Cabelas Comes to Town

Someone on recently said he was “happier than a retard in a room full of bouncy balls.” That was rolling around in my mind when I pulled into the lot at the new Cabelas up north of Cincinnati. We’d gotten a BassPro years ago. They are promising a second one soon. Field and Stream came in south of town back a year ago. We started getting Dunham’s too. However, I figured Cabelas was going to set them all on their ears.

I do not know what I was expecting.  Maybe it would be women in fur bikinis handing out bricks of .22 for $10 each, or an acre of Hunter Orange clothing, or a ball bath of assorted 1 lb rifle powders.  The build-up was tremendous, and I’ve known people who have traveled 250 miles out of their way to go to a  Cabelas store.  I just figured the place would blow me away.

I came a way feeling like Cabelas had done a competitive job of building a store. Nothing more or less.  It seems bigger than Field and Stream, but not as audacious as BassPro. It’s prices were better than a lot of places, but not as good as Walmart.  The had lots of stuff, but there were a few things missing.  They had a big fish tank, but it was not as big as the one at  BassPro.

The Gun Libary was neat.  There were some decent bargains in there.  I handled a couple of Savage 99’s and a Winchester Model 70.  Nobody was going to lose money on them, but they seemed in decent shape.  I have seen private gun shops price a lot more for a lot less. This was by no means a museum. The fellow running it was a nice guy, and seemed knowledgeable. He was not your average counter monkey.

It was good to see someone have a real full-hearted reloading department again with some reasonable prices.  I bought 1,000 rifle primers.  In fact, that was all I ended up buying.

The .22 ammo was reasonably priced given the current market.  There were competitive prices on rifle and handgun ammo. However, I looked for a few oddballs that I can usually find at BassPro, Dunham’s or even my local gun store, and they were not there.  In shotgun ammo, they were overwrought with 7.5’s, but no #6. I would have bought a few boxes for squirrel hunting if they had.

I could have stood a pair of waterproof boots for turkey hunting if the price was right.  There was nothing for my size-14 feet.

The Bargain Cave was a nice idea, but everything I might have been interested in was marked “Soiled As-is No Return”  When you are thinking about possibly buying a set of waders, you some recourse if they leak.  Know what I mean?

The staff were there. They were nice.  They did not outnumber the customers like at Field and Stream. They knew were stuff was. They knew what it was.  I had few interactions with them, but I did overhear several conversations with other customers. Overall, I was impressed.

Look, I do not need a world on a platter.  I can remember $3.99 boxes of 12 GA ammo, but that does not mean I expect to see them anymore.  However, something compelling needs to make me come out of my reloading cave  when half a dozen dotcoms  can deliver whatever I need to my door with lower prices, no shipping and no sales tax.  Cabelas took the middle road, and I had hoped for better. It will be worth another visit, but not soon. In comparison,  I’ve been to Dunham’s three times now, and bought something every time.  I went to Field and Stream 3 times in a year  and walked out empty handed  and peeved that I wasted my time. I have given up on Dicks.   I go to BassPro about every three months and usually find what I need.

Postscript:  They one big item I needed was an 8 lb container of Hodgdon H4895.  I’ll probably order it from here in a week or so.  I would have been very impressed if it had been in the store. It was not. I heard that you can order from the Cabelas website and get free delivery to the store.  I called to confirm.  Everything Cabelas sells can be shipped for free to a store EXCEPT things like rifle powder.  DRAT.


The Zen Garden

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything about the spiritual aspects of deer hunting. Frankly, I have been bogged down so much in the nuts and bolts of things like lead casting and such I have not had a chance to spend the time to really formulate what I needed to say. That does not mean I do not give it a lot of thought.

Thirty-some years ago I used to travel around the I-275 loop on the west side of Cincinnati and wonder what it would be like to hunt the vast stretches of bottom land forming the mouth of the Great Miami River. I knew there were deer there; frequently there would be a roadkill carcass in the berm. I always looked for deer in the fields. Back in the early 80’s I was out driving a lot, trying to get permission to hunt. I drive that stretch quite a bit now. There is no guessing about the deer anymore. I can regularly see a dozen or more between Petersburg, KY and Miamitown. Last March, I counted 30 carcasses in a mile of road as the snow melted. I have seen plenty of turkeys there too; the first time I have seen turkey in Hamilton County. I knew they would get there eventually.

It gets me to thinking about why I go all the way to Bracken County, Kentucky to hunt. It’s 63 miles from the house. The bottoms are less than 20 miles. Part of it is simply it is darn hard to get access to hunt anywhere in Hamilton County. Yes, it can be done, but Hamilton County is a very built up. Most of it is subsumed by Cincinnati and satellite municipalities where any sort of hunting is banned. What is available to hunt is getting more and more urbanized. The unincorporated areas west of Cleves is about all that is left, and the big corn fields are slowly being turned into softball fields and junk yards.

I remember years ago driving all the way up to Wilmington, Ohio to do a morning’s squirrel hunt on a friend’s family farm. It all seemed so pristine and bucolic, but I came to a peninsula in the back woodlot and found myself neatly squeezed between the back end of a Kroger parking lot on one side and the FedEx runway on the other with large cargo jets landing over my head. The wide open spaces of the Great Miami River bottoms are no longer fields and woods, but are rapidly becoming residential and light industrial. I was offered a shotgun hunt there twenty years ago. The only problem was  it was  in the back end of a steel yard. The fence around it was 8 feet high with barbed wire at the top, but the deer were getting in and becoming a nuisance. I looked the place over and thanked the fellow for his kindness and never went.

This brings me to a point. Hunting for me is not about meat. It feeds something else in me. It has more to do with where I hunt and how I hunt than what I hunt. I have tried hunting deer with a Walmart at my back. It ain’t the same. Even on public land, I kind of feel weird. If you are reading this somewhere out west or up in the great trackless north, you may be scratching your head. Around me, public land is not hundreds of thousands of acres or even thousands or that many hundreds of acres. Unless you drive a ways, you are talking about a WMA of maybe 2000 huntable acres with every turnout and parking lot filled on the Shotgun Opener.

I am happy on my own 200 acres, shared with just my family. I can really look forward to each visit. I can go sit in my stand on the Rifle Opener and feel safe. I can hear trucks on the county road a mile or so away and dogs barking at the neighbors over on the next ridge, but I don’t have a housing project or a Kmart at my back. It makes me wonder: why is this acceptable to me?  Why don’t I need snow-capped mountains and unnamed lakes to feel at peace?

This is not wilderness. There is very little wilderness left in the Greater Ohio Valley Most of the larger parcels of huntable  land is land are second growth forest on reclaimed land. Even my place has the remains of three different settlements dating back before Kentucky as a state. No, what I have is an echo of wilderness, just enough to satisfy.
Zen Garden
Have you ever seen a Zen garden? A Zen garden is kind of neat idea. The idea is to artificially create a landscape that can cause the viewer to contemplate things larger than what is ostensibly there. Buddhist monks in Japan got into this idea. A bunch of rocks, neatly raked can represent an ocean. A big rock in the middle can stand in for an island. It ends up kind of coming off like a overly-manicured golf course, but instead of whacking balls around the monks contemplate the Universe.

I pass a little Zen garden nearly every day. There is a Catholic convent on the way home, and some of the nuns must be broadening their horizons. It is right out by the road. I cannot fathom how you could seriously groove on the thing without having the traffic interfere. The other day, however, I saw a couple of doe munching on the lawn next to it, and it got me to thinking.

That is kind of what we’ve got here at deer camp, a Zen garden. Only I like game roaming around on mine, and I like to do my contemplations with a 30-06.

Zen Monks waiting for season to start

This  pic could have been taken at any Kentucky Waffle House in mid November. Look at these guys. They all seem to be wearing Hunter Orange.  What’s the difference between that and this?


I’ll tell you what: the hat. It ain’t legal in Kentucky if you don’t wear the hat, but then I guess they come from a place with a warmer climate. The Conservation Officers must be giving them a little slack.



Pre-Season Scouting with Google Earth

It is not every day I get to break serious new ground in deer hunting, but I have found something with Google Earth that I simply must tell. I have been able to find actual deer trails and deer bedding areas on Google Earth. It is not easy, but it can be done.

We were long overdue for an update on Google Earth. The last image I had was from 2010. Over the winter, we finally got an updated image, and it was extremely high resolution. I can easily pick out the lawn furniture at the Thoughtful Spot. It was shot mid-September of last year, before haying. It just so happens I had been over the ground with Angus looking for new blind sites for his first year going solo, so I know what was there. We had seen trails going through the pastures as well as a few bedding sites we had previously missed.

I was on Google Earth looking things over, and it suddenly hit me: those trails were there! Those bedding sites were there too! I had to know what I was looking at, but they were there– subtle, but there. It took a special set of circumstances.

1) The grass had started to go dormant. It was tall in these bedding areas, and the tops were still green while the base of the plants were losing color. That meant the bowl-shaped beds showed up as bright circles.

2) The trails took more doing. Google Earth has a compass control in the upper right corner. If you grab the N(North) icon with your mouse, you can rotate the view around 360 degrees. I have the Terrain Exaggeration set to 1. You might have to play with this setting to get the effect. However, if you grab the compass control and rotate the view at a moderate rate back and forth, your eyes get a better illusion that you are looking at something other than a flat image. With a little work, I could see distinct striations in the tall grass as deer trails. Here is an example. Go to West Fork Dam, Cincinnati, Ohio, and then navigate over to here:

39°14’52.51″ N 84°30’06.11″ W


This is part of the Hamilton County Park District now, but it used to be a place I roamed as a kid. There are a lot of deer there, and I tested the technique on several known spots. The white spots in the grass are beds. The striations in the grass are trails leading to the beds.

There net result of this discovery is that I have found a couple new bedding areas on the farm as well as a few well-traveled trails through the tall grass. I am going to exploit them this season, and have gone and ordered a couple of new ladder stands. More on that later.


The Bug is Starting to Hit

It is still only the first week in August, but I am already getting ready for deer season. Two new treestands arrived from These buddy stands cost less than $90 each and by rejoining the Buyers’ Club, I got the shipping for free. I’ll be scouting for new stand sites when I get back down to Camp, hopefully this weekend.Buddy Stand

I have also been hard at work in the Reloading Cave. I’ve got several new cast lead deer loads worked up.

  • The finished Whelenizer load: 43 grains over H4895 over a lead bullet cast from a RCBS 35-200-FN with gas checks.
  •  A 357 Mag load for the Marlin 1894. I used a Lee 2-Cavity Bullet Mold C358-158-SWC, again a gas-checked bullet. With 16 grains of H110, it should take a deer at 50 yards. I do not expect to hunt with it as a primary weapon this year, but it will be nice to have handy during season if I’m out roaming about.

I’ve also been loading for my 357 Mag and 45 ACP pistols. The big innovation I’ve been trying out is Powder Coating. I found a good thread on

The closer I followed the instructions, the better my loads got. Powder Coated paint on lead bullets is a fairly new innovation in and of itself. The idea of doing without the paint sprayer and just tumbling the bullets in a sealed tub is fairly radical twist, but if you get the right paint it will stick to the bullets really well.

A handy addition to my casting this summer was this find at for under $18:
Etekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser IR Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun, Yellow/Black

I think they have it at Walmart too.

I can aim this at the top of the alloy in the casting pot and get an accurate reading, so I know how to adjust the rheostat on my Lee Production Pot. I also use it to read the temperature of the powder coated bullets in the oven so I can keep them close to 400F. As they are cooling, I can read when the bullets are safe to touch.




The Whelenizer Makeover

The Whelenizer is back on the rack, I had a blast trying out my new cast loads down at camp over the weekend. I went with the idea of loading as I went, 5 rounds at a time, and I got a chance to survey all the territory between 42 grains and 50 grains of H4895. Accuracy was best between 42 and 44. I was able to break 2500 with 50 grains, however both the accuracy was poor and the velocities were all over the place.

My conclusions are as follows:

1) 43 grains of H4895 gave consistent velocity and decent accuracy. It was getting late in the day when I tried it, but I had a couple of 2-shot groups that would fit inside a 50 cent piece.
2) The velocity variations increased with the charge weight.
3) When it came down to it, I had to look back at the overall goals. I had a hand-cast lead bullet– check. It could bag a deer at 150 yards or better– check. 42-44 grains produced a pleasant amount of recoil and 46-50 grains did not buy me anything except more wear and tear on the shoulder.

4) The Whelenizer kept its distinctive and authoritative report with the new load. When it barks everyone on the neighboring ridges will know I’ve shot.

So what I am taking home is more like a hot 35 Remington than anything else. I call that a win. It fits a nice niche in my rifle rotation. The Whelenizer with 200 grain jacketed round-nose was always my designated “rain gun.” I took it out when I expected lousy weather, because it had a less-than-perfect stock. I acquired a stainless Hawkeye in 30-06 last year, and so I’m well covered if I want to sit in a toad-strangler and watch one of the pastures. The Whelenizer will be good for treestands as well stalking the cedar thickets.

This was my first attempt at loading at the shooting bench. The hardest part was getting a dead-level surface to mount the scale. I used a bubble-level app on my tablet and a couple copies of the local phone book (up two pages to the right, down three on the back, etc.) The other problem I had was trying to use a scale in something other than dead air. For the first part of the day, I had nearly no wind. However, even the slightest breeze would skew the scale. If I did this regularly, I’d build a box with a plexiglass door, and screw feet on the bottom for leveling, or just spring for a small electronic scale. Transporting the stuff was easy. I fit everything in a 20mm ammo can.


News from the Shooting Bench

I have been working feverishly with new cast loads for my 35 cals. This past weekend, I finally got a chance to run them through the chronograph.

35 Whelen

I pulled the Whelenizer out of the rotation last year in preference to my new 30-06 Ruger Hawkeye. This year, it was time to put it back in. I have been casting RCBS 35-200-FN with gas checks, and then powder coating them. My old Whelenizer load for the Rem 7600 was a 200 grain Rem CL over H4895, running at slightly reduced velocities– roughly equivalent to a 358 WIN. I started the cast load at hot REM 35 levels, and I am going to work up to a comfortable, accurate load.

Marlin 1894 .357 Magnum

This has become the hiking around gun at camp. Since the coyotes really started to be a problem, I’ve tried to have everyone pack heat when they go about. You never know anymore when you are going to run into trouble. I have a Lee 158 grain GC mold. Again, I used powder coating in lieu of conventional lubrication. Again, I had a winner. I clocked these at over 1500 fps– not a max load of H110, but healthy. They gave fairly good accuracy, enough for quick snap shots at 25 yards.

Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum
I tried the same loads in my 357 Mag Ruger Blackhawk, it was considerably slower coming out of a pistol barrel, but I was able to hit what I aimed at, and used it around the farm on dirt clods and rotten stumps.

GP-100 and Ruger LCR .357 Magnum
KYHillChick and I both are in the process of working up self-defense loads. In her GP-100, I was able to come close to a 125 gr 38 SPL +P load with 4.5 grains of Titegroup. I can handle a bit more in my Ruger LCR. My load is complete. I’m using 5.0 grains of Titegroup under a 125 grain Hornady XTP. The whole idea here was that full-blown 357 mag loads were going to result in too much recoil for either of our tastes. I used 125 grain Lee casts and started working up from a 38 Special load until we each found a comfortable load. 5.0 grains were a tad too much for ‘HillChick. We will have Hornady XTP’s for daily carry and matching cast loads for practice. Mine clocked in the high 980’s. Hers chrono’d at 890, just under the 38 +P loads she is currently carrying. By downloading 357 Mag, you get the benefit of reduced recoil, less pressure, and longer case life. It also keeps crud from building up in the chamber from firing 38 SPC in a 357 Mag.


News from Camp

I have been taking my usual summer hiatus from the weblog, but that does not mean I have not been busy. Things have been really hopping both down at camp and back at the reloading bench.

The big news came back in the beginning of June. Little Mooselette came down with the rest of Team Moose for a camping trip. I pitched a tent for her on Friday night, and she crawled right in and slept until morning. Saturday night, shortly after 9, she announced she was going to her tent, and she stayed in until Sunday morning. This is phenomenal behavior for a 3-year old.

We also went out spotting turkeys together on that trip. We did not find much, except for box turtle, but she did a great job.

I will tell you there is nothing better in this world than having your 3 year old granddaughter beg to drive over to Grandpa’s house, just so she can throw her arms around your neck and say, “I am a good camper and I want to hunt turkeys.”