Monday, February 9, 2015

Modern Hunting Optics by John Barsness

Here is another heads up on a book worth adding to your personal collection. Modern Hunting Optics is filled with a mother load of in-depth information that any novice and experienced hunter will want to read. The practical and technical advise in this book come from an expert that has made a career testing, freezing, submerging, breaking, using and evaluating hunting optics from every major manufacture in the game. As optical technology for the hunter seems to morph every couple of years it is hard for even the seasoned hunter and rifleman to stay on top of what is truly fact and what is current marketing BS. 

I think John has done his best to stay on the cutting edge of this optical maze by ferreting out anything with a lens when it pertains to hunting industry then giving it the critical eye ball. This text does its best to steer the reader towards making the correct choice for their next purchase or how to better utilize what optical equipment they already have. With 20 chapters and 197 pages it is certainly well worth the price of admission. 

Shameless Marketing Alert: My scope base alignment bar was also given a mention as well and its always nice to know that you have an idea and product that makes the grade with others.

This book can be ordered directly from John Barsness at Deep Creek Press, PO Box 579, Townsend Montana, 59644 or by www.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

High Lights From SCI 2015, Outfitters and Professional Hunters

This year I elected to participate the SCI convention as a patron rather than an exhibitor. I have held a booth for over a quarter century and felt it time to view the event from the middle of the carpet for a change and spent Wednesday and Thursday walking the isles visiting old friends and meeting a few new ones. I had the notion that this means of doing the show would be less stressful and a layed back way to see friends but was always at a dead run between stops both days.

Shorty after getting my bearings I ran into the Phil Shoemaker his son Taj and later daughter Tia. Phil's wife Rocky had wisely chosen to give the convention floor wide berth for the time being. Over the next two days we re-grouped a couple of times and had a few laughs and discussed more than a few subjects. Gin somehow became the required lubricant during these brief encounters. Tia mentioned a possible opportunity that my daughter Lexi might be interested in so we'll see what transpires in the future. Being one of Alaska's few women Brown Bear guides she does indeed know where the bear craps in the woods and how to deal with the situation.

As many of you know Campbell Smith of Campbell Smith Safaris and I have shared a booth for well over a decade and a half and it was great to spend time with Cam and discuss his plans to start hunting In Mozambique along with his other opportunities in South Africa. Always at the top of game he was in prime condition and ready to engage anyone that stopped by. This year he was teamed up with  Graeme Pollock and the two of them together form a wicked combination of wit and humor. Cam was eager to have a good show and then get back across the great blue as he had a Lion hunt looming on the immediate horizon.

John Oosthuizen of Hunters and Guides and I saw each other briefly and caught up on what his plans were for the up and coming Safari season. His company is spread throughout a variety of countries and offer diverse destinations and Safari packages. Cautiously optimistic he was looking forward to the convention season and then heading home to do what he does best.

I got to spend some time with Joe Coogan and discussing his new venture. As many are well aware Joe has spent most of his life involved in the African bush as a professional hunter, writer and celebrity. He is now teamed up with some old hands and collectively have formed Africa Allways who's business model is to plan, organize and outfit African Safaris in an all encompassing package to suit all taste. I understand these services will include Fishing Safaris, Photographic Safaris, Climbing Kilimanjaro, Bird Watching, Bird Hunting and Big Game Safaris as well as a broad spectrum of other travel opportunities and offered in a variety of destinations. If Joe is involved the company has a bright future.

Athol Frylinck of Luwata Safaris was again in attendance. Zambia as we are all aware has been closed to concession hunting for over a year and a half and Athol was patiently awaiting the Zambia Government to complete their tender allocations so he might get on with the business at hand. When I left the convention the situation in Zambia was still fluid and I hope is sorted before to long. Athol has a Legend chambered for 375 Ruger and has grown fond of seeing it the rack and reaching for it when its services are required. I only hope the powers to be come to their collective senses and allow the Zambian Pros to step back into the bush soon with the same quota they have had in the past.

The Bucks and Bulls booth was neck deep in potential and past clientele every time I walked by. Having guided for this Outfitter for many years myself I was not at all surprised at the traffic jam around their booth. Specializing in Trophy Mule Deer, Elk and Antelope their quota of slots is quickly filled every year. I managed this pic early Thursday morning before crowd control was required. Somehow I got sucked back into another year guiding for Antelope in New Mexico and look forward to going down again in August. The Antelope on their New Mexico leases are worth the long round trip drive and effort.

I stopped by had a chat with Martin Nel and we instantly got into discussion about his 450 Ackley Magnum. I met Martin while on a hunt in Tanzania and we have stayed in touch ever since. Martin has the distinction of having survived a Buffalo pounding while carrying a double and seems to have gone back to a magazine rifle. As he now feels having more than 2 rounds in reserve is better. Martin has been hunting in Zimbabwe's Bubye Conservancy for a number of years and his photo album proves that he certainly knows the lay of the land and how to pull the best trophies out of his area.

I ran into Rich Guthrie late Thursday afternoon as I was about to exit the convention hall and we caught up on his recent Brown Bear hunts in the short amount of time we had. Rich is a premier Alaskan Brown Bear Outfitter and his expertise spans many decades. He has the distinction of owning one of my Classic Rifles and we have hunted Antelope together in the past and are both Whitetail Deer Fanatics. Our conversation on Thursday ended with him detailing his exploits in Ohio and Illinois to me. It's always good to spend time with Rich. 

Two full days did not allow enough time to see everyone I wanted to. You do the best you can and run like hell.

SCI 2015 High Lights-Swift Bullet Company Break Away Solids

While attending the SCI convention this week I spent quite some time speaking with Bill Hober the owner of Swift Bullet Company about Swifts new Break Away solid. This bullet has been in development for a number of years and I have anticipated its release with more than a casual interest. The bullet is made from a proprietary jacket material that houses a traditional lead core. This design allows the overall length of the bullet to be shorter than an identical weight mono-metal bullet of the same caliber and does not overly limit powder capacity. Bill also states that the composition of this bullets jacket and core design is completely forgiving in early production Classic doubles rifle barrels.

The Break Away features a radial shaped polymer tip that is attached to the nose of the bullet just ahead of typical parabola ogive section. By design the shape of this ogive and radial polymer tip will allow the bullet to impact the feed ramp at a higher position and enhance the geometry or path of a loaded round as its stripped out of the magazine. I see this as being a huge advantage over some of the current flat meplat bullets despite their performance potential once they leave the muzzle. We need to remember that the rounds must cycle through the magazine before the bullet is sent on its way. On impact this polymer nose breaks away for the bullet hence its name.  To date I have not loaded a single Break Away into any dummy cartridge cases nor have I tested this theory but I can tell by looking at the Break Away nose that getting this bullet to feed will be very simple.

This bullet does not feature any driving bands. The Shank of the bullet from the base of the bullet to the approximate cannelure position is bullet diameter and then steps down in a diameter reduction that appears to about .010 per side. As I had no micrometer to measure this I could not confirm the actual diameter. Exhaustive wet lap penetration test have proven to Bill that the Break Away delivers extremely deep and consistent in-line performance. These bullets have already been used in the field on just under a dozen Elephant and Buffalo with predictable results. I have been told that approximately 1000 of these have been sold to clients and Professional Hunters to date and I'm sure more field data will begin the trickle in from the veld as the 2015 Safari season unfolds.

The Break Away Solid is an expensive bullet to make and the retail price reflect Swifts efforts to bring it to market. Mr. Hober says that regulating the Break Away to shoot into the same point of impact as the A-Frame has been very easy with the rifles used for testing to date. Having said this the Break Away will not be for everyone but I do believe it will soon become a familiar subject around a Mopani fire ring like the legendary A-Frame and round out the Swift product line completely. I will use and test these bullets in an up and coming 450 Rigby Magnum Classic I have begun and will report my finding as they become available. As usual the Swift Bullet Company is not sitting on its laurels.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hunting On The Roof Of The World

Many dream of hunting rams in the rarefied air and high basins of middle Asia, chilled and winded as they glass the ridge lines in hopes of laying eyes on a band of mature rams and then making a stalk. While many just dream some make it a reality. Those that make this pilgrimage often choose to hunt early in the Fall to avoid the formidable cold and snow while others wait for the rut and the weather itself to push the rams into somewhat more accessible elevations. The gamble on any of these late hunts is always the weather. Two clients of mine, a couple, have just returned from such an adventure and despite the zero degree temperatures and hunting at elevations up to 16,000 Ft. they had a grand time and made the most of their hunt. Unless you live next to Mt. McKinley coming up with a Cardio plan to duplicate the conditions you'll likely encounter on this hunt will be difficult at best. It goes without saying that serious physical conditioning is in order for this level of commitment.

This team was also well aware that another critical key to their success would come down to the rifles selected for this hunt. Two Stainless Steel Legends chambered for 300 Winchester Magnum were commissioned for this task. As each rifle was delivered the shooting practice began in earnest. Once the basic zero was established from the bench top the real world practice began in the dirt. As time drew short they elected to change up their original scope selection and I retrofit each rifle with a Swarovski Z6 3.5-15x44mm scope.  Each scope came complete with a come up turret and a customized ballistic cam to further hedge their bets for success. This was a very wise decision, they were leaving nothing to chance. Both rifles scoped and loaded with 5 rounds tipped the scale at just under 10 pounds. A weight class I consider an asset for this type of hunt. Despite the fact that two different barrel manufactures had been used for these rifles, both rifles shot a 180gr Nolser AccuBond with the identical hand-load extremely well. No chance for an ammunition mixed up on this hunt.

The terrain was stark and wide open with Sheep and Ibex in good numbers. Hours were spent behind the lens of their spotting scopes until a ram was selected and the stalk was on. Leica range finding binoculars eliminated the guess work as to the actual distance, guesswork was not an option.  They got as close as they possible could and when they ran out of cover looked for a proper rest and set up for each shot. Collectively they confirmed the range, determined the wind values and turret come up as each hunter prepared for the shot. Now its time to trust your gear and make it happen.

One ram was taken at 444 yards at a slight uphill angle. The other ram was taken at 690 yards over  level ground. Each ram was killed with a single round. Both Ibex billies were each anchored with a single shot at steep uphill angles. One was shot at 200 yards and the other taken at 230 yards. The hours of practice by shooting on the ground instead of their bench top was proving to be priceless in value.

Not only did they encounter many Sheep and Ibex but also saw 1 Snow Leopard, the tracks of 2 others and 6 wolves. In fact the best Ram they saw was chased out of country by a band of 5 Wolves in hot pursuit. I know this will not be their last sheep hunt in that part of the world. Like most hunts of this nature it begins as an adventure and rapidly becomes a passion.

                 Congratulations to them both on hunt well planned and executed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stainless Steel Legends Head For Central Asia

As I type this post the two Legends shown above are now in route to central Asia. The owners, a husband and wife team are on their first quest for Marco Polo rams. Both rifles are chambered for 300 Winchester, both equipped with pre-zeroed back-up scopes in the event of an optical disaster and both rifles shoot the identical load very, very well. Both Legends are outfitted with every option available and some that weren't an option until these two Legends were commissioned. Certainly the hardware is up to the task. These rifles follow in the foot prints of other Legends that have made this trek into Asia. I'm told that at 15,000 feet above sea level the temperature at this time of year will hover around 20 degrees as an average in the warmest part of the afternoon. The owners have put in a lot of honest practice at the range with much of that practice on the ground shooting over their packs, practicing with bipods and lord knows what else.

Success now will be largely due to the steel in their legs and the skill of their guides to get them within range of those coveted rams in the shadow of the Hindu Kush.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking The Next Step.

We had spotted the herd of antelope shortly after 9am. A mile away and from our current position and completely unapproachable. Lexi and I were familiar with this herd from two previous encounters.

The first weekend and stalk put us within 240 yards of this herd but Lexi's confidence in her ability to make that shot kept her from pulling the trigger leaving both hesitation and doubt sitting on her shoulder. She watched as that opportunity left her looking at departing heel dust as they ran. While she has been in the field hunting with my wife and I since she was 11 months old this was her first season carrying a permit and her own rifle.

The second attempt found us shadowing the same herd a week later, laying prone in some low sage and waiting for them to come over a rise. On the move and alert the group crested the hill 140 yards away directly in front of us. This time a solid case of buck fever settled in and Lexi just could not pull it together before the herd spotted us and broke for safer ground again. The walk to the truck was long and quiet but I could detect a change in my daughters attitude. What I saw was the birth of a predatory presence in her eyes. A number of times she stopped and looked back at the herd that was still in sight but on the move and putting more and more distance between us. When we made it back to the Dodge she scanned the now empty landscape and stated "we're coming back aren't we ? " it was more of a demand than question.

The next weekend found us hunting mule deer. She carried the rifle and I carried everything else. For four days and two afternoons after school we glassed until our eyes hurt. She gained and lost altitude without a complaint, as long as there was food in the pack she was good to go, distance be damned. At dusk the second evening we both lay in a bed of boulders with a young fork-horn feeding unaware of us. We had spotted a much larger three-point feeding with the same fork-horn from a ridge now far below us a half an hour before. We had made the scramble uphill as fast as we could cover ground and then crawled on our bellies into the position we now held. Try as we might we couldn't spot the three-point anywhere on ridge across from us. The light was fading quickly and I told Lexi if she was going to shoot it was now or never. She settled in behind the scope then softly said "we've seen two bigger bucks dad, lets pass this one up". I chuckled, It was her call, not many first year hunters would have. I suggested she remove the round from the chamber and dry fire a couple times on the fork-horn. Perplexed at first she did as I requested, the muzzle this time appeared immobile, her breathing collected as she pressed the trigger each time. This dry run would later prove to be an asset. As we backed out of the area undetected I made the comment "that buck has no idea how lucky he was tonight" I saw her smile in the twilight as we walked off the ridge. I could again sense a confidence in my daughter that was not there before. For the rest of the deer season the mature bucks eluded us. Ending the season with an un-punched permit surely wasn't due to lack of effort.

As her doe antelope permit allowed her to hunt well into the fall, the following weekend found us back in Rich County under an overcast sky. By now we had a good idea as to where the antelope herd might be at that time of day on this ranch. I nosed the truck along stopping just under the brow of each rise got out and peered over each hill top before leap frogging ahead. In due course I spotted the herd. The only real approach was to back out of the area, drive the truck into another basin far to the South and begin the stalk from there. By now Lexi had a developed a familiar routine with her kit, had an idea of what she needed in her pack for that day and confidently loaded the magazine of her rifle. We slipped on our packs and lined out. The route was direct as we were behind a series of ridges and out of sight of the herd. As we crept to the crest of the ridge I spotted the herd feeding but still well out of range. Before us was a large basin with the antelope on the farthest side of the valley. I suggested we have a snack and wait for them to bed down. An hour later the herd folded into the sage, we policed up our gear and backed off the ridge line and made an up-slope loop to gain more altitude to hopefully cover our approach. 30 minutes later found us exposed again and yet another loop was made. Each move put us closer to the herd.

Eventually the resting herd was completely out of sight. We could make one more loop that would put us directly above the herd but the wind would likely give us away so I elected to drop into the basin below us, hit a dry creek bed and use the creek bed to hide our approach. Lexi bailed into the basin with intent.

When I felt we were within 300 yards of the sleeping herd we went into stealth mode. I had Lexi chamber a round, safety on, muzzle to the side as we began the most critical part of the stalk. The creek bed allowed us excellent cover, the wind was in our favor and that familiar feeling of a stalk going perfectly sucked us further down the draw. Scanning the hillside above I finally spotted the tips of the bedded bucks' horns. We had closed the gap undetected. It was now time to set up and wait. I had Lexi strip the round from the chamber for safety sake as we crawled like lizards for the last 50 yards to a lip on the creek bed. I pushed my pack into a gap between two clumps of sage and Lexi crawled into a solid prone position, slid the 260 Rem Legend onto the pack, pointed the muzzle up the hill and chambered a round. One doe stood up but didn't offer a shot due to the surrounding sage. Another and then another stood to stretch and began to feed. Like the first doe neither presented a clear shot. Lexi asked about the range, I told to aim directly where she wanted the bullet to go as we were close. The buck now stepped into view and more of the herd came to their feet. Lexi's breathing was under control.  She shifted from one doe to the next as they fed in and out of the sage. I could still see three more laying down that looked as if when they stood up they might be fully exposed. I mentioned this to her and she shifted her body and muzzle slightly to the right. One of these bedded does rose to its feet but walked directly away from us. Lexi asked me if she could place her right elbow on my left shoulder blade for support in this new position.  I lowered my head and shoulders and became part of the desert floor. While it left me unable to watch and monitor what was about to happen I was confident in her ability, this was now her gig. As I lay face down in the dirt I heard the safety disengage and I tried not to move a hair. Lexi's breathing went flat and she turned the bullet loose.

The unmistakable sound of a hit followed the report of the rifle. When I looked up Lexi was trying her best to reload and follow the path of her intended target as it ran down the ridge towards us. I could tell the doe was dead on her feet and in seconds it piled up in front of us. She kicked her last in the red dirt and sage that she had been born in. I could see both the look of excitement and conflict in my daughter's eyes as the dust settled before us for a moment, even the wind ceased.

We got to our feet and approached the doe. Her bullet placement was textbook. I was beaming and congratulated her on the shot, all those years of practice had just paid her back in spades. Then I left my daughter alone with the doe and her thoughts and went to recover our gear scattered along the creek bed. I took my time letting her deal with the moment on her own. I saw her kneel down next to the doe and knew all to well what was going through her mind. We sat on the side of that hill for 5 or 10 minutes talking about the stalk, life and death and what had just transpired.

Finally she opened up her pack, pulled out her knife and began the primordial task of making meat. Within an hour we had the packs loaded, gave our last respects, looked around one last time to soak it all in then began the trek to the truck. Lexi stopped a few times on the way to look back at the basin, I know she could see the carcass and I knew she was reliving the moment over and over in her mind.

Red dirt shifted under our boots as we made our way back to the truck. We stopped a few more times, she sent a text to her Mom and I then asked her if she wanted to carry the pack full of meat the last 300 yards to the truck. The load was heavy but obviously not a burden, she wanted every part of the experience.

Memories are made everyday, every now and then some are made that will last a lifetime.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hank's 264 Winchester Magnum

Hank's 264 Magnum has been in the field for a number of years now. Used for Ibex in Spain, Whitetails, Mule Deer and Antelope here in the states. It has become his "Go To" favorite for many hunts. During the rifles construction Hank had hoped the barrel would shoot the 130gr Swift Scirocco and so it did. This bullet is now a proven performer in this rifle and very lethal.

For me the rifle was a pleasant challenge cosmetically with the 26" barrel coupled with the 12-7/8" length of pull. Getting the fore-end and grip proportions just right was the fun part of this project. Hanks plan was to use the then new Zeiss Conquest with the Rapid Z reticle compatible with the Swift load. When the scope mounts were done and the scope was in place it was evident I also needed to change the comb height on the basic pattern. Over the years Hank had become a little less supple and while removing length from the pattern stock it was evident that I needed to incorporate a Monte Carlo comb  to increase Hank's cheek weld. Did I mention Hank has no neck?

I have to admit that shooting this rifle in the final stages was a challenge for me what with the 12-7/8" and shorter fore-end but when it was all said and done Hank was most pleased with the results.