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The Truth About Shotgun Ammo

Article by Phil Bourjaily

Our tests at a high-tech ballistic research laboratory may change the way you buy loads and guns…and even how you hunt.

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Shotgun columnist Bob Brister spent six months shooting at 16-foot-long homemade targets mounted on a trailer hitched to a station wagon that his wife drove past. Brister conducted this novel experiment to understand the effect of shot stringing at crossing game birds.

While it had long been known that a swarm of shot lengthened as it flew downrange, no one agreed on what it meant. Brister’s patterns, which sometimes splattered the length of his 16-foot-long targets, indicated that if you shot at a bluebill streaking past your decoys, up to 30 percent of the pattern might arrive too late to hit the bird.

A lot has changed since 1976. There are new questions about shot gunning to answer and, fortunately, new ways to answer them.

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I don’t own an $80,000 high-speed camera, but Federal Cartridge Co. has one in its underground test range (above). They also have a computerized shotgun pattern analyzer, a walk-in cooler full of ballistic gelatin, and a factory full of shotshells to test. Federal granted my request to spend a couple of days there in April to test shotgun loads. I had countless questions, but was able to answer these six.

Some things I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. Others were right. And several changed the way I think about shotshells.

1. Is a 3 1/2-Inch 12-Gauge More Effective Than a 3-Inch 12-Gauge?

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I’ve always believed the brutal recoil of a 31⁄2-inch 12-gauge magnum negates any ballistic advantage over the standard 3-inch magnum. I have always suspected, too, that cramming what amounts to a 10-gauge load into a 12-gauge barrel produced poor, ragged patterns and longer shot strings that made the extra pain even less worthwhile.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 11⁄4-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1450 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 31⁄2-inch, 11⁄2-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Both loads patterned almost identically on a 30-inch circle at 40 yards: The 31⁄2-inch load put 72.6 percent of its shot in the circle, with 77 pellet hits. The 3-inch placed 71.8 percent of its shot in the circle, with 63 hits.

There was no significant difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 42 inches for the 3-inch and 49 inches for the 31⁄2-inch midway between muzzle and target. Both loads exhibited equal penetration in ballistic gelatin at 30 yards—5 inches—despite the 31⁄2-inch shell’s 50 fps head start in muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: I expected the 31⁄2 to string out longer and pattern worse than the 3-inch load, but it patterned just as well. The higher pellet count of the 31⁄2-inch resulted in significantly more hits in the circle, but both loads put enough hits on target to kill geese.

However, the improvement in performance comes at a cost of a whopping 50 percent increase in recoil. Even with a gun seated in a massive rest, I could feel the difference, and the muzzle blast was noticeably louder in the test tunnel, too. I shot some of those same 31⁄2-inch shells while trying to shoot a triple on a five-stand range. I could hit the first target always, but recovering from the shot to make the next two was almost impossible.

Is the 31⁄2-inch more effective than the 3-inch? Yes—if you can withstand the recoil. “More” is only better if you can put it on target.

2. Is the .410 a Suitable Gauge for Young, Beginning Hunters?

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The .410 is a ballistic disgrace, and a crippler of game birds. Just ask me and all the other gun writers who have repeated that “fact” over the years. I believe beginning hunters should shoot a 20-gauge, not a .410, despite the higher recoil and extra weight of the 20. A comparison between the two, I was sure, would dramatically show the 20’s superiority.

Test Loads:
– .410 11⁄16-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1135 fps (Full choke)
– 20-gauge 7⁄8-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Unlike other gauges, which are patterned at 40 yards, .410s are typically patterned at 25 yards. We picked 30 yards as a compromise distance and to reflect the shorter ranges at which beginners shoot. The Full choke .410 shot 87.8 percent patterns at 30 yards, while the Modified 20 shot 84.6 percent. The higher pellet count and higher velocity of the 20 combined to put more pellets in the 30-inch circle (173) than the .410 (139). Penetration was better, too—3.3 inches vs. 3 inches. The 46-inch-long shot string of the 20-gauge, which was measured at 20 yards, was a full 20 inches shorter than the .410’s shot string.

The Takeaway: The .410 surprised us with great patterns. However, the .410’s shot string, which was 50 percent longer than that of the 20-gauge, revealed a shortcoming: The longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets are traveling, and therefore the less energy they retain. The .410 not only puts fewer pellets on target than the 20-gauge, but the .410’s tail-end pellets won’t hit as hard. Even so, I will give the .410 more respect in the future. I waited until my kids were 11 and 12 and big enough to shoot 20-gauges, but if a child is too small to handle a 20, a .410 can work.

3. Is a 20-gauge as Effective as a 12-Gauge for Doves?

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There’s a faction of smallbore shooters—including some people I hunt with—who condemn the 12-gauge as “unsporting.” As a 12-gauge shooter, I see it as being versatile and ballistically efficient. This test was my chance to crush my detractors with science. One area where 12s and 20s can be compared in an apples-to-apples format is the dove field, where many hunters shoot 1-ounce loads with either gauge, so that became the basis for the test.

Test Loads
:
– 20-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1165 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1235 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 12-gauge delivered a 50.7 percent pattern with 202 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. The 20 did just 39.6 percent with 149 pellets inside the circle. The 12 achieved slightly deeper penetration (2.875 inches vs. 2.5625) in gelatin at 30 yards, likely due to the higher muzzle velocity. The high-speed camera showed no statistical difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 55 inches for the 12-gauge and 57 for the 20 at 20 yards.

The Takeaway: I thought the 12 would win, but I hadn’t expected it to beat the 20 so badly. Out of curiosity we tested the 20-gauge with one size larger shot to see if we could improve its performance. With No. 6 shot the 20 delivered a huge 15 percent increase in pattern density. That gave us a bonus takeaway: If you want to tighten patterns (sometimes by a lot), shoot larger shot.

A 20-gauge is fun to handle and shoot, but when it comes to putting pellets on target efficiently, it loses out to the 12.

4. Is Steel Shot Suitable for Pheasants?

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A growing number of pheasant hunters have to shoot nontoxic ammunition. Pheasants are tough birds and elusive cripples, so choosing the right shell matters, especially when you go from dense lead to lighter steel. In the field I have had no trouble killing wild birds with steel shot, but while dead is dead, I wanted to quantify the differences between steel and lead loads.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Federal Prairie Storm No. 3 steel at 1600 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Wing-Shok High Velocity No. 6 lead at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: As expected, the hard steel pellets patterned tighter than lead (62.5 percent vs. 52.6 percent) inside a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Nevertheless, the higher pellet count of the lead load meant more pellets in the circle: 128 hits, compared to 102 hits for the steel load. The lead pellets also penetrated 4.12 inches into the 30-yard gelatin, compared to steel’s 3.43 inches. The lead load had a shorter shot string (55 inches) at 20 yards than the steel load (61 inches).

The Takeaway: Even with advances in steel ammunition, lead is still superior. Usually hunters switching from lead to steel compensate for steel’s light weight by following the “rule of two” and going up two sizes in shot. Yet despite my choosing three sizes larger in steel and driving it 100 fps faster than the lead load, it didn’t perform as well as lead in the test. The “rule of two” should be the “rule of three or maybe four.” Steel 3s and 2s make the best pellet choice. Steel pellets, which remain round and fly true, patterned more efficiently than lead, resulting in tighter patterns. Given the lower pellet count and retained energy of steel, though, I would not go to a more open choke if switching from lead to steel. Still, modern steel loads are effective for pheasants.

5. Are Premium Buckshot Loads Worth the High Cost?

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One important lesson Brister learned was that hard shot loaded with ground plastic buffer protected the pellets from deforming in the barrel. Premium buffered magnum waterfowl loads clearly outperformed nonbuffered loads. But would this be true for the biggest pellets of all? Premium buck costs nearly $2 per shell, twice the cost of standard loads, so I wanted to see if it was worth the price.

Test Loads :
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet loads of Federal Vital-Shok buffered, copper-plated 00 buckshot at 1100 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet handloads of unbuffered, unplated 00 buck at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Premium buckshot averaged 12.4 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, whereas unbuffered buck averaged 11 hits. The pattern diameter of the buffered load at 40 yards was 31.65 inches; the unbuffered load spread out to 36.89 inches. The unbuffered buck penetrated deeper (16.84 inches vs. 14.62 inches) than the premium, probably due to its higher muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: There was a dramatic difference in the shape of recovered buffered and unbuffered pellets. I had thought the deformed, unbuffered pellets would string out farther due to increased air resistance and pattern much worse. That didn’t happen. Unbuffered buckshot tore uneven holes in paper, yet it penetrated deeply into the gelatin.

We did notice an odd phenomenon during this test. Occasionally two pellets would fly through the same hole in the paper or into the gel. With only 15 pellets in the pattern, the odds against that happening are very high—unless there is a drafting effect where a trailing pellet falls in behind a pellet in front of it, the same way race cars draft one another. You can’t rely on that happening, but when it does, the second pellet into the hole will penetrate almost twice as deeply as the rest.

Premium buckshot put roughly 13 percent more pellets on target. Whether that’s worth double the cost is a personal decision.

6. Which is Better for Turkeys: Lighter, Faster Loads or Heavier, Slower Loads?

shotshells6_cThe trend to lighter, faster turkey loads made me wonder if heavy and slow loads would perform better. Theoretically, a lower-velocity load will pattern tighter than a faster load because the lower launch speed deforms fewer pellets, leaving more of them round to fly true. But at the same time, a lighter load should pattern tighter than a heavier load for the same reason: the more lead pellets on top of one another in a shell, the more pellets deform when that shell is fired.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 13⁄4-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead High Velocity No. 5 shot at 1300 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 2-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead No. 5 shot at 1150 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 13⁄4-ounce load patterned more efficiently, putting 70.2 percent of its charge in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, compared to 61.4 percent for the 2-ounce load. It also outpenetrated the 2-ounce load in gelatin at 30 yards, 4 inches to 3.65 (though the latter is certainly adequate to kill a turkey). In number of hits, however, the 2-ounce load narrowly won, 216 pellets to 209. Recoil is about the same.

The Takeaway: Essentially the test resulted in a tie, although the heavier load snuck a few extra pellets into the target area. Recoil from both shells was almost identical. I would favor the lighter load because more penetration, while it may not help, can’t hurt, either.

Looking at these results, however, I can’t help but wonder if a slower 13⁄4-ounce load wouldn’t pattern better than either of these. Unfortunately, “slow” is a tough sell to the American public, so unless you handload your own turkey ammo, you may never find out. It’s a tie, so choose the one that patterns best in your gun.

BONUS: Does Shot String Length Matter?

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It matters some, but not for the reasons we think. During these tests, Federal engineers Erik Carlson and Adam Moser measured shot strings at 20 yards and extrapolated lengths for 40 yards. The longest shot string in our tests, the 66-inch .410 string, would be about 10 feet long at 40 yards. Match that against a bird flying 40 mph at 40 yards, as Brister simulated in his tests, and you will lose only a small percentage of pattern density, perhaps about 5 percent, not the 30 percent loss Brister saw with some 1976-era lead waterfowl magnums.

Brister believed long shot strings were more forgiving of error than short strings. If you were to overlead a target, he thought, the trailing pellets might still break it, so the longer the string, the greater the margin for error. In theory that is true, but practically speaking, the chance is very slim of a trailing pellet breaking a target. The disadvantage is that the longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets, and the less energy they’ll have on target.

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Firearm Safety

by Marti Davis

Marti-Davis

Safety, safety, safety

Firearm safety must always be our number one priority. Always remember to treat every gun as if it is loaded. That means always pointing the gun in a safe direction. Make sure you’re using the proper ammunition for the firearm. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.

When you’re hunting from an elevated stand, never climb with the firearm. Use a rope to raise and lower the unloaded gun after you’re safely strapped in to your stand. You can never be too careful or safe when it comes to handling and hunting with firearms.

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Know right from wrong

Before you do any kind of hunting with a gun, you must familiarize yourself with the state’s game laws and regulations. Even if you’re a seasoned hunter, you need to refresh your memory and check for any changes in the regulations that might affect your hunt. If you know and follow the regulations, when you do have an encounter with a conservation agent, you won’t have anything to worry about.

And while we’re on the subject of conservation agents, if you happen to get stopped by an agent, be courteous. It will take only a few minutes for the agent to check and see if you have the proper licenses and tags. Conservation agents have a job to do, and this is just a small part of it.

Cleaning and Maintenance

While some firearms take more cleaning and maintenance than others, you should take proper care of all firearms. If you do, they will last for many years, with the possibility of being handed down from generation to generation.

I like to use a combination cleaner-lubricant-protectant, such as Break Free CLP. A quick wipe-down at the end of a day afield is sufficient, unless you’ve been out hunting in rain or snow, or in extremely dusty or brushy conditions. In that case you probably need to break down the firearm to a certain extent. Remember to follow all manufacturer’s instructions on breakdown and reassembly. Never skip any steps the manufacturer recommends.

I also like to use a bore snake for a quick pass-through on my barrels. I use a little of the Break Free CLP on the snake and pull it through two or three times. It’s a great time saver for those quick, after-hunt wipe-downs between the thorough cleanings that require breaking down the gun.

And don’t forget that new guns need thorough cleaning when you first get them. Most come packed with a coating of heavy grease.

When it comes to maintenance on your firearms, I highly recommend that you find a reputable gunsmith in your area to take care of any malfunctioning firearms. For safety’s sake, never shoot any gun that is not in perfect working order. When in doubt, consult your gunsmith.

Sighting in or Patterning

Before going afield, you must take the time to sight in your rifle or pattern your shotgun. Even if you’re going out with the same deer rifle you’ve used for several years, take the time to make sure your gun is still zeroed in. Even the smallest of bumps can sometimes knock sights or scopes off zero.

With shotguns, make sure to pattern them to see which load works best with which choke. Once you get that figured out, make sure to use the same load each time you hunt with that shotgun and choke.

To be an ethical and responsible hunter, you have to know your own and your firearm’s limitations before you step out in the field. As ethical hunters, we always want to make the quickest and most humane kill shots we can.

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Transporting your firearms

Transporting can be as simple as using a sling to throw the gun over your shoulder, making it easier to carry in the field.

In a vehicle, I highly recommend a case of some sort when transporting firearms, whether it’s a simple zip-up, soft-sided case or a padded, hard-shell transport case. For one thing, a case protects the gun—for another, in some states it is the law. This is another area where it’s necessary to know the regulations and laws in the state you are hunting—or even just traveling through. Some states also require firearms to be cased when transporting them on all-terrain vehicles in the field.

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Follow-through

When throwing a ball, you must follow through to complete the action. The same applies to shooting a rifle or shotgun. Once you make the shot, you must follow through. If you’re shooting a bolt-action or pump-style rifle, follow-through includes working the action and chambering a fresh round. Be ready to make a follow-up shot if necessary. The same goes for shotguns. After you complete the shot, get another shot shell into the chamber and be prepared to make a quick follow-up shot. Of course if you’re using an autoloader, the gun does this for you. Just stay on the gun and be ready in case you need to take another shot.

Storage

After the hunt, be sure to unload and store your firearms properly. As I mentioned when discussing cleaning and maintenance, wipe down or clean your firearms prior to storage. Always make sure to store all guns beyond the reach of children or anyone else you don’t want having access to them. Always store ammunition separately from all firearms.

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These safety rules need to become second nature, yet always in the forefront while you are working with firearms, especially while hunting.

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Marti Davis

Marti Davis is a staff member for Browning Trail Cameras, WoolX and Mossy Oak.
She is an authority on most types of hunting in North America, and very active in
mentoring the next generation of young hunters.

 

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Determining Your Dominant Eye

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Most people have a visual preference for one eye or the other, often without realizing it. This is known as eye dominance. Before choosing a bow, it’s important to know which eye is dominant.

Eye dominance can be weak or strong, and has nothing to do with hand dominance. For example, you might be right-handed but left-eye dominant. Studies show about two-thirds of people are right-eye dominant, one-third are left-eye dominant and a small percentage favor neither eye.

Some Easy Steps to Test Eye Dominance:
Go where you can see an object that’s at least 10 to 20 feet away.
Clasp your hands together, make a circle between them about 1 inch in diameter, and extend your hands to arm’s length.

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Keeping both eyes open, use the circle to visually frame the object.
While making sure you keep the object framed, pull your hands slowly back to your face.
Your hands will draw naturally to your dominant eye.
In rare cases, new archers will not have a dominant eye. When this happens, it’s best to use the dominant hand to draw the bow.

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How to Judge Your Shooting Distance

 A great article by Kevin Wilson

Accurately judging distance is the first step toward proper shot placement. Instinctive or calculated, bowhunters rely on it for close range shooting. Gun hunters count on their ability to estimate longer distances. Over time we all learn our own tricks for calculating distance but with the advent of laser rangefinders many of us won’t leave home without them. Regardless of how you go about it, determining yardage can make or break your hunt.

I will remember one hunt as long as I live. The outcome was downright depressing all because I misjudged the distance. It happened 16 years ago. I was a neophyte bowhunter at the time. I’d set up a treestand in a small block of trees that I knew held several bucks and does. The previous winter I’d picked up some huge sheds that taped out at 183 Boone & Crockett inches. Knowing that the gigantic buck had survived the winter, my hopes ran high and I knew there was always a chance he’d show up in the timber I was hunting. As luck would have it 45 minutes after climbing into my stand I heard leaves crunching underfoot. Straining to look through the trees, sure enough a smaller basket rack buck was making his way toward my stand. Always an impressive sight I enjoyed the view as he walked 10 yards from me. Then I heard more rustling in the leaves and looked over to see him. He was nothing short of magnificent! Based on his sheds, it looked like he’d grown at least another 15 inches putting him well into the high 190’s – a buck of a lifetime in anyone’s books! He walked 12 yards from my stand but I couldn’t get to full draw with him in plain view. As soon as he turned I capitalized. At full-draw, I locked my 20 yard pin on his body as he continued to amble forward. Walking straight away there was no shot opportunity at all! By the time he stopped, I estimated he was standing at 30 yards. With all the concentration I could muster, I focused and released. The arrow flew where I’d aimed, in perfect alignment with his chest, but literally inches high splitting the hair on his back! Completely awestruck and in total disbelief, that gut-wrenching feeling overcame me as I watched my world-class archery whitetail bound away never to be seen again… and all because I’d misjudged the distance!

Since that day I have made it my lifelong mission to learn how to accurately judge distance. From capitalizing on today’s technologically advanced laser range finding devices to using topographic characteristics to assist in calculating distance, and understanding the influences of terrain, it is an ongoing practice in my world. Regardless of whether you’re an archer or a rifleman, here are a few considerations that might help you as you learn to accurately judge distances.

The Technological Solution
Today’s technology is a saving grace for hunters. Many of us won’t leave home without our laser rangefinder. Portable and easy to use, we simply identify our target, adjust the setting, point, hit the button and, voila! … distance is displayed on the screen. With yardage confirmed, all that remains is the shot itself.

When I began bowhunting nearly two decades ago rangefinders had a simple dial that brought the target image into focus when the dial was turned. Wherever the dial ended up, that was your yardage. Today, thanks to innovation, laser rangefinders are readily available and relatively affordable. In fact today there is really no reason not to use a rangefinder. Many manufacturers have their own versions, but in my opinion, one of the latest and greatest inventions is Bushnell’s Laser Arc. I’ve got the Elite 1500 model. The ARC stands for Angle Range Compensation. While traditional rangefinders are precision optical instruments designed to be used on a level plain (line of sight), the ARC rangefinder compensates for angles from a treestand for instance, or up or down a mountain slope. I have owned and used several different kinds of rangefinders over the years. The Laser ARC is my absolute favorite. Using digital technology, it has a built-in inclinometer that displays the exact slope angle from +/- 60º of elevation with +/- 1.0 degree accuracy. Hunters have always struggled with extreme uphill and downhill angles. These severe angles alter true horizontal distance to the target. The ARC solves this problem. It has three primary settings: bow mode, rifle mode, and a regular mode (for line of sight distance calculation only).

It has a bow mode that displays line of site distance, degree of elevation, and true horizontal distance from 5-99 yards (or meters). For longer range shooters, it also has a rifle mode that calculates and displays the amount of bullet drop, at the target in inches (or centimeters). In the rifle mode, the amount of bullet drop is determined by the line of sight distance to the target, degree of elevation, along with the specific ballistic characteristics of the caliber and ammunition. As the hunter ranges the target, the line of sight, degree of elevation, and bullet-drop/holdover in inches or centimeters is displayed from 100-800 yards (or meters). Here’s where the technology shines ballistically. In the start-up menu, one of eight ballistic groups can be selected by the user, with each formula representing a given combination of caliber and loads.

Laser rangefinding technology, and the ARC system in particular, is invaluable but what if we don’t have one? Then it comes down to a matter of practice and estimation to determine our downrange distances.

Practice
For most of us, learning to judge distance takes considerable practice. Only by doing it a lot, and under variable conditions, can we become competent at it. Shooting is a lot like golf. Understanding how your bow or gun works (i.e., trajectory and ballistics) and interpreting the size of the target animal relative to the terrain can only be learned through firsthand repetitive experience. So how do we get all this supposed experience when we can only take a finite number of animals each year? The answer lies in visiting the gun or archery range.

For bowhunters, nothing beats practice on the 3D course. Today’s 3D targets, like those made by MacKenzie, are very lifelike and offer as realistic practice as you’re likely to get anywhere. Most are made to scale and can be strategically placed in any range situation to simulate realistic hunting scenarios. On my local 3D course, our club uses everything from coyote targets to whitetailed deer, mountain goat, elk, moose, wild hog, turkey and more. Some are set at long distances over 60 yards through wide open clearings while others are placed in the trees, often with very small shooting windows at closer distances like 20 or 30 yards. Most 3D ranges have a good assortment of field scenarios to allow practicing archers to hone their skills.

Likewise, rifle and muzzleloader hunters should visit the range regularly to hone shooting skills. Unfortunately due to the expansive nature of bullets today’s 3D targets aren’t an option. Alternatively silhouettes are. Most rifle ranges offer variable range distances from 100 to 400 yards. At my club our furthest distance is 600 yards. Unless you’re really into the long range thing 400 yards is a stretch for most big game hunters. By shooting repeatedly at 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards, we grow accustomed to what those distances look and feel like. By taking note of the size of target in our scope at specified magnifications we can also learn to estimate distances. For example, at 10x zoom on my Leupold scope, I know that a deer will fill a certain percentage of the field of view. By acknowledging how much of the animal is in the field of view, I can guess the approximate yardage with relative accuracy. Likewise, at 200 and 300 yards, that deer will appear smaller respectively.

Break Distances into Increments
Whether we’re hunting remote regions or in farmland things like trees, rocks, fence posts, and power poles can be used to aid in judging distances. As an archer I’ve learned to make a mental note of things like trees, shrubs, rocks or other physical land-based objects at 10 yard increments out to a distance of 50 yards from where I’m sitting. By burning those objects into my memory I’m better able to make quick decisions when an animal steps into a shooting lane. I’m guessing it may be the same throughout North America but where I do much of my hunting I’ve learned that power poles are set at a standard distance of 100 yards apart. Any time I’m hunting a wide open power line or in farm country I can use those power poles as markers to estimate yardage. As a rule, regardless of what kind of weapon you’re hunting with, breaking distances down into increments simplifies things. Remember, if you’re sitting in a stationary stand or ground blind there is always the option of setting out yardage markers at desirable increments, e.g., every 10 yards.

Consider Where and What You’re Shooting
Judging distances on the open prairies is a very different game than judging distance in the dense forest. Likewise, estimating the distance of a large target like a moose can be tricky if you’re more accustomed to looking at antelope. Dense cover and the size of the animal can play tricks on your mind.

As an archer, I spend most of my time hunting heavy mixed forest areas comprised of aspens and evergreens. Rarely do I see deer, moose or elk at distances further than 80 yards unless its down a long open cutline or across a clear cut. So, whenever I head out to different states or provinces to hunt smaller species like pronghorn antelope, it usually takes some time to acclimatize and recalibrate my brain to accurately judge distances. In my experience, smaller big game species in open terrain tend to appear further away while larger species under heavy cover often look closer than they really are. Unfortunately there are no set rules here; you just need to figure out what works best for you under variable conditions.

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Tips For More Grouse

trees3Learn to Recognize Good Cover
Some hunters seem to have a sixth sense about where the grouse are. This isn’t magic but rather the culmination of years of experience, observation, and a working knowledge of what the birds need. These guys are constantly reading about grouse habitat and lore; they take note of wherever they hear drumming in the spring. They know that good grouse cover holds food and provides protection from predators — if it is near an evergreen stand or gravel so much the better.

Take a page from these hunters. Every time you or your dog move a bird, have a good look around after the smoke has cleared — you’ll see a pattern soon enough. Study grouse biology at home; carry field guides when you hunt; learn to recognize common grouse foods in your area. After a while you’ll develop that sixth sense too.

Keep a Log
Every serious grouse hunter I know keeps a hunting log. Some maintain elaborate leather-bound journals in which they detail particulars of the hunt such as the date, cover, number of flushes, dog work, weather, harvest, and crop contents of the birds. Other keep it simple, by marking covers on their handheld GPS. Either way, the hunter is reminded of the places that produced grouse last season.gps

Do this consistently and it won’t take many seasons before you have a bevy of early, mid, and late season options. The more options you have, the better your chance of having a grouse dinner.

Break Some Clay
Over the course of a season, few of us get enough shots at grouse. So it only stands to reason that a hunter ought to make the most of each opportunity. I do this by honing my shotgunning skills in the off-season. Skeet, trap, or sporting clays keep a hunter sharp so that mounting and swinging his scattergun becomes second nature. You’ll still miss — grouse have a way of humbling everyone — but you’ll also make some shots that you might not have without the off-season practice. It just takes a few of these to turn a mediocre season into a great one.

Don’t Forget the Dog Days
Spring and summer are tailor-made for training your dog. Despite this, few of us take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, we expect our dogs to work flawlessly on opening day and we’re actually surprised when that doesn’t happen.

Does your flushing dog hunt too far ahead and blow cover before you get there? A little “hup training” (teaching your dog to sit on command, no matter how far away) in the off season goes a long way towards remedying this. You might also consider brushing up on retrieving drills or introducing your dog to pigeons or game farm forays prior to the season. Some advanced training, such as steadying to wing and shot (where a dog sits down automatically at each flush) might require the help of a professional dog trainer. If that’s what you want, the off-season is the time to do it.

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Pointing dogs have their own set of training needs, which might include bolstering staunchness, retrieving, hunting range and finding dead birds. Whatever your canine hunting partner’s flaw is, the off-season is the time to address it.

The idea is to learn to handle your dog so that you perform as a well-oiled team during the hunting season. There are plenty of great dog training books and videos — the off-season is when you should benefit from them most.

Follow the Food
Grouse eat hundreds of types of food and each provides a clue as to where the birds are hanging out. That’s why it’s a good idea to check the crop of every bird you shoot. Knowing what grouse are eating helps you understand their habits and tells you where you should focus your hunting efforts. If the last three birds you shot were full of blackberries, for instance, it’s definitely time to hunt any of your covers that hold these shrubs.

Against the Wind
A dog relies on his nose to find birds. So why would you hunt with the wind at its back? We all know that there isn’t any good reason for doing so, but it’s one of the first things excited dog handlers forget when approaching good cover.

If you hunt into the wind, your dog will work closer, scent more game and, hopefully, find more birds. It’s a simple but often overlooked strategy that can make the difference between a full and empty game bag. This is also an important consideration when looking for a lost bird. Take your dog downwind from where you think it fell and let it start hunting from there.

Stop and Start
A good grouse hunting dog provides opportunities that you might not have otherwise had, but that’s not to say that a dog less hunter can’t do well. The key, for a dog less hunter, is to stop and start through likely cover and change direction often. These unpredictable patterns unnerve grouse and invariably pressure them into flushing. Another added bonus is that when you stop you can sometimes hear the put-put-put of a grouse moving just ahead of you. If that’s the case, get the gun up and rush it.

Don’t Hesitate
A good upland shot doesn’t hesitate. He takes the first available shot, even if it’s not a great one.

If you wait for a better chance you’ll rarely get it. Similarly, if you are leading a bird that disappears behind a screen of leaves, follow through, and shoot anyway. You’ll be surprised how often you connect. If not, shells are cheap.

While we’re on the subject of shooting, be ready for the second flush. Often, especially, early in the season when birds are still in their family groups, multiple flushes do occur. If you keep this in mind, they won’t catch you flat-footed — or with an empty gun.

Follow Up
Whenever you flush a bird and don’t fold it, mark where you last saw it. Most times they won’t fly much further than 150 yards. If you marked it well and follow up immediately, you have a good chance of forcing a second flush.

 

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Another advantage of following up on grouse is that they sometimes lead you to new covers. If that’s the case, don’t forget to mark it.

Lastly, never assume that you missed any grouse that you shot at. After the shot, keep quiet and listen. Sometimes you’ll hear a mortally wounded grouse doing its death dance against the ground — that’s the one that you thought you missed.

The Right Tools
A fast-handling 12, 16 or 20 gauge shotgun is ideal for birds. Most gunners like double guns. Some happen to prefer a pump because that’s what they shoot best with.  However, don’t discount the light weight, easy to carry .410 shotgun.  Nice little gun with ever growing in popularity in our neck of the woods.

Whatever, your preference, you can’t go wrong using 2 3/4-inch shells filled with 7.5 shot. Grouse aren’t tough birds and it doesn’t take much to bring them down. Since most shots are within 15 yards, the more open-choked your barrels are, the better.

Other essential grouse hunting tools include a quality blaze orange upland hunting vest with a lined game pouch; brush pants; comfortable, well-supported hunting boots; and a compass and/or GPS. If you are hunting with a dog, a whistle, water bottle, portable dog dish, dog first aid kit, and lead are important too. When working heavy, thorny cover, a pair of shooting glasses that protect your eyes are worth their weight in gold.

Conclusion
No one ever said grouse hunting was complicated. But it does take some planning, know-how and skill. Over the last few years, these strategies have made many a much better grouse hunter. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

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Dropping the Hammer

By: Al Voth

How Safe is Your Vintage Firearm?
If you’re a serious gun nut and you haven’t noticed the increased interest in shooting, reloading and hunting with old style guns in the last decade you’ve probably been in a coma. Rifles and shotguns that haven’t come out of the closet in eighty years are being brought into the daylight, getting cleaned off and carried out to ranges and hunting fields. This particularly includes classic old lever action and single shot rifles. I haven’t been immune from this old-gun bug myself, as an 1894 lever action in .38-55 is one of my current project guns.

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Firearms with external hammers are common. At the top is a lever-action rifle, a pump-action shotgun occupies the middle spot and at the bottom, a bolt-action .22

The Winchester I’m working on is a great example because it’s been in production for well over one hundred years. But that old lever gun and all the other golden oldies hunting again aren’t the same guns Winchester and other manufacturers are producing today. Today’s guns might look similar but they are built of better materials, to tighter tolerances and have improved safety features. On the 94 in particular, the manufacturer has added a tang safety and a rebounding hammer. And while I often hear knowledgeable gun people bemoaning the addition of a safety as a cosmetic detraction, I never hear anyone complaining it makes the gun less safe. While those same Winchester experts will know every intricacy of the 94’s mechanism, including how to use it properly and safely, too many hunters don’t. A recent incident I’m familiar with serves as an illustration.

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Hunting with older guns, like this lever-action, can be dangerous if you don’t understand the principles of handling an external hammer.

Ignorance Can Kill
Two friends went out after moose, one of them carrying an older Winchester 94. By today’s standards that is hardly a state of the art moose rifle and the hunter in question had more than one ultra-modern rifle at home. For whatever reason, he chose to use the older 94 that day. By all accounts, he was a skilled and capable hunter. However, he didn’t understand the manual of arms for the 94 and in this case, what he didn’t know killed him.

As a testimony to their skill and abilities, these two had a moose on the ground before noon. The available evidence then shows that when the shooting stopped, our hunter pointed the rifle in a safe direction and carefully and conscientiously lowered the cocked hammer.

In the process of moving his truck up to the kill, our man with the 94 had occasion to rest the butt of the rifle on the running board. Being safety conscious he pointed the muzzle upwards in a safe direction as he fiddled with something else, confident in the knowledge that although the rifle chamber was loaded, the hammer was safely down. But like many hunting days it was wet and snowy and the running board was slippery. Somehow, in all the activity, the Winchester slipped off the running board and the rifle fell butt first toward the ground; his grip was still on the barrel, but it was insufficient to slow its fall.

From the heel of the butt to the spur of the hammer is about fourteen inches and the rifle weighs six and one quarter pounds. When the rifle fell, it dropped all of those fourteen inches and the spur of the hammer struck the running board with what was probably most of the rifle’s weight. The rifle discharged and the bullet struck the owner, killing him.

Was this a bizarre accident resulting from freak circumstances; or maybe a failure of the firearm’s safety devices? What about operator error? Do you know why the gun discharged? If you or a friend has a hammer gun sitting in the closet, then you better read on.

How Do You Hunt?
There isn’t a hunter in the country that would walk the woods with a round in the chamber of a lever-gun and the hammer at full cock. It’s too dangerous and it’s obvious that it’s dangerous. At the same time, I’ll bet you a steak dinner there are a significant number of hunters in the woods carrying old hammer guns with the chamber loaded and the hammer fully down; a condition which could be argued as being at least as, or even more dangerous, than carrying it with the hammer fully cocked. It’s a safe bet for me, because since encountering the fatal incident mentioned above, I’ve been asking every shooter I encounter with a hammer gun to show me how they make such a loaded gun safe. Too many ease the hammer to a full down position on a loaded cartridge.

Why is this dangerous? Simple, with the hammer fully down, it rests on the firing pin, which is in direct contact with the primer. A sharp blow on the spur of the hammer and the rifle will fire.

The generation for which older external hammer guns were originally made was comfortable with the idea of manually operated, exposed hammers. Having the hammer visible and easily manipulated by the operator was considered a safety feature. That generation of gun-handlers was comfortable with the concept that a firearm with the hammer fully down wasn’t necessarily safe, especially if it was loaded. Somehow, that principle has been lost to this generation. With the resurgence of interest in those old rifles, we need to relearn some of the lessons of our grandparents.

Hammer Down is Dangerous
We’ve already discussed lever action rifles, but there are other firearms we can add to the list as well; including a number of bolt action rimfires, pump-action .22’s and lots of exposed hammer shotguns. Some of these models are no longer manufactured but others are, in modernized versions. It can be difficult to tell from serial number ranges or a visual examination when a firearm’s internals have been changed. And how do you know some previous owner hasn’t deactivated a safety feature?

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This double-barrel shotgun demonstrates graphically how the hammer contacts the firing pin, which in turn contacts the primer, even when the hammer is at rest.

But let’s not limit our discussion to old guns. Have you ever seen someone load the chamber of a modern bolt-action rifle, and then while holding back the trigger, ease the bolt handle down? Their theory is that in this condition the rifle can’t fire because it isn’t cocked. And all that’s needed to ready it for shooting is to lift up and press down on the bolt handle, thus cocking the rifle. They think they’re being extra safe. Wrong! Depending on the design, their method is quite likely putting the firing pin in direct contact with the primer and even a light tap on the back of the bolt will fire the rifle.

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In rifle design, it doesn’t get any more modern than stainless steel and plastic. But like an old fashioned hammer gun, if you lower the striker on a live cartridge and hit the rear of the bolt, this rifle will fire.

To answer the question as to whether or not your particular firearm is dangerous to carry with the hammer down, do the following test. First, you’ll need a primed cartridge case. That’s no bullet, no powder, just an empty cartridge case with a live primer in place. If you’re a reloader, it’s a simple matter to make one up. If not, you’ll have to pull the bullet from a factory round and dump the powder. This is easily done with an inertia bullet puller available from most gun shops. With a double and triple check to ensure your case is only primed, slip it into the chamber of your firearm. Carefully point it in a safe direction, close the action and gently lower the hammer to its full down position.

A kinetic bullet puller, like this RCBS model, will quickly and safely convert center-fire cartridges into primed-only cases.

A kinetic bullet puller, like this RCBS model, will quickly and safely
convert center-fire cartridges into primed-only cases.

Then with the smallest hammer in your tool box, give the rear of the hammer a tap. Use about as much force as you might in driving a small finishing nail with that same hammer. Odds are your little tap will generate a little bang. If it did, any questions you had about the characteristics of your firearm are settled. The only thing left to do is repeat that demonstration to everyone who uses that particular gun. Don’t just tell them about it. Telling is theoretical. Put a primed case in the rifle and repeat the test, showing them what happens. It’s a lesson they won’t forget.

Testing a pump-action .22 to determine if a blow to the hammer will discharge the rifle.

Testing a pump-action .22 to determine if a blow to the hammer will discharge the rifle.

If silence was the result of your tap, you need to extract the cartridge case and take a close look at the primer. You’re now down to two possibilities. Either your gun is safe for hammer down carry or you just didn’t tap hard enough. A close inspection will tell you which the most likely scenario is. If there is any denting in the primer at all, you had some energy transfer and the firearm is unsafe to carry with the hammer down. If there is no mark at all, you may want to try repeating the test with a slightly harder hit. If there is still nothing, odds are you’re okay for hammer down carry.

A Browning 92 demonstrates the three positions commonly found on guns with external hammers; full-cock, half-cock (or safety position) and fully down.

A Browning 92 demonstrates the three positions commonly found on guns
with external hammers; full-cock, half-cock (or safety position) and fully down.

What About Half-Cock?
Any discussion about hammer guns and in what condition they are safe to carry invariably turns to the half-cock or safety notch. This is an intermediate hammer position somewhere between fully down and fully cocked and is intended to keep the hammer away from direct contact with the firing pin. The most common question, once people understand its purpose is-is that intermediate notch safe?

I think the answer is the same in every case. It’s far safer than hammer down-presuming the notch and sear are in good condition. Whether it’s safe enough for carrying in that position is dependant on the firearm’s individual design. Probably the best known example of one that isn’t safe is the Colt Single Action Army revolver. That’s why the universal recommendation to handle it with only five of its six chambers loaded, and the hammer down on the empty one. Lever action rifles, however, are generally far more durable and trustworthy. Each design has its own characteristics.

Short of taking your particular hammer gun apart and inspecting the parts, there are a couple of simple tests that will give you some indication of the gun’s condition. First, with the hammer in the safety notch position and the gun empty, pull the trigger firmly. Apply approximately three times the amount of force normally required to fire the gun. If the hammer drops, your gun needs attention. A second test is to reposition the hammer in its half-cock or safety notch position and then using your thumbs, try pushing the hammer forward. This is called a push-off test. Obviously, the hammer shouldn’t move. Never strike the hammer with another object to test the safety notch, use only a firm pushing motion. If your hammer gun passes both of these tests, the intermediate notch is probably in good condition.

In the half-cock or safety position the firearm's sear usually rests in a deeply undercut hammer notch. On the right hand hammer this notch is intact; on the left one the notch has broken out, making the gun unsafe.

In the half-cock or safety position the firearm’s sear usually rests in a
deeply undercut hammer notch. On the right hand hammer this notch is intact;
on the left one the notch has broken out, making the gun unsafe.

Your gun checks out okay. Does that mean its safe to carry hammer down? It’s still possible for the safety notch to break away completely and thus allow the gun to discharge. Certainly, you’re not going to allow that to happen deliberately, but if sufficient force were to strike your hammer, it could shear and the result would be unstoppable.

You’ve come to the point where you have to find your own comfort level with the mechanism. The job I recently retired from required occasional attendance at autopsies and maybe it’s a result of seeing too many gunshot wounds, but my comfort level with all safety mechanisms (not just safety-notches) is pitifully low.

Hunting Choices
Perhaps an example will serve to illustrate. I sometimes use a lever action model 92 in .357 Magnum when I’m calling predators. When I leave my vehicle, I typically load five cartridges in the magazine and leave the chamber empty while walking in to my stand. Sure, I can blunder into a coyote while moving in, but a flick of the wrist is all that’s necessary to go from safe to fire. When I reach my destination and set up to call, I lever a cartridge into the chamber and set the hammer at the intermediate notch. I judge that to be a safe condition considering the activity I’m engaging in.

Notice the difference. One situation is dynamic and active and for it I keep the chamber empty. The other is sedentary and in those circumstances I’m comfortable with a loaded chamber and a half cocked rifle. When I start to move again, I go back to chamber empty. That flexibility, in my opinion, is the key; adjust to the circumstances and you’re as ready as you need to be and still safe.

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Hunting: Muzzleloader

Muzzleloaders are a lot of fun to shoot! The concept of a single shot makes shooters try to do their best on every shot. Large puffs of smoke belching from the muzzle after each shot, makes this a very visual shooting sport. As well, muzzleloaders are capable of firing a variety of bullet weights and powder charges, giving them the ability to be a multi species firearm.

For years, people have shot muzzle-loading guns. Most shooters fired old style flintlock guns with open sights. Some shooters found these early muzzle-loading firearms reminded them of their forefathers and helped these individuals re-live the past. However, for many shooters, these guns were unappealing, inaccurate and were a royal pain in the butt to shoot and clean. Thus, there were a very limited number of people involved in muzzleloader shooting and hunting.

Over the course of the past several years, the interest in muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunting has grown and continues to grow. Much of this growth is due to several gun manufacturers developing inline muzzle-loading rifles that are built with today’s technology, using yesterday’s ideas. These fine firearms are fun and easy to use, have high percentage ignitions and are highly accurate. In addition, they’re easy to disassemble and clean.

These new muzzle-loading guns resemble modern center-fire rifles. They have excellent safety mechanisms and precision rifled barrels. Many of them come tapped and died directly from the factory, so all a shooter has to do is add bases, rings and a scope. It’s very common these days for shooters using in-line muzzleloaders with scopes to achieve one inch groups or better at a hundred yards.

Along with the invention of new muzzleloaders, there has also been a major advancement in gun cleaning solutions. There are all kinds of effective no fuss, no mess gun cleaning solutions designed specifically for muzzleloaders. These new cleaning chemicals make cleaning muzzleloaders a breeze. With these new products, gone are the hours of cleaning after each session at the range or in the field!

Hunters are also quickly discovering that muzzleloaders offer new hunting seasons, high levels of success and many other unique opportunities.

Extra Seasons and Hunting Benefits
Many states and provinces, including my home province of Saskatchewan offer special muzzleloader hunting seasons that are separate from regular rifle seasons. Many of these special seasons are approximately a month before the regular rifle hunting seasons and are often set up to coincide with or run just before the peak rut of the big game species. Hunting with a muzzleloader during these bonus time periods can prove very exciting and productive. Antelope, deer, moose and elk become more mobile and visible just prior to and during their rutting periods as they try to prove their dominance or search for mates.

In many jurisdictions, special muzzle-loading seasons are often held after all other hunting seasons are over. Typically, these extra seasons are several weeks long. They give hunters ample opportunity to get out in the field and get in some bonus hunting action when big game animals are often patternable as they concentrate on cold weather feeding areas.


Inline muzzleloaders such as this one, have made muzzleloader hunting for
big game animals, much more enjoyable.

During muzzleloader seasons, there are usually fewer hunters in the field than during a regular rifle season. This gives muzzleloader hunters an excellent opportunity to harvest an animal. Fewer hunters means less pressure and less pressure means that the animals should continue acting in their natural ways. With the animals’ daily habits remaining unchanged, muzzleloader hunters should be able to pattern the animals. If the hunter is able to determine when, where and why an animal will be in certain location, it should increase the hunter’s odds for success.

Since in many areas muzzleloader seasons generally start before the rifle seasons, the muzzleloader hunter is able to get a jump on the rifle hunters. This early start accompanied with the fact that there are fewer hunters in the field, should allow the muzzleloader hunter to see more animals and get more opportunities at harvesting a big game animal before the rifle hunters move in.

Muzzle-loading Tactics
Using game calls to attract big animals can be very productive during the muzzleloader seasons. Whitetail and mule deer will often respond to grunt and bleat calls. In the early part of the season, when the rut is just starting to fire up, they may come to your call out of curiosity. If this is the case, be patient as their approach will typically be very slow. Later in the season when the rut is in full swing, be prepared for fast action, as the deer may come storming in to investigate your call.

Many a muzzleloader hunter has rattled in a whitetail deer. To be successful during the early part of the season, you should just tickle your rattling antlers together to stimulate a minor sparring match. Try to scrape your rattling antlers on trees and bushes, trying to fool a buck that there is another buck in his territory. Later in the season, when the rut is more advanced, you can use more aggressive rattling techniques to stimulate full-scale battles.

Elk can be called into range with bugles or cow calls. If the bull elk are bugling, try bugling back to them. With any luck, they will respond and move into muzzleloader shooting range. If the bulls are not calling, try using a cow call to entice them into shooting range. Often a simple series of cow calls will bring in an entire herd of elk.

If you get a chance to hunt moose just prior to the breeding period, bull grunts can be used to effectively coax a bull into range. The reason for this is that bulls will be competing with one another for dominance. However, if it’s breeding season, the bulls will be more interested in checking out the call of a cow in heat as opposed to responding to a bugling bull looking for a fight.

Some muzzleloader hunters pursuing antelope will use a decoy to try and lure in their buck. Although this technique can be highly productive, it can also be very dangerous. Other hunters may see the decoy and be fooled by it. The result could be someone shooting at the decoy and killing or injuring the hunter hiding behind the decoy. In most antelope/muzzleloader situations, I prefer to set up near a watering hole and try to catch a love struck buck as it comes in for a quick drink.

Added Bonuses
Muzzleloader hunters are usually able to go hunting in decent weather conditions. During a typical muzzleloader season, the temperatures are usually moderate to warm. Snow and winter blizzards are a rarity. This means the traditional hunting attire of long johns, toques and parkas can be replaced by T-Shirts, sweat shirts, light jackets and ball caps.

Many gun ranges have realized the growth of muzzle-loading. As a result, special muzzleloader ranges have been built to meet the unique needs of smoke-pole shooters. Having spent time on such ranges, I have found that muzzleloader shooters tend to be friendly, outgoing individuals who are willing to help other shooters, teach them tricks of the trade and talk hunting and shooting for hours on end.

Book, magazine publishers and Internet websites, such as www.biggamehunt.net have also recognized the growth of muzzle-loading. Over the past few years, there has been a steady growth in the number of books and articles published on muzzleloaders and muzzle-loading hunting. With increased access to product reviews, reference materials, hunting stories and hunting techniques, muzzleloader shooters are able to learn more about their sport. Increased knowledge means greater satisfaction and a greater desire to participate in the sport.

Game of Accessories and Gadgets
Muzzleloader shooters will also find that shooting a muzzleloader requires a variety of accessories and gadgets. These items are fun to accumulate. They are even more fun to use!


A few accessories: bullets/sabots, ram rod T-handle, cleaning jag, wire brush,
ball/quick starter, speed loader and cleaning solution are needed for your muzzleloader.

The ramrod is probably the most used muzzleloader gadget you require. One of the main functions of the ramrod is stuffing bullets down the barrel. However, it is also used for maintaining and cleaning the muzzleloader barrel. Ramrods are typically threaded on both ends for adding a variety of gun care attachments.

In addition to your ramrod, you’ll also need a jag (ribbed attachment for cleaning), ramrod extension, bullet puller and a short starter or bullet starter.

For those shooting loose powder, a powder measurer and a flask are essential. For a couple of dollars, you can also get a powder can nozzle that allows you easily pour powder right out of the can.


Just a few of my favorite things: bullets/sabots, speed loader, powder flask,
powder measurer, T-handle, ball/quick starter and a jag.

Whether you shoot loose powder or pellets, express loaders are a very good investment. These small tubes are made to hold a bullet and premeasured charge of powder. Express loaders make reloading a quick process and one that you’ll appreciate, especially when you have a 1200 pound moose requiring a second shot coming straight at you.

A capper unit serves a dual role of helping you put percussion caps on your gun’s nipple and allowing you to carry a few spare percussion caps. Speaking of nipples, a nipple wrench is necessary for removing and replacing the muzzleloader’s nipple. In most muzzleloaders, the nipples must be removed before the gun can be cleaned. Since the nipples are threaded and generally tucked away, a specialized nipple wrench is another must.


A variety of muzzleloader accessories resting on a possibles bag. Included are a powder flask, primers, ball/quick starter, powder measurer, capper and a speed loader.

Black-powder and pyrodex are highly corrosive propellants as they attract moisture. At a minimum, you require cleaning patches, a wire brush, cleaning solutions and gun oil. However, as previously mentioned, with today’s technologies, there are a variety of cleaning solutions and accessories that help make muzzleloader cleaning an easy event.


Cleaning is made easy these days!

After shooting your muzzleloader, you should clean it. For best results, get in the habit of cleaning it after every hunt. If you shoot your gun and store it away without cleaning it, you’ll be in for a big surprise (and it won’t be pleasant) the next time you go to use your muzzleloader.

A small glass jar with a lid on it is ideal for soaking small parts in cleaning solution. As well, an old toothbrush works great for cleaning hard to reach areas of your muzzleloader.

You will require a good set of screwdrivers for taking your gun apart and ensuring that everything is tight. Teflon tape is great for wrapping around the threads on the gun’s nipples. A simple wrap of teflon tape makes the nipple easier to remove and prevents it from seizing. If you are shooting your muzzleloader with a scope, a roll of electrical tape is a good investment. Since black powder and pyrodex are so corrosive, you can save damage to your scope’s finish by covering the scope tube with electrical tape.

When hunting, you will need to carry your muzzleloader accessories with you. Some hunters like to go with backpacks or bags they can carry, while other prefer a pouch that attaches to their belt. Whatever style you choose, make sure that it is big enough to carry all the equipment that you need, yet not so bulky that you continually leave it at home or in your truck. As well, make sure it seals shut, so that you don’t loose your equipment as you stalk across the countryside.

Limitations and Potential Restrictions
Muzzleloaders have changed dramatically over the past few years. However, it’s important to remember that they are still only capable of firing one shot at a time. In addition, they also have a limited effective range. While stories abound of hunters taking big game animals at long range shots with muzzleloaders, they really are a close to moderate range firearm. While many of the new in-line muzzleloaders loaded with a maximum charge have the capability of taking animals out to ranges of 200 plus yards, I personally try to limit my shots to 150 yards and prefer those in the 100 yard range.

Before heading out on a muzzleloader hunt, take time to check the regulations for the jurisdiction you are planning to hunt. Some states and provinces may have restrictions in place that do not allow hunters to use in-line muzzleloaders or scopes on their muzzleloaders. In addition, there may be restrictions in place for minimum caliber sizes…………Article by: Mike Hungle

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