Sunday, December 23, 2018

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

A friend of mine from Kansas arrived in town this fall to try and shoot his first Mule Deer. This was Bill's second hunting trip to Utah in 18 years and he was hoping to make the most of it in the northern part of the state. He drew a general season deer permit for October and was granted access to hunt some property leased by a great friend of mine who was acquainted with Bill as well. A few of us spent quite some time looking for a buck on his behalf beginning in early September.

I told Bill that the shots can be on the long side so it would be a good idea to get in some extended range practice beforehand. Bill lives in the Kansas country side and shoots as often as he changes his shoes. Varmints of his property have a very limited warranty and as expected he showed up in good form.

We hung a target and he fired a fouler, made a minor windage correction then shot a single group. His comment at the target frame was "if you want it any better than that you're going to have to get another shooter". We picked up and left the range.

We then spent the next couple days glassing bucks and trying to decide which one to try and hunt and then how to get in range if the opportunity presented itself. Bill has a set of self articulating knees that operate solely on their own and the severity of the slope in much of this terrain was going to be make things a bit more complicated then Bret or I had figured into the equation.

A couple of times we spotted a buck way above of way below us and when asked if he thought he could make it close enough to that buck to shoot he'd say "get'n there's no problem, getting back isn't going to happen boys"we needed to change up our strategy.

Rather than spot and stalk we decided set up an ambush and had spent time noting the route of a group of bucks that fed low in some agricultural fields then slowly make their way up canyon to bed as the morning progressed. The problem now was the number of other deer, lots of other deer that would be moving uphill at the same time as well into the falling canyon winds. We would have to be above all these deer to begin with. Nothing is ever perfect but this was not our first rodeo either.

Opening morning of the deer season had us sneaking onto a bench above a canyon well before daylight. Our original chosen destination just didn't feel right to me so protesting knees and all Bill and I climbed higher up the slope. Does and young bucks could be seen feeding towards us as soon as the light permitted. The larger Bucks had been coming up the south side of the canyon rim which is were we had finally settled in. The wind wasn't great but at the moment was blowing high enough over the approaching herds to at least allow them to come into range without detecting us. When the thermals began to change it would be a crap shoot at best. Buck after buck came into view but not the mature bucks we'd seen earlier scouting.  Then from across the canyon to the north they made an appearance. Two of the larger bucks could be seen slowly walking through a patch of cedars looking for and finally finding a place to bed down.

We had the wind in our favor but from our current position we could not make a move towards those bedded bucks without being picked off instantly. The line of sight to the bedded bucks was right at 800 yards. Now some today would consider that short range and set up to attempt a shot. I'd rather actually hunt than plink so we weighed the options. As we watched more and more deer funneled past us. At 10 O Clock we decided to slip out of sight to the south with some terrain to conceal our retreat then meet Bret and discuss the options. Undisturbed those bucks were going to be tucked in tight for the day.

We ate an early lunch and came up with an alternate plan that might work. Bill and his knee's sat tight while Bret and I made a wide loop out of sight and under the hillside that was now covered with bedded deer. Because of the topography if the prevailing wind blowing out of the south-west held during the day it would keep our scent under and away from the bedded deer and then blow down the canyon from the deer to us during the thermal reversal later on in the afternoon. We might be able to slip within range of where I thought the bucks would emerge from the cedars around dusk to feed. It all sounded good but there's always a risk and we darn sure didn't want to let those bucks know they were being hunted.

Bill and I then retraced my foots steps only this time we planned on getting closer. We hugged as much cover as we could slipping tighter up the canyons southern bench. Does and fawns across the canyon stood up when they saw us and picked they're way further up the draw spooked but not overly panicked. Each time a group got up I wanted to loose my lunch but we let them walk out of sight before continuing the stalk. The bucks were still completely out of sight as we eased up the draw to a spot that put us 300 yards from the edge of cedars that held the sleeping bucks. This was the end of the road any closer we'd risk a complete bust. The time was twelve noon, our wind was still favorable so we settled into what little ground cover we could scrape together.

Did I mention Bill was deaf ?

He has a set of hearing aids but I know for a fact they're only for decoration. Rocks have better hearing capability than Bill. Did I say I'm deaf ? Yep and I don't have hearing aids. What happened next is what some of us can expect in our golden years. For three hours we sat in the sun working on our tans, Pamela Anderson would have been envious and about the time my rear end had completely gone to ground when a pair of does walked into the upper edge of the cut wheat field. Soon a pair of young bucks joined them. Bill shifted around a bit and tried to get his shooting sticks set up more to his liking. I was not prepared to see one of the larger bucks we were after step out of the cedars and walk into the field. I softly said "Bill there's one of the mature bucks we want, he's 298 yards away you might want to get ready while I look him over".

Bill thought I said " there is a piece of pigs liver in that canyon please send a post man down there to paint it".

I was pretty engrossed in trying to look the bucks horns over and decide if we should take him now or wait for the other mature buck to show up as well. While I was looking through the spotting scope it sounded to me like Bill was erecting an oil derrick to my left. The buck was looking around still unconcerned as Bill continued to wrestle with his shooting sticks. Bill being stone deaf kept looking for the perfect stick position and making enough noise to almost wake the dead. The buck now content he was in safe spot lay done with all but his horns visible to Bill. I could see him clearly but that didn't help at all. The construction project to my left kept going and soon the buck looked right at us finally having detected Bill swinging a shovel. I whispered something to the effect of "Bill damn it quit moving he's looking right at us" and got "what ? " for a reply. The next couple of minutes the buck stayed bedded but the down canyon racket finally took its toll. He stood up look at us one last time and slowly made his way towards the trees.

I mumbled something bright like "when he turns broadside shoot him, he's now at 307 yards" I was looking at the deer while Bill was looking at me wondering what to do ???? I again gave another  range call as the buck slipped from view. I looked at Bill with a confused glare.  Bill looked at me said " What did you want me to do ? I couldn't tell, shoot or not shoot? "

Bill wanting to record every pivotal moment of his hunt got untangled from his construction project just long enough to take this pic of me just after the buck walked in to the trees. I must have been thinking how in the hell are we going to make that happen again. To quote Toby Keith "I'm not as good as I once was, that's just the cold hard truth".

Time of death, well lets call it 3:11 pm.

With the mature buck now back in the trees we got real close to one another and had a discussion. Later on people in the valley below would comment on hearing an argument far off in the distance that Saturday afternoon. Using finger puppets and crayons we mutually decided that if any other large bucks were to walk back out of the trees that I would give the thumbs up and Bill would shoot at one. Bill then took some more time to get his sticks set up just right. Once settled in, he gave me the thumbs up, we were now back in business.

As the hours went by more deer fed out into the wheat, young bucks sparred with one another while the rest of the growing herd fed. Then the same mature buck stepped into the corner of the wheat. Bill and I saw him at the same time, he looked at me and I gave the sign. I heard the safely disengaged while I peered through the spotting scope. The 300 Wtby Legend barked and the buck dropped into the stubble where he had stood. I heard the ping of the spent case leaving the rifle and then heard Bill say "I think I hit him". Yes Bill you did, damn dead center right on the shoulder, nice shot !

Bret had been watching the whole affair far below us from his truck and soon we were all admiring Bills first Mule deer. Even during a period of drought years he carried a solid 4x4 frame, good eye guards and few dingers added on the frame, he was very nice first attempt and a buck to be proud of anywhere. We paid out respects quietly, took pictures and began to dress him out. This buck was in extremely good physical condition and marbled with thick layers of fat and was going to be excellent eating as well.

On the ride home we were almost in tears laughing and wondering why the general public would allow crippled and deaf senior citizens to be turned loose unchaperoned in the hills with firearms.

All in all it had been quite a day that had come together slowly over the last couple months. Lots of scouting, being allowed on a well managed piece of property doesn't hurt, throw in a little skill a little luck, put a steady finger on the trigger and memorable things just might happen.

Bill was able to stick around long enough to make sure I wasn't slacking off at the shop and that Bret was paying attention at his business. He was then kind enough to help Lexi put a mature doe in our freezer a day later on the same property. The two of them are now planning a hunt together back in Kansas.

This should be interesting as Lexi, like her mom, talks pretty softly, I can't wait for this hunt to unfold.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cupped Wings

My daughter and I had planned to hunt in Idaho for elk last October but the things fell off the rails on acquiring the right permit and the opportunity went south. Since we each now had an general license maybe we could go to Idaho anyway and hunt waterfowl ? What with school, writing applications for college and her weekend work schedule we left the Cache Valley right after her last class let out on a Friday afternoon. Four hours later found us pulling into a friends driveway. Pleasantries were exchanged as we caught up on family events, Lexi tried on waders for the first time as other gear got sorted. We finally hit the sack late into the evening. The weatherman was predicting the dawn temps to be in the teens. I wondered if I'd brought enough kit.

The alarm went off and we began the ritual of dressing for success in a marsh. Looking like a crew from a Duck Dynasty episode we walked out the door.  Dan's lab was biting at the bit to get into the dog box buried among a pile of decoys laid in the truck bed. Snacks, shells, licenses, calls, check! if we'd forgot it we didn't need it.

The ride was short as was the walk to a sheltered pond off the main course of the river.  It had been many years since I had hunted waterfowl which earlier in my life was a serious addiction. So I got out of the way as Dan and his son Nate began to set a string of deeks in the pond. Every serious duck hunter has their own idea of the perfect size and shape of their spread, Dan and Nate were no different. Wind direction was considered as was every other detail in deception planned for that morning. Light from the east was just beginning to silhouette the mountain peaks when birds could be seen and heard overhead. Many called out of the gloom while others piled into the decoy spread without a hint caution. We still had 15 minutes to go before legal shooting light so we just stood quietly as the ducks whistled past above us or dropped into the pond.

We weren't in a blind this morning instead standing in the head high cat tails.  Finally Nate gave the word for us to spread out along the shore line. Dan finally whispered " it's time" and everyone loaded a shotgun but me, I had come to watch.

I had patterned my daughters Beretta days before, changing choke tubes and loads while shooting into a pattern paper. All the 3 " shell's cycled at the range and I finally settled on Federal Black Cloud # 2 steel with the modified choke tube. Once we got into the marsh the Beretta balked and the entire morning my daughter had to use a single shot by default. Dan at some point said "it's a shame we don't know a gunsmith" I winced, everyone else laughed, even the dog smirked but Lexi never skipped a beat and just tried to make the first shot count.

She missed more than she hit at first and despite the noise the ducks continued to pile in. The lab was earning her pay and giving my daughter quite a show on how you properly retrieve. For some reason I'd been given a call as we left the house and joined in with Nate and Dan as big flight passed by then veered south frantically as I joined in. Dan rose out of the reeds and said "you might want to stick with the chuckle for now" Nate could be heard stifling a laugh off to my left hidden by the reeds.

Lexi had never shot at an incoming clay target and it took awhile for her to work out the geometry involved. But I do recall the first mallard she connected with, barreling in out of the east as if possessed finally cupping his wings to then flare to the left as Lexi stood up to shoot, the drake folded then lost its grip with the sky. Even Remi looked surprised and quickly retrieved the green head. The birds kept coming steadily and within an hour Dan and Nate were close enough to their limits that we had to stop and count the birds.

Nate was now done at seven Dan was one bird away and Lexi had four at her feet. Nate gathered up his birds and headed off to meet other friends on the river to fish while we stuck it out awhile longer. Dan hit and sailed a bird that dropped some 300 yards away. He and Remi struck out to try and retrieve it.

Lexi and I called as birds continued to swing by for a look and two more were quickly taken giving her six. Dan walked back into view holding the recovered mallard and said "I'm done".  It was then that Lexi said "six is enough for me, lets head in for breakfast". Dan countered "Its early Lexi, the birds are flying strong we can wait until you limit". All smiles she replied "no Dan really, I'm good".

So we gathered up the deeks, picked up our empties, policed the scene and walked to the truck. The birds had to be attended to, breakfast was made and the numbed fingers and toes slowly returned to room temperature. I've had some pretty memorable days hunting waterfowl and this one ranks among one of the best. Close friends, a good dog and the bounty of wild game to enjoy later at the table. Dan, Patty, Nate and Remi you're the best, thank you.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Defiant Shrike

Here are a few pics of a recent project that included the use of a Shrike 700 Stock.  The heart of the project was based on a Defiant Falkon action that had been assembled by Hawk Hill Custom ( with one of their barrels. The stainless barrel was chambered for 260 Remington. The barreled action was originally stocked in a Boyds Laminated stock and reported to shoot very well.

Hawk Hill also installed and modified the Sunny Hill floor plate and trigger bow assembly to allow the Jewell Trigger unit to fit correctly. The Shrike stock was installed by the owner during a 4 day tutorial visit to the my shop to learn the process. The stock was made with a Carbon Fiber Edge Shell and a standard fiber-glass fill.

Consequently the owner has now decided not to get into hobby Gun Smithing after retirement but instead take up a less stressful past time like taming lions or capping burning oil wells. 

When using the Shrike stock I've found it beneficial to use a longer set of trigger guard screws. Finding them in an extended Stainless steel and lengths with a nice domed head has never been easy until I contacted Wyatts outdoors ( These screws are of excellent quality. While we were at it I installed one of their followers as well. 

All things considered the project came out pretty well and the owners plans to cross stack a pile of eastern management deer with it in the near future.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The End Game

It is often asked of all of us regardless of profession "is the job complete to your satisfaction"?" it's a good question and the answer can be a bit slippery at times to pin down. In many disciplines finishing up a project requires attention to detail and quite often a dogged tenacity to stay focused in the final stretch. The saying "it ain't over till it's over" sums it up pretty well in this profession.

Last week I received a barreled action from Glenrock Blue ( which they had just caustic blued per my request. This is one of the very few operations in my shop that I do not in house. While I do rust blue myself when required I have preferred caustic blueing to any other final metal application for all my carbon steel magazine rifles regardless of the current available alternatives.

On the day of final assembly the bench top is cleared of clutter, the door is locked and the phone unplugged even after all these years. The parts are then pulled from the shipping box, unwrapped and each one accounted for. With a standard scope sighted Legend or Classic there are usually 58 to 60 blued parts.

As the Legend is based on Model 70 the tools required for the final assembly are gathered up. The order of assembly is simple, I just grab the closest part. If I reach for the bolt sleeve the safety wing, main spring and firing pin will soon follow. The bolt body might be next and can be handled in a number of ways. I prefer to leave the bolt body blued on both Classics and Legends for rust prevention in the field. Some clients prefer the bolt body to be polished bright and some prefer the look of a jeweled bolt body. If the bolt body is to be jeweled the fixture and tooling quickly put to use.

The bolt body is then cleaned meticulously to insure no abrasive material is left on or it the bolt body. I say this as this seems to be a forgotten task in some shops. I recently returned from an Alaskan Bear hunt where I witnessed a rifle made inoperable due to crud left in the bolt body. 

Next the extractor, gas block and collar are secured in place, the cocking cams greased with a light coat of anti seize grease and the sleeve and firing pin turned into place. Then the trigger and its adjustments screws are spun together.

Then I might grab the follower. Like the bolt body I prefer to leave it blued, however many clients prefer to have the top flat, the side of the 60 degree standing wall and the bottom flat polished so they can easily read the 4-CTGS engraved on the followers bottom shelf. Two Delrin "bumpers" are press fit into the front and rear of the follower to negate any possible dimpling to the already heat treated magazine box while the rifle is in recoil.

The action might be next. A threaded stub is installed in the action so it can be held in a variety of angles by the bench vise to allow me to remove the bluing from the bullet ramp. Masking tape is applied anywhere that I don't want to scuff blued steel. Being careful works 90% of time, the tape saves your ass 100% of the time. When the ramp is cleaned up any polishing residue is completely removed and only then is the barrel reinstalled. This does require some finesse. The appropriate sized aluminum bushing and one standard thickness business card will go between the bushing and barrel. Care must be taken to slide the barrel into the bushing as well as the vise without touching either the bushing or the vise or the barrel might be going back to be re-blued. As I have mentioned in earlier post I currently use a barrel vise designed and sold by Jerry A. Fisher.

With the barrel snugged tightly in the vise I then roll the action onto the barrel threads to within a single revolution of the thread extensions shoulder. If your using a in-line action wrench the wrench is slipped into the action and a 3/4" socket wrench seals the deal as the action is rotated into place with the proper inch pounds. Previously I would use an "over the action" style wrench carefully slipped over the action and a business card shim was placed between the bottom flat behind the recoil lug and the top side of the front ring on the action and then snugged into place. In this case extreme care must be taken not to bang the action with the OD style wrench.

With the barrel installed the ejector, sear, trigger and accompanying coil springs are placed in the appropriate cavities. The over travel and weight of pull are temporarily set.

The stock is now addressed. So whatever minimal work still needs to be done to the stock such as wiping the grime off the recoil pad, giving the stocks exterior two coats of Armor-All and then spinning the swivel studs in place is completed.

With the barreled action and magazine box being held upside down in a padded vise the stock is then positioned over the barreled and lowered into place. The floor-plate assembly and bow are returned to the stock and tightened down to the appropriate inch pounds and the magazine spring and follower installed in turn.

The rifle is now rotated 180 degrees and the scope mounts are now screwed into place using five 8x40 Torx head screws. The installation is done quickly and accurately with the appropriate diameter alignment tube. We're now ready for glass.

At this point I might install the clients scope back into the rings and take a few pics to be sent at the end of the day to allow the client to see the progress.  But for now one of two test scopes come out of the safe and get tightened into the rings as now it's time to go back to the range for a 2rd time during the rifles construction. The barrel had to have shown some accuracy potential when it was shot after the stock was installed and the scope mounts made,

If accuracy at that stage was a bit dicey further shooting would have been required to determine if that barrel was going to stay in place or wind up a tomato stake, a rare occurrence but can happen. The clients scope is also installed to make sure it's working properly. This is the stage to catch any potential accuracy or optical issue, not after the final assembly is done. I use the test scopes to eliminate any new scopes issues right from the start by shooting the clients scope as well at this point.

This shooting is done with know accuracy hand-loads at first as I want to know what the rifle is capable of to my satisfaction. The test scopes are both fixed power one a 12X and the other a 16X. I don't want to use a scope greater than 16X especially if the client is going to using a typical 2.5-15 power scope for actual hunting. I want his groups to at least resemble mine when he receives the rifle and shoots the same ammunition.

While shooting the rifle I make mental notes of any possible tweak I may need to make and there will ALWAYS BE SOME. The trigger pull may be breaking to light or to heavy, the extractor may need some adjustment. The feeding is checked with a full magazine as the rifle is fired over and over again.
Back in the shop the barreled action will come back out of the stock, adjustments made and additional hand-loads put together if necessary.

These are tried at the range a 3rd time and all the working systems that got tweaked are again reassessed. Now if the rifle is shooting to my standards with my hand-loads and the client wants to use factory ammunition its time to shoot the factory ammo. If chambered for a 30-06, 7mm Rem, 300 Win or 375 H&H a fairly good cross section of ammo can be gathered up and tested. When all is going well the barrel will shoot accurately enough for any big game hunt in the back forty or on the other side of the globe. Granted 416's don't need to shoot 3/4" groups while a 7mm or 30 caliber really should if at all possible.

However if the rifle is chambered for a heavy caliber and doesn't like the first rounds tested then the testing can become rather expensive very quickly. Loaded with Premium bullets the cost can be as high as $150.00 per box of twenty. If that barrel doesn't like that flavor of ammo ! Well we move onto the next box that only cost us $130.00. Sooner or later we hope to find a factory load that fits the requirements. If you hope to have a solid and soft shoot into the same point of impact at 100 yards good luck chum as things might get grim before they get better.

When the accuracy standards have been established with the factory ammunition then its time to remove the test scope and install the clients scope if you have it in tow. If not your headed back to the range yet a 4th time. The clients scope is now installed and shot for effect. If the stars are aligned properly in an optical sense we're won and done. With the rifle and clients scope zeroed the bore properly cleaned one last time.

But we're not done yet, "holy crap" you say "how long are we going to drag this out ? " as long as it takes Gumby. During the final assembly you had better be sure you haven't added any new "Hammer Tracks" to the package and if so any corrections need to be made before we tie a bow on it.

Now it's got to be packaged for delivery. Not a wham bam thank you ma'm affair as I'm not at all interested in filing a damage claim with the carrier. It's got to be done right, which is why I prefer to use either a Pelican or Storm case and cut the middle sleeve for the outline of the rifle and scope. Once encased in the Pelican/Storm the case is Zip-Tied and locked, slid into a cardboard sleeve and sealed up. Pictures are taken during the final packaging in case any questions or claim questions come up due to possible damage in transit. To date this has never been an issue. Then we deal with the carrier labeling, insurance, pick up, etc.

It's a happy moment when the carrier arrives, gathers up the boxed rifle and drives off into the sunset.

I am tired out already and it's only Tuesday.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pics from the field

Here are a few pics from the field that have been saved for a day like to day.

Below is a Pronghorn buck from Wyoming's Red Desert that Terry shot with his 300 H&H Legend. Then Botswana offered up an excellent plains game hunting opportunity so he traveled to Bots and rolled the dice. Having always been a bit of a Spiral Horned junkie he had been looking for a Kudu and Eland hunt in this country for a number of years. Even late in the season, under intense sun and heat he and a friend were not disappointed.

Ben traveled back across the big blue to hunt with an old friend of mine PH John Oosthuizen of Hunters and Guides ( Using his Legend 300 Winchester Magnum John and Ben made the best out of their allotted time together and conjured some memories. 

Bret and I hunted in Kansas together this last fall and while Bret is patiently waiting another DE & Co rifle to replace the one that was stolen on an overseas hunt I just had to include this Whitetail Buck he killed even if it wasn't taken with a rifle I had assembled. We were hunting at the invitation of another good friend of my mine that will allow hunting on his property on every other Blue Moon that occurs. Bret shot the buck of a lifetime the second morning of the trip. The buck was known to be in the area and had been seen and photographed all summer and fall on and off the property. The three of us had a plan to try and hunt this buck at the exclusion of any other buck and all the pieces fell into the puzzle. No high fences, no supplemental feeding program, no jive, this buck was as wild as they come. 

I spent the next 8 days passing up one buck after the other looking for just the right mature buck and had the safety off more than once before finally settled on killing a big mature doe to take home for the freezer. I hope to go back to Kansas as soon as there's another Blue Moon.