Friday, August 2, 2019

Fishing with Grizzly Skins of Alaska

I had clandestinely planned to take our daughter to Alaska to fish for a High School Graduation present early in her junior year. Some parents might have bought their graduate a car, others a pen set but I wanted her to experience a trip that would store some memories of place that hopefully would not loose its value when the warranty ran out. In an environment off the beaten path and in a wildness setting. It would require an outfit that had a sense of humor as we as a team can be pretty lousy fishermen at times. I know a handful of Alaskan guides that would fill the bill, all way beyond competent in every respect but this trip was going to require a special atmosphere. While all three of us would be fishing I wanted just the right mentors for my daughter on this trip. Choosing Grizzly Skins of Alaska run by the Shoemaker family was a no brainier. Having operated Grizzly Skins since the mid 80's I knew we'd be in great hands. 

Both Phil and his wife Rochelle (Rocky) have carved a comfortable lifestyle out of their own little chunk of paradise. Many of my clients have hunted Brown Bears, Moose and fished with them so references weren't required. The other draw card for me was paring my daughter up with Phil's daughter Tia. She and her brother Taj grew up on this real estate, both became registered guides, both fly, and having passed their mid 30's have solid handle on this lifestyle and of the business. While Taj is now running his own flying service out of Kodiak he's only 45 minutes air time away and regularly visits with his wife and daughter as well as to guide hunters and fishermen seasonally. 

The trip up went smoothly, from Salt Lake City to King Salmon via Alaskan Air then further down the peninsula in Modified  4 seat Cub called a Producer to Becharof Lake and into their base of operations.This area borders Katmai National Park and while it didn’t really sink in until we got there, this area supports the greatest concentrations of Brown Bears in the world. The camp was comfortable, flown in and assembled like Lego's, one piece at a time in the 80’s. Not a feat for the timid or those challenged with engineering.

The main house was where we'd eat and gather for the next week while we slept in a couple comfortable Quonset hut with plenty of room for hanging out and drying gear. You dried, or at least attempted to dry a lot of kit over the week.

Ordinarily there is nothing unusual about an outhouse. The very first thing I noticed in this outhouse was the Bear spray which I assume was for seasoning and then the 416 Ruger leaned in the corner, magazine loaded and ready to roll in the event any neighbors showed up unannounced.

                                                                                                      We're definitely not in Kansas anymore

The 1st morning we flew to a creek mouth 10 minutes from the camp that flowed into Becharof lake and as we circled to land you could see the red backs of several thousand Sockeyes stacked up at the creek mouth preparing to enter the creek. We Landed on a gravel bar and began the quarter mile walk to the outlet. We had seen no less than 13 bears flying in the day before in the general area and now spotted a young sow with two cubs right were we had planned to fish. Then we spotted another young boar on the bank not far away along with larger bears further up the lake shore. I was in 7th heaven. Rebecca was probably thinking about safer vacation spots she'd read about but never balked as we walked towards the fishing bears. Lexi was following close behind Tia and Phil as they were both armed, she's a faster study than her parents! The sow and cubs reluctantly gave up the outlet for the time being but reappeared many times over the next 4 hours.

Our hopes were to catch a couple different species of Salmon, some Dolly Varden and perhaps some Grayling during the week and we certainly pulled that off. We caught enough Sockeyes and then some for dinner even picked up a Dolly Varden before we were done for the afternoon.

One of the highlights of the site was standing thigh deep at that river mouth and having 500 to a 1000 salmon boil up around you in a frenzy of crimson and silver urgency ingrained within them since the dawning of their kind.

Bears would show up now and then to try bluff us out of the most popular fishing spots. You became aware of a polite game of diplomacy playing out with the true owners of these surroundings and you always knew who really was the boss. We were guest and behaved politely. When fishing here you learn to remain aware of your surroundings.

What Rocky, Tia and Phil fixed in the evenings and every other meal for the following week was spectacular, fresh Salmon supplemented with Caribou, Moose, fresh salads, and the occasional Salmon Berry pie we were tucked in like ticks.

We made a flight to the Pacific coast one afternoon, a short hop away and landed on a typical gravel bar. But before casting a line spent some time among some cliffs watching Puffins and Murre's flying in and out of their nest on a cliff face above us. The Puffins landings could best be described as controlled crashes and source of lot of laughter. A northern sea otter cruised by just offshore and the ever present rain pelted us as the tide slowly came in. 

Members of the local fishing club had just left the beach so we slipped in under the fence unnoticed 

Soon we stood at the mouth of another spawning stream where Hump Back salmon could be seen leaping in the surf and jostling for position at the creek mouth. The Humpy's aggressively hit our flies and spoons and soon we were in the fish business again. The Humpy's fought hard and when beached some showed sea lice and scars from the journey so far. I looked around once and we had all four rods bent double as Phil filleted another salmon behind us. Cast, hook, release, sweep the background for bears and make another cast. While we were to early for Silvers the Humpy's kept us focused. I find it hard imagine a bigger cousin on the line but hope to find out some day soon.

For grins we'd strapped an original 1903 production Rigby 7x57 onto the strut and flew it with us to the beach. As both Tia and Lexi were read all of Corbett tales endlessly as youngsters, packing adequate ammo and a bunch of youthful memories we turned the Rigby loose more than a few times just to hear it roar. That old rifle still packed some thunder despite being 116 years old. A fine rifle in good game country again. 

The days flew by as they do on any good trip. There was the another bear to run into at very close range, Phil with his pistol drawn my daughter standing at his side wondering what in the heck to do next, Tia edging in a little closer to her dad, both calm but ready. No one panicked, we had the wind in our favor and the boar had other places to go. We were about to pirate his fishing hole and I knew he was politely laid up near by watching and waiting for us to leave. 

                                                              While we fought off the elements Rocky commanded the kitchen and kept us whole. 

The closest fishing to camp involved a 1-1/2 mile hike over the tundra, through a bog, into some alders to another unnamed river. We fished this spot last and were lucky enough to get into some Grayling and quite a few Dolly Varden. Our  most productive fly being a salmon egg pattern drifted behind the Sockeye schools that had just moved into that river system. The largest Dolly was in the 18" to 20” range and they occasionally land bigger Dolly's some close to 30”. My daughter caught one very nice Grayling on a mouse pattern and I caught one Grayling that we killed that when cut open was found to have a complete Vole in its belly. When you swim here it's at your own risk.

           "If it was me I'd try and keep the fly off the opposite bank"

      Summertime and the living is easy 

      Pleasantly aged gentlemen in crumpled hats contemplating the real meaning of the word "Presidential" .

Taj, his wife Kate and their one year old daughter Penelope tipped a wing and flew over our heads as we prepared to hike back to camp. It was good to see Taj again it had been a few year since we'd gotten together at an SCI convention. His daughter clearly in love with her Grampa and stuck to him like Velcro the whole evening. 

The next morning we packed up our kit, ate one last lunch and then said our goodbyes when the weather allowed Taj to fly us back to King Salmon for our trip home. We saw a few bears early on the way out and as the landscape rolled beneath us I felt a sense of complete satisfaction. The trip had been a roaring success on many levels and done with not only a top notch operation but also with good friends. 

           I look at these pictures as I type and can remember every day, each bend in the river and almost every bear. 


Monday, July 29, 2019

Springtime in the Rockies

This spring Turkey season was going to be somewhat bitter sweet for me as my daughter would be heading for college in August and begining the next great adventure in her life. We have been hunting these birds together ever since she was four and often in the early days she'd be fast asleep in a kids back pack making our way in or out of the woods. It had become a spring ritual that we both greatly looked forward to.

This year we hunted some new ground, and I spent a fair amount of time roosting some gobblers and watching the direction of the flocks fly down at dawn. The four mature gobblers had found the potential for love with a bunch a hens and some of those hens sounded old and bossy. We had a month to make it happen and cool morning air always feels good with your back against a tree.

The first morning found us tucked in 130 yards from the roost of the same flock and like clock work the birds opened up right on cue. What they did next was pure unpredictable turkey behavior and sailed across the canyon to land and strut instead of at our feet as they'd done all the past mornings while I was scouting. Pinned down on our side of the canyon all we could do was watch the four long beards compete for attention. They finally circled way above us and worked into a wheat field 600 yards away. Call as I might none of the birds paid us any attention. Better to leave these and look for other birds for now.

Two hours later we had two jake's and a long beard within easy range but Lexi couldn't shoot for fear of possibly hitting more than one bird or sailing some heavy shot towards some plate glass windows on vacant ranch house down the hill. When the birds cleared the ranch house it was if all three birds were Duct Taped together. As if one bird they finally walked into the cedars and out of sight. Lexi finally lowered her Model 12 and face mask. The grin said it all and ended the excitement for that day.

The same scenario played itself out twice more on the next hunts. I called in one long beard we dubbed the Tank one morning with two hens. He pulled 60 yards away and bred both hens repeatedly for the next half an hour. As one hen was being schmoozed the alternate would walk over to us feed and preen 20 yards from our location then walk back to the gobbler and trade places with the other hen. That hen would then follow her sisters routine and all but stand on Lexi's boots. Finally all three walked out of sight, exhausted but content. Love will do that to you.

There was the morning of the "Sprint". We had slipped into place well before light set up two deeks and waited as the roosted flock came to life and then sailed across the canyon again, but this time we were on the right side of the canyon. I was behind Lexi and lower down a slope pressed into a cedar tree and couldn't see anything but my daughter. I heard the birds on the ground in front of us called a few times and saw her raise the 20 gauge and begin the swivel the muzzle to the right rapidly. It soon became evident that the gobbler had slipped around Lexi just out of range at a trot to catch up with some hens that had run by first. He never broke stride heading downhill to catch up with the hens in an alfalfa field. An hour later we had repositioned ourselves above that same flock which had picked up other members of the dawn fly down.

We crawled through some light sage to the edge of draw and spotted the flock only a 150 yards below us. I began to cut and yelp with a hen that was clearly in charge of this flock and soon began to work her way uphill to confront the loud mouth up the draw, which was me. The gobblers and other hens followed but were taking their damn sweet time and soon that bossy matron hen was almost in our laps. Lexi was sitting on my right, more exposed than I with gun on her shoulder. Soon the hen had worked out that things weren't looking quite showroom condition and sent out the alarm. All we could do was watch the flock trot out of sight behind her. As they headed into the center of another wheat field leaving no approach for a set up we pulled the plug and headed in for lunch.

I think for the next three hunts we called in every jake and hen on the property but the older gobblers stayed elusive. Sure we saw them, called to them, mixed it up with them but we never had one commit. One morning we had five long beards courting one lone hen. You'd think one of those toms when hearing another hen just down the hill at the edge of some maples would leave the rest of the team and hot foot it over to say hello. But no, love is just as blind with turkeys.

Preparing to hit the woods again the next morning I asked Lexi if she was ready for a dawn patrol attempt ? "Dad lets not leave until at least 1pm, as we've shot more than a few birds in the late afternoon". She had a point and with the season going into the 3rd week it did make sense. Let the hens go to the nest leaving the gobblers alone in the afternoon. Why not ?

We left at 2pm the next day and drove to the norther most part of the property to the base of canyon and as we gathered up our gear Lexi said "there's two now". I failed to see them as the two birds walked into a side draw 400 yards away. We slipped up the slope to an old earthen dam and dropped to our hands and knees and inched up our side of the dam to peek over the other side. It was then I saw the fan. A tom was in full display about 60 yards away at the edge of some thigh high weeds with just the crown of his fan visible. Crawling the final 5 to 8 yards to the top of the damn wouldn't put the bird in range and expose us from any other tactical move once we got there. So we elected to sweep wide around the bird to out left, swing above the bird and begin the call when we found some cover. Sounds great doesn't it !

So we made the move, swinging a couple hundred yards left, gaining altitude and found a thin line of trees to creep into. Just as we were setting up and looking down into the old dried up damn filled with thigh high weeds no less then a dozen hens stood up out of the weeds and began to putt softly. The gig was up but the entire flock was not really yet sure of what all the commotion was really about. Alert they slowly walked out of our line of sight.

We quickly peel back to the left and uphill again to try and get a couple hundred yards above and ahead of them hoping they'd settle down and then try to call the long beard from the flock. We were scrambling up the ridge on a terraced wheat field when we stopped in tiny grove of trees. At that moment we heard a gobble just above us and to our left. The bird was screened from view by the tiny band of trees. Lexi looked back over her shoulder at me as if to say "whoa he's close" when I motioned for her to kneel down behind my pack and point the muzzle uphill towards the edge of the terrace lip and to the edge of the trees. I softly purred and cut just once.

The bird gobbled again closer, now at the edge of the trees we were kneeling in. A jake suddenly appeared directly above us and peered over the edge of the terrace. I whispered "jake" and Lexi calmly held her fire, another gobble rattle the trees just to the left of the where the Jake was standing and then the long beard stepped into view. He looked directly down the slope at us not 15 yards away when the shotgun went off. The gobblers lost his grip on the terrace and tumbled over the edge and rolling towards us.

Lexi ejected the spent hull and walked a few feet over to the bird now flapping around as only a head shot turkey can, the pattern at that range was pretty tight and she just managed to dent the top of his scalp. Finally he kicked his last and lay still. The face mask were pulled down and we sat in the grass awhile not saying much, showing respect for the bird and trying to suck it all in as usual. I began thinking aloud as to how fast it all happened since we heard him gobble the 1st time and we both agreed it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds. By chance we were in the right spot in the only cover available for 300 yards and at the very right instant. I'd rather be lucky than good anytime.

We hadn't a clue if more birds were traveling with this jake and older gobbler but these two were headed for the very same draw the other flock was in. The season for her was now over, we'd gotten in six good hunts, saw plenty of birds and had plenty of up close encounters.

Spring Break at her selected college does not coincide with our turkey season in Utah. But there's a chance that after final exams, with a quick dust up at the dorm and a non-stop flight home we might  be able to catch the last 10 days of our spring season here, my favorite time to hunt these great birds and with my favorite turkey hunting partner.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

More often than not

Recently I prepped a Winchester Model 70, Pre-64 receiver for a set of rings for a Schmidt and Bender 1" Summit. Due to the geometry and position of the original Winchester bolt handle and its relation to the bolt body you can always count on having to use Medium height or equivalent rings and bases to allow enough bolt handle clearance on any standard size ocular bell. The larger the ocular bell the higher you have to go in ring height for proper clearance.

I have a box of old factory rings and couple sets of mine that I have scrapped for what ever reason that I use to get the preliminary height established for the front ring. When the front ring is at a stage that it can be screwed to the barreled receiver I place the scope in a selected front ring, tighten down the top half and visually see how much room I have to work with in regard to the objective bell and barrel ahead of the receiver. At the same time you also check the bolt handles clearance with the ocular bell. At that point you can determine if you want to lower the front scope ring anymore, test again then carry on and start fitting the rear ring. All simple procedure. 

However some Pre-64 bolts have had a more than generous amount of material removed from the underside of the bolt guide pad. The pad was designed to help prevent the bolt from binding up during rapid manipulation of the bolt. This system worked out pretty well over the long haul but every now and then you run into a bolt that has a slightly under-size recoil lug in regard to thickness or height on the left side of the bolt and a slightly over-sized lug raceway, again on the left side of the action. This is a case of stacking tolerances working against you. So the bolt is clearing the lug race-way as you open the action but due to the "stacking slop" it over-rotating ever so slightly as you retract the bolt.

Echols where is all this going ?

I determined the ring height I wanted to use with this Summit and the bolt would clear everything but that damn rubber bumper at the extreme end of the rapid focus ring. Can anyone tell me why we need to have a rubber eye piece ? if the manufacture made scope with a minimum of 3-3/4" of eye relief we wouldn't require such nonsense anyway.

Now pay attention as there will be a quiz

To correct this situation you could make or install a higher set of rings. In this case at least .180 higher to allow that cheese ball rubber ring to properly clear the bolt handle. This might mean raising you head higher off the comb to get full field of view. Some would have cut the rubber ring off and some would have just allowed the bolt handle to be forced over the rubber duck.

Having seen this before, I determine the left race-way height with Gage blocks, yep .002 oversized towards the rear of the raceway. Then I measured the thickness of the left recoil lug, pretty close to nominal but tapered so its narrower at the outside edge of the lug, the very contact area that rides on left the rail. Call it this .0015 under nominal from the right side lug. With the bolt body placed in the mill vise between V-blocks I then indicated the underside of the left recoil lug so it was parallel with the mill table then ran the indicator back to the anti-bind pad and found that the pad has been grossly milled off in the bowels of New Haven during birth.

By inserting increasing larger Gage pins under the anti-bind pad and the top side of the left rail I determined that a .015 Gage pin would just allow the bolt to barely move under tension. By having the Gage pin, the bolt body and the scope in place at the same time I could see the bolt handle now clears the eye piece rubber ring with more than adequate space.

By adding height/material to the underside of the anti bind pad, which is closer to the center-line of the bolt body we decrease the amount of rotational arch on the bolt handle side at the contact postilion of the bolt handle and rubber ring. Simple geometry at its best. Now how to best to correct this ?

The first time I tried to correct this I had the AB-pad Tig welded, adding the required material and surface grinding it down to fit, this worked OK but took quite a bit of time and added expense. Depending on the guy doing the welding you could very likely warp the bolt in the middle then you'd have real problems. Today Laser welding it might be the way to go but you still have the down time and shipping expense.

Curt Crum once told me that he had used Nylon pins to correct this issue. The Nylon pins stand proud of the pad checking that added rotational arch. I tried and used that method a few times, substituting Nylon with Delrin and to my knowledge the "fix" on those bolts are still operational and working fine. Making of the pins took quite a bit of extra time as they need to be lathe turned to fit the drilled holes.

Finally I settled on 1/16" annealed O-1 round stock, drilled 3 holes on a .500 span allowing the holes to crowd the inside edge of the AB-pad flat with a Carbide two flute Micro drill bit. DO NOT try to use High Speed or Cobalt as you will work harden the surface and break the bit. Then you have more problems.

These 1/16th holes are cut .150 deep. My O-1 round stock that runs approx. .0625 is then slightly tapered with a diamond hone as its being spun in my lathe so the bottom .050 of the pin is .0615 or there abouts. The pins are left .250 in length a first. The tapered section of the pin should just enter the drilled hole. A very small drop of Loctite 380 Black Max is swabbed around the inside of the degreased 1/16" holes, then each pin is driven/slammed in place with a 8oz hammer and punch. These pins are now permanent.

Wait 24 hours for the 380 Black Max to completely set then return the bolt body to the mill vise between a set of V blocks, rotated the bolt until the lugs are level with the world and snug up the vise.
Then using a 3/16" carbide end mill lower the quill until you can just slip a .0015 feeler Gage between the bottom side flutes of the end mill and the original anti bind pad surface CLOSET TO THE BOLT BODY. Remember that factory induced slant on the pad.

Since a .015 Gage pin sipped under the pad would just allow the bolt to move from experience I know that I'll need to remove very close to half the thickness of the pin before its all said and done. But If you've never done this, easy does it Sherlock. Remove .003 of pin material, remove the bolt from the vise and slide it into the raceway. To tight ? it should be, remove .003 more and check it again. Run bolt in and out of the race way as one spot is bound to allow some restriction. Now also note the position of the bolt handle and knob, this why we're doing this exercise anyway. You should now have ample clearance between the top side of the bolt handle stem and your Ocular Rubber Nose Ring. The amount of gained clearance will surprise you.

Return the bolt body to the mill vise, set up one last time and remove another .001 to .002 of material from the top of the O1 pins, we're now at .007 to .008 of pin height. Remove the bolt again, knock off any burrs with a hard rock stick and some 320 grit W-D paper apply some light oil to the bolt and raceway and return the bolt to the receiver then manipulate the bolt as if you were in the field. The bolt should run smoothly.

Lastly and this is important, return the bolt to the mill vise, level the bolt, drop the end mill to the original surface of the ANTI-BIND PADS and carefully remove approx. .015 to .020 from the OUTSIDE EDGE of all three pins. The will insure the bolt stop will not come in contact with the pins when the action is completely reassembled and the bolt manipulated.

Now if we all lobbied Scope Manufactures to quit adding on all this extra crap they feel we must have on a scope we could mount a scope closer to the center-line of the bore and the comb like it use to be.

Rubber Ducks indeed. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

You don't see these everyday Part 3

Tom Snyder ( a practicing Long Gun maker out of Hancock Michigan was recently tasked with building a single shot for a client and I received his perfectly glass bedded Farquharson pattern in early October. This Farquharson variant was based on a New Model, Westley Richards 1897 action. Tom had re-barreled this take down action for the classic 450-400 and a second barrel to a 30 caliber Wildcat based off the original 348 Winchester case as the rim diameter and thickness was almost identical to the 450-400 case. Tom then made the rib, sights and figured out how to best handle the take down system that would also include scope mounts. Lots of fiddling to be worked out.

Taking the time to make the pattern for a project you've never attempted can allow you a visual idea of where you want to go stylistically, a road map so to speak. Fitting a rib, the sights and all the requested hardware that the client had envisioned can also allow the client to handle the mock up for fit if he's willing to travel. It's real easy to change the lines on a pattern with splices of wood and or Bondo before you back yourself into a corner with the piece of French walnut. With a pattern you don't have to measure twice and cut once. With a pattern you can cut and then build back all you want.

If you take the time to make a pattern stock it will give you a cosmetic 3 D blue-print before you wonder if you've taken off to much wood as an after thought. Ever been caught in that situation? early on I have

I wonder if I'll ever see other Farquharson stock before I unplug and cover the pantograph for the last time ?