September 1, 2012, Opening Day

I had my usual Opening Day luck.  On the first day of squirrel season I hauled my weary ass out of bed at 5:00 and was in the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents on my stand by 6:20.  I brought my 20-gauge "Churchill" double (see below).  The day was totally windless, not too hot, but very humid. 

I saw one, count 'em, one tree chicken about 7:30.  They're out there, I could hear them feeding in the trees but never saw any.  There are plenty of fresh cuttings on the floor, but with the trees in leaf they can play hide-and-seek and almost always win.  And they don't have to come down.  Early in the year they're always way up there.  I think they eat a tree from the top down.

No kills, but a good morning anyway.  Now I get to go to a wedding; and with luck tomorrow I'll be out on the New fishing.

September 29, 2012: Mr Squirrel, Meet Mr Churchill

A few months ago, I succumbed to temptation and bought a cute little "Churchill by Kassnar" 20 gauge side-by-side boxlock ejector gun.  Kittery Trading Post had it on sale for an unbelievably low price, it had everything I wanted (including a straight English-style grip: I hate pistol grips on double shotguns) so my ability to resist was not up to the challenge.

It was too late in the year to hunt with it, so this was its first season in my hands. I'm sure it's been around the block more than once, but just as a gentleman never asks a new girl friend about her past, the new owner of a non-virginal firearm never questions how...ahem..."experienced" it may be.

Today, after several frustrating weekends of honey-do projects and social commitments I didn't want to make that cost me Saturdays I could ill afford to lose, I finally put my shapely foot down and told She Who Must Be Obeyed that Saturday, September 29th, was MY time in the woods, and that after I took the dogs to the CVM student dog wash, I was going into the woods to do Manly Things involving firearms and inoffensive forest animals who never did me harm.  And that was that.

The firearm that came along was the Churchill.  I first  went to a couple of spots in the National Forest I haven't been to for a few years, and spent a number of pleasant and wholly game-free hours reading Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie on my Kindle Fire.  Then I upped stakes and headed back to The Valley Of A Thousand Rodents.  I'd gone there Opening Day and been frustrated by the leaves on the trees hiding the squirrels I KNEW were there.  I could hear them gnawing on nuts and once I even spotted one, but never had a shot.

I got to The Beech Tree about 3:00 PM, and settled in with Catherine The Great, leaving my ears alert for noises of falling nuts, romping rats, and so forth.  They were there, all right: there were plenty of very fresh cuttings on the ground.  The Valley has oaks, hickories, and beech trees; this is Hickory Season.  Eventually I spotted some movement in the trees and closed the Kindle to wait to see what it was.

Sure enough, one of the little devils was W-A-A-A-A-A-Y up in a huge hickory about 40 yards from where I sat.  I started to stalk him, but this guy was smart enough to know that a large object moving around on the ground was probably bad news, and he did The Vanishing Squirrel Trick immediately.  There were enough leaves left that I was confident he couldn't see me all that well (I couldn't really see him, either) so I slowly maneuvered into a position where I could see most of the top of that hickory, even though I had lost sight of the squirrel, who was undoubtedly flattened out pretending to be a knot on a branch.  Then I sat down.

I've often observed that animals are wary of a standing man but aren't sure what a sitting man is.  In 10-15 minutes or so, Mr Squirrel started moving around again, having decided that Whatever The Hell That Was, it probably isn't any danger, being 25-30 yards below me, and I'm hungry, and here are some nice hickory nuts....I tried stalking him again once I spotted his movement.  All I wanted was a clear firing lane and a good look at him for maybe 3 seconds, but it was not to be.  He alerted to the movement again, froze in place and was lost to sight.  This time I adjusted my position to where I could see the part of the tree he was in, and decided to wait him out: at that point I laid down, on my back, and put the face veil on.

I suppose that at that point he might have been a little worried about what, exactly, was happening; but I was also sure he couldn't see me at all so long as I didn't move.  If he could, I probably looked like a rather plump log from 25 yards up in a tree.  I don't know what a squirrel's attention span may be, but it can't be much. Sooner or later they forget whatever may have alarmed them and go about their business. Nevertheless, he held out for 40 minutes before he decided it was OK and started feeding again.  Big mistake.

He came to the end of a topmost branch, and finally I had a clear look at him.  The little Churchill barked, and he slumped, clearly dead, but hung up on the twigs.  I gave him the second barrel to knock him out of the tree, and down he came, hitting the ground with that very singular WHUMP! a squirrel makes when he lands on his back stone dead.  A young male, with a lovely tail.  He was almost nice enough for the taxidermist: had he been a bit bigger I'd have had him mounted for my office Stuffed Squirrel Collection (I now have all three color morphs of fox squirrel and a big groundhog).  But he's now in the refrigerator and will likely be tomorrow's supper instead.

People who only know town or campus squirrels think that the ones in the woods must be pushovers, but this rascal took me half a day of effort.  Wild squirrels are a challenge to hunt, especially in the early season, and take a bit of woodcraft: I think it's a shame that kids today don't hunt them much any more, they're not only the perfect "starter" animal for young hunters, they're a historically and culturally important species.  This guy was worth the trouble, and while he had a pretty bad day, I had a pretty good one.

September 30, 2012:

SQUIRREL: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore! Mr Bushytail was the Guest of Honor at dinner tonight. "Chicken Of The Tree," floured and fried.

November 3, 2012: Opening Day, Black Powder

Another disappointing opener.  I left the house at 5:45 to go to Sunrise Farm (a 45+ minute drive thanks to a long detour where a bridge is being replaced).  Parked myself on stand at 6:30.  At 7:00 another hunter showed up.  He went farther into the woods—I think he realized I was there—and the day began.

The day continued, totally deer free, unless you count the doe that ran out in front of my truck as I was driving down and trotted along for a quarter mile until she found a place to jump a fence.  A few squirrels, nothing else. The other guy left about 10:00; I didn't hear him go but his truck was gone.  I held out to 11:00 and then drove home, ate a lunch, and headed out for the VOATR.

This was even deader than Sunrise Farm.  I didn't see ANYTHING until about 4:00 when a squirrel showed up 100 yards away.  I sat tight: at 6:30 I thought I heard a deer come in behind me, but never got a look at it: it may have been something else like a fox squirrel or a raccoon.  When it was too dark to see the sights (about 7:00) I checked out and came home.

This is really getting old.  I hear all about people who have seen 20-30-50 deer, and passed them up because they were waiting for "a better deer," etc., but that sure isn't me.  I'd love to be able to think that I could pass up a legal kill with some degree of certainty that I'd get another chance.  I know the ground, I know there are deer there (I found two scrapes at the VOATR) and I know that what I'm doing is "right" but today I might as well have been hunting deer in the parking lot at Kroger's.

November 8, 2012

After an excruciating morning at work I went to the VOATR after stopping home to eat some lunch.  I got there about 1:15.  It was a pleasant afternoon: not too cold, with a bit of a breeze now and then, occasionally a gust enough to stir the tops of the leaf litter, but nothing more. 

The Valley lies north-south and is a bowl shaped area with a flat floor and ridges on the east and west sides.  A trail leads into it from the south, there's a thicket at the north end, and two more trails come into it from each side at the base of the ridges, at their north ends.  It's a "natural funnel," and after hunting there for years I have pretty well figured out which way deer will move through, when they do. Years ago the next property over to the east had a very large and very dense overgrown thicket that served as a bedding area, but it was sold a few years ago, the thicket cleared, and now there are cattle grazing in a field.  This affects the deer movement a bit: deer don't like to associate with cattle, so when they move along the eastern ridge they stay inside the woods line, which coincides with the property line.

I sat down on the west ridge, perhaps 12 feet above the floor, facing east.  The wind was coming from the east-southeast, i.e., right in my face.   One trail from the west was leading in to my left, maybe 20 yards away.  I could see across the floor,and up the east ridge, a total distance of about 125 yards.  The woods there are fairly thick, though the floor is pretty open.  The spot I chose to sit was 25 yards from where I'd clipped a buck last season, and 50 yards or less from a spot where I dropped at least 4 bucks over the years, two of them quite large for this part of Virginia: an 8-point and a 10-point, both 200 pounds or more live weight.

I knew there was a buck in the area: I had seen two scrapes coming in last week, on the trail from the south end.  No rubs: rubs are very rare in these woods for reasons I don't know, and scrapes aren't common either; but there were scrapes, so there was at least one buck.  Had the old thicket been in place I'd have bet he bedded in there but obviously not now.

Nothing much happened until just before 5:00 I heard a very, very slight noise to my right.  I looked, and here came two deer, trotting through the woods maybe 12 feet below the crest of the east ridge.  They were 80-100 yards away from me at that point.  The lead was a doe: immediately behind her a very sizeable buck with what appeared to be a "basket" rack, a very decent one at that.  The antlers were ivory-white, easily wider than his ears, and while I didn't get a chance to count points, based on his body size and the antler size in profile, I'd bet he was 8 points (a biggish 6, absolute minimum) and perhaps 10.

They weren't running, but were moving steadily north to south.  She was leading him on, and I hoped they'd come down the eastern transverse trail, but no dice.  They kept on moving through to the north.  I never had a shot: once or twice the buck stepped into a spot where I would certainly have tried to kill him with a centerfire rifle, but he was easily 90-100 yards off and with a round ball in that brush, and iron way. 

Does aren't legal in Giles County until Saturday, so I'll give it a miss (ha, ha) tomorrow and try again then.  Next time I'll set up on the east ridge, below the crest, and hope the wind is the  same as it was today.  Had I been at the beech tree, I likely would have had the buck today.

Packed up at 5:45, and came home.  It was COLD by then.  There's a VT football game this evening, I can't imagine sitting in those open stadium seats to see it.  Those kids are tougher than I am, though I remember freezing my ass off at a Columbia game in high school, trying to impress a girl, who was even colder than I was.  Not able to do that any more!

November 10, 2012

Went to the VOATR this morning.  Got out a bit late but I was on my stand at 7:00 or so.  Nary a deer did I see, but at 9:00 two guys in a blaze-orange Kubota ATV drove up.  They then told me that I wasn't on the land belong to my friend Terry; that it belonged to their boss, who owns the farm next door!

Now, I have been hunting that patch for nearly 15 years.  When I started exploring it I asked Terry if it was on her land and she said yes.  Some years ago she came down there with me to help haul out a big buck.  She knows the spot.  I'll have to ask her on Monday what gives.  I think those guys are wrong but what could I do?  I got up and left, and went to Sunrise Farm, where I saw many squirrels and not a single deer.

This has been one hell of a week, let me tell you.  Not the worst week of my life but well up in the top five.

November 15-17, 2012

I have no idea where all the deer have gone: perhaps they're up in New York helping out with post-Sandy reconstruction?

I was out ALL DAY on the 15th, freezing my butt off on my stand at Sunrise Farm. Nothing, zero, zip, nada, zilch.

Yesterday, Saturday, was Opening Day of the rifle season. I went to one spot for the morning and saw nothing at all except my hostess's elderly mare, the dumbest horse in latin Christendom. For the afternoon I went to a new location.

A neighbor down the street owns 260+ acres in southern Montgomery County and very kindly offered to let me hunt on it. My times include the afternoon of the 17th, so I left home at noon and arrived at the gate about 12:30.

There I was met by a gent who has been hunting the place on a labor-lease basis for years who was very upset to see me. There wasn't anything he could do about it, because I had written permission and a statement from the owner about the times and dates I had access, but he was mightily honked off, and said "We've put a lot into this place!" as if that gave him rights of ownership: more evidence of the evils of lease hunting, in my opinion.

He had a 10-year-old boy with him who shot a pretty button buck with a .243. The group was loading the buck and an ATV into a truck when I arrived. The trailer partially blocked the gate, and the clown made no effort to move it to ease my driving into the property, which didn't surprise me, given his possessive attitude.

I had only very briefly seen this place with the owner a few weeks before so was glad to arrive in daylight because I wasn't too familiar with it. However, I had spotted a buck rub on a sizeable tree, and set out to find that location. I found it easily and set up a stand against a big stump. When I turned around, lo, there was a ladder stand ten feet from where I was sitting! So I guess I wasn't the only one to consider that a likely spot. I did not, of course, use the ladder stand, as I consider all tree stands to be Inventions of the Devil, and in any case it wasn't my stand.

Sat there for the next few hours and saw two squirrels. Nothing else. It's been a long and fruitless season so far, and in addition I have contracted a horrible cold from sitting out so long.

I just don't understand what's going on. These are all places where I've seen scads of deer, in season and out (except the new spot) and have killed them. But this year they are simply gone. Nor am I hearing shots around me, which is very unusual.

November 25, 2012

Rule #1: KNOW THE TRAJECTORY.  In general this applies to shots beyond the usual range, but in my case it applies at close range as well. I was out yesterday morning at Sunrise Farm.  Just at 7:00 AM a big fat doe came waltzing along from right to left, maybe 50 yards away.  I had the drilling: rifle barrel selected, all systems GO, put the cross hair behind the shoulder, BANG! and she hit her after burners and took off at Mach 3, running in the same direction.

Not a sign of a hit: nothing, nada, zilch.  No hair, no blood, no rumen contents, no deer.  By now I expect she's in Tazewell County.

Back home I checked the trajectory tables.  I had the rifle barrel sighted to 200 yards: 3" high at 100 yards....and according to Norma and S&B, 6 inches LOW at 50.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Probably the last shot I'll get this season.

Thursday and Saturday are both still on my agenda (work gets in the way) and there is always the second BP season.  What a week...

November 29, 2012

Went back out to Sunrise Farm this morning, to the same spot where I missed that doe last week.  I arrived just before 6:00 and settled into my stand perhaps 15 minutes later.

About 6:30 I got busted.  I heard a deer moving above me and to my left--I was sitting below the crest of a ridge on one side of the ravine--and then, WOOF! it snorted at me.  I'm not sure how she/he/it picked me up: today was nearly windless and what little breeze there may have been was from the deer to me.  I was totally motionless and it was still dark. But after three weeks of being shot at, I suppose their extrasensory perception is honed to a fine edge: it picked me up and that was that.

I sat tight.  Fifteen minutes later, just as the light was beginning to come up, I heard something on the opposite slope.  It was still too early for squirrels, and it didn't sound like one, so I waited and then spotted some vague movement.

We had a full moon last night, and it was still up in the western sky, plus the dawn was coming on, and after another minute or two I spotted the deer, halfway down the slope, just mooching along eating acorns.  I looked at it through my scope, and could make it out quite well.  I fired, aiming for the middle of the back just behind the shoulders, as I was well above it.

As soon as I shot it started to run downhill, but it was obvious from the noise pattern that I'd made a hit.  I worked the bolt and got ready for another shot, but as I watched in the growing light, I saw it get to the bottom of the ravine and then fall over.  I hoofed it down, and since it was still feebly kicking I gave it a pop with my .380, though it certainly wasn't needed.

It was a button buck, perhaps 100 pounds live weight.  That's the second button buck I've killed in that location: I guess I'm going to have to call it "Button Buck Hill" henceforth.  The bullet had entered about halfway down the left side of the body, angling backwards, and exited in front of the right hind leg.  The exit wound wasn't big, and had a bit of the gut peeping out.  The entry wound was very small, I had to look for it carefully.  I didn't hit the spine, which I'd intended, but in the end it mattered not.

I put a blaze orange marker on top of the deer, then went back to the stand--perhaps 50 or 60 yards away--and sat down again.  By then it was about 10 minutes before 7:00, and reasoning that there are more deer than one around, I sat for the next 45 minutes thinking someone else might show up.  No one did, so I went back to the kill to dress him out.

The bullet had passed through the liver and there was a great deal of very dark blood in the body cavity: not a lung hit.  There was a small perforation in the gut, too, but not much spread of the contents, nothing to be concerned about.  After I gutted him I hauled him up to a level spot--and I'm proud to say I didn't get a heart attack, though I don't know why not, as that slope is damned steep--and once I had him up, tied him onto a plastic sheet I have called a "Deer Sleigh'r" and hauled him  to the truck, perhaps 100 yards away.  To give you an idea of how "big" this critter was, I had no real trouble getting him into the truck bed!

I had taken my drilling to the gunsmith to deal with the misfiring, so today I used the Kimber .308 I won in a FONRA raffle two years ago.  This was its first trip into the field.  I know that opinion is mixed on Kimbers, but I have to say that I really like this gun.  It's one of the "Classic Select" grade 84M's, with a gorgeous stock.  It's very slim, elegant, and well balanced; and it's more than accurate enough for my purposes: it shoots 1.5 MOA with the inexpensive Federal "Power Shok" ammunition I used.  My scope is a Leupold FX-II, a fixed 4-power model.  It made that shot possible: the light level was still very low, but the scope allowed me to see the deer clearly and to put the cross hairs where I wanted them to be. 

I used the Federal factory load with 180-grain bullets.  The entry wound was very small: I had to part the hair to find it. The exit wound is nowhere near as big as some I've seen with the 150-grain Core-Lokt bullet I usually use in my .30-06. Based on my preliminary examination, I'd say that this bullet is a bit too heavy and perhaps a little too "tough" for an animal the size of that deer, but on the other hand, if it had been a really violent bullet (such as a Silvertip) I might have had a real mess to clean up.  In the end, of course, it did the job.

Sunrise Farm is enrolled in the DGIF's Deer Management Program, and antlerless deer taken there don't count against the daily limit.  Harry checks them in, takes a jawbone for aging purposes, and issues me a tag.  Normally the limit here west of the Blue Ride is 1 per day, but since this deer is "off the license" later today I will likely go to the VOATR and try for another one.  My wife wants deer burger, and this guy was too small to do that.  The local meat cutters don't bone out as carefully as I do; but I'm not about to push an entire deer through a meat grinder, so I'll try for a bigger one that will be worth sending in to be ground up.  This little fellow I'll cut myself.

Spent the afternoon in the VOATR, a total zero of activity.

November 29, 2012

A follow up: one thing I forgot to mention in my last post is that the button buck had an old wound on its right hind leg.  I marked it in the image above, and show it here in larger detail. It was a tear, a place where a flap of skin had been ripped off, exposing the connective tissue and muscle underneath.  This was NOT due to the shot I killed him with: it had been in place for some time.  At least a week, perhaps 10 days.  The wound was dry and beginning to granulate.  Had the deer not died it would have healed over and scarred but left him unimpaired.  Certainly he was moving normally when I shot him.

I am beginning to think this may have been the deer I "missed" last week.  The age and condition of the wound are right.  I'm a bit puzzled how I could have nicked the right leg so cleanly, though.  The one I missed was walking right to left, so the right leg would have been on the side opposite to me: still, depending on the position it's possible. My mental image of the one I missed is that it was a good-sized doe...but a button buck and a doe are very similar, especially in very dim light. Another reason I think they may be the same animal is that the kill was made within 20 feet and 20 minutes of where I had the "miss." 

It's quite clear the bone wasn't broken and a bullet never went through that joint. The "missed" deer ran off using all four legs, of that I'm 100% sure.  This old wound looks like the sort of injury that might happen by jumping through a barbed-wire fence, rather than a crease from a bullet (or perhaps a ricocheted stone), but given the right angle....maybe.  It might very well be the same deer.  I hope it is.

December 9, 2012

Three of us went to Holland's Shooting Preserve yesterday.  One of us had won a gift certificate at the FONRA banquet that covered her and paid for 24 quail; and Art and I bought 12 pheasants apiece.  This was therefore an all-day shoot.

We did the quail in the morning, and half the pheasants since that went well. In this morning session we had one pheasant that sailed away, a couple of hundred yards, into a woods. He was obviously hit, but we didn't try to find him then. We knew the dogs would later on; and they did. 

By the end of the day we'd killed 18 quail of the 24, not including one that took the full charge from my 20-gauge Churchill at a range of perhaps 5 feet, and was simply...vaporized.  We didn't bother to send the dogs to fetch what little was left. It exploded in mid-air, just fragments no bigger than a cubic inch. 

The afternoon was spent in the pursuit of the remaining dozen pheasants, as we'd shot half of them in the morning.  Of the 24 total, we brought home 21, and lost one bird that went down but was able to run.  The dogs never found her—which astounded me, because those dogs seem to have ESP when it comes to birds. It's likely she managed to get into the next county, as despite being unable to fly, she could run.  A hawk will pick her up. Yes, we shoot hens: that's not done on wild birds, but these are pen-raised and 50-50 mixed genders. John doesn't breed pheasants (he breeds his own quail) but buys them from hatcheries.

I had an average day in terms of my percentage, but I will modestly lay claim to a couple of really good shots.  At one point we were pursuing a bird the dogs "said" was in a thicket of woods. When they put him up, he was screened by branches as he flew.  BUT...there was an opening, high up, and I KNEW he was going to cross it.  Sure enough, he did: I fired at just the right time and dumped him cleanly on a high crossing shot left to right.  I seem to do better at birds in thick cover than in open fields.

We tramped around for a whole day, broken by about half an hour's worth of lunch. The shooting started at 9:00 and ended about 4:00. We were dead tired but since I have an elephant hunt on the horizon that will involve a lot of walking I was pleased to be able to sustain the pace all day. We each brought home 7 pheasant and 6 quail, not a bad day at all.

I'm cultivating one of my students as a neophyte huntress: she had come over to help me skin and process my deer last week and I've promised her a couple of birds when I get them wrapped. 

AND...I've managed to get my wife to agree in principle to a boar hunt in Hungary for 2014.  She had so much fun on that Viking River Cruise in France she wants to do another one, so I suggested the Danube trip.  One of my partners on this shoot is interested in coming along as well, his wife wants to do a cruise.

Eight days, Munich to Budapest.  At the end we'll do a couple of days sight-seeing in Budapest, then a 4 to 5 day shoot near Lake Balaton, back to the capital and on to Vienna for a couple of days, and home.  I'm looking for an outfitter. Apparently wild boar are a year-round affair in Hungary, so whenever we go I can do it.  I need to do his sort of thing while I'm a) limber enough and b) still working and can afford it!

Second BP season opens the 15th and I'm feeling lucky.  One deer in the freezer, a few pheasants, and there's plenty of season left...not a bad weekend at all!

December 16, 2012

I had the .416 out to the range today to test the effect of the shim I put under the sight base.  Prior to this I was unable to get the POI to be less than a foot low at 50 yards.  Aimpoint told me to shim under the base, and they recommended putting the shim under the front screw.

That actually made the issue worse.  I had been a little suspicious of this advice, but hey, they make the sight, they ought to know.  When it was obvious that the gun was going to shoot even lower (a .416 bullet plows up a LOT of dirt at 50 yards) I dismounted the sight and moved the shim to the rear part of the base.

Bingo, the sight now has enough vertical adjustment so that I can get it on target properly.  I may just add another thin shim, because I want a little more adjustment, but as it is, I have it hitting an inch high at 50 yards, which ought to put it pretty much dead on at 100.  I managed to stand up to 6 rounds, and then had to quit.  That's with a sissy pad and a 2" sorbothane pad on the gun, of course.  It's like going into the ring with Mike Tyson to shoot that thing off a bench.

Then it was the drilling's turn.  I'd been having misfires with the rifle barrel, so I took it to my gunsmith.  Earl is a good smith, a retired machinist from the Radford Arsenal.  He's a Good Ole Boy, but very skilled and a bit of a wag.  He said "Once I figgered out how to get it apart, I was mighty impressed with the engineering in that gun!"  Apparently the lockwork is fairly complicated, what with three barrels and two triggers, and he said, "That sure is a fine piece of engineering!  I didn't dare do much of anything with it, so I cleaned it and put it back together!" 

It seems to have worked.  I fired about 20 rounds today from the rifle barrel without a hitch.  He said it had been gummed up and had a bit of rust—I suspect it has sat in a closet for the past 60 years, since some GI brought it home from the Second World War—and that this might be slowing the firing pin down or binding it up.  The protrusion was correct, and the spring seemed to be in good shape.  In any event, all it seemed to need was a good cleaning and oiling and it's working fine now.

I had also asked him to look at the sling mounts.  German guns always have these skinny little mounts that are fixed in place.  I like a sling to carry a gun but hate to have it on one when I'm using it, and wondered if the gun could be fitted with detachable swivels.  This particular gun—unlike a couple of others I have—had swivels held in place by cross screws, i.e., not riveted or pressed in.  He managed to get the screws out, and lo, a standard Uncle Mike's detachable swivel fits perfectly.  The originals go into the parts box, suitably labeled, for someone to restore it to original condition if desired, but I'm delighted with the result.

January 5, 2013

I spent the last 5 days of deer season as the on-set armorer for a film a friend's son was making for his Senior Thesis in the film program at Rochester Institute of Technology. We just finished shooting today.  As I am one of those people who can't stand firearms mistakes in movies, and invariably spot them, please note that the Ruger Single-Six (with adjustable sights, yet!) used in the screen test was NOT used in the movie.  Part of my job was to provide period-correct firearms, and the Single Six (which any halfway observant shooter would have identified instantly) didn't cut the mustard.

There were three scenes involving guns, including a close-range gun fight.  Instead of the Single-Six I supplied a Remington Model 1863 Belt Model revolver, equipped with a conversion cylinder to allow shooting centerfire ammunition.  This is period-correct: many Civil War era revolvers were equipped with these cylinders to allow owners to convert to the more modern post-war technology without having to buy a new gun. 

Given the time and place of this film, it's not at all unlikely that a dirt-eating-poor Appalachian hill farmer would have Grandpappy's old relic in use still, and have scraped up the money to buy the conversion unit.

There's also a scene in which the protagonist and his father are hunting squirrels; this called for a shotgun and a rifle.  I supplied a Hamilton Model 27 single-shot boy's rifle as the "squirrel gun."  Hamiltons were dirt cheap (they sold for about $3, tops, and many were given away as premiums for buying feed and other supplies).  This little gun was introduced in about 1907, so it's perhaps an anachronism but close enough; this story could easily have been told in that time frame.

Here's a still from the squirrel-hunting scene: the actor at left is firing the Hamilton, the one at right a period-correct shotgun:

The shotgun was a dandy little Belgian-made back-action side-by-side double in 20 gauge, with exposed hammers, a/k/a "rabbit ears."  This sort of shotgun was sold by the shipload to farmers and ranchers as a utility gun in the post Civil War period.  They were durable and inexpensive and filled a real role on a working farm.  If a farmer had nothing else in the way of a firearm, he had a shotgun. If he had a shotgun it was almost certainly a double-barrel, and probably made in Belgium.  He'd have ordered it through Sears or Wards, or bought one at the local feed store.  It might have cost him all of $10, usually less.  God alone knows how many cheap doubles of this type were imported in the period from about 1870 to 1920: millions, for sure.  You can see one of them over the fireplace of just about any Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Mine was made in the 1920's but could easily have been made 70 years earlier.

There was one revolver in the film that wasn't mine, and one rifle.  The revolver was a Uberti-made copy of the Colt Peacemaker, vintage 1873.  The rifle was another Uberti: a brass frame reproduction Winchester Model 1866 "Yellow Boy" lever action.  These two guns were iconic for the late 19th Century, perfect for this film.  Both were used in the gunfight scenes, as was the Remington. By the way, a year or two ago I saw a genuine Yellow Boy sell for $14,000 in a local auction!

I had a lot of fun working with these kids.  They were very enthusiastic, very "up" on the production, and while not yet "pros" they were very, very conscientious.  Certainly they had a lot more formal training and a great deal more practical experience with modern film-making equipment than I had when I was a cameraman in the USAF.  Things have changed a lot, technically, in 40-odd years, that's for sure!  Everything is digital, and remembering my own days shooting 16mm film, I have to say that they don't know how lucky they are not to be using it! It is amazing how much effort goes into shooting a scene. If it lasts 30 seconds on screen you can be sure it took half a day to film it. At times we had to wait for the light to be "just right" for the effect the director wanted, so we sometimes sat around for a couple of hours and had to shoot in a very narrow time frame. In the end it all got done—"called it a wrap" as the expression goes—on time and the incredibly expensive equipment was returned to the rental company on time.

None of the actors knew much about guns, and so my role included basic instruction on safety and shooting technique; and making sure nothing unsafe was done.  I was the only person who loaded and unloaded the guns. I retrieved them from the actors when a scene was finished: they had them in hand only when filming was taking place.  We used black powder blanks to make smoke and flame from the muzzles for visual effect.  Black powder is corrosive, and a gun used with it has to be cleaned right away to avoid damage, so my evenings were spent doing that!

The deer season ended today. I managed to get out once for the late BP part, but saw nothing.  That's OK, I have one deer in the freezer I shot in the rifle season (well, most of one, we have eaten some of it) and the time was well spent.  I haven't got the energy and the stamina at that age, but managed to keep up with them.  That alone was enough reward.

February 3, 2013

It being SUPER BOWL SUNDAY!!! I felt it was important to celebrate: so I of course ignored the game and went out to John Holland's preserve for a half-day shoot.  There were three of us this time: myself, Phil, and Paul, a retired Army officer now employed by my College. He'd not been there and wanted to go, so we arranged an afternoon with 12 pheasants and 12 quail as the guests of honor. We ended up bring home 11 of each.  John wasn't there; he had someone with some German Shorthair Pointers come and guide us.  The guy showed up more than an hour late, and his dogs were nowhere near as good or as disciplined as John's Brittanies.  I was a bit disappointed but a mediocre day in the field beats a great one at the office any time.

The weather was heavy overcast and a few flurries of snow, and we shot until it was too dark to see the quail.  By then we'd shot all the pheasants except one that had escaped across the road and out of the farm boundaries, who will get nailed by a hawk eventually.  I made a few good shots and also a number of bad ones.  I can't remember to keep my head down; and I simply can't hit going-away birds. 

We all used 12 gauges. I used my Stevens 311 double, Phil had his hump-backed Browning, and Paul an old corn-sheller of a Model 12 Winchester. I had brought along 6's and a few 4's for the pheasants and 7-1/2s for the quail.  We shot quail for the first part of the day and then started on pheasants; but the guide didn't want to go back to the truck so I had to shoot 7-1/2s on the big birds at first. I mildly objected, so he offered me some shells from his pocket...they were 8's!  He claimed he used 8's on pheasant, and perhaps he does, but will be a much better shot than I am if he does. I also had some 4's and made one very nice long shot (really, a Hail-Mary shot, but I made it) using those.

This will probably be the last hurrah for the season, we're in the throes of having New Window$ and Whole-Hou$e Air Conditioning in$talled, and She Who Must Be Obeyed is exasperated at my wanting to Play Silly Male Games, so I think I've pushed the envelope about as far as it will stretch.  Oh, well, there's always next year.