THE 2019-2020 SEASON

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 " 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 outsoors 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 enopugh 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 postioning 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'de be done " 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 enourage 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.