suspicion.

As I headed home I looked at my watch, I had been gone for almost three hours. That’s triple what I had intended, but well… the hawk kept flying… and I didn’t even get a decent picture… Still a better use of time than watching TV, if you ask me.

I've really gotta start carrying a real camera

I have got to start carrying a real camera


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Remington Redemption

I’m sure many of you are tired of me droning on and on about my obsession with old shotguns and my love of grouse hunting. What can I say, they go hand in hand so well. This week I submit, for your reading pleasure, a brief and somewhat incomplete “history” of one of the first guns in my collection. 

 

Towards the end of my first year of university I had become a little more settled and had just a little bit of spare cash lying around. So, as any young man with extra money would do, I went to a gun show. I just figured it was about time I owned a shotgun, no sense having a licence if I’m not going to use it right? I wandered up and down several isles looking at a wide range of beautiful hunting rifles far out of my price range, and pistols that were pretty well useless to me. Then out of the corner of my eye, there it was, an old semi auto shotgun. Time had slowly turned the dark finish of the metal to a light grey and the wood on it looked like the finish had come off some time before I was born. The price was almost exactly how much money I had lying around, $200. Behind the folding table stood a tall and thin old man. The bartering began, after much back and forth the price had been renegotiated to $175, if memory serves. I filled out a lot of paperwork, at that time there was still the long gun registration. He handed me the gun, without a case, I shook his hand and I was off. Out of money and shotgun in hand I headed for the door. On my way out a lady handed me a garbage bag to put the gun in for my walk across the parking lot “we cant have people carrying guns around outside” I disagreed with her, but I figured I may as well just play along. I got to my car and had to laugh, the gun was so long and my car so small that I had to angle it from the floor behind the passenger seat to lean against the drivers side back door.

The gun I had purchased was a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun. It was labelled a Remington 11-48 a quick Google search reveals that it was made somewhere between 1949 and 1968 and is most likely the base model.

Old shotguns are typically notoriously cheap, I’m going to ramble a little off topic and try to explain why, if you’re not overly interested just skip this paragraph. Here we go. Shotguns made before about 1900 were designed to use only ammunition loaded with black powder. Black powder burns at a lower pressure, meaning that if you use modern shotgun shells the gun could, in a sense, explode or more likely crack apart, its extremely dangerous. It is now very rare and expensive to find black powder shotgun shells, most people just make their own if they want them. This causes the price of these really old shotguns to be very cheap, I bought a beautiful one in great shape a few years ago for about $100 and a $50 shotgun is not unheard of. Shotguns built after 1900 (ish) to about 1985 (ish), such as the Remington I am telling you about, were built when all shotgun shells had lead shot put in them, its dense and flexible meaning that the choke (end of the barrel) can be shrunk down to keep the BBs closer together giving the gun more hitting power. However, in recent decades, lead shot has been banned from use for waterfowl hunting and has been replaced with steel shot. Steel doesn’t have the same flex or density as lead, this means that the old style barrels, with too tight of chokes, can split if you try and use steel shot in them. These older guns are now rendered useless for hunting ducks and geese. You can still, however, buy lead shot and use it for non-migratory birds such as grouse, snipe, and pheasant as well as most target shot for skeets and clays. It is this loss of usefulness for waterfowl that causes these guns to have very little value, which is where I come in because I can still use it for two of my favorite things, skeets and grouse.

It was that following fall that my dad bought a house north of the city and introduced me to grouse hunting. It had been the first time in over ten years that my dad had hunted, but that’s another story and it his to tell, I have a hard time imagining him taking another hiatus that long. It was pure coincidence that I had a great gun for it, my new (to me) Remington. My dad, brother, and I must have gotten nearly 50 grouse that season their population had been on a up-cycle that year and you could almost call it an infestation.

Back in my less photogenic days

Back In My Less Photogenic Days

Two Handsome Fellas After A Good Day

Two Handsome Fellas After A Good Day

Over the winter I attempted to shoot a lot of skeets with it, I hit a few but it wasn’t pretty. That spring I got a little bored and decided to refinish the wood on the old shotgun that had been so good to me for so long. I pulled it apart and began sanding. The stock had developed a bit of a crack, so I simply glued it shut. About the time I finished sanding it, a friend of mine offered to airbrush it for me for $50, if I recall correctly (a steal of deal compared to the usual price of his work). I guess he was bored too maybe. I gave him the sanded stock and told him it was a gun mostly for grouse hunting, I them remembered that he likes hot rods and loud engines, not guns and hunting. I showed him a few picture of grouse to make sure we were on the same page. I gave him my full permission to get creative. The results where phenomenal.

Notice The Details In The Back, Such As The Mountain And The Trees

Notice The Details In The Back, Such As The Mountain And The Grass

The High Gloss Finish Makes Taking A Picture Difficult

The High Gloss Finish Makes Taking A Picture Difficult

He Even Shaded The Checkering On The Forestock

He Even Shaded The Checkering On The Forestock

Needless to say I was very impressed with the final product and this gun still get a lot of attention and compliments when people see it. I reassembled the gun after it was painted and took it out for a day of shooting. I was disheartened to find that it now shot horribly. It shot way high and way to the left and there was nothing I could do about it since shotguns dont have adjustable sights. As best I could figure the paint must have built up on the areas where the stock met with the metal of the gun and changed some of the angles meaning I would have to try sanding some of the paint off. I retired it to the closet for a while with the intention of looking into it “when I get a chance” time passed and I got busy with other things and it slowly found its way into the back of a closet.

A few weeks ago my friend Nikki and I went out for a shooting day. While there I saw that old Remington out of the corner of my eye and decided that I better try shooting it again. Maybe I would cut the barrel down and put a new adjustable sight on it and use it for a bush gun. I took it outside and fired a shot at a clay and it turned to dust. I shot another clay and same thing… it was the damnedest thing, the gun was now shooting perfect. I must have had an off day, then blamed the gun and as punishment for my stupidity I went years without shooting it. Chopping the barrel off was no longer an option to me. Nikki and I shot that gun all day and it worked well the whole time, I will admit the action was a little unreliable but I blame that on it collecting dust  in a closet for about 5 years.

Towards the end of the day I noticed that the paint was beginning to chip off around the crack that I had previously glued shut. I couldn’t let this continue, not after what had already happened. I took the gun home and put some paint over the cracking edges and Erin and I wrapped some leather around the crack, which luckily happened to be on the handle.

Anyone Can Buy A New Gun, I Take Pride In Keeping An Old One Alive

Anyone Can Buy A New Gun, I Take Pride In Keeping An Old One Alive

Personally I like the look of the leather wrapped handle. I am now very excited to have my old grouse gun back in action. With any luck it should get me some dinner this fall. Don’t worry, you’ll hear all about it.


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Bits, pieces and pugs

Hey everybody, I’ve been working a lot lately and unfortunately haven’t had much of a chance for a real adventure. That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have anything interesting to ramble about.

As many of you are aware, I shot a deer this year. It is my largest deer to date and I am very proud of it, to the point where I’m basically bragging. Anyway, I’ll try to refrain from that on this post… no promises. The meat for this deer is currently hanging in my step-dad’s shop waiting to be butchered in to tasty roasts, steaks, jerky and all other kinds of goodness. The head has been turned in for CWD testing, which is necessary for any deer taken in the area where I got mine. Before I turned the head in I cut the antlers, and skull plate connecting them, off. I’ve had a plan for them for a while now, but  this week I finally got around to actually doing something. Here’s what I did.

First I skinned any fur, fat or meat off of the bone connecting the antlers together (skull plate). It was a little on the gross side but Rose, my dads pug, kept me company and was very interested in what I was doing. Next I took some plain table salt and rubbed it on the skull plate to absorb any moisture left on the bone or any flesh that I had missed. I then left the antlers in my dad’s shop for a few days where it could dry out. While it was drying I rounded up some supplies, I needed a plaque to mount it on, so I took some aged wood off of an old grainery. It came from the same area as the deer did, and I think that’s kinda neat. Next I needed something to cover up the skull plate. I went to a thrift shop and for $5.49 I had a nice plaid flannel shirt, it was perfect.

Most of the supplies for this project

Most of the supplies for this project

I cut the reclaimed wood into a piece about 8×10 inches, I opted to use a small piece of wood like this to make the antlers stand out more when its on the wall. I have seen people use larger pieces of wood and it looks great, as far as I’m concerned there’s very few wrong ways to do this.

Next I cut a sleeve off of the thrift shop shirt and wrapped it around the skull plate. To make it stay in place I used hot glue, just under the base of the antlers.

Hot glue is amazingly versatile

Hot glue is amazingly versatile

I then cut the excess material off at the back and glued it down too. I then drilled pilot holes into both the plaque and the back of the skull. Make sure to cut the fabric with a knife before you drill, otherwise it will catch in the drill bit and ball up, its a mess. From there I put some screws in from the back, through the plaque and into the skull plate.

Lastly I needed a method to hang it. I used some short screws to attach picture hanging wire and I was done.

The back, when its all done

The back, when its all done

The front, when its all done

The front, when its all done

Now I’ve just gotta find a good place in my house to hang it.

 

I also think, for a laugh, I should share this.

I’m sure many of you have seen this photo before.

She's Not Much Of A Retriever But Shes Got Spirit.

She’s Not Much Of A Retriever But Shes Got Spirit.

Its from an older story of mine titled “Blast from the Past”. I also posted this photo to my instagram account with the same caption. Someone felt the need to post the following comment (along with a few others but I especially like this one)

“Oh look a deranged killer that could of been helped but is now a terrible thing forcing the other to obey him or else he will be killed too the other one is a poor pug in terrible murderers hands”

I think English may not be their first language, so I wont harp on the syntax here. I think what they are trying to say is that they feel sad that Rose, the pug, is being forced to kill animals or risk being killed by me for not performing.

This might be my favorite”hate mail” (ish) comment I have ever gotten (and there are some tough contenders in this category). I find it absolutely hilarious. Some of you are likely laughing right now, and some of you might need an explanation. So allow me. Rose, has never killed, flushed, or retrieved anything… ever. Her being a hunting dog is true, in that she comes with us when we hunt, but really she just wears an awesome camo vest and tags along with us. Anyone who thinks shes in danger of being put down for not performing has never seen how much my dad spoils her. He openly admits to preferring her over his kids, that’s ok, we understand, because we kinda like her more than we like him.

It's Important To Have A Fishing Buddy

It’s Important To Have A Fishing Buddy

Rose is also a rather accomplished fisherwoman. Her and I hope that doesn’t upset anyone.

This is just a bonus photo I had lying around

This is just a bonus photo I had lying around


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