February can be a challenging month, especially living in northern Michigan. Snow and low temperatures tend to make outdoors activities besides ice fishing and snow sports improbable, if not impossible. But a road trip may completely change the landscape...literary!
On Sunday, 17th, we start early in the morning with my truck navigation systems strongly disagreeing from my sense of direction. The only positive thing is that in the first hour of the trip, between Mesick and Cadillac, we saw a beautiful male coyote in full winter fur almost at the side of the road. A beautiful view of an accomplished predator!
I will not bother you with details, but at one point I also turned my phone navigation app on, and since it took us to our destination well ahead of the truck system we decide to follow that one. I kept both systems on just to follow the disagreements. What a fight! (Anything for entertainment on a ten hours plus trip.)
Eventually we arrived at Upland Addiction (www.kentuckywingshooting.com) fine lodge, in Marion, western Kentucky, late in the afternoon. Dinner was MacDonald's since restaurants in the Bible Belt don't open on Sundays, as explained by Judd, young entrepreneur and our guide for the next two days.
Before I forget I should mention that Lynden and I bought this hunting trip on the Traverse City Ruffed Grouse Society banquet last September, and we scheduled it around a trade show that we had to attend in Indianapolis. The good news was that the logistics were perfect, the not so good ones was that we might have run away from snow to drenched in rain: Kentucky was having some of the worst floods in the past decade!
But the forecast for Monday was dry, overcast and cool with several days of rain to follow, so Judd asked if we would mind cramming two hunts in one day. Better that then spending an afternoon reading and no more birds the next day. In the end, Tuesday morning was fair weather and we packed more bird hunting there.
What I have to tell you is that Judd knows his business. Due to the flooding we concentrate our hunting to his family farm, moving from different meadows that we divided by wooded hedges and always ended in water, at least during the floods. Judd ran three different pointing dogs for the three half-day hunts.
First was the thirteen years old setter Bonnie, and she was a class act. I wish to have the drive she has when I am that age (in dog years!) What a sweet old lady! After Bonnie we had Queen, a strong willed German shorthair, as if any other shorthairs were not. Queen ranged a bit farther than Bonnie, and behaved differently, but produced just as well. On the Tuesday hunt we had old Jack, and English Pointer. Bigger ranging, working the wind, and suddenly freezing, holding birds for as long as we would take to be there, or maybe until hell freezes over. Jack reminds me why English Pointers are in the world: to hunt birds, period!
Besides each of the pointers Judd ran little Lady. An English Spaniel with a heart and desire to hunt bigger than her tiny body; she was the flusher and a fantastic retriever. When she didn't make to a bird before the long legged pointers, she would gently snatch the birds from the larger dogs' mouth! In the water she might believe that she was a Chesapeake Bay retriever. Once Judd could give her the bearings, she was out in the water and never failed to bring a bird back.
It is very hard to describe all the action that comes from a single quail cove rising, with birds buzzing front, right, left or towards you, let alone tell the limitless rises that we had. Let's just say that it started well, as in the first cove a dropped one bird from with the bottom barrel of my Beretta 28 gauge shotgun, and immediately after that another bird fell to the top barrel.
At the end of the third hunt we had a number of birds that was almost obscene, except for the fact that quail tastes so good!
With heavy legs and light hearts we bid farewell to Judd and his father with hopes of coming back next season We drove then to Indianapolis for a trade show and on the Friday I continued to Portage, Michigan, in order to make peace with my grandson. From the lodge I had called Sylas and told him that I was "bird hunting" and his only reply was "But without me!"
In order to remediate the diplomatic incident I called Rolling Hills Hunting Preserve in Marcellus, Michigan, about a half an hour from my daughters home, and scheduled a pheasant hunt for Saturday afternoon. Around 11:30 AM our friends Mike and Jordan met Sylas and I at my daughter's home and we departed to Rolling Hills.
When we got to the club house we were asked if we would be three hunters, and Sylas immediately corrected Bob saying that we were FOUR HUNTERS!
Let's just say that we had a well timed hunt: Mike shot the first bird, Jordan the second and then it was Sylas and my turn. We kept rotating the points and I backed up a couple flushes, but not many. At one point the birds became heavy and we went back to the truck to drop them and take a rest. Sylas wanted to warn up as well. Of we went again and we shot the last bird just before the rain started. It would turn into drenching rain by midnight and a full day high wind storm.
The pheasant became a good stroganoff served with white rice and helped down by a couple good bottles of Italian wine. And diplomatic relations were fully restored!
The Gang: Jordan, Mike, the proud grandfather and Sylas
I am absolutely in love with our home country in lower northern Michigan. Within one hour or so of Traverse City there is fantastic fishing and bird hunting (at least most years), very good deer hunting, water-fowling, predator hunting that I have not done yet, marvelous landscapes and pristine waters, not to mention great people.
But sometimes I must go further north, especially around the third week of September, when small game season opens in Ontario, so that besides hunting bear and fishing I can also shoot grouse and at least try my luck on the most elusive of creatures, the true and only king of the northern latitudes - the timber wolf.
While sunrises over old clearcuts are breathtaking, I almost never have the pleasure of watching sunsets since that is the most critical time to be waiting for bear at a bait site, the shadows taking over the shapes, trees growing darker and closer together and silence engulfing everything. Although I've shot bear at early hours, the hunter that leaves the wood before full darkness is handicapping his chances.
Grouse are plentiful, both spruce and ruffed, but tamer then the ones around us and must be motivated to go airborne. With the local wolf population being what it is, it is just not practical (or safe) to use bird dogs, so we count on friends or acquaintances to flush the grouse. It can be quite sporting in its own way, especially with a small bore shotgun.
The waters reflect the skies, at day or night, and the mirror like surface is only shattered by the fight of a walleye or the strike of a northern pike. Sometimes it is only disrupted by the wake of a swimming beaver or otter.
When driving, blacktop or logging roads, we are always scanning ahead; moose may appear from anywhere, and they are BIG, even the smaller ones. Nowadays tags are almost impossible to obtain, or at least very, very difficult; and while I can't pursue them, the natives can, either the four or two legged types.
And during a cold cloudless night, a warm and friendly fire makes the stars glow brighter, and if you really let Ontario into your soul you will be able to see yourself among the stars, Orion pursuing Ursa Major!
Earlier this year I started a little personal project aimed to proof the worse of the so called Modern Sporting Rifle, which is generally an incarnation in one disguise or another of the AR-15 platform, as a legitimate deer hunting rifle. I won’t repeat all the points discussed in the previous blog, but I would like to report on the completed experiment.
After a mostly unfruitful archery season, that is if you measure success exclusively by the weight of your game bag, Opening Day happened upon us. For the glorious Fifteenth I took my Winchester 71 in 348 Winchester to my blind, but must confess that I struggled with taking a “longer” shot using the aperture sights which, although precise, provide no magnification or light gathering capability. Being of middle age clarity of the target is achieved through optics, not effort or good intentions.
So, on the sixteenth I listened to the voice of reason and brought my WW-15 (an AR-15 with different letters) in 7,62x39 and topped with an excellent Leupold VX-R with a 30mm tube which helps with light gathering, especially for early and late hours when deer are most active.
I can tell you that this was an enlightening experience. The short overall length, even with the stock fully extended, makes it very handy in the confines of a blind. The detachable magazine and positive bolt hold open makes it convenient to load, and especially unload, the rifle making it safe and secure while climbing ladders, entering or exiting blinds or vehicles, etc., and to handle it in the blind and pointing the barrel out of the windows with minimal muzzle movement.
Well, I passed several does, fawns and illegal spikes and fork horns during the sixteenth, and after working at the gun shop on Saturday morning I went back to my vigil in the early afternoon. After reading a couple more chapters from Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy” I heard munching on the bait pile, still legal until January 1st, 2019. A little button buck was delighting himself with carrots and I delighted myself in watching him through my binoculars for almost half an hour. The wind was on my face and he never suspected anything. I can only hope that he will get smarter and eventually become a trophy buck.
Around 4:00 PM a shape came out of the woods and into the logging road straight ahead of my blind. I saw it had antlers, but small. Would him be a legal buck? Around my neck of the woods there is the occasional trophy buck, but I measure my trophies by their epicurean qualities, and a young deer is juicy and tender. I used my binoculars to assess the antlers and counted at least five to a side, a lot of points for a very compact rack.
As the young buck came straight at me I exchanged the binoculars for the little rifle, rested it on the blind window and for the first time in the season set my cross hairs on a deer. At about 50 yards, the buck started to consider his options, veered to the left and then to the right and presented a clear broadside shot. And when I touched the trigger I heard the worst sound in the world: CLICK!
Now, I had put several boxes of ammo through the little AR without a single hick-up, and now, at the moment of truth I have just a CLICK!
As the deer went into the trees, as to circle the bait pile, I worked the bolt, ejected the round in the chamber and fed another one. I positioned the crosshair in the place the deer was likely to emerge from the bush, and an eternity of seconds later, there he was, broadside again. I can't remember if he was heading east or west, put little 125 grain bullet hit the mark just behind the shoulder, and the soon to be venison took of running in the direction he came from. As he passed the logging road at a dead run I connected again, with a second shot and just as I lost sight of him I heard him crash.
I unloaded the rifle, first the magazine was out and then the chamber was emptied, locked the bolt open, pocketed only the items I needed to tag the buck, shouldered the rifle and climbed down from my blind. Reloading was done in a second: magazine in, bolt released, safety engaged. Then I walked the logging road until I cut fresh tracks and found the blood spoor. Tracking blood in fresh snow is easy and in no time I came upon the deer.
I took some pictures, tagged it and went back to my blind to wait for dark when my friend Del that was hunting at another part of the property to come and help me. Why drag a deer alone and risk injury and physical exertion when it is so much easier to do that with help?
The final question is: could I have not just used a lever action 30-30 instead of the AR? The simple answer is yes, but the more complex one is that overall the AR is a more convenient rifle. It is safer by being easier to load and unload, having a bolt open device and positive safety, it is generally easier to scope than most lever action rifles, definitely it has a better trigger (which for me is very important) and great ergonomics (including a stock that allows for different lengths of pull, which is important for smaller framed hunters or shooters), and the semiautomatic action allows for a precise quick follow-up shot. Also, the 7,62x39 ammo proved to be more than adequate for deer in the relative close ranges of the north woods.
My conclusion from this not too scientific experiment (a single date point does not constitute a proper experiment) is that there is definitively a place for the Modern Sporting Rifle in hunting. This doesn't mean that you will not see me going back to more classical firearms like a little double 7x57R stalking rifle that I am eyeing, but it just shows that even a conservative hunter like me must accept that firearms design continues to evolve.
Windham WW-15, Remington 7400 and Remington Model 81
Once again we see a lot of heated discussions and all kinds of opinions regarding the so called “Modern Sporting Rifles” and weather the average citizen or legal resident of the United States of America should continue to have the right to own and use such firearms.
Depending on who you ask, the Modern Sporting Rifles are seen under many different color shades, from evil tools generally referred to as “Assault Rifles”, to nothing more than another step in the evolution of the (detachable) magazine semiautomatic rifle, which in the most popular form are civilian variations of the ArmaLite Rifle-15 or AR-15 designed by Eugene Stoner in 1956. The design was sold to Colt in 1959 and adopted by the United States Air Force in 1960. Sometime later, in 1964 the United States Army adopted a slightly modified design as the Rifle, Caliber 5,56mm, M-16.
But the story of the Modern Sporting Rifle is much older. Right at the turn of the Twentieth Century it came to light by the genius of no other than John Moses Browning, the most prolific firearms designer in history. In 1900 John Browning patented the design of a long-recoil, magazine fed, high power, semiautomatic rifle, and in 1905 it became available to American sportsmen as the Remington Autoloading Rifle. In 1911 the name was changed to Model 8, and with minor cosmetic modifications it became the Model 81 Woodsmaster in 1936.
And the Remington Model 8 was not the only magazine fed, semiautomatic rifles available in the early years of the Twentieth Century. My copy of the Arms of World – 1911: The Fabulous ALFA Catalogue of Arms and the Outdoors shows no less than a dozen different semiautomatic carbines in rifles, in as many different calibers!
The Remington Model 8 was available in four dedicated calibers: 25 Remington, 30 Remington, 32 Remington and 35 Remington, and later the 300 Savage was added to the Model 81 to provide 30-06 level power, or almost. When you consider that the main competition was Winchester lever action rifles, the Remington calibers provided similar ballistics to the Winchester 25-35, 30-30, 32 Special and 38-55. The 300 Savage is the parent cartridge to the 308 Winchester and have almost the same ballistics.
Both the Model 8 and 81 had colorful stories, and a lot of that didn’t come from the big woods where over one hundred thirty-five thousand high power magazine fed semiautomatic rifles brought deer, bear and other animals to the table of the early Twentieth Century Sportsmen. During the Great War, the French Aéronautique Militaire Used the Model 8 in 35 Remington in small quantities and later during the Great Depression a certain Texas Ranger Captain named Frank Hamer used a modified Model 8, also in 35 Remington (the most popular caliber in the model) to put an end to the criminal careers of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Frank Hamer’s rifle was modified to take a “high capacity” detachable twenty round magazines by the Peace Officers Equipment Company of St. Joseph, Missouri.
In 1933, in response to the Kansas City Massacre the Federal Bureau of Investigation bought a number of Model 81’s both in 30 Remington and 35 Remington.
Of course Winchester Repeating Arms Company would not allow Remington to play alone in the autoloading rifle market, and they introduced the Model 1907 in 351 WSL and later the Model 1910 in 401 WSL (Winchester Self-Loading), and just like the Remington Model 8, the French, now the Army, pressed the Model 1907 into military service during the Great War. From 1935 on Winchester offered a special “Police Rifle” variant, with among other features, a high capacity detachable magazine.
So what we see is that both military and police organizations adopted a rifle that was create for hunters to feel their needs, but limitations on power, range, durability and cost, aligned with the typical conservative mindset of the military decision makers, prevented these designs from becoming standard infantry rifles.
Also, we should remember that the bolt-action rifle was not popular in this country until the doughboys returned home from World War I and wanted to hunt and shoot with the same or similar rifles that they used in the trenches of Europe, the 1903 Springfield and Enfield Model 1917.
In a similar way we would see semiautomatic rifles become more popular after World War II, with Remington replacing the Model 81 in 1955 with the Model 740 (which was available n the popular 30-06 and 270 Winchester calibers), Winchester introduced the Model 100 (in 308 Winchester) in 1961 and Browning BAR Sporting Version in 1967, which was the first semiautomatic rifle to be able to handle magnum calibers, like the 7mm Remington Magnum and 300 Winchester Magnum. And just as a reminder, there are “high capacity” detachable magazines avail for the Remington 740 and its successors.
So, why is there so much passion about the current Modern Sporting Rifle? Maybe it is a question of aesthetics. All magazine fed semiautomatic rifles prior to the AR-15 pattern rifles looked somewhat like a conventional bolt-action rifle, having the same overall profile and wooden stocks.
But should we judge an object by its appearance or by its intrinsic functionality? While the ArmaLite Rifle based designs may look aggressive, out of place in the Great Outdoors, threatening to some, or just plain ugly, their functionality is no different than that of rifles that have been with us, and used by many of our great grandparents, grandparents and parents for the last one hundred and thirteen years. Actually, except for caliber, they are not that different from the ever-popular Ruger 10/22 or many other detachable magazine semi-automatic twenty-two rifles. And just like any other firearms, AR style rifles are tools, as good or as bad as the people using them.
Although I tend to be a very conservative sportsman, preferring side-by-side shotguns and even double rifles for most of my hunting, because of all the discussion going on, I decided to try an ArmaLite based Modern Sporting Rifle as my next deer rifle.
I elected to have a light, compact rifle built in a caliber with proven ballistics for deer sized animals, and what center fire rifle has killed more deer than almost all others put together than the 30-30 Winchester? The only problem was that there are no AR’s in that caliber, but there are certain calibers that are readily available in the AR platform with similar ballistics, and among them I selected the 7,62x39mm (which is the intermediate cartridge that is used in the famous or infamous AK-47 rifle and SKS carbine.)
The reason for my choice is that 7,62x39mm ammunition is plentiful and economically priced, having slightly better ballistic performance than the relatively new 300 Blackout.
My rifle started as a Windham Weaponry WW-15, and then the furniture was replaced by Timber Creek Outdoors parts, and a Patriot Ordnance Trigger System replaced the original trigger. An excellent Leupold VX-R 2-7 scope 30mm tube with an illuminated reticle topped everything.
In a recent test, the rifle performed flawlessly and the recoil is minimal. And since the stock can be easily adjusted for different lengths of pull and virtually ambidextrous design, this rifle is almost the ideal tool to introduce new people to shooting. Besides deer hunting, semiautomatic rifles are ideal for hog hunting, where very often the hunter has the opportunity to shoot multiple animals.
It is important that we all keep in our minds that we are privileged on having the choices and opportunities that we have. We can hunt with bow and arrow, a flintlock musket that was the same gun as the Continental Army carried, or we can elect to use the so called Modern Sporting Rifle, with a designed similar, but not the same, as the current primary infantry rifle of the United Stated Armed Forces. And if we allow that choice to be taken away from us, what else could we lose?
Browning BAR, Ruger Mini-14 and Ruger 10/22
Note: This article was first published in MICHIGAN'S HOOKS & BULLETS MAGAZINE, May/June 2018 issue. Visit them at www.hooksandbullets.com