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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Happy New Year

I didn’t intend to take this long to write another post, but things get in the way. Since I graduated from my Masters degree in May I have been getting used to my new employment situation. I am now working at a gallery in a temp position that doesn’t employ me all the time, and doing some freelance writing. The freelance writing is a new thing and I will admit I never expected to be in a position where I got paid for my writing, but I am and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. It is the perfect other job for my gallery work as it doesn’t conflict and it also keeps my brain turning when it might otherwise fall into disrepair.

On to the shooting:

In November I went hunting for the second time since I arrived in the USA, and prior to the season opener I managed to try out two variations of my new load (45gr AA2520 in a Lake City LR case with a Hornady 165gr BTSP @2.800 OAL). One involved the same load but in a Winchester case, and the second was with a 2.850 OAL. Neither appeared to make a significant difference so I decided to leave it as it was.

I learned a few lessons this year (always nice), but unfortunately I didn’t get a shot at a deer. There was a deer I could have taken a shot at, but elected not to. More about that later.

The weather was pretty warm, a lot warmer than last year, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was good because I wasn’t freezing sitting in the stand, but it was bad because accepted wisdom has it that deer move around more in cold weather. The hunting season being what it is though I have no flexibility to wait for colder weather, so I decided to just accept it and enjoy feeling my toes.

Jason the night before opening day.

Jason the night before opening day.

I had been hoping to make it up to the property before the season started to scout and pick a place to hunt from, but it never happened and I arrived at the cabin the night before the first day without having seen the place in daylight. That night it was just myself with Amber and Jason, and it was fun to hang out, but I think I drank too much. The next morning when I left the cabin at 6am I was feeling a little hungover, and without having seen the land it took me longer to find a spot than I wanted, and it wasn’t till after the sun came up that I was settled in and hunting. I had initially wanted to hunt from the ground and set out with that intention, but after I had found a spot and sat down and the light started to come up, I realised that my view was almost completely blocked by brush. I soon realised that I wouldn’t get a clear shot unless a deer wandered within 20 yards of me, so I reluctantly got up and made my way to an open stand.

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Early morning view from the stand.

I didn’t see anything that morning, but Amber shot her first deer not long after the sun came up. It was a clean shot at a young buck from around 70 yards. That evening I went to a stand further onto the property, and right around last light I saw a deer. When I spotted it it was on the edge of a dense patch of trees about 60 yards away and walking away from me. I could have made the shot, but after a moments thought I elected not to. In the failing light and at the awkward angle the deer presented I decided the chances of a bad shot were too great. Even a well shot deer will run, and a badly shot deer will run a lot further. I didn’t want to risk wounding the deer and losing it in the woods.

I didn’t see anything the next morning, and Amber had to leave at lunch time, so on the Sunday evening it was just me and Jason. Once again I didn’t see anything, and as the light started to fail I stopped looking. I was quite tired and looking forward to getting home, and I didn’t want to delay that by chasing a deer around. I was just getting ready to pack up and leave the stand when I heard a couple of gunshots from the other end of the property, where Jason was hunting. Then I got a text “I need your help”.

Jason had taken a shot at a deer in the failing light and it had run. There was a scant blood trail which we followed for a while before it disappeared. It took a couple of hours but we eventually came across the deer by searching in the direction that it appeared to be heading based on the last blood we found. All’s well that ends well.

I hadn’t planned to hunt the second weekend as Neither Amber or Jason could make it, but at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to hunt. It was just me with Amber’s uncle Rick and his friend Larry. They were very entertaining and I had a good time. I did see a couple of deer the second weekend, although I couldn’t get a shot. I was sitting quietly in a stand when they appeared out of some trees to my left, one was a doe that I didn’t have a tag for, and I couldn’t get a good look at the second one to see if it was a buck. Then they disappeared walking away from me, and that was the last I saw.

Another beautiful day.

Another beautiful day.

 

I elected not to hunt the last weekend, and although Amber and Jason did neither of them saw anything. So that was that-but like I said at the beginning, I did learn a couple of lessons. First: I need to scout the property. I felt almost blind because I had no idea where the deer paths were. I was sitting in stands and guessing which way to face, and in the case of the deer I saw the first weekend I’m pretty sure it came from behind me. If I had had a chance to look for deer tracks ahead of time, I might have been facing the right way and seen it as it passed. The second lesson I learnt was: Sit Still. Up till now I have spent quite a lot of my time in the stand looking through my binoculars and panning back and forth, but I think I underestimated how good deer are at spotting movement. In future I will sit still and use my binoculars less. Patience is a virtue. The third lesson I took away with me was: Don’t reheat a frozen dinner in a pyrex dish on the stove top! The dish will probably explode and leave you eating food seasoned with glass. I still tasted good though.

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