Hunting and Guns are so much Fun


4 19 13 “Good Common Sense”

It would appear that “good common sense” actually did prevail in the US Senate yesterday, with the failure of the expanded Federal background checks that had been put before the floor for a vote.  Actually, as I understand it, the process required a 60 vote margin to proceed before the floor for further “amendments”, such as might have been suggested by Senator Feinstein with her assault weapons ban, magazine capacity limits, as well as whatever else might have been contrived by the liberal faction of the Senate.  As it stood, the measure failed to carry by only four votes!

Now, I am a son of Virginia, although I have a great deal of respect for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, as I do for Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey.  Both Senators were the architects of a compromise which would require a Federal background check a gun show purchases, as well as internet sales of firearms.  On the surface, that seems innocent enough, and certainly none of us want to see firearms fall in the wrong hands.  As Senator Manchin put it, the compromise was a “good, common sense approach” that wouldn’t affect law abiding citizens.  However, every gun I’ve ever purchased at a gun show or over the internet required a background check by an FFL Dealer.  If you don’t sell a gun to an individual at a gun show, then you would sell it in the parking lot outside the gun show, or at a flea market, or hundreds of other venues.  Ever hear of a guy that sold his gun to another guy at work because he needed money for Christmas?

With all due respect to the good Senator from West Virginia (and Pennsylvania), anytime an elected official says his or her proposal is good common sense, I want to run for the hills (maybe West Virginia hills, I hear they’re pretty safe)!  Try and remember when anything good or common sense came from Capitol Hill.

The glaring flaw in this proposal to me at least, was the term Federal background checks.  When the Federal Government becomes involved, all too often what appears innocent enough escalates into an abuse of power or at the very least, a bureaucratic nightmare.  Over the years ATF abuses and mistakes have closed honest businesses over procedural mistakes, either on the part of the business owner, or the ATF itself.  Anyone want to talk about “Fast and Furious”?

With President Obama’s rant in the Rose Garden last evening, the word “shameful” was iterated to describe what he felt was the Senate’s failure to advance more gun control.  Allow me to voice my opinion:  What was really “shameful” was Obama’s blatant parading of the Newtown parents to advance his own political agenda.  Haven’t they suffered enough?  I can’t imagine anything more horrible than the loss of a child.  I pray that I can precede my son in death so that I will never have to go through anything like the pain that those poor people have endured.

With that in mind, don’t we owe those parents as well as any victim of gun violence something more meaningful than a cursory attempt to add more laws to those which have already been placed on the books and which go unenforced?  What about strict enforcement of existing gun laws, rather than a knee jerk reaction such as we’ve seen in New York, Connecticut and Colorado (not to mention our good neighbor to the east, Maryland)?  What about an amendment to the HIPPA laws which protect the privacy of patients whose mental instability would otherwise preclude them from obtaining a firearm?  As long as we want to attack the Second Amendment, why not go after the Fourth Amendment?

Here’s some sad facts of life that I used to tell my High School students, but which can apply here as well:  With freedom, comes responsibility.  This isn’t responsibility that we can impute back to the government, this is personal responsibility!  You cannot legislate “goodness” into people.  You can pass law and strictly enforce law, and hold people responsible for their actions if they break the law.  Freedom requires eternal vigilance,  and the worst enemy of freedom is complacency.     As I used to preach to my High School Seniors, we need to get involved, because if we don’t, “government” is all too willing to take over; to dictate our actions, our “political correctness” ,as well as our very lives.  And then, we lose our freedom.   This has happened over and over again in the history of mankind.

As far as the Senate vote on background checks is concerned, we haven’t won anything more than a single skirmish.  Believe me, efforts at curbing our Second Amendment rights won’t go away.  In a free society there is always an element of risk, and gun violence will happen again.  All of the gun laws in the world would not have prevented Adam Lanza from taking his Mother’s guns and killing her and 26 other innocent people.

I don’t pretend to know the answer.  But, perhaps, if more good people step forth maybe we can come up with an answer.  I think our Founding Fathers pointed the way.  Maybe we should step back and reflect on what they had to say.  They certainly lived through times which were every bit as violent as now.  After all, America and American Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing the World has yet seen.


3-8-13 Here We Go Again

In my last blog, I stated that it was time to get involved, to step up to the plate and defend our Constitutional Rights.  I feel that now, more than ever, this is so important.

Since the terrible atrocity in Connecticut on December 14th, much of the “hysteria” has diminished.  Or, has it?  In an emotionally packed issue such as “gun control”, the sides that are taken, either pro or con, usually are entrenched.  Certainly, however, there is common ground.

For instance, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that what happened in Newtown,Connecticut, or in Aurora, Colorado, or at the parking lot in Tucson, or at Virginia Tech was absolutely atrocious.  We all agree that if we could have done something to prevent those terrible tragedies we would have gladly done so, without hesitation.  Pro or con on the issue, we all agree that our collective hearts ache for those that are left behind and are forever scarred by the occurrences.  But the question remains, “what to do”?

I will go on record by stating that I support the Constitution of the United States and will do so until my dying day.  As I used to teach my US History students, the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution  (referred to as the Bill of Rights)  were put there by our founding fathers to ensure the rights of individuals.  In fact, the Constitution would not have been ratified in Virginia, at least, without the insertion of the Bill of Rights.  And, the Second Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights.

The liberal side will argue that the Second Amendment was put there in the time of militias which were formed to protect communities from incursions by Native Americans, or other “enemies”, and that it is now antiquated and should be revised.  They also argue that “arms” did not include bazookas or RPG’s.  Should we adhere to that argument, then we might point out that at the time, we didn’t have T.V or radio or other forms of mass media. As long as we are going to “cherry pick” the Constitution, then maybe we should restrict free speech in broadcasting, given the liberal slant of mainstream media.

In attending a lecture by a Constitutional “constructionist”, ( a lawyer who actually reads the Constitution) I found that it was his opinion that the Second Amendment term “arms” meant small arms such as rifles, shotguns and handguns which was common technology of the day (1789).  This guy must have known what he was talking about, as he was on the team that successfully argued the McDonald v. Chicago case before the US Supreme Court in 2009, in which the “right to keep and bear arms” was again reaffirmed by the high court after the Heller v. D.C. case a year earlier which also held that the individual’s right to keep and bear arms was guaranteed by the Second Amendment.  We didn’t even mention bazookas!

In trying to look objectively at these shootings, it appears that each and every one of these perpetrators had some sort of mental “issue” that was largely known and ignored.  After the Virginia Tech horror, the Commonwealth sought to close the loophole which allowed the mentally deranged shooter to purchase handguns.  The Tucson shooter was barred from his college campus due to his irrational behavior.  The Aurora shooter who fancied himself as the “Riddler” from one of the Batman movies had a “manifesto” and had been seeing a school psychologist.  And, in Connecticut, the shooter’s mother (tragically the first victim of his rampage) was in the process of having her son institutionalized, and yet she took him to the rifle range to teach him to shoot!

The simple hue and cry of banning “assault weapons and high capacity magazines” is nothing less than an impotent attempt to try and identify violent behavior by blaming it on an inanimate object.  “Universal background checks” is yet another misguided attempt.  Would you have your son or daughter go through a “background” check so you can bequeath a family heirloom to them?

Then we have “Two Blast Joe”, our Vice-President, who recently recommended shooting a shotgun from his deck to “scare off” intruders.  The problem was we have a Virginia man who did just that, and was promptly arrested for reckless endangerment with a firearm.  We also simply have to look to our neighbor to the east, Maryland.  Their gun restriction proposals are so draconian, that it may soon be illegal to travel through the state with even a blank starter pistol.  It should also be noted that the 500 year old firm of Beretta, whose US factory is in Accokeek, Md is considering moving their plant (along with the loss of jobs) to a more “gun friendly” state.

I’m not really a betting man, but I’d venture a guess that probably 65% of the US Senate, and 50% of the US House of Representatives are either totally or partially ignorant of how firearms actually function, and would rather impose restrictions on law abiding citizens as to their use and ownership than actually seek methods to thoughtfully address violent misuse of firearms such as mandatory sentencing, or identification of those mentally incapable of owning a firearm of any type.  This doesn’t even account for the rigorous enforcement of existing laws, which over the past four years is at a 14% low!

As I’ve written earlier, we must become involved.  We must contact our elected officials and let them know that the old arguments just aren’t valid, that new thoughtful approaches must be taken.  It’s probably also helpful to let them know that as far as you’re concerned, their jobs may depend on it, and that blaming Democrats or Republicans, or guns and magazines just isn’t an excuse for either taking the easy way out or not doing anything constructive.  After all, it’s your Constitutional rights that are at stake.

1 09 13 A Time to Come Forth (Reaction to the Newtown shootings)

Usually when I’m asked to write a blog, it addresses something concerning guns, or hunting trips, or related subjects for which I’m delighted to address.  Now is not that time.

After the terrible atrocity in Newtown, the country has immersed itself in mass hysteria, from both sides of the gun control issue.  Unfortunately, the politicians who have long espoused massive gun control have seized upon this tragedy to further their agenda.  Among these are the “old liners” such as Senators Feinstein, Schumer, Boxer, to name a few, and this extends all the way to the White House to President Obama and Vice-President Biden, who himself is an “old liner” that’s famous for his rants against gun rights advocates.

On the other side, we have the Second Amendment advocates spearheaded by the National Rifle Association.  Hard lines are forming on both sides, and a storm is approaching.

Before I go further, let’s put forth some personal facts.  I have more in common with the participants in Newtown than meets the eye.  Thank God my wife and I have our son.  I can’t imagine anything more horrible than having to bury a child.  Several of my relatives have had to do just that (one who lost their son through a self-inflected gunshot), and from what I’ve seen it’s a void and pain that is never filled; they have just learned to live with it.  For the parents of the Newtown children (and family members of the teachers and staff there) as well as those of the Aurora, Colorado massacre, not to mention the loss at the Giffords’ rally in Arizona, we have lost a piece of the collective souls of every decent American.  I am a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, as well as a Certified Rifle Instructor and a Certified Pistol Instructor.  I teach Basic Pistol Classes.  But moreover, I am a  retired  teacher at two public high schools.  And, I am the father of an Autistic son of whom I am immensely proud.  So, I have some “skin in the game” when it comes to the gun control issue.

Let’s look at some of the facts, at least as have been reported, in the Newtown atrocity.  Nancy Lanza, the Mom of the alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, had those firearms used by her son in their house.  Of course, that’s her right under the Second Amendment.  Tragically, she was the first victim of her son’s rampage.  As has been reported, she was well aware of her son’s Autistic tendencies which included his compulsive isolation and fascination with violent video games. She apparently was in the process of having him placed in a more controlled environment, which as is speculated triggered his violent outrage.

Under these circumstances perhaps the Mom should have removed the firearms from her home and placed them elsewhere for safekeeping until the issues with her son could be resolved. Often, we tend to overlook or minimize some of the challenges that our children face.  It’s human nature, and I observed that for years in the public school setting during parent/teacher conferences. However we sometimes reach the point where these challenges can no longer be ignored.   Certainly, with the Right to Keep and Bear Arms comes the responsibility to secure them from unauthorized use.  This is a basic precept in any of the training classes which I conduct.  Ammunition should be stored and secured separately from firearms as well.  Did Nancy Lanza do this in her home?

I taught US History and US Government in two different High Schools.  In those schools, and to my knowledge, in the rest of the schools in our county we had an armed Resource Officer from the Sheriff’s Department.  If we spend millions of tax dollars to protect our elected officials (and waste literally billions of tax dollars more) is it too much to ask that we provide armed security to protect our most precious resource, our children?

If we look at the Aurora, Colorado massacre, we are told that the alleged shooter was known to suffer from severe mental problems.  This is consistent with the alleged shooter at the Giffords’ rally in Arizona who murdered six, and wounded more including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.  In fact, both of these “suspects” were known by their respective collegiate institutions to suffer from debilitating mental challenges and yet law enforcement went unnotified.

This is also true of the Virginia Tech shooter who was responsible for more than 30 deaths in 2007.  If the gun control argument advocates closing “loopholes” at gun shows, perhaps they should start with closing the loopholes in privacy laws which would protect the identify of those who are capable of inflicting the atrocities that we have recently witnessed.  In the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, the Virginia General Assembly moved quickly to close that loophole which allowed that shooter to purchase a handgun in spite of documented mental illness.

It should be noted that during the last “assault weapons ban”, the 1999 Littleton, Colorado High School shooting occurred.  The ban on high capacity magazines and assault weapons did absolutely nothing to prevent that atrocity.  And, in that case, it was reported that the parents were aware that their sons were amassing stores of ammunition and explosives in their home.

It would seem that any ban on high capacity magazines or so called “assault weapons” is nothing more than a band aid on a hemorrhage.  A Ruger 10/22 is a very popular semi-auto that has been a favorite rifle for years.  Yet, after market modifications can be purchased to make it look like the infamous German MG 42 of WWII fame, which was sometimes called “Hitler’s Buzzsaw”.  Do we ban Ruger 10/22’s?  What is obvious is that most of our liberal politicians are either woefully ignorant of firearms technology or choose to ignore it.  All they seem to espouse is that it looks “evil” and kills people.  Sadly, this is typical of our recent Congresses which tend to “kick the can down the road” rather than consider meaningful legislation.

I believe it was George Washington that observed that “vigilance is the eternal price of freedom”.  That is never more true than today.  It is up to us, the untold millions of honest, law abiding Americans, to stand up and let our elected officials know that their responsibility in a Representative Democracy is to represent the interest of their constituents.  You can’t “cherry pick” the Constitution.  If we alter the Second Amendment because it’s politically expedient to do so, then perhaps we should change the First Amendment because we don’t like a Muslim practicing his religion, or a newspaper that is contrary to our point of view.

When I taught US Government I often told my kids that there is a liberal point of view and a conservative one as well.  The truth, however, is often found somewhere in between.  God willing, in this debate which is to come, perhaps we can convince our Representatives in the House and Senate to seek that middle ground which protects the rights of honest Americans and yet addresses the root cause of this violence.


12 12 12 Way Out West – Part III

“For John and my sister Margaret:  We always talked about driving cross country; I finally made it.”



     Hunting is what you make of it.  In an earlier piece, I opined that hunters go through distinct stages as they “mature”.  For younger hunters, success is measured by what they might kill.  Fortunately, for us “old timers”, there’s more to it than that, although harvesting a trophy adds spice to the trip.  Such was the case in October,  in the Cabinet Mountains near the Plains, in western Montana.

The drive to Montana somewhat paralleled the Lewis and Clark route through Missouri and into Iowa and South Dakota.  For a retired history teacher, I was in my glory.  As we passed Floyd’s point on the Missouri River, I knew exactly what happened there (Floyd was the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die, and that was from appendicitis, not from Indians or grizzlies.)  Passing through the entire width of South Dakota, I could see visions of the Lakota (Sioux) hunting buffalo.  The Black Hills sang the songs of Crazy Horse, and of Wild Bill, with the gaze of four Presidents watching over me.

Seven miles from Mt. Rushmore near Rapid City, S.D., work is still being done on this mountain sculpture.

Seven miles from Mt. Rushmore near Rapid City, S.D., work is still being done on this mountain sculpture.

Driving to our Montana destination, we stopped at Mt. Rushmore near Rapid City, S.D.

Driving to our Montana destination, we stopped at Mt. Rushmore near Rapid City, S.D.

As we came to the Little Bighorn battlefield, the 7th’s regimental song (the Garryowen) kept playing in my head as I explained in detail to my companions what happened there, and how it happened.  Passing through Montana, memories of my past hunts came flooding back; the hunts in the Missouri Breaks for mule deer and antelope.  With the Absarokas and Beartooths to my south, I recalled those long pack trips in three feet of snow and on horseback for elk and deer.  Moving into the Bitterroots, I could recall those impossibly steep climbs through black timber, and knew that once again, I would attempt it.

We were met at camp with warm food and big smiles from the outfitter.  In this case “camp” was a split foyer single family dwelling with ample space.  While it wasn’t exactly my idea of an elk camp, it was comfortable, and admittedly at my age, a shower and indoor plumbing was a welcomed change.

Each morning we would head out in search of our main quarry; elk.  The Bitterroot and Cabinet Mountain range is immense, and procedure often entailed driving into the areas on one of the many networks of logging roads and then hiking back into the most promising areas.  Unfortunately, the elk didn’t get the message.  Oh yes, they left plenty of sign of their presence; steaming hot beds, fresh droppings and high and heavy rubs, but no elk!  Our guide was the epitome of determination.  He worked hard day in and day out and honestly was more frustrated than either me or my hunting buddy.  As deer were included in our license, our eyes were glued to our binoculars for them.  We saw tons of does, and one young spike, but nothing worth shooting.  Bear were also on the license but proved even more evasive….until we decided to saddle up.

The Bitteroot Range is in the Cabinet Mountains. This is one of the ranges where we looked for elk.

The Bitteroot Range is in the Cabinet Mountains. This is one of the ranges where we looked for elk.


Having hiked through black timber at over 6,000 feet the day before I was amazed at two things; at 65 years of age it didn’t kill me and I never experience leg cramps like that before.  Fortunately at the end of the day a trip to the local convenience store produced a bottle of Gator-aid, and guess what, that stuff really works!  With the leg cramps gone, I started packing Gator-aid instead of coffee for the rest of the trip.  Riding a good mountain horse also will do wonders for leg cramps, although if you are not used to it, leg cramps can be the least of your discomfort.

The high point of the trip did not involve pulling the trigger (which only happened at the local range when I made sure that my .338 Winchester Model 70 was still “on”.)  While having a lunch break at about 7,000 feet in elevation we noticed that the horses were “fidgety”.  Out of our guide’s mouth came an electrifying word: “bear”.

We broke for lunch. The horses were acting nervous. We knew something was happening.

We broke for lunch. The horses were acting nervous. We knew something was happening.


Grapping rifles, we scrambled to the edge of the canyon and at 700 yards across on the opposite side rambled a dark object.  The binoculars revealed that indeed, it was a bear.  But, that bear had a dished face and a distinctive shoulder hump.  It was a grizzly!  While protected, and illegal to harvest, the mere sighting of a truly wilderness grizzly made the entire trip well worth the time, expense and effort.  Seeing the great bear in a national park is a treat, but seeing one in his ancestral setting is a once in a lifetime experience.  Like my current guide, I’d seen tracks of grizzlies; in Wyoming and in Montana.  I’d even seen some of their “handiwork” on elk carcasses, but never had actually seen a grizzly, and neither had my guide who is a resident of the area.  But here he was, casually walking across a shale slide, occasionally lifting rocks that would give a bull dozer a hernia just to see if something worth eating was underneath.  His performance lasted about 10 minutes, and yet that sight is burned into my memory, minute by minute, and will remain there until my dying day.  To add spice, we viewed some bighorn rams with a full curl, and bull moose, too. And, every so often, we would inspect sign that wolves had been present.   And, while none of these animals were on our license, they made the hunt successful.

The horse was well-behaved. His name was Banjo. He had blue eyes.

The horse was well-behaved. His name was Banjo. He had blue eyes.


Would I go back there again; maybe, maybe not.  If I want elk or venison for the freezer, there’s probably better places to go. Our guides worked hard every day, all day.  The accommodations were very comfortable, even if they weren’t what I had expected.  And that’s the moral of this story; while you have a right to certain expectations on a guided hunt, don’t go there with pre-conceived expectations.  Remember, it’s called hunting.  You can expect to be comfortable (to an extent), well fed (if they have a good cook) and a 100% effort from your guides (if they want a tip).  But the vagrancies of weather, animal movements, or pressure from other hunters can all have an effect on your success.  If pulling the trigger is your objective (and there’s nothing wrong with that) look for places that offer higher success rates.  If you are looking to experience what life and chance has to offer, you could do far worse than this trip to Montana.


Snow covered the top of Bear Mountain, only 500 feet above our camp site.

Snow covered the top of Bear Mountain, only 500 feet above our camp site.


Way Out West Part II

“To My Brother Vince:  For all the trips I’ve been on and all those that are left to me; you truly were there with me

In our last installment we talked about what to hunt, so now, let’s consider what we’re taking with us.  Here is a classic example of what I used to tell my kids in my classroom (as well as my son):  “do as I say, not as I do”!   Usually, when I pack for a trip, I need to lift weights for about 2 months ahead of time so I can pick up my bag.  These days, when airlines charge a premium for overweight baggage, it can become downright exorbitant to fly to your destination.  While sometimes, it’s better to “have it and not need it as opposed to needing it and not having it”, we really need to think things out before we pack.

We’re fortunate to have specialty stores such as Cabelas, Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Goods and the like.  With today’s modern fabrics we can purchase outdoor clothing that is efficient in keeping us warm and dry, without excess weight.  As we can encounter temperatures anywhere from minus 6 degrees to 60 degrees, it’s important to layer our clothing, so as the day grows warmer or colder we can put on or take off as needed.  Much of what we can buy today has a water repellant (resistant) capacity that can keep up with the weather that can change at a moment’s notice.

One of the most miserable experiences that I ever had was in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains.  I had a pair of “broken in” boots that weren’t really broken in at all.  By the end of the second day, I had blisters that rivaled silver dollars (for us old folks that remember what a silver dollar looked like).  I brought a second pair of boots for use if it snowed, but were well broken in.  For the rest of the trip, I wore those boots and had I not done that, my hunt could have been over by the second day. The idea here is to keep warm, dry and comfortable.

For us “do it yourselfers”, the more time spent in research will equate as to how successful your hunt can be.  Remember, it’s  hunting, and fair chase requires us to be ethical.  In the west, millions of acres are available to us through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forests.  However, a good deal of this land is “checker boarded”, which means that portions of it is leased to private concerns such as ranchers or energy interests.  Here, it’s wise to contact the Bureau of Land Management (that’s what we pay taxes for, after all) and arrange to get maps of those areas that we’re interested in hunting.  These maps show those areas within the BLM that are open to hunting as well as those which are leased and possibly not available. In conjunction with the BLM, you should also contact the state game departments who can not only direct you to the state and county maps showing accessible areas, but can also direct you to the game biologist for that specific area.  Here you can obtain valuable information as to how the game animals survived the previous winter (which in the west can be brutal) where water is located (important for their survival) herd concentrations, any evidence of CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) in the areas and other vital information.  It’s always a good idea to have a list of questions written down before you call the biologist and not after you hang up!

Are you traveling in an RV?  Are any campgrounds nearby and do they offer full hook ups?  Is there a town close by, with a grocery store?  And if you are driving, does that town have decent hotels?  Believe me, I’ve stayed in hotels where I’ve had the best of both worlds:  I could climb into bed and sleep on the floor at the same time.  Is a car/truck rental nearby if you are flying in?  These and more questions require answers and planning before you take your first step from home and not after you arrive at Dead Deer Gulch and find out that you’re pretty much stranded!

What are we shooting?  There have probably been more fist fights over rifles and calibers than having a Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi in a bar at the same time.  Most outfitters will tell their clients to bring a rifle that they can shoot well.  It’s far better to kill cleanly and humanely with a .30/06 that you shoot well than to wound one with a .300 Weatherby (that kicks like hell and causes you to flinch and pull your shot) because a store clerk told you it was the “ flattest shooting gun ever made for out west”. Which brings us to another point: regardless of what you shoot; shoot it!!!  There is no substitute for the confidence that comes with a rifle that you know you can shoot well!  Shoot at least 20 rounds before you leave, and shoot it again when you get to your destination before you begin your hunt.  A lot can happen to a rifle between Virginia or West Virginia and Wyoming.  So, when you arrive at your destination take time to find a safe range and shoot your rifle to check its zero. The time to make any necessary adjustments to your scope is before you enter the field, not when you are drawing down on a 30” Mulie and wondering where your shots went.

A lot of Easterners will tend to overestimate when it comes to the distances you encounter in the west.  For us that hunt the hardwoods where a 50 yard shot tends to be the average, a 300 yard shot can be downright daunting!  A rule of thumb to consider is to sight your rifle 2” high at 100 yards.  For most cartridges useful for western hunting (.30/06, .270, 7MM Mag, etc) this will put a “no holdover” point of aim out to 300 yards.  Also, remember that your game is usually smaller than you imagine it to be.  A mature pronghorn buck may weigh around 125 lbs. and stand 30” high at the shoulder.  This means that his small stature at 250 yards will seem to indicate that he’s 350 yards out when he’s really not.  Here, it’s a good idea to hold “dead on” rather than compensate for distance that’s not really there and shoot over your target.

One item on my   “bucket list” was being able to drive out west.  Now that I’ve retired from teaching I have the time to do so, and before Thanksgiving I’ll be driving out to western Montana for a Deer/Elk/Bear hunt.  One of the great joys in life for my wife is to be able to tell me “I told you so”!   For my next blog I’ll report on my exploits and we’ll see if I’m able to follow my own advice.

Way Out West (Part I)

Elk, shot in Wyoming

To be honest, I’ve only been to Africa one time, and planning for that trip was an adventure in itself, not to mention the fulfillment of a lifetime dream that’s shared by many hunters.  To say that the trip was successful would be an understatement; it was so successful that I was offered and accepted a position with the safari company for the next several years in which I assisted other “new” hunters plan their trips to the Dark Continent.

But Africa isn’t the subject of this article.  For us, living in the greatest country in the World, other venues are readily available for our hunting pursuits. The western states offer a wide variety of opportunities for the sportsman; deer (Whitetail, Blacktail or Mulies), Elk, Bear, Pronghorn, Moose, not to mention less pursued species.  We can fly there, drive there, take the train, take our RV’s and each offers its own rewards and challenges.

Our first question is where we want to go, and what do we want to hunt.  For our purposes, let’s say the “western states” are anywhere west of the Mississippi, which takes in the Plains States such as Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Texas, not to mention the Rocky Mountain States.  Each offers any number of opportunities and this can become as daunting as Lindsay Lohan explaining a speeding violation in traffic court.   Consider selecting a single species that really appeals to you.  Perhaps you’re looking for that once-in-a-lifetime Whitetail; a real wallhanger!  Here’s where the “homework” begins.

Many states offer quality whitetail hunting, but some are better than others.  There are any number of organizations such as Safari Club, the Dallas Safari Club, the North American Hunting Club that can provide great insight as to what’s going on in the world of hunting.  Their magazines provide a “where to go directory” at the back pages. In addition, the old standbys such as “Outdoor Life”, “Field and Stream”, “Sports Afield” are readily available and offer great information.  Nothing beats meeting folks who have “been there and done that” and picking their brains.  The outdoor sports shows which are held annually across the nation showcase great destinations, not to mention the outfitters who can put it all together; which brings us to the next point: do we want to “do it yourself” or book a hunt with an outfitter.

Unless you have a friend that lives in the area in which you want to hunt, I’d suggest using a registered guide for your first hunt.  First of all, he knows the area, and how the game is moving.  If he’s a member of that state’s Guide Association, he must meet and maintain professional standards.  He should be able to assist you in obtaining the necessary non-resident hunting licenses which is invaluable.  Non-resident licenses in western states can be terribly confusing and constantly change in accordance with State game biologists recommendations.  Your outfitter should be well versed with the nuances in the Game Departments and should be able to assist you in correctly completing your license application.  Your outfitter should be able to provide all the necessary equipment and accommodations to make your stay with him comfortable, whether it’s a fully equipped camp or a “town hunt” in which you stay in a hotel and are picked up each morning to begin your hunt.  For those of us fortunate enough to have made many trips out west, it’s inevitable to hear “horror” stories about unscrupulous outfitters.  If you do book with an outfitter, make sure he’s a member of the state’s association and is registered.  He should provide a list of references that can tell you about the operation the outfitter runs, the terrain in which you plan to hunt and other useful information.  Don’t be afraid to call references!  And finally, try not to have pre-conceived notions about your hunt.  Certainly you can have reasonable expectations and have every right to them.  However if you “script” your hunt, you can leave yourself open to disappointment.  Hunting is just that; sometimes it’s your day and at other times the quarry wins!  Your outfitter should work to provide you every reasonable opportunity to obtain your trophy, but he must adhere to ethical hunting.  Having been associated with several Outfitters over a number of years, I’ve been privy to “horror” stories on their end.  Guides can’t be expected to perform miracles.  They have no control over the weather which can drastically affect hunting in the west.  They can’t magically produce a 180 inch whitetail or a 390 inch bull elk, although I’ve had first hand knowledge in which some clients expected just that, and complained bitterly when it didn’t happen.  Again, the idea here is “fair chase” hunting.

Mule Deer shot in Wyoming.

An important consideration when hunting outside of your state is your physical condition.  If you should travel to the Rockies remember that you have altitude to contend with.  The terrain is mostly steep and physical exertion is the rule of the day.  This means you can’t just jump in a plane, or an RV, arrive there and run up and down those mountains!  Simply walking is a great way to try and get ready for your hunt.  If you live in a mountainous region, walking up and down hills is a good idea.  Try and take a loaded pack.  Be sure that your equipment is broken in.  On one trip to the Cabinet Mountains in Montana, I brought what I “thought” to be a pair of broken in boots.  They weren’t, and I spent many miserable days and lots of bandaids over blistered feet which left a lasting impression.  And while we are on the subject of blisters, I have several scars on a tender part of my anatomy because I didn’t take the time to ride a horse a couple of times before I went on a Rocky Mountain pack trip.  The moral of the story is to “plan ahead”.

If you have any medical considerations, it’s vital that you let your outfitter know about them so he can arrange accordingly.  This applies to any dietary considerations, so it’s important to let your outfitter know well before you get there, not when you arrive! One of my outfitter buddies told me of a sad story of a client having a massive heart attack on a mountain.  Unfortunately the client died before any advanced medical help could arrive.  A pre-hunt physical with your family physician is never a bad idea.

C.J. MacElroy, the founding father of Safari Club International, was once asked to recall his most memorable hunt.  His response was his first hunt.  It was full of anticipation and excitement, and he envied the first time (out of state) hunter for those reasons.  Not a bad legacy!

On our next installment, we’ll talk about a “do-it-yourself” hunt and what to take.

The Mystique of the Model 70

I’m not sure who first coined the phrase the “Rifleman’s Rifle”, but he was a marketing genius!

Few rifles in American history have achieved legendary status. What comes to mind, perhaps is the Winchester Model 1873; (“the Gun That Won the West”). Digging back into the shady recesses of my mind, I can think of the Colt Model P; (the Single Action Army, the Frontier Six Shooter, the Smoke Wagon, Col. Colt and His Jury of Six, the Thumb Buster…I could go on). Thinking of modern marketing slogans brings to mind the Remington Model 700 with its “three rings of steel” slogan used to describe its strength and breeching system. But the one rifle that emerges as the all time winner, at least to me, is the Winchester Model 70…the Rifleman’s Rifle!! I’m not sure just who came up with that phrase, but he was a marketing genius!

Now before we get too far along, I must reveal a few facts. I grew up reading Jack O’Connor, who for years was the arms and ammunition editor for Outdoor Life Magazine. Mr. O’Connor also authored several books on guns and shooting.  To me, reading Jack O’Connor was like opening a fine bottle of brandy and smoking a Cuban cigar…it just didn’t get any better! To this day, I’m a sucker for any book that he authored and is not already in my library.

The two things that I had in common with Jack O’Connor was that we both taught young people (although in different curriculums) and we both loved a good Model 70 Winchester.

The Model 70 can trace its ancestry back to returning Doughboys from World War I. Up until the time of the “Great War”, the lever action rifle ruled the roost in America. After all, it was an American invention, and was and still is, an American icon. However, due to their exposure to the US Model 1903 Springfield, and Model 1917 “Enfield”, returning service men began to appreciate the strength, reliability and accuracy of a bolt-action rifle. Having its finger on the pulse of consumer demand, Winchester entered the scene in 1925 with its Model 54, chambered in the perennial favorite, the .30/06 (US Army; .30 caliber; Model of1906) and a new barnburner which they dubbed the “.270 Winchester”.

The Model 54 borrowed the “coned breech” design from the 1903 US Springfield, which greatly enhanced feeding of cartridges from the magazine into the chamber. Its “lock time”(the length of time required for the firing pin to strike the primer of the cartridge, measured in milliseconds) was much faster than the Springfield. The fit and finish of the rifle was as good as it got, and still be made available to the average sportsman.

For the years between 1925 and 1934, sales of the Model 54 were “steady”, considering that a Great Depression put the skids on a lot of “unnecessary” purchases. By 1934, however, there was at least some light at the end of the tunnel, and the research and development teams at Winchester began to take a close look at some of the “flaws” in the Model 54 design. By 1936, some of the “kinks” in the Model 54 had been addressed: the safety was reconfigured, the floor plate (called a magazine cover for us Model 70 purists) was hinged to allow quick release of cartridges from the magazine, the lock time was increased, and the bolt was lowered to allow the use of a new fad: telescopic sights. What emerged from this process was the legendary Model 70.

When first introduced, the Model 70 was chambered in nine calibers, ranging from the diminutive .22 Hornet to the mighty .375 H&H Magnum. What was interesting was the ability of the factory to utilize only one action length and modify it to accommodate various cartridge lengths. Later, in its production life, an additional nine calibers were added. Today, for the collector of “Pre-’64 Model 70’s”the rarity of the caliber plays a vital part in the value of the rifle!!

Throughout its many years of production, Model 70’s have undergone significant changes in the methods of manufacturing. Those produced between 1937 (when it first appeared on the shelves of dealers) and 1964 are referred to as“Pre-’64” Model 70’s. This production run consisted of no less that three distinct modifications: pre-War (World War II, when production was suspended to allow for the war effort); second transition (from 1946 to about 1949) and finally third transition (from about 1950 to 1964). During these phases, the rifles required scores of machining operations and were hand fitted to the final product. The barrels were lapped to ensure smoothness, and were usually stamped with the year and caliber on the underside Stock designs changed with the more prevalent use of scopes. It was during this period of time when Jack O’Connor was the arms editor for Outdoor Life, and his tales of hunting in exotic places with his Model 70’s gave us youthful readers the stuff of which dreams were made!

“OMG….What Happened?!?!”

For those of us who worshiped at the alter of the Pre-’64 Model 70, the year 1964 was an Armageddon!! Production and labor costs steadily rose in the years following WWII, and by1964 the efforts at machining and fitting the beloved Model 70 were no longer economically feasible; the company was loosing money on each and every one produced. In order to reduce these costs a newer and more “economical” Model 70 arrived on the scene.

No longer was the stock checkered gracefully by hand. The barrel channel looked as if someone took a roto-tiller to it, the barrel was left floating in space! Parts that were once machined were now stamped. The reliable claw system was abandoned to a “push feed system”. This brought howls of anguish to the legions of aficionados and instead of being profitable to Winchester, sales plummeted. By 1968, it was obvious that something had to be done! The end result of this became known as the “Post ‘68” version. While it still used the more economical push feed system, parts were better-fitted and finished, and more machining was used rather than stampings.

A Return to Yesteryear

The Post ‘68 Model 70 enjoyed a somewhat “reserved” acceptance from the “purists”. It was accurate, the stock design had much improved, and the “push feed” system wasn’t all that bad. Except, it just wasn’t like the original. By about 1980, the parent company of Winchester, Olin-Mathieson, decided to divest itself of the firearms manufacturing division and concentrate on producing ammunition. Rather than see the 120 year factory close, the employees, stockholders and other interested parties formed “USRAC” (United States Repeating Arms Corporation) and continued production of the Winchester product line, including the Model 70. The rifles produced during this period still enjoyed the reputation earned by the predecessors. By about 1992,however a new and exciting production method began to be applied: CNC!

Computer Numeric Control manufacturing allows a computer to do the intricate machining operations once performed by skilled (expensive) craftsmen. Because of this tolerances could held to tighter levels than ever before, which meant that the old controlled round system of feeding cartridges could again be offered to the shooting public. Once again, a “newer” version of the pre’64 Model 70 could be offered.

Good Times and Bad

 By 2005, the old factory at New Haven, Connecticut needed improvements, and employee costs were rising at an alarming rate! It became apparent that the firm (now owned by the Belgium firm FN who also owns Browning Firearms) could no longer afford to keep the New Haven plant open. After a 145 year span, the Winchester Firearms firm came to an end, shocking everyone in the firearms world. But not quite…

By 2008, Winchester again returned to the American scene. But instead of returning to New Haven operations and manufacturing located in South Carolina, where FNH (the parent company operates a facility not only devoted to the production of US Defense small arms, but the production of what can be argued as the most advanced line of Winchester products yet offered, including the Model 70!

With new manufacturing techniques, and a state of the art factory the future of the Model 70 again appears to be bright. Thanks to this a variety of calibers and actions lengths to accommodate them can be offered to the public. Exactly what lies ahead no one knows, but it’s nice to know that with Mom, Apple Pie and Chevys, we can also have our Winchesters!!!