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.

 

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.

I’m thankful for a 150yd zero.

Back in August I wrote about how the scope on my deer rifle was damaged in transit from the UK (see here for that story), the insurance bought me a new Redfield Revolution 3-9×40 that compared to the original weighs half as much, is much higher quality, and is lacking a lot of useless gimmicks like illuminated reticles and parallax adjustments (not that those things are useless all the time, but for the conditions in which I hunt deer they are not needed).

The deer seasons in the Midwest are usually in October/November time, and although I was keen I was unable to go. I was however invited to shoot at The Compound over Thanksgiving and I decided to use the opportunity to zero the new scope on my deer rifle.

I had already mounted the scope and bore sighted it, but I needed ammunition. I was short of time and so it was tempting to run out and buy some generic factory loads, however I have always shot my own reloads through that rifle and I was unwilling to change that. So in the week before Thanksgiving I rushed around to make it happen.

I was already in possession of powder and primers which I had ordered on the internet. I didn’t want to use my match Lapua cases for hunting in case I lost one, and target bullet heads are inappropriate for hunting, so I had ordered some cheaper Winchester cases and Hornady bullet heads on-line to be delivered to a store. Despite having ordered them more than a month previously they weren’t available for pick-up until the Monday before Thanksgiving and we were leaving Minneapolis to visit Amanda’s family on the Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon found me driving north out of Minneapolis for the 45 minute drive to Cabela’s in Rodgers Minnesota where my stuff had been delivered. Unfortunately in my distraction I went the wrong way and 45 minutes became a hour and 15, but I made it there and got back okay. After a break for dinner I dug my reloading bench and equipment out of the pile of boxes and packages that contain many of our worldly possessions, and settled down to assemble 50 rounds before bedtime.

*The load I use for hunting is not a scorcher, but it is accurate and has accounted for every one of the seven deer I have taken since I began hunting. I use 40 grains of Vihtavouri N-140 in a full-length sized .308 Win case with a CCI benchrest primer and a 150 grain Hornady BTSP Interlock seated to 2.800 inches. I have used this load on every size of deer from full grown Fallow to the naturally diminutive Muntjac, and in every case the deer was on the ground within a short distance with no unnecessary meat damage.*

At 1.30am I had all my rounds assembled and my kit packed away.

The drive into Wisconsin was unremarkable and Thanksgiving was a relaxing break from my first semester back at school, I did a lot of napping as well as the obligatory eating and drinking.

On Friday Amanda and I drove over to The Compound where we met up with Jim Brey as well as Leslie and Ryan who were also down for the holiday. Ryan had never shot a gun before so Jim was going to give him a go as well.

We set up at my preferred zero distance of 150 yards, this allows me to aim dead on out to 200 yards and thus minimises errors caused by misjudging range. Ryan had a go first and got a credible 4 inch group with a 30-06 rifle, then it was my turn. Jim has a very nice shooting bench with a gun rest that made the whole process very simple.

The author zeroing his .308 rifle at 150 yards

The author zeroing his .308 rifle at 150 yards

My first shots were almost off the bottom of the target and about six inches right, but a few clicks got me towards the middle. I couldn’t quite see the point of impact through the scope so Jim ran me down to the target on the back of his four wheeler (quad bike for my UK readers) and I was able to get it into the middle. We had a short break for me to warm my fingers and Ryan took the opportunity to make some noise with a 9mm. When my fingers were back to operating temperature I shot a final group to see what could be done. I fired one shot into the corner of the target to warm the barrel then I fired three for the group.

The author with his zero target

The author with his zero target

I achieved a 5/8 inch group centre to centre (see pic below), which I thought wasn’t bad for 150 yards. The target was the same one we had been using all day and patching with tape, so it was a bit ratty, but I decided to keep it anyway.

three round group at 150yds

three round group at 150yds

Breaking out of the beachhead.

I recently learned that the shipment that includes my guns has arrived in the USA. It is currently (as far as I know) waiting to be released by customs.

The timescales for delivery vary from as soon as a week to almost six weeks.

This could be one of the longest times I have gone without some serious shooting for over a decade. I have been restricted to plinking with a decrepit BB gun belonging to my father-in-law.

My father -in-law’s BB gun.

I tried to shoot a group this morning to try and improve the zero. I ‘achieved’ a 4 inch group (from around 10yds). The centre of the group was around 2 inches high and maybe 1 inch right of the point of aim. I am considering tailoring my ‘loads’ (read pumps) to see if I can achieve greater accuracy, but it may be a lost cause.

With any luck I will have a chance to shoot with some friend in the next few days.

 

‘left-out-in-the-yard’ sale

I arrived in the USA about two weeks ago and so far it has been good. This weekend I have been camping: I got a couple of ticks and a lot of mosquito bites, and someone let me drive their Ford Mustang….which was nice.

Also this weekend we partook of that popular American tradition of going to garage sales. For those not familiar, a garage sale (also known as a yard sale or a rummage sale) consists of collecting everything you don’t want/need anymore onto tables in your garage/driveway/front yard, putting more or less reasonable prices on them, and then waiting for people to come and buy it. We must have gone to 15. We managed to find a few bits of stuff we liked, mostly priced between .25 cents and 3 dollars. I found a wood working plane and some saw horse brackets, and there was some kitchen stuff.

At one place which was more of a barn than a garage, I was wandering around looking at tables of rusted screwdrivers and things when I came across a table of guns. I wasn’t expecting to see this, and from what other people said it is not a normal thing to see at a garage sale. There were a couple of BB guns, a 12 bore shotgun, a 20 bore shotgun with a second rifled barrel, and a .243. The shotguns were of a good make and the rifle was a Savage. I don’t remember what all the prices were, but the 20 bore was priced at $300. The guns didn’t appear to be in particularly good condition, they had surface rust on the barrels and the woodwork was worn. The shotguns were a good make, but I didn’t think that would justify the price considering the outward condition, you have got to wonder what the insides look like.

There was also some ammunition on sale, boxes of shotgun shells for $5 a box, two boxes of loose .32 & .22LR. I was in a large shop the other day where I saw some ammunition (stacked on the shelves like loaves of bread, some things will take more getting used to than others), and they were selling 12bore no. 7.5 shot for just under $6 a box, so I wasn’t going to buy what looked like vintage ammunition for almost that. I ended up buying a ‘Skill’ jigsaw for $5, but I made sure it worked first.

So far as I know my guns are still in a warehouse somewhere in the UK with the rest of our stuff. I think I will wait till they get here and I have a better idea what I am going to be doing before I let myself get tempted by garage sale guns.

Follow up

Since I wrote this post I have visited a large superstore and seen the same brand of 20 bore with the same accessories in brand new condition for less than $300. I am vindicated in my skepticism. Also since I wrote that post, I have been to a much better garage sale where we bought a pair of goofy side tables for $6.

Just because it is being sold in a garage sale doesn’t mean it is cheap.

A Wedding in Wisconsin: Part 2

It has been an occasional pleasure on our trips back to the USA to go shooting with some friends at their home, often referred to as the ‘compound’. On these trip I would be allowed to get my hands on all sorts of fun things that don’t get seen so much these days in the UK.

On one particularly special occasion in 2009, Amanda and I happened to be back in Wisconsin for the purpose of getting married and as a present to us (although I suspect I got the most enjoyment from it) we were invited to shoot and have our pick of the guns available.

A beautiful revolver in .45 long.

A beautiful revolver in .45 long.

I chose a selection including a shotgun for some clay pigeons, a .30-06 rifle for some hi-power shenanigans, and a couple of pistols including a particularly nice one I had been shown on a previous trip but never had the chance to shoot. This belonged to the grandfather Jim, and was a beautiful nickel plated revolver in .45 long.

When I originally saw this pistol it hadn’t yet been fired, and so a few years later I asked if I could shoot it assuming it would by now have been fired. This turned out not to be the case and so I was given the pleasure of putting the first shots through it.

The first time I came to shoot at the compound, I was shown the best use yet for McDonalds happy meal toys, which is as a target for firearms. They dance and jump very satisfyingly when shot, although they take far more abuse than I feel is strictly necessary as the pseudo henchmen of a global mega corporation.

Other fun games involve filling plastic bottles with coloured liquid for dramatic effects when shot. The best effect is achieved with a hi-power rifle, hence the .30-06. I once tried shooting one of the toys with a .30-06, but it was unfortunately a bit of a dissapointment, the rounds passing straight through without moving the toy at all. I had to put the gun down and have a close look to be sure I had actually hit it. This also happened the first time I tried to shoot the aforementioned bottle of coloured water, my shots were going slightly high and were passing through the bottle just above the level of the water. A small adjustment of aim achieved the desired results.

Other pistols I have had the pleasure to shoot on these trips include a .357 Magnum and a .44 Magnum which almost tipped me over backwards with the first shot. Below is a picture of yours truly hitting the mark, not always a sure thing.

Shooting bottles of water

My friend Ben had made the trip across the sea to attend the wedding so he had a go with the guns as well. Below is a couple of pictures of him in action.

Ben shooting clays

Ben shooting clays

I am looking forward to lots more fun shoots at the compound. Hopefully soon I will be the one supplying the guns.

Ben shooting a revolver

Ben shooting a revolver