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.