Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Toy Search

     Like all sportsmen, no season, be it shooting on fishing, is complete without the addition of a new toy. Sometimes it's something small and inexpensive, like a new fly box or a pair of shooting glasses. At other times it can be much more of an investment, like a new truck, a boat, or even a hunting camp. I find myself in search for a middle ground item; a new gun. I've got a few holes in the current line up, and a few ideas of how to fill them, but I'm still putting the pieces together.

     I am generally a sub-gauge shooter, my preference being the 20 gauge. But,....more and more, when I shoot a 12 gauge I enjoy the satisfying smack it puts on targets. I'm planning to spend more time shooting sporting clays this winter, and have been giving some thought to getting a dedicated 12 gauge sporting gun.

     But,.....being a sub-gauge guy, I've been thinking that a 28 gauge would be nice. Oh yeah; I've got one. But I don't have a long barreled 28 gauge, mine is a sleek little 26" game gun.

     Hmmm,.....I've only got one SxS?? I shoot it pretty good for another sleek, short barreled game gun. Its a 20 gauge, and maybe I'd enjoy something a little bigger?.......Or a little smaller?

     My go to 20 gauge Browning has got 28" barrels, and the more I shoot it, the more I wish I had 30" barrels. Can I justify adding another 20 gauge for the sake of gaining 2" more? maybe a 32"er?

     Seriously, now. I am in the search for another gun. I took my desire for a new gun to the "committee", and it was decided that I am both old enough, and serious enough about my shooting to add a "nice gun". Of course finding a gun that fits the bill is easier said than done. I do have a couple of ideas, however, there are a few things I like in a gun, and it seems that very few in this country also like what I like, and finding a gun configured the way I like them is a little tough. So, what are my thought? Well, I don't currently own a 16 gauge, and I thought maybe I'd try going that route. I also don't own any guns with 30" barrels, which is something I've been wanting. The problem is, it's hard to find a 30"  O/U field gun in this country, and add to the equation that I've a preference for a straight, or POW stock, and......Now, while I'd like a 30" O/U configuration, I don't care much for longer barrels on a SxS. My SxS has 26" pipes, and truthfully, I'd rather they were 28". So I've also been looking around for a SxS with 28" barrels, in either 12, or 16 gauge. Anyway, I've come up with a short list of potential additions, subject of course my actually laying hands on them and checking the fit. They are:

B. Rizzini Artemis, 16g, straight stock, 30"bbl 
*pictures w/ 28"bbl

Uggie Grade V, 16g, 28"bbl

Beretta 486 Parallelo, 12g, 28"bbl

     Of the 3 guns on my short list the Beretta looks to be the gun I will buy, for now. The trouble is, I can't decide what I want more, a longer barreled O/U or a larger bore SxS. So, I'm asking for the opinions of my faithful readers, not to help me decide, but to make the decision more difficult for me, because truthfully, your opinions will surely just scramble my brain even more. But what the hell. This will be fun. 

Which shotgun would you like to see me buy?

Rizinni 16g O/U
Uggie 16g SxS
Beretta 12g SxS
Poll Maker

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

England, Part 2. Random Observations.

     A week in England, essentially dedicated to the shooting sports, and countryside has been eye opening, and left me with a few random thoughts about guns and shooting I feel I must share. So let us just jump right in at the point which without a doubt registered the most sensory overload; the gun rooms. I visited two gun rooms while in London; the Beretta Gallery, and William Evans, both of which are located in the St. James area, and are in fact on St. James St.. Both gun rooms have a collection of really beautiful shotguns and rifles displayed museum style behind glass, but unlike a museum a sales person will gladly let you touch and handle the art. While I may never be able to afford a bespoke best gun, I was thrilled to be able to see such beauty up close. I highly recommend to anyone exploring London to take a bit of time to check out a gun room.

     In Britain the market for shotguns differs from here in the States, and nature of the shooting dictates some of the changes. Longer barrels, and a heavier gun facilitate a smoother, steadier swing, helpful when shooting driven bird. Unlike the long walks through unforgiving young forest I routinely take, which dictate a lighter, fast moving gun, driven bird shooting is much like a round of sporting clays; on station the gun is at the ready, between stations the gun is in a soft case slung over the shoulder. Another difference I noticed is that a lot of the guns seem to just be more ornate. Perhaps there is more of an appreciation for engraving in the UK. Take a look at the two different lines of guns produced by Browning, if you'd like to see for yourself. In the US, the 725 Grade 5, while a nice gun.....
doesn't carry the same quality of wood found on the B725 Sporter G5,

and is only marginally nicer than the B725 Hunter G5.
Then there is the Heritage model Browning's, like the B525 Heritage 20. You see what I mean? And these examples are just a few easily recognizable O/U's, you should see some of the doubles.

     There was a noteworthy ammo difference, too. First, I discovered that shot is sized differently. I was shooting an ounce of 6's, which is smaller than the 6's in the US, and comparable to our 7's (not 7 1/2's). There was also a great difference, at least in the shells I was shooting, in felt recoil. I was shooting 2 1/2", low brass shells, and they were sweet. Still travelling quickly, about 1100 fpm, these shells (Hull Cartridge Co.) were getting the job done. In addition to these shells being soft, they used a fiber wad, which is something I wish was more predominant here in the States. From a conservation stand point, plastic wads spread throughout the woodlands is tough to justify, and not really environmentally healthy. The sportsman here in the States who wishes to make the move to fiber wads can do so, but with a bit of an increase in ammo expense. RST Ltd, in Pennsylvania ( makes not only fiber wad shells, but they are in a 2 1/2" hull, too. I will be exploring the possibility of shooting fiber wads next year. 

     Having now had the pleasure of shooting driven birds with a fantastic syndicate in England I can say that without a doubt true driven bird shooting can be had here in the US, but, it'll take a little outside the box thinking, and a bit of a change in the attitude of the guns. What will it take? Let's break it down.

     First, bag limits will prevent it from happening wholesale, but should a club, or a syndicate if you prefer, have sufficient property to shoot on, and gets said property licensed as a permitted shooting area, that no longer becomes a problem. That is pretty much the biggest problem facing the American shooter who wants to have home grown driven bird shooting. With the property licensing issue is behind you, iron where the drives will be on the property. One way that birds are held on the property is by raising them in an area on the property with plenty of food, water, and cover. You raise your birds in that area, and then ideally, after the birds start moving around, on shoot day you drive the birds deeper into the property, back towards the area they were raised. 

     An attitude change is needed too. Many are so accustomed to walking up birds, or hunting behind a dog, that it'll be hard to stay out of the area on non-shoot days, but it is essential that the birds aren't pushed around and out of the cover, or they won't be there on shoot day. Of course this is a very simplistic overview, but I think it sums up the basics. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

ASO Goes to England, Driven Bird Shooting

     It's long been a dream of mine to travel to The UK to do some game shooting. The UK sports a variety of game shot in a variety of ways, many of which are quite different from the way we do them here at home. There are also many different species, though some are quite similar some found here. For example moors in the north of England and Scotland hold Red Grouse and Black Grouse, two species not found here. In other parts of the country you will find Grey Partridge, and Spanish Red-Leg partridge, birds that are very similar to Huns and Chukar, respectively. There are also Pheasant and Woodcock, but unlike here in the US both species are larger in size, the European Woodcock being nearly 3 times the size of the woodcock we shoot here. The British countryside also has a robust population of Wood pigeon, which looks similar to the Rock Doves we call pigeon. They, too, are a bit larger is stature.

     My dream was finally fulfilled when I won a day of driven bird shooting in England in a small, online auction. It was time to pack my tweed and wellies, and hop on an airplane headed east. I would be spending a day in East Yorkshire, not only participating in a driven Pheasant shoot, but also shooting geese in the morning, and ducks in the evening. And, seeing as I was flying across the Atlantic, I figured a couple days of "shopping" (which is code for visiting gun rooms) in London was in order. So, after some consultation with my host, a plan was formulated, and off I went.

Puttin' on the tweed

     My host, Rick, is an American wingshooting and bird dog enthusiast who has lived in England for some time. As part of the offered shoot, Rick generously put me up at his home for the weekend, and loaned me his 12g O/U, as bringing a gun to the UK, while not impossible is difficult. Spending the weekend at Rick's provided the additional pleasure of eating a couple of his delicious home cooked meals (I think he may have been showing off a bit), and snuggling with his sprightly 11 year old Lab Roxie, and his affectionate 4 year old Wire Haired Vizsla Ruby. As the shoot day was schedules to start well before the sun rose, and end after it set, it was a good idea to stay at Rick's house. Another good idea, was my decision to stop over in Manchester on my way to the shoot. I find it easier, and easier to admit these days that I am not young anymore, and sleep has grown in importance to me. Taking a red-eye flight, and then immediately hopping on a train to the counrtyside would have made me a lousy, groggy guest, so I planned a jet lag management stop over enroute. Though I will admit I had a bit of an ulterior motive in stopping over in Manchester. Regular readers of this blog will recall that last summer I was in Manchester attending a youth soccer tournament.While there I found a couple of places to have a good meal; one a nice dinner, the other a nice breakfast. I would be in need of both a dinner, and a breakfast. And so it was decided; One week of travel to Manchester, East Yorkshire,and London.

Me and Rick prior to going duck shooting

     My travel to Manchester was completely uneventful, and seamless. I was able to check in to my room a bit early, and get in a nice nap before heading out to enjoy a few drinks and dinner with a friend. The next morning I made my way to the cafe I had been hoping to eat my breakfast at, and I was not disappointed. After breakfast I wandered the Manchester Christmas markets a bit before catching the train to Hull where I would meet up with Rick, and the shooting adventure would begin. At Hull Rick found me rather easily, my large suitcase in tow being a great clue, and we made our introductions before heading to Rick's home via a quick stop off at a local gun room. It was there that my education in British game shooting began. The land we would be shooting over is a working farm, the fields of which periodically house sheep. Because of this, and a sheep's willingness to eat absolutely anything, it is a requirement of the land owner to shoot only shotshells with fibre wads, as these wads, if eaten by a sheep will not harm it. Truthfully, I think this a great idea, and have begun researching fibre wad ammo here. Why litter the woods with plastic if we have an alternative?

     Shoot day started off early, well before the sun rose. As we drove to the farm in the darkness, and anticipation, we discussed a more in detail the customs of British game shooting, and the rules, both written and unwritten. Like here at home, safety is the number one concern in the game shooting community. Unlike here at home, game may be shot both before, and after dark. At the barn we met up with a couple members of Rick's shooting syndicate who were also keen to shoot a few geese, and I was soon settled into a sparse hedgerow alongside a field known to be the gathering spot for hungry geese in the morning. Optimistically I sat hoping today would be the day I dropped my first Pink Footed, or Specklebelly Goose.  Before long I had an opportunity in the predawn dark at a pair of ducks flying in from behind. However, the ducks were over and gone well before I even registered the whistling of their wings and saw them. The skies were overcast, making the sunrise seem like it was never going to come, and hampering long range vision, but off in the distance we could see and hear geese doing their thing. Problem was they were doing it way down the other end of the very large field, and well out of shotgun range. It wasn't long after a small flock of geese flew in to the far corner of the field that a shot rang out from the opposite hedgerow where the others were sitting. Shortly after the shot a few geese broke from the tree line and headed somewhat my way. The geese were not coming directly over, but were cross right to left out near the edge of shotgun range. I sent two rounds of steel in their direction, with a net result of zero. Oh well. At least I'd gotten to see, hear, and shoot at, a species I'd never encountered before. It was fun anyway, as water fowling tends to be, and honestly this is how so  many of my homegrown water fowling adventures end.

     With the goose expedition behind us we headed to the barn where we'd have breakfast and I'd meet the rest of the Watton Carrs syndicate. We encountered a small set back at the barn. While Rick had remembered to pack breakfast and lunch, he'd forgotten the pan in which breakfast was to be cooked, so it was off to the farm store for a take out sausage sandwich, which was outstanding, then back to the farm where I'd meet the balance of the syndicate I'd not met at the farm store.

     In Britain shooting organizations take many forms. One of the most common forms is that of a shoot syndicate. Loosely translated, it's a private, organized club. Rick is a member of the Watton Carrs syndicate in East Yorkshire. The syndicate leases the sporting rights to a 2500 acre working farm. Leasing the sporting right gives them exclusive permission to shoot on the property. In the spring the syndicate buys, and releases roughly 700 pheasant on the property. Unlike the standard here in the States where pheasant are released just prior to shooting, the syndicate initially rears the birds in open topped pens, with small exits along the bottom which allow the birds out, but prevents larger predators in. The club sets out numerous feeders in the surrounding wood lots, as well, and soon the birds disperse and take up residence all over the farm. Once released these birds very quickly become quite wild, and strong fliers. The Watton Carrs syndicate is a small, DIY syndicate which does not employ beaters to drive the birds over the line of guns. Rather they work on a stand 1-walk 1 basis. This means in a typical 6 drive day every member will alternate between shooting on 3 drives, and beating on 3 drives, everyone working together to try to achieve the syndicate's goal of a 50 bird day. To do this smoothly everyone is assigned to either the red team, or the black team, which alternate between beating and shooting on every drive. This being the set up would allow me to see how a shoot is run in it's entirety my first time shooting in Britain.

     The driven bird portion of the day was spectacular in every sense. We met up with the rest of the syndicate members on the southern portion of the farm property, a short drive from the main farm. This was where the first 3 drives would be held. Prior to shooting the shoot captain gathered all the members, guests, dogs, and anyone else in attendance and held a quick introduction and safety brief. Members were assigned to a team, and pegs were drawn. Pegs are numbered 1-9, from left to right. While some syndicates have hard fast peg marked by a numbered stake pounded into the ground, Watton Carrs uses a bit more flexibility, and the shoot captain on each team shifts the approximate position of each peg left or right depending on the wind to insure the best shooting possible. After each drive, all the members shift 3 places to the right. I drew #9 in the morning, so I would shoot in the #3 position on my second drive, and the #6 position on my last drive. As it turns out, the # 9 peg on the first drive, Neil's Pen, was a walking gun position. As a walking gun I would walk the field edge, about 25 yards out, parallel to the woods towards the guns, about 10 yards behind the beaters. The job of a walking gun is to take care of any bird that tried to come out the side of the woods and escape back behind the line of beaters. This would actually work out quite well as an introduction to driven shooting for a number of reasons. First, it was very much how we hunt in our uplands, it would also allow me to be within ear shot of Rick (we were assigned to different teams) who could coach me, as he beat, through my first drive, and it would allow me to watch the # 8 gun who was well down the field.

The pre-shoot brief

     It didn't take long for birds to start popping into the sky out of the woods, and before long a big cock pheasant came out the side and curled back towards the hedgerow bordering the neighboring farm. This bird presented well, was a sporting L-R crosser, and was mine. Except for it wasn't, as with I failed to fully disengage the safety, and watched it fly off. My first British flub. I didn't have to wait too long for redemption, when another big cock pheasant tried to make a similar escape, but with a drastically different result, and I had shot my first driven bird in the UK. The remained of the drive was more of the same, with birds trying to make a back door or side door escape. Some were far, fast, and high, and lived to see another day, but an unlucky hen pheasant made the mistake of trying to fly right over me at a bit of altitude. She presented in the typical overhead British fashion, and I killed her with barrels nearly vertical, swinging through, and pulling the trigger a moment after blacking her out with the muzzle. I will admit, I was quite proud of that shot. After the whistle signaling the end of the drive we all walked the area picking up birds that hadn't been picked up by the many Cockers, Labs, Vizsla's and Spinone's in attendance. It was then that I cased the borrowed 12g, replaced it with a stout stick, and took my place in the beating line.

     The next drive was called New Road Woods, and the beating proved to be as much fun as the shooting. Armed with sticks the line moved forward towards the guns making as much noise as possible to push out the birds. The stick, I learned, is not meant for thrashing the underbrush, but for tapping on trees, and blow downs to make more noise. Unlike hunting our uplands, where dogs force tight holding birds into flight, sometimes nearly underfoot, these birds were getting out well in front of the beaters,a behavior no doubt learned by the weeks of syndicate shooting and beating. In fact I heard the report of the guns out front long before I saw the first bird going out. Like the first drive, after about 15 minutes of hooping and hollering, and a bit of gun fire, the final whistle sounded, and the bird collection began.

     Between the second and third drive we stopped for "elevenses". Elevenses is a British tradition of having a pick-me -up and a warm-me-up before lunch. The tailgates of two SUVs functioned as the buffet where we helped ourselves to beef pies, cake, and cheese. To wash it all down was a selection of port, brandy, Irish liquor, and Champagne. Unlike here, where alcohol and guns are overwhelmingly thought to not mix, a short drink often served, and enjoyed responsibly. Indulging is allowed at elevenses. Over indulging, however, is not.

     The next drive after elevenses was a drive called Wetlands. On this drive I was on the #3 peg, standing in the line, out is a well manicured grass field. From my peg I could see the small pond between the stone wall that marked the field edge, and the wood line that served as bird cover. This drive proved to be more challenging, with faster, higher flying birds. The pheasant would break from the distant tree line, and gaining altitude would come through a break in the thin line of trees that followed the stone wall. As soon as the birds cleared the hedge, and looking like they were coming straight over I'd begin my gun mount, and pretty much every bird found fit to curl to the right, putting the wind directly up their rear, right as my face hit the stock, forcing me to quickly readjust my line and swing, and shoot behind them, as they flew over my neighbor down the line. The wind had picked up considerable. So much so that it was impossible to converse from peg to peg, and caused the baffles of my ear muffs to keep closing.  One cock pheasant, however, made the mistake of not curling, and flying over high between me and the neighbor to my left, and I again enjoyed the satisfaction of folding a good bird in flight. A bit later I had a chance to toss lead at a bird through the backdoor as it escaped past the line, and watched it rock in the air, and begin a rapid, yet controlled descent. Sadly this bird had enough momentum to carry it to the treeline, which was the property line, behind us. After the final whistle about 8 of us, with a couple of dogs walked the property line, yet failed to come up with the bird.

The line of guns at the Wetlands drive

          After collecting loading the birds into the shoot wagon our caravan of cars and SUVs headed back to the main property for a quick lunch in the barn before resuming the shooting. When we resumed the shooting I was back on beater duty for the Elwood drive. This drive produced a fair number of woodcock for the guns, one of which Rick killed, as well as lots of pheasant. While Rick shot a couple of pheasant and a woodcock from his peg in the field, another member, Dave, had drawn the peg they call Bombshell Corner (forgive me; initially misremembered this as Car Bomb Corner). Bombshell Corner is a break where a narrow road cuts between two wood lots. When the birds come over they are high, and quick, and only give you a quick snap shot before disappearing into the woods behind you. Dave did well, shooting 4 out of the overhead break. The retrieval of the down birds was a bit tricky, as the area behind the peg was rather swampy, but a team of cockers swarmed the area and picked up every bird in the woods. One black cocker decided to welcome me with the nice delivery of a cock pheasant it had found, though I think the little dog was really more interested in just unloading it's find, and continuing the search.

Shoot captain, Tom, with his Cockers

     My final drive as a gun would be the South Wood drive, and I was plum in the middle on peg #6. On this drive I had a hedgerow to my back as I faced the cover about 100 yards across an open field. Again the birds had the wind behind them, and flew high and fast. This drive provided the added excitement of the birds coming out quickly, one after the other. While on the previous drives I had the luxury of time allowing me to casually pocket spent shells before dropping in new shells. This drive did not.  The bird that just flew over head had another, already out of the trees, somewhere behind it. Shells were ejected into the grass to be picked up later, as I fumbled to get new shells into the gun. This drive was fun, and the kind of shooting one doesn't deserve regularly.  Anyone who wingshoots regularly has missed shots, and missed opportunities that haunt them. Despite this drive not yielding many killed birds, the 9 gun team only killing 3 birds for 63 shots, there was nothing but smiles on the faces of the team. Nothing about this drive would haunt me. Just the opposite; I'd happily shoot it again, and with the same result.

     The line of guns for the South Woods drive were all positioned at the beginning of the beat for the Top Hill drive, which would be our last. So while we waited for the guns to get into position in the next field one of our team members collected our guns, and carried them out to the cars while we prepared to make our final drive by passing around a flask of brown liquid for a well deserved parting shot. Soon we were beating the last hedgerow towards the steady sound of shotgun blasts.

     Back at the shoot barn Tom went through the post shoot ritual of reading off the day's tally. On this day, with 18 guns alternating the shooting, we killed 36 pheasant, and 2 woodcock.

Hanging birds, and a happy beater

     My day wasn't over yet. there were still ducks to be killed, so after a bit of a break, and some minor equipment changes, we made our way to the small pond at the end of the Wetlands drive to wait for the ducks to start coming in. The duck shooting took a very British form, too. Not restricted to daylight shooting hours, we were shooting ducks in the dark. The silhouettes of ducks, coming from behind us in twos and threes would drop quickly into the pond. Then the sky would lighten momentarily with muzzle flash. In most cases the initial shot at the dropping ducks would be a miss, but the follow up shots on the now flaring ducks would cut down at least one, which Roxy the Lab would happily retrieve. Not sure I'd be able to adjust to shooting in the dark, I found that even I could find away to get the muzzles pointed in the right direction, and killed a Mallard. After about an hour of solid darkness, our small team of 5 guns had killed 5 ducks; 2 Mallards, 2 Eurasian Wigeon, and a Teal. And I'd learned that shooting ducks in the dark was both effective and fun. With a full day of shooting behind us, Rick and I cleaned up, and hit the pub (The Pipe and Glass) for an excellent meal, a pint, and a recap of the day.

The evening's duck harvest

     While the shooting was now behind me, the outdoor adventure, and exploration wasn't. As a grouse hunter I've made a bit of a study of the Red Grouse hunting in Britain, and hope to one day shoot Red Grouse either driven grouse from a butt, or behind a good dog. On Sunday Rick and I decided to drive north through the moors hoping to see some Red Grouse. And we sure did see a lot of Red Grouse. In fact we saw 32 Red Grouse, both standing and flying, and a couple of grouse butts. I even had an opportunity to do a little bit of an experiment. I've read a lot that the Red Grouse is the fastest bird in flight, and has the quickest flush. I had to see for myself, finding it hard to believe that anything flushes quicker, or flies faster than a Ruffed Grouse. So when we were presented with a Red Grouse holding close to the road I took the opportunity to wade into the heather and flush it from it's roost. Not wishing to start a Hatfield-MacCoy type of grudge between Ruffie and Red hunters, but there is no way a Red flushed quicker, or flies faster than a Ruffie, though I can see where a Red's low, ground hugging flight could make them tricky to shoot.

The North Yorkshire Moors, and a Red Grouse

     By the time I left Yorkshire for London I couldn't help but think that the UK has some fantastic shooting and, if not for the absence of Ruffed Grouse, might be prefect. Top to bottom I had a excellent trip, and enjoyed the shooting. The atmosphere at the Watton Carrs syndicate was identical to that of my regular grouse camp, and anyone of them would fit in up north perfectly, and vice-verse. Without a doubt I will find a way to go game shooting in Britain again.

An old grouse butt in the moors

Thursday, November 26, 2015

England Bound

     Next week I'm heading over to England to enjoy some driven bird shooting. Yup. You heard that right. I'm heading off on an international shooting adventure. I came upon an opportunity to shoot driven pheasants in East Yorkshire, and decided that now was the time to make something like this happen.
     Of course a trip like this requires some preparations, and preparing is what I've been doing. Most of my prep efforts have come in the form of clay shooting. I've spent a good deal of time at skeet, a little time at sporting clays, and even made arrangements to practice shooting incoming clays thrown out of a high tower. Driven game is generally presented as high incoming targets, though high crossing targets may be presented, too. As this is a presentation I've rarely had opportunity to shoot, except for a few days of pass-shooting ducks, I thought a session on the high tower would be prudent. It was. Sure, I had to work out a few issues, mostly relating to my neutral eye dominance and how the target looked, but it went well. Strangely, I found the difficulty of the various presentations opposite how I'd imagined them. I'd expected the high right to left crosser to be the easiest as one is pushing the gun into their face, and the straight incomer as the most difficult as the shooter looses sight of the target swinging ahead to the appropriate amount of lead. On the contrary, I shot the incoming targets easily, and struggled with the high right to left crossing target. Either way, if you've never had an opportunity to shoot a high tower, seek one out. It is a ton of fun. I really enjoyed it, and will regularly shoot the tower from now on.

     The rest of my preparations revolve around trying to learn about the culture of shooting in the UK. Shoots take many forms, and most Americans are probably only familiar with the shooting scenes in Downton Abbey, or the movie Gossford Park. True, many are quite formal in their undertaking and held on large estates, but just as many, if not more are DIY affairs put together by a shooting syndicate, and held on leased farm land. The shoot I'll be joining is just such. As a DIY shoot all participants play a variety of roles. The shoot is a walk one-stand one shoot, meaning I will shoot 3 drives, and beat, trying to move birds forward over the line of guns, for 3 drives. As a first timer I think this is a fantastic way to see the entire operation of a shoot, though if I could have one wish granted it would be to bring my springer, Ginger, along to work as a pick up dog. I think if I lived in the UK I'd spend more time picking up at a shoot than shooting. I do love good dog work.

     I've also got to consider what to wear. Blaze orange is not an acceptable option. Granted, on large estate shoots Tweeds are the only appropriate attire. The shoot I'll be attending is not quite as formal. I've already been told I'll not need a tie, though I'll probably wear one. After all, informal or not, one does not simple fly to England to shoot and not wear a tie. Of course I'll wear wellies, but that's nothing new. I've been hunting and shooting in wellies, exclusively, for years. And most likely my Barbour Beaufort waxed cotton coat will make the trip, too. Waxed cotton coats are seldom worn on driven days, but shooting with a DIY syndicate that rough shoots, as well as varmint shoots, I expect it won't be out of place.

Proper tweeds

     What about the guns? you ask. Well, I'm not bringing one. My host has offered me the use of his guns, and that is a huge relief. Yes, I could bring my own gun, but there is considerable paper work involved, and as I will be travelling around England a bit (Manchester, and London) I would rather not have to wade through the various English laws concerning travel and storage.

     So, you can look forward to a full report in a couple of weeks, and hopefully a bit of updating while I'm on the road. Also, I'd like to extend a special thank you to Jack at Addieville East farm in Rhode Island who set up, and let me shoot their high tower on a day when the club was closed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shake Ups

     The outdoors world is not without it's controversies and scandals. Sometimes these issues surprise us, and at other times they seem par for the course. I've recently received word of a couple of shake ups.

     In our first shake up Ducks Unlimited has landed smack dab in the middle of a money grab. Recently DU fired long time DU magazine correspondent E. Donnall Thomas. Why? Well,...follow the money. Don, who also writes for several other publications, earlier this year wrote about a series of stream access court cases going through the Montana court system. At the heart of the matter a land owner, James Cox Kennedy, objected to people floating the Ruby river, which runs through his property, and accessing it from a bridge, on a public road, that went through his property. After a series of trials Mr Kennedy lost his bid to close off the stream, and public access was upheld. The thing is Mr Kennedy is very wealthy, as in Billions, and is a DU contributor. It seems, at the end of the day DU would rather have Mr Kennedy's money than Mr Thomas' writings. What I find distasteful in all of this is the fact that the issue which Mr Thomas wrote about was a) a matter of fact, and b) had nothing to do with DU. And once again, money gets it's way. Anyway, for me, it's bye bye DU, Delta Waterfowl here I come.

     Here is Mr Thomas' original article.

     And here is a statement by Mr Thomas.

     Also, a follow up article on the case.

     On to our next shake up. This may or may not be a bad thing, but Weyerhaeuser is set to buy Plum Creek. Plum Creek owns a lot of land in Western Maine and New Hampshire, and allows public access. Plum Creek's lands in Maine and New Hampshire are essentially public lands, though they do lease land in some other states. Weyerhaeuser, on the other hand seems to operate on a pay-to-play basis, offering land leases, and for sale land use permits. It is unclear if Weyerhaeuser will continue the New England tradition of allowing access to forest lands, or if they will begin selling permits and offering leases. Time will tell.

Friday, November 6, 2015

And Then There Was One.

     Love them or hate them, big box stores are a way of life.To the outdoors enthusiast this can be a benefit, or a bust. My experiences have been mixed, leaning towards the poorer end of the spectrum. Filling out a big box store with enough employees is tough. Getting people with knowledge of the department you plant them in is a challenge, too, I'm sure. While I'm certain that on all levels of the sporting retail world the intention of the employees is good. Save for the most special of specialty shops, where the staff is made up of part-timers who are only working to get the employee discount and guide as a full time job, most people are spending 40+ hours a week in the store and the odd weekend in the outdoors. Couple that with the fact that football season and hunting season are the same time of the year, and I'll bet you there are some employees who don't even remember how to load their slug gun. But like I said, big box stores are a way of life, and that brings me to the point of all this. Rumors abound that Bass Pro Shops is trying/planning to buy Cabelas.

     What does all this mean? I don't know, but I doubt it'll mean either retailer actually starts carrying things sportsman and sportswomen actually want (on a regular basis, that is. Sure, we occasionally find something we want). Anyway,......

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dispatches From The North

     Regular readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of an absence of new material lately. Sorry. Real life sometimes gets in the way of sporting and other enjoyable things. Recently real life has kicked me, and my wife, right in the teeth. Suddenly our energy was required elsewhere.


     I found, or perhaps made, some free time to get away up north to do a little grouse hunting. In fact, I am writing this from the great north woods. A week in grouse camp is really good medicine, even if nothing ails you. Though, it has been an interesting week.

     I've always enjoyed cold, November grouse hunting. Once the leaves are down, if you can find the grouse, the shooting usually gets good. Unfortunately Mother Nature wasn't playing nice. My week up north started out with a bit of rain. Sure, grouse can be hunted in the rain. I just don't like hunting in the rain. Of course the rain did stop, but things got worse. Wind. Everyone knows a good wind makes grouse extremely spooky. I still hunted. Finally on Saturday we got some typical November weather. In the morning the thermometer in the car read 25 degrees, 28 degrees by the time I arrived at one of my favorite sunny, eastern facing hillsides. I made the right choice, and walked out with a heavy game bag. Despite the near perfect November weather, I was at a bit of a crossroad, and packed it in for the day at 11 am after just 2 hours of hunting. Why? Well, the Rugby World Cup finals were on TV at noon, and regular readers of this blog know I'm a rugby guy, too. I wasn't going to miss it.

     Sunday, even though the weather was a bit drizzly again I decided to head to one of my honey holes; The Trail of Tears. Sadly, 3 hours of really tough walking and hunting produced only 6 grouse flushes. After lunch I met up with my friend Gregor, of Braeval apparel, and his red setter Laddie. In the 2 hours we had left to hunt, Laddie put on a nice show, pointing 6 of the 7 grouse we saw. And that 7th, un-pointed grouse was a wild flush between me and Gregor while Laddie was hunting well out in front of us. More impressive than Laddies pointing prowess, was Gregor's shooting, knocking down 3 of the 6 pointed birds. 

     Yesterday was an outstanding day. We decided to hunt a spot that I'd not hunted in about 5 years, and one that Gregor had wondered about. Due to recent logging it took us quite a bit of hiking to get back into good cover, but once we did,....... Later we explored a bit, and hunted a hillside with good looking cover. Another good move. At the end of the day we'd had 22 grouse flushes, most handled by one dog or the other. Sadly, neither of us could put a shot string where it was needed. In fact, I never even fire my gun. But that's hunting.

     Today I made my last day push, and again I headed up the Trail Of Tears. Again the Trail was slow, with only 7 flushes in 3 hours. Another spot much closer to camp proved to be a bit more exciting, offering 4 good off the nose flushed in just 1 hour of hunting. And again, I failed to connect..

     All in all, it's been great to be up in the north woods, and to be hauling my butt through the woods. For the time I spent in the woods, and the number of birds flushed, I feel like things were a little slower than last year. Averaging everything out, we got a grouse flush about every 17 minutes. I think the weather might account for this slow down. With the exception of Saturday, it's been very warm here. On Saturday, when it was cold, I went looking for the birds in the type of cover I'd expect to find them in when it's cold. But what I found was that they weren't in their standard October spots on the warm days, nor were they in their standard November spots. Seems like they were somewhere else, and I couldn't figure out just where that was.

       Anyway, grouse hunting is always great, and a couple of good shooting days sealed the deal. I had the good fortune of carrying 3 woodcock and 3 grouse out of the woods. But more importantly, every aching joint, and sore muscle in evidence of week spent wisely.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

TBT, New Brunswick

     About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week bear hunting with Three Brooks Outfitters in New Brunswick. While I didn't end up with the monster, or even the 15 lb bear, I had a great time learning about bears and bear baiting. I recently found a few pics of some of the New Brunswick trophies hanging in the camp.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

No Ordinary Challenge; The MacNab

     Sportsmen and women around the globe take to the fields and streams for a variety of reasons. There is a lot of satisfaction in dedicating the time, and commitment needed to meeting the challenge, and bringing home a hard earned meal. In some corners of the world the challenge of taking game is not enough, and a select few of a particularly sporting nature venture out seeking ways to make their time in the outdoors demanding. For some this additional demand is only satisfied by achieving a MacNab.

     The MacNab is a sporting trifecta of sorts. In the UK there is the Highland MacNab, where a person bags a stag, a brace of grouse, and lands a salmon, all on the same day. I've also read accounts of  what is called a Summer MacNab, which involve bagging a Roe buck, a wood pigeon, and landing a sea-run rainbow trout. These sound like fine challenges, indeed. I'd be happy with just a brace of grouse, and doubt my system could handle completing a MacNab.

     Here in New England we too, have a MacNab, but few have heard of it, and even few have completed it. The New England MacNab is shooting a whitetail buck, a brace of ruffed grouse, and landing a brook trout. Unlike the UK where season greatly overlap each other, the chance of ever completing a MacNab in the US is slim; our season only slightly over lap. In most of New England Trout season closes shortly after grouse season opens, and the deer season during that time period usually restricts hunters to archery equipment, not fire arms. Even if you did manage to take your buck, early season grouse hunting is often challenging, grouse heard but not seen through the thick canopy of leaves. Of course some states make it impossible. In Connecticut, for example, there is a robust deer herd, and some fantastic trout waters. I have no doubt that a sportsman could take a buck in the morning, then land a brook trout by lunch, but the grouse would pose a problem. While grouse can be found in Ct the numbers are small enough that the state only allows hunters to take 1 a day. So much for the MacNab.

     There are other challenges, too. In Maine you are recognized if you bag a deer, bear, moose, and a turkey (maybe coyote is included, too) in one season. That is a feat, and requires dedication. As a grouse hunter I enjoy shooting a mixed bag. While I've enjoyed a few heavy game bags in my time I've never had the pleasure of taking grouse, woodcock, and hares all in the same outing. I've had plenty of grouse/woodcock, woodcock/hare, and hare/grouse days, but never the trifecta. And while I always carry a separate supply of non-toxic ammo in the car, ready to switch our if I see ducks sitting in the rivers when driving around, I've yet to have the chance to mix fowl with upland species. Perhaps this will be the year I add an additional species to the game bag. No. Not the same wow factor as the MacNab, but not a bad goal, either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Slow It Down, People. Slow It Down.

     No doubt about it; hunting season is just around the corner. For some it's just days away, while for others we're just happy that we are closer to the next season than we are from the last. Social media is full of preseason hype, and new hunting catalogs are in my mail box daily.

     I'm looking forward to the season, too. But truth be told, I'm in no hurry for the summer to end. It's still August, but try buying a six pack of a summer ale. They're scarce now. However, Oktoberfest beers are already in stores. Really? We still have 4 more weeks of summer, 6 weeks til October. What's the hurry? At training yesterday, friend and fellow spaniel club member, Brice, asked  the question; When did we start deciding the seasons based on the children's vacations? It's a valid question. My school days are long behind me. My summer runs until mid-September. I intend to enjoy all of it, too. And guess what kids? You go to school in the summer time. What you call "summer" is really just a summer vacation. Summer has already started when your vacation starts, and it continues after you're back in school. It's time for us adults to reclaim summer. Sure, it's a little tougher for those who must juggle leisure time and school aged children, but that doesn't mean one should abandon finding time to enjoy a gin n tonic in the yard with a good book. Or a swim in the local lake. Or a day at the beach.

     As for Oktoberfest beers? Well, I'll be sure to enjoy them at grouse camp after a long day afield, but for now, it's still summer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lets Clear this up; Trophy Hunting

     Moral, ethical, and legal issues pop up in our lives from time to time. Sometimes things are quite clear, and at other times rather murky. The issue du jour of late has been the killing of Cecil the lion. Justified, or not hunting has been given a black eye in the press. What happened? I don't know. I haven't seen enough of the evidence to make a decision. But what I did learn from listening to the public feed back is that the general public knows almost nothing about hunting, and managing sustainable resources. One issue in particular stuck in my craw, and I'd like to address it (though I'm pretty sure most of my audience knows it already); trophy hunting.

     What is trophy hunting, and more importantly, what isn't trophy hunting. As it sounds, trophy hunting is the pursuit of an exceptional example of whatever species you've decided to hunt. Most people quickly think of African safaris, but trophy hunting of big game in the US and Canada is not uncommon. In fact there are TV stations airing programs dedicated to trophy hunting.  Anyone with an interest in deer hunting has heard of QDM, quality deer management, a program of managing deer herds to allow them to grow bigger bucks. In the US and Canada QDM is in place to facilitate better trophies, and one of the key elements of QDM is to only shoot trophy bucks, not the little ones which are viewed as future trophies. The science behind QDM is pretty sound, and areas practicing QDM generally have bigger bucks, and healthier deer herds. But don't be misled, it is driven bu the fact that lots of deer hunters want to shoot bigger bucks, and only bigger bucks, and that's trophy hunting.

     There are basically 3 kinds of trophy hunting. First there is the "Trophy" hunter. This is the sportsman who gets a thrill out of pursuing, and shooting exceptional animals. This is the African Game seeker, the 200+" buck seeker, the sportsman driven by record books such as Boone & Crockett. These sportsmen often employ a guide/professional hunter to take them out and put them into a position to kill a trophy. Sometimes these sportsmen are accompanied into the field, as is the standard practice in Africa, sometimes these sportsmen rely on the scouting, intelligence, and prep work of their guide who tells them where they are most likely to see an animal they'd deem worthy.

     The next type of trophy hunters are those who prefer to trophy hunt on their own, who spend their time in the woods scouting and prepping, and doing everything a guide would do for a client. These are the sportsmen who hunt just like everyone else, but with one big difference; they're determined to only shoot at a trophy animal. Both this type of trophy hunter, and the kind outlined above have to be very disciplined, as they watch animals, often very nice animals, that other hunters would be more than happy to take home, walk away.

     The last type of trophy hunter is the sportsman who ends up a "dream" hunt. These are often the sportsman who routinely fills his freezer, and often dreams about one day taking a nice trophy. They are seldom obsessed with trophies, and are often "meat" hunters who are presented an opportunity to hunt somewhere with bigger bucks, or bears, and they take advantage of the opportunity. Quite often this type of sportsman's trophy barely shows up as a blip of a true trophy hunters radar.

     Now that we've got that out of our way, lets wade into another area of trophy hunting that is also quite frequently misunderstood. None of these type of trophy hunters I've outlined waste meat from the animals they kill. Trophy hunting is not shooting an animal, cutting off its head, and leaving the rest to the vultures. In all cases, the animal is processed and consumed. In the case of an African safari the meat often goes towards feeding a lot of people in the surrounding communities. But in no case is the meat wasted. In fact it is illegal to wantonly waste meat in all 50 states, and all Canadian provinces. It just doesn't happen, and I think the fact that this is not generally understood by the non-hunting public is what drives a lot of the bad feelings towards trophy hunting. I think that when the subject of trophy hunting comes up, we as sportsmen have a responsibility to set the record straight on this issue.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Future Planning

     Like hunting seasons, ideas come and go very quickly. Each off season brings new ideas of hunting destinations with the turn of of each page of a glossy shooting magazine. I've consistently planned out a grouse camp, often with friends, sometimes quite meticulously each year. Destinations varied, but were always within driving distance; New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine and Vermont have all been the scrutinized by the loosely organized syndicate with which I associate. In the early years, before children, mortgages, promotions, and moves we laid down a long term plan; every 5 years we would travel together to a more distant, exotic local to shoot birds. The plan was for each member to write down a destination on a piece of paper, toss them all in a hat, and then pick one. Members who's destinations had been pulled would not be allowed to drop another destination in the hat until all members had seen their dream hunt realized. Granted, travelling every five years meant it'd be a good 30-35 years until all the choices were exhausted, and we started again. We were young, and enthusiastic. Our plan never materialized, and our camps, due to external circumstances grew shorter each year, but we did still travel New England, and shoot grouse together. Recently, in an online forum I frequent the subject of a "bucket list" came up, and it got me thinking.

     The "Bucket List" as a concept is a little grim, to be honest. Future planning sounds better, and is something I've been doing all along, though rather shortsightedly. Of course picking out a few destinations/quarry isn't hard. Everyone has a dream hunt, or hike, climb, visit, etc. Thinking about the outdoor things I'd like most to do came quite naturally. It's the realization, that I may actually be able to make them happen that is slower in coming. But it's coming to me. The more I think about my bucket list, or future plans as I'd prefer them called, the more I see a way of making them happen. Let's take a look at my "future plans".

     Number one on my list is a shooting trip to the UK. I've for quite some time wanted to give traditional British game shooting a try. I particularly would like to try my hand (and eye coordination) at Red Grouse shooting. It's often said that The Red is the fastest, toughest game bird on the planet. As a die hard Ruffed Grouse hunter I find that hard to believe, and the only way to know for sure is to try it myself. Of course driven grouse shooting is the pinnacle of grouse shooting, and I'd be glad to spend a day in a butt on a moor, but to get a true comparison to Ruffed Grouse shooting  it'd have to be walked up shooting with dogs. Second in line to the Reds is Woodcock. I'd love to get a European Woodcock in the bag. I've shot some surprisingly big woodcock here, but nothing close to the heft the European birds seem to have. Of course any opportunity to shoot in the UK would be a new experience, and the first deal I find will be booked, Reds of not.

     Number two on my list revolves less around what I want, and more about enjoying a trip abroad (loosely defined) with a friend. I've never been very good at hunting or shooting waterfowl. I've had my moments, but all-in-all, my average on waterfowl sucks. BK however does well on waterfowl. BK has also been my number one hunting partner for a very long time. Bk and I have hunted together so long that we find it unnecessary to communicate much when traversing a grouse cover behind the dogs. I know he's drawn to blowdowns like a magnet, and he knows I'll pull a crazy Ivan, going out laterally, and back in again, on a whim. BK has long wanted us to go south to shoot ducks in flooded timber. He's right, we should. A trip like this may well bring my horrible life time average on waterfowl up, and I'd enjoy seeing BK fulfill his dream.

     Third and fourth place on the list could be interchangeable. Both would be great, but for different reasons. Those destinations couldn't be further apart either; Argentina, and the Mid-West. It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is about Argentina that makes me want to go there. It seems like a good time from every account I've read about it. The opportunity to shoot Perdiz, or high volume ducks or doves, and then follow that up with some serious steak, and a Malbec? Yup. That's it. The Mid-West, on the other hand, would be more Ruffed Grouse shooting. Sure I do a lot of grouse shooting, and I've even had some banner days with great flush counts, but it'd be nice to have a week of consistently high flush counts, and to really sling some lead. So Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are all earmarked for future travel.

     Domestically there are some destinations and species I'd like to see. For the most part I'm species driven, but as I research a trip things may change. Anyway, to that end I'd like to hunt wild Pheasant one day, either in Montana, or Kansas. Chukar are on my radar, too. I've shot plenty of pen raised Chukars. They're quite tasty, and even pen raised birds have been enthusiastic fliers, so I imagine in the wild they'd be even tastier, and quite challenging on the wing.

     Rounding out the list, for now, I venture into the big game arena. I'd long wanted to take a black bear with a bow. I seriously hunted bear here in Mass awhile back, and while I didn't manage to hang my tag off of one, I learned a lot, and even saw one. One day I'd like to give this a try again, only this time it'll be somewhere I have an honest chance at getting a shot.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cabin Fever Ramble, and A Couple New Endorsements.

     Winter has really dumped on us this year. In less than 30 days we've seen about 100" of snow fall, with very few days of above freezing temps. As one might imagine, this much snow has made getting out, and doing anything difficult. Dog training has come to a halt, and I haven't shot skeet in a month. I've been on the look out for snowshoes, but I started my search too late, and it seems everyone else beat me to it; no snowshoes to be found. Truth be told, I don't think I'd enjoy snowshoeing in single digit temps very much. So what is an outdoorsman to do?

     To start with, I've begun collecting information, and working up some ideas for a wingshooting get-a-way. And what better way to do that than reading tales of other's adventures. That is where Covey Rise Magazine has proved invaluable. I know I've mentioned Covey Rise in this blog before, but I believe it deserves an other mention. It's a quality publication. While it has a tendency to feature quite a few high end items and destinations, unlike Shooting Sportsman magazine, a similar type of publication, Most of the featured hunts are DIY, and not exclusively pay-to-play-hunts like tend to be featured in SSM. If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Covey Rise Magazine, I highly recommend it.

      When it comes to high end, top quality adventure/outdoor clothing one can not have a conversation without mentioning BraeVal. Located in Connecticut, BraeVal is making some really comfortable shirts. In addition to clothing BraeVal just started a distillery in Litchfield Ct, and will be making a bourbon. If their bourbon is as good as the BraeVal scotch (specially distilled using an ancient McCluskey family formula which dates back to when the McCluskey family distilled in Scotland) owner Gregor McCluskey treated me to in grouse camp, it's sure to take off.

     In a further effort to prepare for the upcoming season (take your pick: field trial, hunt test, or grouse. I'm preparing for them all) it was decided that it was time to get my wife a decent pair of wellingtons, as she routinely helps me with dog training, and attends all the tests and trials. I don't know why, but it just seems that spaniels and mud go together, which is why we chose to get wellingtons. After looking around a bit a decision was made, and a pair of Hunter boots were ordered. I know what you are thinking, but let me tell you, these are not the Madison Ave prep look rain boots you are seeing in every shopping mall across America. Hunter actually makes some proper, durable wellingtons, and their Balmoral line of field boots is it. My American made wellies still have a lot of life left in them, but when the time comes to replace them I will surely look at the Hunter line again.

     I am pleased to announce that these product have earned an ASO endorsement, and shall be featured on the endorsement page.

     Moving on to a bit of sad news, it has been reported that Lane Benoit of Vermont's first family of deer hunting has passed away at the age of 60. The Benoit's,  have published several books and produced several DVDs of their deer tracking methods, and their father Larry was once featured in Sports Illustrated as one of the best deer hunters in America. I have had the pleasure of meeting the Benoits on two occasions (though briefly) and found them to be sincere gentlemen. The outdoor world has lost a true icon.

Photo credit: Great Northern Productions.