It ends, and it begins.

This weekend is the last weekend of the Minnesota deer season (rifles), but it is also the opening weekend of the Wisconsin deer season.

As you may have guessed by the lack of pictures of dead deer, my 2016 Minnesota deer hunt went about as well as my 2015, and 2014 seasons. In terms of deer shot on the property I was hunting on, it was a great season. Four deer were shot this year, but they were taken solely by Larry and Amber, who accounted for two each. I should get a decent amount of meat out of it though, and that’s half the reason I do it.

This weekend I had been planning to drive up to the Minnesota cabin on Friday evening, but a big snow storm hit northern Minnesota on Friday and so I delayed my departure until Saturday morning. I got there in time for the evening hunt, and I had just got myself into an appropriate tree with my climbing tree stand when I heard Amber shoot her second deer of the season. I climbed out of my stand at 6:30, having seen nothing.

I had decided to use my climbing stand this weekend in order to get practice with it ahead of my Wisconsin adventures. And by doing that I learned that it is heavy, noisy, frustrating, slightly terrifying, and if there is more than a few inches of snow for me to hike through, I will be drenched in sweat by the time I finally get up in the tree. Also, because I didn’t have a chance to scout out decent trees in advance, the trees I found myself in offered less than optimal shooting positions.

But that’s okay (This is rapidly becoming my hunting motto).

On the plus side, these are all useful lessons. And Wisconsin didn’t get 15 inches of snow, so I don’t have to worry so much about the sweat.

However, whilst I am currently sitting in the cabin in Wisconsin, starting my second movie and my fourth (or maybe fifth) beer. My hunting partner for the week, Jason, is still in Minnesota and won’t get here until late tomorrow morning at the earliest. So I won’t be using the climbing stand in the morning.

Other lessons I learned this weekend are that I should get scope covers to keep the lenses of my sight clean, and I should put tape over the muzzle to stop snow and debris getting in there. I bought tape at fleet farm on my way to Wisconsin, but the scope covers will have to wait.

In the morning, since there will be no one around to save me if I get into trouble, I will leave my stand behind and hunt from the ground. Assuming I don’t get a deer, it will give me a chance to select a good tree to hunt from for the rest of the week.

I find it easy to get frustrated by my continuing lack of success in Minnesota, and one of the sources of that frustration is the lack of control I have over my hunting situation. I feel powerless to affect my chances of getting a deer. I know it will happen; Amber waited longer than three years to get her first, and I feel like I’m being ungrateful to feel so frustrated about it. I do enjoy hunting there though, and I want to keep going because I like being part of that group.

However I also relish the chance offered by hunting public land in Wisconsin. There are no tree stands ready for me to climb into, and I don’t know anyone with knowledge of deer movements in the area, so in truth my chances are probably even lower than they are in Minnesota. But that also means there is a lot of room for me to learn. I have dreams of hunting even further off the beaten track than northern Wisconsin, and I won’t get there until I first get comfortable walking beside the beaten track.

So tomorrow I will step out into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, alone (if only briefly), and ready to learn from my inevitable mistakes.

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The ups and downs of hunting

I am now home from deer camp and enjoying a beer and a good book with my feet up. I decided to head home after the morning hunt instead of in the evening, since I am pretty tired and I have to work tomorrow.

This morning was for the most part representative of the rest of the weekend, except that I actually saw deer. Unfortunately they were either too far off, or moving too fast, or both, and I never came close to taking a shot. After they disappeared from my view, they reportedly passed by another member of the group who decided they were too small to shoot anyway.

I climbed out of the stand at 10am at the insistence of my bladder, and after taking care of that, I proceeded to get to grips with my new climbing stand.

I have been moved to remark recently, that, for a person who likes to keep things simple and in their place, I have a lot of hobbies that don’t let me do that. The shooting I do invariably requires bag after bag of clothes and equipment and stuff that all needs to be remembered, and then not forgotten again later, and this climbing stand is the icing on the cake.

It is comprised of two steel structures that individually attach to whichever straight tree I set my sights upon. I then stand with my feet attached to one, and my backside resting on the other, and alternately sit and lift my feet, then stand and lift the other part. I need to wear a safety harness while I’m doing this, and there are a bunch of bungees, ropes, straps, and cushions, that have to be tied up, down, and around, and invariably moved again a few moments later, that makes the whole affair rather frustrating, not to mention a bit scary.

It is awkward to carry, and noisy, and pretty heavy as well (because I didn’t buy the aluminium version), but when I sat down after climbing not very far up the first tree I could find, it turns out it’s actually quite comfortable. I think there might be hope.

Here is a picture of me in the stand after my first exploratory climb:

Next weekend at the cabin my plan is to do all my hunting from this stand, in the hope that I’m thoroughly versed in its operation before I venture out into the wilds of Wisconsin, where help will be a lot further away if I get into a spot of bother.

In other news, although I didn’t get a chance to fire it, I am fairly happy with the rifle I have been carrying this weekend. The Marlin 336 is fairly light, and easy to point and carry. The operation is slightly more complicated than the bolt actions I’m used to, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. With any luck, next weekend, I’ll get to see how it works on deer.

With me luck.

Still nothing

My first day of the 2016 Minnesota deer season is done, and the only deer I’ve seen were shot by other people.

This afternoon I struggled to stay awake, since I had a full belly and the sun was shining on me. After about two hours of power naps I pulled myself together and managed to stay conscious until the sun went down, but it clearly didn’t do me any good as I still have no deer that I can claim as my own.

Tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to hide my silhouette, since the stand I’m in is quite tall and I don’t think my human statue impersonation looks enough like a tree. 

In the afternoon I will take my new climbing tree stand for a spin. I bought it because I’m going to be hunting on public land in Wisconsin in about a week, and I think it will be to my advantage (both for hunting and safety) to be off the ground. I have never used a climbing tree stand before so I hope to figure out all the quirks tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t have to do it at dawn in Wisconsin.

Tonight I plan to drink beer, eat steak, and do my best impression of an American deer hunter. I’m already wearing a flannel shirt so I’m part of the way there, but I’m drinking craft beer instead of light beer, which when combined with my accent, may undermine my efforts.

Fortunately the deer don’t discriminate…I think.

Good morning from deer camp.

I have just returned to the cabin after hunting this morning. I was in the stand by 6:45am, and I stayed there until 11am. 

Here is a picture of me just before I called it quits:

I’m squinting because the sun was bright.

The morning started out cool, 35F (1.5C), but I was wearing enough clothes to avoid discomfort. There were no deer to be seen, but the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, and apart from a bit of a chilly breeze that kicked up mid morning, I had nothing to complain about.

After a quick lunch I will head back out for the evening to try my luck once more.

Turkey hunting: day two

Day one ended as expected, with no turkey having been seen. But I’m not bothered. I saw a lot more deer, and apart from getting a little cold towards the end it was a very nice way to spend a few hours.

I am back in the woods again this morning, although not as early as I had planned. Last night, just as I was thinking about going to bed, I realised the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix was happening at 1am. And since I’m kind of addicted to formula one, I couldn’t not stay up and watch it. Which means I wasn’t here until almost 9am. 

That’s okay though, because the land owner (Ron) said the turkey are most active in the afternoon, and I’m not sure I have the stamina to hunt from dawn to dusk without a break anyway. That said, even with my late start it will still be a pretty long day.

My plan today is to hunt in the same stand I spent most of yesterday in, then move to the other stand around lunch time. The other stand overlooks a small pasture that should get some sun later today, and I’m hoping the turkeys will head there to warm up. This might be wishful thinking, because it’s not really that cold today, but you never know.

I’ll update as things happen…

11am update:

My plan to stay still till lunch has been scuppered by the extra cup of tea I had this morning. So I went for a short stroll and didn’t see anything to report. I don’t think there is much point trying to sneak around in search of birds today since the ground is covered in dry leaves and twigs, so I’m falling short of the requisite ninja level stealth necessary for that option to pay off. I’ll just sit still and hope for the best.

We just had a brief rain shower, but luckily I’m sheltered enough where I’m sitting that I’m still dry. The forecast says the rain will pass quickly, and the sun is due to make an appearance around 1pm, so I’ll plan to be set up in the other blind by then.

1pm update:

I have moved.

This is the view from my new position. I have set up my decoys just inside the pasture in front of me. I am fairly well concealed, but there is more wind here and I’m worried I will get too cold to last the afternoon. Have to see how it goes.

A couple of thoughts on my experiences so far: one- sitting on the ground is painful, seemingly no matter how many cushions you have (currently 2). It makes it hard to stay still, and since I’m not very good at that to begin with, its a problem. Two- squirrels are dicks. I had one squirrel yesterday that sat on the trunk of a tree nearby, and yelled at me. I didn’t know they yelled at people. The same squirrel (I’m fairly certain) was staring at me today and making weird noises, at least it wasn’t yelling. I’m pretty sure turkeys are smart enough to know what a grouchy squirrel sounds like, so I’m glad I moved.

The sun has come out as I had hoped, and if I can just stay mostly still, and make relatively convincing turkey noises for the rest of the afternoon, I will consider the day a success. A dead turkey will just be a bonus at this point I think. Modest goals.

3.30pm update:

My decoys are finally getting some action, unfortunately it’s a horse and he doesn’t seem convinced.

I have also seen a tractor, and a model aircraft being flown in a nearby field. I thought I heard a turkey at one point, but I think it was just a bird that sort of sounded like a turkey. 

I think it might be time for a cup of tea and a short stroll.

Day two final update:

After my stroll I rearranged my decoys, adjusted my cushions, and settled in again. The air temperature had come up slightly when the sun came out, and with that and a rare lack of pain in my backside, I promptly fell asleep. It was lovely. Napping under a tree on a warm autumn day feels pretty decadent, and if I thought there was a remote possibility that a turkey had come by while I slept, I might have felt guilty about it. But hunting is often difficult, and usually uncomfortable, and so any time I only have to deal with one of those things I’m going to treasure it.

I stayed in that blind until around 5pm and the only thing I saw was a local farmer who drove past me. He was briefly interested in my decoys, and when he realised they weren’t real he joined the dots and looked around for their owner, so I gave him a wave.

By 5pm the sun had sunk enough that it was shining right on me, and whatever concealment I had been enjoying to that point was rendered null by the solar spotlight. If a turkey had shown up then, I wouldn’t have been able to get my gun up without being spotted, so I called time on that setup.

I took down the blind, and went to collect the one I’d left in the other location. On my way I does spooked a couple of deer that I hadn’t seen, once again reminding me that it’s either not possible to walk quietly on ground covered in dead leaves and twigs, or that I’m just not trying hard enough. 

After dropping the blind and decoys off at my truck, I decided to explore a part of the property I hadn’t been to yet. I wandered around a bit, occasionally sitting against a tree and calling, and then gave up and called it a day. I think I will concentrate on that part of the place when I go back next weekend.

Final weekend tally:

  • Days hunting – 2
  • Turkeys seen – 3 (1 while driving, and 2 decoys)
  • Shots taken – 0
  • Shots I thought about taking – 6, mostly squirrels, and 2 turkey decoys.
  • Deer seen – probably more than I’ll see in November
  • Birds seen – mostly songbirds with the occasional woodpecker. Might have seen an owl in the distance. 

Despite the lack of dead turkeys in my freezer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m a better turkey hunter after this weekend than I was before it. And to top it off, I can now actually call myself a turkey hunter.

Turkey hunting: day one

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Greetings from my turkey blind. Today is my first time ever turkey hunting, and I don’t expect to get anything. I’d say I don’t expect to see anything either, but I already saw one. It was flying into a tree as I drove here. Looked tasty too.

I arrived around 2pm, the landowner gave me a quick tour. Then I set up a couple of blinds and my decoys, and now I’m waiting. 

When I first day down I was wearing some new earplugs that I had hoped would be good for hunting, and fit under my various headgear. They are supposed to let normal sounds through, but block loud noises. Unfortunately they cut out too much of the normal noise, and so I took them out. I’m keen on having some kind of hearing protection, and I have used my electronic ear defenders in the past, but they limit the headgear I can use, and the pressure they put on my head usually gives me a headache after a couple of hours. So I’ve been experimenting.
Here is a partial view from my blind:

You can just see my decoys.

Hunting turkeys in autumn is not the easiest task, since the birds are not mating and thus don’t really respond to calling. However, unlike shooting, both males and females are legal to shoot, so I can happily shoot the first thing that gets within range.

I can’t shoot this beastie though. If it were November and I had the right gun, it would be a different story. Good to know my camouflage is working.

Fun times in the woods. I’d better start paying attention if I want to have a hope of seeing something legal.

Bye for now.

A “pressing” need

I don’t quite remember which year I started reloading, somewhere between 2006-2008 probably. I bought a kit from someone at my club in Glasgow, it was made by Lee, and it was a great way to start what has become a big part of my shooting life. 

Since then I have replaced nearly every part of the original kit, including the powder thrower (I now have one by RCBS), and the balance scale (Redding). And each of these purchases has inspired the same internal conversation: 

Me: I think I need a new *reloading gadget*!

Also me: why? You have one and it’s not broken.

Me: yeah, but it’s kind of frustrating to use, and I think this other *reloading gadget* will work better.

Also me: I think it’s a waste of money.

Me: possibly, but I’m a grown ass adult and I can waste money on my hobbies if I want to.

Also me: fine, but what about your pension…

Me: …sod off.

These conversations are useful for restraining my wilder impulses, and that’s no bad thing, but it also makes me slow to upgrade when I actually need to, as I recently became aware.

I have discovered an issue with my press (at least I believe the problem lies there), which is the one part of my kit I never got round to replacing. It is a Lee challenger press (I think), which is an ‘O’ frame single stage press, but compared to many of that type it is pretty diminutive. And while it has worked very well for me up till now, an issue has started to crop up.

The issue actually first appeared (or I first noticed it) when I was resizing a bunch of .223 rem brass. I had installed the die as the instructions suggest-screw it down till it touches the shell holder, then a quarter turn more-but after I had been working for a while I noticed a gap between the die and the shell holder when the ram was at the top, mid resize. When I tried raising the ram without a case the gap vanished and everything appeared as it was when I started. I checked the die, and it had not loosened. In this instance I resolved the issue by screwing the die down a bit further, but despite the simple fix the issue concerned me.

The problem returned the other day when I was resizing some .30-06 brass into .35 Whelen. I had noticed some protruding primers on some of the first .35 Whelen loads I fired, and after confirming that the rifle’s chamber did not have excessive headspace, determined that the case shoulder was getting pushed too far back by the die. In order to correct this I tried using a feeler gauge to position the die with a specific gap to the shell holder, intending to resize a case, test it in the rifle, and adjust the die again until I was pushing the shoulder back just enough to chamber. This would also leave me with a known gap I could accurately reproduce in future.

Unfortunately, when I raised the ram with a case installed, the gap miraculously expanded…and I was frustrated. After adjusting the die down, and down, and down again-testing the cases in the rifle each time until they fit the chamber just right-there was almost no measurable gap at all, and my hopes of a reproducible set up had faded to almost nothing.

My theory is that something in the press is flexing, or compressing (or something), but only when under the pressure of resizing.

This does not make me happy.

There are enough variables in the process of reloading as it is, I don’t need an extra mystery variable showing up at random, especially one that can’t be accurately measured or predicted.

For a good while now I have been receiving catalogues in the mail that include reloading equipment. Among the goodies on offer are reloading presses, but since I knew I didn’t need anything more than a single stage press, and also since I assumed that one “O” frame press is as good as another, the debate with “also me” always went in favour of my pension. Now that I have decided that my assumption was wrong, the final debate ended very differently.

Which brings us to this:

This is an RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme, which I picked up at cabelas last night. I had originally intended to get it on Sunday, but I was so convinced by my own logic (okay, just excited) that I decided not to wait.

It is in an entirely different class to the Lee it is replacing, it is beefier, smoother, and there is less play in the parts. As well as resolving the afore mentioned issue, I am hoping this will help me achieve a touch more consistency in my reloads.

Having decided to get a new press, I had briefly looked into the possibilities of turret presses, and progressives, but none of them really suit what I’m doing. 

I have been casting curious glances at the Rock Chucker for a while, but since until now I didn’t need a new press, I avoided thinking about it too seriously. However, as soon as I decided to bite the bullet and get a new press, the “Chucker” quickly leaped to the top of my list. 

Various things contributed to my decision: it was already discounted, RCBS are running a rebate scheme that I hope will give me at least $20 back, and for a bonus Cabelas (whose price was the same as on Amazon, impressive!) were offering $25 off my first purchase if I opened an account, so I did (I didn’t know that till I got there, which is why it was a bonus). With all the discounts applied I think the press will have cost me under $100, which makes my elaborate justification even less worthy of close scrutiny.

So all in all I think my conscience is clear, my pension is fine, and my reloading bench looks the business. 

Now if I can just find the time to use it…