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 (info@huntnepal.com). 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 www.huntafrica.com.na or info@huntafrica.com.na

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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sand Hills Mule Deer

If you have followed this Blog for any length of time the hunter in then pic below will be familiar. Living in the Eastern Plains of Colorado can occasionally offer deer hunting opportunities that many of us only dream about. On a frigid day last December Ann and her husband were noodling through the gullies and hills not far from home when they jumped this buck out of his bed. A single shot from just under a 100 yards stopped him just before he cleared the ridge line. This buck is another added to a long line of game taken with her Legend 270.

I have built only a handful of rifles for women over the years. However these few have proven to me time and time again that when given the chance they shoot just as well and often better than their male counterparts. They are not encumbered with a battery of rifles, gadgets, ego or excuses. They practice and hone their skills until they feel proficient and then make good on their efforts when the opportunity present itself. No fuss, no drama, just be ready with a skinning knife if you're along as there's a good chance you're going to need it. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Testing a Vortex Razor Spotting Scope Part 1

Over last year or so I have received a number of Web inquires as well as approached in sporting goods stores and then asked about my opinion of the Vortex line of spotting scopes. Those asking the questions were hunters or guides trying to make their dollars stretch a far as possible while at the same time satisfying the requirements for good optical performance. The price point maximum seemed to fall between the $800 and $1200 price range. So lets call it a potential investment of $1000 give or take.

I had never looked through, much less tested any Vortex Optics but did notice this year on my annual Antelope hunt in New Mexico that there were more than a few Vortex spotting scopes mounted on the tripods of other guys I guide with. You had to notice, you couldn't miss it. Judging the difference between a very good antelope and a net book antelope is akin to comparing the size of two shoes, such as a size 10 and a size 13 of the same color and make at 600 to a 1000 yards. Granted a real toad is a no brainer, its the "almost" bucks that require a good optical tool for real evaluation. We all guess, I prefer to guess smart based on what I can actually see.

An advantage of being in a guide cluster on an afternoon between hunts is having a variety of optics set up and focused on the same animal, rock or tree. Then having each guide look through the very same optics and compare the image in this line up. What is quite apparent when this happens is not every spotting scope or binocular offers the same image quality to each and every viewer. What I mean is regardless of price, objective diameter or lens coating there will always be one guy that insist that his vision and his eyes are better served by a particular optic regardless of brand or the cost. As long as the scopes are set on the same power, looking at the same bull or buck under the same conditions this anomaly will often occur. I have witnessed this many times over. So money doesn't always buy you contentment or world piece when it comes to optics.

With a serious test drive in mind I contacted Shamus Terry at Vortex Optics and made arrangements to purchase a Razor HD 16-48x65mm Straight Body spotting scope. This model fell into that $1000 dollar price bracket that others had questioned me about and was compact and light enough to carry all day without it feeling like a anvil at dark. Although my Antelope hunts were over and a last minute Shiras Moose hunt had just been completed there was my daughters Utah deer hunt to try it on as well as the continual accuracy test that are required in the shop on a regular basis.

The Razor arrived in a bomb proof box, that was nice to see. It came with two rubber lens caps that are not connected to the scope or each other in any way. There is a small hole cast into each lens cover for a lanyard, bungee, or log chain. I'm making the prediction that if you don't tether the lens covers in some manner they will come up missing in short order. This is not a failing of Vortex rather the nature of the beast industry wide. All lens covers seem to made in the color Black. I'd rather see them all made in Florescent Orange. While it wouldn't always prevent them from being left behind, I'd bet it would help keep them from becoming lost in the ground clutter more than once.

The Ocular lens attaches to the body by rotating the bayonet mount into the main body and features a permanent lock that prevents the lens from becoming unscrewed and falling off while your glassing. This is a must in my opinion. This was real pain in the ass on the early Leica Televid's. More than once I have had to fish my rogue lens out of the dirt down around my feet. The Razor also came equipped with a Nylon cover which I eyed suspiciously. Once out of the box I mounted the scope on a Bogan tripod and stepped outside the shop. About a half a mile to my east are the foothills of a mountain range that rises out of the valley floor and to the south of me an alfalfa field that has a resident herd of deer and flock of turkeys that can be viewed almost any day. I picked a ridge on the mountain to the east, found an interesting looking tree, focused the lens and ran the Vortex through its power range. I found the fine focus knob easy to adjust and comfortable to use. The eye relief is fairly short but adequate with both the naked eye and glasses. The scope stayed on the tripod until dark allowing me to look over the Mule deer grazing in the alfalfa until it was to dark to discern anything but blobs in the gloom. So far so good.

My daughter wanted to go to the range and get in some more practice before her hunt so we packed up the Razor and my Older Leica APO 16-48X62mm and hit the range one afternoon under overcast skies. Each scopes were mounted on a good solid Bogan tripod, set side by side then adjusted to the same power.  Over the next hour and half were used both scopes to monitor our shooting. 6.5mm bullet holes were easy to see out to the 300 yard berm through the Razor as well as the Leica. We compared the image quality between the older Leica and the Razor, her young eyes verse my older eyes. The edge to edge view in the Razor looked very crisp and light transmission was right there with the Televid. The light coming through the body looked 100 % natural without any tint.

At the end of the shooting session I was impressed with the Razor's performance. We made one more trip to the range before the Deer hunt was to begin. This time my daughter was shooting prone at an Antelope silhouette at 200 and 300 yards. As you can imagine seeing bullets holes in this target could be a challenge at times depending on the light conditions, mirage and temperature. The conditions that day were about ideal and as she shot I called her shots at both ranges. The Vortex was hanging right in there. So for those primarily interested in target shooting this spotting scope has some application to be sure.

Now to test the Razor in the field. Unlike my friend John Barsness I don't really have a set mechanical testing procedure anywhere near as comprehensive as his. I'm more a hands on, see if we can use it or break it kind of guy. With our experience at the range I decided to leave both my Leica's at home, go for broke and use the Vortex on my daughters hunt. We were lucky enough to be hunting on one of Bucks & Bulls-Guides and Outfitters leases in Northern Utah. Due to my daughter's academic workload we had only 24 hours to find a buck she'd want to try and shoot and put it all together if we could. I hoped we could be selective to a point.

Glassing was going to be especially important with so little time allowed for this hunt. While I do not go out of my way to place any of my hunting glass in harms way I don't baby sit them either. For as long as I have been using a spotting scope they have been mounted on my tripod and cantilevered over my shoulder 80% of the time when I am playing the part of the Fundi. To do otherwise can waste critical time when time is at a premium. To prevent the scope from unscrewing itself from the mounting base plate a secondary stop screw must be installed ahead of or behind the main camera 1/4x20 threaded stud or you are courting disaster. A cheap tripod and mount is never a good call when tossing a scope over your shoulder. A sudden shift in balance and the sound of a thud behind you is not a great way to impress your hunter. Within the first 1/2 hour the OEM supplied nylon cover went into the pack, I can see no use for this cover in the field due to its design as it takes more patience than I have to fight my way through the zipper system, in the field this cover is utterly useless. As I stated earlier I can see rubber lens covers being lost quickly without a leash on each of some sort.

We started the afternoon hunt and covered as much ground as we could optically often looking at deer well over a mile away. Buck after buck was given the hairy eyeball and the Razor allowed me to make the call to either commit to a stalk or continue to search. We counted points, we guessed at the age class, we picked apart maples and peered into timber. We put the Razor to the test in the best way I know how. As the sun was sinking a buck appeared on a ridge above us and I could tell Lexi was getting the itch to shoot. This was her second deer season and we still hadn't found "the" buck despite her all out effort the year before. As this ranch is managed for quality I felt we needed to continue to look and be as patient as we could afford in the short amount of time we had. Through my older Zeiss 10x40's Classic's the buck appeared mature but standing in the shadows of the maples I couldn't quite clearly make out the complete frame. However the the Razor plainly proved the buck to be of average framed 3x4, nice but not quite what I was looking for. Lexi looked through the scope and at this point I think she was hoping the scope would take a fall off the tripod and break into no less than 40 pieces. All that clarity was now clearly not working to her benefit or so it seemed at that moment. Based on what we saw I made the call not shoot the 3x4. Had we done so we would not have run into this bigger buck a little further down the canyon just at dusk. This buck was close enough that the Razor never came into play. Clarity can help you make better decisions, the proof is in the pudding.