Saturday, September 14, 2019

Continuing Education with Robert Gradous

I have never been shy in asking advise from those that are clearly masters in their craft. Doing so has allowed me to spend time with some of America's greatest talents both within and often outside this industry. Adding a little more knowledge to your mix is always a good thing and I'm always looking for an edge.

This last month I had the opportunity to engage in some long overdue continuing education with elite accuracy-smith Robert Gradous. Robert's reputation in accuracy arena is indisputable, put one of his rifles in the hands of an equally talented shooter and the magic begins to happen.

My intention on this trip was to listen to Roberts theories on accuracy and I soon learned that his a play book is vast and deep. Then if possible see hands on how he indicated his barrels prior to threading and chambering. While I felt I fully understood and used the same method, holding the breech end in a Gimbaled 4 jaw with a tail stock Spider, I often felt I spent more time indicating the barrel than it should take.

What I wanted to witness first hand was how he prepped and indicated the bore from a few feet away.  For the next two and half days unless I was asked a direct question, I kept my mouth shut and my mind wide open.

As one would expect the subject matter covered a variety of areas in regard to extreme rifle accuracy. This ran from action design and faults, reamer design and faults, carbide reamers versus high speed, ditto for pilot design and fit, lead geometry, variations in speeds, feeds, followed by thread design and barrel steel in more than just general terms. Ignition and firing pin design or lack there came up more than once and then we got into bedding. Then there was the muzzle mounted flush systems followed by bullet design and target shapes for selected reticles. Least I forget Indexable Carbide tooling coupled with High Speed tooling for threading, I barely got to sleep more than a few hours both nights just writing notes and turning these concepts over in my mind.

It was evident that Roberts quest for accuracy was built on decades of experimentation and a rock solid foundation of relentless application of new ideas. Then there's the actual testing down range.

Way down range.

Failure has always been part of the game to him, if your not failing at times your not learning anything new. Tell him why his ideas won't or shouldn't work and he'll be polite and listen to a point but there's a good chance you'll be eating your words in pretty short order. In the realm of guild edge rifle precision he been there, done that and made the T shirts.

The list of accuracy refinements pioneered under this roof is remarkable to say the least and he's offered his thoughts to many individuals in the trade as well as small and large firms who's names are very well known. His procedures for using a CNC lathe to install barrels and deliver the best accuracy results across the board are now implemented in many locations around the globe. This Georgia rolling stone has gathered little moss.

What I really learned in two days was that I had allot more to learn.

We prepped a Proof Research barrel into the headstock and began the process of indication and no part of the process was left unaddressed during the demonstration. Then it was my turn to repeat this method move for move more than a few times.

There is a feel to this indication procedure, a deft touch that is very hard to explain in print, I knew I wanted to see it done first hand and that's why I went to Roberts shop. This 6.5 Gap was chambered without the aid of flushed cutting oil due to the length of the barrel so we chambered it old school with the use of a Carbide Rougher and Finisher and lots of cutting oil. We then transferred the barrel to a larger CNC, indicated it in the same fashion, with the same attention to detail and machined it for a cap and a suppressor. Had I not been there the job would have been finished up in short amount of time. He is not one to fritter around when the actual cutting begins. His phone rang relentlessly but while cutting that chamber or instructing me he never answered it.

By the same token what you learn from anyone is based on how well you are willing to listen, absorb the information then apply it in your own shop with your equipment.

Evolution is never easy. The clientele I have today particularly those having a Classic Rifle built are very interested in how they're rifle is going to shoot, even if they themselves do not have the skill level to shoot the rifle for all the accuracy it is truly capable of. But if shown what the rifle will do with groups I have shot and proven reliability, then the rest of cosmetic stuff is quite frankly a walk in the park. In my end of the trade we're dealing with virtually all light weight contours for bore diameter barrels. Accuracy for me, especially in the early days has always been a fickle mistress and courted with very mixed results, give her one excuse and she will leave you at the curb talking to yourself.

This intrusion on Roberts time wasn't a free lunch for him by any stretch. The amount of disruption created while instructing as you work is enough to try many a friendship and working relationship. Remember this the next time you want to drop by your gunsmiths to "hang" for a half a day. You wouldn't dream of doing that with your dentist, surgeon or mechanic, nor would they allow it.

By the end of two and half days I walked away with new perspective and could clearly see the potential for my own improvement. These next steps being hardly an insurmountable mountain rather another plateau to be climbed. I came to Georgia looking for ways to gain a competitive edge within my tiny slice of the industry and I was not disappointed. My thanks go out to Robert for allowing me a candid look behind the curtain.

Mr Gradous has excellent web site which can be found by typing in

My thanks to D.L. Dye for supplying the in house pics on my behalf

Sunday, August 25, 2019

It's that time of year again

I've had a few pics come in from the field so far this summer.

Phil, Tia and Taj Shoemaker ventured to Zimbabwe in June to hunt Buffalo with Professional Hunter Phillip Smythe and Ivory Trails Safari's. Both Phil and Tia shot nice old bulls and Taj was there for moral support. Phil showed with "Old Ugly" his infamous 458 Magnum and Tia shot her Legend 416 Remington Magnum. Each hunter and rifle preformed as predicted and a lot of family memories were made to last a lifetime.

Bob & Becky just returned from Zambia on a with hunt with John Oosthuizen (Hunters and Guides) . Bob, Becky and John have become close friends over the years having spent many, many months in the field since Bob made his 1st Safari with Hunters and Guides long ago.

He made the most out of the trip in regard to shooting with old # 52 a 375 H&H Classic as well as his 300 H&H Legend. Both rifles now well used all over the African continent. John doing diligence as usual to find the best that any area has to offer and Bob making it count when the time came. 

LB spent the last 10 days in the North West Territories with Mackenzie Mountain Outfitters chasing Dall sheep. LB arrived with a lot of physical training behind him, a back pack full of the lightest kit he could assemble. Giving credit when its due LB took a Gene Simillion built 6.5 Creedmor assembled on a Left Hand Dakota 97 action. He and his guide toughed it out covering as much ground as they could with the effort paying off on the last day with this fine Ram 

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.