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.

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 one

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.

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….

 

A stock that is anything but stock…

So a few years back I decided to take up deer hunting, and since a hunter needs a rifle I got myself a rifle.

When I first met the rifle that would become my deer rifle it was in the form of a target rifle.  It belonged to Kelvinside Academy who were looking to reduce the number of full bore rifles they owned. I had a look through their selection and settled on one with an Interarms Mk. X action chambered in .308Win. I made this choice because it had an internal magazine, I could see the stock was good although in need of modification, and the action was in good condition and already drilled and tapped for scope bases.

Below are a series of pictures of the stock as I found it.

Stock as received left view

Stock as received left view

Stock as received end view.

Stock as received end view.

Stock as received bottom view

Stock as received bottom view

Stock as received side view

Stock as received side view

Thanks to Border Barrels, the Schultz and Larson 1:14 barrel was cut down to 23 inches and threaded for a moderator. Charles (The Oracle) helped me mount my scope and bases. David, my friend from Bearsden rifle club, took the stock to work with him and cut off the excess wood that I didn’t need. That process is documented in the pictures below.

Cutting down the stock 1

Cutting down the stock 1

Cutting down the stock 2

Cutting down the stock 2

Cutting down the stock 3

Cutting down the stock 3

Cutting down the stock 4

Cutting down the stock 4

Cutting down the stock 5

Cutting down the stock 5

I then finished the stock with various planes, shaves, and sand paper, and then coated with Birchwood Casey’s Tru-Oil. Below is a picture of the stock during the long process of sanding.

Finishing the stock

Finishing the stock

The tru-Oil gave the stock a beautiful appearance, as can be seen in the photo below, but the one thing that I couldn’t do, and I never tried to do, was checkering. And so the stock remained plain, but no less successful for it.

Rifle and deer

Rifle and deer

I have taken seven deer with this rifle in the UK, and it is clearly capable of very decent accuracy. The group in the following picture was shot at 100 yards on the Border Barrels zero range in the Scottish Borders (apologies for the blur), the coin is a two pence piece that is around an inch across.

Zero group

Zero group

When I moved to the USA this rifle came with me (minus the moderator). The original scope was damaged in transit, and apart from the one trip out to zero the new scope the rifle has languished in my gun cabinet. Until now…

A couple of months ago I was reading a shooting magazine and happened upon a rifle review. I forget which rifle was being reviewed, but the thing that jumped out at me was the mention of laser cut checkering. I didn’t know that could be done until I read that, and as it happens I have access to a laser cutter through my school and a willing tech who enjoys a new challenge.

So I came up with a design, and although I mention the word checkering I very early on decided that that was not going to be the right description of the outcome. A short internet search came up with some simple line drawings of deer antlers and a few hours battling editing software resulted in a pleasing design.

Antler Interlock design

Antler Interlock design

It is based upon the outlines of a Fallow deer antler and a Whitetail deer antler, and I designed it so it would interlock and repeat. At this point my expertise ran out and I passed it along to the aforementioned willing tech, Anthony. Below is a photo of him working his magic.

Anthony converting the file.

Anthony converting the file.

Anthony needed to convert the file from the jpeg that I provided into a vector file that the machine could understand. Once that was done we performed test cuts on one of the offcuts from when the stock was originally converted (sometimes it is good to be a hoarder). Below are photos of the tests. The first was just the outline as per my original design, but it was clear upon handling that this would not provide any significant grip advantage, which is the point of checkering and one of the immediate goals of this project.

Test One

Test One

For the second test it was decided to fill in the outline, and this proved much more effective as a gripping pattern.

Test Two

Test Two

The third test was the same as the second except we decided to cut it a little deeper and this further improved the grip.

Test Three

Test Three

I subsequently used these test cuts to test the finishes that I might apply. The first and third are highlighted with Chinese drawing ink, and the second is filled with graphite. All three were subsequently coated with linseed oil.

Below is a sequence of images of the machine setup and the results.

Ready in the cutter bed.

Ready in the cutter bed.

First look.

First look.

Grip finished.

Grip finished.

Forearm finished.

Forearm finished.

I decided on the Chinese ink to highlight the etching with a final coat of linseed oil.

I am pleased with the outcome. I now not only have a remarkably accurate hunting rifle, I also have a particularly good looking one.

Complete rifle 3

Complete rifle 3

Complete rifle 2

Complete rifle 2

Complete rifle 1

Complete rifle 1

Complete rifle 4

Complete rifle 4

I Passed “Hunter Safety”

Happy Hunter

Today I attended the final element of the hunter safety certification process. It was faintly ridiculous but who cares because I passed.

Irresponsible celebratory gunshot

Irresponsible celebratory gunshot

Having previously passed an on-line exam it was necessary for me to book a “field day” to complete the process. I chose today from a list of dates on the Minnesota DNR website, and called the volunteer instructor who was listed. Jason Raaen, the lead instructor of “Personal Firearm Safety Training” , directed me to the function room of a restaurant called Cowboy Jacks, where today, along with forty odd other people I took an exam.

The exam consisted of 50 multiple choice questions (many of which I had already answered in the on-line portion of the process) and we were advised to answer the questions as if we were a 14 year old child, since that is who this exam is intended for. Therefore when asked “What is necessary in order to show your gun to your friends?”, I answered “The presence of a responsible adult”. Needless to say I passed that exam. The instructor pointed out that although we all had a certificate saying we passed the on-line exam, he had no way of knowing who had actually taken it.

After filling out some forms we were directed to a range. Here we lined up in the cold (zero Fahrenheit) to take the shooting test. When I got to the head of the line I was handed a loaded 10/22 rifle and told to fire ten shots, engaging and disengaging the safety catch in between each shot. I did this, there was no target to speak of, he wasn’t watching anyway. When the rifle went ‘click’ I engaged the safety catch and handed back the rifle. The instructor said “you’re done, get your form signed at the table”, which I did, then I left.

While I am inclined to make fun I would like to say that I approve of the intention behind the course, and saw no examples of unsafe or irresponsible behaviour. All the other “students” appeared to be sensible people and the instructor, while slightly eccentric to my eyes, was never anything but professional at all times. Perhaps it is that the intended age group for this process is early teens that makes it seem ridiculous to someone a bit older.

During the on-line training I learned a valuable piece of advice for a deer hunter. Apparently, strapping a dead deer to the front of your truck and driving around is not an effective way of cooling it down.

Don't do this!

Don’t do this!

 

Next weekend I am hoping to do my first bit of target shooting since I arrived in the USA. With a bit of luck I will be travelling north to the Minneapolis Rifle Club to shoot at 300 meters with my Swing rifle. I have to load some ammunition before then and try my jacket on for the first time in ten months, and I probably won’t do very well, but I am very keen to get back to my core shooting interest. I will let you know how it goes.