Happy New Year

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This is my favourite photo from the few days I spent deer hunting in Wisconsin last November, and although it looks like it could have been edited, it wasn’t. The weather was cold, but not desperately so. There was snow on the ground, but not too much. And it was fairly overcast for much of the week we were there, as you can see.

Although I went to Wisconsin with the plan of hunting from my climbing tree stand, that actually never happened. On the first morning, before Jason arrived from Minnesota, I elected to head out to one of the locations we had scouted a few months earlier. But when I got there, there was obvious evidence of previous hunter activity on the trail and I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was disturbed by hunters making their own way down the path. It was also apparent that these guys perceived this path as just an access route, so that was the end of that plan.

Jason arrived at lunch time, and since it was clear that we didn’t have a clue what to do, we decided to head out, find new areas, and hope for the best.

The area we headed for first was a place we had tried, and failed, to access on our scouting trip. However this time we approached it from a different direction, and hiked in from the main road. One of the interesting things about this area is that there is a small population of Elk (American Elk that is, not European Elk which Americans call Moose) that is part of a repopulation program. Which meant we frequently encountered very large tracks, and impressive piles of droppings that could only come from Elk, but very few tracks and dropping from animals we could legally hunt.

On that first day we decided to spend our time hiking around looking for likely hunting spots. This made a lot of sense, but I was wearing clothing intended to keep me warm while sitting still for hours on end, so after not very long at all I was a hot mess (as you can see below).

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The following day we decided to use Jason’s truck to drive back into the area, but we came in via a track that must have been intended for snowmobiles, because the truck barely fitted through, and we were very glad to have 4 wheel drive more than once. We made it to the spot, parked, and hiked our way in, but what had looked promising on a satellite photo turned out to be very far from that in reality. What we had interpreted as a grassy meadow with a gentle ridge running along one side, was in fact a bog, and the ridge was covered in such dense foliage that I couldn’t find a single spot that offered a view longer than about 20 yards. When I stepped off the ridge into the open bog I was immediately at risk of sinking into an icy sludge, meaning even if I saw a deer in the open and shot it, I would most likely be unable to retrieve it safely. That morning was probably the closest I came to seeing deer that week, because as I was stumbling through the dense brush, I heard a number of them running away.

After wasting a couple of hours on that fruitless exercise, we made our way back to the truck and decided to just drive around, stopping every now and again to explore the area beside the track. It was on one such exploration that I took the picture at the top of the page.

The most memorable moment of the week came as I was making my way slowly through a recently clear cut area. I was carefully stepping through the branches and debris that covered the ground, when I heard a noise and looked up and came face to face with some local wildlife. Crossing my path less than 20 yards away was a family of Bobcats. They didn’t seem to notice me at first, which was odd because I was standing out in the open and wearing bright orange, but when they did they froze, hissed at me, and then ran away. I have never seen a large cat in the wild, nor really expected to, so that was pretty amazing. And despite my otherwise lack of deer success, on the basis of wildlife encounters in general, I count that week a success.

We continued to hunt like that until Wednesday night, the day before thanksgiving, then Jason had to head home. That night the rest of my wife’s family arrived and so I switched from hunting mode to family holiday mode, and with the exception of a rifle propped in the corner of the cabin in case a deer walked past outside, that was the end of my 2016 hunting season.

 

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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.

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.

.35 Whelen project

Last time I reported on this subject I was waiting for after hunting season to find a bargain rifle that could supply the action for my build. I went to some pawn shops, and did a bunch of looking online, and I was about to settle for a rifle for sale through the Gander Mountain website, when I decided at the last minute to stop into the actual store and see what they actually had on the shelf. And to my surprise there was a Stevens 200 in .30-06 on the shelf for $250, a good bit cheaper than the one online, so I bought it.

The stock was a cheap plastic one that I couldn’t have used if I wanted to because the barrel channel was too small, but I didn’t want to because it was cheap and nasty. When I first saw the rifle I thought it had touches of rust all over it, but when I came back after the now standard wait for the background check to clear, I found out it was just red fuzz stuck to oily spots. It must have lived in a red fuzz lined case in a previous life. When I took it apart at home and gave it a wipe down, it turned out to be in much better condition than I expected.

The next step was to switch out the barrel. The barrel on a Savage 110/Stevens 200 (same gun different name) is attached with a lock nut that allows for simple changes. My new barrel came with a set of headspace gauges and a wrench to deal with the lock nut. The old barrel was a bit tricky to remove, but after a few false starts and rethinks it eventually came off. Here is a picture I took just after the barrel came off.

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You can see the lock nut still on the barrel, and the action on the stool. The new barrel went on easily after that and it only took a few attempts to get the headspace spot on.

When I installed a sight base I discovered that the recoil lug, which sits between the action and the lock nut, was slightly high and so prevented the sight base from fitting properly. So I trimmed the base down and chamfered the edge and it fit.

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I stuck it to the action with red Loctite so it will never move again.

I decided to go for a synthetic stock and was about to drop some dough on one made by Hogue, until I did a quick search on Amazon and found a slightly used one for half the price. The colour wasn’t exactly my first choice, but the price was right, so I won’t complain. It came with nice fat recoil pad that will come in useful. Here is a photo of the project so far.

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The stock is covered in a rubber material which makes it nice and grippy.

George also gave me a supply of really old .30-06 brass that I had to anneal before I could expand the necks to .35. I built a special tool out of an old electric screwdriver that turns the brass in the flame of my burner to get an even heat.

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I annealed 100 cases and expanded the necks, then loaded up some ammo. I made one with a 170gr .357 pistol bullet and a small charge of fast burning powder for plinking. It’s a really fun load with almost no recoil.

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I also made a load with 200gr Hornady round nose and a proper charge of a slower burning powder.

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Then I mounted a scope and took it out to shoot.

The recoil isn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but it looks like it will need some work to find a good load. It grouped about four inches at 100 yards the first time I shot it, and when I shot it at 300 yards on the electronic targets it was only just keeping them on the paper. But the charge was just a starting load, and the round nose bullets are pretty poor ballistically, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The rifle is really fun to shoot and with the synthetic stock it’s pretty light too. I think it will make an excellent hunting rifle and I’m looking forward to getting the loads figured out so I can take it hunting in November.

Here is a video of my first shot with the rifle. I was shooting the reduced load so that’s why there’s very little recoil. I was slightly nervous because I’ve never built a rifle myself before, but it all went well as you can see.

One thing that turned up after shooting the rifle is that the fired cases have slightly protruding primers. After I double checked that the headspace was still good and asked around, it was determined that the resizing die might be pushing the case shoulder back too much. I will adjust the position of the die next time I use it to see if I can resolve the issue.

Hunting again, and again, and again.

Hunting selfie 2014

Hunting selfie 2014

Last November I was lucky enough to be invited to go hunting with one of the people on my program. I was really excited as I haven’t had a chance to hunt deer since I got to the US, and my rifle looks sooo pretty now! What deer could refuse to lay down for it?

Complete rifle 3

Complete rifle 3

Don’t you think? Prettiest gun in the woods I guarantee! I digress…

Before I went hunting I spent some time at my loading bench, and at the range, testing various loads at different distances. I originally used 40gr of N-140 behind a 150gr soft point bullet (.308Win), but I decided that since white tail deer are a bit bigger than my previous quarry, and as I would be sitting in a tree stand (high seat) I wanted to maximise my effective range. So I made up some loads with charges increasing by 1gr of powder from 40gr – 44gr, and then went to the range.

All the loads shot sub-minute at 100yds with little differences between loads (although I would like to think the groups shrank a little with more powder). Unfortunately I forgot my plan and shot everything but some 40gr loads at 100yds and so I was unable to get actual comparaisons at 200yds. However I shot my last 40gr loads at 200yds and was surprised to see the bullet impact about 7 inches below point of aim, and that was after shooting 1 inch high at 100yds. So since the 44gr shot well at 100 I decided it was safe to make up a batch to go hunting with, and it definitely wouldn’t shoot 7 inches low at 200yds.

The Great White hunters, and the Lakeratz - November 2014

The Great White hunters, and the Lakeratz – November 2014

Here we all are, from left are Amber and Jason White, then myself and Amanda in front of Amber’s uncle’s cabin in northern Minnesota. This was on the first weekend of hunting.

I had no luck on the first weekend. The season opened on the Saturday morning, so we all woke before sunrise and walked to our stands. The property is about 20 acres and we were spread across it.  As the sun came up I started hearing gun shots all around me (most hunters try to get into the woods for the opening day) and then I heard one close by which I later learned was Jason filling his tag. A little while later I saw the backside of a deer as it ran away from me into the woods, but I was unable to determine sex in the brief glimpse I had and I certainly didn’t have time to point my rifle. At about 11am I gave up and headed back to the cabin for breakfast.

I went out again in mid afternoon until it was too dark to shoot but again saw nothing. I repeated this pattern the next day as well with no success. Also worthy of note is the fact that it was considerably below freezing the whole time and I was wrapped in blankets with two pairs of long johns under my trousers.

View from the stand

View from the stand

This is a photo from my stand. Below is a video I shot.

I returned the next weekend. The temperature got down below zero Fahrenheit that weekend, but luckily I took a sleeping bag with me that I climbed into in the stand. It was awkward, but I was warm. I saw a couple of deer that weekend, but they were a long way away and I again couldn’t determine sex or take a shot.

Then next weekend I returned again but this time I had bought myself some insulated hunting clothing to wear which kept me warm but didn’t limit my movements like the sleeping bag did.

New camouflage 2014 hunting season

New camouflage 2014 hunting season

The orange is my new parka, and the green is my new bib, which comes up to my chest.

I had no success the last weekend either.

In the end I am grateful for the opportunity to hunt, and I felt invigorated by spending so much time in the woods listening and watching. I never got to fire a shot so I will have to wait until November 2015 to find out if my rifle is too pretty for a deer to refuse its charms.

I didn’t go home empty handed though, Amber and Jason were generous enough to give me a leg of their deer which Amanda and I duly chopped up and froze. Below is a picture of some venison steaks we ate recently.

Venison Steaks

Venison Steaks

Until next year….