Revolver re-build, Field Carry system, and deer hunt

Deer season is upon us (Joe; no Hunting category?) so I thought this a good time to post it.

Following is a very long, detailed account of customizing a reproduction Colt 1847 Walker percussion revolver and using it in a deer hunt in the 2016 muzzleloader season. It assumes the reader has some understanding of the Colt open top revolver design and its inherent problems, and contains lots of technical photos and jargon. I also introduce a paper cartridge “Field Carry” system which I’ve developed for percussion revolvers, making things simpler and easier for the shooter while in the field on the move. There are bloody butchering (necropsy) photos cataloging the terminal performance of the gun and ammunition. You have been warned– If you read on you may be extremely bored, fascinated, or shocked or disgusted, or all of the above.
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Hunting and the Second Amendment

Via Bitter:

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by a hunters’ group that had challenged Pennsylvania’s long-standing ban on Sunday hunting, saying she saw no proof the hunters’ constitutionally protected rights were being harmed.

While I think it should be beyond the power of the government to ban hunting (at this time I’m not going to argue about regulation of hunting) I really have to squint to see the Second Amendment protecting hunting. I think it probably is the correct decision.

I think this is something we really can and should use to our advantage. We frequently hear that the anti-gun people don’t want to take our hunting guns away. Now, if they say that, we have a very powerful argument against them taking non-hunting guns.

Since the Second Amendment doesn’t protect hunting, and it is an individual right, then the Second Amendment must be to protect non-hunting firearm ownership. If not then the Second Amendment has been defined into meaninglessness.

With the evidence we have for the Second Amendment protecting firearms having a military purpose we now can insist the Second Amendment protects AK-47’s, AR-15’s, M-16’s, 50 BMG’s, and any other militia small arms.

In which Bambi came to dinner

At this
time of year I normally hunt in Klickitat County, WA, for deer. Lots of big black-tail / mule deer, and perhaps the occasional
hybrid. My luck at finding them is usually pretty good, though my luck in
finding ones with respectable racks is utterly pathetic – I can manage to find
a 200 lb + mule deer with ears that stick out further than his barely legal
three point rack, which is only three points by the grace of God and an eye-guard
that is about 1.1 inches long, or one that looks like what you’d expect of a mule
deer that cross-bred with a white-tail,  with huge ears and all its tiny little points
coming off of one narrow beam, and the other broken off to about 1/3 size. Oh,
well, meat’s meat.

Drove down Friday, looked thing over. Several does frisking
about, and no more than the normal noise from the property across the way (it’s
mostly 20-acre lots in that area, and some government land, with about a dozen scattered
hunting camps and a handful of year-round residents within a mile or two). Light
rain that day kept the dust down, and made the brush a LOT quieter. Lots of
acorns on the trees, I noticed – very different from last year, when there were
almost no acorns, and more hunters than deer. Parked the RV (AKA a minivan with
a seat out and an army cot in the back), got to sleep early, listening to the rain fall.

Got up, weather looked good, headed down for a spot I picked
the day before, partway down in and overlooking a clear-ish spot across a saddle
in the ridge. It has decent visibility, lots of deer trails through there. I
kick up a couple of does while sneaking down there in the dark. Wait for enough
light. See nothing. I hear shooting up behind me on the ridge. Several single
shots, widely spaced in time – either people are doing pretty well, or they can’t
shoot for squat. No way to know at the moment. I’m not seeing anything, except
a couple of does that are heading away from the shooting west of me. Eventually
I quit waiting and get moving, and slowly hunt around in a big loop to see what
can be scared up. Nadda but a couple of does. Light wind keeps eddying around,
so hunting “upwind” is impossible.

About 90% of the way around the loop I run into an old
friend of mine – he’s in his 80s now, was a gunner on a troop transport in
WWII, but still getting out (new just this year is a handicap hunter sign for
his rig, so he can shoot sitting in the cab, or have one of us younger “companion
hunters” do things for him.  He said his
son, a spry lad of only sixty, had gone on a big loop up and around similar to
the path I’d taken, but farther out, across to the far side of a large draw and
down through it. So I figure I can go find a good stand up on this side of the draw and see if he
spooks anything my way. I wander off into the thickets. Lots of low brush, large
patches of ten-foot high Oregon white oak, and lots of old pines blown down
like pick-up-sticks (the remains from after a fire swept through the area about
a decade ago). Easy to hide in, lots of forage, and a cast-iron bitch to get
things out of.

I creep along thorough the brush, keeping eyes and ears
open, picking the occasional acorn and popping it into my pockets, which are by
now bulging with them. I find a decent spot with a clear view across the draw
– the far side is about 450 yards away. Visibility closer isn’t great because
of all the oak stands. I stand up on a fallen log to get a better view. Lots of
acorns in reach from there, too. I watch across the draw, watch closer in, pick
acorns absently. Listen to the chipmunks, magpies, and woodpeckers. Wind swirls
around. Nothing moving but birds and leaves. Pretty, but no sign of hunter
orange coming down the far side of things yet. I take off my pack and drop it quietly
to the ground, still standing on the log. A few more acorn are in reach, and
they end up in my pocket.

Then I hear a noise – just barely loud enough to hear, and I
still can’t remember what sort of noise it was, but it WASN’T any of the things
I’d been listening to all morning. I jerk my head to the right toward that
marginally registering sound, and there, plain as day because I know the exact direction to look, I see the “Y” shape of a
deer staring straight at me, mule-deer ears and nose. Just the head – from the
neck down it was hidden in the heavy brush. Not fifty yards away. With a rack.
A small rack (of course), but it’s got a least one clear fork. I’m standing,
balancing on a log, body one way, and it’s off directly to my right. Well, that’s
kind of awkward.

I figure he must have been there this whole time, so slow motions
shouldn’t spook him. I turn slowly until I can get the rifle up into a good
scoping / shooting position. I look. Damn! Only 3 power on the scope, and I can’t
see if there is an eye-guard! I crank the scope to 9X, and look again. Can’t
quite be sure… then the light falling on him changes ever so slightly, and I
can see it! ONE eye-guard! Given the brush and stuff, I figure I’ve got about a
2” square target to hit, off-hand, standing straight up balancing on a log, at
fifty yards. Can’t move to a more stable position because lower would hide him
totally in the brush. Aim too high, miss. Too low, take his jaw off and he runs
and dies miles away or it gets deflected by heavy brush. Left or right, running
injured or clean miss. Just gotta stand tall and deliver. Sure, no pressure. Aim
carefully, breathe in, breathe out, double check the eye-guard to make sure it’s
long enough, breathe, squeeze. BLAM!

I work the action keeping my eyes on where he was. I see no
movement. I walk up carefully. Motionless on a grassy patch amidst the brush. Right
antler blown away. Brains and blood leaking out through the large hole just
above his right eye. I do a double-take, and I don’t see the eye-guard! ARRRG!
Oh, wait. False alarm – just didn’t see if from that angle. WHEW! I measure the
eye-guard; one and a quarter inches – legally counts as a point (1” minimum). Now
I just have to get him OUT of the deep weeds. He’s down amidst the log-sized
pick-up sticks, and a live weight in the neighborhood of 200 pounds – small enough
to be tender and tasty, big enough to be a pain in the ass hauling him out. Then
I hear a shot from up across the draw. Looks like the other guy I know is now
going to be busy with his own deer for a while, so I’m on my own. I gut him
out, drag him uphill as best I can about a hundred yards to where I think it
might be possible to get a vehicle sort’a close. I flag a nearby tree with
engineer tape, and boogie back to the “RV” to see how well a Honda Odyssey is
at off-roading. Turns out, pretty good, if you are careful. Nothing that Ry
would have flinched at, but it’s mostly my wife’s, not my car, and there are
lots of logs and large volcanic rocks around, so….

Anyway, got the deer whacked up, then double-check the regs just
to make sure I wasn’t missing something – last year there was a Fish-n-Feather
check-point examining all hunters at a choke-point in the road out of the area for
the first few days of the season, so I want to make sure I’m all totally legal.
Hmmm… must transport with proof that it was male, either “naturally attached
penis and testicles” (nope, can’t do that, cut off while gutting) or BOTH
antlers “naturally attached to the head”. AH, shit-meister! I must have spent
two hours looking for that blasted second antler. Finally found it about 45 or
50 feet away in the brush – a small, brown, forking, stick-like-looking antler
hides VERY well in the brush and fallen oak leaves, let me tell you.

Finally, I got everything cleaned up, packed up, and back on
road, and just then the rain started. So it all worked out, in the end, pretty
well.

A few of things of note:

 1) There was no
obvious exit wound from the bullet. A 165 gr slug from a 30-06 at 50 yards
still has well north of 2000 ft-lb of energy, and while the skull was
dramatically broken up and brain bits here and there, but the bullet didn’t
seem to have come out the far side, and there no obvious bullet fragments left
in the cranial cavity, which was mostly filled with partially coagulated blood and
bone fragments by the time I examined it more closely. Not clear exactly how all
the energy was expended, or what happened to the bullet; totally exploded and
the fragments fell out with the brain, or ricochet out essentially through the
same hole and all the brain pulping was done by bone fragments, or just what.
File it under “weird terminal ballistics event.” and “bone is STRONG.”

2) It was obvious he was totally dead from the hole and
brains-on-the-ground thing when I got close to him, so I slit his throat to
bleed him out. Squirt, squirt, squirt. His heart was still pumping! Weird.

3) The kids both thought the carcass pieces I brought home
were interesting. The daughter though it was gross, but she couldn’t take her
eyes off it, so it turned into an impromptu biology and physiology lesson, comparing
front and back leg structures, pointing out tendons versus ligaments, ball
joints vs hinge joints, bone vs cartilage, what a whole muscle looks like when
not wrapped in plastic as the market, fat deposits, what a heart and liver REALLY look like, etc.
They also thought the ribs looked awfully fatty, but agreed that they tasted good
broiled with a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

3.a) The only things that got left on the scene was a spine,
feet, hunks of fat, guts, and hide. I need to get better at skinning them out
so it’s worth getting tanned.

4) The kids ALSO thought that learning how to prepare the
bag of acorns I brought back sounded like fun, particularly for the 4th
grader, who did a big unit on Native Americans last year in school, many of
whom ate acorns as a significant part of their diet. We’ll also be planting
some of them as a science experiment (Oregon white oak are native to the area).

4.a) Last year, very few acorns, very few deer. Normally,
lots of acorns, lots of deer. File data for future reference; check the acorn
crop in September – no acorns, find another place to hunt.

5) Does seem to spook and run easily. Bucks, especially
older ones, are masters of immobility and camouflage, and don’t want to jump
until you darn near step on them. Means you have to have REALLY good eyes, good
binoculars, or have a couple of guys that are willing to spend a LOT of time
stomping around trying to kick them up.

6) I am amazed, again, at the fact that even though guns are LOUD, especially high-powered rifles, I never remember hearing the shot go off, or the recoil as it applies to my shoulder. I remember watching the target, working the action, basic body position, getting the sight back on target, listening for and hearing sounds immediately after the shot (even quiet sounds), but never the sound of the gunshot itself.

Tree Rides, a Hair Trigger and a Very Bloody Flashlight

That’s right; it was varmint control (hunting) season, also known in my house as step-one-food-processing season.  So this is a month late (and I’m sure you all were chomping at the bit for it).

It was windy on the first day of muzzleloader season and the deer tend not to roam or forage as much in high wind, so I saw nothing, but I did get a nice “tree ride”.  I wrote a little song while swaying this way and that in my tree stand;

Rock-a-by hunter
In the tree top
When the wind blows
The tree stand will rock
When the bow breaks
The tree stand will fall
And down will come hunter
Rifle and all

But later I realized that thousands of tree-climbing hunters must surely have thought of those exact words over the years, and so I can’t claim patent rights to the song.  Anyway; I’m not sure you can call it “hunting” when all you’re doing is sitting there waiting to snipe a deer.  “Waylaying” maybe, or “Ambushing”.
“I’m going ambushing, Honey.  I’ll be back after dark.”
“OK.  Good luck, Deer.”
“Wait.  What?  No– it’s good luck me, bad luck, deer.”

Thanksgiving evening I saw a nice buck come in from the wheat fields (our deer feed off of the farmers’ efforts most of the year in these parts).  Now I never thought I was capable of doing this – you only take a shot if you’re going to make the shot, right?  Therefore you don’t miss.  That’s been my understanding and my experience up until now.  In practice I’ve hit a target the size of the kill zone virtually 100% of the time, and in hunting previous years I’ve always put the ball close enough to where it belongs.  So much for that as an axiom.  I attribute it to a combination of a hair trigger on this percussion lock and cold fingers, but mostly to a timing error of the brain at that moment when timing is everything.  Line up the sights under the target so you can keep the target in view the whole time, raise the front sight up to the A zone, fire.  1,2,3.  Steps two and three ended up reversed somehow, such that once I got onto the A zone the ball had already escaped my control.  The shot went right under the brisket, he jumped a little at the flash, the huge smoke cloud and the horrific blast, and went sauntering off unperturbed, flipping his tail and sniffing the ground.  Moseying even, as if to show me how little he cared that I’d just shot at him with a fifty caliber rifle.  Bloody show-off.

If that weren’t enough, I did it again with a nice doe two nights later, so a range session was in order the next morning.  100% “A” hits from standing unsupported.  Two holes touching at 50 some yards, and a third right where I knew it went without using the binoculars—I’d pulled slightly low, but still a good shot.  What the hell?  I adjusted the lock for a slightly heavier pull, gritted my teeth, and kept climbing the tree.

The Tree is on a very steep slope between the farm fields and the Palouse River, and it’s a slog through brambles and fallen branches to get up there.  Very good exercise that, and I feel much better now thank you, but one piece of advice; fighting through brush and thorns with very long hair is a problem.

More advice as if you’d asked for it; Doe urine is attractive to deer of both sexes.  We humans tend to think of a urine smell as something to be avoided, but deer find it fascinating and it makes them relax– “Someone’s been peeing around here.  Cool!  I think I’ll stick around.”   I once had two does trot in, calling to the non-existent doe that they’d smelled from downwind.  They then stopped to hang around for a while and chew some cud.  Urine is good stuff.   I won’t tell you how to acquire doe urine.  If you’re not interested it doesn’t matter, and if you’re interested enough you’ll figure out on your own.

Fifth day of season, fourth day out.  The weather is too good this evening – no wind.  No tree ride, but the chance of a close encounter is very good.  Right on schedule, the huge covey of quail came chirping and fluttering in to roost just below my stand after sunset.  As if on cue, a doe comes in through the brush with another full-sized doe and a smaller one following.  Good enough.  I’ll take the lead doe.  Not gonna touch Mr. Trigger until the time is right. Full cock, ready to fire, taking aim.  A quail explodes just under my target doe, causing her to leap reflexively, then settle down to a walk again.  She’s more alert now.  Damn.  Why can’t this be easy?  No.  It is easy if I do everything right (that’s good advice there – marble sculpture is easy too, and eye surgery, so long as you do everything just right, see).

Blam!

“And…There!” I thought to myself.  “Good let-off.  That’s a hit.”  No wind, so the smoke cloud lingers and I don’t see what happened with the deer.  She’s just gone.  But then I see all three deer just standing there off to my left, with stupid looks on their faces.  These must be Republican deer– no ability to understand the situation and react appropriately for their own benefit.  OK then, one of  ’em’s going to expire right there, ’cause she’s been shot good, but I can’t just sit in the tree and do nothing, hoping.  I’ve taken to reloading after a shot no matter what, so the rifle was charged as I lowered it on a cord and then climbed down.  Prime the nipple.  The three deer are still standing above me, very close at the top of the slope, as if caught in your headlights (Republicans alright) so I walk toward them.  They just walk off, slowly, so I follow at a distance, waiting.  One of the two larger does is hit, but which one is that?  A little farther along the ridge now, and they’re all in view, all standing still, looking.

Now here is an ethical question for all hunters to ponder.  You have one tag and three easy targets.  One of them is hit for sure but you don’t know which one at the moment because in the smoke and confusion they shuffled and relocated.  Light and legal hours are expiring fast.  Do you, a) simply wait for the hit deer to expire, which risks having it run away first when you know you can’t track it worth squat in the coming darkness and the thick foliage, b) shoot the nicest looking deer and possibly let the currently injured deer get away, or, c) …..

It’s like phase two in the underpants gnomes’ plan (“…..”) yet the the only good choice I can think of is the technically non existent one.  I’m not trying to be funny about it either.  I have the gun up, ready to fire; eeny meeny my-nee moe…which one is my target doe…

“Use the Force” is as good a bit of advice as anything.  It doesn’t really help but it might make you feel better.  Actually that didn’t come to mind at all at the time.  “Why doesn’t she go down?” came to mind.  Gun up.  Good backstop. They’re all standing broadside, like statues, presenting themselves as perfect targets, waiting for something to which they might react (Republicans for sure and for certain).  I need a sign.  Then two of them bound off, high-tailed, and one stays locked in place, head lower than normal alert status, maybe darker at the mouth.  That’s her.  Good backstop.  Good angle.  This one’s going right through the bioler room.

Blam!

Good sight picture, good let-off.  She is double whacked, and hard.  Still there is no wind and the big smoke cloud lingers.  Again, no deer visible when the smoke clears.  Just plowed Earth.  I’m beginning to think muzzleloaders are a pain in the neck.  Hope for some crosswind if you’re going to do this.

It’s getting dark – about 4:20 PM.  That shot has kilt that doe plenty dead here at the top of the ridge on plowed ground, but she’s simply gone.  The ridge falls off right here though, with brush and trees below.  I am not happy as I don’t know which direction to start looking.  In the undulating hills of the Palouse loess farmlands, you don’t have to go far to be over the horizon, and this spot is a prime example of that.  My head’s on a swivel as I’m trying to decide where to go from here.  Worry.  Doubt.  It probably would have looked comical for a couple seconds— one of several examples of why smokeless gunpowder is superior to black, but I soon find the two other does lingering in the bushes down the slope.  OK.  Search in that direction.

Below them is my target doe, dead as a hammer, belly up against some bushes at the bottom of a steep clearing.  Relief.  All is well.  That first shot had gone in behind the diaphragm, busted the gut, busted the liver, penetrated the diaphragm on the far side, nicked one lung and busted a rib.  Certainly lethal.  A liver shot will bleed you out for sure, but too slowly to stop a deer before it gets some distance.  The second shot went in right behind the left shoulder, wrecked both lungs and exited through the right scapula, busting ribs on both sides.  A classic hit.  She couldn’t have taken more than a bound before dropping a few yards from where she stood and then sliding down the incline.  In hindsight, the second shot probably was not strictly necessary, but I had no way of knowing for sure at the time.  A standing deer is still a target, I figure.  From the first shot to finding the kill couldn’t have been more than four or five minutes.

I call several times on the radio for Son to bring the pickup.  No answer.  No answer on the cell phone either, but almost no coverage.  Crap.  Coyotes are numerous in this area and I don’t want to leave the kill.  Texting works OK with a poor signal, but everyone’s at jazz band rehearsal I bet.  Nothing for it.  I tag the deer, then half drag, half carry it down the slopes and through the brush and thorns (did I mention that very long hair really sucks in this environment?) and run home with my gear.  It’s down and across the river on a bridge and then up to the house (I said this was good exercise and I meant it) then a drive back to the bottom of the slope, panting like an over-worked sled dog, windows open to the 30ish degree air so I can cool off, back the tailgate against the slope and slide the carcass into the truck.

Cleaning (gutting) a deer in the dark is even more unpleasant than doing it in daylight, and that Maglite you hold in your mouth all the time so you can have both hands free– Na ga dah when it’s covered in blood and gore (I know – head mount – sure – you know everything).  Son was home by then so he got flashlight duty.  Hours after the first shot I had the cleaned carcass hung tidy in the garage, I was cleaned up, showered, and had a plate of really nice fried venison liver (the best in the world, and if you don’t believe it I don’t care) with home-grown mashed potatoes and leftover turkey gravy.  That and a pint of homebrewed pumpkin ale, still pretty flat having been bottled only three days before, but still wonderful especially after not having eaten for ~12 hours.

It’s been a disconcerting and humbling season (knocked me off my high horse) but I’m happy with the outcome.  The deer have to cooperate as I’ve said before, and this season was a good example.

Here’s where I get criticism, I suppose, for making what was technically a gut shot (plus I could have mistaken the deer for that second shot and had two dead deer with one tag).  I could have simply omitted those details, had a fairly clean “true” story and elicited some praise, however I know from talking with more than a few hunters in private over my 50 some odd years that it can and does get uglier than that, and I figure you should know how it is in addition to knowing how it is ideally.  I stand by my choices and actions.  So there.  Last year’s buck went down in its tracks due to a CNS hit, in turn due to the angle of the shot, but I was simply aiming for, and hit, the heart/lung cavity.  That the ball grazed the spine on the way out was an unplanned bonus.  One dead deer hung in my garage, was planned and that’s what I got each time.  Primitive weapons and iron sights in low light are considered primitive for good reasons.  A modern high velocity rifle round, say in the 6 mm to 30 cal range will cause far more trauma and therefore kill faster than the 50 caliber smoke pole, all else being equal, but even then a classic A zone hit with a modern system will often result in the deer running 40 yards or more before expiring.  Expectations regarding the effects of gunshots have been taken completely away from reality by Hollywood types, and I dare say by gun writers and advertisers too.  Killing is not a clean or tidy business.  I don’t know; maybe next year I’ll try my luck at modern season.  I’ve avoided modern season so far because I don’t like the extra company in the field, and because I can take a doe if I like.  Some hunters go for neck shots, which will put them down quick and don’t risk destroying a picnic roast.  That’s another option I guess.

Lion Hunt

The guys at the music store showed this to me.  It’s been up a while, and there are several others.  It’s not like hunting prey animals like deer, in that the deer rarely try, and even if they do they can’t kill you as easily as a lion can kill you.  I don’t know these guys, but someone had very good concentration and clear purpose for a bit;

That’s about as close as it gets I guess.  I didn’t know how to categorize it, so I put it under “Boomershoot” (aim small, miss small) though at Boomershoot we don’t aim at moving targets that are very capable, and determined, to kill us.  I have a very long hunting story I’ll bore you with later, which includes missing some very easy shots that I was, up until that point, convinced I could never miss.  The point being that missing an easy shot didn’t get me or anyone else killed, but only delayed getting meat on the table.

Traditional hunting ammo banned in Washington state

Joe Waldron sent out an email with an alert from the NRA. Here are some important points (emphasis in original):

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has imposed a ban on the use of traditional ammunition for all upland bird hunting on all WDFW pheasant release sites across the state.  This restriction was adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission two years ago but its implementation was delayed until this hunting season.  The Commission adopted the restriction during the course of its 2010-2012 hunting season-setting process.

With this in mind, it is critical that hunters and sportsmen participate in the 2012-2014 season-setting process, which is just getting underway.  The WDFW will be hosting a series of public meetings next week to take comments from the public as the first step in the process.  You can bet that the anti-hunting extremists will be represented at these meetings so the importance of hunters and sportsmen participating cannot be overstated!

No scientific studies have been cited showing population-level impacts on any species.  The WDFW seems to be acting on emotion and politics, citing the “potential” for problems associated with traditional ammunition as the basis for these far-reaching restrictions.

The NRA believes that the current push to ban the use of traditional ammunition in Washington is part of a new strategy being used by anti-hunting and anti-gun activists all over the country to attack our hunting traditions and firearm freedoms.  Traditional ammunition bans have a significant chilling effect on hunting by pricing hunters out of the market while hunters’ ranks are already in decline.  The opposition’s “next logical step” will be to propose a complete traditional ammunition ban throughout Washington.  This is the pattern in other states so don’t think “it won’t happen here!”

With that in mind, it is important for you to attend the WDFW meeting in your part of the state.  The following meetings will run from 7:00-9:00 p.m.:

–         August 22 – Federal Way Community Center (Alder & Birch rooms), 876 South 333rd St, Federal Way
–         August 23 – Edison Place Event Center (Edison Room), 201 North Rock St, Centralia
–         August 24 – The Lincoln Center (Monroe Ballroom), 1316 North Lincoln St, Spokane
–         August 25 – Clarion Hotel & Conference Center (Selah Wapato rooms), 1507 North First St, Yakima

In addition to attending one of the above meetings, please comment on the issues at the WDFW’s hunting website.  Your voice matters!  Comments must be submitted by Tuesday, September 20.

It’s another case of policies being implemented by a theocratic government of the self-anointed.

Instant Incapacitation

Apparently it’s not possible to tell a hunting story in under 1,000 words.  Something about the laws of rhetorical physics.  You’ve been warned.


 


I choose Late Muzzleloader season in Eastern Washington because it allows the harvest of almost any deer – three point minimum or antlerless.  We see few bucks around here, and since I hunt for the table I don’t care about old, tough bucks with big racks.  They’re chewy and don’t taste as good.  All that and there are very few other hunters out this late.  It’s win win.


 


Late Muzzleloader lasts one week, so I’ve been out twice a day since last Wednesday.  The below zero temp Wednesday morning was hard to take, but it was beautiful and I remember sitting up in the tree thinking, “This is definitely worth it even if I don’t get a deer.  Wow!”


 


The tree I sit in is on a steep slope, with deer tracks crisscrossing all below and behind me, with a few tracks in front along the top of the ridge overlooking the Palouse River.  I’ve seen at least six deer by Sunday (or two deer three times) but no clear shots.  Mostly I’ve seen them on the run or behind tens of yards of thick brush as I walk to the stand, or after legal hours.  One of them got stuck in a snow drift.  We usually think of deer as graceful and poised at all times, but this fellow was flailing all over the place, feet in the air even, trying to get away from me.  I was a little bit embarrassed for him.  By the time I’d stumbled out of the brush to get a clear shot though, he was gone.  That’s how it went for several days.  Several shots I could’ve taken, but no.


 


Sunday evening I was going to stay in and rest up, by my son convinced me go out again.  Good thing.  I see no deer on the way up to the tree.  That’s good.  Infiltration without detection means I have a better chance of sniping one unawares.


 


I’d been up there for no more than half an hour, mostly looking around behind me where most of the tracks were, trying to spot a deer before it got to me.  Therefore I failed to spot the nice three pointer walking casually along the ridge above, silent as a ghost in the powder snow, until he was right in front of me and already walking away.


 


It’s a sharp quartering away shot, 20 yards or less at eye level.  Good backstop with several miles of empty farm fields behind.  The time for the ideal shot was spent with my back turned.  Hurry with getting the mitten open so the trigger finger is exposed.  Silently cock the sidelock.  He’s oblivious.  He’s going to be out of view in a few seconds.  I have to duck so I can sight under some hanging pine boughs.  Aim for the heart.  That means hitting behind the rib cage at this angle.  Since I’m bending way down to see under the boughs, my glasses frame is in the way of the rifle sights.  Crap.  Have to dismount and push the glasses farther on.  Take aim again.  Time’s up.


 


Crack!  I hadn’t thought to worry about the powder charge that had been in the barrel for several days.  After that morning in below zero temperature, the barrel had frosted over when I came inside, and it had been snowing every time after, such that I’d take the barrel out of the stock to dry things out each day.  No problem.  120 grains of FFG under a patched soft lead 50 caliber ball with a #11 percussion cap.  Perfect ignition.  This newfangled percussion system you kids have been using just might catch on.


 


There’s always a moment of uncertainty for me, especially with black powder because you’re peering through a smoke cloud trying to see what happened to the target.


 


I’ve heard of “anchoring” the animal in its tracks, but was beginning to think the phenomenon a myth.  My son and I have killed around 9 deer and this has never happened, even with both lungs, and the heart, obliterated they always run some distance.  This time the ball must have upset the central nervous system because the fellow went straight down.  Zap! And he only twitched for a short while.


 


Some sense of reverence comes upon me when I approach the animal.  It’s happened every time.  They are very beautiful, strong, sleek, and delicious with new potatoes, turkey gravy, fresh fruit and red wine.


 


The ball had gone in at the back of the ribcage on the right side and exited through the base of the neck under the spine on the left.  ~21.5 inches of penetration, and though you could fit your thumb in the entry wound, I couldn’t get but the tip of my little finger through the skin at the exit wound.  The ball had just barely pooped out of the skin.  Though it’s what we would call a short range prospect, I’m beginning to trust the 50 caliber patched ball load.


 


It was a good day.  I’m happy, and the freezer will soon be full.


 


I’m still puzzled.  That pure lead ball leaves the muzzle at around 1920 fps according to my CED chronograph, or a little more ’cause that’s averaged at 15 feet.  Last year I shot a deer at 85 yards and the ball penetrated 25 inches with almost no deformation.  We here concluded that the velocity at impact had been subsonic due to the very poor BC, hence a lower pressure at impact, hence the pristine ball (I recovered it from just under the skin and thought it was probably good enough to load again).  This shot Sunday was at no more than 20 yards, maybe more like 15, yet I see no sign of ball deformation so far (I’ll check it out more closely upon butchering in a few days).  You’d think with all the talk about bullet integrity, hard alloys and such, that a pure lead ball at that velocity would obliterate, giving shallow penetration.  So what gives?

Food Processing. Protein; Step One

It Was a Bright and Calm Morning…

My son and I both decided to hunt Late Muzzleloader season this year for a simple reason– there are far more does and “antlerless” bucks in our little hunting spot than antlered bucks, and this season allows harvesting of “three point minimum or antlerless” white tail deer.  Hunting muzzleloader season gives us a high probability of harvesting deer within walking distance of home.

We have one functioning muzzleloader rifle (step one food processor) so Son was given the first watch at the tree stand.  The second time out he took a decent young buck (small nubs for antlers) on Thanksgiving Day.  He spotted it while climbing down the tree, and shot it with the rifle still tied to the cord we use for raising and lowering things from the stand.  After that I started going out to the stand, but saw nothing in several days.  That’s unusual, but a deer had just been taken right there by Son.  Maybe they’re a bit spooked.  Don’t know, but on the morning of the last day of this one-week season, I got tired of sitting in the stand (besides, it was cold) and decided to take a walk.

It was a beautiful morning, just after sunrise, so if I never got a deer, it would still be worth the nice walk along the top of the picturesque basalt cliffs above the Palouse River.  There are always a lot of deer tracks up there, as it’s their only option for traveling between their feeding grounds (farmer’s fields) and their primary source of water.  My trouble that morning was that if there were any deer, they’d be immediately alerted to my presence.  Every 50 yards or so as I was walking along the ridge, a pheasant or two, or about 50 quail, would explode up from near my feet.  I might as well have been blowing an air horn every 50 yards and carrying a boom box playing rap music.

There’s a place along that ridge that’s down in a depression, and has some flat land with 360 degree concealment.  I knew in advance that if I was going to see a deer along the ridge away from our tree stand, it would likely be there.  As I topped the rise, getting ready to look down into the depression, I went slowly, making no sudden movements.

Sure enough, there were two deer, and one of them was a very nice eight-point buck!  About 200 yards away, he’s looking in my direction.  The sun being directly behind me, I was casting a 100 yard-long shadow right in his direction.  Pure stealth isn’t much of an option, but I was moving very slowly so as not to alert them too much.  Whack-a-Whack-a-Thump-a-Thump-a-Thump!!!  A pheasant exploded up at that moment about six feet away from me, so the buck got real nervous and trotted away.  It’s been years since I saw a nice buck up there, and, aware of my presence, this one and the doe are now on the move away from me.  Oh well. (but they didn’t bolt, as often happens)

I can either back-track less than a mile, cross the bridge for home and get ready to go to work, or I can go on, crossing another bridge about a mile ahead.  That’s an easy choice– I keep going forward in the direction of those two deer.  Wham, Slam, Whack!– quail and pheasants continue to announce my presence.  This is getting hopeless.  But it’s sure a nice day for a walk.

The deer never panicked, I guess, so what ended up happening was that I was dogging them.  They’d put some distance between us,  I’d close in, and they’d make some more distance.  Repeat.  Eventually they made a wrong move.  Some more quail (announcing my presence, but not telling exactly where) must have startled them out of the thick brush and into the open field.

I did not expect that.  They were in range, barely, but moving away fast.  Too far away to attempt a shot on a moving target.  No shot.  What do you do in this situation?  I whistled.  Deer whistle (I guess it’s more of a fast hiss than a whistle) at each other as an alert message.  Anyhow, it worked.  They stopped, turned 90 degrees broadside and looked back at me.  From that moment, circumstances dictate action.  No time for kneeling, and that might scare them off, so standing it is.  We’re all in the open.  Lock to full cock.  Backstop?  Check (there’s a hill a couple hundred yards behind them).  Front sight.  This is a longish shot for this weapon with open sights from standing– about 80 to 90 yards (I’ve never fired this rifle at anything more than 100 yards distant – maybe that has to change, but I’m confident at 100 and this is a bit less).  Some vacillating takes place for about a second.  One shot, one chance.  Too far?  Wobble area looks good.  Too far?  They’re still standing there, stone still.  This is a hair trigger.  Sight’s right on the sweet spot, what’re you waiting for?  Too far?  Nope.  Bang!

The two deer took off running.  The usual question comes to mind; did I miss?  They’re running fast and far.  200 yards and they’re out of sight over a rise in the undulating fields.  Oh well.  It’s a nice day for a walk.  Should I reload?  Maybe.  Have to cover 200 yards to look over that rise and try to spot them.  Better do that.  There they are; waaaay out there and still running.  I must have missed, though the let-off felt fine.  Damn.  But wait.  The doe’s way ahead of the buck.  Buck slows down and stops.  Then he looks like he got tired and decided to have a little lie down.  That’s odd.  They only ran about 1,000 yards.  No, it can only mean I got him.

He’s lying down with his head up.  Better reload.  I carry two reloads– plastic cartridges that contain a measure of black powder, a ball with lubricated patch, and a percussion cap.  They’re nice because you can use the cartridge structure as a short ball starter.  It’s easy– you just place the ball end over the muzzle and smack the other end, like so… Oops!  Forgot to pour the powder in first.  I have just dry-balled the gun and there’s an injured buck (I don’t know how injured) down there.  He could get up and run away.  I could lose an injured deer.  This sucks.  My chosen method of removing a dry ball is to seat the ball all the way down, remove the nipple and trickle a few grains of powder through the flash channel into the breech chamber, cap, then fire.  Works like a charm.  I have no nipple wrench.  Who needs to remove a nipple in the field on a half-day hunt? (it’s coming with me from now on)  The nipple’s seated tight– can’t break it free with the Leatherman tool.  Damn, damn, damn.  I eventually was able to pry the ball out at the muzzle, using the awl accessory (if I’d rammed it down I’d be hosed).  Cool.  Didn’t scratch the muzzle ’cause the patch protected it.  That ball is toast, but I have one more reload.

Meanwhile, the buck is lying there, looking around…head up, head down, head up, head down again.  Did he die?  Head comes back up.  Crap.  I had to get close enough for a 100% sure CNS (Central Nervous System) shot.  Walk slowly.  40 yards, take aim.  No.  Why not get closer?  30 Yards, kneel, full cock, put a shot through the neck at the base of the skull.  He drops like a stone.

This is not a good place from which to pack out a large deer.  Good net coverage.  Kamiak Butte, with the cell towers, is only 6 miles to the southwest.  I call Son on the phone.  No answer.  I wait and call again.  No answer.  I call my wife– she should be getting ready to drive to school.  Maybe she can meet me on the Colfax highway a few hundred yards over a hill and bring me home to get the pickup.  No answer.  I’d also been dogging a coyote along the way, and I’d seen the ‘yote running along the same path as the deer.  Can’t gut this buck yet.  That’s just inviting that ‘yote in to come and mess up my deer while I’m gone.  Leave it whole.  I walk a couple miles home, get Son out of bed and drive back to the Colfax highway.  We get permission to drive over a planted field to the deer.  No dice.  The frozen mud had thawed enough at the surface that a 4×4 with studded snows can’t get a grip to climb over the hill.  We’re on foot.  We go back home to grab a saw and a sled.

Below; the buck fell about a 1,000 yards from where he was hit, which was out of the frame to the upper right.

Looking closely, I find an entry wound in the deer’s left hind quarter.  Odd.  I could have sworn he was broadside to me when the gun fired, and I know I didn’t pull the shot that much.  And there’s a ball, just under the skin behind the right shoulder, exactly opposite where I was aiming, but I can’t find a corresponding entry wound.  Oh well, I’ll find it when I skin the carcass.  Someone else must have shot this deer before me, which would explain the entry wound in the hip.  That’s plausible, since I’ve been hearing shots in the area all week.  Weird.

Hours later we had the big buck hanging in the garage after getting the workout of the year.  Man, this hunting business is getting more like hard work.  After gutting (in the field) and skinning the deer (in the garage) there was only the one entry wound to be found.  The ball had struck the left “ham” at a shallow angle, passed through the intestines doing very little damage, passed through the stomach, blew a three-finger-sized ragged hole through the liver, punctured the diaphragm, punctured a lung, glanced off a rib and stopped just short of exiting the hide on the right side.  I measured 25 inches of penetration, from a ~180 grain round ball that left the muzzle at ~1,920 fps.  That deer ran about a thousand yards with all that damage.

My best guess is that the buck was all wound up tight, having spotted me, knowing that I’d been following him.  The cow-sized cloud of backlit, white smoke that erupted at extra-sonic speed from the muzzle must have made him jump slightly, changing the angle of impact from broadside to less than 45 degrees.  I calculate he had about a quarter second to move from the emergence of the smoke cloud.  I dunno.  Maybe he wasn’t so fully broadside to begin with as I’d thought.  The “act of grace” neck shot did not penetrate more than three inches, but shattered the vertebra.

Here’s one reason to have children.  They can pull your sled;

 

Observations on penetration and “stopping power”
Starting last season, we’ve shot three deer with the same exact load from the same muzzleloading rifle.  The first shot penetrated an adult whitetail fully, straight through the ribcage, severing a rib fully on each side, from <30 yards.  The same shot from Son hit a smaller deer broadside through the ribs, hit the heart and blew it completely apart, such that you could lay it out like a pancake, and did not exit the hide on the far side.  Less than 14 inches penetration.  Hitting the big buck in the heavy hip muscle from almost three times the distance, the ball went through 25 inches of animal, and the second ball (on the buck's neck) was demolished after about three inches.  The same load (110 grains of Old Black pushing a ~180 grain .495" round ball) penetrated between 3 and 25 inches (a factor of 8.33) depending on shot placement.  Sort of makes you wonder about penetration figures given for defense loads.  It all depends and what's being penetrated, from hide, to muscle, to the liquid chambers inside the heart, to lung and liver tissue that doesn't explode like that heart did.  And stopping power?  Each one of these deer was hit with a 100% lethal shot, and they ran from eighty to one thousand yards after being hit.

We’ve had similar “stopping power” experiences using modern rifles, but never has a modern rifle load failed to penetrate completely, regardless of what it hit inside.  I’ve been wondering whether the stories of recovered, modern hunting rifle bullets are just mythology, but if the differences in penetration can be so great with the muzzleloader they must be fairly large with modern systems too.

(With that I think I’ve outdone myself—- 2,000+ words.  It’s my first nice buck.  Can’t I prattle on and on about it?)

Below; Along the bottom, near that ditch behind the small rise is where the buck fell.  Kamiak Butte is in the distance, top right in the frame.

Below; this .495″ (well, formerly .495″) lead ball traveled 25 inches into the animal.  I’d not believe it if I hadn’t seen it.  I bet I could load it again and kill another deer with it next year.

Fox hunting

Athough I harvested one deer with Barb’s Jeep and another with my .300 Win Mag I don’t really consider myself a hunter. But I do generally support hunters being able to continue their sport and harvesting food in this manner.

However–there are some hunters that give me pause. I may have to reevaulate my position on fox hunters.

Via email from Bruce L.:

Dear Concerned Citizen:

Please help ban fox hunting — THIS MADNESS MUST STOP!!

Signed,
Peter Cottontail

Comment on hunting regs in Washington state

Via reader Roger I became aware we have this proposal to make a change in the archery hunting regulations:

WAC 232-12-054  Archery requirements–Archery special use
permits.  (1) Rules pertaining to all archery:
(a) It is unlawful for any person to carry or have in his
possession any firearm while in the field archery hunting, during
an archery season specified for that area,
except for modern handguns
carried for personal protection.  Modern handguns cannot be used to
hunt big game or dispatch wounded big game during an archery, big
game hunting season.

The underlined portion is the proposed change. It sounds like a good idea to me. Why should you give up your right to defend yourself with a handgun just because you are doing some archery hunting?

Email your comments to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife here before February 20th, 2009. More details on the commenting process can be found here.

It’s Muzzleloader Season in Eastern Washington

I started buying guns during the Clinton years, simply because they were trying to ban them, but never thought much about hunting until my son was old enough to carry a youth-stocked shotgun in the field.  I took him through hunter safety and we’d gotten a few upland game birds together, but he was always interested in big game hunting.  Three years ago we bought him his own rifle, and the next day he’d gotten his first deer.  I’d gotten a deer tag here and there, and gone out a day or two some seasons, but it was never a big priority for me.  We went out with Joe once near his folks’ place, which was really nice, but only managed to see one deer in full sprint, which makes for a lousy (and dangerous) shot.  No dice.  I did what I could to help Son get his deer or two each year, and the vicarious satisfaction was enough, I guess.


Not this year.  When I took Son to get his ’08 deer tag, I decided to get one for myself– for late muzzleloader season, and I meant it this time.  Fewer hunters in the field and the cooler weather of the late season appealed to me.  We’d selected the perfect site for a tree stand, just a short walk from our house on a steep hill covered by thick brush where humans rarely tread, and where the deer trails all seem to converge.  This is a choke point in their travel around the city of Palouse, along the Palouse river.  Son got a deer there last year, and had seen several deer almost every time he’d been up there.  Last year I sat in that tree and watched a doe with two fawns, sitting, chewing the cud, the young ones chasing a covey of quail, and just generally hanging out, for about an hour.  My tag was for buck only at that time, so I just sat there watching them, not 15 yards from me.  It’s good to really blend into the environment now and then.  You see some amazing things.


This year I went out before dawn on the first day of the season, November 20th, with the caplock muzzleloader.  Some people use in-line muzzleloaders with substitute propellant pellets, modern sabots, shotgun primers, and scopes.  I don’t quite understand the benefit.  A sidelock with the right load, standard percussion caps, using black powder which ignites more easily, can perform just as well at reasonable distances, and it’s not as if these rifles are 300 yards hunting worthy.  I charged the rifle with powder and round ball with a lubricated patch before heading out of the house (a muzzleloader that is not primed is not considered “loaded”).  A few yards from the house and I was out of the city limits.  Time to cap the nipple.  If I see a deer after about 15 minutes I can legally fire.


Nothing.  No other hunters and no deer.  I crawl through the brush and up the steep slope to the tree.  Tough going.  I’m winded.  I have a tendency to be afraid of heights.  Huffing and puffing, I start up the tree.  Too shaky.  Not safe.  Back to the ground.  I have to think; my hands aren’t going to suddenly let go just because I’m a little winded.  Back up the tree (it’s a hairy climb) to sit on the small stand.  I experience just a bit of vertigo for a minute, and then everything’s fine.  The rifle was decapped and tied to some parachute cord at the ground, so I hoisted it up to the stand and capped it again.  I sat there for two hours as the sun came up and then, suddenly; nothing happened.  No prey was doing me the favor of walking in front of my extremely limited field of fire that day.  Tons of sign on the ground, but no luck.  Time to climb down and get ready for work.


Two days later, I went back up to the tree late in the day and sat there for an hour and a half.  Nothing.  Tons of fresh sign, but nothing.  I was thinking of climbing down and taking a hike along the river for about two miles.  Anywhere along that corridor there could be deer.  I wanted to act.  But no– if I’m moving, the deer are infinitely more likely to detect my presence and high-tail it before I can get a shot.  If you’re still, and your prey is moving, you have the advantage, especially if your prey is somewhat predictable.  These deer are predictable.  For sure, they’ll be moving at dusk, which is right now.  The only questing is where.  But I should act– he who hesitates is lost.  But haste makes waste.  But the early bird gets the worm.  Look before you leap.  There’s no time like the present, tomorrow’s another day, etc.. I was trying to think of more contradictory words of wisdom when I heard a rustling in the brush behind me.  Had to be a human or a large animal, no question.  A large doe appears from the brush, followed by more deer.  Who cares– this one looks really good.  The muzzleloader tag is for a deer with either a 3-point minimum rack or antlerless.  I’m shooting for the table, not for trophies.


She’s directly below me now, oblivious to my presence, walking fast.  I could have shot downward, through the spine and anchored her right there, but I’d rehearsed this in my mind many times and the picture was always of a side-on shot.  No matter, she’s moving quickly, leading more deer up the hill to feed on the farmers’ wheat.  It’s a herd.  She’s still oblivious.  Have to hurry.  I pull the trigger, thumb the hammer all the way back, release the trigger, and ease the hammer forward into full cock.  Silent cock– rehearsed this hundreds of times.  It wouldn’t have mattered because the deer were trundling through the brush making plenty of noise, but it’s the way this was rehearsed.  Keep the trigger finger straight along the stock.  Can’t touch this trigger.  Its pull is as light as some set triggers– a pound or less.  I’d spent hours on it, messed it up, replaced the tumbler and sear, and started over.  Now the trigger pull is as light as you’d ever dare, even slightly dangerous, but this isn’t a social rifle.  The charge has been in the barrel for over 48 hours, it came in from the cold last time and into the warm house where it could have pulled in some condensation, but it should be fine.  I’ve tested this and there should be plenty of headroom in that regard.  I’d been using CCI caps, but it was a little frustrating that once in a while I’d get a misfire.  The caps fit too tight on this nipple, and some of the hammer’s energy had to be spent seating the cap.  The same thing can happen with metallic cartridges if the caps aren’t properly seated, or if headspace is too great.  I’d read that Remington caps tend to fit looser, so this time I had a Remington cap on there, as I’d tried them and couldn’t get a failure.  No worries about a misfire.


The doe turned her side to me in the perfect spot, not 20 yards from my tree, with perfect backstop.  Front sight behind the shoulder, rear sight, finger on trigger, Bam!  On later reflection, I recall having sensed no recoil and he noise, without hearing protection, was not uncomfortable.  You do this at the gun range and it hurts.  Here it’s not even noticed.  It’s a strange thing.


The doe bounded away from the cloud of smoke, up the slope, and into the field like a perfectly healthy deer, several others behind her.  No time to reload– that’s not an option.  I could not possibly have missed.  I know.  I was there.  I saw the whole thing.  But off she ran.  Crap…no, wait, she’s slowing down.  At the top of the hill out in the wheat field, she stumbled and went down.  OK.  I have to remember to breathe at this point.  Sometimes that’s important.  I tied the rifle to the cord, lowered it to the ground, called Son on the radio & told him to bring the pickup, and then started climbing down.  He called back about something or other.  Crap.  I felt I had to answer right then, holding onto one of the “steps” (angled metal screws we put in the tree for hand-holds) with one hand while operating the radio with the other.  Probably not a good idea.


The 50 caliber ball (mass; ~180 grains) pushed by 110 grains of Goex FF black powder (this is the charcoal, sulfur and KNO3 mixture of yore) had traveled squarely through the rib cage and out the other side, behind the shoulders and in front of the diaphragm.  That’s the “boiler room”–the heart/lung cavity.  I’d been told this wouldn’t happen– that the round ball would stop just short of full penetration, but maybe those hunters use a lighter powder charge.  Still, more velocity should mean more deformation of the soft lead ball…  Impact velocity was about 1850 fps, and the exit hole was about the same size as the entry.  That’s a “one-shot stop” but, both lungs partially liquefied, this doe ran up a steep slope, bounding over bushes as pretty as you please, and into a field before going down.  That was about 75 yards total, with some rough going.  Something to keep in mind.  If you want to “anchor” the animal, it has to be a critical skeletal shot, like right through two shoulders (they can run pretty well on three legs) or a central nervous system (CNS) shot.  Little else will stop an animal (two legged or four legged) in its tracks, Hollywood notwithstanding (see update below).  I tried to avoid the shoulders because there’s some good meat there.  One of Son’s deer had had a scapula shattered, and that was a mess.  No thankee.


The whole sequence, from first hearing noise in the bushes to the deer falling, lasted around 15 seconds.


What, I can’t go on and on about it?  I’m 50 years old, this was my first deer, and now we have a lot more good meat for the freezer.  Yahoo!  For those who fear “gamy” venison; maybe we’ve just been lucky, but we’ve not noticed a trace of this phenomenon with the animals we’ve harvested so far.  We’ve gotten does because they’re vastly more common.  People who tell me they hate venison because its gamy all seem to have eaten bucks.  I really don’t know what makes for sweet meat verses gamy.  More research is obviously needed.  No doubt a federal grant is in order.


Next I’d like to try a flintlock.  Why?  Just ’cause.  For one thing, a modern rifle is for long shots, and the hunting we do near the house is limited to no more than about 70 yards (so far we’ve killed no deer beyond about 40 yards).  For another; I just want to.  I’d’ve used a muzzleloading pistol if the WA game department allowed it.  I won’t go on about how using a primitive gun is some sort of superior life choice or anything.  It isn’t.  I admit it’s a distraction.  The people who used them back in the day were in fact using state-of-the-art technology.  We should learn the state-of-the-art for our own time, and endeavor to advance it.  If they’d wanted to be old-fashioned in the 18th or early 19th century, they’d have used matchlocks or bows and arrows.


Here’s the obligatory, grizzly post kill photo along with the rifle;



Yes, some people find liver to be disgusting.  I like it.  I’d show you a big juicy steak, but for best flavor and tenderness, the muscle meat has to age for several days before cutting and cooking.  The liver is great if eaten right away.  These deer liver steaks were fried in olive oil with shallots, just a pinch of crushed of rosemary, and salt & pepper, served with a nice baked potato and a glass of red Zinfandel.  Simply lovely.


Update Dec. 1 / 08


Butchering the deer this weekend, we found the heart had been grazed by the ball, opening a hole in one chamber (yeah, we leave the heart in while it hangs.  Call us weird).  The ball entered straight through one rib and out through another, severing both.  The doe had run about 75 yards with two blown lungs, a blown heart and two severed ribs.  I also found an almost pristine 17 caliber air rifle pellet lodged against the pelvis.  It would have had to travel through the hide, through a layer of fat, through 2.5 inches of meat and stop at the bone.  I doubt this could have happened to the adult doe. 17 cal air rifles don’t typically have near enough penetration, plus there was no apparent wound channel, so I’m thinking someone shot a fawn in the butt.  Some people’s kids.

The white-tailed deer in my van

This morning I finished cleaning my heavy barreled AR-15 and then cleaned my .300 Win Mag. It was raining but was supposed to stop by midday where I was headed (they were wrong). I packed up my rain gear (a poncho), gun gear, hunting knife, computer, some food, and water. I had to mail some stuff to one of my lawyers and finally got out of town a little after noon. I arrived at the Boomershoot site a little after 13:00. I walked from near the 380 yard line to the Taj Mahal about a quarter mile away taking about 1.5 hours going slowly around the area, nearly twice, in opposite directions. I expected to find a deer in the tall grass or under a tree where I had seen two deer before. Lyle and his son and I had seen three deer about two weeks ago. No such luck today. I got soaking wet from the knees down. I did a little work at the Taj Mahal and dried out a little bit. I didn’t warm up any though. After an hour or so I left and as I drove south over the hill toward South Road on Meridian Road I saw two deer. One was stopped looking at me from about 100 yards away. I stopped and watched as the first one ran away and the other just stared at me. It was on land I didn’t have permission to hunt on. On the other side of the road was more land I didn’t have permission to hunt on. If it crossed the road I couldn’t shoot it while it was on the road. It was safe from me for over 400 yards in any direction. I drove on and it ran away as I got closer.

I was cold and damp and was enjoying the warmth of the van. I decided to do some “road hunting.” I would drive around for a while and see if I could see anything from the roads on any of the land I had permission to hunt on. I drove slowly north into a field we call “The 120”. Nothing. I turned around and slowly drove back out to the main road. I drove west on South Road and then north on Newman Road. I turned west into another field where Lyle, his son, and I waited for dusk and deer to appear before. Last time dusk and then darkness had arrived without any deer.

About 16:00 I parked and set up to wait for dusk and the hoped for deer. An aerial image of the location is here. The top strip of green is trees and brush. Just to the south (down) is my parents land. In the middle of the picture, going north-south, is a strip of grass in a draw. It is called a grass waterway. I had parked my van just south of where the grass waterway bends to the east. Using the van for shelter from the breeze and the rain I setup and waited. I fired up my computer and used the hot air from the fan to dry the ocular lens that had water drops on it. I checked temperature, 46 F, and the barometric indicated altitude–3000 feet above sea level. I put the information into Modern Ballistics and used the laser range finder to get distances to the nearest trees and various landmarks in the grass waterway. I set the scope angle to an indicated 5.75 MOA. Using the 180 grain Federal Power-Shok cartridges for my .300 Win Mag that would give me a zero of 234 yards and a point blank range of 273 yards with a point blank size of 4.8 inches. The nearest trees were about 270 yards. Anything my side of the trees could be hit within 2.4 inches of my point of aim without adjusting for elevation–assuming perfect ammo, gun, and shooter. None of those were perfect but from 200 to 260 yards the point of impact should be +/- 1.4 inches assuming everything is perfect. The deer, almost for certain, would be within that range if it appeared.

At 16:40 my daughter Kim called to discuss snow tires for her car. I chatted for a while then saw two deer walk out of the woods and stroll slowly to the east. I told Kim, “I’m out hunting and I just saw two deer come out of the woods. I want to shoot them now.” We said good-bye and I turned my attention to the deer. The deer were together in the center of the grass waterway having just come out of the woods. My laser range finder said I was 255 yards from the lead deer which was broadside to me and a better target. I was aiming just ahead of the shoulder as it was walking into the shot. The gun went off without a conscious thought from me–IPSC does that to you. In IPSC when I’m doing things right I find that as the sights are aligned on the target the gun goes boom without me knowing it was going to happen–even when it’s happening three times a second. Just as I pulled the trigger the deer stopped and put it’s head down to eat. In the 0.3 seconds the bullet took to reach it’s target the deer would have put it’s heart into the path of the bullet. But because it was stopped the bullet got it’s spine instead of the heart and lungs–we both got lucky. It would be hard to get a cleaner, quicker death than a completely severed spine between it’s head and heart. I got an easier job of cleaning the chest cavity and have more eatable meat.


The untouched deer after being shot. Click for a larger image, then click again for still larger.

Another example for doubters of Myth Busters. The deer fell toward the shooter (actually it turned 90 degrees toward me then fell over so the long axis of it’s body was aligned with me). You are looking at the exit wound side of the deer. It did not get pushed or knocked down by the bullet impact. It’s spine was severed and whatever muscle twitches remained caused it’s only motion as it crumpled to the ground.

The other deer jumped and ran a few steps before stopping and looking in my direction. I wondered at first if I had missed and this was the deer I had shot at. I looked closely through the scope and could see the white from the belly of the deer I had shot. It was motionless. I quickly packed up enough to drive to the downed deer. The still standing deer didn’t run away until I had started up and was moving toward it.

I parked the van next to the deer and started cutting on it. I then called Doug to tell him and hoped he would volunteer to come help. He did. When he and his son Brad arrived about 10 minutes later it was getting dark and it was still raining. I was doing this for the first time and progress was slow for me before Doug arrived. Doug brought a hatchet that we used to break open the pelvis and the sternum. After tagging it and emptying the body cavity we put it on the tarp in my van and drove back to his place to skin it while hanging up in the machine shed.

I called Kim back after the gutted deer was in the van and on the way to the shed for skinning. She asked if she was still going to get some of the meat. I told her, “Of course”. After talking to Kim I called Xenia and told her I would be home a little late because I had got my deer.

In the shed we had artificial lights, a roof over our heads, and equipment to hoist the deer up to chest height for easy skinning. 1.5 hours after I took the shot it was gutted, skinned, and wrapped in a tarp in my van.

I went inside to visit with my parents and clean up a little. I wore plastic gloves and my poncho while working with the deer so I didn’t get much blood on me. I just had to clean my knives and a little bit blood from one sleeve of my shirt. Mom fixed me a peanut butter, jelly, and lettuce sandwich and gave me a glass of milk for my supper. I left my parents place at 18:30 and was home, parked in the driveway with the carcass of a white-tailed deer in my van by 19:30. Tomorrow it will go to the meat cutter who will age it, then cut, and wrap the meat.

Interesting coincidences–I have harvested (using Barb’s Jeep rather than my rifle) only one other deer before. It also was on Halloween and just seconds prior to downing it I got a call on my cell phone. That time I was on the phone talking to Barb when the deer jumped out in front of me and the impact caused compound fractures in both its hind legs. I killed it with my pistol and again Doug came to field dress it.

Doug asked me if I got sick to my stomach as I pulled the trigger. He still does sometimes. Other people get very excited and can’t shoot worth a darn when a deer gets into their sights. I didn’t feel any excitement or sickness–just the recoil of the rifle on my shoulder. There was no particular joy or sadness either. Just another four legged, crop eating pest was dead and I would have some meat to share with my children over the next few months.

More pictures from my first hunting season are here. Tomorrow, after the light is better, I plan to update the photo album with pictures of the entrance and exit wounds.

Update: I took the deer to the meat processor Tuesday morning. While on the scales with head and legs still attached it weighed 79 pounds. The photo album has been updated with pictures of the entrance and exit wounds.

Update2: Information on whitetailed deer. Also of interest is that in Clearwater county, where this deer was harvested, a collision with a deer is the most common form of car accident.