February 3, 2019: Let The Season Begin!
Just got back from Glade Hill with my friend Phil. This was our annual put-and-take bird shoot at Holland's Shooting Preserve. We bought 4 pheasants and 15 quail and brought them all home except for one very, very lucky pheasant, who earned his freedom; he won't enjoy it for long, thanks to the numerous hawks that prowl the skies looking to pick up a free meal; but that was the only one we didn't recover.
John lost his five very-well-trained dogs last year in a kennel fire, but he had his brother's dog Lexie on hand, an experienced pointer who was rock steady and had an excellent nose. She found the birds, we shot the birds, and if we missed the birds she found them again. I'm damned if I know how the dog is able to know what kind of a bird it is, but Lexie seemed to. She retrieved them like a champion, too. John also has three young (13 month) Brittanies, all males and all litter mates, who are "coming along." They were unbelievably energetic, but clearly not in Lexie's league when it came to the birds. Never mind, it will come in time. One of them did find and point the missing pheasant (in a tree!) which Phil missed, and that was the end of the day.
For comic relief, John now has a litter of four 8-week-old Brit puppies, of whom the three females are already sold; and the male is looking for an owner, ready to go if anyone's interested! Cute as bugs, it's a good thing Mrs NRVO wasn't there. When I got home she was watching The Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet!
I used my Stevens 311 12-gauge SxS and #5 shot. I hit one pheasant smack in the ass with 1-1/8 ounces at a range of maybe 5 yards: POOF! We did recover the front half of that bird, at least. I had some issues with the cheapo promotional-load 7-1/2's Phil had brought for quail: several misfires. I don't think it's the gun: though it appeared to be light pin strikes, none of the other stuff I shot had this problem. I'll take the gun in to have it checked but I'm of the opinion it was the ammunition. I think the primers were too hard: perhaps the manufacturer reclaimed some primers from ex-military ammunition and used them in these shells. In any event I'll clean things thoroughly and see if that helps. I had one quail dead to rights, no escape, and the damned gun misfired! Such is life.
All in all a good way to start off the year. Tonight I plan to NOT watch the Super Bowl, as I haven't any interest in football, and most especially when it's being played by gargantuan no-neck multi-millionaires. Let 'em eat cake. With caviar, and perhaps ketchup.
February 4, 2019
Well, someone has won the Super Bowl (I don't know or care which team) and I'm sitting here thinking about the "battery cup" primers used in shotshells. My misfires yesterday with promotional shotshells got me to thinking about this.
If you look at these primers, it's obvious that there are two parts: the primer proper, which seems to be about the same as a large rifle primer in size and type; and the "battery cup," the sleeve or shell around the primer, that is what actually contacts the head of the shotshell.
Why is it done this way? All shotshell makers, US and foreign, do this, so there is presumably some valid reason for it, but I wonder. I've got some all-brass shells by CBC: some use garden-variety rifle primers, and another batch that uses Berdan primers. If this can be done with some shotshells, why not others?
It seems to me that if I were a CEO of an ammo company looking for a way to simplify production and reduce costs, I'd design a shell that could use standard rifle primers and gradually phase it in to replace the battery cup shells. It would perhaps save some material costs, too: the battery cup sleeve is made of copper or brass itself and over the course of a large production run, it must represent a significant quantity.
Something John Holland said to me yesterday may be relevant. He has a stick with a magnet on the end he uses to pick up spent hulls that people have left in his fields. At one point he remarked that, "One bad thing about the AA hulls is that I have to turn them to get to the primer; the heads are brass and non-magnetic." Other hulls seem to have magnetic heads: I've seen him pick them up with the magnet just by touching them to the side. Now, obviously those shells must have a steel head that's merely brass-washed or plated.
That raises this question: how much steel is in a primer? My understanding is that the actual primer cup is plated brass, but maybe his stick is reacting to the anvil or the plating on the cup? If some primers have steel cups—which I doubt—it might explain my misfires, especially if those shells did use "recycled" or surplus-production military primers in the cups. Military ammunition, which has to withstand the battering of automatic weapons, usually has very study—read "hard"—primers. If this interpretation is correct, then clearly the "battery cup" primer as used in shotshells is merely an ordinary primer with a sleeve around it.
Anyone know why battery cup primers are nearly universally used? It can't be because they ignite the powders any more efficiently than standard primers do. Maybe it has something to do with the way the shell heads are formed? I suspect it's because "that's the way we've always done it" is the real answer. No doubt if there were a shift to standard primers in shotshells there would be significant re-tooling costs and a lot of reloaders would have to adapt their equipment, but in time those issues would be less important. Bigger changes have been "absorbed" by the shooting community over the years. Anyone who has the answer, please let me know by clicking here.
ADDENDUM: I have a friend in the UK who's a licensed firearms examiner and an expert witness: he informed me that all standard primers have steel cups. Things I never knew...that explains why they get picked up by a magnet, of course. here for 50 years I've been thinking they were made from drawn brass!
February 7, 2019: The Great American Outdoors Show
I've just returned from the Great American Outdoors Show, a mammoth event dealing with every aspect of outdoors recreation. It's been sponsored by the National Rifle Association for the past six years, and the story behind how that came to be the case is worth telling.
The event used to be organized by another company that specializes in such things: business conferences, scientific meetings, etc. It's a tremendous amount of work to set up a show like this and the level of detail the organizers have to deal with is mind-boggling. Seven or so years ago the then-organizing agency unilaterally decided to ban the display of "black rifles," those Nasty, Evil, Baby-Killing Assault Weapons the press loves to hate. This was pure Political Correctness on their part: I imagine some Snowflake organization protested the presence of NEBKAWS and so they were summarily ousted.
Now, a BIG part of this show is the displays of gun makers and vendors. The attendees are all hunters, shooters, defenders of the Second Amendment to a man (and woman). Following the announcement of the NEBKAW ban, instantly vendors—and not just gun makers—started canceling their reservations (and, of course, the hefty fees they pay for a booth). The rate of cancellation escalated: boat makers, tent sellers, the innumerable food vendors, fishing gear manufacturers, basically everyone who normally came told the organizing agency to shove it, they weren't coming that year. The result was that the show that year was cancelled, and the organizing company lost millions of dollars they were committed to pay for rent, shuttle busses, security people, and so on. They lost so much money they went bankrupt: it was an object lesson in the economic clout of shooters and hunters en masse, and how dangerous it is to offend this large group of people. Dick's Sporting Goods is now feeling the same lash: their business is dropping precipitously since they too banned the sale of NEBKAWS.
The show was in danger of disappearing completely, but along came the National Rifle Association to save it. The NRA isn't run by dummies, and they saw the opportunity the show presented to put their case forward and to recruit members. The following year they took over sponsorship and the show returned, bigger than ever.
And it is BIG. Very big. There were thousands of vendors of every outdoors product under the sun and in the dark, for that matter. The show is held in the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, the state capitol. This area has a million square feet of show space (about 15 Wal-Mart Equivalents) and all of it got used. The gun people were in one hall, the boat people in another, and the main hall was hunting outfitters, hundreds of them.
I went mainly because I am interested in a moose hunt, and there were probably 20 outfitters for moose hunts just in Newfoundland, where I want to go. I also wanted to touch base with some outfitters for Africa. The GAOS is distinctly second-tier for African outfitting (being nowhere near so important to that industry as the Dallas Safari Club or Safari Club International shows) but there were plenty of them there, too, mostly pitching South African hunts, but some from Namibia and one who was selling hunts in Burkina Faso, of all places. (He wasn't booking any there just yet, he wants to wait "..until the political situation stabilizes," which seemed prudent.)
Suffice it to say that I got what I wanted out of it. My friend Phil and I drove up very early on Tuesday the 5th. While there I met up with an old Air Force friend as well. We've kept in touch for 40 years but rarely (too rarely) do we see each other face to face. He was going to the show, I was going to the show, and it was therefore pre-ordained we should meet.
We spent two days tramping around, collecting brochures, and drooling over the guns and taxidermy. The attendance was probably 90% men, but there were enough women to make plain that the claim that women are a fast-growing segment of the gun and hunting culture is true. Plenty of women work the vendor booths, too, and I don't mean "Booth Babes" of the sort seen at car shows and so forth. They were deeply involved in the commercial activity. Mostly young women: Smith & Wesson had at least a half-dozen just in their (very large) booth, as did other major and minor vendors. And I doubt if there were any Clinton voters in attendance. Even some of the taxidermied animals wore MAGA hats. I saw some odd things, and some really, really nice things. My favorite booth was a gentleman displaying some exquisite double-barrelled shotguns, mostly high grade English and Spanish ones. He had a Sauer drilling as well.
There were dogs, lots of dogs. Easily half the vendors had a dog, ranging from big ones (a few Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shorthairs, and so forth, down to small: mainly Jack Russell Terrorists. One lady had a "Spanish Water Dog," a breed I'd never heard of. One of the vendors told me he brought his dog because "...it gets lonely when you're on the road for 16 weeks at a time, you need a friend." Sixteen weeks!
The security force was apparently local cops: I looked at the patch they wore, it said "Capitol Area Police." They had Glocks, Tasers, and handcuffs, so they were real cops, not the run-of-the-mill Mall Guard equivalent. One of them was a slightly built lady who was, no kidding, not more than 5 feet tall, if that. I'm pretty short and she barely came up to my shoulder! Good thing she had the armament, in case she ever had to deal with a criminal.
The National Firearms Museum (an NRA subsidiary) had a nice booth with several Dardick pistols and carbines on display. Dardicks are weird and very scarce guns, and some day I'm going to write an article about them, once I get my hands on the NFM's. NRA logos and information was everywhere, as one would expect. If you joined the NRA or renewed a membership at the entrance you got in free. I'm a Life Benefactor member, but I'll bet they'll add a lot of people to their roster over the ten days the show lasts.
I had another motive for the trip. I have a contact at the NFM and I wanted to bring a donation to him, a Sam Stull muzzle-loading rifle that had been made for Mrs Outdoorsman's grandfather in the 1860's. I'd been planning this for some time, and since on return getting to the NFM was only a minor diversion, it worked out well. That rifle is now where the bastards in the anti-gun movement can't get at it. My contact, a very senior person on the NFM staff, told me that routinely there are protesters out front; that's all well and good, but he also told me the brake lines on his car have been cut twice by these vermin. I guess that's what the Left calls "reasonable discussion and engagement." There is no negotiation or compromise possible with such creatures.
It was about a 750-mile round trip when all was said and done; we spent the night in a local hotel and returned after going back to the show on Wednesday, arriving in Blacksburg near midnight. Tough trip but well worth the effort.
February 13, 2019: A Letter from the National Firearms Museum
As I mentioned in the last entry, I had stopped by the NFM last week to drop off the "Ohio Rifle" shown here. It was made for my wife's grandfather, Jacob Wolfe (1850-1943) by the well-known gunsmith Sam Stull (1808-1907). That's Old Sam himself at left. My friend Phil and I were on our way back from the Great American Outdoors Show and were met at the NFM by the Senior Curator Mr Doug Wicklund, with whom I'd corresponded about the gun, and who had received several other donations from me in the past.
I had a letter today from Mr Wicklund. The Museum is very pleased to have the rifle and he intends to put it on display in their exhibit on Hawken rifles! It may also become part of a traveling exhibit. I'd also included a powder horn contemporary with the rifle, and if I can ever track it down, I have a bullet mold for it as well. Needless to say, I'm delighted to hear this. It will be displayed with a caption that it was donated "In honor of the Wolfe family of Knox County, Ohio."
Beginning of the Culling Season
The time of year when people start complaining about deer damage has come: my friend Betty has received a kill permit and I need to get out there to save the Commonwealth from Bambi's devastation...well, Bambi's mother, actually: the permits are only good for antlerless deer. Watch this space!
February 16, 2019: First Try at a Cull
Went to Betty's, as she'd been seeing deer, and would I please come out an kill one for her? I went. I sat. And did see two does, but never had a shot. I was sitting at the top end of her very long driveway, watching the woods. A car came by on the road, perhaps 200 yards away, and the does popped out, bouncing across the driveway, two fences, and then across the road to another property. Had their tails up and flags flying. I have no idea what spooked them, unless it was the car: it certainly wasn't me. Well, there is still some time.
February 17-19, 2019: A New Spot
Went to Betty's again the afternoon of the 18th to see if I could ambush those does I'd seen a couple of days before. No luck: I sat on one side of her driveway, freezing my ass off, for a couple of hours but nobody showed up. It was in the high 30's but the wind was howling, making things worse.
But in the course of the sit I got a call from Betty's neighbor across the road. He'd been seeing deer out the rannygazoo...told me he counted 45 in front of his house a few days before! He'd called me to find out about getting a kill permit: I'd written him one last year, and told him that if he got another one for this season, I'd like to be on it. Sure enough, he'd got the permit, good for 20 animals, and I was more than welcome to come over and shoot a few. It's going to snow/sleet/rain/hail the next couple of days but I hope to get out there Saturday. The two does I saw on the 16th actually crossed the road and onto his property, so maybe I'll get one of them after all.
February 22, 2019: Where's the sun?
For the past week to ten days it's been raining. Nothing but cold, nasty rain, relieved only by the odd half-day of heavy overcast and threatening clouds. I'm beginning to feel like Joe Bftsplk, the character in the old Li'l Abner comic strip: wherever he went he had a rain cloud over his head and while it might be sunny for everyone else, it was always raining on him.
In Bible it rained for forty days and forty nights so Noah could launch his Ark: if this keeps up I may have to start thinking about ways to cull deer from a boat.
February 27, 2019: Old Stuck-In-The-Mud
It finally stopped raining and things were drying out, thanks to sun and a high wind for a couple of days. I thought I'd try my luck out at the new culling site, so off I went, arriving about 2:30 or so. I figured I'd sit until dusk, when the deer tend to come out, according to the landowner. Drove around a bit, looking for a good spot, because when it's a new place and I don't know the movement patterns, this is advisable. I settled for a spot on top of a hill, overlooking what the permit writer (a local CPO) marked as the "damage area."
On top of a hill, after a dry spell, you don't expect mud. But my God, was there mud...ten inches or so of it, concealed by the grass. When I tried to move the truck to another spot, the tires started to spin. "No problem," I thought; "just shift into 4WD." I did. No luck. I shifted into 4WD "Low Range" and that just made things worse.
I was stuck, well and truly, up to the hubcaps. Nothing I did helped. Tried sticking my wood deer ramp under the wheels: no go, the truck was so deep and the wheels so slicked over I couldn't get up on the ramp to get traction. Tried bunches of dried grass. No way, they just got gummed up, too. I have a winch in the truck, but it's in the back, and there was nothing to attach it to anyway.
I gave up and called a tow truck. Then hoofed it down the 3/4 mile long driveway to the main road to flag him down. He wouldn't get off the drive himself, and I don't blame him. However, he had 150 feet of tow cable and another 150 feet of heavy-duty tow straps he could splice together, and that was enough to reach the truck. Hooked it up to the tow points in the front, and hey, presto! he pulled me out. My insurance covered nearly all the tow bill. Thank you, State Farm!
Needless to say, I didn't get a deer. By the time I was out it was 4:00 PM, the truck and I were both covered in mud, and I drove it to a local car wash to get it clean enough to park in the driveway without arousing Mrs NRVO's ire. She still doesn't know, and I have no plans to tell her.
Moral: 4WD won't get you out of everything.
March 2, 2019: Getting Closer
After the mud fiasco of three days ago, and after two more days of @$#!%$#!%! rain, it finally dried out a bit today so I went back to the site. I'd spoken to the landowner, and told him what had happened; he advised me to "Bring a chair, and sit down behind the barn, just before dark; you'll see them then."
He was speaking the truth. I brought along a lovely folding beach chair my hemi-demi-semi-quasi adopted daughter had given me, and set it up behind the barn:
I have to say that this is perhaps the most comfortable I have ever been on a deer stand, despite the cold. It was in the mid 40's and the temperature dropped as I sat there, but as I was well bundled up, it wasn't a hardship. I sat down almost exactly at 4:00 PM, took out a magazine, and read for a while, as I didn't expect any action for at least an hour.
I was facing this field:
and because I'd expected the ranges to be fairly long, I brought my Kimber .308 instead of the drilling. It's hard to see, but at the right edge of that picture is a wire fence, which marks the boundary of the property where I have permission to shoot.
About 5:15 I spotted some slight movement in a field well over the boundary to my right, and sure enough, it was three deer, very, very slowly moving in my direction. I had the wind in my face, blowing directly from them to me, so I wasn't worried about being scented, nor was I. Furthermore, the barn behind me created a "wind shadow" if the wind shifted and the roof of it could have created a "burble" in any event. So long as I didn't get up and start moving around I wasn't going to be spotted.
The deer—a biggish doe and two grown fawns, from what I could see—kept slowly, slowly, slowly moving towards me. By 6:15 PM they had just about reached the fence, and my view was obscured by the small round bush you can see in the picture above, approximately 50 yards away; but they were farther than that and I couldn't tell for sure which side of the fence they were on. (Note to self: next time bring binoculars and the rangefinder...) I think the doe crossed the fence shortly thereafter, but she was still obscured and at least 100 yards away in any event. A 100-yard shot would have presented no problems had she been in plain view, but she wasn't.
I hung on until 6:45, hoping she'd come out an give me a shot, but no dice. Well, there is always another day. On my way out, two more does ran in front of my truck. Each try I get a little closer to making a kill, and sooner or later it will happen.
March 6, 2019: Fishing
Fishing is what I do when I can't go hunting. I could theoretically have gone hunting (read: culling) today but yesterday my neighbor Rick had called and asked if I wanted to go fishing at Pandapa's Pond, a small local impoundment on Craig Creek. Pandapa's is in the Thomas Jefferson National Forest, as a "day use" recreation area. Well maintained and popular with the locals, the DGIF stocks it with trout. They had done so yesterday, but since I was in Roanoke for some medical procedures yesterday I couldn't make it. Today he called again—he'd gone out alone and got skunked yesterday—so I readily agreed.
We swung by a local convenience store for some bait (There Is No God But Live Bait, And Nightcrawler Is His Prophet) and off we went. (I'll note parenthetically that although the people who wrote outdoors magazines sneer at worms and imply that no serious fisherman—excuse me, "fisher," I forgot to be Politically Correct for a moment—would use them, nevertheless every convenience store and Wal-Mart, Feed-And-Seed, etc., carries nightcrawlers and they're a hot item on their shelves. So I guess even serious fishermen—damn it, there I go again—use them.)
It was one damned cold day: Rick had said there was some ice on the pond yesterday, but today was cold enough for me. Cold enough to wear long underwear and a very heavy jacket.
When we arrived some others were there, and one group of three guys was regularly hauling fish out: one of these was a monster, easily 5 pounds. I've put such fish into stocked places as a volunteer with the DGIF, actually.
We had no such luck. Eventually Rick caught one 10-or-11-inch trout and that was it. I got skunked. We had to be back by 4:00 so we left in time to get home by 4:45. May go back tomorrow depending on weather.
March 7, 2019: Skunked At the Pond And The Ford Dealership
We went out again, and neither of us caught anything at all, though again we saw people catching fish at other spots. We'd gone to the place where the fellow had caught the five-pounder, but to no avail.
My 1999 Ford F-150 was due for annual inspection, so I left it at a local Ford dealership: having bought it there the inspections are free. Big fat deal: it was rejected because it needed new brakes all around, to the tune of $591.58. Some days it's hard to justify getting out of bed.
March 10, 2019: Another Try
Went out late in the day, arriving at about 6:30. Since the deer seem to come out around sundown, I set up this time some 50 yards from the stand at the barn, against a fallen tree.
The mud has not abated. If anything it's worse; nearly sucking my boots off from time to time. It's a good thing I brought a walking stick, there were times when the muck threw me off balance and I'd have fallen had I not had it.
The deer came out, all right: I spotted movement just about 7:20. There were at least five, but unfortunately they were 200+ yards away and never came any closer. Had there been decent light at that point I might have tried a shot, but in the growing dark it would have been irresponsible. Too much chance of a crippling hit such as a gut shot at that range.
There will always be another day.
March 13, 2019: There Was Another Day...
...and it wasn't any better than the ones before.
Went back out to the place where I'd seen the deer come out, and set up a stand about 55 yards from where they'd appeared. This time I was prepared to spotlight them if need be (spotlighting is legal on a kill permit; it would be illegal in hunting season) so I attached a very powerful green-beam light to the scope of my rifle.
The light clamps on and has a sort of "tail" for a switch. One end of the "tail" has a momentary contact, the other end has a constant-on feature. Allegedly deer can't see green, so the theory is that you light them up but they're unaware of it, and BANG! I don't know if this theory of deer vision is correct: my Border Collie can certainly see this light, she chases it when I shine it on the ground.
I also brought along a shooting stick I'd made, you can see it lying across my day bag. I don't use it that often, but at this venue, where there is muck and mire, and long range, I thought it would be useful. It has holes drilled to allow for positioning a rest at different levels; and I put on a couple of sling swivel bases so I can carry it across my back.
In the event, I never got the chance to try it. By 8:15 it was full dark; the deer, who seem to like to come out at dusk, never showed up. I slogged my way back across the field to my parked truck and came home. The cattle were in the field, and as I approached the truck, they decided to investigate me. They started to follow me as I trudged along. Now, I'm not afraid of cows: they're pretty nearly the dumbest thing on four legs that there is (they're even dumber than sheep, which is saying a lot). But they're big and curious, and I didn't fancy having one come up and bump me. So I turned to face the lot of them (and of course they all stopped when I did), and said, "Listen here: you are herbivores. I am a carnivore. I eat herbivores, so unless you want to be eaten, right here and right now, git !" and off they went.
As I was getting ready to leave the landowner was driving in, and stopped to ask if I'd shot anything; he then told me he'd seen six of them as he was leaving! I can't win for losing in this place.
September 7, 2019: Small Game Season Begins
Not that it did me any good. I put my little .32 muzzle-loader into the truck and drove to Sunrise Farm. The logging operation that started last year is still going on. One of the loggers told me they'd taken 160,000 board feet out; that it was a "selective cut" and that they were nearly finished. The landowner insists that all the wreckage hasn't affected his deer herd a bit; claims there are at least two does with twin and triplet fawns in tow, and a couple of largish bucks. He also says they'd be done "...by the end of this month..." which is what he told me a year ago. We'll see.
If they're not actually still cutting and stacking logs by the opening of deer season I'll give the place a try, though I'm going to have to re-learn the property and the deer movement patterns since the carnage has completely disrupted everything. It's possible the deer will like the new browse that will have grown up in the place where sunlight reaches the forest floor; and that the logging roads will encourage them to move about in more predictable ways. But I'm not sure how many more seasons I have left in me and by the time I get the "new" place figured out I may be done.
In any event, I didn't hunt. Didn't even bother to load the rifle. Harry's squirrels have enough on their plates without me bothering them.
October 5, 2019: A Scout
I went out to Sunrise Farm today, in hopes that the logging was over and things were getting back to post-cutting "normal," whatever that may be. There is good news and bad news.
There was no activity today, but today is a Saturday and perhaps the loggers have taken the day off to watch the VT football game, so I can't be sure everything is done for the season. The monster logging equipment is still there, but the piles of logs that were present last time I went out have mostly been carted away to a sawmill. There are a few left, that to my untrained eye look as though they might just be left in situ: they're pretty well dried up, and may represent dead standing timber. On the other hand, they've been neatly stacked in bundles, so perhaps they're next on the agenda to go out.
My principal reason for the scout was to see what the acorn situation is. My neighbor has an oak in his yard that's producing prodigious amounts of acorns and dropping them in my driveway, much to the delight of the local squirrels and chipmunks. My reasoning was that if this is happening in Harry's woodlot, things might be better than they look at first glance. There were indeed acorns visible on the ground, though nowhere near so many as in my driveway, but I suppose some of them have already been eaten and not a few have been buried in the leaf litter.
That's one bit of good news. But there's plenty of bad.
Some of my old reliable stands have been so badly mauled as to be nearly unrecognizable. The picture at left shows a spot I call "Three Trees," before and after. The arrow in the "before" image is where I would sit. You can still see the scrap wood pile (just barely) in the second "after" picture.
The actual spot where I sit is now more or less blocked by slashings and if I were to somehow open it up, much of what I used to see on the opposite side of the Ravine of Death would no longer be visible. Nevertheless, next time I may bring a chainsaw out and clear the space. I did find a place somewhat above the Three Trees that afforded a pretty good view of the hillside of the ROD, and if the deer do what they've habitually done—come in across that end of the ROD in the early morning—I'd get a pretty good shot.
Alas, if a deer got shot and ended up dead in the bottom of the Ravine, getting it out will be Hell's own job, as the slope is steep and the slash has multiplied the difficulty of access and recovery many fold. The slope over which the deer (used to and I hope still will) come is shown below.
The Monster Logging Equipment required that skidder roads be cut through the timber. These are still there, of course, and they may be a curse or a boon. The logger I spoke to told last time me that in his opinion "...deer don't like to exert themselves any more than we do..." and the trails would offer them easy movement. This may be true. One trail runs the entire length of the woodlot and allowed me to easily walk into places that before had been so choked with brush I couldn't have got into them. I did see what I think was evidence that deer have been browsing along the sides of this long trail, but I didn't see many hoofprints. And I should have: the ground is as dry as the surface of the Moon (it hasn't rained here for two months) and the trails are a couple of inches deep in loose dirt and dust.
The trail shown here had a fair number of acorns, and a small grove of hickories I hadn't known was there until today because I couldn't get that far in.
Another of my regular stands, a place I called "The Throne" is barely recognizable. There was a huge oak (maybe 3 feet in diameter) that has been cut down to a stump about three feet high. It's a spot from which I would watch an area with many oaks in it, but those too are gone, and presumably with them their acorns.
If we finally get some rain, the trails will be messy but I'm hoping that some late-season browse and understory will grow up. Next year, assuming there's no more damage, will likely be better than this year will be; but I'll go out this year and see. The black powder season starts exactly a month from today.
I didn't see so much as a single squirrel, but I did see a large reddish-colored bird perched in a tree; it flew off as I walked past. It may have been a red-tailed hawk.
November 2 today was the opening day of black powder season. I was—pardon the pun—primed and ready: the night of All Saints' Day I laid out my gear, made sure the truck was in good order, and on the morning of the 2nd was on stand at Ravine of Death at 6:30 AM.
There is good news and bad news. The good news: the ROD is recovering; the Monster Logging Equipment is gone and the logging operation seems to be finished. Some more good news is that I think the landowner has seeded the skidder trails: there was quite a bit of grass coming up. Small shoots, but definitely there and they're uniformly distributed along the trails, so I think it has to have been seeded. More good news: the deer are still there. I saw seven on Opening Day, including at least one pretty buck: at least a 6 point, possibly an 8.
Now the bad news: I FIRED AND MISSED THREE TIMES!
At 7:25 a smallish doe came out about 35-40 yards away from where I was sitting. She seemed to know I was there, but didn't appear to be too concerned about it. She snorted once or twice, looked at me, then went back to feeding, looked again, and went back to feeding. I guess that if snorting didn't make me move she wasn't going to worry too much. Eventually she turned broadside and I took the shot, a clean miss. She wandered away, not bothering to put up her flag. I went to where she'd been and looked for any evidence of a hit. Nothing. I even thought it might be a rehash of last year's kill, when I shot at a doe in exactly the same place, who ran off, made it to the road and died there, so I walked out and checked the ditches. Nothing at all. This one I can "excuse" because it was barely light enough to shoot, but still it was a miss.
Maybe 20 minutes later I was at a different spot and another doe came by. This one never gave me a chance, though. Pooched around for a bit and then took off, flag up. I don't know what spooked her. She was easily 35-40 yards away and the wind was in my face, so I don't think she smelled me.
That was it for a while. Then about 2:30 I spotted movement to my left, and lo, that buck I mentioned above was sneaking through the woods onto the trail. I let him get in the clear—or so I thought—fired and MISSED him, clean. Then he did something very odd. At the shot he didn't run. He stopped, looked around, and while I was frantically reloading, sort of leisurely wandered towards the west end of the ROD, followed by yet another doe who'd come out behind him. They weren't in a hurry nor were they alarmed. I've sometimes seen deer ignore a shot, I think because they want to know where the danger is and are reluctant to run until they do. However, when I've seen that it's always been when I used smokeless powder. The cloud from my .54 should have alerted them; I don't know why it didn't, but they took it all in stride. Striding off into the tangle of brush.
I shifted spots again, At ten minutes to 6:00, saw a flicker of movement in the brush on the Ravine side of the trail. Three deer were coming up the hill, crossing right to left, so I picked out the biggest one, and fired as he/she/it walked by and MISSED AGAIN. This was totally inexplicable: I wasn't more than 25 yards away. Two years ago I missed a 27-yard shot with my .58, but the New Englander has always been dead on. I have no excuse for this one or for the buck. I should have killed both of them
Any of these chances would have been "gimme" shots with a scope centerfire rifle. Maybe I'm getting too old to use iron sights?
Tomorrow I go to the range to check things out: I'm wondering if maybe the rifle is shooting high for some reason. Only range work will tell.
Needless to say, I am PISSED at this poor performance. Not on the gun's part, on my own.
The western end of the Ravine is a colossal tangle: a squirrel would have trouble getting through it, let alone a human. I think the deer are using it for a bedding area. I'm going to have to learn their timing and routes all over again, but the first doe came in where and when I expected her, so maybe they're not so far off their usual schedule.
So the next day (the 3rd) I spent an afternoon making sure my rifle was spot on at 50 yards. At the range I found the sights were indeed off. WAY off. I have no idea how this happened. The rifle has never lost zero since I last changed the weight of the bullet (I used a conical bullet in Africa and switched back to round balls on return). I attach a picture of the target.
Charge was 83 grains GOEX FFg; a wool wad under a 0.530" ball, and a 0.010 lubricated patch. The rifle has T/C's peep sights, I've used them for years.
Shot #1 was at 25 yards. The bullet hit an inch low and an inch to the right. This wasn't bad, so I tried shot #2 at 50 yards, my desired sight-in distance.
#2 was 4" high and 3" to the right! Out came the little hex wrench. I fiddled with the sights, and #3 was 3" low and 6" to the right! Back to the drawing board and the hex wrench!
I fired #4 off the bench: the previous three were fired from a braced sitting position, which I usually use in the field; but I wanted something rock solid, so out came the "eared" shooting bag. Shot #4 was spang in the middle of the bullseye at 50 yards, exactly where I wanted it to go.
I encountered some difficulty loading shots #2 and #3 due to fouling so I swabbed the bore very lightly with a slightly damp patch before loading shot #4. Since in the field I fire from a clean cold barrel, this seems to be a good idea. My .72 double will also shoot wildly if it isn't swabbed between shots, and I've had this issue with my flintlock .54. The New Englander almost never needs a second shot: only one time has it ever been needed, in fact. That rifle has at least 17 one-shot kills, 16 whitetails and an African warthog. It's rifled 1:48" and I've read that T/C guns so rifled have fairly shallow grooves. Maybe: it was on a net forum and some of that "information" is suspect, if not actually made up.
Anyway: the first miss yesterday was at 3 minutes after legal shooting time started and even though I removed the aperture to use it as a "ghost ring" it was still close to dark. I attribute that to the decreased accuracy of a very large opening and Geezer Eyes.
Miss #2 and Miss #3 I can attribute to the sights being off, combined with the fouled barrel.
I had also thrown away the old bullets from last season and opened a new box of Remington's "Golden" round balls. Unfortunately I can't get these anymore, but the remaining 96 in that box will serve me for a long time to come and Speer and Hornady both make round balls. Between the new bullets, clean patches, bore swabbing, and properly adjusted sights, I thought things were pretty well in hand.
On the 4th I put everything to the test. Again I left the house at 5:30 AM for the 45-60 minute drive to the Ravine of Death. The first deer I saw that day was in my driveway; but there was nothing I could do about her.
I got to my stand—the same place where I'd missed the doe on Opening Day—by 6:30 with legal time starting at 7:25. Right at that time a doe walked behind me. She gave me no chance for a shot, but she circled around to my right and I thought she might come up to where I could get a good look and pop her. No such luck, she wandered away down to the west end of the ROD and was never seen again. She was unaware of my presence, completely.
Half an hour later I spotted a set of antlers just below the crest of the ridge on which I was sitting. Quite a nice set, too: I believe it was the same buck I saw on Saturday, a 6- or 8-pointer. He did spot me: popped his head up and gave me a good look right in the eye from perhaps 20 yards away. Alas, his body was largely hidden behind the ridge and I didn't fancy trying a neck shot. In any even he only gave me a few seconds and then scampered away, likely trailing that doe.
I shifted to the spot where I'd seen the deer come out of the Ravine on Saturday, sat down, and waited. Sure enough, about 8:30, another deer showed up. Gave me a nice broadside presentation at about 40 yards. "Piece of cake!" I thought, just before I MISSED HER.
That's four misses in 2 sessions. I could blame the sights for Saturday's debacle but Monday's was just bad shooting on my part. I'm beginning to wonder if my eyes are simply too far gone to use any form of iron sights, even a peep.
Then other things happened. About 9:15 two guys showed up with chain saws and started cutting up a lot of the bigger limbs on the ground, right where I'd been sitting on first arrival, making one hell of a racket. I don't know if they were part of the timber collecting crew cleaning up or if they were just cutting firewood for themselves, not that it mattered.
Disgusted, I went back to the truck to leave, and as I was sitting there a lumber company truck rolled in with a pile of huge fence posts, followed by another truck with a big roll of barbed wire. The latter saw me in my truck and said, "Are you the guy who's supposed to tell me where to go?" I might well have told him—and the wood cutters—"where to go," but I didn't fancy getting into a fight, so I directed him to the house, fired up the engine, and went to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents, 20 miles away in another county.
That was a half-hour's drive, so I got there about 11:00 AM, only to find a remodeling crew hard at work on the landowner's new deck. Not only that but the truck belonging to the other guy who hunts that spot was parked where I usually park so I knew he was in the woods. I called him, se we established where we'd be hunting. He said he'd killed a spike that morning and seen some does.
I hoofed it up the trail, over the hill—it's a good 600-yard walk—and wandered down into the VOATR, plonked myself down under the Beech Tree. Not ten minutes after I arrived a doe waltzed past me, totally oblivious to me being there. I could almost have hit her with a rock, but alas, the VOATR is antlers-only until Saturday the 9th, so she was inviolable.
I never saw another deer after that. I waited until 4:00 and then went to a spot where I have killed 4 or 5 in the evening, including two, three days apart, last season. Nobody showed up. I quite when shooting time ended and went home, discovering as I left that my truck's 4WD mechanism is on the fritz again, and I couldn't get out of 4WD. A word of advice to my readers: NEVER get a truck with an electrically controlled transfer case. The automatic transmission isn't bad, but next time I buy a truck (a highly unlikely event) it will have a manual transfer case or none at all.
The VOATR lived up to its name: there were plenty of squirrels, both fox squirrels and grey ones, bouncing around in the leaves picking up acorns, this year we've had a good crop. The ROD also had a number of squirrels, including a melanistic grey squirrel: I'd seen him on Saturday and again on Monday. I won't shoot fox squirrels any more and would never have shot that black one anyway, even if I had been squirrel hunting.
Today (the 5th) is Election day and my wife has scheduled us for an evening performance at the Moss Arts Center, so it's a bust. My truck seems to be behaving itself again, so maybe tomorrow (Wednesday the 6th) I'll go to the ROD again, if I can get in and out before the wood cutters show up. I'm sure what the weather will be like but the NWS says cloudy and cold. IF I can manage to get my 'eye" back in and IF I can get out, I MAY kill a deer this BP season. Every shot I've blown so far would have been easy with my .308. But that has a nice Leupold scope on it.
November 8-10, 2019: No Luck in Amherst, Either
My friend Rick has a nice property in Amherst County which is chock full of deer, and I try to hunt there whenever I'm invited. I went up in the afternoon of Friday the 8th, arriving at 4:22 PM, to find that Rick had shot his second deer so far: a nice fat 7-point buck. He'd previously killed a spike buck on Opening Day of BP season.
I've usually had good luck there and have a few pretty reliable spots. One is behind Rick's guest house. Deer come in off the road above and down a slope on the north side of Huff Creek. I sat there on Friday evening and saw nothing. Went back Saturday morning: I saw five does, but they were out of range and obscured by brush, so I never had a shot.
That afternoon I went to a place I call The Rock. I've killed at least five deer from that stand over the years, but this time no one showed up.
The next day, Sunday, I went where Rick had killed his spike buck (he killed the 7-pointer on his front lawn!) and saw zilch.
If it weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all.
November 11, 2019: Getting Ready For Rifle Season
Rifle season opens on Saturday the 16th and I had no intention of repeating the mistake I made initially in the BP season. I went out to the club range to check the sights on my sweet Kimber .308. I wanted to be certain the bullets would go where they're supposed to!
First shot with Remington's 150-grain Core-Lokt factory stuff was 3" high and more or less dead on for windage at 100 yards. I wanted it to be 2" high, so I fiddled with the elevation knob on the scope. Shot #2 was 2-1/2" high, so I decided not to mess with it. That puts the "point blank" range for this rifle at about 250 yards, much farther than I could ever expect to get a shot around here. It will be a bit low at 25 yards, and a bit closer to dead center at 50 yards, much more likely ranges in the local woods. I was satisfied and if a deer shows up on Saturday he/she/it will be toast. No iron sights on that gun, it has a lovely Leupold on it.
The past couple of days have been freezing cold, and the moon has been full. I've long noticed that when there's a full moon deer bed up very early and don't start moving around much before late morning; the moon will be nearly full on Opening Day, and though I'll be out there long before the Crack Of Dawn anyway, I don't think I'll see anything much before then; but you never know. The 16th is supposed to be the absolute peak of the rut, but nothing's that predictable. God knows I've been seeing a lot of road kills, so they're obviously on the move.
November 15, 2019: Last Day of the BP Season: A Total Bust
For the last day of the early black powder season I decided to try again at the Ravine of Death, but didn't get out there until about 9:30. I was reasoning that since the moon has been bright the deer would be moving later in the day than they might.
When I got there, though, the two guys who were cutting wood (presumably for firewood, though I don't know if it was for sale or their own use; not that it matters) and making a racket with their chain saws. I decided to go to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents, about 20 miles away.
Well, 20 miles if you aren't so pissed off that you miss your exit on the Interstate and have to go on to the next and back again: that added 20 more miles to the trip.
Nothing doing there, either. I tried the place that Dustin, the other guy who hunts the property had suggested, a spot I'll refer to as "Up Top." The only thing I saw there was the site of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, though. Nothing with or without antlers, except for a couple of tweety birds, one buzzard, and one or two squirrels.
November 16, 2019: Norman's First Kill
Last Spring when my wife and I went to Scotland, I met face to face with a gentleman with whom I've conversed through an on-line discussion group on hunting. Ian was gracious enough to come to Edinburgh for a few hours, and while there he gave me a present: a stuffed bear in Northumbrian colors (whoops, colours, I mean) of red, yellow, black and white. The bear's name is Norman, and he was to be a mascot in the field.
Norman has been riding in my truck and I think he's not really into black powder rifles; but today was the first day of the rifle season. So Norman and I went to the VOATR, arriving on stand about 6:10 AM (this meant a 4:15 wakeup, which didn't bother him, but was hard on my aging frame).
It's a long walk up and over a steep slope to the VOATR, but we got there and settled in to a spot where I have killed several deer, including the two biggest bucks I've ever taken: a fat 8-point and a bruiser 10-pointer. The spot is a convergence of three trails, and seems to be used mainly by bucks: looking back over the years I have to say I've never killed anything but a buck in the VOATR; and I've forgotten how many there were. At least six.
It wasn't too cold, and I was comfortably settled on my little hunting stool with my back against my favorite tree, overlooking the trails' intersection. Norman sat quietly and I think he may have sent out some sort of signal to the deer to "Come and get it!"
In any event, as I was beginning to think about leaving, Norman counseled me to sit tight: something was going to happen soon. So it did: at about 9:30 I spotted movement in the brush across the way, perhaps 100 yards distant. It looked like a buck, but it didn't matter; does are legal in Giles County in rifle season and I was going to kill that deer if I could.
At Norman's urging I had brought my beautiful Kimber in .308. I won this rifle in a raffle nine years ago and it's not only gorgeous, with an upgraded French walnut stock, it's accurate and deadly. I'd checked the sight a few days before and it was shooting exactly where I wanted it to. I gave up on Federal's ammunition a couple of years ago. Though it's extremely accurate it has a bullet too tough for our local deer. Went back to " Old Reliable," Remington's Core-Lokt 150 grain pointed soft point. That bullet had been in production for decades and it's as perfect a whitetail bullet as could be found: I also use it in my .30-06 to the exclusion of anything else.
Once I spotted the deer it seemed to vanish, but Norman insisted it was still there and said, "Just be patient, can't you?" He was right. The deer appeared again, ambling along nose to the ground, nibbling choice stuff and completely clueless about our presence.
He stepped into the clear and Norman whispered, "Now!" so I fired. At the shot the deer dropped, stone dead before he even hit the ground. "Dead Right There," I think the phrase is, but that deer died so fast it probably never registered on him that it had happened. I later paced off the shot at about 80 yards. That makes it the third longest shot I have ever taken in Virginia, and most unusually far away for our local woods.
He went down on the side of a hill above the lowest point of the VOATR, so I had to drag him out far enough to bring in my truck and get him into it. That was a job: I have to say that even after the (rather messy) gutting he was the heaviest spike I have ever encountered. I asked the processor to get a weight before skinning him, but my guess is that live weight would have been in the range of 130 pounds or so. It took me some considerable effort to drag him up over a small hummock and into the clear—I am nowhere near so young as I like to think I am—but I managed. Left him there with an orange cap on his head (it has happened that hunters have left deer to fetch someone to help without marking the spot; and then are unable to find the animal).
I hoofed it back down to the place where I'd left my truck, and wonder of wonders the 4WD feature was working for a change. Drove up the long hill and down into the bottom, where I was able to set up the ramp and winch and yank him into the bed.
The bullet hit him on the right side, making a small entry wound. It ripped open his aorta and pulmonary artery, and shredded about 4" of his spine. No wonder he dropped like a puppet with cut strings! I doubt he even felt the hit.
Norman was ecstatic, jubilant, over the kill. He kept slapping me on the back and asking when we'd go again. Soon, I hope!
November 19, 2019: An Anniversary
I went out again to the VOATR, but arrived late (11:16) and saw nothing. But it's my anniversary: I shot my first deer, in Dutchess County, New York, on this date in 1979. If I can drag my aging ass out of bed early enough tomorrow, I'll make a valiant effort at the ROD.
November 20, 2019: Meanwhile, Back at the ROD...
Absolutely nothing was happening between 6:15 and 9:00 AM, when I had to leave.
The Ravine proper is no longer huntable. Not that there aren't any deer: there are plenty of them and I saw some fecal piles on my way back to the truck. But except for a small area at the far eastern end, it's so totally devastated and filled with debris that a squirrel could hardly get through it. I'm sure the deer will find it a lovely hiding area, but if I were to drop a deer in that tangle, there's no way on this Earth I'd get it out.
I've now got the task of re-learning the movements of the deer and figuring out what parts of the property are huntable and accessible. The skidder trails are a possibility. With only a week and a half of rifle season left and some other obligations, it may have to wait a while before I can do anything.
November 23, 2019: A Funeral
I went to the funeral of a friend, someone I've known for about 25 years, since he was a student at Virginia Tech; we "met" originally through the old rec.guns bulletin board; he'd seen some of my posts and contacted me, we hit it off and became friends. I was an usher at his wedding, and now I have been a mourner at his funeral.
He was a police officer in Roanoke for 21 years; he was a Marine Reservist for 8 years, and after leaving the Corps he joined the Army National Guard, who deployed him to Afghanistan as part of a transportation company, trucking supplies to hot zones and fending off the Bad Guys. A year and a half ago he developed a brain tumor; and succumbed on November 15th, though when I last saw him some months ago he looked good and was in good spirits. His tumor had been "de-bulked," which is a doctor's way of saying, "We didn't get all of it," and in time he went through several cycles of chemotherapy and radiation; I doubt the doctors thought it would do much good but they had to try.
He went downhill rapidly in recent months: when a tumor that's been aggressively treated returns, it roars back with a vengeance because all the susceptible cells have been killed and the survivors are resistant to any treatments currently known. Brain tumors aren't "encapsulated," i.e., enclosed within a connective tissue envelope, because there isn't any CT in the brain. They send out spidery branches and seed new nests of cells at distant places. His tumor was a particularly dangerous one, and I don't for a minute think the doctors thought he would survive very long once it resurged. He didn't.
The turnout was huge, hundreds of people came. Every police force in southwestern Virginia was represented, as were the Marines and the Army; and virtually the entire Roanoke force was there. His 15-year-old daughter gave a beautiful eulogy, much the best of the four people who spoke. She is a remarkably poised and self-controlled lady. She'll make some lucky man a wonderful wife, I think.
The Army gave him a 21-gun salute and a promotion from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant, with date of rank being the date of his death. I think this was not only a recognition of his service, but it may have been to increase his wife's survivor's benefits. A nice gesture, I thought.
Erik was very popular with everyone. And he was 45 years old.
November 26, 2019: Another Try, and the Aftermath of Opening Day
Went to the VOATR on the 26th, again with no luck. That makes about seven days in the woods with only one deer to show for it. Sat in the Valley for a couple of hours and then moved to Flintlock Hill, where last year I'd killed two three days apart. But nobody was home in either place. Oh, well, by this time 20% of the ones who were there when the season started are dead, all the stupid and unlucky ones having been killed off in the first day or two of rifle season; and that is on top of what was taken in the early black powder season.
I picked up the processed meat from that spike buck: about 27 pounds of hamburger, a couple of pounds of tenderloin, and that's it. His field dressed weight was 80 pounds, which puts his live weight at about 110-115. Not too bad, and about typical for a yearling buck in this part of the state. The processor lost the antlers I'd asked him to save, so he gave me a $5 refund (their normal charge for this service) and two sets of spike antlers from other deer. Since I put these out for the squirrels to chew on, the size is unimportant.
I'm writing this on the 27th, and would have gone out today but it was raining; and tomorrow (the 28th) is Thanksgiving Day; we will be out of town. A few more days are left in the rifle season but I suspect that if I get out again before the last day (the 30th) it will only be once.
After Saturday there's a two-week hiatus when only archery equipment is legal, but I don't bowhunt. The late black powder season opens again on December 14th and runs to just after New Year's Day; the rifle season has been extended east of the Blue Ridge and it's possible I can get to Amherst to see what happens; but I'm not counting on it. My freezer is full anyway, so if I do shoot another I'll end up donating it to Hunters For The Hungry.
November 30, 2019: End of the Rifle Season
Today is the last day of the general firearms season (always referred to here as the "rifle season" because nobody hunts with anything else during it) west of the Blue Ridge and it's raining. It has been raining steadily since last night. Not wishing to get wet, I stayed home. A friend called at 9:30 to speak with Mrs Outdoorsman and she told me "You should have been here this morning, there were three of them in our yard, and you could have sat on the porch and shot one!" As if I needed to hear that...So unless I get invited to go to Amherst, where the rifle season remains open, my Kimber has been cleaned and put away until next year, and all my hunting clothes have been washed.
Well, after a 2-week hiatus for the late bow season, the second black powder season opens on December 14th, so I can get out again. Late BP is a tough season because all the really stupid deer have been killed, it's usually freezing cold, and in general the weather and prospects are about as unpleasant as they can be. Only once have I killed a deer in the late BP season, but if it happened once it might happen again.
I'll take the .58 "Big Boar," hoping to finally make a kill with it. All the gear is ready so that when the late season starts, I'll be too.
January 2, 2020: The Season Ends With Ignominy
The late BP season ends on Saturday the 4th, but rain is predicted for tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday, so I decided today it was now or never for the Last Hurrah, one final try to get a second deer this year. Needless to say, I did not get one.
I dragged myself out of bed at 4:15 AM. As I age—I am now two years into my eighth decade on this planet—this gets harder to do, but I managed it without groaning too much. Suited up and hit the road in time to be on my stand at The Valley Of A Thousand Rodents by 6:24. As readers of this blog know, the VOATR has been a good spot for me: that's where Norman and I shot the little buck on Opening Day of the rifle season, and over the years it has produced many kills. Plus, it's only 15 minutes away, not an hour (as is Sunrise Farm); nor has it been torn up by loggers the way Sunrise Farm has been. The VOATR it was, by default, on this day.
Alas, the place was as dead as Disco: I heard a few crows calling in the distance and I might have heard a shot a long way off, but it could just as easily have been someone dropping a board. Other than that the place was silent and seemingly devoid of animal life. No birds, no chipmunks, no squirrels: nada, zilch, zip.
And no deer. Since it was supposed to rain beginning around 11:00, and since the temperature was chilly (not freezing, but close) I decided to sit until 9:00, at which time if nothing had happened, nothing was going to happen. This prediction also came true. I upped stakes at 9:00 and hoofed it back to the truck.
And—as somehow is always the case—I saw two deer on the road, in someone's front yard. A big buck chasing a doe. Nothing to be done.
I had agreed to meet some friends at our shooting club's range. And thither I went. I had to discharge my Big Boar .58 anyway, so I decided I'd pop off a round or two and see where it was shooting. It was supposed to have been dead on at 100 yards.
I set up a 50-yard target: the trajectory calculations said at that range the bullet (a round ball) would be 2.5" high. It wasn't. It was 2.5" LOW. First shot was near the bullseye; second shot a bit higher, about where it was "supposed" to be; third shot was in the same place as the first.
The fouling from the first three shots was making it hard to load, so I wrapped a bit of damp rag around a wool swab to wipe the bore. This is usually a good thing to do, especially with real black powder. Unfortunately, the wool swab came out but the wet rag didn't! I spent the next half hour trying to extract it, with little success. Finally what I ended up doing was removing the nipple, putting a bit of powder in the flash channel, and shooting the rag out.
Once that was done even if it wasn't hitting where I expected to hit, it was grouping reasonably well, so I decided to check it out at 100 yards. I fired, and there was no evidence of a hit on the target; worse, no evidence of a hit on the white paper I had covered the target frame with! Now, I'm not the best rifleman in the world, but even I can reliably hit a 3'x2' target frame at 100 yards.
I wanted to try again, so I reloaded. Or I thought I did. What I actually did was "dry ball" the rifle: loaded a bullet over no powder. I've never done this before, but in time it will happen to everyone who shoots a muzzle-loader. There's an easy way to get this cleared up: use a carbon dioxide ball discharger. I have two of these very handy gadgets but of course I didn't have one with me, so that was the end of shooting for the day. I had to take the rifle home to get the ball out.
I hoofed it out to the 100 yard line to pull my target, and lo! I did in fact hit the target frame: twenty-four inches low, the bullet passing through the actual wood of the frame proper. That told me that whatever sight-in I had used before, it was no longer valid, for sure.
At home, the ball came out easily, but alas, the wool wad I usually put under a ball when loading did not come out. This was a real PITA, because since I couldn't blow it out with carbon dioxide, I had to use a hook, or a "patch worm," and neither worked. I spent nearly an hour on this, even fashioning a hook from a coat hanger. No go, I couldn't get the hook behind the damned wad and yank it out. In the end, I did get it out: I was washing the barrel with hot water and Woolite, and the bristle brush snagged it; out it came.
So: lessons learned are 1) NO MORE WOOL WADS under the ball. I've had this happen before, once with my .72 double and once with my 12-gauge shotgun. Henceforth I will use a plain, non-patched, conical bullet; 2) Sight the rifle in before use, and CHECK THE SIGHTS before heading into the field. Had a deer come by and I'd fired at it, I'd have missed (again) or worse, wounded it.
This hasn't been a bad season, but it hasn't been an especially good one, either. To be honest I'm glad it's over. I got my deer, and I don't have room in the freezer for another, so had I connected today I'd have had to donate it to Hunters For The Hungry.
There's always next year, assuming I'm still alive...
Addendum: A Scheduled Bird Shoot
I have scheduled a bird shoot with Phil at Holland's Shooting Preserve on Groundhog Day. Today (January 3, and yes, it's raining) will be my last entry for the 2019 season, so watch for the start of next year's cycle in early February.