Hunter Evolution

It’s getting on towards deer season. It is less than a month until the Muzzleloader Opener, and I am feeling less than exuberant. This is going to be a watershed year. Angus announced that he is not going out for smokepole season for the first time. Moose has been missing from October Camp for some time now. It has to do with work. Both of them work in the same factory now. Sleep is becoming more of an issue for them. Don’t worry, I’ll be there. SuperCore is counting the days as well. It is just going to be the two of us.

I never liked the 5 stages of Hunter Evolution that everyone was so hot on about a decade ago. I never could abide the idea that somehow you went from just being happy for a chance to shoot to being consummate outdoorsman in 5 easy steps. It was malarkey from the start and I said so:

Why Do I Hunt

The past decade has seen a lot of changes in my life. Angus graduating High School and going to work was not a massive seismic event. Neither is his missing the October ML Opener. However, it will be considerably lonelier at camp without him. It marks a stage in my evolution as a hunter, and I think those stages are far more important than the popular ones.

Stage One: The way I see it, I missed out on this one entirely. Everyone in my family was completely spent on hunting by the time I came on the scene. Grandpa and Dad had been hunters. I did not start hunting until I was an adult. When I got started, it was with a wonderful group of older friends. I was the baby. However, that all started falling apart way too early in my development. The first stage in this is model is Apprenticeship.

Stage Two: The second stage is all about breaking away and individuating yourself. This is where I started. This phase is learning how to do it on your own. Most of my early experience was solo, but in this second stage, hunters start picking their own methods, place, friends, and so on. This is where the average guy is sitting when he has his first child. He may still be hunting the family farm. He may be hunting with Dad, but he’s his own man and knows as much of the mechanics of hunting as he is going to know.

Stage Three: The child-rearing years turn the journeyman hunter into a family man. Hunting usually takes a back seat to being a husband and a father. This is usually when a guy starts feeling his roots starting to grow as well. In these days, divorce and lay-offs and other upheavals can throw a fellow back to Stage Two one or more times. Count me in that crowd. It eventually settles out however. The key decision point in these years is carving out a niche for hunting in one’s life. A lot of guys stop hunting at this point. The sofa gets to be too inviting. For many, this is the time when just getting afield is a triumph in and of itself.

Stage Four: At some point, the little ones start coming online. This is when Dad starts to show the sprouts what it is all about. This is when I started my weblog. I’d just come through the agonizing reappraisal period that had me decide whether to hang it up for good, or leave the sofa behind. My answer came with purchasing 200 acres and deciding my kids were not growing in a Mall. My sons were getting to be the right age. In a lot of ways, this is when a hunter really begins to mature. It is at this point he starts to pay it forward to the next generation. We celebrated 15 years at the farm this month. This is certainly the best 15 years of my life so far.

Stage Five: This is where I see myself right now. I won’t go as far as to call KYHillChick and mI empty-nesters. However, after the kids start embarking on their own Stage Twos, there comes a time when silence descends. This is also about the time a guy starts realizing he’s not 25 anymore, and not even 45 anymore. The big question is What now? Some guys start their bucket lists. Me? This is what I’m starting to figure out. These are the years where you learn to work smarter instead of harder. There is no more bulling your way through situations.

Stage Six: I’m not sure what that is yet. I know at some point you become more dependent on others. Eventually, just getting afield is a triumph in itself again. Six may mark the long slow slide to black. I don’t know. I know I ain’t there yet and don’t plan on being there for a long, long time.


Eight weeks and Counting

I just watched the countdown timer cross the 8-week mark. It’s now exactly 2 months to the start of Kentucky’s Modern Weapons Season.  I stayed home from the farm overnight. It was going to be hot and muggy and thunderstorms have been moving through since sundown Friday.

I’ve been busy down in the shamanic reloading cave all week, replenishing the larder.

25-06:  117 gr Hornady SPBT over H4831sc
30-06:  Lots of 150 and 165 grainers over H4895.
30-30:  170-grain cast lead over H4895 — more green powder coated stuff
308 Win: 165 Grain Hornady SPBT over H4895
357 Mag:  125-grain cast lead over Universal. This has become my standard carry load at the farm.

Generally speaking, I load up a year or two’s worth as needed.  This year I had more time to take on a few extra projects.


Grafs was selling 100 grain Prvi Partisan bullets on the cheap, and I picked up a batch.  O.T. had told me his Mauser shot 100’s and 120’s about the same.  I tried the 100-grain bullets and O.T.’s Mauser just didn’t like them at all. I switched back to the 117’s. This is the third year I have had my buddy’s old deer rifle out. Poor O.T. died over last winter. Whenever I have that rifle in my hands I miss the old coot.


A lot of folks wonder why I use H4895 in all my 30-06 loads.  H4350 is the traditional favorite for 165-grain loads. 150 grain is the preferable deer bullet.  To tell you the truth, I was scratching my head on that one over the summer. It’s been 16 years since I started reloading and this 165 grain/’4895 load was the first rifle load I ever cooked up.  The only real change over the years is that I swapped H4895 for IMR4895 about 5 years in and never changed back.

You can call it inertia. You can say I’m stuck in a rut. The other way of looking at it is why muck with something that works?  Back then, I wanted a load that would work well in my M1 Garand, a Remington 742 and a Model 70. I was being conservative, and when my starting load gave me the best accuracy out of my rifles that I ever had, I stopped right there and left it at that.  The bonus was that using an off-MAX load of H4895 reduced recoil significantly.

In those days, I had never taken a shot at a deer past 50 yards. I was usually hunting out of the same stands that I used for bow hunting.  Today, I’ve stretched that out to about 175 yards, but the point is deer are not that hard to kill and it makes no sense to punish my shoulder unnecessarily. I have never needed a premium bullet, and I have never seen this combination fail to drop a deer quickly.

I used ‘4895 originally so that it would be gentle on the op-rod of my new M1 Garand. My M1 Garand did duty for several years as #2 son’s designated Yute Rifle.  I brought the M1 Garand out this summer to re-evaluate it as a deer rifle. The answer is that it does a great job, but I have no great burning desire to schlep a 10 lb rifle around. The en-blocs are a relative pain as well. I keep 5-rounders around for hunting, but unloading still means loose rounds flying about. As a reloader, I have come to favor rifles that do not throw brass.  If you really want to know, the Ruger Hawkeye has spoiled me.

30-30 WIN

I keep trying to push my lead casting projects forward.  This was my first 30-cal project.  I tried a powder-coated Lee 309-170-FN GC with both H4895 as a potential deer load and Universal for plinking.  Both work. The deer loads show reasonable 100 yards accuracy that I would consider carrying this load afield this year.  However, I’m currently deviled with uneven coatings of the powder coat paint.  In my other loads, an uneven spread of paint on the bullet does nothing. It all evens out in the sizing process. However, the Marlin 336 has a tighter chamber and geometry of the Lee bullet is such that I have a situation where half the rounds either engage the rifling and engrave the bullet or I can’t close the lever at all. I may just ditch the cast-lead-for-deer project and use the 170-grain bullets in the cat-sneeze loads. They are wickedly fun.

308 WIN

Nothing new here. The 165 grain Hornady SPBT’s from my 30-06 loads were the most accurate. I had trouble finding Varget a few years ago and went to H4895 as a backup.  I’ve found Varget again, but I’m letting it ride for another year.   My Savage 99 will still be with me in the stand on The Opener.

357 Magnum
With all the trouble we have had with coyotes the past few years, I have decreed that folks should always be armed when leaving the curtilage.  I’m not worried that anyone is going to get eaten by the ‘Yotes, but they are getting increasingly brazen.  Angus went out for a hike at sundown a couple of years ago and got stalked.  A neighbor got clipped coming across his yard.

Pursuant to all this, I loaded up another batch of 357 Magnum using the Lee 358-125-FN tumble-lubed and mounted over a light load of Universal.  It fits all of our Conceal Carry pistols, the Marlin 1894 lever, and the Ruger Blackhawk I carry on my hip.  If it came down to it, I’d honestly prefer my stout hiking staff. Yotes are not pack hunters, but the feral dogs are. However, this is not a defensive measure.  The point is that anytime we have the opportunity to pick off one of these pests, I want folks to be prepared.

For deer, I have successfully tested the Marlin 1894 with a powder-coated Lee 309-158-FN gas checked bullet over a load of H110. This is as stout a 357 Mag load as I care to carry. I tried it once with the Ruger Blackhawk, and the pistol nearly came out of my hand. Out of the lever, I will not say it comes close to a 30-30, but inside 50 yards, I can see it taking a deer.

I was not happy with the accuracy of the rifle with the standard factory sights, so I added a Williams peep sight. It took changing out the front sight as well, and I had to contact Williams to find the right one. However, the 1894 is able to print this load through the same hole offhand at 25 yards.  I’m not going out of my way to hunt with it, but . . .


Thunderstorm 9/10/2016

Angus and Moose gave me a GoPro Hero for my birthday. I’ve been testing it out. They say I can use it hunting, but I’ll be deuced if I can figure out a way to tie it to a turkey or a deer. I might be able to use the bicycle handlebar attachment to put it on a buck’s antler, but for all that trouble, I’d might as well just shoot him.

Here’s a test that went remarkably well. I set it to record a time lapse video of an approaching thunderstorm on this past Saturday. The wind blew it over, so I had to move the camera just before the biggest cell passed over.


A New 100-Yard Target Stand

Back when I was wringing out the new Ruger American Hawkeye in .223 REM, I noticed an interesting phenomenon.  There was a lot of wind, and my groups were getting spread out horizontally a good 4 inches while the vertical difference was less than an inch.  I looked into it, and the horizontal deflection of a 20 MPH wind on that load was indeed 4 inches at 100 yards.  I frequently have gusty winds out at camp when I’m sighting in deer rifles, so I began thinking about a fix.



The nice thing about having a place of your own to hunt and shoot is it allows you to think out of the box.  I decided that having two 100 target stands situated 90 degrees from the shooting bench would solve the problem.  The existing one is along a North/South axis.  The new one is roughly due East of the bench.  Depending on the wind direction, I can shoot at targets that minimize wind drift.



SuperCore’s New Ride

SuperCore came down to try out his new ride, an Arctic Cat ATV that he will be using to get to the blind this coming season. It’s 4WD with an automatic transmission.

This breaks a 15-year moratorium on the farm regarding ATV riding. When Dad and I got the place back in 2001, he gave me some sound advice: If I rode ATV’s on the property, I’d have fun, and when they buried me at 73, everyone would say I’d had a good life. On the other hand, if I kept ATV’s off the property and hoofed it up and down those hills, they’d be beating me to death in my nineties. At the time, it also seemed like a good idea, because of the kids; Moose and Angus were both under 10 years old.

One thing I’ve noticed in the intervening years is that deer and turkeys do respond adversely to ATV traffic. All my neighbors rode to their stands, and you could hear them all crank up about a half-hour before sunrise on the Opener. You’d also hear a lot of deer running through the woods on their way to my place. There are fewer hunters on the surrounding properties these days, so the effect is not quite as noticeable. However, there used to be a real stampede right around 10 o’clock as the Orange Army cranked up their quads and rode out to lunch.

So why let Supercore’s ATV on the property?  Look, SuperCore is in his 8th decade.  If I’m still on the right side of the sod at 80, I’ll be expecting a little slack too.