Monday, September 22, 2014

The Beauty of Nature

I spent the last four days in and around Bozeman, Montana, for my uncle's wedding.  I've always loved the terrain up there in Big Sky country, and as usual, it did not disappoint.  We took in a few mild walks on easy trails to accommodate my grandmother, and even those led to gorgeous vistas.  I saw only a few small animals, mostly squirrels and chipmunks, but the peace and quiet of the high forest were balm to my soul.  It seems that I always forget just how much I enjoy being somewhere I can't hear the sounds of cars and people, and I am constantly amazed at how much I didn't realize I missed it.

So I've started researching local trails that I can explore this winter near my home, when the temperatures come down to more reasonable levels.  If I can get myself back into decent hiking shape during the cooler months, perhaps I'll be able to continue doing so as it warms back up.  I've got less than two years until the safari, so I need to start doing something now to prepare myself physically.  Gear and book learning is irrelevant if I can't keep walking all day.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Like wearing slippers.

I stopped into the Cabela's today to take advantage of the NRA membership renewal deal, and lo and behold, they had some powder and primers on the shelves! They didn't have any powder that I needed (the only stuff they had that I could use was IMR 4227, of which I have plenty already), but I got a brick of Federal large rifle primers to use for my 9.3x62 in the hopes that they'll ignite more reliably than the Winchesters I've been using.  Time to break out the sonic cleaner and clean some brass!

On a related note, I received my Russell Moccasin Joe's PH boots a while back, and have been wearing them daily to work since then.  I initially wore them indoors only for a few weeks to see if they fit well, and noticed the toe box was a little too tight.  I shipped them back to Russell's with a note, and a few weeks later, they reappeared on my doorstep with a little more toe room.  I wore them indoors for another week, and they felt great.  I've been wearing them as my daily footwear, indoors and out, for about a month now, including some mild hiking in the mountains, daily wear around town, and driving.  I have to say, they're hands-down the most comfortable footwear I've ever owned.  They feel almost like slippers.  They needed minimal break-in, and they feel like they were built specifically for my feet.  Of course, that's because they were built specifically for my feet. 

I took the family up to Prescott for Labor Day weekend, and we ended up letting my boy splash around in the lakes for a bit.  I wore a set of Teva sandals so I could splash along with him, but after about 10 minutes, I really wanted to go put my boots back on.  They are incredibly comfortable.  I've already decided I'm getting a second pair, and the only question is what model.  I think a pair of dress Oxfords is also in my future.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Safari Rifle Match AAR, Part 2: Stages I and II

Well, folks with far more audio/visual technical savvy than I have graciously volunteered to take, edit, and upload images and video for the blog so that you, dear reader, can enjoy the sights and sounds.  Let's see how many pictures and videos I can add before I break this.

The first stage consisted of a timed run at various plains game.  Each kill (defined as a hit in the brain, heart or lungs) gave positive points, each miss was zero points, and each wound was negative points.  Total up your points and subtract your time to find your score.  Thus, it was imperative to shoot quickly and accurately.  There were five targets, each engaged from a different location.  Shooting sticks were allowed, and even encouraged, because you had to shoot standing due to the 'high grass'.  The last two targets were close enough (approximately 10-15 yards) that I didn't feel I needed the shooting sticks and could gain some time shooting them offhand.  That nearly came back to bite me, as I had a bit of El Snatcho on the second-to-last target.  On the upside, it was enough of a snatch that I shot clean under the animal, resulting in a miss rather than a wound.

Shooting stick technique
The field
Close-up of the kudu
Close-up of the wildebeest

Photos by Kehau Chrisman

The second stage was shot from four of the same positions, using the second set of targets, and also on the clock with the same type of scoring.  These were big game, though: elephant, rhino, buffalo, and hippo.  Here you can see one of the competitors engaging the big boys with a .450 Black Powder Express double.  
Getting settled in on the sticks

 And here the results:

A solid brain shot on the mostly submerged hippo with a .450 BPE.

A .450 BPE through the vitals!
  Photos by Kehau Chrisman

This stage resulted in a scope-whack on the brim of my pith helmet, knocking it clean off my head.  I pressed on and finished the stage, came back and retrieved it, and stowed it for the rest of the match, instead going back to my tried-and-true soft boonie hat and earmuffs.  Hey, half of why I do this is to fine-tune my gear selections, and if it doesn't work, it gets modified or replaced.

Next time, we'll go to the next two stages, where things really start to get interesting:  Leopard Blind and Charging Buffalo!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Safari Match AAR, part 1

Well, this spring's Safari Rifle match is in the bag, and a great time was had by all.  This is my third time shooting the match, and while some of the novelty has worn off, I've been able to use it to fine-tune some of my gear choices and techniques, while having a very enjoyable time at every turn.  The gentleman who runs the match, Bill Poole, is a friendly and cheerful guy who puts a ton of time and effort into running the event.  The folks who participate are also a great bunch of guys, always willing to share knowledge and tips with new arrivals like myself.  I've been in competitions both friendly and unfriendly over the years, and it's a breath of fresh air to shoot with a group like this.  This year we fought the wind to keep our targets upright, but we managed to persevere with a little adaptation and ingenuity.

Let's start with my equipment setup, since testing that is my primary reason for competing.  I ran my Ruger Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm, topped with an SWFA SS 1-6x in Warne QD rings, shooting my reloads. Because the 9.3 was considered undersized for the final elephant stage, I brought along my old large-frame Ruger Vaquero revolver in .44 Magnum.  It seemed silly that a .44 Magnum handgun would be acceptable where a 9.3x62mm rifle was not, but the rules only considered bullet diameter and I wanted to compete in every stage.  So the 5.5" stainless Vaquero rode on my right hip, with the Wilderness TwinLoader in front and the Westley Richards 5-round ammo pouch behind.

From my experience in the match, I have determined two things:  First, I need a better holster for the Vaquero.  This Hunter holster is rudimentary at best, and though it did suffice for the day, I would want something of far better design, fit and quality if I ever take this piece on a hunting trip.  Second, while my shirt is one of the most comfortable that I own, being a lightweight, long-sleeve soft cotton chamois, the shirt tails are too short and it frequently came untucked under exertion, fouling up on my cartridges.  The WR pouch was a little less affected, as the leather flap helped keep most of the shirt out of the way, but the TwinLoader would frequently be covered by the shirt.  I need to see if Cabela's has the same shirt in a Long/Tall size, as I am otherwise very fond of the material and pocket placement/design.  I avoid shirts with unflapped pockets when shooting rifles, as I find the toe of the stock will often get hung up there during the dismount.  If the pockets have a button flap, the stock will just slide off and all is well.

On my left side, I had my SureFire G2 flashlight and my Leatherman tool, along with an interesting little knife called a Clinch Pick.  The Clinch Pick looks like a small caping knife, but the edge is on the back of the blade rather than the belly.  It's designed as a defensive weapon for use in a grapple (hence the name), and I've been experimenting with where and how to carry it.  Suffice to say, it's not really germane to this forum, so we'll leave it at that.

The only real issue I had with my left-side setup was that the upgraded metal bezel on my SureFire kept banging on my rifle when I had it slung.  I have an old nylon flap sheath for it that I will use in the future to protect my rifle from such abuse.  My Wilderness Frequent Flyer belt, Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew socks and Cabelas Trail Hiker II pants performed well as always.  I've got no reason to change them at this point.

One interesting bit of equipment issue to note:  headgear.  Being a pale-skinned redhead, the sun is my natural enemy.  I go from zero to lobster in about 15 minutes in the AZ summer, so I take care to dress accordingly.  Thus the long pants and long sleeve shirt even in the desert heat; I can keep myself reasonably cool via hydration and sweating through the loose cotton.  But this being the safari match, previous winners are encouraged to wear their prize pith helmets.  In the spirit of the match, I started out with my helmet, but it meant I had to wear earplugs instead of my electronic muffs.  That makes it harder to hear, and started to irritate my ears in fairly short order.  During the first stage, my scope recoiled into the brim of my helmet, knocking it clean off my head.  I let it lie in the dust and drove on to finish the string, and after that I switched back to my muffs and my soft boonie hat.  The final bit of clothing I used was a thin cotton neckscarf that my good friend bought as a souvenir from his trip to Vietnam and gave to me.  It's similar to a shemagh, but thinner and rectangular as opposed to square.  Wrapped around my neck, it kept me from getting sunburned and still maintained excellent breathability.  I've long found a large bandana to be a great utility item in the field, and this is just an extension of the concept.  This one's definitely going to Africa with me.

Now, I mentioned my shooting sticks in the last post.  I got to really put them through their paces for the first time yesterday, and I'm very pleased.  I also developed an ad-hoc support technique that controls the sticks, insulates the gun from the hard body of the sticks themselves, and allows me to use the push-pull recoil mitigation technique to better control the gun.  It just kind of naturally developed as I was testing the sticks out while I was developing my handloads, and I gave it the acid test at the match.  I'm happy to say that it works great, and I'll be using the technique from here on out (unless, of course, I find something that works better!).  The proof is in the pudding:  I shot dramatically better off the sticks this time around compared to my last two matches.  My only miss was when I got up close to the targets and dumped the sticks thinking I didn't need them.  Sure enough, El Snatcho snuck up and I launched my shot six inches low, missing entirely.  Every single other shot was directly in the heart.  Here I'm demonstrating the technique to another competitor (behind the firing line, so I had to do it without my rifle)

I found my choice of caliber had a lot of advantages in this match, save for the limitation on the elephants at the end.  I was able to load up 5 rounds at a time, and never had to reload on the clock, unlike the folks with single shots, doubles or larger-caliber bolt guns.  I was also able to quickly work the bolt on the charging buffalo.  Nobody managed to get both shots into the brain box on that particular target, but my error was simply rushing the shot.  If I'd had better trigger control, I had the time to make the second hit.  On a non-scored practice run afterwards, I was able to put both rounds into the buff, draw the Vaquero, and still make a headshot with the handgun.  All that time practicing transitions with my carbine and Beretta paid off!

Here's a shot of the match director, Bill Poole, engaging the buff as it charges.  This is probably my favorite part of the match.  That buff moves deceptively fast, and the rocky terrain makes the small brain shot zone bounce all over the place.  Of course, it's nowhere near having a real live buffalo charge you with murder in his eyes, but it's a lot more challenging than simply busting a stationary target.  I have some video that my good friend Michael Novack shot, but I have to take care of some logistical issues to get it hosted and available.  Rest assured, it's coming :)

In the end, my preparations paid off, and I either validated my choices or learned where I needed to improve.  I've got a good handle on where I need to go from here.  And the proof, as I said, is in the pudding.  I was able to keep things together and win the match.  I received the winner's pith helmet!  And of course, I had to wear my previous helmet for the award photo :)  It's just how it's done, old chap, what?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A bit of a teaser

As I mentioned earlier, the biannual Safari Match at Phoenix Rod & Gun Club was held today.  It was a rousing good time, despite the wind playing havoc with our target stands.  We got to see (and shoot!) some incredible rifles, from 1870s-vintage .450 Black Powder Express doubles to a brand-new .500 Jeffrey rifle (which nobody had the courage, or perhaps insanity, to shoot).  This is really what it's all about:  shooting some classic African rifles with a bunch of good-natured and affable folks who share the same interest.

The above photo shows the moment of truth as one of the competitors fires a .470 Nitro Express during the open shooting session after the match's conclusion.  Banging steel from about 75 meters with the various light cannon was just awesome.  It's so awesome that I don't want to really go into detail until I get all the photos and video collected and edited.  Expect some great images over the next few days!

I ran my shooting sticks hard for the first time, and I was very pleased with them.  I've worked out a peculiar grip on them that works well for me.  I need to take a picture to really describe it, but essentially I grip the left-hand stick with my pinkie, ring and middle fingers, while using my index finger and thumb to create a little V-rest for the forend, palm facing towards the target.  I can pinch the stock with those two fingers and get a pretty good push-pull going, while simultaneously controlling the sticks and insulating the weapon to prevent it bouncing up and shooting high.

I shot my reloads, and had one bad primer out of 23 rounds fired.  Fortunately, it occurred on one of the stages that was not timed.  Further testing resulted in four solid primer strikes with no ignition.  Now I've got to pull the bullet, recover the powder, reprime and reload the cartridge to fire again.  I'm going to do a more thorough investigation and see if the primer was seated more deeply than my other reloads, or if any other causes can be identified.

And lastly, I leave you with a taste of what we saw and shot today, to whet your appetite:

Photo credits to Michael Novack

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fine Craftsmanship

I love it when things come together.  I got my Sherry Steele artwork that I ordered at the SCI show.  I ordered four tiles, one of which I gave as a gift to a friend, and the others for myself and my family.  I plan to frame the latter three.  I have to confess, I bought these not only because I loved the artwork, but because Sherry seemed genuinely passionate about her art, and the animals she captured with pen and ink.  She knew I wasn't any kind of high-roller (which were abundant at the show, without a doubt), but she spent probably twenty minutes eagerly talking to me about her methods, her inspirations, and showing me her sketchbooks.

I got the invoice for my Russell boots, which should arrive sometime in mid-June, just in time for me to give them a real hot-weather test in the Arizona summer.  Their customer service also impressed me.  They took detailed measurements of my feet at the show itself, and the gentleman who did the taping called me a few weeks later to clarify some points and ask some pointed questions about my needs and desires in a pair of boots.  I'm really looking forward to getting them and putting them through their paces. 

And last but not least, the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club's Safari Rifle Shoot is this Sunday.  I've done two of these shoots in the past year, and it's always a fun time with great people and beautiful guns.  Where else can you see a fellow rocking an 1880s-vintage Holland & Holland Paradox hammer double with black powder, paper-hulled slugs alongside the latest Ryan Breeding custom .375 H&H bolt gun?  Those guns were meant to be used, and it's great to see what they can do.  Plus, I get to practice techniques and gear loadouts with a bunch of good-natured, jovial folks.

This blog's been somewhat light on pictures thus far.  Mostly, that's because I'm a mediocre (at best) photographer.  I'm hoping to get some good shots at the match on Sunday, though.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunshine and Smokeless Powder

I've been shooting most of my life, and relatively little of it has been centered around 'traditional' hunting rifles.  In all honestly, I'm most comfortable with a semi-auto pistol or pump shotgun than anything else.  So occasionally I like to go out and practice with my favorite toys.  Today was one of those days.

It was a beautiful day in the Valley of the Sun.  Wispy clouds rode the sky, the sun shone through periodically, the temperature was a pleasant 75 degrees or so, and spring was in the air.  The perfect day for shotgunning! I've found that a round of sporting clays is a great way to relax after a rough week at the office.  It just so happens there's a pleasant clays course about 40 minutes' drive away from my home.  So I got some of my coworkers together and we ventured forth.  Having Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" pop on the radio as we pulled out just augured well for the day.

Now, I must confess, we didn't look like the stereotypical clays shooters.  For one thing, none of us own sporting-type shotguns.  Seeing as my coworker Gary doesn't (yet) own a shotgun, I let him use my Remington 870.  Now, as I mentioned, I don't have a clays shotgun.  My 870 has an 18" barrel with ghost-ring sights, and looks more like it belongs in a SWAT armory than a sporting clays course.  I took my VEPR-12, which is basically an AK redesigned to fire 12 gauge shotshells.  My other coworker, Jamie, brought along his 870 which is set up very similarly to mine.  So all of our guns had 18" barrels with Improved Cylinder chokes, not exactly ideal for shooting the long birds.  But that's what we had, so that's what we used.

Neither of my two friends had ever shot clays before.  Jamie had used his shotgun in some training classes, but those generally focus on shooting steel human-shaped silhouettes.  Gary's only experience with shotguns was a stockless Mossberg breacher that he used to effect forcible entries in Iraq, and while he didn't care for the recoil, he was willing to give sporting clays a try.

So off to the range we went.

After a short video explaining the rules and safety precautions at a clays range, we headed onto to the course.  We set up on the first station, and I had Gary trigger a pair for me.  My VEPR is a soft-shooting pussycat, so much so that the steel buttplate doesn't even bother me.  The factory-standard RPK light machinegun sights, however, are not really all that conducive to shooting clays.  If you've ever shot an AK, imagine trying to use those sights on a small, fast-moving target.  Still, I managed to bust one of the two, shooting just behind the second bird.  Gary went next, and managed to bust both birds.  I really think the excitement of hitting them both set the tone for the day, as he was continually complaining about the stock battering his cheek under recoil, but didn't seem to mind because he was doing very well for a beginner.  Jamie seemed to have more issues with getting the correct lead on the birds. 

We made our way through the stations, smiling and laughing at each others' performances and learning a few things about shotguns as we went.  I taught both of them to load an empty shotgun through the ejection port, and to use the push-pull method of recoil reduction to keep them from battering their shoulders.  Gary mentioned several times that he instantly realized when he forgot to push-pull.  I let him try my VEPR, and he was amazed at the difference in felt recoil between the two guns.  I offered to switch guns for the remainder of the course, but he said he wanted to stick with the pump gun since that's what he'd likely be buying for himself.  Oh yes, halfway through the course he'd already decided he needed a shotgun, and began plotting how to get his wife to come out so she could get in on the fun as well!

At the final station, the birds came out sideways from opposite directions, at a fairly high rate of speed.  Over the course, I'd discovered that I rather liked the RPK sights on this shotgun.  I was able to use the protective wings around the front sight as a kind of scale, like the anti-aircraft sights on a WWII machine gun.  They actually helped me calculate lead and drop!  So on this last station, I broke both birds, Gary broke both birds, and Jamie missed both.  Gary decided to shoot a few more at that station, even deciding he wanted to try a true double.  He was obviously gaining confidence in his ability, and enjoying himself.  He managed to break one of the pair, which was honestly still good shooting.  I would have had a deal of trouble making them both if launched simultaneously, and the course description was 'on report' rather than a true double.  Jamie tried another pair one at a time, and managed to break one.  He remarked that he'd like to spend more time at a single station to get used to how much he needed to lead targets.  He's always struck me as a more methodical and scientific person, so that makes a lot of sense.  Next time, we'll spend some time at the practice launcher and let him get a better feel for things.  And oh yes, he was insistent that we let him know the next time we went to shoot clays!

So, you may be asking, what in the world does a round of sporting clays with 'tactical' shotguns have to do with preparing for a safari?  Well, I would say a few points are in order.  First, I have heard the bird shooting in Africa can be challenging and exciting, and while I have never actually hunted birds yet, I do love shooting shotguns and I'm a fair hand at clays.  So it makes sense to keep up a little practice at the closest analogy to wingshooting.

Secondly, I feel it's important to be an ambassador for the shooting sports, even to other types of those sports.  I accomplished this in two ways today.  First, I introduced two people to a new sport that they greatly enjoyed, and who expressed desire to continue participating in it.  That's the only way our sports will survive, and I also truly enjoy sharing my passions with others who find enjoyment in it.  Additionally, there is often friction between the more classical shooting sports and the new, upstart 'tactical' or 'practical' sports.  I generally consider myself more of the latter type of shooter, and I've heard 'my' people refer to bird hunters and clays shooters as 'Fudds'.  Similarly, I've heard more than one fine shotgun aficionado wonder why anyone would 'need' one of those scary 'assault weapons'.  So today, I used this opportunity to try to bridge that gap, by being polite to everyone on the course and offering to let others shoot a pair or two with my VEPR.  I had a few folks ask what kind of shotgun it was, and I happily explained it to them.  Most of those folks also were happy to take a few shots with it, and while I doubt any of them will give up their fancy over/unders anytime soon, they left with what I hope is a more positive view of those scary semi-autos.  Our rights are constantly under attack, so it only makes sense to keep all shooters together as a more unified bloc to resist such efforts.  The tactical shooters need the votes and efforts of the traditionalists if we're to keep our sports, and our rights, alive and well.

And finally, I just plain enjoy shooting.  It reduces my stress levels significantly, especially when I have good company while doing it.  Whether I'm shooting my Beretta and AKMS at an IDPA match, my VEPR or 870 at a sporting clays course, or my Ruger 9.3mm in the field or safari rifle match, I find 'busting caps' to be cathartic and relaxing.  It's quite possibly my favorite outdoor activity, and any excuse I can find to go do it, I use.  Today was no exception.  As I drove home, listening to David Gilmour's mournful guitar on "Hey You" coming through the speakers, I just felt... great.  All was right with the world, as far as I was concerned.  Call it what you will:  endorphins, zen, peace of mind, whatever.  Shooting makes me happy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

These are the kinds of words that stoked my passion for this safari.

"But there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. There is delight in the hardy life of the open, in long rides rifle in hand, in the thrill of the fight with dangerous game. Apart from this, yet mingled with it, is the strong attraction of the silent places, of the large tropic moons, and the splendor of new stars: where the wanderer sees the awful glory of sunrise and sunset in the wide waste spaces of the earth, unworn of man, and changed only by the slow changes of the ages through time everlasting."

-Theodore Roosevelt
Khartoum, March 15, 1910


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A beautiful sight

Now that's what I call a productive afternoon.  Since my 59.5gr load shot so well in practice, I decided to load up 40 rounds for the Safari Rifle match two Sundays from now (30 March).  This will let me save my dwindling supply of factory ammo. 

Now, I've loaded almost 60 total rounds of 9.3x62mm, and I was shocked to see that I'm more than halfway through my pound of Big Game.  I'm used to loading mild .38 Special and .44 Special, with about 4-4.5gr of powder per cartridge.  I've been on the same pound of 700x for a year now, and I'm just barely putting a dent into it.  But when you're using almost 60 grains per cartridge, you burn through a pound of powder (7000 grains) in fairly short order.  Time to find a big jug!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Testing my gear under pressure

Now that I've got at least a semi-acceptable load dialed in, I can use it for practice far cheaper than even the Prvi factory ammo.  That's a good thing.  I still need to get a chronograph and see how the velocity compares to factory ammo, but based on the shot placement, it should be about right.  I reckon I'll load up about 40 or so rounds of this current load in preparation for the PR&GC Safari Rifle match at the end of the month.

The first time I shot this match was a year ago, and my rifle was brand new and just barely sighted in.  I hadn't gotten any real accessories for it, just the rifle, scope, sling and some ammo.  My goal then was to get used to the rifle and optic, and I was pleased as punch with both.  Now, my goal is to practice with my shooting sticks and fine-tune my walking-around loadout for the safari itself.  So let's make a short list of things I know I'll be lugging around on my own person:

1.  Rifle
2.  Ammo
3.  Water
4.  Snacks
5.  First aid kit
6.  Multi-tool
7.  Knife
8.  Flashlight
9.  Compass
10.  Rangefinder
11. Survival/possibles kit

I won't have all of these on my belt, of course, but I do want to fine-tune my belt setup further than I have in earlier posts/thoughts.  That generally means ammo, water, snacks, multi-tool, knife and flashlight.  My daily carry rig, as I mentioned before, is a Frequent Flyer belt from the Wilderness.  I've worn this for years, and it's comfortable, yet rigid enough to carry a pistol and all my daily accessories, and bomb-proof durable.  I see no reason to try anything else on this trip.  On the belt will be my Leatherman Wave (11 years old and still going strong) in the factory leather belt sheath, my Sure-Fire G2 (nearly as old, albeit with a replacement KX4 LED conversion head that makes it significantly brighter and longer-lasting) in an even more ancient Blade-Tech scabbard, a Twin Loader (also from the Wilderness) for two fast rounds, and my Westley Richards belt carrier for five more rounds.  For the purposes of the match, I also plan to carry a sidearm as I do when deer hunting.  In this case, it'll be a Beretta 92G in a Wilderness Safepacker holster.

So, how well does all this kit work on a single belt?  I'm used to having the Beretta on my strong side hip, plus the G2, Wave and a spare magazine on my left hip.  All I have to do is find room for the rifle ammo.  Now, ordinarily I like spare ammo on my left hip, but the manual of arms for a bolt-action hunting rifle generally means I reload with my dominant hand.  As such, I'll put the TwinLoader just in front of the pistol, and the belt carrier just behind it.  I'll give it a whirl at the match and see how I like it.  Since none of the stages are more than 5 rounds, I will download my rifle a bit so that I have to reload on the clock and put my setup to the test.  I have a set of suspenders designed for military 'war belts' if I need any support with all that gear as well.

Where does that leave the rest of my gear?  Well, my folding knife will live where it always does, in my right front slash pocket.  As for the rest, right now I'm looking at either a small daypack or using my existing Maxpedition Jumbo EDC Versipack.  The Versipack can hold quite a lot of gear, and is actually quite comfortable to wear over long periods (I use it a lot when hiking or even just going to the zoo with my family).  My concern is that it is not tied down (though I could conceivably lash it to my belt if I so chose), and I worry that it will get in the way of my right-side gear if I position it so the strap isn't on my shooting shoulder.  I may end up looking at a fanny pack of some sort.

I'll also test out some clothing choices at the match.  I've got a pretty solid choice of hats, either boonie-style or baseball-style.  I tend towards the former because I've got fair skin and get sunburned rather easily, so I appreciate the extra coverage.  I'll likely bring both in case the boonie proves too cumbersome in the brush.  I also tend towards long pants and sleeves when outdoors, for the same reasons.  I live in a desert, so it's not as punishing to have my lower limbs covered as it would be in, say, Houston.  Since I'll be hunting in the dry season, I hope South Africa will be similar.  For the past few years, I've been wearing Cabela's Trail Hiker pants.  They're a bit heavy and hot in the summertime, but they wear like iron and are very comfortable for me.  Everyone's a bit different when it comes to fit and cut, so your mileage may vary, but for me the Trail Hikers have the best wear, best pocket placement, and least chafing in long use of any pant I've worn in the past decade (which admittedly, isn't a lot of them).  Of course, footwear is also crucial, and until my Russell Joe's PH boots get here, I'll stick with my comfortable New Balance sneakers with Smartwool medium hiker socks for the match.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The moment of truth.

Well, it's time for the moment of truth.  I shot an IDPA match this morning, and did reasonably well.  I shot some follow-up drills and did better.  Then I scampered off to the rifle side of the facility to test out my first-ever batch of rifle handloads.

I set up a makeshift rest with the range's carpet-covered wooden blocks and my folded soft case, loaded up the first three rounds (56.5gr of Big Game) and got to work, checking each individual case for pressure signs.  Then three rounds with 57.5, three more with 58.5 and so on until I got to 61.5gr.  By that time, I had started to develop a bit of a flinch from shooting off the bench, and I decided it would be impractical to continue shooting groups.  I fired one round with 62.0gr from the shooting sticks (mostly to verify there were no pressure signs, and there weren't), and banged steel @ 200 yards.  I fired five more factory Prvi rounds, but the flinch was starting to show.  I buckled down and fired one last round and banged steel.  I like to finish on a high note.

Then it was off to the butts to see how I did.  And boy, was I surprised.  I had a few stringers that I will readily ascribe to the emergent flinch (especially on the last two sets of three), but the 59.5gr load (rounds 10, 11 and 12) shot sub-MOA @ 100 yards!

Now I need to get a chronograph and see how much velocity that load's pushing, and load up some more from about 59gr to 62.5gr and see if that's the sweetest spot or if there are greener pastures.

Now, on to the shooting sticks.  Work bit into my free time, so I only had time to craft one set of sticks.  I used the green Home Depot garden stakes with a section of bicycle inner tube to make a very simple apparatus.  And yet, with a proper hold, I was able to shoot reasonably well @ 200 yards with it.  I found that by laying my hand in the crotch of the sticks, and using that to brace the gun and prevent it from bouncing, I could shoot pretty well.  I really like these sticks.  They're extremely lightweight, stiff, tough, and practical.  Best of all, they cost me all of $7 and change.  I'm thinking of getting a third stake to try the tripod route, but right now I'm finding it hard to argue with the simple effectiveness of the current setup.  Still, experimentation is what this is all about, so I'll give it and the wooden swivel bipod sticks a run for the money.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Crafting Shooting Sticks, Part 1

I stopped by Home Depot today, thinking I could get some dowel rods to use for shooting sticks.  Unfortunately, HD's dowel rods cap at 4', not nearly long enough for use while standing.  So, off to the garden section I went.  My initial thought was to get some 3/4" bamboo poles, but again, no such thing was available.  I picked up a six pack of roughly 3/8" bamboo, but they are far too flimsy for my purposes.  Right next to them, however, were some 6'-long, 3/4"-thick polymer-sheathed, steel-core garden stakes.  Surprisingly lightweight, and reasonably priced, I think they might make a good two-legged set of sticks when linked with a piece of old inner-tube.  I also picked up a pair of 1"x1/2"x6' slats, a 5/8"x2" hex bolt, washers and a wing nut to make a hinged set of sticks.  By Sunday, I should have two functional pairs of shooting sticks to test after I fire my first set of handloads.  If either pair works, I'll use them in the safari match at the end of the month.

Pictures will go up once I get them created!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Reloading... progress!

I was supposed to fly to Dallas yesterday for a training conference, but Mother Nature decided otherwise.  To console myself, I ventured into the reloading room to work on my 9.3x62mm loads.  I had done a bit of research and talked to some folks who do quite a bit of reloading in this caliber (in addition to some good advice from people reading here), and it made me confident of some of the dimensions I would need.  So, off to the loading bench I went.

As commenter "BS" mentioned after my earlier reloading post, I started with a lower charge and worked up.  I loaded a few rounds in each charge weight, going up one grain at a time.  So now I've got 18 rounds theoretically (see below) ready to test-fire, hopefully next weekend if the weather cooperates (and it's Phoenix in March, so it usually does).

I did find some unusual results.  All of my cases are once-fired Prvi Partizan brass.  I miked four or five out of the batch to see if I needed to trim, and they were all within a few thousandths of each other, and well within acceptable length.  When I loaded them, I got a fairly wide range of COL.  Minimum was about 3.295, and max was 3.307.  That seemed like a large discrepancy, so I used my bullet puller to tap the projos slightly forward, and reseated them, thinking my seating die might have come loose.  They all reseated... to the same COL they were before being pulled.  The 3.295 cartridge reseated to 3.295, and the 3.307 cartridge reseated to 3.307.  All of them fed and chambered in my rifle with no issues, but it's troubling.  There seemed no rhyme or reason to why they were different lengths.  I had rounds with the same powder charge near each of the extremes.  None of the charges got up into the neck of the case, so I'm not yet dealing with compressed loads.  I'm going to start with the lightly-loaded rounds and see if there is any variation in point of impact, recoil, or any signs of pressure.  If not, then I'll gradually work up.  I didn't load up to the max yet, I can always come back and load them if I see no pressure signs.  The next batch I load, I'll mike every case to ensure uniform length, and the projos as well.

The second thing I wish to accomplish before the weekend is to construct a basic set of shooting sticks.  I'll shoot groups off sandbags on the bench, of course, but I would also like to shoot some factory ammo from the sticks to refine my technique before the match at the end of the month.

All in all, a day of both frustration and satisfaction.  The weekend will determine how it all ends up.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sick and tired

No, it's not a rant, I am just literally sick and tired.  Hopefully the antibiotics will kick in shortly and my nose will clear enough to get a good night's sleep.

I'm also going to be away for the first half of next week for a professional conference, but hopefully next weekend I'll have some pics of a prototype set of shooting sticks.  Also, some behind-the-scenes progress has been made on the 9.3x62mm reloading quandary.  More to come when my head stops pounding, my nose stops oozing techinolor, and I've slept more than an hour straight.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reviewing "Buffalo!" by Craig Boddington

I’m feeling a bit under the weather today.  I think I still have some lingering crud that I picked up at the SCI show.  Compared to what some of my friends came down with at SHOT this year, I count myself lucky.  But since I’ll be away from the blog for a few days next week while I attend some work training, I should probably get around to discussing that Boddington book to which I alluded earlier.

As I mentioned earlier, I first got interested in African hunting by reading Peter Capstick’s classic “Death in the Long Grass” when I was just a lad in short pants, as they say.  Capstick’s wild tales and colorful turns of phrase riveted my attention in the way that no non-fiction could at that point.  I tore through that book (and every other Capstick book in Dad’s library) like a starving leopard through a particularly pungent warthog bait.  I think it helped that it worried my fairly liberal reading/English teacher at the time; I felt somewhat subversive.

So Capstick whetted my appetite, and I continued to read his stuff as it came out (or, more accurately, as Dad acquired them).  When the Capstick Library editions of classic books came out, I started on them as well.  I read Man-Eaters of Tsavo and enjoyed it, though I thought the writing wasn’t quite as elegant and readable as Capstick.  I felt the same about Jim Corbett.  In fact, I tended to measure every African safari book against “Death in the Long Grass”. But eventually I ran out of Capstick to read, and he is sadly no longer able to write more.  So I branched out.  I read some Hunter, some Cooper, some Hemingway.  All had their merits.

The first time I read Boddington was a few years ago when I decided that an African safari was both within my reach and something I wanted to spend the time, effort and money to do.  On the advice of several folks, my grandmother gave me a copy of “Safari Rifles II” for Christmas that year and Iwas impressed with the honesty and pragmatism tempering his appreciation for some of the odd-ball cartridges.  He had a very real thing for the 8mm Remington Magnum and the .358 Winchester, the latter of which I had been looking at in a Browning BLR levergun to use on feral pigs. 

So fast forward to the Safari Club International show earlier this month, where I saw Boddington autographing books.  I already had a copy of Safari Rifles II, so what to get?  Despite the fact that I won’t be going after one on this trip, I chose “Buffalo!” because it seemed to be one of his favorite game species, based on what I had read previously.  I figured if a man is passionate about a thing, his writing will show it.  In that assumption, I was correct.

Boddington’s passion shows from the start, as he describes why he hunts buffalo.  The first chapter is dedicated to the reasons to hunt these big beasts, from his first encounter nearly three decades earlier to his pragmatic reasoning of cost, availability, and meat supply compared to the other members of the Big Five.  Like Capstick before him, he cites Ruark’s immortal description that the buffalo “looks at you like you owe him money”, and he says it with reverence to both the animal and the writer.  He openly expresses his admiration and cautious respect for the creatures, contrasted with the fear he feels towards lion, cow elephant and leopards.

That’s a theme to which Boddington returns time and again in this book:  his respect for the game and the rules of fair chase.  Like the great conservationists of old, he understands that there has to be a balance; that game must be protected and shepherded, and in order for that to happen, there must be a financial incentive to doing so.  Boddington is very clear that the only way for game to survive in modern Africa is through the deliberate and measured use of sport hunting to generate sufficient value from the animals to both landowners and governments.  This eye towards conservation continues in his self-imposed criteria for a ‘shootable’ bull.  Several times in the course of the book, he states that he tries to shoot bulls that are past breeding age, even if their horns are less of a trophy than the younger bulls.  I mentioned I got a signed copy; the inscription reads:  “Matt – shoot old bulls!”  That kind of commitment to ethical hunting is a far better representation of our people to the outside world than, say, Ted Nugent.

The book continues on with discussion on the various subspecies of African buffalo, from the well-known Cape buff to the smaller forest buffalo of Western Africa.  The bulk of the book, however, consists of some very pragmatic advice regarding tracking, stalking, estimating horn size, shot placement, guns/cartridges/bullets (this chapter is basically a re-hash of part of “Safari Rifles II”, which is fine because this is a perfectly valid subject), and what happens when things go sideways.  There is a lot of experience at work here, and yet Boddington remains humble and defers to both his PH’s and his trackers.  One bit of advice struck home:  make a set of shooting sticks and practice with them.  A bit of research shows that Home Depot sells bamboo poles for very little money; three poles and some old bicycle inner tube can make a very useable set of shooting sticks.  Given my lackluster performance on the sticks at the last safari match (the plains game stage was by far my weakest, and the only one where I shot from shooting sticks).  Perhaps this could be a subject for a later post...

The book wraps up with a reasonably in-depth treatise on the other game buffalo of the world, focusing on the various types of water buffalo found in India, Asia and Australia.  He then moves into a fitting coda:  recounting the ‘perfect’ Cape buffalo hunt.

All in all, I found “Buffalo!” to be an enjoyable and satisfying read.  I don’t think Boddington is the same level of wordsmith as Ruark or Capstick, but his advice is very down-to-earth and pragmatic without sacrificing an obvious passion for the animal and the hunt.  He’s certainly got far more experience than Ruark (at least, Ruark at the time of “Horn of the Hunter”), and he is far less likely to sensationalize and embellish than Capstick.  I intend to look into more of Boddington’s work, and I think he’ll have a place in my library for some time to come.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ruminations on Taxidermy and Hunting Ethics

I had a plan for my next post.  I was going to review Craig Boddington's “Buffalo!” book, or talk about the reasons I dropped hundreds of dollars on custom-fitted Russell safari boots, or describe the safari rifle match that the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club puts on twice a year.  Then one of the members of linked to my blog there today.  They’re a good bunch of people over there, and the signal-to-noise ratio tends to be far better than on a lot of internet forums, so of course some discussion happened.  And the subject quickly turned to taxidermy, honey badgers, and the character of Stanley from Action Figure Therapy (very NSFW, but I find them utterly hilarious). 

In all seriousness, though, I'm somewhat torn on the subject of taxidermy. To me, ethical hunting comes in one of three forms: meat, dangerous game, and pest control. I'll eat the antelope I'll shoot in Africa, and going up against a lion or elephant or buffalo on its home turf at least gives the critter a fighting chance. The badger is none of these, nor do I think he falls under pest control (although I know at least two hunters who found honey badgers raiding the skinning shed and making off with their trophies). There's also my belief that, as a living creature, it deserves a certain level of respect. I would have no issue displaying a completely fake statue of Stanley the Honey Badger, with cigarette, AKM and upraised middle finger, but I think there's something inherently disrespectful about taking a living badger, shooting it, and making it into a joke display piece. Ergo, while I may crack a joke or two about having a real Stanley, I can't see myself actually going through with it.

I've never been a big taxidermy fan in general. I've never mounted any of my whitetails. I have eaten them all and used their antlers for projects, or given them to friends who use them to make knife hilts and coat buttons, and I see that as keeping parts of the animal from going to waste. That said, I can see the value in taxidermy as a reminder of a significant and meaningful event. To see the animal, especially rendered in a realistic pose, is to flash back to the warm memory of the hunt itself, and perhaps recapture some little flash of the adrenaline and majesty. In that sense, when the taxidermy is a tribute to the animal and the chase, rather than a trophy hanging on the wall to brag about one's own prowess, I can honestly appreciate it.  I certainly don't begrudge people who have their prey immortalized in such a manner.

I do plan to have what I shoot on my safari properly taxidermied.  I’d love to have a zebra rug, for instance.  Unless I shoot something that belongs in the SCI record book or takes an inordinate amount of effort and luck to shoot, I will likely do European skull mounts for most of what I take.  I’d rather spend my limited budget on trophy fees than taxidermy.  I also want to have most of the hides tanned for making into gloves, boots, jackets, and if I find something suitably thick-skinned, perhaps a holster, knife sheath, mag pouch, rifle sling, etc.  It’s all part of making the most out of what I take as a hunter. 

In the end, I suppose I agree with Jose Ortega Y Gasset, as he stated in his “Meditations on Hunting”: 

“One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted. If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.”

 I'd love to hear some feedback on the subject of taxidermy, and what it means to other hunters.