Happy New Year

wp-1488498060528.jpg

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).

wp-1488498070504.jpg

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.

 

Advertisements

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