Sunday, September 27, 2015

British Columbia Adventure, Part 2

When you ride into a camp late at night with any ram it tends to make folks walk up and take notice. Usually when I have ridden in late it was because we got turned around, buried a horse in a bog our had a rodeo right at sundown. Craig however was coming into camp, hungry, happy and bone tired. It had been quite a day. Reg saw the rams horns cinched in the rigging as he walked over to the tired string. Smiles break out, hands are shook, hats pushed back and a story is born. The emotions and camaraderie in a gathering of hunters fresh off the hill has been sadly suppressed by much of our modern world.

You can be too tired to eat. When you finally sit on your bunk and begin the process of stripping off the layers of wool, pile and polypropylene it almost becomes work just getting into a sleeping bag. Once in the bag your body triggers a complete reactor shut down. It is mid morning before you know it. Hot coffee and flap jacks help smooth out the wrinkles of aching muscles.

You walk over to the rams horns for the third time since you rolled out of the sack, hold them once again, feel the weight of them. You lift up the cape and press your face into the salt and pepper hair and breath deep. You do this a couple times as you know this moment only happens a few times in you're hunting career if your fortunate. You finish that 4th cup of coffee all the while talking about the rain, the stalk, the ride out, remembering yet another detail. There is no hurry to go anywhere today. The team stays in camp today and it is a happy camp.

Craig now has almost a week to look for Moose. But like the rams they have yet to see a Moose. For the next two days the Moose hunt draws a blank. The team rides into one valley after another, glass until their eyes bleed but have not picked up the flash of white paddles anywhere. On the afternoon of the third day the packer spots a bull a mile and a half across a valley. Soon two cows are spotted and the bull finally steps into the open. The guide is none committal about judging the bull from that distance, a smart move for an experienced guide. Craig however had seen all he's needed to see. A plan is made, a route chosen and they saddled up. When they get above where the Moose should have been they begin to optically pick the timber apart trying to locate the group of Moose. Soon the cows are spotted and then bull walks into an opening 175 yards down the slope. A quick horn assessment is made and Craig decides to shoot, it's now or never.  Craig wraps up in the sling and sends the first round towards the bulls shoulder.

The bull continues following the cows while Craig tries his best to place a bullet between Spruce limbs and pucker brush whenever he sees an opportunity. The bull stops for just a second in another opening and Craig fires his fifth round. This shot registers a definite reaction but again the bull continues into the heavy cover. The rifle is now empty and there isn't a Moose in sight.

Feeling at least some of his shots were accurately placed Craig gets to his feet and reloads the magazine. The walk down the slope reveals a Moose-less landscape, the guys spread out. For the next 40 minutes they look where they feel the bull should be. No blood is found, had they misjudged the range? The location? Had there ever even been a bull walking through this tangle of brush? The packer had filmed the event on his camera phone so they dig out the phone and review the footage. Sure enough there had been a Moose, it stumbled after the last round was fired, it was standing by that one big Spruce that was ? Crap !!!!! further up the slope than they had been looking. They converged on that tree and there lays the bull. It had expired after taking a few more steps. His Legend has claimed another victim.

Craig has shot a few big Moose in the past and this Canadian version was grand in every respect. You never really appreciate the size of any Moose until you really walk up to one and this bull was no exception. With a spread of 62", wide palms and outstanding fronts this bull was another dream realized. They sat down for a while to process it all. Laying before them was another testament to persistence. After a while they cleared away some brush for photographs and then noting the time began the chore of breaking down the 1600 pound bull. If you have ever engaged in this process you know damn well that it is not a 30 minute job. As the guide capes the bull the packer and Craig began to skin and quarter the carcass. Eventually the saddles are re-cinched and the panniers loaded while each horse protest in their own individual way with the newly added weight.

The packer is in complete control of this task. You do what you're asked, when you're asked and then stay out of the way. Transporting this kind of load is an art form that is learned from the school of very hard knocks. At last they are ready to travel, police up the site leaving the remains for a wandering Grizzly. Satisfied they head for camp.

Craig rides behind the horse carrying the horns and is amazed as the antlers just slice through the timber and brush as they covered ground for the next 5 hours. Bending green tree limbs out of the way and breaking off any dead timber that doesn't yield. Eventually they ride into base camp. Reg is there to meet them. "Wow, nice bull" he comments, the guide is still non committal on the size of the bulls horns. " Really a nice bull, guys" Reg exclaimed . They unloaded the horses, stow their gear for one more night and finally walk into the main lodge for dinner. Craig is still trying to suck it all in. On the long ride out he had a lot of time to recall the events of the last 17 days. While game has been hard to locate the plan to allow enough time and put in the effort has paid off. His gear was correct and had held out the elements, optics perfect and his Legend delivered when called upon. Sleep came like a freight train that night. There was no reveille call at dawn, the crew slept in.

Now with a few days left Craig wanted to fish, forget Grizzlies, Goats and Caribou the thought of sitting on a seat that wasn't rocking from side to side while grunting and farting up the trail sounded  like Heaven. Reg knew just the spot and soon is able to conjure some bomber Bull Trout. Any trout that comes into the boat between 24 "and 32" and weighs 12 pounds on average gets my respect no matter where you are.

I'd say that Craig had a hunt of a lifetime in a wilderness that is still vast, pristine and rugged. One goes into these trips with hopes and expectations yet often the cards are not in your favor no matter the effort expended or the quality of the outfit and the guides, It's hunting plain and simple, there are no guarantee's. This trip was one of sweat, effort and some hunting luck. Well, done Craig, Reg and the entire crew of Collinwood Bros.

Hunt information can be found at

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A British Columbia Adventure, Part 1

Craig is not new to hunting sheep and knows all to well the challenge of having to endure weeks of rain and snow born on glaciers blown in from the Arctic. His first 10 day Dall sheep hunt was shut out by weather. Above the Canadian border you just can't bank on weeks of fair weather and old rams anywhere are never plentiful. You need time to give a hunt like this justice. His philosophy since that first hunt is to always hedge your bets.

While prospecting for a Stone Sheep hunt Craig had contacted Reg Collingwood of Collingwood Brothers Outfitters ( He liked what he heard and requested to hunt 21 days if that was at all possible? Mr Collingwood complied, 21 days it was. Then the years slowly began to tick by.


Shortly after the hunt was a booked I got a call from Craig requesting information on a Legend, time to build, cost, weight and potential accuracy ? He didn't want a 6 pound 300 WSM or 11 pound Ultra Mag. The conversation wasn't 10 minutes old and I already felt a connection. He wanted either a standard 270 Winchester or a 30-06, that choice was really left to me. He didn't like to shoot beyond 350 yards, preferring to rely on hunting skill to get inside that self imposed boundary. He wanted the rifle to weigh scoped and loaded around 8-3/4 pounds. He wanted it to shoot well enough to land three bullets inside a cantaloupe at 300 yards if he did his part. He asked me if this was at all reasonable ? I said yes, perfectly reasonable.

The rifle was finished in early summer. Craig called a few times while shooting the rifle in Arizona's 118 degree temperatures to keep me posted on his progress. He like the Legends balance, its weight and the accuracy. He could indeed hit small fruit at 300 yards while shooting prone over his back pack. He spent a lot time with the rifle at the range and quickly determined where the 140 grain TSX's would land at 350 yards with a 200 yard zero. The installed Schmidt & Bender Summit had no dots, no stadia wires, no dials to adjust, just a simple duplex reticle. The Summit was adjusted to 6 power and left alone, if he had to thread the needle he could always crank up the power. After confirming the accuracy of the load I had developed he never fired another shot from the bench as his sling, his day pack and the dirt became his rest of choice. Time became short and he finally headed north.

The Spatsizi Mountains of British Columbia are damp on the driest of days. When he arrived in camp the weather set in and the temperatures dropped. An early winter front came knocking, testing the camps, guides, horses and Craig. The Legend went into a scabbard everyday despite the rain, sleet and snow. He diligently wiped the rifle down every night to the amusement of the guide and packer. Water, pine needles and leaves fell or poured out of the magazine box and barrel channel more than once as he cleaned off the rifle at the end of each day. Maintenance in the field is the key, it isn't going to clean itself.

For 11 days the rain, sleet and snow didn't let up. They rode and glassed everyday they could, hunted hard but so far had not found any legal rams. Most modern day sheep hunts would be coming to an end by this time, Craig had seen this movie before. They changed drainage's, changed camps and kept grinding it out. A decision was made to fly into and entirely new area but weather prevented a transfer that day. Grounded the team decided to ride up into a valley right out of the main base camp and spend that day at least in the field as they awaited for better flying conditions. A big ram had been seen in this drainage the previous year so going on last years memory they rode into the hills looking for a ghost.

Three hours in the saddle had them breaking out above the timberline just below the lip of huge grass covered mountain top plateau. As they dismounted, looking for a place to stretch and eat lunch, they caught a glimpse of three feeding rams less than 200 yards away. There was a mad scramble to ease the horses out of sight, gather up the rifle, optics and then relocate the group of sheep. They weren't sure if the rams had even seen the horses. On hands and knees they crawled forward to a small rise to see all three rams looking in their direction, above them and now 400 yards away. The Rams didn't appear alarmed and one ram was visually much larger than the other two. They felt they could cut the distance by backing up and once out of sight, cutting to the left while staying under the ridge line. They made this play and the maneuver cut the distance to 330 yards. This was day 13 in the field and all the pieces were finally falling into place.

The rams bedded down and not wanting to risk a marginal shot the team bedded down as well. Craig eased into a solid shooting position, clearing away ground litter and placing the guides back pack into a notch to give him the best possible support for a solid prone position. For the next two hours they quietly debated the legality of the largest and darkest ram. The body angle of this bedded ram made it difficult to confirm 8 annular rings or if the horn tips broke over the bridge of the nose. The stage was now set so Craig lay in his hide and waited. A light rain continued to fall, the ground grew cold, muscles began to ache but no one moved. Two hours later all three rams rose to their feet. The largest darker ram now turned his head from side to side, it was obvious his horns met all the requirements for being a mature legal ram and then some. All the practice in the Arizona heat and his confidence in his Legend was about to pay off. Having dry fired on the bedded ram for 2 hours his breathing was calm and collected, he slid the safety forward, settled the reticle on a predetermined spot and slowly took up slack in the trigger.

Dead on his feet the ram reared up on his hind legs, took two steps backward then fell 60 feet off a ledge and out of sight. There was no doubt he had centered the ram at his point of aim, the guide muttered "nice shot, I think ?". Craig slowly got to his feet, cramped from the protracted prone position ejected and pocketed the spent case. The words "that really was a nice shot" seemed to keep coming from out of a fog. The reality of the moment was finally settling in and his hands began to tremble. They gathered up their kit and planned a route across the canyon to where they thought the ram had fallen. Forty minutes later and safely across the divide they found the ram where he'd come to rest. Respect was quietly given as they ran their hands over the charcoal colored hair, smiles broke out, the light rain was forgotten.

The ram appeared to be in great physical condition, its coat dark, so typical of his clan. The annual rings placed him at 10 1/2 years old. The bullet had been placed perfectly, a testament to all those hours of practice. Pictures were taken and finally the ram was carefully quartered and caped for the long ride back to the main camp.

If you're a passionate wilderness hunter you never forget an afternoon like this. You carry it with you to remember when walking in this country is no longer physically possible. You accept the weather as it comes. Except the hours in the saddle and lung burning climbs up yet another ridge in hopes of seeing into the next basin and then beyond. Sometimes it all comes together. Now Craig had eight days to look for a Moose and irritate a Bull Trout if he wanted. The ride down valley didn't seem quite as long that evening.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Revisiting The Colorado School of Trades

Just before the Memorial Day Weekend I spent a day at the Colorado School of Trades giving three one and half hour presentations to the student body. I am a graduate of the School of Trades and was also an instructor for three years while I lived in Denver. I built rifles in my shop during the day and taught in the Stocking Making Dept. at night. I do remember having to monitor approximately 60 stocks being made at any given time as a real challenge. It was also a great learning experience for me to keep all those balls in the air. I don't remember having to sleep at that age.

The core of my presentation was geared towards my involvement in the trade for the past three decades and the evolving role of the Custom Rifle Maker today. I also addressed the past, current and future outlook for someone wanting to enter this profession from my point of view. My intentions were to ladle out the some honest realities for those in attendance.

The Power Point Presentation contained 115 images that visually walked through many of the procedures used to build both my Legend and Classic Rifles. I discussed a variety of themes in regard to form, function, accuracy and marketing. I touched on the importance engineering, design, jigs, fixtures and techniques required for this line of work and how the majority of this tooling would need to be made as it would never be found in a Brownells or Midway catalog. While brief at best, the subject matter did give the audience a glimmer of what to expect in this profession. I can assure you it was not all peaches and cream. I hope it clued up and gave insight to some of those in attendance that may want to travel this same road. In the words of Angus & Brian Young "It's a long way to the top if you want to Rock & Roll".

During a break for lunch I walked onto the floor and as usual made a nuisance of myself. One thing was apparent and that was the administration had elected to step up and invest in some very nice equipment for the students. I was impressed with the machine improvements, noting the addition of CNC machining centers and a CAD design area set aside for the students to design a part in Solidworks, program the part and then make that part. The welding section has wisely gone to teaching the use of TIG, a paint booth was in place for painting fiberglass stocks and they hope to install an oven for baking Cerakote soon.  

Walking among the benches it was apparent that little had changed in regard to the "hands on"part of the education. A lot of ground was being covered, as elbows and hands shaped, bent, beat, blended and transformed blocks of steel, wood and various synthetics into the finished projects. I didn't see anything at that time that looked as if it needed life support which is a testament to the instructors.

I do feel that these trade schools should be much longer in duration akin to those in the Europe but the educational systems and funding are radically different in each case. Apparently most graduates will be hired by companies such as Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, etc, others will become employed by smaller sporting goods stores or independent gun shops while a few others are considering traveling as contract armorer's for the military. I wonder if I could get a gig checkering M-24's ? 

I have stopped and visited CST every so often to make sure it was still there, looked, smelled and sounded the same. It does and I still feel a connection to this institution.  For me it was the key to the door that has carried me a long way. My hat is off the administration, instructors and students and I thank them for their recent hospitality and interest.