I don’t know anything about Ernest Hemingway

I have been thinking about Ernest Hemingway recently, because I think I would probably enjoy reading his books. I don’t know that I will, but since, as I understand it, he often writes about his hunting adventures, there ought to be a good chance. I have even looked up a few of his books on Amazon, but I always get a bit confused and never buy anything. One of his most famous books is about an old guy in Cuba chasing a tuna fish (or some other sort of sport fish)—”The old man and the sea” I think it’s called—sounds a bit like Moby-Dick with better weather. And although I quite enjoyed Moby Dick when I read it, I’m not sure I’m into fishing enough to risk my first Hemingway on it. Another book I thought might be a promising place to start was called Hemingway on hunting (probably), but according to the reviews it’s a compilation of passages from a bunch of different books, padded out with commentary from people who knew him, or at least thought they did. I think I want my first Hemingway to be an authentic Hemingway, not a sort of literary clip show.

The first time Hemingway appears in my memory is one of the times I hung out with a guy called Mike. He was married to a friend of my wife at the time, and we got together during one of our trips to the US (we were living in Scotland at the time) to shoot some guns and catch up. It might even have been the first time I met mike, maybe. Mike is into duck hunting in a big way, and I think Hemingway was also, which might explain some of Mike’s interest in the man. Mike had a sort of study-slash-man-cave in the condo they lived in that I think he referred to as his Hemingway study, and that stuck in my mind. I think I only put the duck hunting thing together later, or maybe even just a few weeks ago…or possibly even just now. I have been meaning to try and get back in touch with mike since I moved to the states, partly because he was a pretty great guy to hang out with, and I like people like that, but also because he was seriously into duck hunting, and I think I’d like to try and get seriously into duck hunting as well. I even had his number in my phone for a while, but the idea of calling people out of the blue makes me want to hide under a table in a dark room, so it hasn’t happened and since I have now lost his number it probably never will. The reasoning behind my decision that Mike is seriously into duck hunting came from several observations: he owned a dog that was a trained retriever (no small thing), when shooting clay pigeons he made sure to try a few that approached from behind and over his head (a duck style manoeuvre I believe), but mostly I decided he was serious about ducks because he owned a 10 gauge shotgun just for shooting at duck. 10 gauge shotguns are serious shotguns, if someone buys a 10 gauge shotgun specially for something, they have to be serious. If I ever go after ducks it will be with a 12 gauge, and I might even use 3 inch shells, but I wouldn’t use a 10 gauge. This either makes me a wimp (entirely possible), or maybe just not that serious about ducks. That might change if I ever get a chance to go. The serious part, not the wimp part. That probably won’t change.

I was listening to an episode of the Meateater podcast recently. I don’t much go for podcasts if I’m honest, they mostly just irritate me unless they’re about science and I’m driving a long way. I think it’s something about the pacing and the sound effects or something. But I can listen to the Meateater podcast since it’s mostly just Steve Rinella talking: and if hunting can be called a religion, then he is it’s prophet, and I listen when he speaks. He wrote an especially good book on Buffalo, called “American Buffalo”, that made me very interested in Buffalo but not in a hunting way, because he wrote about that in his book and it seemed like something that was probably more fun to read about than do. I saw buffalo, or Bison I suppose, when Amanda and I camped out in the Badlands national park in South Dakota. We were driving down the unpaved road to the campsite and a Bison-alo was standing in the middle of the road. We stopped the car to wait for it to move, then a local came by in his pickup truck and just careered straight past us and the Bison-alo in a cloud of dust and gravel like it happened every day, which I suppose it did. It also convinced the Bison to leave the road so we could continue on our way, which was convenient. We got even closer to a Bison the next time we camped in the Badlands. We took some Scottish friends there for something to do, and when we woke in the morning there were two just outside the campsite. I observed from a distance of about 75 yards, standing behind our car. Others didn’t, but the Bison didn’t seem to care. Steve Rinella has this TV show about hunting and fishing called Meateater, and he does a podcast too where he invites friends and experts to sit and chat about hunting and conservation and things, and they are generally very interesting, especially when I’m at work and all I have to do all day is paint and sand things in a gallery with a lot of white walls and no windows. On this one episode the conversation wandered onto the subject of Hemingway because it was being recorded in the town of Ketchum, Idaho, which according to Rinella was where Hemingway lived when he killed himself. The shotgun he did it with was rumoured to have been cut up by a local man at the behest of the family, and then buried in a nearby field. There was some discussion as to the true identity of the gun he used: discovered in the end to be one of Hemingway’s favourites that he had used all over the world: and so it was probably a shame that it was destroyed. Better to fill the barrels with lead and put it under glass for posterity. There aren’t many guns come with a story like that, but perhaps an old gun with a story isn’t as good and a missing gun with a legend.

Hemingway was also something of a drinker I understand. That might be an understatement, but I don’t really know. All I know is people bring alcoholic tributes to his tomb in Ketchum (also learned from the Meateater podcast), which also happens to Jim Morrison in Paris I think, so calling him something of a drinker is probably a safe statement. In the abstract I think there is something kind of romantic in the idea of an alcoholic artist, which probably gets less romantic in direct proportion to your proximity to the artist in question. Being something of an artist myself I will admit to having the occasional bout of envy for those of my peers who can cultivate an honest drug dependency. It adds a certain legitimacy to the lifestyle of the struggling artist everyone likes to imagine when they meet you, and struggling with alcoholism is definitely more romantic than struggling with the gas bill. But since alcoholism and gas bills are not mutually exclusive life experiences, I think I would just as well stick to the gas bill and leave the alcoholism to someone else. I don’t know what was going on in Hemingway’s life to make him drink and ultimately end it, but it was there, and it did, and that’s that.

I heard something said once, it was probably a quote, that a person isn’t dead until the things he started on this earth come to an end. In another way of thinking, you’re alive as long as you’re remembered, and that makes a kind of sense to me. Each of our lives are lived from the perspective of the Plato’s cave that is our grey thinking sponge, and since memories are just another kind of shadow cast on the wall of the cave, a memory of someone is probably a lot more alive than it isn’t. Of course most people alive now don’t have any direct memory of Hemingway, but stories are almost as good, and legends are possibly even better since they are usually a lot more exciting. And since Hemingway, being a celebrated writer, was in a position to create his own legend, it ought to be a pretty good one. And of all the arguments I’ve heard in favour of reading Hemingway, that might be the best one yet.



Yays, Sporting clays!

I got a text from my friend Jason, he is the husband of Amber who is another student on my grad program. I went hunting with them last November. Here is a picture of us all from that trip:

The Great White hunters, and the Lakeratz - November 2014

The Great White hunters, and the Lakeratz – November 2014

He told me he had a day off coming and really wanted to do some shooting. Although I am planning to do some .308 load development I haven’t had a chance to actually produce any loads for testing yet, so I suggested we go clay pigeon shooting.

It’s been maybe two years since I did any clay shooting, and Jason said he has never done any but was keen to so, it was a go.

We went to the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club which is about 30 minutes south of the cities. They have a great set of sporting clay courses that are spread through a woodland. Each stand has a different arrangement of the traps and sometimes multiple positions to shoot from so there is lots of interesting variation.

The system is quite advanced; they give you a card that you place on a terminal at each stand, it is like a pre-charged payment card that permits a certain number of clays to be launched and you pay at the end when you are finished. Last time I went there we couldn’t complete our round as we lost the light, but they only charged us for the clays we used, so I am in favour of the system.

Jason and I went about mid morning and the place was quiet so we could take our time. Considering he has never shot at a moving target before he did pretty well, hitting 22/50. His performance improved as we progressed through the stands to the point where he was hitting pairs by the end. I scored 33/50.

I was using my Beretta over & under which I had ported a little while ago. This was the first time I had fired more than a few shots from it, so I was interested to see how it felt. The recoil is still robust since the gun is light, but I didn’t feel so much of it on my face so I’m willing to believe the barrel flip has been reduced. I still had a slightly tender spot on my cheek afterwards, but I didn’t notice at the time. It was a hot day and so I was only wearing a light shirt under my vest, thus my shoulder carried the evidence of the day.

Bruised shoulder from sporting clays

Bruised shoulder from sporting clays

Jason was using a pump action shotgun that is quite new and thus a bit stiff. It required a firm action to cycle cleanly, but it will loosen up with use. After he got used to it it didn’t seem to limit him more than any pump would have, and then only on fast pairs where a quick second shot is most necessary.

After we finished we had a beer and something to eat in the restaurant. The place reminds me of a classy golf club, but then sporting clays is sometimes described as golf with a gun, so maybe it should.

After looking at the menu I tried to order a bowl of soup, but was informed that soup is only served in winter. So I ordered the deep fried cheesecake with vanilla ice cream instead, not the healthy option that the soup was meant to be, but good for the soul at least.

A fun day and one that is certain to be repeated.

Do I need that, or does it just look good?

I have a shotgun, it is a Beretta Black Onyx Over/Under in 12 guage and it is a little bit old. Although in this instance “a little bit old” is actually a good thing because it means I get all the quality of a top end gun but for a lot less cash and I am always happy with that sort of arrangement.

It looks a bit like this:

Beretta 686 Black Onyx

Beretta 686 Black Onyx

This isn’t mine but an image I found online, mine looks very much like this (although perhaps a little bit more used).

I like this gun a lot and have performed very well with it on occasion (48/50 sporting clays), but it has an annoying habit of bruising my cheek. I have never been able to determine if this is down to the way I hold it or how the gun fits me. A while ago I was speaking to an employee of a Cabelas store who suggested I could trade it in for something that would suit me better, but I reasoned that without knowing what was going wrong I would be perfectly capable of repeating the problem with a different gun.

As I said above I like this gun a lot, and since I am also capable of good scores with it I decided that I would seek advice on making it stop hurting me before I did anything drastic like trading it in. I can’t be wrong in thinking it is usually best to understand a problem before you try and fix it.

So I have had this in my mind for a while, but since I am a student there isn’t a lot of spare cash lying around my wallet most of the time. A couple of weeks ago however a rare thing occurred, I managed to sell a painting, and like the smart artist I am I decide to spend some of it on getting my shotgun fixed.

Since this has been in my mind for a while my mind has also been in the internet a lot, and I came to expect a few things from my upcoming meeting with the gunsmith.

In my head it went something like this:

Me: My gun keeps hitting me in the cheek and it hurts.

Gunsmith: Hold it like you”re going to shoot it……..mmmmm…….yes……interesting……

Me: Well?

Gunsmith: The fit is wrong but if I remove a small sliver of the stock here it will all be better!

Me: Great! Have at it!


Yesterday I met the gunsmith and it actually went like this:

Me: My gun keeps hitting me in the cheek and it hurts.

Gunsmith: Hold it like you”re going to shoot it……..mmmmm…….yes……interesting……

Me: Well?

Gunsmith: The fit looks fine (explanation), so adjusting the shape of the stock wont make a difference. I could install a recoil reducer.

Me: What’s that?

Gunsmith: (Explanation)

Me: Sounds reasonable.

Gunsmith: But I see your stock is hollow so that won’t work. Then the other option is porting the barrel.

Me: What’s that?

Gunsmith: (Explanation)

Ported Barrels

Ported Barrels

Me: Sounds reasonable, have at it!

*Two hours later in front of a computer and the results of an internet search on the subject of barrel porting*

Me: Hmmmm!


I have never really given much thought to the subject of barrel porting but after a brief search on the subject it seems like opinions are split on the matter. (very) roughly 1/3 – It works pretty well, I have seen the benefit. 1/6 – It may work but the effect will be slight. 1/2 – It can have only negative practical effects and is largely a silly fad/marketing gimmick.

Needless to say this left me feeling uncomfortable. “What am I doing to my gun?” I groaned to myself at a low moment. Later however after an opportunity to consider the complete picture I decide a few things. 1: I wanted to get work done because I didn’t really want to sell the gun. 2: It might work!  3: I shoot clays for fun not competition so what do I care if people think it is a fad. 4: I actually think it looks pretty cool.

Having considered my conversation with the gunsmith I have come up with a theory to explain my bruised cheek. My gun is a light sporter with short barrels, it is light so it can be carried around a field all day in the pursuit of game and the short barrels make it quicker to swing onto a fast bird. As a result of the lightness it recoils more heavily than a gun designed for clays that would usually have longer barrels and a heavier stock. In Scotland I had learned to use 3/4 oz loads (pretty light) and wasn’t getting the bruising (here I haven’t seen anything less than 1 1/8 oz loads), added to the gunsmith’s opinion that my stance and fit are fine I am inclined to believe him when he tells me he thinks recoil is the issue. Therefore, despite the on-line doom-sayers, I am inclined to believe that barrel porting may actually offer some sort of solution for my problem.

I took the gun into the gunsmith yesterday and I had a phone call today to say the work was done. I will probably be picking it up on Saturday. I may get a chance to shoot it next week.


Clay pigeons and real pheasants.

Two weekends ago we were lucky enough to have Amanda’s sister and her partner stay with us for a few days. I always enjoy spending time with Michelle and Curt, plus Curt is always enthusiastic to do a bit of shooting. I took the opportunity and invited him to join me shooting clays.

Flashback – In January of this year, before Amanda and I started packing for our American adventure, Michelle and Curt made the trip across the pond and visited us in Glasgow. While they were with us we decided to give them a flying tour of the UK, destinations included the Falkirk Wheel, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, and Bank Farm to see my parents.

Amanda, Michelle, and Curt at Stonehenge.

Amanda, Michelle, and Curt at Stonehenge.

I had been intending for a while to have a go at some pheasants at Bank Farm, and with that in mind had bought and carried south some appropriate ammunition to use in my dad’s (now mine) shotgun.

Curt was eager to go and made no complaint when I suggested an early start, so early one morning we got up and wandered out into the cold fields. I have almost no experience going after pheasants, and so after an hour of wandering around the fields and a dozen rounds fired ineffectively at all sorts of winged beasts including wood pigeon, we had nothing but a ringing in our ears to show for our efforts so far.

I decide to hand the gun off to Curt and change tactics.

This time, instead of the quiet efforts we had made so far, I decided to make as much noise as possible. Curt wandered along one side of a thick hedgerow, I jumped around on the other side throwing sticks and stones around, and out pops a pheasant. Curt duly fires off a couple of shots and the deed was done. It transpires that Curt didn’t have that much experience with shotguns, but his two shots were 100% more effective than my previous twelve so I won’t say any more about that.

Curt with his pheasant. Jan 2012

Curt with his pheasant. Jan 2012

When we got back to Glasgow I extracted the meat and Curt worked his culinary magic and the result was delicious.

Back to the present time – So Curt and I went shooting Clays at the Metro Gun Club on the 28th October. Given the choice he chose to use my Beretta over & under, so I decided to get a bit more practice with my new Weatherby pump-action.

Things went much the same as the last time I went, but this time I figured out some things. We only had 25 clays each, and I discovered that although the clays come from eight directions, it turns out that it is not random. There is a board in front of each stand which tells you where the clays will come from. I could have used that information the last time.

Curt started out strong getting his first three in a row, it took me a little longer to get up to speed. We ended with Curt getting 8/25, and I got 14/25. On the last stand I got the first four without taking a second shot and I really felt like I was finding my groove. Curt had a good time and hopefully he will be able to join me again soon.

This weekend I hope to go again with some people from my course. It should be fun.

Scorecard 28th October

Scorecard 28th October

It’s Sporting Clays Jim, but not as we know it!

Today marks a watershed in my American shooting adventure. Today, for the first time since arriving in the USA, I fired a real gun. I didn’t fire it well, but at least I fired it. The last time I shot sporting clays was in April and I had a pretty good day, but that was six months ago.

Sporting Clays Scorecard from Glasgow in April 2012

Sporting Clays Scorecard from Glasgow in April 2012

I drove off at lunchtime in a very Glaswegian rain shower, heading for the Metro Gun Club just north of Minneapolis. I actually had to go to the next exit past the one I wanted as I had to go to Fleet Farm to pick up some elasticated bandages for Amanda, she twisted her ankle last night. The bandages are actually meant for horses, but they do the same job for a fraction of the price they would be in a pharmacy.

With four bandages bought (two white, one pink and one yellow), I headed back down the road to go to the range. It looked fairly busy, but I think most of the shooting was going on in the indoor pistol range.

I have been looking at the website for a while and had determined that it would cost me $13 for a round of 25 clay targets. In Scotland I was in the habit of shooting 50 clays in a round so I paid up for two rounds of 25. The staff are very pleasant and the place is a larger concern than I am used to. It has a shop and a large area with tables and chairs; I should have spent some time exploring but I was rather keen to be shooting now that the opportunity was at hand. The girl took my money and told me I would be on field #5 and someone would be out shortly to keep score and release the clays for me.

I got my bits together, loaded my pockets with 50 shells (for 50 targets, as I was used to doing), and picked up the guns. I had brought my Beretta double and the new Weatherby pump I recently acquired, which I hoped to try out. I wandered over toward the field. It looked much like all the others in sight, five shooting stands arrayed in a semicircle with a small shed behind, flanked by two buildings, with a tower behind and a small construction about 15 yards in front. This was not what I am used to seeing. At the range I used in Glasgow there would be five stands that looked like bus shelters arrayed along a path though a scrubby woodland, in each of which I would shoot five identical pairs of clays before moving on to the next. I stood feeling slightly perplexed waiting for my scorer to arrive.

After a few minutes a girl came up, took my score sheet and entered the small shed. She explained that I should start in the left most stand where I would shoot at five targets and then move to the next stand in line to the right and so on. I asked and she confirmed that I would get a chance to see where the targets went before I shot, but instead of the single pair I was expecting, I saw six or so targets coming from all angles, one at a time. Still thinking in pairs despite knowing that five does not divide by two I decided to carry on and see what happens.

So taking up my version of the stance, flat cap angled to keep the misty rain off my glasses, I give the word. “Pull”…a target appears, I fire, I miss, I wait, expecting a second while the unblemished first sinks to the floor unharmed. The girl calls over “you can take two shots at each target”….and I realise I didn’t bring enough ammo.

Nevertheless, I persevere. The system it seems is a series of single targets at each of which you are allowed two shots. The targets can come from any position. Each round therefore requiring up to a maximum of 50 shells. I didn’t always fire two shots, sometimes I hit with the first, other times I didn’t bother wasting a second, more often I missed with both.

At the beginning of the second round, after I had run back to the truck to get the extra box of shells I had brought and ditched my jacket, I decided to try out the Weatherby. It is a longer gun and the pump handle forces the left hand further forward than I am used to. I hit the first target, then two more of the next four. At first I keep forgetting that I need to pump to reload, then I remember too late, and the new position is making my arm ache. I miss all the targets at the second stand and decide to revert to the Beretta for the remaining 15 targets. My pockets are getting light and a slight confusion caused by switching to a pump-action then back to a double barrel means I keep tugging on the forend in an attempt to reload before the second shot. I run out of ammo with three targets to go and only having hit two more targets with the Beretta.

Sporting Clays score card from Minneapolis in October 2012

Sporting Clays score card from Minneapolis in October 2012

Room to improve, but at least I have broken my fast, and despite my score I had a great day.

I can almost smell the gun-smoke (in iambic pentameter)

I am two weeks into my MFA (Master of Fine Arts), and I have been doing a fair amount of reading and writing. Some of that reading was about poetry and that inspired me to get a bit more creative with my writing.

What follows is my latest instalment…in iambic pentameter (with photos and links).

I knew to shoot I must a car to buy,
or truck with space for deer and four wheel drive?
The list of craig did know the place to go,
A man called Mitch, black truck, very gung ho!

Some cash exchanged, now ours to drive and thrash,
But tires it needs, ball joints and lights, much cash!
Car wash and clean, now looks a darn sight better,
and indicates and lights the plate of letter.

98 Dodge Dakota (aka The Art Dozer)

98 Dodge Dakota (aka The Art Dozer)

Then to the barber Friday I did go,
to trim my hair and find out what he knows.
A pump shotgun he had for sale unused,
for turkey, ducks, and clays it would turn to.


Today a trip was made to Mills Fleet Farm.
A store for horses, sheep and cows and barn.
For there they have a lot of guns to show,
and hides and clothes and lots of gun ammo.

Twelve bore, one ounce, six bucks for twenty five,
will help me get some clay dust in my eyes.
Perhaps next week I’ll get to break my fast,
Report, recoil, gunsmoke, some fun at last!

No shooting, just (web) surfing.

Things are much the same. I have still not done any shooting, although I am starting to perceive of a time in the near-ish future when I will. I have submitted my claim for the damaged items in my shipping, but have yet to hear anything about that, fingers remain crossed.

Although I am busy with the rapidly approaching start of my Masters degree I have begun thinking about replacing all the ammunition that I was forced to leave behind when I left Scotland. On the whole I think ammunition is cheaper here. The components for reloading certainly are cheaper, although not necessarily the brands I was using before, namely Lapua.

With cases it is possible to get some very cheap stuff, but I doubt it would all perform, and it is not immediately obvious what the direct alternatives to Lapua are at the match level of quality. So I cannot determine what the options are. That said the Lapua cases are only a bit more expensive than some of the stuff I am seeing (which may imply that those are the alternatives) and with the consideration of case volume variation between brands it may just pay to buy what I know.

Bullet heads are a little different. Here the Lapua Scenar I am used to is significantly more expensive than the obvious alternatives such as  Sierra Match King and Hornady A-Max that I know of. I know a bunch of people I shot with in Scotland used those bullet heads so I would be happy to try them out. When I am a bit closer to buying I will make enquiries of people who may be able to give me more advice.

The other issue is finding a source. In Scotland I used to buy from a couple of shooters who bought in bulk then sold on at very competitive rates compared to high street and on-line retailers. So far I have seen some good prices on-line (except for the hazardous materials handling surcharge for powder) but need to make enquiries to see where the people who know buy from.

On the subject of shotgun ammunition; in Scotland I was enjoying shooting clays with 21gram (3/4 ounce) 12 gauge loads. They were very nice to shoot with, and since I’m not in it for world records it is nice if I can avoid a broken shoulder. From the few places I have been to so far, the most common weight for clays seems to be 1-1/8 ounces or about 32 grams. 50 rounds of that would leave me without the use of my arm for a week, based on previous experience. I do have a recoil pad that I can add to my shotgun, but it changes the fit of the gun. I know 3/4 ounce loads do exist but I am yet to learn where it can be bought in this area.

I am confident I can get Lapua Center-X at a good price here so I am actually not worried about that.

If you read this and have any related suggestions feel free to comment. I would appreciate any pointers.