On Yute Rifles and Counter Monkeys

I just love having fun with the counter boys, especially at the big chain stores. It’s a nasty habit, I know. Still, I just love it when somebody hands me a dusty 45-70 Marlin and tells me that I NEED this rifle to bring down deer. It just makes my day when someone tells me I can’t get a new 300 Savage, not even on special order. Now that I have two sons to come with me, the fun gets even better. It has become more akin to performance art.

“Can I help you?”

“We’re here to look at yute rifles. Yute season is coming up, and I promised I’d take them yute hunting.”

“Yute rifles?” ( Oh good, this one is too young to have seen My Cousin Vinny!)

“Yep. Got any?”

“No sir, I don’t think we do. Are they like an antelope?”

“Nope. They’re like these two yutes here. I need a rifle for each of them.”

“Oh.”

We try out a couple of rifles for #2, he’s 12 and his current nickname is “Mooseboy.” We find out that he’s already big enough for an adult rifle. I have him try on a Remington 7600. Mooseboy asks if it comes in 35 Whelen. The clerk says no. Mooseboy politely tells him he’ll wait.

#3 son is 6. He’s big for his age, but he is still trying to fit his brother’s BB gun. That doesn’t mean he has to be left out of the fun.

“What have you got for this one?” I asked the clerk.

“He’s a bit small.”

“Yes, but he’s got the urge. Son, what is it you said you wanted?”

“A carbine.”

“A carbine then, “ I said, as I turn back to the clerk. “ He prefers military styling– loves the SKS.”

“Uh,”

“Have you got the Ruger Deerfield?”

“The what?”

“The Ruger Deerfield, the new 44 Mag semi?”

“They don’t make it anymore.”

“No, that’s the old style. He wants the new style.”

“No, we don’t carry it. “

“But you can order it?”

”Well, I. . .”

“Do you have a Mini-30 or a Mini-14? We can at least check the size of the stock.”

“We have a Mini-14.”

“Good bring it down.”

By this time, the whole counter had come over.

“Son, we’ll have to order it, but here’s the same basic thing in 223.”

“But Dad,” said #3. “That’s not a deer rifle.”

“Sir,” says the senior counter monkey, “ who has now interjected himself. You don’t really expect this boy to shoot deer with a Mini-14?”

“Nope. “ I said. “He was thinking about a Mini-30 or the Deerfield.”

“Don’t you think-“

At this point the Mini-14 came over the counter. I opened it, checked the action and then passed it to the six year old, who looked in the chamber and stuck his finger in just to be sure.

“Here, son.” I said. “Shoulder this.” #3 brought it up smartly and aimed at the stuffed coyote behind the counter as best he could.

“Sir, you’re not really expecting to have this boy-“

“Nope, I don’t. Not if it doesn’t fit. Proper fit’s everything. The stock’s too long, and I’m not going to saw up a good stock while this kid’s growing like a weed. Sorry Son, we’ll have to wait another year.”

#3 passed the rifle back to me without complaint.

“Sir, don’t you think a 22 rifle would be more appropriate?”

“For deer?” I asked. “That’s a bit small, don’t you think? Oh well, next year then. Moose? You like that 7600?”

“I’d rather have stainless.” He replied. “Stainless and black. Maybe Gunbroker?”

Times was up. The show had to end. Mom was waiting. It was time to go. We thanked everyone behind the counter and off we went.

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To hang or Not to Hang, That is the Question

I’ve never been much of a believer in letting the carcass age. Mine usually go right to the processor and I usually pick up the results a week later. He may let mine hang for a few days, while it waits its turn, but that’s it. I’m on the road to processing my own, now that I have a shed to do it, but it won’t age.

I worked in a frozen meat plant for years, and before we ground up the 8-foot diameter pallets of beef, we’d put it in a tempering room. Basically, we were aging the cuts slightly before using them, and also letting them achieve the right temperature. Usually, a pallet of beef stayed in tempering a couple of days. Once commited to tempering, a lot of meat had to be out in x hours or it was resold as dog food. Things were tight, and nothing stayed in longer than 72 hours.

Aging in beef has to do with the chemical breakdown of the intra-muscular fat. Aged beef tastes better, because the fat has changed.

In venison, things are different:

1) The fat content is so much lower as to add a near-negligible component to the overall taste.

2)We deliberately trim off as much of the fat as possible with venison, and then generally add back hog fat or beef fat to suit our palates. Few people do a venison roast or steak without a strip of bacon in the recipe somewhere.

3)Freezing venison also does a bit of aging-like chemical changes to the meat. I personally prefer my venison after it’s been in the freezer 90 days.

The other thing that I feel is an argument against aging is the fact that it is hard to keep meat at a good consistent temperature and humidity in an industrial environment, let alone in a home operation. I won’t even mention the pathogenic implications.

As I said, this is one guy’s opinion, but I was around processed meat for several years, I was closely attached to the QC and microbiology end of the business and I got to see how things got done on an industrial basis. I also got to see how small slip-ups could become catastrophic.

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The ritual of Fall has begun.

The bug finally hit last night. All of a sudden, the scene changed. It came with the 10 degree drop in temperature, the accumulating leaves in the yard, the smell of my old leather shooting glove as I brought it out of the case. It was time to bow hunt, and I could no longer wait. I had been practicing for quite a while, but it had not seemed real. It was something too far off in the future to get worked up about.

I grabbed some arrows and grandpa’s old watering can and stepped off the twenty yards, set down the can and then dropped the arrows in as I have been doing for years. The points hit the bottom with the same hollow dink, dink-a-dink. I pulled one out, knocked it, drew and held. The pin sat on the target like it had been nailed there. Time stopped. Release. I saw the orange fletch pass into the target and disappear. Bull. Time started again.

The ritual of Fall has begun.

Fall is a reality of meteorology and astronomy. It is also a reality of the heart. Summer left a week ago, but Fall started last night.

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The Optimal Whitetail Load

How do you know if you have an optimized whitetail load? That question is simple to answer: take it out in the woods, point it at deer and touch it off. If, in the next few seconds, you transform a graceful, warm, vital deer into a slowly cooling pile of venison, I think it is safe to conclude that you have an optimal load.

Okay, I’m a smart-a$$.

There is something I have noticed as I ever so slowly mature as a deer hunter and a reloader. There are an infinite number of mental bunny holes and most of them lead eventually to a dead deer.

Optimizing for velocity, force, sectional density, Taylor KO, all seem to lead to successful whitetail hunting. About the only projects I’ve tried that have not panned out are a hot 44 Mag pistol load for deer that is not too loud, and a good .223 Rem whitetail load that doesn’t keyhole out of my Mini 14. All the others have been winners.

I am forced to conclude that whitetail are not that hard to kill, and they represent one of the easiest challenges for the reloading hunter.

1) Any cartridge built for human-sized game will take down a whitetail. With all the effort to find the optimal military cartridge expended over the last few hundred years, it only remains to find one you like and put some soft-point bullets on it.

2) A deer has a kill zone about as big as a pie-plate. If you can regularly hit a pie plate given a specific stance and weapon system and target distance, you will probably have a deer.

3) Reloading safety dictates that you start with a load about 10% off the maximum and work up to the optimum. With whitetail, you don’t have to go much past that 10%-off-max load to have a dandy, accurate, deadly, cheap load. All my current deer loads are 5-8% off-max.

4) You can use premium bullets all you want if it makes you feel better about your loads. The deer will not mind. However, Corelokts and Powerpoints do just fine too, if you’re optimizing for cost.

Whenever I was working with my Dad, he used to say ” If it hurts, you’re probably doing it wrong.” That was a great piece of truth. It is true for spade shovels, claw hammers, and a bunch of other things. It is especially true with whitetail deer loads. If you find your shoulder hurting, you’ve got too much recoil for a whitetail load. If your wallet is aching, you’re paying too much for your ammunition.

35 Rem, 444 Marlin, 308, 270? Yes, one of those will do quite nicely. My personal favs right now are are 308 loaded to 300 Savage levels and 30-06. If you think ’06 works great at 200 yards, you should see what it does at 25!

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A Day in the Field

I once said that I learn more about myself during a day in the field than I learn in a year at the office. Those were tall words, especially in the hindsight of over 20 years in business and over 20 years of hunting. Were they true?

Certainly when I said them, they were. There were so many lessons to learn back then. Nowadays the lessons come harder, and the lessons now hit so hard when they do come. It’s harder now to lay a fresh edge to the wind and let it lay bare to the cold.

At the office, careers die easy. Somebody pulls some real boner and gets the sack. To the office, they are dead. Everyone does a little grief bit and moves on. It’s easy to be spiritually slack at the office. Nothing is for keeps. If it’s too bad, you just downplay it on your resume when you go to look for the next job. In the field, there is no taking back a bad shot, no telling a gut-shot deer you are sorry. It is all for keeps. Whatever you do in the field may have no impact on the rest of the world, but it can haunt you until you die.

I remember the day we all hunted at a farm beside a man and his boy out for their first bird hunt. I still remember their shotguns—matching re-blued Winchester 1897’s. It was the family’s father/son shotguns that had been lovingly kept up.

We’d get on a pheasant and the bird would go on point and the bird would flush, and the boy would shoot, and it would be a miss. He consistently shot over the bird. We’d all agreed we’d hold off until the boy had one. Finally, we came past a barn, and a pheasant flushed suddenly and the boy threw up his gun. Bang!

BANG! My buddy had had enough and decided to help out. I’m pretty sure the pheasant was dead on the first shot, but my buddy had already committed himself with his Citori. The bird flopped into the grass. The father ran forward to retrieve the bird. The boy just looked at my buddy like he had shot him instead of the bird. He was numb.

The father came up with the pheasant and shook the boy’s hand and hugged him. The boy just stood there like a statue, while the father put the pheasant into the boy’s game bag. It all ended as if nothing bad happened, all you could tell was the life had gone out of the boy’s eyes.

After that, we split up. The boy and the father took off with one of the dogs and my buddy and I went the other direction. I tried to explain it to my buddy, who was oblivious.

“That’s the way it was in my family!” He said, when I tried to explain why the kid had been less than enthusiastic. “You got your shot, and if you didn’t get the bird, it was fair game for everybody.”

Yeah, well. I found out as we walked that he’d had the same thing happen often to himself as a kid. He had had to tote a bunch of birds over the years that really weren’t his, but one’s he’d missed. He’d had to watch someone else take them. It had all been boiling in him while we were walking with the father and son and finally he had acted impulsively. I spent a good while that morning hearing about my buddy’s pent-up anger. When he was spent, it finally sunk in that he had started that whole mess over again in a new generation.

Anyhow, I was by that farm the other day. We hadn’t hunted it in fifteen years. I saw the barn, and I saw the hillside. Suddenly I could see the father, the kid, those re-blued 1897’s, and those kid’s eyes staring off into a great emptiness. I was just a bystander, but it still haunts me.

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Blood Trail Philosophy — Push or Wait?

I was reading the November 2004 issue of Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine over lunch. There was a big article on the “5 Critical Mistakes of Blood Trailing.” It all boiled down to this: Let the deer lie down and die. Don’t push. I remember 10 years ago this magazine was saying the exact opposite: trail the deer immediately.

Of all the deer I’ve shot and arrowed, I can only think of two that needed any special treatment. In all the other cases, I’ve could have walked to the deer and tag it immediately. However, I followed the old sage advice about letting the deer “stiffen up” up until 10 years ago and never pursued a kill until at least 30 minutes after the shot.

When D&DH came out pro-push, it was a revelation. To me, the idea of pursuing a deer immediately made sense. Dead is dead. Wounded? I probably would do more to hasten a fatally shot deer’s departure from this mortal coil by pushing it, rather than letting it lay down and recover its composure.

I posted this query to the 24hourcampfire, and found that most folks tended towards pushing—that is getting on trail immediately. One respondent from Canada, CatntheHat had this to say:

”I remeber reading the “push them hard” article and thinking that was a pretty good way of stinkin’ up a bunch of nice venison!

I can’t remember having to trail one for any length that I shot at with any of my rifles, as they didn’t go far.”

To be honest, my tracking skills are rather stunted. Most of my shots have resulted in the deer going down in sight or within 50 yards. That is by no means a boast. I’ve also had two wounded ones that got away in the past twenty years, and I’m not sure if pushing or waiting would have changed the outcome. They both haunt me; that is a fact for sure.

The first was in 1989. I muffed a bow shot and I have no idea where the broadhead connected. In retrospect it might have just been a slice on the foreleg. All I know is I had a bit of blood on the arrow and an intermittent blood trail. In those days, I held firm to the “wait and let them stiffen” catechism. I waited a full half hour before getting down from my stand. I trailed the buck for an hour and a half. When the buck stopped, the blood stopped. When he moved, the wound opened up and flowed. The trail came to a fence, and my buddy would not let me cross. He claimed I’d get shot for sure by the landowner. I finally finally relented after considerable arguing, but I still wish I hadn’t. I never hunted that property or with that buddy again.

The second happened last year. I hit a doe during muzzleloader season. I found out later the sight had been knocked askew and I probably hit way high. I had a small blood trail to follow for about 50 yards and then nothing. I brought out the dog and the Coleman lantern and was doing my best to locate something when we started taking incoming fire from the next ridge. I found out much later that a party had come out and started a shooting contest in their headlights. The target had been an old stump, but the stump was rotten and the shots were blowing through and traveling over the ravine and into the trees above my head. I beat it out of there. At the time, it appeared they were shooting at me. The next morning I found a big blood smear and some drag marks in the bottoms—signs of a hasty field dressing. Oh well.

In those two cases, I don’t know if pushing or waiting would have affected the outcomes. If I knew I had a gut shot deer on my hands, I would probably back off and wait. However, there are a lot of impinging factors. First, we have coyote and wild dog. Any dead deer left in the field would be scattered shreds by morning. Second, would be the chance of precipitation obliterating the sign. Third would be timing. If it’s Sunday night, and I’m due back at work Monday AM, I’m going to do what I can to reduce the deer to possession that night.

If you look at just my experience, pushing seems to be the way to go. The vast majority of deer I’ve shot have been dead in under 15 seconds. The only thing waiting would accomplish is letting the carcass stiffen a bit. The other thing I can tell you is that just getting on the trail can take what seems an eternity, especially in the dark. If the blood trail doesn’t show up for 50 yards, and it is in heavy brush, a deer that expires in 10 seconds can take an hour to find.

The two flyers in this record have nothing in them to suggest my strategy affected the outcome. Call me a pusher, but I’m still open to suggestions.

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Aching with Anticipation

I had one stand that still needed some work this past weekend. It is my current best stand. While I was sprucing it up in early July, I noticed a missing bolt. One thing lead to another, and I haven’t been back out. There is plenty of sign at several of my prime stands, including this one. I just got pre-occupied with family reunions and such this summer and let things slip away.

Now, there it was, 3 weeks into KY Bow Season, and it was still not done. I found the bolt, and a camo blind that goes around the outside and headed off in the truck. Barney came with me. He loves that stand site– always gets a chance to roust up a flock of turkeys or chase a few squirrels. I don’t hunt the first month of KY Bow– it’s just too hot, it gets in the way of squirrel– you’ve heard my rant. BTW: I checked the site and Bracken County had 33 deer taken in 3 weeks.

I got up and managed to knock out the remains of the old bolt and put in the new one. The blind got attached with wire ties after that.

Barney had been sniffing around when we first got there. I wrapped up my gig, and was getting ready to leave. There he was, stretched out on the ground, just enjoying the day. It looked like such a good idea, I decided to join him.

The woods were perfect. The stand was just right. It was like the curtain was about to come up on my season, and everything felt just right. I sat and took in the sounds, the sights, it all felt just soooooo good. The Cervid Serial Killer squirms in delightful anticipation of his next adventure.

I’ll probably start bowhunting next weekend after one more trip for squirrel. This stand will probably not see any action until mid-October. However, I have several early producers elsewhere on the farm.

BTW:

I just wanted you to know that the “. . . Funnels and Signs” thing has now hit Yahoo’s search engine. That probably means that enough people have been linking to this story to make all the search engine spiders crawl on out to have a look. It’s also floating to the top in some of the weblog search engines. This is due in large part to you guys telling other people to go read my piece and set the blog rolling, so to speak.

To me, that’s the sincerest form of flattery a writer like me can have. The closest thing I have to this in my life is when I found out the short stories I was writing for my college degree were being copied and recopied and making the rounds as sort of an ersatz underground magazine. I was humbled then, and I’m humbled now.

Thank you ever so much. Drop by often. I try to post once or twice a day. Sometimes it’s the same as what I post on forums, but usually not. My goal is to leave the world with a mix of my ramblings, while devoting a considerable amount of space to helping beginning deer hunters.

Leave lots of comments and sign the guestbook. There’s also a link so that you can vote/review my weblog on Blogarama and portal.eatonweb.com. I’d appreciate your vote.

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Do you need Premium Bullets?

I’ve killed 250 lb deer and I’ve seen 300 lb deer killed in the Greater Ohio Valley within 100 miles of Cincinnati. None required a premium bullet. The are awesome to look at, but that size difference is deceiving.

You have to remember that the key dimension in a deer in this discussion is the width of the chest. That dimension changes very little as the weight changes. The girth of a 157 pounder and a 340 pounder differs by only 10 inches. That’s using the chart over at whitetail.com. Assume that’s a circle and use trig to figure out the change in diameter. That comes out to less than 4 inches. What’s more, you only have to go 3/4 of that distance to take out both lungs and the heart. In the end, you’re talking about a difference of less than 3 inches of deer, assuming a broadside heart/lung shot.

Start talking to me about a difference when you see a moose.

The flesh is not any tougher. The organs aren’t either. You might get a bit more resistance going through a thicker rib, but not enough to worry.

In the end, deer are not that hard to kill. My contention has been and will be that time spent on worrying about terminal ballistics inside whitetails would be better spent scouting. Stick with the Wally World specials. If you screw up, it won’t be because of bullet contruction.

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I hunt not to kill, I kill to have hunted.

Does anyone else remember Highmaster over at Shooters.com? Gosh how I miss him. I had the utmost respect for that guy. I honestly didn’t care if he was everything he said he was; he expressed an ideal so well. It was funny; he and I had very different views on things like competition, but I really enjoyed our time together.

I got to thinking about Highmaster as I was finishing off my coffee and slowly coming to at the loading bench. A quote was running around in my head. It’s probably an Aldo Leopold or that of some other great scion of the sport:

“I hunt not to kill, I kill to have hunted.”

It’s Droptine’s signature over at 24HourCampfire. It reminded me so much of a discussion I had with HighMaster right after deer season back in 2002.

To quote the High One:

But hunting is a personal thing, I like nothing better than spending a week in the woods alone, taking a deer has nothing to do with it, it is just the way I recharge my batteries and enjoy the things that mean the most to me. The forest, the wild life, the view, the solitude and the quiet.

To which I replied:

Ah! another armed nature lover in the woods!

Nature? I love it! Of course it all depends on how it’s dressed out. [ I always liked to start with a cheap rim shot so I didn’t appear pompous]



One thing I’ve never been able to sucessfully explain, O High One. Both my wives have asked me: Well if it’s not killing things that’s so important, why do you insist on carrying a gun? I’ve tried to explain that one many ways many times, but I’ve yet to do it to my satisfaction or theirs.

I suppose therein lies the true nature of Hunting. It is the communion with that question that defines us as hunters. The answer is undeniable as a sunrise and as ineffable as the gaze of buck on the back of your head. However, neither Corbett or Hemingway or Faulkner or any one of the writers who have tried in the last two centuries have successfully explained it. Still when we take that first step off the back porch in the morning and jack one in, we are a drop of dew falling in that forest.

Ah,Highmaster, wherever you are, I wish you well.

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On Rifle Selection

There was a time in my life when one deer rifle was all it took. Now I have a safe full of them, and I cannot seem to ever be totally satisfied. Do I need another deer rifle? No. Do I want another? Always.

What I’ve found that I really enjoy is the adventure of putting a new rifle into action. I like the process of acquiring a long gun, mounting a scope, building a good load and then proving it in the field. That has turned my deer hunting into an expensive hobby, where it should not have been.

There is a hidden price I have to pay for each deer rifle I own. Each rifle is a system. Rifle, scope, sling—those are easy. Then comes the ammunition. If I did not reload, it would be a fairly simple choice—maybe among a couple to a couple dozen. However, I reload, so now I have a choice in bullet, powder, brass, primer. The deeper it goes, the more varied the choices. In the end, a hundred or more variables enter into it.

I freely admit I made a mistake this past year. I put two of my best favorite deer rifles up at the end of November and did not think about them until last weekend. Both gave me questionable results at the range, and now I am faced with the choice of trying to come up with a solution to the erratic results or just putting them up for the year and moving on with what I have.

For every rifle system I own, it is like a houseplant that requires regular watering or a house pet that requires regular feeding. It needs to be taken out on a fairly regular basis and used, so that the most complex and variable part of any rifle system does not get rusty—me. All this eats up time, the most precious commodity of all. If it ends up eating into time I could be scouting, then you’re really talking expensive.

I’ll probably put the old batch of ammo for the 308 aside and just load up some new. The 30-30 will probably take a bit of doing, but it’s a necessary part of my son’s battery. I’ll load up some with a bit less powder and see if slightly reduced velocity cures the problem—it usually does.

In the end, I want 3 deer rifles ready for me to use during the season. The rest will stay buried in the safe until I get bored, or something breaks. That gives me a brush gun, a longer-range gun, and something in-between for a spare. That is a goal that is about right for a dedicated deer hunter with a day job and a family. However, that requires an investment throughout the year—not dragging guns out at Labor Day and putting them away at the end of season. If that is all you can devote to it, I’d limit myself to just a couple of rifles and factory loads.

If time allows, I’d like to pull a day with the Remington 1100 just for old time’s sake. That one is the only no-brainer I have. There is nothing to adjust and nothing else to do. It puts cheap Remington sluggers into a pie plate at 50 yards, and has been doing so since Reagan’s first term.

Then there’s the Remington 742, I didn’t have it out last year. Maybe I can get that out to the range. . . Oh drat! There I go again.

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