The Suburban Bushwacker: From Fat Boy to Elk Hunter
A tubby suburban dad watching hunting and adventure shows on TV and wondering could I do that? This is the chronicle of my adventures as I learn to learn to Forage, Hunt and Fish for food that has lived as I would wish to myself - Wild and Free.
"Last night, did you chase a large bird through the house with an axe? I ask only as there are feathers all the way up the stairs, and a bloodied axe in the kitchen?"
Two nights before. It was a cold and windy rain-battered night. On the weather forecast at least, so when I dragged my hide out of bed at Three AM I was pleasantly surprised to find the skies clear and the temperature nudging double figures. Being the city boy that I am it did cross my mind that I'd not need a coat. Yeah right. Putting such foolishness to one side I hopped in an Uber and headed to Shooter's place.
The blogger known as Shooter doesn't live that far from me as the crow files, through the traffic or on the train it takes forever to get to him. But the city is asleep so when the Uber driver woke me to say we'd arrived I must only have been asleep for ten minutes. The other person in the car park is a distinguished looking gent taking a pair of muddy wellies out of his motor. He bears the mark of the new boy or tourist. That's his warmest coat, but its not a shooting coat. We make our introductions and summon Shooter, who arrives at levels of excitement that would shame an eight year old. I'm an enthusiast but I'm nothing on Shooter, he never plays it cool. His enthusiasm is as boundless as it is infectious. Like an armed Tigger, wearing a shirt and tie under wildfowling camo. I'd forgotten how much I like going hunting with him.
We spend the hour and a half it takes to drive north playing trivia swaps, and the Distinguished Looking Gent is kind enough to ask an innocuous question or two about calibres, giving Shooter and myself the chance to re-live the joys of the calibre conversation. Again.
Rugby; home of the ball game, school, and due to the abundance of Blue Lias limestone, cement works. At the time of the doomsday book it was spelled Rocheberie, and is possibly the town furthest from the sea in England. Canada Geese; surly, begging, aggressive, territorial, constantly shitting, and they make a helluva racket. 6.5 Creedmoor dude! Sharing the wonders of the other rounds of its diameter but, due to the miracle of marketing, available off the shelf. Damn if we don't live in a golden age of ammo!
It was another one of those 'you take the A one-one-whatever towards Effing-Sodbury, until you pass Futtocks End, turn right at the Broken Head, and when you come to a field with a downed Oak blocking the entrance, go two more fields, until you come to the field with the downed Ash, when you see a Post Office you've gone too far, call me I'll be along in a few minutes'
We are significantly early. It is indeed a cold and windy night. One of the other local guides swings by on his way to an unrelated gig, to hang out and let us know our man is on his way. The other guns rock up; an electrical contractor, a man who calls himself a farmer but turns out to be a bio-fuels entrepreneur, and a dude who has fishing lakes. They're in their early 60's, and sport that uniform of the British sporting gent; a mix of expensive new, and dirt-cheap old kit, worn over a shirt and tie, and Green Wellies. Just as there's enough light to see into the field the guide arrives with two Cockers. The line of flight is between a massive reservoir and a fairly massive fishing lake. A stern lecture about not shooting Cormorants is issued. It starts to rain. After BoB (brother of bushwacker) Shooter is the most waterproof person I've ever met, he may have been a duck in another life, once the wind turns, blowing the now driving rain into our faces, his spirts soar.
We trudge across the field shovelling shells into our guns as we go, right on cue the honking begins and a posse of Canada Geese take to the sky. Down at the other end of the line someone drops one of them and the day has begun. The next flight takes me by surprise and, my attention re-focused by an easy shot not taken, I drop the lead bird of flight three. To be truthful, given my past record with a scatter gun, I'm so shocked that I forget I've got two more in the tube and let the other Geese within my range fly off unharmed, and forget to reload.
On average Canada Geese weigh in anywhere between 2.5 and 6.5 Kg; moody bastards with an extremely muscular neck and a substantial bill of 4.1 to 6.8 cm (1.6 to 2.7 in) they're a known menace on London's waterways. Hissing a warning, and jabbing with that bill. Shirty as you like.
Dawn has now fully broken and the rain lessens. To my consternation a goose wanders over, on foot. I'm nearest so I walk over and shoot him. A few feathers become airborne, he looks at me quizzically, I shoot him again, seemingly without affect. Click, as I'm reloading he expires. Shooter "What are you doing? Why didn't you wring his neck?" SBW " Have you seen the size of the fecker? You fight him."
This is Britain, there's no real wilderness, so we end up sharing all but the Highlands with others. Given our location its only a matter of time before that most pompous of hobbyist's the Twitcher appears. Glaring his disapproval though his binoculars. Annoyingly there's now another pedestrian goose, wandering off, ever closer to disappearing into a tangle of brambles at the far end of the field. Eventually the Twitcher tires of watching a bunch of grey-beards standing in the rain thinking about breakfast and toddles off. Shooter and I set about depriving Mr Fox of his dinner. I'm no keener on tangling with this one, and shoot him. The first load inflicting what looks like a moral wound, the goose indignantly waddles away, the second load looks to separate his head from his neck and he slumps to the ground. As I pick him up, his wings give a couple of spasms and I take a nice shin-strike, renewing my conviction that they are an extremely dangerous animal, not to be tangled with.
While Deer Stalking is a solitary activity, the interactive element taking place online after the event, Flighting and Walked Up have a social side to them. Certain conventions are to be observed. I'm feeling a bit under dressed as DLG and I are the only ones not wearing a shirt and tie. There's a whole raft of ritual and expectation that I'm only dimly aware of, taking place in a hierarchy of situations, this is the informal end of things where 'safe' and 'wasn't an arsehole' will do it, at the next level there are fines for not having enough cartridges and other infractions. You must have the right gun, 'right' isn't defined by price, my agricultural semi is fine for Pigeon, Geese and Ducks, but unthinkable for Pheasant and ground game. They all seem to aspire to shoot Side by Sides, but actually shot Under and Overs. Their Understatement game is strong.
Over an impromptu breakfast of porky and chocolaty snacks the fellas review the sport of the season. The chaps are extremely cautious about who they'll shoot with, safety comes first, then there's the correct way to make any displeasure known. Shooter and the Guide have been on this very ground a week or so before, with a group of clients both of them wish to swerve. Alerted by the bragging 'that time you shot me' conversation and then Muzzle-Swept, Shooter had quietly beaten a retreat to the car to watch, gun in slip, from a safe distance. The guide complements him on this wordless communication. This is a tribe anyone can join, or at least think they've joined. Somehow imagining they could sweep this massive breach of etiquette under the carpet the group have nominated a new voice to make a subsequent telephone booking. A very small and self-policing world.
Re-waterproofed by caffeine, chocolate and pork. With the dogs released from the truck bed we walk the cover crop fields to see if we can put a few birds in the air. A couple of championship Rabbits break from a spiny, once out of shotgun range they turn and pause to chalk up the experience, funny how they never do that when I've got a rifle.
After a pub lunch we work another crop. This ain't no dusty prairie, the crop grows almost waist high and every leaf seems to hold a cup of iced water. The gang are divided, we've got a couple of waterproof over-trouser wearers, I'm in the Breeks subset, and then there's the guide and Distinguished Looking Gent toughing it out. Pheasants clatter to the sky, I drop a Hen but the Partridge elude me. Shooter drops a brace and as we meander towards the cars a skein of Greylag Geese climb in an expanding Vee, the straggler crumples in a cloud of Steel shot.
We're losing the light, but elect to stand in a pointless line waiting for a never to arrive flight of ducks. Its time for home.
When the conversation is good the drive back is all too short, DLG tells us about he and his wife's trekking adventures, and an abortive hunt for buffalo in Tanzania. Shooter and I do a quick round of 'one rifle to rule them all' and all too soon were wishing DLG an early happy crimbo and waving him off.
I've now got: Four Canadians, A Greylag, three Pheasant and Shooter has given me three ducks from earlier in the week. It's a big ask for an Uber driver, but The Northern Monkey is afloat not too far from Shooter's yard so I lure him off his sofa with offers of Goose dinners and he collects me, only to find himself embroiled in a substantial plucking session back at mine. Where we were to learn a new truth from the wild food lifestyle.
If you shake a lot of goose down and feathers until they become airborne, you'll easily be able to tell which of your kitchen surfaces need de-greasing.
More soon Your pal SBW PS my go to guy for wild food recipes has several belters on his blog
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I'd not noticed the Stalon brand until I bought one (it came with a rifle). That being said I'm very impressed with the one I've ended up with. The W110 weighs 380 g with 130 mm covering the barrel, and 110 mm extending forward. Stalon have taken a different route to the other designs I've seen by using both a plastic exit port up front as well as a plastic bushing out back. On the side of the tube the Silencer/ moderator's suitability is listed for calibers from 6.5 to 7.69mm. For the smaller calibers that's a pretty big gap. I wrote to Stalon to ask if a closer tolerance insert were available for 6.5mm bullets.
Their Response: We has tested with a smaller hole for the 6,5mm bullets but not got more than marginal better dB levels.
For some people one of Stalon's USP's might be really useful; the rear section of the unit bears the serial number, making it the licensed part, the front section is swappable - you can have additional front sections for different calibre groups, or an especially long front section for Stand hunting or Target shooting.
They do a couple of accessories I'd not seen offered by other brands; not that I've got room for one on my Tika, but these cone-shaped rear brushings reduce snagging when pulling your rife out of a scabbard pack.
Want to shoot open sights and silenced? Stalon have a solution.
I've been collecting up the parts and once we get Crimbo out of the way, and all the bits screwed together, I'll do the first range report with my Precision Rig.
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So you want to buy a scope? You've smashed the piggy bank, cut open the bottom of the couch, and picked up every dropped penny you've seen for the last year.
There is a saying, often attributed to Richard Prior (the Roe stalker not the comedian, different spelling) "Buy the best scope you can, spend the change on a rifle". Which is still true today, although the gap between the top Austrian glass and the Japanese stuff is closing fast, and the Chinese scopes get better every month. All shooters have their budgets, all brands have their fans, light conditions vary wildly, and eyesight is fantastically subjective. I'd only buy a used scope if it was made in the last couple of years, the tech has moved on that fast.
Light is different at; times of year, altitude, and in differing weather conditions, to name just three. There is nothing in nature that resembles an optician's eye chart, if you can do your testing looking at things that look like what you'll be shooting at, and better yet, in the light conditions you'll be shooting in, so much the better.
Vortex: made in China - superb warranty, prices starting at affordable, Bargains on Ebay. Doctor: Very popular in Germany, lots cheaper than the more famous Austrian brands - worth a look Nighforce: made in USA with Japanese glass - famous for their tactical scopes, people are saying great things about their hunting scopes March: made in Japan - gaining ground very fast, quality like this ain't cheap Swarovski: made in Austria - for many years considered 'the best' by stalkers in the UK, marketed as a luxury item with price tags to match. I had an 8x56 that optically was a thing of wonder, I always felt the reticle's bars were just a tad too thick.Would buy again though. Kahles: made in Austria - Owned by Swarovski, European favourite. Pronounced Kah-les. I'm in love with mine.
Fixed Magnification vs Variable. With fewer lenses to diffuse the light Fixed has an advantage, most people leave their Variable on one comfortable setting, in some circumstances fixed is the best choice possible, until that day when you can see the deer through the naked eye but not find it in the effing scope. I sold my 8x56 and bought a Variable.
Hunting scope vs small telescope on top of your rifle If your hunts are in the desert or near to the equator, you can save a lot of weight and mass, if you hunt in the dark of the woods, or in the dying hours of the what Scottish have instead of sunlight, that big objective lens makes a lot of difference, and the expensive glass really does give you that last half hour.
Red Dot vs Illuminated reticle. Red dot has one disadvantage it can't overcome, Cant. There's no visual reference to see if you're twisting the rifle. Not everyone is fussed over having an illuminated reticle. I like 'em.
Bob-on at 200 meters and the secondary cross gives you 'ish' 300. Because you're a decent human being; you live close to your ethical code, you shoot a flat shooting calibre, and you know what 'flight time' means. You're not going to need your stalking rifle to shoot any further, in an emergency you've still got the top of the lowest bar as a third aim point.
There is a saying, often attributed to your pal SBW "Choose a reticle, buy the scope that comes with it".
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How would you feel if I said you could have a no waiting list precision rifle that's served humble pie to some very very nice custom builds? For 30% of the cost of an Accuracy International? Yeah me too. Choice of three. Or five depending on who you listen to. What a time to be alive.
Some of the younger members of my club [which means people under 60] have been saying good things, very good things, about the Ruger Precision. Not for the first time Ruger set the pace for the industry, to give them their due the RPR has done just that. Catching both the Precision Rifle and AR trends; a rifle you can customise at home with thousands of readily available options, it takes AR grips and stocks. That's also ready to compete in precision matches right out of the box.
Now on Gen.3 there's a growing choice of factory calibers and aftermarket barrels, parts and it takes Pmags. Down on the south coast at OMR's club there's a whole cadre of owners. At both clubs .308 Nato and 6.5mm Creedmoor are neck and neck in numbers.
In Spain Bergara Rifles offer their riff on the idea. They have an excellent reputation for their button rifled barrels, and have wisely chosen to build their rifle on the Remington 700 footprint. If you wanted to develop a rifle from one; you can have your choice of 100's of stocks, triggers etc, and it takes the proven and readily available AI magazines. Money pit, fun money pit, but a money pit I can't allow myself to be sucked into. This time.
On every thread I read; where someone was asking where to drop their hard-earned, there was the 'That being said Now try the Tikka' comment. I have never shot a Tikka that wasn't accurate and amazing value for money. Asking about; people who wanted one because their mate has one shed out and bought the Ruger, people who have shot both bought the Tikka. The best review the Bergara got was 'its the equal of the Tikka'. It might be different where you are but here there's less than £100 in it either way. No one I found in the UK is including extra magazines or postal rebate magazines from any of the brands.
The Howa guy is yet to return my calls. Not even sure you can even order the Savage here.
I was feeling pretty swayed, but you know, cash is king. There just weren't that many second hand Rugers in Creedmoor, even fewer Tikkas in general, and no sign of a Bergara. I was becoming pretty much resigned to saving up to pay full-whack for a new one when I found a 20 inch Tikka in 6,5 CM with a Stalon advertised. The owner had a presence on a couple of forums where he'd posted enough to give me a bit of comfort. He's hanging up his spurs and offered to throw in the contents of his ammo boxes and a goodly pile of Lapua cases. Rude not to.
We had a couple of false starts while I traveled in the wrong part of the north, with my ticket back at home I couldn't take delivery. We prepared to do a dealer-to-dealer exchange, then the seller announced his work had scheduled a meeting for him in central london. We agreed to meet in a business traveler hotel just down the road from an office I myself am occasionally compelled to attend. I was envisioning something out of James Bond or Lord of War, with a sniper rifle laid out on the bed. Just in a cheaper hotel.
"Sorry it'll be a day later and they've moved me to another hotel". The next day he found he had no hotel, 'but don't worry there are plenty of meeting rooms at the london office'. It's not like this in the movies. The receptionist denied that he worked there or existed. I rang him. He was sitting on the sofa next to her desk. Frosty doesn't cover it. It's as though we'd been married already. My laughing didn't seem to help lift her mood. Now we get to the paperwork, three lots; firearm, silencer/moderator, and ammo are all controlled, and need to be listed. The only available meeting room has a young fella working away at his laptop, we sit at the other end of the boardroom table. Now for the moment of truth. The seller walks over to the young fella, shows his office ID, and licence before he says "we're both licensed to possess firearms and I'm selling him a rifle, he needs to confirm its serial number" There's a slight pause, "I'm cool" says the young fella. We complete the transaction; re pack the Tikka back into its cardboard box, say our goodbyes, quick "thank you" to reception, and I'm back in the street.
Wondering if the Uber or the armed response team will get there first.
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Whether its who has; the rarest pressing of a record - released in Kingston in '58 and deleted in the same week. A pair of sports shoes so 'limited' they were only available in one shop in an unfashionable suburb of Nagoya - seven pairs sold, one pair known to be destroyed in a fire. Or a rifle chambered in your own wildcat of a calibre that was almost unknown 100 years ago, preferably with a stock made of timber sourced from the garden of Siberian salt mine in the 1890's. There's some comfort [or smugness] to be had in having stuff no one else has, or better yet has never even heard of. In recognition of this, and to help you in your quest for rarity, your pal SBW has once again trawled the web, in search of bragging rights for those of you with deep pockets or, for my team [the poor boys], the chance to claim pre-existing familiarity with someone else's new toy.
As the 21st century gets underway rifles have never been better; sub MOA with factory ammo has become the expectation rather than a high priced novelty, the trend towards switch barrel rifles with endlessly repeatable accuracy continues, and the age of the tool-less adjustable trigger has begun.
Although the company are famed for their aftermarket barrel sales, with thousands of Nordic competitors buying well known German target rifles and re barreling them with S&L's, they are having something of renaissance in rifle sales. There are; three grades of walnut stocked centerfire; Classic, Victory (nicer stock and swept bolt handle), Ambassador (sleek lines and very nice wood, owes something to the london gunmakers of the early 20th century), a super petite rifle called the Legacy which uses rounds from the .223 case family, at least one target rifle in a laminate stock, and a fantastic tactical barrelled action. For only a couple of hundred more than any other of the off-the-shelf turn bolts, even S&L's plain-jane offering is streets ahead in terms of value.
It all starts with their famous cut rifling, throated (reverse taper) & hand lapped barrel, which can be swapped out with a hex key. S&L also make their own; actions, stocks, rings, and moderators, there's a no-cost choice of single or double action triggers, and every rifle is fully bedded before it leaves the factory.
The 'Traveller' designation is an added cost option; a slightly reshaped barrel channel, and a pair of collets lining holes drilled into the stock that get you to the hex bolts so you can, without risking marking the stock, and demount the barrel without removing the action from the stock. Nice touch.
There's a lot of thoughtful engineering for not a lot more cash than a mass-produced rifle. Annoyingly there's a real scarcity of their rifles on the second hand market. Make of that what you will.
Hand laid carbon fibre stock, hammer forged swappable barrel, Aluminium action (steel is an option) The trigger is adjustable back and forth, for blade angle, and four settings; from target 550g/1.2lbs, via two stalking settings750g/1.7lbs, & 1000g/2.2lbs to driven boar 1250g/2.7lbs. All adjustments are made with an on-board tool kit.
You can even order it with a heated grip module, and it comes (at extra cost) with a what has to be the most discrete rifle case yet. You're literally only a few jazz festival stickers away from being invited to give clarinet recitals. I've shot both the standard and the carbon versions, in .30-06 unmoderated, and can confirm, the stock is an ergonomic masterpiece.
The straight pulls: what could be more obscure, nerdier, or rarer?
The shizzle. Also from the Sauer Group, also with a hammer forged, swappable barrel, this time the straight pull all others are judged against. The R8 is a reiteration of the R93 with a couple of rather natty new features. The R93 was the accuracy benchmark for production rifles, it's straight pull design a masterpiece of simplicity. For the R8 Blazer added a removable magazine, which love it or loathe it also houses the trigger, and introduced the optional ATZL trigger with tool-less switching between hunting and target settings. The 'Silence' model is a recent addition; a fully shrouded barrel which in .308 can be as little as 16.5 inches long, with noise reduction of an awesome 28 dB. Now that the pistol grip version has been released, an even more amazing woodland stalking rifle.
One for the engineering for engineering's sake Fan-Boy. I'm literally drooling.
Removable barrel and detachable woodwork, it's a take down; it's a straight pull, it's a swap barrel, it has an adjustable trigger. All ideas we've seen before. But not like this.
Strasser's innovation, 'Mechanical BEST™, is a novel way to mount the barrel. Where there others use retained screws to attach the barrel, Strasser uses a collar filled with hydraulic fluid, which when tensioned against a screw gives a constant 360 degrees of locking force.
At the bang-switch end of things, where Blaser has two settings, and Sauer four, Strasser has an adjustable trigger with four settings, and a set trigger that's adjustable between 100-200g. All adjustments are made with an on-board tool kit. Another massively overdue innovation is all the trigger parts are coated in DLC, a 'diamond-like carbon' that's smoother than glass and has yet to be bested in wear and corrosion tests.
For the less travel-conscious several of the rifles are also offered 'solo' without the removable barrel at substantially reduced cost.
The other kind of take down - where the butt stock and forend are removed with a hex key and action and barrel stay mated together. Due perhaps to their fairly hefty price tag the Lynx brand is yet to take off outside their native Finland, but wow what a rifle.
Hailing from Europe's Alaska the rifles are made with chilly mornings in mind, where the sportsman may be wearing gloves. The whole thing is defined by an economy of design; the action only has six parts, less than some rifle's bolt. Round feed is controlled by two cut outs in the underside of the bolt which fit the lips of the magazine to let the bolt guide the round all the way into the chamber with no potential to twist.
This week I'm all about take-downs, but for those with taste as deep as their pockets, Lynx also do a very nice 'English', a sort of ScandiRigby made to order in really nice wood, if you've got really good taste and really deep pockets, you can have it colour case hardened. Remind me to start playing the lottery. Proper lovely.
There's also a target rifle that would make a really nice, and less 'Walt', alternative to an Accuracy International. There's even an AR15-Lynx hybrid but that's a story for another day.
In the words of Monty Python "And now for something completely different"
Rarer than a vegan boyfriend riding a Unicorn. The 'so short you don't need to take it down' offering.
A single-shot rifle with a barrel length of 66 cm and an overall length of 70 cm.
Pfeifer really do plough their own furrow, with a whole host of innovations in a rifle designed for mountain stalking in the Alps. The reversed trigger cocks the rifle, the button is the trigger. Using hammer forged barrel by Heym. Chambered from .22LR to .458. Aluminium action for .22 to 6 x 70R, steel for the bigger ones.
Here's something you don't see every day, a single shot bullpup. One in the pipe and two spares.
The SR in the name comes from Safety Rifle, it's got a Key Lockable safety, something I've only seen on a high end air rifle.
One last bit of trivia: At one point Pfeifer held the record for both the smallest lightest rifle, the Pfeifer Liliput in .22 hornet, and for those of you who like that kind of thing, the Zeliska, the world's most powerful revolver, chambered in .600 Nitro Magnum. Yikes!
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