Sunday, May 22, 2016

Testing the Vortex Spotting Scope Part 2

It hasn't been a full year since I acquired the Vortex 16-48x65mm HD Razor Spotting Scope. It Arrived in Mid October last fall and has been put to good use by myself, family and number of friends I loaned it to for their test driven impressions throughout the winter and spring. To date nobody have given it the thumbs down in any regard, quite the opposite. Over the winter bird season it road along in the truck to use whenever a scope could be used to observe wintering big game, small game, coyotes on the hunt, or looking into the heavens at Saturn and Jupiter.

We used it to classify some deer on a local ranch one very bright winter morning along side two other much more costly scopes. Looking at the same deer bedded in the brilliant sunlight or deep in the cedar shadows the Razor held its own with the other Swarovski and Leica in most every respect, edge to edge clarity was more than adequate , image quality excellent as well. We're still dealing with the lame case and lens caps but that's really the only down side to the package that I have found.

Our Spring turkey season always lends an opportunity to use serious optics. Binoculars being the most important tool in the box when hunting Gobblers in our area. You can forget a call, forget your lunch, maybe leave the decoys in the truck that day, but you'd better have your binoculars. A spotting scope becomes the "Big Eye" if you have one along and brought into full advantage for locating birds across canyons sitting in roost, locating an active strutting ground without disturbing the birds and determining if that band of turkey's is made up of mostly hens and one happy, but wore out gobbler ? In which case you'd better looking for a lone tom or band of gobblers rather than cover the distance to to try and call a love struck tom away from a pile of hens. Our terrain allows for locating many of these big birds from miles away at times and spotting scope can save you a hike to look for more promising prospects.

This last weekend we hiked to the southern tip of Antelope Island, roughly a 8.5 mile round trip and I had the Vortex slung over my shoulder for the duration. The birding that day was excellent, with an assortment of big game tossed into the mix for observation as well.

At one location my daughter spotted three coyotes on a beach about 700, yards off one of the main roads and we stopped and spent some time looking them over through the Razor. Mirage was not a problem that day even when boosted to 48X.

With the 65mm objective and reasonable length this spotting scope does fit nicely into a pack, the weight factor in not an issue and the optical quality is even better than I had expected for the price point. The Vortex line is carried nationally and it's easy to find a dealer in your area by going to

Turkey Hunting pics taken and supplied by Marcus Jardine

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Making A Plan

My friend Campbell Smith uses the phrase " making a plan" all the time. In association by default I now use the same phrase very often myself. I was at this moment making a plan.

600 yards across a canyon and well below us were at least two Turkey gobblers and a undetermined number of hens. It was 5pm on the last day of the Utah youth Turkey season. The storm force winds that had plague us earlier in the day had died considerably and this flock of birds had probably sought sanctuary on the sun bathed slopes in the valley beneath us. Lexi had the only tag today and she glassed the birds as I pondered an approach. I had sent a string of calls towards the birds when I had first spotted them. I was answered with a gobble and long string of yelps from a hen. Normally hunting toms with hens in our area can be a fools excise as no tom will leave hens to climb 600 yards straight up a ridge to maybe find another girlfriend when he's happily surrounded by attentive females. Such was the situation at hand.

I elected to drop back down the old two track we had been walking on, loop lower down the slope, slip into the canyon, cross the creek and then climb to a slightly elevated level from the feeding and loafing birds. Then sneak to within 150 yards, set up some decoys and try to entice the whole mob to come our way. The tactical part had merit, however turkeys clearly have a mind of their own. Some of my best ideas have been shamefully rendered into memorable avian comedies.

With this plan in mind we picked up and moved. Within 30 minutes we came into an open bench in the maple jungle we had been climbing through. A few years before Lexi and I set up in the very location in hopes of turning around a big band of Gobblers that unfortunately never stopped walking away from us. I looked around and found the tree I wanted Lexi to sit against. Three trunks grew together out of the ground in such a way that would break up her silhouette nicely and give her a commanding view. This set up was going to be to tight for all three of us but it was the best we had to work with. Quickly and quietly I walked 20 yards ahead of Lexi's position and began pulling decoys out of my pack. Since our arrival we hadn't heard a bird. Within minutes all was set and I walked back to Lexi to address any last details. She had her shooting sticks up and at the right height to give her the best field of fire on either side of the decoys. I kneeled down and told her how I hoped this might all unfold. Her mother and I would be behind her out of sight of the decoys regrettably. I said the birds would likely arrive on her 2 O'Clock, to make sure the the bird has a beard, try and pick the largest tom if given the opportunity, don't hit the decoys, and for gosh sake don't hit any hens. Due to the terrain and the slope off the bench the birds would likely appear suddenly and be on alert. She had to be ready before they stepped into view. Only their calling would tip their arrival.

As I have written on this blog before my daughter is now a veteran on this piece of property having hunted turkeys here with me since she was 4. At 15 she already has keen respect for these birds. As we were the only team on the property I felt safe in letting her deal the cards so to speak. "Ready" I asked "Yes" came a hushed reply has she pulled her face mask up to just below her eyes. Rebecca and I retreated 30 yards behind her and sat down for what could be a long wait. We could see my daughter very well but nothing beyond her position. The stage was set.

I opened up with a string of loud yelps and for the next half an hour repeated yelps, purrs and cackles. I felt at least at this moment that soft seductive yelps wouldn't do us any good, I needed to up the ante. The woods were silent. Lexi remained motionless. About 40 minutes had gone by when a muted gobble could be heard coming from our 2 O'Clock. I sent back a reply, minutes later a more distinct gobble could be heard, an old hen chimed in with gusto, other birds opened up as well, the flock was inbound. I looked at my wife and whispered "this is going to work". I glanced towards my daughter and saw she was riveted to what ever was in view before her. I heard her release the safety on the 20 gauge and shift the barrel ever so slightly to her left. The next gobble sounded as if the bird was sitting on my hat, another hen opened up and complained about the group of new arrivals in their neighbor hood. Then a second and third hen voiced an opinion, My eyes were glued to my daughter, Lexi shifted every so slightly once again and the 20 gauge roared. I could plainly hear the sound of flailing wings that would never sail on canyon winds again.

Warning puts of confusion erupted from running and flying birds as I stood up. Lexi was already walking towards the gobbler which was now almost motionless. The Federal Heavy 7's had ended the birds life instantly. I was beaming, her mother was beaming, Lexi was respectful and silent for some time, a quality that I admire in her a great deal. Eventually she broke into a smile and raised one hand to show us that she now had a bad case of the shakes. If you ever loose the shakes it time to put the guns away. She had done everything right under her own intuition, the best experience is earned and never given.

I guessed the bird would tip the scales at 16 to 18 pounds he had an ample beard and a set of nicely polished spurs. We took some pictures and as Lexi validated her permit and tagged the gobbler she told us that indeed two gobblers came in along with a number of hens, I asked how many and her reply was she wasn't at all sure as she was busy at that moment and had forgotten how to count.

I drew the bird, we picked up the decoys and then we began the long walk to the truck. On the way out we saw a number of deer and another small band of turkeys that ran across the two track in front of us. Not much was said on the walk down canyon it wasn't necessary the smile on my daughters face told the story as I'm telling you now. It was a good day on the hill.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Blue Sheep of Nepal

Frank has just returned from Nepal where he went in search of Blue Sheep with Samsher Parajuli and Global Safaris Nepal ( I know little about this part of the world or the hunting that can be found there. But I am always impressed when I receive pics from returning clients that show the panoramic beauty of this mountain terrain and the definite impression of being way off the grid. Much of the game hunted in these far flung points of the globe is done at fairly high altitudes with a slope angle that can resembles a cows face.

Frank and the other hunters in the party left Kathmandu by helicopter and were flown into Dorpathan Hunting Reserve headquarters. It was there that the three day trek into the base camp began.

The base camp sat at an altitude that was just under 9500 ft. If you require Lodge Style accommodations for you own personal comfort then this venture may not be your cup of tea. I have been more than happy for long periods of time sleeping in Dome tent or as a friend of mine has always mused "living in the dirt". Like any other hunt you go prepared with the anticipation of seeing new country and deal with what ever weather or discomforts that are thrown at you.

The actual hunting for this adventure was conducted at elevations higher still with Frank killing a fine Ram on the very first day at approximately 16,000 ft above sea level, rarefied air to be sure. He reports that many sheep were seen and he felt fortunate to have taken a ram so early in the hunt, a testament to the conservation practices in the Reserve.

He carried a now well used and tested Legend chambered for 300 H&H to accompany him on the hunt. It is not a bantam featherweight so often prescribed for success today but instead of standard sporter weight configuration at just about 9 pounds scoped and loaded. The bullet was a Barnes 168gr TTSX with the single shot being taken at under 200 yards.

The coloration and coats of these Blue sheep are beautiful to say the least and somewhat remind me of the varied colors you encounter when looking at Fannin Rams in North America. A unique hunt in breath taking terrain and a memory to savor on the long hike out and for years to come.

I was once asked by a non hunting friend out of genuine curiosity "why do you go to all the physical hardship and effort to hunt for game in areas such as this" "Why put up with days without a shower and the lung searing climbs onto the next ledge or ridge line, why? The answer is simple, one day I will no longer be able to and that is reason enough.

Well done Frank, Waidmannsheil.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A View From The Porch

I got am e-mail yesterday from my sister in law that carried some expected but somber news. John Carr Jones Sr. had passed away at age 93 at home with his family by his side. Johnny owned and ran a cattle farm outside of Whitehall Virginia.  My wife's family were neighbors with the Jones's, separated on one side by a couple of creek bottoms, some rolling hardwood ridges and ultimately Johnny's Rhino proof fencing. The man could build a fence.

All three of Johnny's 3 children Jack, Cecilia, and Mary attended the same Jr & Sr High Schools as we did. My relationship with Johnny was born out of a similar appreciation for Turkey and Deer Hunting. While we never hunted together we did cross paths occasionally on the few two tracks and country roads that ran up and down the hollows and ridges around Pasture Fence Mountain, Foxes Mountain and Sugar Hollow.

These chance meetings were always welcome encounters. I would usually be dripping in sweat coming out of the woods and heading for the cabin I lived in at the foothills below Pasture Fence. Johnny would pull to a stop,  roll down the window and shut off the engine. In a soft Virginia drawl he'd ask how I'd done, what I'd seen and where I'd been? I think it was the miles covered that always amused him the most. He'd push back his weathered cap and shake his head. "You're working to hard for that buck deer" he'd say softly with a chuckle. We'd talk about deer we'd seen, deer I'd missed, the ones he'd killed, acorn mast, if we'd seen any Bears and if Dick Holly's Bear dogs were running anything worth keeping up with. The subject of Turkeys seen, flushed and maybe called back always came up in conversation along with old Gobblers that never fell to the gun, cool mornings and being grateful to be amongst it all with his family.

In November laying on the seat next to him would be well kept Model 94 30-30, typical for the area. When the conversation was done he'd always offer me ride to put me closer to the cabin but I always elected to walk out. Eventually he'd give me a nod and a smile, start up the engine and roll on down the road to tend to things at the farm. What I can remember saying inwardly is there goes a truly happy man.

Within a few years I picked up and left Virginia and headed West. For the next 20 years trips back to Albemarle County were sporadic at best. Children were born, grand kids arrived, and all the while cattle grew fat in the Jones's fields. Johnny and I never wrote or called one another. But whenever I could and needed a break from the chaos of family and in-laws I would make a bee line for Johnny's house. If the weather was cool the visit would take place in his living room if the weather was mild it was always on the porch.

Johnny's porch faced East and just beyond the house his fields dropped out of sight into the Doylesville River. Looking Northeast you had a panoramic view of Foxes Mountain and to the North the mountains above and beyond Browns Cove. If I planned it right we'd be sitting there as the sun sank into the Blue Ridge behind us. On that porch over the years we tried to solve a few world problems, figure the rail weight and profit on steers and tried to determine how a Gobbler can completely disappear from sight without so much as leaving a turd to prove he was once in front of you.

Three years ago I saw Johnny for the last time. It was November just before the deer season was to begin. I had been told by family that Johnny was dealing with heavy medical issues that may one day plague us all. While his body was visibly frail his smile was the same as I had always remembered. We shook hands and once again began to catch up as we had so many times before. A care giver quit looking in on us after awhile and the afternoon fell into step as it had for the past 39 years. Johnny's voice was softer than I could remember but no part of his spirit was subdued, his mind was still keenly honed. We chuckled a lot. Finally the gal now entrusted with Johnny's medical affairs said it was time for us to draw it to a close. We shook hands one last time and he ended the meeting by saying "I hope I'm still around for your next visit, but I don't think that'll happen, it's been a pleasure young man, you take care now, give my best to your family"

I'll be in VA this spring. I will cross over the Moormans River just below Whitehall and follow the Doyelsville upstream to the country road that leads to Johnny's farm house. If I plan it right I'll be there just about dusk. I want to sit on that porch just one more time and talk to an old friend.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Fortunes of Stormy Weather

The storm developed like any other, building in intensity with a thunderhead climbing higher into the atmosphere by the minute. The term "Looks Like Rain" was tossed about jokingly. The hail appeared shortly after the first tablespoon sized rain drops slammed into the river bottom. Shelter was sought under the porch as the clouds opened up. The size of the hail and the ferocity of its impact on the roof was a premonition of the aftermath. An agent from the insurance company arrived days later to assess the damage along with other residences in the area. The copper roof was no longer flat and smooth but now dimpled like the skin of an orange. Shortly a payment arrived to cover the roof damage, a contractor was called and all was in order for reconstruction. But here's where the story takes a twist.

Shortly after a quote to repair the roof arrived booking agent Jack Atcheson & Sons phoned Kurt to see if he might be interested in a cancellation Elephant hunt and if so was it possible for him the leave in 30 days? The adventure was to be undertaken in the North Western edge of Namibia's famed Caprivi Strip. Koos Pienaar and James Chapman are the co-owners and operators of Huntafrica Namibia Safari Company and would conduct the hunt. The ball was now in Kurt's court, do we play or pass?

The cancelled hunt was for a Trophy Bull Elephant and Buffalo with an assorted selection of other game available. Shortly after this conversation the dimpled roof took on a whole new visual quality of its own, the setting of a whole new architectural fashion statement came to mind. Surely these funds could be put to better use. A month later Kurt was sitting down to his first evening in camp having just arrived from Montana. With a Grey Lowry calling a short distance from camp the hail damage had become a vague memory in the now gathering twilight.

Kurt is no stranger to Africa and has had the good fortune to hunt in some of Africa's more unique hunting destinations during his career. He is also one on the few hunters I know that is just unabashedly lucky on Safari. Luckily in the fact that the game he encounters is usually quite exceptional in size. Then his skill with a rifle is put to good use. He is always prepared and hunts hard to help make that luck unfold.

Not to long after this shop began building Legends I received a request to build an Iron Sight version chambered for 458 Lott from Kurt. The rifle was to be fit with an Recknagel Universal front ramp and Recknagel See Through rear blade. This specific Legend configuration has always been an elephant hunters rifle and at 9 1/2 pounds and loaded with 5 rounds it is very portable and controllable with enough applied practice beforehand. This combination of sights allow for windage and elevation correction and in my opinion are hands down one of the best Iron Sights systems for elephant hunting that I am aware of. The sights can be purchased from New England Custom Guns here in the States.

The last request was to have the entire metalwork on the rifle coated in Robar MP-3. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, as I hate to involve and introduce another variable into the construction mix. But what the hell, we gave it a try and Robar did not let us down. After two successful Safaris with this rifle Kurt made the decision to have us install one of my Peep Sights on the rifles rear bridge as age was beginning to take its toll on his visually acuity when using the original window rear blade sight. The request was met and rifle returned once again ready for the field.

October in Montana is blessed with cool weather and sunny skies where Kurt resides. The Bwabwata West Concession was a bit warmer than Montana with afternoon temperatures hovering between 100 and 105. You can't change the weather so you dress for it and roll out at dawn knowing its going to be hot day but any day on Safari is worth the heat and discomfort. With enough water and breaks in the shade they stayed on the tracks of Elephant bulls from one day to the next. Picking up spore in the sand when the track was large enough to garner interest and then following these tracks to the elephants. The amount of elephant in the area was remarkable Kurt said and they followed up singular bulls and herds of bulls over the course of the hunt. Finally they walked up on a bull that Koos confirmed was a good representative in regard to trophy quality for the area and for that time of year. It was now up the Kurt to either roll the dice and decide to continue the hunt or close the distance. Most hunters will never have the opportunity to hunt elephant. I have been an observer on a similar hunt years before in Botswana and I can only imagine the thoughts that goes through ones mind when facing that moment of truth.

Setting the science of proper elephant management and modern ecology aside this is a moment in a hunting career that can tip in many directions when the time comes. They are such a grand animal in every respect that the decision to pull the trigger can weigh heavily on ones sole. Some elect to pass and go home without ever having pulled the trigger, content with the tracking and close encounters. It is a decision that will make all the hunting you do in the future change to some degree.

Koos and his head tracker had the wind to their advantage and awaited a decision from the hunter. A nod from Kurt committed the team forward. Methodically they reduced the gap to 15 yards when the bull now aware something was amiss turned to face them. Kurt had spent a solid month learning all he could about elephant anatomy as resident surgeon would. Hoping for that pre-agreed upon Heart shot was now out of the question. As calmly as one could in this situation Kurt settled the bead on where he felt the bullet should impact the skull and sent a Norma 550r Woodleigh FMJ into the forehead killing the bull instantly.

At this moment everything happens in slow motion, you never feel the recoil, as your recovering from the shot you see the hind end buckle first and you know the kill was quick, often the only sound you can recall is the muted ping of the spent case leaving the rifle.

As they approached the fallen bull there was no whooping shouts of triumph, no high fives, no chest bumps or crass comments tossed in the wind. Standing at the feet of to a fallen giant is a very humbling moment that cannot adequately be put into words by anyone I wish to hunt with. This bull was the first and might be the last Elephant that Kurt will ever hunt. He feel the hands of the Bushman congratulating him and sees the excitement in their eyes but it takes quite some time for him to fully process the entire event, as it should.

Driving back to camp that evening with the air beginning to cool and sunset carving a notch in your sole the events of the day are replaying themselves over and over again in you head. This is what keeps you coming back.

Over the next two days the meat is entirely removed from the carcass by the locals in the area and dried in a fashion as old as man himself.

The rest of the safari is spent looking for an old Buffalo bull. Herds numbering in the hundreds are seen day after day, more buffalo than Kurt have ever seen in any given area. Like the search for elephant the day begins before pink light, traveling and looking for sign, looking over herd bulls and hoping for tracks of bachelor groups living on their own. Once the trackers pick up the sign you leg it.

One day while covering the area in search of Buffalo they encounter a very rare sight indeed and make good on the opportunity. A Leopard is spotted lying on a Termite mound. Of all the luck.

The Legend barks once more and the cat roles off the termite mound without so much as a twitch. Not many can claim to have shot a Leopard in the middle of the day and only a rare few have done it with Iron Sights. Luck was once again walking the point on Kurt's behalf.

Eventually they run into that solitary Buffalo bull that is to just to good to pass up. The wind was right, the foot falls in the approach quiet enough and the distance closed again. Shots ring out and the 550r Woodleigh Soft Points find their mark. As they approach the bull Koos shakes his head with a grin and extends a handshake, it has been quite a hunt with this chap from Montana. The bulls horns are both wide and deep and the boss substantial enough for any veteran buffalo hunter to admire. Other plains game is taken on the hunt as well and then one day Kurt woke up and it was the day of his departure.

You regrettably pack your kit, You make sure one article of clothing isn't washed before it goes into the duffel as you'll want to savor the smells as best you can when you arrive home. The boots are worn in a little more, the rifle wears a few more scars and a part of you remains behind with the dust, heat and sands of Namibia.

Further information about hunting with Koos Pienaar and James Chapman co-owners of HuntAfrica Namibia Safari Company can be found at or

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Attending an SCI convention has its perks

While at the SCI Convention last week I took some time to walk over to the Lewis Drake booth to visit with Stephen Alexander. Steve is gifted with inexhaustible talent. Self taught at a very early age and then taken under the wing of the late engraver Lynton Mckenzie Steve's formative years grounded him in the art of Gun Making disciplines that have been developed over centuries. Historical fabrication and restoration is his specialty and there seems to be no task to difficult to undertake.

The first time we were introduced was also at a SCI Convention over two decades ago and I have followed his career as best as I could ever since. I believe Steve can replicate any firearm or related article from any period he chose as long as the original materials were made up of steel and wood. While more than competent in the use of a modern manual shop equipment few of us if challenged, could forge a part, file it into shape, make the springs required then fit these parts seamlessly into walnut. Then insure all these parts worked to perfection, engrave what was required, checker and then tie the results together to make a functional firearm with the use of only hand tools.

I like to think I can talk a pretty good game yet I am always humbled in the presence of this kind of ability.

The Mortimer 8 bore double rifle he is holding below was the subject of an earlier Blog post. I played a very small part in the project that involved duplicating the original stock. Duplicator ! surely not, you say.  I forgot to mention another skill Steve processes is the knowledge to know a good thing when he sees it. Time is money after all and having the choice to use modern technology when available is also a skill set in itself. It was a pleasure to see the Mortimer almost complete, now lacking only the checkering.

Before anyone decides to make a call to Steve to inquire about any possible work it must be noted that Steve works exclusively for Lewis Drake and does no free lance work at all. This arrangement has work well for both parties as the work is always steady and very diversified. 

It doesn't happen often but when I receive as stock to machine for Steve the pattern is going to likely be a couple 2x4's screwed together with a glass bedded impression of the metal work on one end of the lash up. The instructions are always very clear and concise "Machine this close as close as you can, thanks, Steve". 

I always chuckle when I unwrap a package from Steve, as I never know what's in store for the day.