Monday, July 8, 2019

Grouse School 2019

     You may have noticed I haven't posted in a while. It's not that I haven't wanted to, but real life has just been getting in the way. One thing "real life' hasn't stopped me from is organizing another "Grouse School" program for the Ruffed Grouse Society. The program is geared towards new and novice hunters who wish learn what it takes to hunt ruffed grouse or improve their success afield. If you live in New England and want to learn about grouse hunting, or know some one who does, come on down.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Back To Basics; Shotguns

 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 4 of several (don't know how many yet) on the subject of wingshooting which some will object to. Fair warning.

     Have you ever really thought about how a shotgun works? I'm not talking about triggers, ejectors, and actions, but about how they impact a target. Truth is, how a shotgun impacts a target depends on which end of it you hold when you swing it, because shotguns don't impact a target. The pellets propelled out of the muzzle do, and that is where a lot of the "misunderstanding" about shotguns, and their effectiveness stem from. Shotgun shells are what defines how a shotgun will perform on a given target. Let's look at a common "misunderstanding" (and pet peeve of mine), and try to clear some thing up.


  •      Gauge has no relation to power-  Too many people, some of whom have been shooting for a long time, think that a shotgun's gauge somehow relates to the amount of power it has. It does not. A 12 gauge shotgun is not anymore powerful than any of the sub gauges. Why not? As explained in the paragraph above, shotguns do not impact a target. What you put in to them does. The shotgun is just the means of delivery. The components, and make up of the ammo you choose is what bears the "power". 
  •      Gauge has no relation to range- Range is a function of a combination of pellet size (weight) and velocity. You can read about it here.  https://allseasonsoutdoors.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-science-redefined.html
  •      The ammo dictates the "power"-Take a standard ammo load, for example, 1 oz of #6 (222 pellets) propelled at 1200 fps. This load will carry the same amount of energy (power) whether propelled out of a 10g, 12g 16g, 20g, or 28g. Which ever gauge you choose, this load has the same efficiency, when all the other variable remain the same. 
  •      Don't use flawed logic- I know what you're thinking,"My 12gauge 1 1/8oz #5's @ 1250fps are more powerful" Yes. They are more powerful than the first load, but that's not because they are a 12 gauge load. It's because it's a bigger load, and a faster load. If you packed 1 1/8oz of #5's @ 1250 fps in to a 16g, or a 20g hull they would have the same "power" as you're 12 gauge. If you're not comparing equal variables, then you are using flawed logic. 


 
     What are some of the advantages of a 10g, 12g, or even a 16g?


  •      Room for more pellets- Having a larger bore diameter means that more pellets can be fit in a shotgun shell. When shooting loads with smaller sized pellets often a load as light as 3/4 oz allows for a pattern with enough density to efficiently hit any target. When shooting larger pellets, going to a larger payload increases your pellet count and pattern density. Where  a pheasant hunter may have adequate pattern density of 222 pellets shooting 1 oz of #6's, a waterfowler may appreciate having better pellet density than the 87 pellets in a 1 oz load of #2's. In that case one could choose to shoot a magnum 1 1/2oz load with 130 pellets. This is not an increase in power. 
  •      More pattern density- unlike the example above where one goes to a larger payload to increase the pellet count of larger pellets, sometimes your target may leave you wanting more smaller pellets. I do not shoot competitive clays, but if I did I would do so with a 12 gauge. Why? A clay target is a smaller target, and often shot edge on. This means a clay target can more easily slip through any holes in a pattern. To remedy this one can increase the density of their pattern by increasing their pellet count from 356 pellets (7/8 oz #8's) to 508 pellets (1 1/4 oz #8's). This is not an increase in power. 
  •      Convenience- One will never have to look very far to find 12 gauge ammo. If you travel to shoot, either clays or in the field, sooner or later you will need to buy ammo while on the road. Not only will you find ammo, you'll probably find ammo you like. There is an abundance of 20 gauge ammo available, and I've never struggled to find some, but there have been times when I've had to shoot #6's when I'd have preferred #7 1/2's. This is where the popularity of the 12g becomes an off brand benefit. This benefit, however, does not transfer to 10g, or16g ammo, both of which can be quite difficult to find.

      So why would anyone choose to shoot a 12 gauge (or any other gauge)? It comes down to choosing a gauge and a gun that best meets your need.  I tend to break gauge down in to two categories; large bore and sub-gauge. I define large bore as 10g, 12g and 16g, and sub-gauge as 20g, 28g, and .410. Many 16 gauge shooters consider it a sub-gauge, but in my mind it's a large bore gun even though it is marginally closer in size to a 20g than it is to a 12g.  Each category has it's own pros and cons. I shoot a 20 gauge almost exclusively. It works for 90% of my shooting needs. That said, there are a couple of situations where a 12 gauge would actually provide an advantage.




Friday, May 3, 2019

Paying It Forward; Savage Service Program

     Sometimes a little recognition is a nice thing. As someone who has spent nearly his entire adult life working in the public safety arena (4 years USCG, and 23 years career fire dept), the recognition and appreciation go a long way in helping to make it feel like a worthwhile venture during the times when you start questioning your judgement. Of course, those times when you do receive a bit of recognition and appreciation aren't why we do it, and I doubt I could explain why we do, but take it from me, it isn't always easy, so....

     Anyway, a while back I became aware of a program Savage Arms is running that recognizes, and shows some appreciation to those in public service. The Savage Service Program is a program where police, firefighters, EMTs, Military members, Veterans, Retired Military, and other in service can purchase a firearm from Savage at a 30% discount. There are restrictions as to who qualifies, and how many firearms per year can be purchased, so read the fine print closely. You will also need an FFL holder to receive the firearm for you, as is required by law.



     To find out if you qualify, or to purchase a firearm go to https://www.savagearms.com, and scroll to the bottom of the page. Under Resources click the Service Program link. This is where you can find out if you qualify.  Then at the bottom of the page click DOWNLOAD THE SERVICE PROGRAM FORM. This is the form you use to order your firearm. Savage may or may not have what you are looking for, but they do have a pretty broad selection of rifles and even a few shotguns.



Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fit For A King.

     Ruffed grouse are a tough bird, living in tough conditions and tough habitat. No doubt hunting them is tough, too. Truth be told, it's the fact that the Ruffed Grouse is a) excluding Woodcock, the only wild upland bird in New England, and b) tough to hunt, my main attraction to hunting them. This means one would be wise to get themselves and their dogs in shape prior to the opening day of the season.

     Fitness is an area where I have fallen by the wayside. Not too long ago I actively kept my self in shape to the point where even at 50 years old, a couple of weekends each spring and fall I made my way on to the rugby pitch for a bit of a throw down. But the last couple of years I haven't made any effort to be/stay fit, nor get back in shape. A few years ago I suffered a wrist injury, and after a year of not working, a surgery which left me with a partially fused wrist, and months of physical therapy, I finally had a wrist that was good enough for me to go back to work. This doesn't mean I was without my troubles. I lost a lot of mobility and strength in my wrist. 

Even as an old-boy I could leave a trail of destruction. Will it happen again?



     My lack of mobility left me unable to correctly hold and mount a shotgun. To get past this issue I installed a soft rubber palm swell on all my pistol grip stocked shotguns, which allow me to get the gun in to my shoulder correctly while filling the void between my palm and the stock caused by the lack of wrist mobility. Straight stocked guns, being shaped somewhat differently require the use of a Gripswell glove. Anyway, my wrist issues have been floating around in the back of my head for some time, and I've been scared to get in the gym, or out on a bike in fear of aggravating my wrist. Time to put that behind me and start getting back at it again.

     There are two kinds of outdoor grouse related exercise; exercise for man, and exercise for dog. The two do not really go hand in hand very well in many cases. This year I have decided to make a serious effort to increase my fitness level in a few different ways. Let's look at what I plan to do and why.

  • Hiking- I live very close to the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts. This reservation has hundreds of miles of trails, some quite challenging, I can hike. I enjoy hiking, and think the endurance aspect of a long, tough hike on a regular basis will be beneficial when grouse season opens. In addition, I can bring the dogs along. While the dogs will certainly enjoy the hike, it is not very strenuous for them, and wouldn't be my first pick for getting them ready for the season.

  • Mountain Biking- This is my plan to get more serious cardio going. Mountain biking is fun, and a few good hill climbs is a great way to increase the heart rate. This, too, can include the dogs, but one would need to select the right location and, understand the limits of their dogs. In the past I routinely roaded Ginger from a mountain bike to get her in top shape. We had two different routes we could take, a 4 mile course, or a 5 mile course. Both courses were relatively flat, and offered numerous places along the way where she could get a drink of water, or cool off with a quick dip. Roading Ginger, however, was not an activity where I got lots of exercise. A 4 or 5 mile run for a Springer is a decent run for the dog, but not anywhere nearly enough cycling for a human to get a good workout. Sure, I got some benefit from it, but as a stand alone, it isn't enough, so there will be two different types of mountain biking happening; for me, and for them. No doubt a bigger, leggy pointing dog could run more than 4-5 miles, getting both of you a workout. Depending on the breed of dog you hunt with, mountain biking may be the thing.

  • Yoga- Well, not really, but I may give it a try sometime soon. I have, however, begun a comprehensive stretching routine. Stretching helps keep the blood flowing, and I just feel better when I do it. Truth is, I am not very limber, so this stretching came out of necessity, but as I see and feel progress, I really do feel better. I can't help but think being more limber will help to swing a shotgun better, too. Shoot better? Hmmm,....Maybe I will give yoga a try. 

      Hopefully this plan will pay off when grouse season opens, and I find myself following various spaniels across the New England uplands. In the past I used Apps like Runkeeper and Strava to track my workouts. I may start doing that again, and posting my workouts on the ASO Facebook page to keep myself accountable. Who knows? Maybe I'll even find my way on to a rugby pitch again.




      

Monday, April 22, 2019

Tradition and Hogwash, The Truth About Grouse Hunting

     Ruffed Grouse hunting ain't easy. If it was everyone would do it. The same challenges that keep people out of the grouse woods is what draws me in to them. In my quest to become a better grouse hunter I have constantly worked at learning my craft. Be it field craft, shooting, dog handling and training, or game handling there is a lot to learn. So why would people try to make being a grouse hunter even harder?

     One pervasive sentiment that is often spread through the grouse hunting community is the idea of the "traditional" grouse hunter. The idea being that because some of New England's most prolific outdoor writer hunted with an American made side by side, and a big headed, heavily marked, Belton English setter dictates that the tradition demand that it always must be so, and anyone who would break from the "tradition" is less of a grouse hunter. That's hogwash. Then, like now, those most entrenched in an activity used the most efficient equipment available. At one time certain side by sides were the most advance gun on the market. That's why they found their way in to the lives of those who paved the way. No doubt, if the grouse writers of the past were here today they'd just as likely be shooting a well balanced over and under with screw in chokes, ....because technology.

     Why is this an issue? At a time when we should be recruiting new blood in to our sport the last thing we need is arbitrary benchmarks making it harder for them. People shouldn't be told they need to shoot a SxS to fit in, they should be being told they should be shooting a gun that fits them properly so they enjoy better success afield. People shouldn't be being told they need an English setter to fit in, they should be being told they need a well bred dog that fits their lifestyle so they enjoy better success afield.  The guns, dogs, and various bits of kit that go afield are not one size fits all. The truth is, all one needs to be a successful grouse hunter is a gun that fits, and comfortable boots. So whether you shoot pump gun because it fits you well, or a SxS because one of your literary heroes did, shoot what you want. And, whether you shoot over a spaniel because everything is better with spaniels (Okay, a wee bit of bias), or an English Setter because one of your literary heroes did, shoot over which ever breed of dog you want. All that matters is that we all enjoy our time afield.

Less than "traditional" gun and dog getting it done.



   

   

Friday, April 19, 2019

Prep'n

     This year's grouse season has started a little early. Well, not really, but it kinda seems like it has. For some reason grouse season has come to dominate my thoughts much earlier than usual. Most years I manage to make it through winter, spring, and most of summer not really thinking of grouse season until the first cool, dry nights roll in mid-August. Perhaps this is because I am doing a number of things differently this year.

     One of the things I'm doing differently is taking a new friend, and grouse hunting newbie, out grouse hunting. Last year I met KK shooting skeet at the club. we started talking hunting, and while I am quite particular about who I will take out to the woods, KK checked all the right boxes, so we started planning his education.We decided that the best way for him to learn about the grouse woods was to get him looking for grouse cover. So we met early one morning last week and drove 2 hours out to the western part of the state to scout. I already had done some long range recon, and had sat down with KK and explained how I use technology to pre-scout, and what I look for. All we needed to do was make some boot tracks in the potential cover to see if it was what we were looking for. It certainly was what we were looking for. Scouting in the early spring, before everything turns green, allowed us to see the cover in very much the same way it will look in the fall. Many of the preferred food sources had not grown back, but there was just enough green starting to break through that we know the grouse will be in there in due course. I tried to make the scouting trip as educational as I could for KK so he'd have an idea of what to look for in the future. We has a very successful scouting trip. I had marked 5 potential areas to check, and all 5 proved to be worthy of visit in the fall. In addition, due to an un-passable road, and subsequent detour, we added a 6th spot to the list.

     Another change to this season, which could potentially be the cause of my early onset of grouse season induced mania could be a planned trip to Down East Maine. I have been wanting to make a return to Maine but just never made it happen. I'd been talking to BK about us spending a week Down East, and we'd tentatively planned to go, but hadn't actually put it on the calendar. Well, it's happening this year, and we booked a week in October that generally corresponds with the woodcock migration. I'm really looking forward to the vast amount of flat cover Down East offers. I doubt this will amount to a leg cramp free grouse hunting vacation, but it'll certainly be less painful than the leg cramps brought on in hilly Coos county.

     I should add, I've recently been sucked down a worm hole called "reloading". A while back I was given a 20 gauge shotshell reloading press. It's been a great new hobby/obsession. I shoot a lot of clay targets, going through in the neighborhood of 1- 1 1/2 cases of ammo each week. Reloading makes sense.It also allows me to load premium ammo. Regular readers will know that I am a huge proponent of shooting ammo that uses a fibre wad. Spreading plastic wads across the landscape is littering. Fibre wads biodegrade, quickly absorbed back into the landscape. Reloading not only allows me to load fibre wads, it allows me to tailor my ammo to my needs. Currently I am loading, in preparation for the season, 2 different loads; a 2 1/2" 3/4 oz load of #7 1/2's, and a 2 3/4" 7/8 oz load of nickel plated #7's. I'm not entirely sure of what I'll use the 2 1/2" shells for, but I think the 2 3/4" #7's will be the perfect grouse load. For the few times that I am grouse hunting near wetter areas where I my also jump a duck or two (don't laugh, it's happened) I will be loading some bismuth, too.

Reloaded to my exact specifications


     There is also a new gun on order, which should be in my hands as early tomorrow. A promotion at work, and securing a new contract put me in a good place, and finding a really, really good deal on a gun I'd been lusting after for a few years meant it was time to spend some money. But I can't really tell you all about it, now. You'll just have to wait.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Best Bits, Best Kit

     Over the years I've collected lots and lots of shooting and outdoor gear. Some of it good, some not so good. With in this collection there is some bit of kit which, while maybe seemingly inconsequential bring an even greater joy, like the feeling one gets finding a pearl in an oyster, or putting a new pair of wiper blades on the car. I want to share with you a few items which I regard as some of the best kit I own.

     Some time ago Boyt made a soft sided double gun slip. As it was unusual for me to only ever travel with just one shotgun, when seeing one for sale on Ebay, I snapped it up. This may be the number one best piece of shooting kit I ever bought. Boys has a great reputation for well made gear, and this gun slip upholds that reputation.

Looking just like a normal slip, this slip is divided down the middle with flaps on both sides.

     Another item I seldom leave behind is a fleece Beretta shooting vest. Another item which is sadly discontinued, and scored off Ebay. This fleece vest is warm, comfortable, and has bellow pockets for shells. It is, unlike so many fleece vests offered here in the US, actually made for shooting. 

Being overstock sold on Ebay this vest was embroidered with a club name, which I easily fixed by slapping a RGS patch over it. 


     This next bit of fit is not something you take afield, but something you really appreciate afterwards, and that is a Peet boot dryer. I'm not really sure how I managed without one before. I always bring my boot dryer to camp, where it often pulls double duty. Sweaty boots go on the dryer for a bit if at camp for lunch, and then again after the day is over. On cold mornings, much like warming up the car, the boots go on the dryer for 15 minutes before heading out. If you don't have a Peet's you will never miss it, but once you've experienced it, you won't be able to do without.

A small luxury you'll never want to live without.






Sunday, January 20, 2019

Another Look,...At Choke

 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 3 of several (don't know how many yet) on the subject of wingshooting which some will object to. Fair warning.

     In my last post we looked at choke in relation to range and effectiveness. Now I'd like to address choke from another aspect, and that is pattern size. Often I hear people, generally new hunters,  equate choke to the size of the pattern down range; an open choke shoots a larger pattern, a tighter choke thrown a smaller pattern. This is true, but only in the most basis sense. The reality is, it's not that simple.



     I think part of this results from people not understanding how a shotgun pattern is distributed. If a choke were to throw an evenly spaced pattern over the entire height and width of its pattern, then it would be true that the more open the choke the larger the pattern. A choke does not throw a uniformed pattern however, rather it has a compact core, with sporadic, widely spaced pellets further from the core. Remember, choke is a measured by the percentage of pellets inside a 30" circle at 40 yards. It is the inside the 30" circle part that matters the most. The core of a shot pattern is essentially the size of a road racing bicycle tire. I like to think of choke like the spokes on a bicycle wheel: closer to the hub, the spokes are closer to each other. The further from the hub, the more space between spokes. If the spokes extended outward past the tire the space between them would be even greater.


  

    Let's relate this to a shot pattern, in generalities of course. I believe the only portion of a pattern one should consider is the 30" core. I consider pellets outside the 30" circle, the spokes extended past the tire,  to be "lucky pellets", though depending on the choke and the range, some are luckier than others. 

     I have begun to look at choke, and decide which choke to shoot based on what I call a sliding scale of degradation. It works on the very basic principle that a given choke, throws a given pattern, at a given range, and after that range the pattern begins to degrade and become less efficient. Any choke will lose roughly 10% of it's core pattern every 5 yards it travels under 50 yards. I decide what is an acceptable amount of pattern degradation within the ranges I expect to shoot, and hope to put appropriately dense 30" circle where it belongs. 




     A few personal note as a follow up; My shooting is primarily done with a 20g O/U. I shoot lots of skeet, low gun only. I hunt primarily Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock, but occasionally driven Pheasant, Partridge, Woodcock, and ducks. Once in a while I hunt waterfowl. It is rare that I am not using a skeet and a Lt Modified choke, either hunting or shooting clays, but I/C and Mod have found their way in to my gun when conditions have warranted, and I'd even use Lt. Mod and Imp. Mod if I felt it were appropriate. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Science Redefined

     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 2 of several (don't know how many yet) on the subject of wingshooting which some will object to. Fair warning.


     Choke selection, Part 1, Range
     Shotgun sports and wingshooting are unique in that they are both a science and an art. To perfect your art of shooting a shotgun, you need to understand the science that makes it possible. Unfortunately, over the years I have discovered that many bird hunters don't understand even the basics of the science. Some of the science is quite basic, and easy to understand, some of it not so much. None of it is terribly difficult to understand, though it may at time be hard to express. One such area often misunderstood is choke.

     Often discussions of choke begin with a question of which choke is needed to break/hit a particular target, often because the target is far. The conversation revolves around a series of choke/range theories. But is choke really where the conversation should start? My good friend John, with whom I shoot a lot of clays phrased it best when he said often the discussion starts at the wrong starting point, and I agree. The conversation should start with what we want to do; break/hit a particular target, and what is needed to do that. So what breaks/hits a target? Choke? No, pellets. What causes the clay to break, or the bird to be killed? Pellets carrying sufficient energy.  That's right. To break a clay or kill a bird you must hit it with pellets carrying enough down range energy.  That means you must pick the right ammo, with a pellet size capable of doing the job. As far as science goes, this is basic physics.

     So where does choke fit into this discussion?  First we need to understand what choke is, and what choke does and does not do. Choke is a measurement of a pattern density. It is defined by the percentage of pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards. All choke is measured at 40 yards. Why is this important? Because it is an indication of what choke doesn't do, and that extend your range. Many people think choke extends your range.  Range is  determined by a combination of pellet size/density and the speed at which they are propelled. A clay can be broken and a bird killed using any choke provided the pellets are carrying sufficient energy. What choke does, is help you shoot at greater distances more effectively, by making your pattern more dense. By default your effective range is increased because your pattern stays intact, without blowing apart for a greater distance, but ultimately it is the energy in the pellets that achieves the end result.

     Choke, being a measurement of pattern density means one needs to decide what is an appropriate density for the game at hand. I have killed woodcock at over 50 yards, ducks over head at 50 yards, and driven pheasant over head at about 40 yards with  Skeet and I/C chokes. In every case the ammo I selected had pellets which carried appropriate energy at those ranges, and the choke provided enough density to put enough pellets in to the target. The woodcock, and duck may have been pushing the limit of the pattern density, but when considering a pheasant size target skeet and I/C chokes are appropriate for a 40 yard shot. Target size plays as important a role as distance. Many waterfowlers and pheasant hunters choose tighter chokes, because they are shooting longer distances, however all patterns deteriorate quickly past 40 yards, the larger size of the target having more mass gives the decreasing density of the pattern more opportunity to find it's target. By way of comparison,  in total generalities, a Skeet choke will have 50% of it's pattern in a 30" circle at 40 yards, while a Full choke will have 70%. However, push the Full choke out past 40 yards and the performance will drop off to 60% at 45 yards, and 50% at 50 yards. Shooting the same size pellets, a Skeet choke at 40 yards and a Full choke at 50 yards perform the same. Makes it easy to see how target size can make a difference.

     Ultimately, none of this may change anything about that way you approach longer targets, but I believe with a greater understanding of the science one can begin to play around with their artistic presentation.



   

   

   

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year

  

     A new year is upon us, and that means a new hunting season will be here before you know it. 2018 was a good season, and hopefully 2019 will be even better. While the new year may only be one day old, it is off to a good start. 

     A few years ago I adopted a new tradition, borrowed and adapted from a Japanese New Year tradition. In Japan it is tradition to wake early on New Years morning and watch the first sunrise of the new year. Something which seems to me a good way to greet the new year, and get it started. From this tradition I decided some years ago that I would wear a tie when shooting clays on New Years day (or the first shooting day of the year). I see it as a small gesture to get the new year started on a positive note. Today I took it up a notch. I shoot clays regularly at the Massapoag Sportsmens club. Like most clubs we operate on a volunteer basis. Today I volunteered to open skeet and trap, but in keeping with my tradition of getting the year started off right, I decided to make it a game tasting event as well a shooting. A few evenings of preparations, and an early arrival at the club to do some baking was all that was needed to kick off the 2019 clay shooting season with a bang.



     The menu was a collection of various game; wild boar chili, rabbit and pheasant game pie, pheasant tarragon sausage rolls, and woodcock pate, plus some mulled cider were my offerings. Others arrived with goods, and soon the table was overflowing with bacon wrapped scallops, elk burger stuffed mushrooms, finger sandwiches, and cornbread. By the time we close the ranges, there was very little leftovers to be dealt with. Everyone had a good feed, broke some clays, and started 2019 off in a very enjoyable way.  And thus, (hopefully) a new tradition is created.

     So,....Happy New Year.