EDITORIAL

Ask the Gunwriter

 

 

For 2018 there will be a new feature at Empty Cases. It’s called “Ask the Gunwriter” and it’s sponsored by Mossberg. I receive gun or hunting questions every day and I do my best to answer them all. But I realized there might be other folks with the same question, looking for an answer. So now, when someone submits a question—a good question—I’ll crate a video response and post it on the Empty Cases website and on social media. If I do not know the answer, I’ll reach out to other—smarter—folks in the industry for help.

The really cool aspect of Ask the Gunwriter is that if you submit a written question your name will entered for a chance to win a Mossberg Patriot Revere chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor. But even better, if you submit a video question, your name will be entered 10 times! In October, I’ll draw a name and announce the winner. For instructions on submitting a question, click HERE

Submit your question about guns, shooting, or hunting, and you might win a Mossberg Patriot Revere chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor.

But, before this all gets kicked off I thought I’d save some folks some time and tell you what questions not to ask; remember, to be selected your question has to be good.

  1. What’s your favorite cartridge? Not a good question. I had dinner with a group of hunters, writers, and manufactures during the last SHOT Show. The great Dave Petzal was in attendance, and about half way through what might have been the best steak I’ve ever chewed on, someone asked him what his favorite cartridge was. I could not hear Dave’s answer, but in reality it does not matter, because this fascination with the minute differences between cartridges is somewhat asinine. After dinner I asked Dave how many times he’d been asked what his favorite cartridge was. He said, “I have no idea.” What I should have asked him was, how many different answers he had given to that question over the span of his career.

  1. I’m going elk hunting and was thinking I needed to trade my 270 for a 300 magnum. What would you suggest? Don’t be stupid. Spend the money you would pay as part of the trade on ammunition and learn to shoot better. Unless of course you just want a new rifle. If you do, don’t come up with a lame excuse to get a new rifle…you never need an excuse to buy a new rifle! (The key to killing an elk is good shooting.)

  1. What is your advice when it comes to the 9mm? I’m asked this question almost once every week and my advice is always the same: don’t get shot with a 9mm. It will hurt like hell, might make your wife wealthy with insurance money, and free her up to run off with the geek down at the GoMart.

  1. I’ve read several your articles and it seems you don’t like the 30-06. This seems really odd to me. Is this true? And, if it is, would you explain why you do not like what might be the best all-around cartridge? Yes, it is true. And, no, I will not. And, just so you know, I don’t like Pepsi-Cola or Ford trucks either.

  1. My wife complains about me shooting and hunting all the time. And, every time I buy a new gun she throws a fit. She’s thrown my ammo in the trash, cuts up my camo, puts her perfume in my bottles of deer pee, and even joined PETA. What should I do? D-I-V-O-R-C-E, unless your wife is Katheryn Winnick; she’s the opposite of ugly, she’s very wealthy, and might kick your ass. Might I suggest you learn some romance?

A Little Bit of Ballistics

It’s cold here in the hills. Temperatures have been in the single digits and the wind has been blowing hard. I have a variety of projects I need to be working on but they all involve shooting, and, well, I’m holding out for better days.

This has provided me with some down time and I’ve been looking around on the Internet a good bit. Enough to remind me how little most shooters know about terminal ballistics. If you visit most any shooting forum you will uncover enough misinformation to make you think you’re on the MSNBC website.

In no time at all you’ll learn that you need a 338 Winchester Magnum to kill any whitetail deer north of Pennsylvania, that the 30-30 is so old it will only kill yearling deer – and then only with good hits, and that any cartridge created before 1965 was only introduced to get folks to buy more guns.

I went back through my archives and notes and found some video and information where I conducted a bunch of terminal ballistics testing at the Barnes Bullets laboratory a few years back. I learned a lot of stuff during those experiments and validated some of my opinions.

One opinion I’ve held for sometime deals with comparing the terminal performance of various cartridges. Looking at recovered bullets is the way this is most commonly done. It’s the easy way, but it’s also the way that provides the least information, at least when it comes to information about how the bullet damaged tissue. The best way I’ve found to compare terminal performance is to look inside the dead deer, or whatever animal you’re trying to recover a bullet from. That’s where you find the real story. It’s also where you realize that by looking inside a dead animal, you cannot tell which cartridge killed it.

Here’s an example of Internet ballistics wisdom. Some argue that the 30-06 is superior to the 308 Winchester in every way. Did you know that the 180-grain, 308 Winchester, RNSP CoreLokt bullet will expand wider and penetrate deeper than a 180-grain, 30-06, PSP CoreLokt? Probably not. Most assume the 30-06 will outperform the 308 because it has a slightly higher muzzle velocity. Regardless of these technicalities, I’ll guarantee if you look inside two deer – one shot with each load – you would have no better than a 50% chance of guessing which one killed which deer.

Yes, the middle bullet is obviously a Barnes. But, can you tell which of these bullets created the most internal damage, or was fired from a 30-30 by looking at this photo?

Below you’ll see a list of terminal performance information most often discussed for three loads, all shooting a 150 grain, .30 caliber projectile. The loads were a 150-grain CoreLokt fired from a 30-30 Winchester, a 150-grain CoreLokt fired from a 308 Winchester, and a 150-grain Barnes TTSX fired from a 308 Winchester. Can you match the data with the cartridge?

Load                        Penetration         Expansion                  Recovered Weight

  1.                              19 inches           0.54 inch                    105 grains
  2.                              23 inches          0.53 inch                    124 grains
  3.                              30 inches          0.49 inch                    149 grains

Maybe a better way is to watch the video of the bullets impacting the 10% ordnance gelatin. These videos were shot during the testing I referenced. Now, I’ll tell you up front, the videos might be a bit misleading because of where the bullet stuck the gelatin block in relation to the side of the block the camera was positioned on. I’ll also tell you that its – in most cases – as difficult to guess your wife’s weight to her satisfaction as it is to match gel blocks like these to dead critters.

Regardless of all this scientific stuff, the point is most of what you read on a gun forum – and a lot of what you read in gun magazines – is pure speculation, often based on anomalies, examples of one, and even old wives tales. It’s pontification driven by what has been read and repeated, assumed or found in ballistic charts, and by – yes – looking at recovered bullets. Granted, the 30-30 Winchester is not as powerful as the 308 Winchester. The thing is, the animals don’t know that, especially when they are leaking out both sides. To develop an understanding of terminal performance, stop looking at recovered bullets and look at what the bullet does to the animal.

Finn Aagaard – Possibly the most pragmatic and experienced gun writers of all time.

I’ll leave you with these wonderful bits of wisdom from Finn Aagaard, someone who truly understood terminal performance:

1, One can select figures and dense formulas to bolster about any preconceived notion, and therein lies the major weakness of any of these killing power calculations – they reflect merely the personal opinions and prejudice of their authors.

2, Killing power is a matter of biology, not of math and physics, and is influenced almost totally by shot placement, accompanied by sufficient penetration.

3, Rather than relying on fanciful “killing power” formulas, hunters would do far better to learn field marksmanship and to make some study of animal anatomy, in which subject most of them, including most outdoor writers, are woefully deficient.

4, Given sufficient penetration, what does any additional bullet weight add to killing power? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

The REAL Ammo Guy

The guns, gear, and gadgets will all fawn over are interesting, but the real stories – the good stories – are always about people. Those are also the stories I like to write the most. Here is one direct from the pages of the January 2018 issue of Gun Digest magazine. For those who may not know, I write the handgun column for Gun Digest and generally contribute a feature each month. Under the new editorship of Luke Hartle – yes, he is a yankee, but I think there’s enough redneck in him to balance it out – Gun Digest is becoming an excellent version of a modern firearms periodical. I’d suggest you check it out. You can subscribe HERE

The old man shuffled to a cabinet on feet that’d carried him for almost 80 years. He grinned, leaned close enough I could smell cows, corn, and diesel, and said, “This here’s the good drawer.” It contained a hoard of shot shells. He picked up a candy stripped example, handed it to me, and said, “This’ns worth five hundred dollars.” Marv had my attention.

Marvin “Marv” Briegel worked hard all his life, but the only paycheck he ever received was during his three years in the Army. Marv is a farmer, always has been, always will be. He’s damn proud of it too, because he knows it’s a profession too good for most. Marv’s also a hunter. On his farm along Nebraska’s Republican river he once used a 270 Winchester to put a Boone & Crocket whitetail on his wall. That wall, by the way, is in a vault that’s part of Marv’s otherwise inconspicuous farmhouse.

Inside it’s the Marv Show, and it starts with a four-bore shotgun. “I ant shooting that!” I said. Marv grinned, “I ant letting ya.” Then there are the near dozen lesser gauges, Herter’s rifles, and an example of every Knight muzzleloader made. But the Marv Show is mostly about cartridges. I spent hours fingering through drawers of paper-patched cartridges, all-brass shot shells, and other munitions I’d never seen, all while Marv gave John Madden-like color commentary. “Now here’s a shell you don’t see often. I got that’n from an old boy in Oklahoma. That’s a window shell. You know what a window shell is?”

As editor of Gun Digest’s 13th Edition of Cartridges of the World, I’m sometimes referred to as the, “ammo guy.” Amazingly, while deer hunting in the no-stop-light town of Arapahoe, Nebraska, I’d uncovered a physical manifestation of the encyclopedia I’d worked so hard to publish. Historical cartridge collecting is a niche but serious endeavor. Marv’s passion likely exceeds that of Trump voters and, yes, even turkey hunters. He’s even been to Germany to scavange ammunition antiquities.

I asked how a fellow might start cartridge collecting. Marv said, “My first was a 45/100 Pacific Ballard,” Nudging me with his elbow, “but rimfire cartridge boxes are where a guy should start. They’re affordable and easy to find. Just make sure they’re full”

But most of Marv’s collection is shot shell related and I asked why. “With shot shells the information is printed on them, and it matches what’s on the box. It’ll tell you gauge, shot size, and so on. With rifle and pistol cartridges all you got’s the head stamp and no idea bout much else.” Then, with the intensity of a stock trader sharing his first inside tip, Marv leaned in, looked around like, to see if anyone was watching, and whispered, “Robin Hood. Any Robin Hood shot shell is good and the boxes are better-n gold.”

I left Marv a signed copy of Cartridges of the World and a .25 caliber wildcat cartridge I’d based on the 6.5 Creedmoor. Marv gave me something a bit different; a little, but well endowed, bobble-girl off the dash of his – dirtier on the inside than outside – pickup truck.

Passing through the vault door I looked back and Marv was fondling the cartridge I’d given him. He’ll put it in a drawer and someday show it to some guy like me. The bobble-girl? She’ll go on the dashboard of my truck, just to remind me who the real ammo guy is. I named her Casey.

HUNTING – You might be doing it wrong!

Hunting an animal is not just about finding it. It involves getting close enough your shot will be sure. Short of that, you’re just walking around shooting at stuff.

First, let me implicitly state that I don’t care how you kill your meat. I don’t care if you shoot it at 800 yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor and I don’t care if you poke it in the ass with a spear. Hell, I don’t care if you club it with a Louisville Slugger. If you kill it to eat it – or to feed another – and you kill it legally…I don’t care.

Several prominent outdoor writers have attempted to address the ethics of long-range hunting. I’m not going to do that. Arguing the ethics of how a hunter legally kills is – at least to me – like arguing the ethics of how someone has sex. If it’s legal, and if you’re not the one on either end of the activity, it’s really none of your business.

What I want to offer is not a limit on how far you should shoot at an animal, but a pragmatic look at hunting as a sport and ultimately, enjoying the shot you may or may not take. We hunt for meat, for horns, and for hides, but mostly we hunt for fun, and to contribute to the conservation and management of wildlife. Some find fun in seeing how far away they can shoot at, hit, and kill, an animal. This could be because they want to show off, because they do not know how to get closer, or because they believe hunting is mostly about shooting.

With some pursuits, shots at distance are part of the hunt. What they should not be is the most important or only part of the hunt.

Yes, hunting is ultimately all about the shot, but it’s not about making the shot as much as it’s about getting the shot, ideally a shot that should be a sure thing.

To keep things in perspective let’s identify the real challenge involved in long-range hunting. It’s the hitting and killing of the animal. For most hunters, once the distance exceeds about 250 yards, the shot becomes difficult. The challenge therefore is making the shot and that’s something that can be done much more practically, and with no chance of a bad outcome, on a shooting range. Yes, shooting at long-range takes skill and success at it can be satisfying, but it’s skill that can be tested, and satisfaction that can be found, without blood loss or potentially bad outcomes.

Should you enjoy the shot or the hunt?

A shot at distance – any distance no matter how great – cannot compare to an open country stalk to within 60 yards on an animal like this.

In November I was hunting free-range scimitar horned oryx in Texas. The country was so open the only place you could pee in private was on the other side of the truck. I figured my shot was going to be long. I’d even practiced extensively out to 500 yards and was prepared and confident. On our last stalk we managed to work to within about 420 yards of a group of oryx. Thinking that was as good as we were going to do, I began to measure the wind and look for a place to shoot from. It was exciting but not heart pounding exciting.

My guide, Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts, suggested we try to work up a narrow draw and get ahead of them. I figured this fruitless; we would have to cover about 200 yards within their vision as we paralleled their path. We took off, ducking from bush to bush, hunkered down, and fast stepping. 20 minutes later we set up where we thought the oryx would come to. We were in the open, exposed, with no cover. We waited, waited some more, and finally Steve spotted the long sweeping horns of the lead oryx. For the next 30 minutes those oryx moved around us, sometimes within 30 yards. The problem was not getting a shot, it was getting a shot at the only bull in a group of 15.

My knees were screaming and my heart was pounding. I figured the oryx could hear both. All that noise was probably why they were looking at us, confused, like a wino when he has a full bottle in each hand. Finally, Steve identified the bull, and between racing heartbeats and clumps of greasewood; I shot him at 54 steps. The shot was easy, getting it wasn’t. And that’s where I think too many hunters are doing it wrong.

This free range South Africa kudu was spotted from more than a mile away. The stalk, with Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, took more than two hours and resulted in a shot at the extreme distance of about 97 yards. It was difficult, memorable, and damned satisfying.

I believe hunters would have more fun working for the sure shot and not the difficult one. A sure shot means there’s less chance the animal will run, suffer, or be lost. A sure shot means you have not just found, but hunted the animal. Hunters should brag about the surety of the shot they manage to get, shooters brag about the difficulty of the shot they took. If you’re a hunter and a shooter you can brag about not buggering the sure shot you took.

I’ve made some astoundingly long shots on animals, but the deed was one of marksmanship. Striving to be a good marksman is a worthy goal, striving to be a good hunter is just as worthy, if not more. Finding a practical and realistic balance between the two is noble. Professional hunters, like Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts and Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, strive to get their hunters close. Some would argue it increases the chance for success, but I submit it mostly increases the value of the hunt/experience. Sometimes the closer you get the harder your nerves are to control, and feeling those nerves is a wonderful thing, a thing that is near impossible to experience from a quarter-mile away. This is why outfitters sell hunts as opposed to shots or animals.

Can you make this shot? If not, don’t pull the trigger. Hunting is not about seeing what shot you can make, its about working to get a shot that is sure.

Unfortunately too many modern hunters are trained by television as opposed to a professional, a father, or grandpa. And sadly, real hunting doesn’t make good television. This is partly because its damn near impossible to film. Why? It’s difficult to get a hunter close to an animal, and damned difficult when a guy with a camera is tagging along. It’s also partly because it’s hard to relay the difficulty of the challenge to the viewer. When you’re shooting at an elk at 700 yards, the challenge is clear and easily defined. When you have to use stealth and predator skills to cover 700 yards, it takes a choreographed production, lots of hard work, and good music to convey the challenge, excitement, and adrenalin the hunter is struggling to control.

I frequently say, “it’s all about the shot.” Part of that – actually the largest part of that – is about getting the shot. Making the shot should be easy and it should be sure. Anything less than that and you’re essentially depriving yourself of the fulfillment of the reward your genetic wiring has programmed you to seek.

Long range hunting basically boils down to – let’s see if I can make that shot. Hunting, real hunting, boils down to – let’s see if I can hunt that animal and secure a sure shot. Those are dynamically different things. Shooting animals at distance is sometimes part of the hunt. It should not be the only part – or goal – of the hunt.

It is indeed all about the shot. It’s about anticipating it, planning it, getting it, and making it. Not a guess shot, but a sure shot. After all, the object of shooting is hitting, and the object of hunting is killing. True hunters work to maximize the possibility of both.

Here are three simple rules I’d suggest you follow to help make the most of your hunting experience. If you can get closer, get closer. If you can get steadier, get steadier. If you’re not sure of the shot, don’t take it. If you cannot abide by these rules you might want to do your hunting on a shooting range. Steel targets are easy to sneak up on. They won’t run off if you miss, and they’ll not suffer needlessly from bad hits.

Like I said, hunt any legal way you like; I really and truly don’t care how you do it. The point I’m trying to make is that maybe you should be the one who cares. We hunt largely for fun but to also satisfy our genetic makeup. I’m just telling you how you can find more fun and satisfaction, and become a real hunter and not just a shooter.

It’s a new year. Might I suggest you resolve to become a better shooter and hunter, and then learn to mesh the two disciplines in a way they compliment each other.

 

New Cartridges, New Guns, and Not Shooting

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I just completed finished an article detailing all the new guns, ammunition, and cartridges for 2018. Shooters will be happy to learn you will have lots to choose from, and no, I cannot tell you what they all were.

I like new cartridges, guns, and ammunition introductions – I am not afflicted with neophobia. The introduction of new stuff for shooters is like a new episode of the Walking Dead for zombie lovers, like a new wine for winos, or like a new iPhone for – I don’t know – about half the population.

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The new Steyr RFP 22 LR pistol is not the defensive handgun that will stop any bad guy. It is a pistol you can use to become a better marksman. $ 425.00.

What I can also tell you is that new cartridges, guns, or ammo will not make you a better shooter. Just like new camo patterns or bottles of deer pee will not make you a better hunter. You get better at hunting by hunting, by making mistakes, learning, by being in the woods. You get better at shooting by shooting.

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A new cartridge – like this .257 caliber wildcat – can be exciting. It will not make you a better marksman unless you shoot it more than you were shooting your old cartridge.

 

I recently created a wildcat cartridge – the 6.5 Creedmoor necked down to .257 caliber. It’s new but its nothing magic. If you like quarter-bore cartridges, it is kind of cool. It will not make you shooter better or kill coyotes or deer any better than the old 250 Savage or 243. A reader recently asked if I was going to release the cartridge to the public. Um, I already did; there is nothing proprietary there. Anyone can neck the 6.5 Creedmoor down to .257 and call it anything they want. The notion that someone is going to get rich off of a wildcat cartridge is about as ludicrous as trying to get a grizzly bear to wear lace panties.

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The new Hornady 6.5 PRC will make a great long range cartridge, but it will not help you hold your rifle steadier or read the wind better.

We have two new cartridges introductions for 2018 from major manufacturers. They both offer something desirable, but like my 2Fity-Hillbilly, neither will make you shoot any better. We also have a bunch of new 1911s from various manufacturers and some of them a really cool. If you like one I’d suggest you buy it, but don’t expect your shooting to improve.

 

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If you’re looking for the maximum velocity possible from your AR 15, the new 224 Valkyrie from Federal might be just for you.

New rifles chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor abound as well. If you’ve been thinking about a rifle in that cartridge, but could not find the right rifle for you, maybe 2018 is your year. Still, that new rifle or cartridge will not improve your marksmanship.

The only way to become a better shooter is to shoot. Shooting, for men anyway, is considered one of the basic virtues of manliness. For men, shooting skill ranks right up there with the importance of never appearing lost, never crying, or never admitting you liked that chick-flick you watched with you wife the other day. Because of this, men are reluctant to seek training when it comes to shooting. And too, if they do, they often attend the training with the notion they will show the instructor how good they already are.

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Mossberg is offering their Patriot Revere chambers for the 6.5 Creedmoor. WooHoo! Do you know how to shoot from the prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing positions properly? If not, it will just be another pretty rifle in your safe.

Do yourself a favor for 2018; make a New Year resolution to become a better marksman. Sure, buy that new rifle, chambered for that new cartridge, brag to your buddies about it, paste it all over social media, and convince your better half it is that last little thing you need to become the next American Sniper. Once you’ve done that, buy lots of ammo – affordable ammo – and go learn to shoot. If you don’t know where to do that, CLICK HERE

How will you know your shooting skills are worthy of the title of marksman? Here is the Richard Mann-Shadowland-hillbilly marksmanship standard. Until you can achieve it – on demand, you might be spending your money in the wrong place.

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Defensive Handgun: Draw from concealment and put five shots into a five-inch circle at five yards in less than five seconds.

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General Rifle: From the standing – port arms – start position; hit a 16-inch target at 100 yards in less than two seconds.

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Precision Rifle: From the standing – port arms – start position; hit a 12-inch target at 500 yards in less than 20 seconds.

Shotgun: Seriously? The word shotgun and marksmanship do not belong in the same sentence. If you miss with a shotgun – a gun that throws a hoard of pellets towards your target – you are not a marksman.

One of the most important attributes of a true marksman is the discipline to not take shots you cannot make. You learn what those shots are by practicing.

 

The Big Book of Big Game Hunting

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John Barsness hunting one of his favorite places, the Missouri Breaks.

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John Barsness

If you were going to write a book about big game hunting – a big book about big game hunting – how would you know what to include? If you’d hunted all over the world, for all sorts of big critters, with all sorts of rifles, you’d have the experience to author such an encyclopedia. If you were one of the most prolific writers on the subject you’d also know what to write about, partly because answering correspondence from your many readers teaches you what they want to know.

For example, did you know the “early season hunting of plains whitetails often involves mule deer tactics.” Or that “Almost anything in Africa is negotiable.” and “the biggest complaints of many PH’s are that Americans shoot too slowly, and don’t know how to shoot offhand, even when resting their rifle over shooting sticks.” I also bet you did not know that, “…some 21st century elk hunters actually choose to use smaller cartridges and cup and core bullets on elk.” or that the bonding of a bullet, “… does NOT guarantee exceptionally high weight retention, or deep penetration.”

I’ll bet that you, like many hunters who hunt on their hind legs instead of their ass, appreciate the limited heft of lightweight rifles. Some also struggle getting those rifles to shoot from the bench. Did you know that really lightweight rifles, “tend to shoot more accurately when using an even softer rest than the typical sandbag.” and that a common bath towel might just improve your groups.

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Barsness working with a double rifle during a hunt in Ireland. He holds the position of Grand Poobah at the lodge of rifle loonies.

This of course is just a sampling of the tidbits you’ll find in The Big Book of Big Game Hunting. And, as is often the case with any endeavor, little things like these matter. This book deals with lots of little and big things as they relate to big game hunting, and they’re the things Barsness has found big game hunters want to know, because they’re the answers to questions he’s been answering for years.

I’ve spent time in the field with John Barsness shooting prairie dogs, black bear, and mule deer, in Montana. We’ve hunted whitetails in West Virginia and Texas, and fallow deer in Ireland. I’ve watched him masterfully work a fly rod in the Deschutes River of Oregon, and seen him just as skillfully run a rifle in New Zealand. However, I’ve spent much more time reading the words he’s written; words I trust because I know they’re based on experience as opposed to speculation.

However, Barsness is no Jack O’Connor; he’s better. Better for me because his writing style reflects the passion of a workingman who practically lives off the wild game he and his wife have taken. He’s no Townsend Whelen either, because he has much more big game hunting experience. And, Barsness is no Elmer Keith because he knows what punctuation, alliteration, and declarative sentences are.

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Barsness’ latest book. Click the image to order.

I learn stuff when I read Barsness because the lessons are craftily hidden in stories that are enjoyable to read. They come across as sharp and clear as peeing on an electric fence, but with the refreshing smoothness of a gin & tonic at an African campfire. After you read The Big Book of Big Game Hunting you’ll look at big game hunting in a different way because you will know more about it. Then, you will probably order The Life of the Hunt, which is one of the five best hunting books ever written. When you do, tell John a hillbilly sent you, and he might even write an exceptionally snide comment inside the front cover.

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Barsness, who has written for every major outdoor periodical, and his wife-chef Eileen Clarke, a hunter who has authored more wild game cookbooks than maybe anyone ever, operate the website Rifles and Recipes.

 

Wife, Mother, Hunter – I hit the jackpot!

Today marks 23 years of being married to the most amazing woman in the world.

She knows I know it, and now you know it.

This is a story about my wife becoming a hunter. It was originally published in American Hunter magazine. 

BIRTH OF A HUNTRESS

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Wife, mother, hunter.

“I think I’d like to try hunting.” I couldn’t have been more astonished if my wife would’ve told me she wanted a sex change. After 20 years together I wanted to think some of me had rubbed off but I knew credit for this directional change was owed to another. No matter, the thought that my best friend might help me pass on the legacy of hunting to our children was inspiring. Memories of time spent in the woods with my mom began to stealthily creep out from where they’d been hiding.

Three things, sustenance, security, and sex primarily drive humans. Almost everything humans do is to fulfill these lusts. Next on the list of what drives our species is entertainment and it influences the three primary motivators. If humans can flavor their acquisition of food, shelter, and sex with entertainment, they’re happier humans. We’re driven by instincts, but gourmet cooking, fancy homes and various fetishes are the secret sauce that makes us smile.

Through our years together I’d never pushed Drema to hunt. I did encourage her to carry a gun; 13 years of chasing bad guys leaves no doubt in your mind about the importance of being armed. Finally she caved to my urgings and she and my sister attended a defensive handgun course at Gunsite Academy. For Drema it was an empowering, life changing experience. When I asked her about it, her response was not about how much fun she had. She simply said, “If someone was trying to hurt our kids or me, I’d shoot them to the ground.”

Shortly after, I introduced Drema to Linda Powell. Like my wife, Linda is a lady but Linda is also a hunter. They hit it off and for three years they and several other ladies conduct an annual pilgrimage to Gunsite to receive shooting instruction. Though I mostly looked at their escapades as extended weekend retreats, little did I know something else was occurring.

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Drema and Linda Powell – the person most responsible for making her a hunter.

As Drema became more proficient with shooting and underwent repeated exposed to Linda’s stories about hunting all over the world, she began to find the combination to unlock the hunting gene embedded in us all. I think Drema realized her interests in prowling the isles of grocery stores and continually searching for tasty recipes to enhance her desire for sustenance were nothing more than the hunter in her wanting out.

Armed with a rifle, warm clothes and advice I put her on stand during the opening day of deer season. Within 30 minutes she had a close encounter with a mature buck. She did not get a shot but she was bitten with the whitetail rush. The combination lock popped off the chains holding the hunter inside her at bay. She told me, “I don’t know how I’ll feel if I kill a deer but I want to.”

After deer season Linda called asking if I thought Drema might like to go to Africa with us to test a new rifle from Mossberg. Drema was euphoric about the prospect but noticeably apprehensive. We practiced religiously prior to the trip. Boarding the plane I knew that, one way or the other; the next 10 days would change Drema’s life. Also, with euphoric anticipation, I realized instead of hunting with my Mom I would be hunting with the mother of my children.

Gerhard “Gerry” Pretorius with African Bullet Safaris met us at the airport in Johannesburg. We drove straight to the lodge, just outside of Lephalale, and close to the green and greasy Limpopo. With an after midnight arrival it was next day noon before we hit the bush. Gerry, Drema, and I headed out to a water hole. A hushed conversation with Gerry clued him in on Drema’s background. Grinning, he said, “No worries.” Still, knowing the importance of the event and the anxiety on Drema’s shoulders, I was.

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Drema and her professional hunter working at the range.

Few things are comparable to the wonderment of an African waterhole. Your ears take in a musical soundtrack reminiscent of the movie Hatari and your eyes are awash with kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. A red hartebeest cow and calf walked under our elevated blind. A waterbuck emerged from the bush to get a drink. Egyptian geese fed on the far bank. Drema looked at me, eyes wide like when they beheld at out first-born, and whispered, “Wow!”

The plan was to start out slow; let Drema take a sure shot at an impala or a warthog and several were frequenting the waterhole. Gerry had her track a young impala with her rifle for several minutes. He and I knew it was immature but we also knew time behind the rifle would ease the tension and ready her when the real time came. Moments later it did when two regally massive gemsbok marched into the water hole. I whispered to Gerry, “That’s what she really wants to try for.”

Calmly, Gerry asked Dream, “Do you want to try for the gemsbok?”

Drema nervously grinned, like a kid who’d been offered their first chance to ride a roller coaster, “Yes! Can I?”

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Drema’s gemsbok. Her first animal ever.

Exhibiting true field earned professionalism, nonchalantly Gerry told her to wait for a good shot and go for it. Later, he told me with that tremendous trophy within her reach, and knowing Drema had never shot at an animal, his heart was beating out of his chest. He said, “I knew if I let my excitement show it would be contagious, possibly inducing a bad shot.”

The little Mossberg .243 Winchester barked and an 85-grain Partition started its critical journey across the waterhole. For Drema, it was the most important bullet she’d ever fired. Her future as a hunter depended on its point of impact and performance. The bullet struck a third of the way up the gemsbok’s chest, straight above the leg. I knew it was over. Drema shucked the bolt like the Gunsite trainee she was and the gemsbok disappeared behind a tall stand of papyrus. She turned and looked at me with an expression that in 20 years I’d never seen on her face.

“Did I get it?”

Wiping a tear that had already appeared in the corner of my eye I said, “Yes, she is yours!” and I pointed to the other side of the papyrus where the gemsbok had piled up. Drema had trouble speaking during the laugh-like cry bursting from within. Tears welled in her eyes and I desperately fought to hold back mine and to let her see nothing but a smile. Gerry was congratulating her but I don’t think she heard a word. Visibly shaken, it was a several moments before Drema could stand.

Gerry went for the truck and Drema and I walked the hundred plus yards to the gemsbok. I watched her touch the horns and bury her hands in the mercury colored hide. And, in her eyes, I saw the unmistakable look of a hunter. Yes, she could shoot an animal and yes, she could kill it humanely. Drema was experiencing a Christmas morning sensation generally only reserved for adolescents.

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The next day Drema took a close range impala while I acted as her professional hunter. That evening, while hunting with Linda, she fired her final shot of the safari. Linda was after an eland when they stumbled on a herd of wildebeest. She suggested Drema try for one and a stalk began. At 180 yards they ran out of cover and Drema, shooting off the sticks, sent another Partition on an even longer journey.

Drema then got to experience another sensation. “There was very little blood and I was upset that I had only hurt him. I know it happens, but I was not ready for it to happen to me.” The bush was thick but a brief search turned up a massive bull only 30 yards away. “He was amazing! He just looked so massive and beautiful laying there.” That night at the fire ring Drema told her tale and we later enjoyed the wild protein she had harvested.

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Getting to guide your wife on her first African safari is a special experience. I hope it happens again soon.

Surveys and experts suggest more women are becoming interested in hunting. For some, like my sister who hunted with her mother, it’s a natural instinct. Her hunting gene was unlocked and nourished from birth. For others, the journey can be as far as from the West Virginia hills to the bush veldt of South Africa. All humans are predators – hunters. It’s why we have depth-perceiving eyes, teeth designed to chew meat and the intellect to help us outsmart our quarry. Those of us reared like lion clubs – by parents who hunt – are destined to carry on that instinctive tradition. Others need a helping hand along the way.

After Drema’s departure from South Africa I headed south of Kimberly, to ground just north of the Orange River to hunt with my son. One night at the fire ring I heard a most profound statement. Geoffrey Wayland, who operates Fort Richmond safaris said, “You must take what Africa gives you.” Africa gave my best friend the key to unlock her hunting instinct. It gave me another hunter to share my life with. And, it gave our kids the opportunity to grow up like I did, hunting with my mom in a family that recognized that’s what humans are supposed to do.

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Never underestimate a woman. After 20 years they might just one day decide to become a hunter.

Footnote:

On West Virginia’s opening day of deer season during the fall following her safari, Drema headed out in the dark. She was on her own and had no assistance from me. A few hours and one shot later she had venison on the ground and our two daughters and I helped her bring the protein home. When it comes to passing on the hunting tradition, moms matter. For the next generation of my family that tradition is now guaranteed to continue.

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This is how a real woman feeds her kids.

SIDEBAR: Hunting Tools for Moms

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The Mossberg Drema has used from Appalachia to Africa.

The term “lady’s rifle” gets tossed around by those with a harry chest like it is a lesser firearm. Often, the focus is on the cartridge but where it should be is on fit. When it comes to women, they need the same thing from a rifle a man does. It needs to fit them. But, that’s the problem; most hunting rifles are sized for the average man, which is, on average, bigger than the average woman.

Mossberg’s media relation’s manager, Linda Powell, outfitted Drema perfectly for her safari. Mossberg’s compact ATR Youth Super Bantam has a length of pull adjustable from 12 to 13 inches and with its short, 20 inch barrel, overall length is less than a meter. Weighing in at less than seven pounds, a quality, high-resolution scope, like Swarovski’s Z3 3-9X 36mm, can be added without over burdening the shooter.

As for cartridge choice, some will question the .243 Winchester for use on African plains game. Drema manages the accounts payable department at a large coalmine, where most of the hairy chests are hunters who think magnums are needed to kill a whitetail. The key to cleanly taking any animal is shot placement and bullet performance. Hunters shoot better with rifles that don’t knock them cross-eyed and terminally speaking, the Nosler Partition cannot be outclassed.

Drema delivered textbook shot placement and humane kills during her first Safari. All told, better than the veterans she hunted with. This happened because she had good training at Gunsite Academy, because she had a comfortable shooting rifle that fit her, and because she practiced often beforehand. With that road map and a little help unlocking that sometimes hidden gene, the term “hunter” can apply equally to the fairer sex. Just ask the next lioness you meet.

CHASING DAD – From Under Orion

Today is my father’s birthday, and this is an excerpt from my book, Under Orion.

Happy Birthday Dad!

December 1964: The deer hunter set on a rock with his rifle across his lap. It was the last day of season and any deer was legal. He was hunting a ridge that fed down from a high mountain. Closer to the top than the bottom, he could see below him well. To his right and left the ridge fell down into deep hollows. Clumps of head high mountain laurel dotted the landscape. The temperature was cool but comfortable and the hunter was wonderfully content, alone on the mountainside.

He was a long way from camp and farther from home. His wife, who usually accompanied him, was at home pregnant with their soon to be first-born. After 12 years it looked as though he would now become a father. Munching on an apple his thoughts drifted. He was anxious, about deer he may see and the son he may soon have.

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Me and Dad – 52 years ago.

As dusk approached the hunter heard something off to his left. Several deer were moving down the ridge just over the break. Finally, he managed to make out the body of one of the larger deer as it browsed among the thick tangle. With the deer at about 60 yards he shouldered his rifle and squeezed the trigger. At the shot the deer disappeared and he called a miss. In an instant there was another deer, a wide racked buck, coming his way. Under the premise his first shot had gone wide, he worked the pump on his rifle ejecting the empty. That’s when the rifle’s magazine fell to the ground. The big buck slid to a stop some 30 feet away and watched the hunter desperately trying to ready his rifle.

More movement distracted the hunter and his attention was drawn back to the spot where he had fired at the first deer. There, another buck with a nice rack was trying to gain his feet. The hunter’s first shot had been true, breaking the deer’s back. The remaining buck bounded away as the hunter stood, satisfied that he now had venison for his freezer and horns for his wall.

The hunter that day was my father and the deer he took was a 10-pointer with mirror image left and right antlers. Not a trophy book deer but one that would hold the title as being the best buck to come off our hunting property for 35 years. Over those 35 years more than 50 different hunters searched that same property for a buck that would un-throne my father’s deer. As you can guess, I chased after that dream too. At first by my father’s side; where he taught me how to hunt, how to slip along quite-like, and how to find the deer. Later, I chased that bigger buck on my own. I hunted hard.

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Me, chasing Dad, at an early age.

When I was 17 I had my first chance. I was still-hunting an old timber trail on opening day. Gun at the ready, I eased along; one step, stop and look, one step, stop and look. I was checking every bit of the forest for any sign of deer. Another hunter appeared. He was doing the same, headed toward me on the old logging road. When we met we exchanged greetings and passed. Confident the other hunter had spooked any deer in sight of the road, I slung my rifle and started down his backtrack.

I hadn’t gone 30 feet when the largest deer I had ever seen stepped into the trail. We were only a handshake apart. Our eyes met and we both knew the other had made a mistake. I struggled to bring the rifle to my shoulder and the buck bolted into the timber, disappearing as quick as he had come.

Strike one.

Two years later found a hunting partner and I as guests at another family’s hunting camp. Just at daybreak on opening morning we were all gathered at the back porch talking strategy and readying gear. A field rose away from the little camp and across a high knoll. Feeling a little out-of-place in the family conversation, I eased over to the fence and started watching the sky turn orange. It was deer time.

As morning arrived, there silhouetted on the ridge at about 200 yards, was a wonderfully nice buck. His rack was easily seen without the aid of binoculars. I dropped to a prone position as I alerted the other hunters to my find. One of the family members quickly yelled, “I got him, I got him!”

So, there I lay with my sights on this monster buck’s back waiting for the landowner – who so graciously allowed me to hunt his farm – to shoot and hopefully miss this wonderful buck. The hunter fumbled with his rifle for what seemed like an eternity as the monarch walked into the woods.

Strike two.

It was a long time after that before I got another chance at a deer that might equal my fathers. Sure, I put deer on the meat pole but they were nowhere near Dad’s deer. The funny thing about his deer, each year it seemed to demand more respect. I was still chasing.

About 10 years ago when I got out of the service the folks had bought a small farm that was absolutely littered with deer. Home just before opening day I was without a rifle so I borrowed Dad’s. I was working nights at the time and did not get into the woods until around noon. My hopes were that other hunters coming out for lunch might get the deer moving. As I entered the timber in a deep hollow at the edge of a field, I saw a heavy racked buck running down the ridge toward open ground. Another chance!

When the buck entered the field I applied what I calculated to be the proper lead and fired all 5 rounds from the rifle. The buck disappeared over a little rise in the field and I was in shock that I had not connected. I quickly slammed a fresh magazine into the rifle and sprinted to the top of the rise. And there, standing proudly about 150 yards away across a draw in the field, was the buck. With a rack much wider than his ears I knew this was the one. After the next five shots the buck slowly walked into the tree line, with me, out of breath and out of ammunition.

“Did you hold a fine bead?” Dad asked.

“No.” I mumbled.

Strike three.

The 2000 hunting season found me back at our old hunting camp. On the same ground the now almost mythical 10-point my father had taken 35 years before had come from. A much-improved hunter, I had taken the love of the outdoors and the skills my father had shared with me and built on them. I knew how to hunt deer now. Dad didn’t get out quite as far as he used to. Bad knees and an obligation to stay close to take care of Mom, should she need something or should he think she does, keeps him and his rifle near camp. We had worked together that summer to build him a stand in earshot of the cabin.

It was the day after Thanksgiving. I left Dad at his stand and eased up to the top of the mountain. It was a cold 13 degrees when I slipped into the area I had been scouting. In September of that year, just below where I now set, I had found a 13-inch strip of velvet at the base of a battered laurel bush. I knew he was there and I was in his bedroom before daylight.

Just as the sun cracked the darkness, with its golden rays breathing life into the colorless forest floor, it happened. A doe burst from other side of the hill onto the big flat I was watching. Right behind her, nose down and in a strut, was the buck. She darted among the wind-blown oaks on the hilltop flat with the buck in tow. I had to make a move before she led him away. I found an opening and fired. He was hit. The buck spun and come toward me and when he stopped broadside at 60 yards I put the second bullet through both shoulders. He wheeled toward me again, head down and coming fast. At 23 steps the rifle roared for the third time and he fell. Three shots, three hits: one for every missed opportunity over the years.

I desperately wanted to drag the big 12-point into camp by myself but even downhill it was too much weight. As bad as I hated it, I left him on the hillside and walked to Dad’s stand at the bottom of the mountain.

“That you doing all that shooting up there?” Dad asked.

“Yep.” Trying to stay calm I held out a shaking but bloody hand.

“After the second shot I figured you missed. Is he a nice one?” Dad was smiling.

“He’s the bull of the woods Dad.” I was smiling too, and I thought the chase was over.

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Dad, me, and the buck.

That evening around the campfire under the stars of Orion, I watched my father as the flames danced between us. I thought about how he had put up with my rowdiness in the woods and other places. It was appropriate that he had been there to help bring out the deer that would finally eclipse the one he had brought out 35 years ago. It added to the fond memories of being at his side during the many hunts he was never to busy or selfish to take me on.

It was then that I realized that this trail my father had blazed for me to chase him down was much more than for the quest of a bigger buck. It was a road he had built to help me become a hunter – and father. And my chase I now realized, was far from over. For I had a young son at home too.

It’s not the 10-point buck anymore; it never really was about that at all. It’s the obligation to instill the spirit of the hunt in my son like my father did with me. He must be provided with goals to pursue and he must be taught by the good example I must set. I have the obligation to lay the footprints for him to follow while he chases the wide antlered dream just as I did. The gift must be passed on. I must make him a hunter too.

Dad, I’m still chasing you.

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Doing what Dad taught me. My son Bat and I with his African buffalo.

 

I’m the Devil, the 30-06 sucks, and don’t drop your SIG.

Last week NRA’s American Hunter published an article on their website titled, “The 30-06 Sucks.” I wrote that article. In less than a week, all over social media I have been branded as just about every bad thing a human could be. The NRA has received demands that I be fired, and I’ve received death threats.

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The 30-06 Sucks – NRA American Hunter

One reader messaged me to make sure I was OK, after all the stuff being said about me. I assured him I was, and that if what folks said about me worried me, I’d have never written the article or became a cop.

Actually, what I’m really worried about is the emotional state of the folks who left the hundreds of thousands of comments. The idea that a human could be so emotionally attached to an inanimate object is kind of frightening. Imagine what would have happened if the article had been, “Ford trucks suck.” (They do by the way, and so does Pepsi Cola.)

I stand by the article and the facts that support my conclusion/opinion. An African professional hunter friend of mind likes to use the phrase, “the big thing is,” and I’ll borrow it in here. The big thing is, if you shot 10 elk with a 30-06 and 10 elk with a 308 Winchester, using the same bullet, and then conducted an autopsy of every animal; you could not tell which cartridge killed which bull.

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Would a 30-06 have killed this bull at 320 yards just like the 308 did. Sure. But, the undeniable fact is that the rifle would have been longer, weighed more, and kicked harder.

The other thing is, I’d recounted the story of an uncle whom everyone in the family despised. I shared that his love for the 30-06 prejudiced me against it. Many of the commenters said that was a “silly” reason to not like a cartridge. But the truth is – and the underlying message of the article was – that’s as good a reason as any to not like any cartridge.

If you don’t like a cartridge because its 100 fps slower than another, that’s fine by me. It won’t matter unless you’re shooting at distances where you can’t hit anything anyway. If you don’t like a cartridge because it has Winchester instead of Remington on the headstamp, that’s just fine too. It still does not matter. And, if you don’t like a cartridge because your wife’s x-boyfriend used it to kill a bunny rabbit bigger than the one you killed, hell, that’s even a better reason.

We have so many cartridges that essentially do the same thing, pick one you like – for any reason at all – and learn how to shoot. 260 Remington, 308 Winchester, 270 Winchester, or even the over rated 7X57, for the true rifleman it will make no difference.

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Cartridge choice is really not that important. It’s mostly a personal thing and that’s really how it should be.

Sadly, the political correctness overcoming our nation has slipped into the world of guns. It’s just not acceptable anymore to state facts, because someone will get their feelings hurt. Fortunately for me some guy on the Internet realized that if you drop a SIG P320 a certain way it just might go bang. That little gem of a video might have saved me from some lunatic trying to attempt an exorcism.

The lesson here is, regardless of who made it, don’t drop you handgun on a hard surface. There will be, and always has been, the potential for something bad to happen.

I still think the 30-06 sucks. For most stuff it’s too much, and for what little is left, it’s not enough. If that hurts your feelings to the point you gotta go ballistic – yes, pun intended – dude, you need serious help. Oh, and by the way, cartridges don’t have feelings.