Thursday, December 27, 2018

Crippling Efficiency

     This blog is a collection of my experiences and thoughts. From time to time I will express an opinion which many will not agree with. These opinions have formed as a result of spending lots of time afield and shooting. These thoughts and opinions are not meant to offend, nor to be judgmental,  but rather to promote more thought on the subject. If for whatever reason you feel my post is directed at you, it is not; I don't know you. This post is part 1 of several (don't know how many yet) on the subject of wingshooting which some will object to. Fair warning.

     Hypocrisy is everywhere, but no where in fieldsports is it more prevalent than in the wingshooting community. Why is it that we expect the bowhunter and the rifle hunter to be proficient with their weapon, yet so many bird hunters (both uplands, and waterfowlers) get a pass on not practicing and only blowing the dust off their shogun once the season opens? Why is it big game hunters (who are expected to be proficient with their weapon) are chastised for shooting at running game, but bird hunters (who seldom practice) are chastised when they shoot birds sitting on the side of the road or a limb? Aren't we supposed to do all we can to assure we cleanly and quickly kill our prey? Why is this? There are many standard answers, and one I hear the most is the "sporting" answer. Shooting birds on a limb is just not sporting. True, but isn't it then more sporting to shoot at running big game? Or do we somehow value the life of big game more than the life of small game by insisting they are only killed when motionless? If you think I have the answers, I don't. If you think you will find them later in this post, you won't. There may not even be an answer to these questions, but I believe anyone who goes afield and takes a life should occasionally let these thoughts tumble around in their head.

     Because I like shooting birds on the wing I have taken steps to assure that I do all I can to minimize the suffering of any bird I shoot. I practice regularly, shooting skeet weekly, and sporting clays occasionally. I also spend a lot of time training my dogs and making sure they are proficient retrievers. I want any bird not killed in the air quickly retrieved so I can quickly end it's suffering. Do I think all bird hunters should follow my routine? No. But I do think they should have some type of a practice routine. One should consider, too, that our sport is constantly being scrutinized, and that every one of us is a representative of the sport. We have a responsibility to put it in the best light we can, and a bit of improved marksmanship will help do that.

     I did not always enjoy shooting clays. I enjoyed hunting, and shooting birds but I wasn't very good at it, so I began to practice. It was through this practice that I grew to love shooting clays.  Will every bird hunter learn to love clay shooting? I doubt it, but I will guarantee that with a bit of quality practice on a skeet field they will learn something, and improve their wingshooting.

     Practicing wingshooting should not be just going to skeet and shooting a few rounds. Bird hunting is much more dynamic, and how you practice is more important than getting in high volume shooting. Practice like you play. Some of the practice techniques I use can even be done at home.  The  things I have done to become a better wingshooter have been to add the dynamics of the hunt to my skeet shooting. I developed a smooth gun mount, and shoot skeet low gun, not premounted like a competitive skeet shooter. This is practicing like I play. One can develop, and work on building a smooth gun mount at home. With an empty gun, practice smoothly mounting and pointing at a spot on a wall. Don't rush the mount. Make it smooth and perfect every time, and before you know it you'll have a good gun mount. This alone will improve your shooting, but couple it with a few rounds of skeet, and you'll really be moving forward. Want to take it to the next level? There are a few other options that can make skeet more hunting like and dynamic, and for many of you, less boring. Sometimes I will shoot the round with a delayed call. That is, when I say pull, the trapper does not actually pull, but waits between 1-5 seconds before sending the clay. One can also go "trapper's choice" allowing the trapper to decide which clay to throw, the shooter needing to find it in the air and break it. Of course not everyone has access to a skeet field, but trap, sporting clays, and even hand thrown clays will all allow one to build their hand-eye-gun mount coordination.

     Another issue I have, which some will no doubt take exception to, is the use of the .410 for wingshooting. There are some very proficient shooters who wield a .410 with great efficiency. They are few and far between. Why do I feel this way? My experiences on the skeet field have show that even the best shooters have issues with the .410. I'm not talking scores. I'm talking about the quality of the breaks. Of course many of the .410 shooters suffer the loss of a few clays they'd have broken with any other gauge, but the number of clays they split or chip, rather than smash is what has caused me to draw my conclusion. Every split or chipped clay is a wounded bird that may not get retrieved. Unfortunately as it may be, we wing shooters do often put pellets in to birds without knowing it. Thinking it's a miss we often hunt on while a pricked bird, which has managed to fly 150 yards now suffers. Even as a 20 gauge shooter I have my fair share of live, broken winged birds retrieved to me, leaving me with no doubt that I've hit birds and not known it. That is something I'd like to minimize. The .410 no doubt increases the odds of that happening. Couple the inferiority of the .410 with the inconsistency of a hunter who doesn't practice, and...?

     So? What is the answer?  Well, I believe that every hunter, including bird hunters, has a responsibility to practice with their weapon. If you can't consistently break clays (where every flight line is know) you are not shooting as well as you could in the field (where every flight line is a mystery).  I know that practicing and shooting clays has improved my shooting. I also know that it can improve yours, too.  Do we all need to shoot lots clays every weekend? No. Quality is much more important than quantity. I believe anyone who buys a case of shotgun shells in August will learn enough about their shooting to buy another case before October.



Thursday, December 13, 2018

...Of a Different Calibre

     Shooting sports has been a big part of my life for a long time, with shotgun sports such as skeet, sporting clays, and wingshooting, being my primary disciplines. Rifle shooting, on the other hand, is something I enjoy, but seldom get to do. I once shot rifle more frequently, but having switched to a new shooting club, it has fallen off. My previous club featured a 100 yard rifle range, my new club does not.  I have recently found a renewed interest in rifle shooting after getting some trigger time in England, and having a couple of new rifle experiences.

     Like many New Englanders I have a Remington model 760 .30-06 rifle topped with a peep sight. A classic north woods deer rifle. Along with my deer rifle I also own a .50 cal inline muzzleloader. Unlike many, I do not own a small caliber or rimfire. No .22LR. No 22-250. No .17 HMR.  Which is why my rifle shooting has taken a down turn. The club where I currently shoot has a 50 yard range with caliber restrictions. Pistols,  rifles shooting pistol caliber's, rimfire, and muzzleloaders are allowed, but bottle necked ammo is forbidden. So as of late the .50 cal has gotten warmed up, but the .30-06 has only seen the odd day shooting over friends property up north.  It's easy to see how this can add up to a diminished skill set, and my rifle shooting has suffered.

     Shooting both my rifle and my muzzleloader has introduced me to a whole new set of skills to be learned; shooting off sticks. My old shooting club had benches designed for rifle shooting. My new club does not, nor does my friends property, so I have had to learn how to shoot off of sticks.

.30-06, off sticks @ 65 yards. I pushed the first round to the right before settling in. There is still some straightening out to be done.

     I've been considering a rimfire rifle, for plinking and to be able to do more rifle shooting at the club, for some time, now. Of the rimfire caliber's the .17 HMR has been on my radar more than any other. The .17, while smaller than a .22, packs more of a punch and is an extremely efficient small game cartridge. While the cost of shooting a .17 for plinking may be a bit more expensive than a .22, I feel the efficiency of the round outweighs the cost. I don't mind spending a bit more on a round with better ballistics, and the ability to be accurately shot beyond 250 yards. 

New Calibre 
      Though I had been aware of the efficiency of the .17 HMR, I had never had an opportunity to shoot one until my most recent trip to England. It was then that I knew I absolutely needed to get myself a .17 HMR. The .17 is a pleasure to shoot, zipping a bullet out with almost zero recoil. Along with the .17 I got to shoot another lesser known caliber; the .204.  Here in the US .22, ..22-250, and .223 are the most widely used small calibers. I had never heard of a .204 caliber, and was keen to give it a go. Unlike the .17 the .204 had some recoil when you pulled the trigger; not enough to put anyone off, but just enough to let you know you're shooting a rifle. Not being familiar with small caliber rifles I am told shooting the .204 is very similar to shooting a .22-250. 

The .204, using a bipod, off a tailgate @ 75 yards. Each small square in 1 inch. I have a tendency to push rounds to the right.

New Optics
     The hunting laws in England differ considerably from those in the US. One such difference it the ability to illuminate small game, with artificial light, while hunting at night. Night hunting means various styles of night vision optics are common, and I was able to experience shooting with night vision optics for the first time. The .17 HMR was topped with a digital IR scope. This scope is somewhat trickier to use than a conventional scope, and requires familiarization. Being digital I found the image to be somewhat blurry until the rifle is held very still. The slightest motion would blur the image again, which would sharpen up once the rifle was steadied again. At night the mode could be changed from daylight to night, and the IR switched on allowing a clear view of the target in the dark. In fact, I think this type of scope my be easier to use in the dark, than in the daylight.

     The optics on the .204 were more conventional, but with a high powered light throwing a colored beam mounted along side of it. For the first time user I found this much easier to use. Unfortunately neither of these scopes have much use here in the US, as not many (any?) states allow illumination. 

     In addition to new calibers, and new optics I was able to shoot a sound moderated rifle for the first time. Unlike the way Hollywood portrays "silencers" moderators/suppressors do not completely muffle the sound of the report. The report of the .17 HMR was such that wearing hearing protection is not necessary. The gun still let out a good crack, but at a lowered decibel level. The moderated .204 let out a bit more of a crack, and being that we were shooting off of the tailgate of a truck (with a cap) we wore hearing protection because the sound was reverberating back on us. Should we have been shooting off a bench or sticks in the open hearing protection would not have been needed. Again there was an audible crack, loud enough that heads around you would turn in your direction, but far from startling.

     So what is next? I am shopping for a .17 HMR. Being a rimfire I can shoot it at my club, which gets me more trigger time, and this winter I can (should the motivation strike me) use it shoot spot and stalk rabbits in the snow. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Reminder, Wear Your safety Gear.

This is why we wear eye protection.

     I love to shoot, and spend a lot of time with a shotgun in my hands, whether its clays or game. Sometimes it is easy to become lackadaisical, and allow the mind to wander from the task at hand. No matter what your chosen sport is, it's important to keep our bearings, and stay safety oriented. So, were your eye protection, ear protection, safety harness, blaze orange, PFD, or whatever safety gear is prescribed. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Keep it Clean, and a Couple New Endorsements

     Being a sportsman means being a steward of the environment. It's a responsibility I find myself taking more and more seriously every year. It is something everyone should think about, and act upon. Often it is the little things that make a difference. Sometimes when everyone makes a small change the impact can be enormous.

     One small change I made last year was the switch to shooting fibre wad shotshells. Most sportsmen carry their empty hulls out of the woods with them and dispose of them properly. It's and easy thing to do. I enjoy counting my empty hulls at the end of the day, and figuring out what my shooting average is. Sometimes I wish I hadn't, but,....  The whereabouts of a plastic wad after we have taken a shot is always a mystery, and I don't know anyone who searches out, and retrieves his wad. Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, leaving a plastic wad in the uplands is littering. It is also something that doesn't need to be done. Fibre wad ammo may not be wide spread in the US, but it is available, and should the demand for it increase, the supply should also.

     I have been shooting Gamebore Regal. This is a shortened fibre wad hull. It has proven to be a quality shell, and if you are looking for a fibre wad shell, I highly recommend it. Should you decide to give this a try, remember that it is an import and pellet size in the UK is slightly different than here.  This season I shot #5s, which equate to a US #6. UK pellet sizes are generally one size smaller, so get a pellet one size larger than you'll need.

Gamebore Regal 20g fibre wad ammo

     Another change I made was shooting Bismuth in certain upland scenarios. The dog training club I belong to only allows non toxic shot, and I have never been a fan of steel. In the past I had good results using bismuth for waterfowling, so when Kent offered a new upland bismuth line I could not resist trying it out. I shot the 1oz 3" 20g #6s 1400fps load Kent offers. These proved more than adequate at knocking down pheasant, but now that I have secured a couple boxes of the 2 3/4" 1200fps #6s, the faster ammo will be dedicated to waterfowling, while the slower get used in the uplands. Unfortunately these are not offered with a fibre wad here in the US. However there is a fibre wad version available in the UK. In the meantime, my use of these is limited to the club, and a couple of coverts where I have on occasion jumped waterfowl while grouse hunting, until either the fibre wad version becomes available, or I find a fibre wad reloading recipe.

Kent's new Upland Bismuth

     I am certain this ammo will exceed anyone's performance expectations which is why I am pleased to announce that Kent and Gamebore get a coveted ASO endorsement.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Pheasant and Onion Game Pie

     This season, for a number of reasons, I shot more pheasant than any other game bird. I enjoy eating pheasant, and having used pheasant in game pie in the past I thought I would expand upon that. Pies are relatively easy to make, and are the perfect way to use the often overlooked legs and thighs of the bird. Truth be told, the legs and thighs are the absolute tastiest bits, and not using them is depriving yourself of a real treat. When I dress out birds I generally separate the breast from the legs and thighs, saving all the legs and thighs in one big bag, and saving the breasts paired up in smaller portions. Whatever your routine, consider saving the legs and thighs for a separate meal of some type.

     For this recipe you will need:
               8-12 pheasant legs and thighs
               1 large onion (yellow or red)
               1-2 shallots
               2 ready made pie crusts
               1 egg
               poultry herb mix (sage, rosemary, thyme)
               salt and pepper

1- Place all the legs and thighs in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 1 hour.

2- Remove the legs and thighs from the water, set aside and allow to cool for about 1 hour. The water can be strained and saved (highly recommended) to be used as a soup stock later.

3- Once the meat has cooled sufficiently, by hand strip all the meat of the bones and set aside. Discard the bones and tendon bits.

4- Dice, or slice if you prefer, the onion and in a deep sauce pan begin browning over medium heat with a good chunk of butter. While the onions are browning mince all the meat and mix with the herbs, diced shallot, and S & P.

5- Add the meat to the onions, and mix well. If the meat still needs some cooking heat through over low heat. At this point you can add a bit more butter if you wish.

Now it is time to fill the pie crust. Each ready made crust has it's own handling instructions, on how to top a pie, and defrosting, but generally you will need to allow the crust to defrost enough to pinch and seal the edges of the top crust and the bottom crust. Anyway,...

6- Fill the bottom pie shell, place the other pie shell over the top, cut a few vent holes, and brush the towpath egg.

7- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. The meat should have been already cooked through, but  if you are uncertain you can lower the heat to 300 degrees after 20 minutes and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Additional Tips-

     I like to make this pie in a spring form pan. As the pie crust defrosts it becomes malleable, and can be formed and pressed to fit.

     Once baked, this pie can be reheated by wrapping in foil and heating at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Ready to go in the oven.

Fully cooked.

Reheated the next day, this pie didn't last long at the skeet club.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Resurrection, Bringing ASO back to life.

     It will no doubt have been noticed by followers and regular readers of this blog that it has been some time since my last post. It's not that I haven't had anything I wanted to share, but rather a case of having too much to do, and not much free time to write in the evenings. Well,...I'm back. Keeping this blog relevant is, and always has been important to me, and it's time I get rolling with it again, and regularly writing, again.

     I have done plenty of things that could well have been written about, but time has passed, and many of the details are now blurry, so I doubt I'll be writing about them. That said, I shall give you a quick peek at what I failed to share with you all.

     In the spring I organized a shooting clinic, which was held at Green Mountain Shooting in Ossipee New Hampshire, for the Ruffed Grouse Society. A number of people came out to listen to lectures on grouse habitat, hunting equipment, guns, chokes, ammo, as well as receive a bit of instruction from Green Mountain shooting coaches while shooting their sporting clays course. Oh yeah. There was a fantastic BBQ meal, too.

     My pup, Bailey, made his field trial debut, too. Bailey ran under Steve Church in the open stake of the Patriot Sporting Spaniel Club's Springer trial held in North Conway New Hampshire back in September. Bailey had a great first series, but took a little walk about during his second series. While nothing Bailey did during his walk about got him dismissed, it was behavior that needed correcting so Steve made the decision to pick him up. While it didn't go as planned, it was far from a disaster. Anyway, what could reasonably be expected when entering a 14 month old in an open stake?

Training with Bailey

     There was a bit of hunting, too. While I didn't go out to the grouse woods as much as I would have liked to, I did have a few good days on the woodcock, and pheasant. I explored new cover in my home state of Massachusetts, and as feeling hopeful for the grouse population, here.

Massachusetts Woodcock

Pheasants shot at the club

     Oh Yeah. I went to England to shoot driven birds again, too. This was my 4th year going over, and was fortunate enough to be invited for a 5th visit. I will make every effort to return.

England photos by Sue Bell

     Outside of my outdoor pursuits I am happy to report that the high school rugby club where I coach made it to the finals for the 6th time in 6 years, and won it for the 3rd time in that same time period.

Wildcats Rugby, players and coaches.

     Anyway, It's good to be back.