Monday, November 14, 2011

Farewell to a Good Friend

Dean Goodson, My Friend:

In your lifetime you will only have a few friends that you know you can
count on. I mean when the chips are down and there is no one to turn to,
there are a few friends that will help without asking. Dean Goodson was a
friend like that to me.

Dean passed away today, November 13, 2011 at 10:40a.m. He passed away
peacefully at M.D. Anderson Hospital. Dean was lucky to have been doing
what he loved when his illness hit him. He and his wife Judy were prong-
horn hunting in New Mexico when a brain clot hit him and put him into a
coma. He had a great love for hunting and guns, but most of all; he loved
hunting with his wife, Judy.

I met Dean more than 20 years ago when I started doing gunsmithing for
him. He was the first person to tell me I needed to learn how to teflon guns.
With his help, I learned how to teflon coat guns and was one of the first
gunsmiths to offer that service. Anytime I had an engineering question
or a problem, I knew who to call Dean and he would get me an answer.
Dean and I came out with a custom action for rifles made from aluminum
with a steel insert for the lugs. All of the rifles made with this action were
numbered DG---- in reference to my friend Dean. Dean had a great love for
guns and was always working on them in his home workshop. Many times
he would try something which would not work and he would bring the gun
to my shop so I could help put it back together the right way. I remember
Dean wanted to build his own rifle. I told him we would do it on weekends.
We spent every weekend for a month threading and chambering barrels,
lapping actions and installing them in fiberglass stocks. Dean did all the
work with me looking over his shoulder so he didn’t mess things up. His
finished rifle shot great and even looked good and different.

Dean loved to hunt but he couldn’t sit still in a deer stand. He would try to
stalk up on white-tail deer, which is hard to do, but Dean didn’t care he was
having fun and he didn’t need to shoot the biggest deer on the ranch. He
loved Africa. I helped him book his first safari to South Africa. I believe
he has been back 10 or 12 times since his first trip. My son needed a job
when he graduated college and Dean stepped in again and gave him a job
working, guiding and helping with the biology on Dean’s corporate ranch.
Michael worked for Dean on and off for several years until he could land a
permanent position. Dean was also very active in the Safari Club and the
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He was always there willing to help but
he would stay in the background, never asking for praise or showing off.
Dean was the type of person you could count on to do his job and not to
complain about it.

I will miss Dean Goodson very much but I know he died doing what he
loved and with who he loved. I just hope I can be so lucky when it is my
time to take that last hunt.

Kerry O’Day

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gun Storage - Don't Just Put It Away

Every year we have customers bring their hunting rifles in which are nearly ruined or so messed up that it will cost more to repair the rifle than it is worth.  When they finished hunting the year before, they put their rifle into a soft case, stuck it in a closet or out in the garage and forgot about it.  A year later when it is time to go hunting, they open the case up to find a rusty mess.  The rifle looks bad and many times parts are rusted together so it won’t operate right.  Let’s hope they didn’t leave any ammo in the rifle, this only makes it worse to repair.  The brass case will stick inside the chamber and will need to be driven out.  If you live almost anywhere in Texas, it is humid, and soft gun cases are not meant to be a storage box!  The soft case will absorb moisture and keep the gun wet which causes rust to start and then the rust eats holes in the metal.  Before too long the gun becomes a piece of junk especially if the rust gets into the barrel.  Rust pits inside of a barrel will ruin the guns ability to shoot accurately.  I have even seen shotgun barrels which are rust pitted so bad that the metal becomes  a safety issue and unreliable to shoot.

Many guns are being made from stainless steel these days.  Shooters think that if their rifles are stainless that they don’t have to worry about cleaning them or properly storing them.  Well, I am sorry to tell you that stainless steel rusts also.  It is harder to make rust, but it does rust!  It is also harder to clean and stop the rust once it starts.  Also, not all of the parts on a stainless gun are stainless.  Most springs are carbon steel and many parts in the bolt, trigger and sights are carbon steel.  If you get rust starting on the barrel of a stainless rifle or handgun, it will have to be sandblasted and polished to stop it.  If rust starts on the trigger you might as well throw the trigger away and get a new one.  A trigger which has had rust on it will never be safe again!

The typical repair on a hunting rifle which has been neglected and started to rust will run begin at about $200 and up to as much as $600.  It only takes a few minutes to get a rifle or handgun ready for year long storage and  it is a lot cheaper than having a five hundred dollar repair bill and missing the first two weeks of deer season because the Gunsmith is busy repairing everyone’s gun ahead of yours.  A simple repair of a rusted gun is to take the rifle apart and do a major clean on the gun.  Make sure the barrel is free from pits and remove all grit and grime from the trigger.  Guns just beginning to rust will have to have the barrel lapped to remove the surface rust and a complete reblue of the outside of the gun.  In really bad cases, the barrel will have to be replaced and the metal refinished, as well as, a stock clean up or refinish. 

Now if you don’t want to send the gunsmiths kids to another year of college,  take a few minutes to clean and properly store the gun for the year.  Clean the barrel and get all of the powder fouling and copper out of it.  I use Sweets or Hoppe’s Benchrest solvent to do this.  Next, spray some Gun Scrubber or Carburetor cleaner down the barrel and run some soaked patches through the barrel to finish cleaning it.  Clean the trigger with lighter fluid or some scrubber.  Spray the bolt off with Gun Scrubber and wipe it off.  Take a patch soaked with gun oil then run it through the barrel and wipe the outside of the metal down with a little oil.  I prefer a Teflon based oil like Tri-flo or Rem Oil.  Use a little oil in the trigger, lighter fluid will work here but a very little bit of Tri_Flo won’t hurt.  If your gun has a wood stock, wipe it down with a little lemon oil, clean the lenses of the scope and your ready to put it up for the year.  Never use too much oil, it will leave a mess for next year and doesn’t help anything.  In fact, too much oil will attract dust and dirt, this is where a little is just enough.  Never use WD-40 on guns, I have made many thousands of dollars cleaning the dried up WD-40 out of triggers and bolts. Now don’t put your gun back into a soft gun case.  You want to store your guns in a place where they can get some air conditioning.  You want to keep moisture and humidity away from the metal on the guns.  I store my guns in a safe inside my bedroom closet.  Air and AC will help keep the guns dry.  I also have a Golden rod inside my safe, this is a small light which helps keep the humidity away. Never leave your guns in the garage where both humidity and the wrong people can get to them. Guns cost us a lot of money and they are very tempting for someone to sell.

Long term storage is a little different but not a lot.  First thoroughly clean the gun and use a little oil on all the parts.  Next, I will take some bearing grease and 30 weight motor oil and make a 50/50 mixture.  I will then coat the entire gun inside and out with the gooey mess.  I make sure the inside of the barrel is coated with the mixture and squeeze some inside the bolt and the trigger.  Then I wrap the guns in a cotton cloth and put them up for long term storage. Don’t do this if you are going to use the guns next year. This makes for a big mess to clean up once you want to put the guns back into use.  But if you are planning to store the guns for several years or want to bury them in the backyard, this mixture works well and in 10 years from now your guns will be in as good a shape as when you put them up. 

Taking just a little time to do simple maintenance and cleaning on your guns will go a long way to having them for a long time.  Remember, guns are just mechanical devices and they need maintenance to work properly.  What would happen if you never changed the oil in your car, or never changed the brake fluid?  You would not expect your car to last very long or stop very well. So why do we think a rifle, shotgun or handgun would be any different?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Hunter's Responsibility

Being hunters and shooters we have many things we are responsible for in our sport.  We have to be able to shoot well.  We have to take care of our guns and equipment.  We have to take the time to know how our equipment works and practice with it to be able to shoot it well.  We have to be able to judge the animals we are hunting and know that it is the right one.  Whether it’s big enough or old enough to shoot.  We have to know where our shot will go if we miss.  We also have to abide by the laws of the state or country in which we are hunting.  I am going to tell you two stories where the Hunter did everything right and the outcome is not what you would expect.  Let me know what you think about what happened to these hunters.

Hunter number one (I will call him Jim) was hunting Dall sheep for his first time.  He had booked this hunt with a well known outfitter in Alaska.  Jim spent six months getting into good physical condition, even hired a personal trainer to get him into the best shape of his life.  He shot his rifle on a regular basis, two inch groups at 300 yards were very easy for Jim to shoot.  Jim read everything he could about hunting Sheep in Alaska and new the laws.  Jim’s outfitter was hunting in a new area for him.  This area had not been hunted in many years and the hopes for a record book Sheep were on every ones mind.  Two weeks before Jim left on his hunt he brought his rifle in for a last minute check up and to make sure he would not have any problems during his hunt.  He looked to be in great shape.  He was sure of his physical condition and his abilities and was ready for this hunt.  As you can guess all did not go as planned.  After getting to camp, Jim shot in his rifle and checked the zero.  The next day, Jim and his guide climb to the top of a mountain to glass for Sheep only to find three other camps near by.  There were no Sheep in sight, just other hunters.  With the chances for a record book Ram gone, Jim settled for hunting a good legal Sheep.  On the third day of hunting, they spotted several small groups of Sheep.  After a four hour climb, the guide told him that there was a legal ram in the group.  None of the Rams were full curl, but one was over 10 years old.  As they were getting into shooting position the Sheep spotted the Hunters and started up the side of the mountain.  The Guide told Jim to shoot the lead Ram.  When Jim pulled the trigger he heard his guide say, “I hope there were two legal Rams in that group”.  Our Hunter had shot the Sheep he was told to but it turned out to be a very nice 8 or 9 year old Sheep.  Taking responsibility for his shot, he decided to turn the Sheep into the local Fish and Game Department and gave an explanation of what happened.  His Sheep was confiscated, as well as, his rifle!  He was given a ticket and has to fly back to Alaska to appear before the court to see how much his fine will be.  The Guide had his professional license taken from him for 5 years.  Jim did everything an Ethical Hunter is expected to do.  He listened to his Guide and it will cost him tens of thousands of dollars to stay out of jail.  The only thing he has to show for all his hard work is a picture of the Sheep and a bad memory.

Hunter number two (I will call Bill) went to Central Africa to hunt Bongo.  Bill is a very experienced Hunter and was prepared for the harsh environment and a hard hunt.  On the second day, a Bongo was spotted and as luck would have it, after a great stalk and a chase, the Outfitter said to take the shot.  The Bongo fell in its tracks from a well placed 375 bullet.  On walking up to this wonderful Trophy, Bill discovered that the Bongo had broken off one of his horns.  “Well that is bad luck”, is the only thing his Outfitter could say.  This pretty well ruined the rest of the hunt for Bill.  He came home will a bad story and an empty checkbook.

Both of these Hunters did everything right in getting ready for these hunts.  They followed the laws and listened to their Guide and Outfitter.  Both had problems. When we go on out of state or on safari to other countries, we put our trust and sometimes our lives in the hands of others.  We expect them to know the laws of the land, and how to judge the trophies we are hunting. Always check out the Outfitter and know with who and where you will be hunting.  Always ask for a list of references and actually call those references to discuss how their hunt went and if there were any problems.  Even if you are hunting Whitetail Deer, know the rules of the ranch and how much everything costs.  Some ranches charge by the inch for a Trophy Buck.  For example, a 150 inch Deer could cost so much and a 152 inch Deer can cost thousands of dollars more.  Believe me, it is hard to judge the difference between a 150 and a 152 inch deer.  Make sure both you and your guide are on the same page with how big a Deer you are hunting and how much you expect to pay for the Hunt. This will help you in the end when you are ready to head home.  As we all prepare and look forward to the upcoming hunting season with great anticipation, take the time to know the law, practice with your firearm and be an Ethical hunter, it’s your responsibility.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Get in the Groove with a Custom Barrel

Most shooters dream about having a custom barrel installed on their rifle or handgun.  But are custom barrels all that they are cracked up to be?  First is the cost.  A good barrel will cost between $300 and $600 dollars installed.  Most rifles will have to be re-bedded to fit the stock to the new contour of the custom barrel.  A finish of some type will have to be put on the new barrel and in most cases you might as well have the entire gun refinished.  While you are having the new barrel installed, you should have the action tuned up and squared.  And last, you need to decide on what caliber and type of bullets you are going to shoot, so the right rate of twist can be made.  You can’t expect a 30 caliber barrel to shoot everything from little 100 grain bullets to heavy 200 grain bullets.  If you are going to shoot small bullets, the twist might be a 1 in 12 inch twist or if you are shooting long heavy bullets, the twist will have to be faster and may end up a 1 in 9 twist.  You can also change calibers at this time.  Just because you have a 30-06 rifle doesn’t mean you have to keep it a 30-06.  You can change the caliber to a 25-06, a 270, a 280, a 35 Whelen or how about a wildcat like a 6.5-06 Ackley Improved.  The range in what you want to do is only hampered by how creative you and the gunsmith can be and how much money you want to spend.

Picking the right barrel steel and taper depends on what you want to end up with when you are done.  If you are trying to build a light-weight mountain rifle then don’t let your gunsmith talk you into a heavy number 4 or 5 taper barrel.  You will want a light number 1 or 2 taper; the rifle will be considerably lighter and easier to carry.  Remember you carry a hunting rifle 99% of the time and shoot it 1%.  The barrel length is important to what you are doing.  The barrel has to be long enough to burn the powder and get the velocity, but not too long that it will hang up in the alders in Alaska or be out of balance when you do an off hand shot.  If you are hunting Elephant or Buffalo in the thick stuff, it might be a good idea to have a short barrel so you can swing the rifle better in case of a charge and not have it hang up on branches or vines. If you want a long range cartridge like a 300 Ultra or a 30-378, you will need a long barrel to make it perform to its full potential.  But, if having a long barrel will affect the way you carry the rifle or if it will get hung up on everything while you are using it, then you might want to re-think your caliber of choice.  A 300 Winchester with a 22 inch barrel might be a better choice for the type of hunting you are going to do.  The same holds true for the type of steel to use.  A stainless barrel will usually shoot better and is more user friendly as far as not rusting and being easier to clean.  But, if you are trying to build a classic rifle with a fancy wood stock and engraved grip cap, then you will want a carbon steel barrel that you will be able to polish up and blue to a high luster.   The same holds true for a Varmint rifle or a Target rifle.  Pick the right taper for the barrel for what you are doing and don’t go so big that it won’t fit in the stock.  If you want a Bench rifle with a huge barrel then you might as well plan on buying a new stock to go with it.  Consider fluting the barrel on a Varmint rifle, it will save a little weight, add more surface area which helps with cooling and looks neat.  You can pick straight flutes or spiral flutes or even double spiral flutes.  It will just depend on what you like, can afford, and how good your gunsmith is.

There are many things that make a custom rifle barrel shoot better.  First is the polish inside the barrel.  Most custom barrels are lapped to the point that they shine which also makes cleaning easier.  Having a well polished bore also makes it a straighter barrel.  I have seen several gunsmith videos showing how out of round a factory barrel is on the outside.  I don’t care about the outside; it’s what is on the inside that counts.  The taper on the inside of the barrel has to stay the same or better yet, get slightly smaller or tighter as the bullet approaches the muzzle.  If the barrel ever gets larger at the muzzle, then the rifle will never shoot.  The rate of twist has to stay the same all the way through the barrel or better yet, it needs to have the twist increase as the bullet travels to the muzzle.  If the rate of twist ever slows up then the rifle will never shoot.  Last is the work of the gunsmith.  A good gunsmith can make a bad barrel shoot well, but a bad gunsmith can make the best barrel shoot like junk.  If you don’t feel good about the person working on your gun then find someone else.  Just because a gunsmith is out of state or advertises more than your local gunsmith, that doesn’t make him better.  Many small shops turn out some incredible work and it might end up costing much less.  Make sure your gunsmith can work off centers and make sure he has the right tooling for blue printing your action.  Many of the tools for this type of work are hand-made, so don’t let this scare you off and remember just because his machines are old and not state of the art CNC equipment doesn’t mean you won’t get a good job.  You might get a better job because he will have to do more hands on work.

Deciding to have a custom barrel installed on your rifle is a lot to think about and can end up costing over $1,000.00 by the time you are done.  What you get for this is a rifle that will shoot better than a factory rifle and cleans up easier and looks different.  It is like building a custom car, you do it for the fun and not because you have to.  A hot rod motor won’t make going to work every morning any easier, or better.  Like a custom barrel won’t make that 180 point Whitetail walk out in front of you.  But it is a great feeling just knowing that your car is faster than the one next to you, or that your rifle will out shoot the other rifles in the hunting camp.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Are Men Loosing Their Status in the Hunting World?

A few weeks back I was at the range sighting in a couple of rifles when a young lady sat at the bench next to me and started to load her Marlin 22 Mag.  I expected her boyfriend or father to show up at anytime, but by the time the cease fire was called, no one else had shown up.  I introduced my- self and asked if she shot here often, her answer surprised me.  “I try to shoot at least once a week, work permitting”, she said, “usually I come with my dad but I come alone if he is too busy”.  I started thinking about how many women I know who are hunters and more came to mind than expected.  You know my wife, Carol, hunts and had her own hunting television show, but there are many other prominent women in the Houston area who are big hunters too.

Our friend, Pam Zaitz, loved hunting so much that she started her own business making and selling custom women’s hunting clothes.  Her company, “SHE SAFARI” has become one of the largest hunting clothes lines in the U.S. for women and it now includes men’s hunting clothes.  Rumor has it that Pam will have her own hunting show next year too!

Another friend, Deb Cunningham, lives in the Houston area and has won the prestigious hunting award, “The Diana Award” from Safari Club International. The Diana award is for women, like the Weatherby Award is for men.  To win this award you need to have hunted on all of the continents and have shot more than 100 trophy animals.  You also must have exceptional volunteer service to the hunting community both locally and worldwide, be well liked by your peers and promote hunters and the sport of hunting as a great sportswoman.  The fact is, in Houston and the surrounding area, there are more Diana Award winners than anywhere else in the world.  I know of four in the local area.  On the other side there are also more Weatherby Award winners in the local area than anywhere else in the world too.  I can count four of them without thinking very hard. 

Many of the gun-makers have jumped on board with special rifles, shotguns, and handguns made just for women.  Stag Arms has an AR-15 type rifle which has pink accents on the receiver.  Savage Arms has bolt action hunting rifles with pink camo stocks.  Smith & Wesson have known for years that women like to have their own special guns.  The Lady Smith Model 60 revolver was designed specifically for that purpose and has been available for over 15 years.  This is just to name a few of the manufacturers who have started to build a line of firearms specifically for women.  There are several women hunting shows on cable TV.  These shows are very well received and are very well made. 

I checked with the NRA Hunting Rights and found that the fastest growing segment of hunters and shooters today are women!  Ten years ago, women made up less than 10% percent of the hunting population, but today, women hunters make up more than 25% percent.  There are many all women hunting clubs, as well as, women shooting teams.  The Olympics have classes for women shooting sports.  This should not be a threat to us men who hunt and fish.  I think it is a GREAT ADVANTAGE for several reasons.  First, I have a hunting companion who loves me as much as my sport.  Second, most women control where the money goes, it’s a lot easier to get extra money for a better South Texas deer lease or your next trip to New Mexico for Elk if she is included.  If you tell her it is for her because you want her to hunt with you and shoot the biggest buck on the lease, then she is all for it!  If she is a non-hunter, it is a pretty hard sale to tell her that she will be saving money by not having to buy meat for a year when you shoot the Big One!  I remember going on an elk hunt to Idaho and coming back to new living room furniture.  I told her that we could not afford new furniture and Carol would say “if you can afford to go elk hunting then I can afford new furniture”.  It is much easier on the pocket book to bring your wife with you hunting and to let her shoot the biggest elk in the woods than it is to come home to furniture payments for the next three years.   And the Third reason is that women influence the family lifestyle and the mindset of our future hunters and voters.  Can you imagine the future of hunting if women didn’t hunt?

The only problem I have had with my wife hunting is that she shoots bigger animals than I do. When we show up together at a hunting lodge, she seems to get all of the attention!  The outfitters seem to always have a special place for her to hunt for that special buck. In the last three years, she has brought home much bigger game animals than I have.  In fact, she now hunts more and shoots more than I do.  I have to stay at the shop and work to be able to keep her out hunting.  Maybe I should let her come home to some of her own medicine and have a new Harley or a BMW 1200LT in the driveway and tell her, “If we can afford for you to go to all over the world, hunting, then we can afford a new motorcycle.”  Yeah right! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Handgun Hunting 101 - Pistols

It was about an hour before sunset; we had been following a herd of Cape Buffalo for over four hours and were not getting any closer to the big bulls in the middle of the herd.  John said to me “we have one chance, we will run at them and the Bulls might come to the back to protect the herd.  They will stand in a defensive line and you will have about 20 seconds to pick out the big Bull and shoot.”  I said okay and looked at my .500 Linebaugh revolver in my hand and thought to myself, “This gun isn’t big enough”. 

Big Game hunting with a Handgun takes a lot of discipline and practice; you don’t just head out and start shooting trophy animals.  You can mount a scope on a rifle and do a pretty good job of hitting what you are shooting at with little practice, but don’t expect to do the same when mounting a scope on your favorite Handgun!  First, there are different scopes for Handguns; you have to use a scope that has a long eye-relief.  A normal rifle scope has about 4 inches of eye-relief; however, the eye relief for a Handgun scope is as long as your arm.  If you were to mount a normal rifle scope on a large caliber Handgun, the first shot would make you feel like you’ve just been hit by Joe Lewis.  The recoil from the Handgun would bring the scope right back into your eye.  Most hunters will over scope their handguns.  You can put a 3-10 scope on a rifle, but a smaller 2 or 4 power scope is preferable for a Handgun.  Using a scope on a Handgun is hard.  Just finding the target with a Handgun scope and your eye is hard, and using a magnification too high will make it even harder.  This is where good hand and eye coordination come into play and it can only be achieved with practice.

Picking the right caliber for a Handgun has become tougher than it use to be.  When I started hunting with a handgun, I had the choice of a .357 Mag., a .44 Mag., or a 45 Colt.  With all the different big hunting calibers available today, picking the right caliber is tough!  However, you don’t need a .500 Smith to be able to kill a trophy animal.  In fact, the .500 Smith is not the caliber for everyday handgun hunting.  The big Smith calibers can kill any game animal on earth, but the recoil of these guns is also tremendous on the other end for the shooter.  If I had to pick one caliber for Handgun hunting in North America, it would be the .44 Magnum.  One of my heroes, Larry Kelly, has hunted all the trophy game animals in the world and has shot most of them with a .44 Mag.  With the right bullet and lots of practice, the .44 Mag. will do a great job on any North American game.  Now picking a caliber for a single shot Handgun is tougher than it is for a revolver.  In most cases, Hunters are trying to have a Handgun that is accurate at longer ranges, but the problem is that most cartridges are designed to work in long barreled rifles.  So when you put them in a short barreled Handgun, things don’t work well.  The velocity in a Handgun is much slower and bullets don’t open up reliably.  A .308 rifle will shoot 2800 feet per second; in a 14 inch Handgun you will be very lucky to get 2300 feet per second.  Loosing 500 feet in velocity does a lot of damage to a 308 bullet.  I remember when the 7mm TCU came out for metallic silhouette shooting; it was thought to be the answer for serious Handgun hunters.  This caliber was the key for hitting long range (200 yard) targets.  The 7mm TCU shot flat, had low recoil, and would knock over the 200 yard silhouette rams.  The problem was when you took it hunting; the results were bad with lots of wounded animals.  The bullets would act like a pencil and just go through the animal without expanding or doing very much damage.  There would be little, if any, blood trail when you hit the animals.  

I have always believed that you need a large frontal diameter bullet to work well with a Handgun.  A .35 caliber or larger work best in my educated opinion.  A .44 Mag. in a single shot pistol is a great Hunting Handgun! The .44 Mag. in a 10 or 14 inch single shot Contender will shoot a bullet about 400 feet per second faster than it will in a revolver.  The extra velocity will make the .44 Mag. a good 100 to 150 yard hunting handgun and will give you better penetration with more punch for killing ability. Another of my favorite calibers for single shot Handguns is the 35 Remington.  This round will shoot 180 grain or 200 grain bullets at about 2000 feet per second.  The frontal diameter is large enough so it doesn’t have to expand, the bullet will leave a large wound canal. Most 7mm bullets after they expand don’t end up as large as a 35 caliber.  Larry Weishuhn shoots a 30-06 which is a great caliber when you use the right bullet.  Remember, rifle bullets are made to expand at higher velocities; you have to shoot a more fragile or thin skinned bullet with a Handgun.  The Nosler Ballistic-Tip in 125 or 150 grain work well.  A jacketed hollow-point bullet like the Speer 130 grainer will also do the trick.  Just don’t expect a Handgun to work like your rifle does.  You have to take the time to experiment and practice.  If you are a hand-loader, this will help you also.  If not, find someone who is willing to take the time to work up loads using lighter than normal bullets.  You may want to try faster burning powders which burn up in the shorter barrels and not in the air.  This will help with keeping the muzzle flash down and the noise to a minimum.
So, the six of us took off running and screaming toward the herd of buffalo.  We were doing our best to impersonate a pride of lions.  Well, I guess we did a better job than anticipated because all we saw were Buffalo rumps and lots of dust. “Well that’s hunting” John said and we all had a good laugh and headed into the sunset, back to camp.  I did get my 44 inch Bull two days later with one well placed shot at 30 yards.  He ran about 60 yards and collapsed no charges or fan fair. This was a great day, for not only did I get my Cape Buffalo; it was my 20th Wedding Anniversary!  It was a great time to be in Africa hunting with my family.  A time and day I will never forget.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A 9mm Is A 9mm OR Is It?

The 9 mm Parabellum pistol is the most common pistol caliber in the world.  Most governments and many police agencies use the 9mm Parabellum as their official sidearm.  Whether you call it a 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger or a 9x19, it’s all the same caliber. The original 9mm’s were built for WWI hence the name Parabellum (for war).  However, the first gun chambered for this caliber was the Luger so you get that name and last the metric name is 9x18mm, so you can have that name as well.  Most shooters just call it a 9mm.  Now I hate to say it, but I don’t care for the 9mm!  I have owned several, an old Smith model 39, a Browning Hi-Power, a Colt 1911 and a Sig.  All of these guns shot well, but I wanted more stopping power and I figured why use 2 or 3 bullets when one good 45 slug would do.  But now, I do own several 9mm’s, just not any 9mm!  What did I just say?  

I own several handguns chambered in 380 ACP, two chambered in 9mm Makarov, one chambered in 38 Super and one in 9mm Steyr, so how could I like one 9mm and not the other?  First, I like the size and conceal-ability of the smaller 380 caliber guns.  Second, I like the nostalgia the older 380 guns have.  I must have watched too many James Bond movies when I was a kid because I have 3 Walther PPKs in the 380 caliber.  Two of the pistols were built during World War II.  One is a PPK with all the German and Nazi proof marks.  The other is a PP with the same markings.  The PP is a slightly larger pistol with a longer grip and longer barrel.  This gun is a joy to shoot and very accurate, but it is a little too large to carry in a pocket or covered by my pant leg in an ankle holster, so most of the time it lays in my safe, waiting to be taken out to the range.  I also have a new Walther in the PPKS series.  This pistol is stainless steel and falls in between the size of the PP and the PPK.  This PPKS goes most places with me.  I don’t worry about sweat getting on the finish or if it gets dropped, I’m not ruining a WWII collector’s item.  I also have a beautiful old pocket model Remington in 380 caliber.  I had to save this pistol from a customer who wanted to have the gun refinished in a camo Teflon.  I offered her enough money for the pistol so she could go buy a new gun that didn’t need refinishing.  Remington is best known as a rifle company but for awhile in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Remington built many different pistols.  This old pocket model was built during the Roaring Twenties and I’m sure it was carried by one of the famous gangsters of the day.  The truth is, it is a great shooting pistol and is the most accurate .380 I own.  

Back in the day when I was shooting ISPC competition, I wanted to use a caliber that was different from what most of the other shooters were using, so I picked the 38 Super.  This caliber is just a 380 ACP loaded with more powder to higher pressure and higher velocity.  I built myself a custom pistol based on the 1911 Colt, with custom sights and all of the other things shooters think they need to compete.  The pistol shot incredible and had very little recoil.  If I had been a better shooter and spent more time practicing than I did hunting, I could have won some of the matches. If you watch a pistol match these days, you will find more 38 Supers shooting than you will 45 ACPs.   Most shooters don’t know that the first Colt Semi-Auto pistols chambered in this caliber came out in 1920.  Thompson also made the sub-machine gun in this chambering. A few years back, I noticed several distributors were importing the 9mm Makarov pistols.  Now this is a neat gun and caliber combination.  It’s the size of a 380 pistol but loaded to nearly the velocity of a 9mm Luger.  A shooter can have the best of both worlds, a small carry gun with enough power to stop any bad threat and the capacity to hold nearly twice as much ammo as the Walther PPKS.  So it would make a great all-around carry gun!  The last 9mm pistol I have is the 9mm Steyr.  This is a very unusual handgun.  It was made around 1912 and uses a stripper clip instead of a magazine.  The cartridge is similar to a 380 ACP loaded to a very low pressure and velocity.  I have shot this old gun but it stays around because it is so unique and ugly, that it is actually pretty.   

If you are looking for a pistol to carry for personal protection I would recommend the biggest caliber you can handle.  That doesn’t always make sense!  There are times when carrying a 45 ACP is not an option.  The 380 ACP pistols make great carry guns.  They are small enough to hide inside your pocket or the leg of your pants, yet there are few people in this world that can stand up to the punch of a 90 grain hollow-point bullet.  There are many new 380’s on the market now which are very concealable and reliable.  Ruger and Sig are both making some great 380 ACP carry guns.  The Ruger even has a laser grip on it so you don’t have to use the sights.  I have shot the Ruger and it handles like a dream.  It’s very light and when inside your pocket, you don’t even know its there.  I hope to be shooting one of the Sig 380’s soon.  It looks like the perfect little carry pistol.  As far as 9mm Lugers go, there are so many different pistols on the market that a shooter needs to pick up one and feel them in order to determine which one fits your hand and which one fits your needs.  Many gun companies are building 9mm pistols smaller all the time and some custom companies have 9mm pistols the size of a 380.  A shooter needs to decide what they really want to do with the pistol.  If you want to carry it all the time, a smaller 380 or one of the Makarov pistols makes more sense.  But, if the pistol is going to be used for home defense and having fun at the range, a full sized 9mm Sig or Beretta would be a better choice.  The sights are much better on the bigger pistols and they will fit your hand better.  I decided to shoot and 380 acp 90 grain fmj bullet, a 9mm Makarov 100 grain fmj bullet and a 9mm Luger 115 grain fmj bullet, in to a 2250 page wet  phone book.  I checked for both penetration and expansion of the bullets.  Both the 380 and the Makarov bullets stayed in the phone book and both penetrated nearly 4 inches.  The 380 bullet didn’t expand at all it looked like you could reload it.  The Makarov bullet did expand about 20 % and tore a much bigger hole in the phone book.  The 115 grain 9mm Luger bullet went all the way through the phone book and tore a much bigger hole in the pages.  The extra velocity of the 9 mm Luger makes it a much better hand gun for stopping an intruder so it might be a better choice for home defense. The 9mm ammo is inexpensive to buy, so going to the range to practice is not going to break the bank.  If you can find one of the Makarov pistols, they are quite inexpensive and are well made.  The ammo is just as inexpensive as any 9mm and easy to find.  When the ammo shortage hit last year, I couldn’t find 380 ammo or even 9mm ammo, but there was 9mm Makarov ammo on the shelves.  

The nice thing is if you want a 9mm, you have several choices, in caliber and hundreds of choices in handgun styles.  The problem is choosing just one that fits your needs. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Back to the Basics of Shooting!

For years I have talked about custom stocks, custom barrels, and good triggers.  A shooter can spend thousands of dollars trying to make their rifle shoot better, but what about making ourselves better shooters.  There are times when a shooter just has to get back to the basics.  I make a living building and shooting rifles and handguns, and I am a very good shot, but it never hurts to take a lesson or just spend some time talking with a professional.  My friend, Bob McKown, shoots more rifles in a month than most of us do in a lifetime.  Bob makes a living working up custom loads for shooters who are looking for that last little edge to make themselves a better shot.  Bob shoots from six to fifteen rifles a week and will shoot at least 20 rounds through each one.  That could add up to 300 shots fired each week. 

I asked Bob about some of the basic techniques a shooter can do to make them a better shot.  Bob let me know some of the more important items to look for before and during your shooting session.  “There a several things I do before I ever pull the trigger on a rifle.  First, the barrel and chamber must be clean.  Shooting with a dirty barrel is a waste of time.  Second, I check to make sure the scope is square.  If you ever hope to hit a target at long range, the scope has to be square with the action.  I know that hunters will hold a rifle different when shooting off hand, but how often do we really shoot off hand?  Third, make sure the scope rings screws and base screws are tight.  Fourth and final, check the scope for parallax.”  Some of the best scopes in the world will have parallax.  If you are trying to see what a rifle is capable of shooting and not what the scope is capable of shooting, then having a parallax free scope or a PA adjustable scope is the only way to shoot.

When you get to the range make sure you have a good solid rest.  This is the most important item you can have while shooing. “ I don’t use a lead sled or any of the bench type vises.  A shooter can’t use them in the field or in competition, so why use them when checking a rifle for accuracy.  I like to shoot a rifle loose where it can have free recoil.  If I am trying to control a rifle from recoiling then I will have different shot to shot groups when compared to free recoil or shooting in the field!  The rifle starts to recoil before the bullet has left the barrel, so if the gun recoils different every time then the bullet will leave the barrel differently each time.”  Make sure the sling stud doesn’t hit anything while the gun is coming back. If the stud snags on the rest or front bag, it will throw the bullet off.  Some benchrest shooters will use baby powder so the rifle can slide easier.  Good trigger control is very important! “ I can shoot a rifle with a bad trigger, but it takes a tremendous amount of concentration.  Most shooters will pull off to the right if the trigger is too hard and I find the same is true for me, so I pull the same each time so the bullet will be the same each time.”  Having a trigger too light can have the same problems.  If you are shooting a benchrest trigger, like a 4 ounce trigger, you really have to get comfortable with it or you will have movement problems every time you shoot.  The key is exact repetition, to do the same thing every time!  To try to hold the rifle the same each time and use the same breathing technique each time takes a lot of practice.  Practice makes perfect is the truth!  I have shot so much; my routine has become an automatic reflex.  I just let my muscles take over; it’s what I call muscle memory.

If I have to shoot a big rifle like a 375 H&H, this is a different story.  First, You shoot all the big guns last.  If I shoot a 375 before I shoot a 308 or a 7mm mag., then the smaller rifles will suffer because I am thinking about the recoil from the 375.  You have to hold big guns tight!  You can’t allow them to free recoil.  If you ever get bit by a big gun, it can mess up your shooting for weeks.  Really big guns like the .500 or .577 Nitro’s, I shoot standing up.  The recoil is so fierce on a rifle like this it can literally hurt you or even break something.  Last let me say I like muzzle brakes.  I thing most shooters can shoot better with a brake than without one.  I hate the extra noise they make, but that is what they make ear plugs for.  You should use ear plugs anyway with big game rifles.

I have watched Bob shoot and it is amazing how he can shoot rifle after rifle at the range and get great groups out of nearly every one.  If you follow these basic tips then you too can become a good shooter! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A One Gun Owner

I had a customer come in the shop last week to pick up his old Remington 700, which I had rebarreled for him.  He told me that he had bought the rifle new 40 years ago.  It was the only rifle he owned and had shot everything from Pronghorn Antelope to Elk and even a Moose.  The rifle was chambered in 270 Winchester, and the customer has shot the rifle enough to know the gun very well.  He said “it was like a part of him.” “I just hope it shoots as well now as it did before.”  It’s not often that a hunter will shoot a rifle enough to wear out the barrel, but he did!  I thought to myself, “didn’t he know that he needed a bigger caliber for hunting Elk and Moose?”  Wouldn’t a smaller caliber like a 25-06 or a 257 Weatherby work better for the long range shots needed for hunting Pronghorn Antelope?  Well, I thought about it some and decided the customer with the 270 was right.  Yes, a .338 might hold a small advantage for shooting larger Elk and Moose.  Or a .257 Weatherby would shoot a little flatter for long range shooting which is needed for the open plains.  But (and now comes the big but) there is no replacement for putting the bullet in the right place.  I would much prefer to have a shooter know how to shoot his rifle and be able to place the bullet where it needs to be, than a shooter who carries a rifle that is too big for him to shoot well.  A 270 Winchester has plenty of foot pounds of energy to kill an Elk at 200 yards.  The 270 caliber will also shoot flat enough to handle long 400 or even 500 yard shots.  If you use one of the new breed of bullets from Barnes, Swift or Nosler, the 270 Winchester will act like a much bigger or flatter shooting round than it really is.  If you hand-load a bullet like the Swift Scirocco, you can make a 270 shoot 2 or 3 inches flatter at 300 yards than you could with a Remington Core-Lock.  The Scirocco Bullet is longer than a normal bullet so the ballistic coefficient is way up there when compared to a standard hunting bullet.  What all this means is that the Scirocco bullet will cut the air and buck the wind better so it shoots flatter.  On the other end, a Barnes Triple Shock will act like a much bigger bullet.  The Barnes TSB bullet will expand larger and hold its weight better than any bullet I have ever tested.  If a normal bullet in a 270 expands to a 30 caliber and retains 60 % of its weight, it is considered to be a good bullet.  Most Barnes TSB bullets will expand to more than twice their original size and will retain 100 % of the original bullet weight. 

The other advantage a one rifle shooter has is that he knows his rifle.  The trigger pull is the same all the time.  The scope is the same and the stock fits right every time.  It’s like driving the same pick-up truck, or being married to the same girl for ten years.  You know all the good points and all the bad points, and how to make them all work to your advantage.  Sure it is fun to have all the new toys and in most cases a shooter needs three rifles to cover all the different types of hunting there is. I know both Bill and Harold are great fans of the 30-06 and I agree with them that this is a wonderful caliber, but I also know that they both have 22-250’s for hunting the little critters and Harold uses a 375 H&H or a 45-70 for the real big animals that can bite or stomp you.  But if both of these hunters could only use their 30-06, they would not be under gunned for any type of hunting they are likely to do.  The customer who shoots the 270 also does one other thing that I agree with; he only shoots one bullet, a 130 grain Nosler Partition.  He could shoot 110 grain bullets for lighter game and 150 grain bullets for heavy game, but he uses the 130 grain bullet and just makes sure that he puts the bullet in the right place and it does the job just fine.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Know Where to Hold'Em

I had a customer come in the shop the other day with a great picture of a nice Mule deer that he shot in West Texas.  He told me that it was the longest shot he had ever made.  “Must have been about 550 yards, had to hold over 12 inches on his back and the old 30-06 dropped him in his tracks!”  I asked him what bullet he has shooting and how his rifle was sighted in. “150 grain Federal Premium and 1 ½ inches high at 100 yards,” was the reply I got from him.  I congratulated him on the great Buck and went back to work. The only way he could have killed that buck was by luck or the deer wasn’t 550 yards.

There are a few things wrong with what he told me.  First, if he were shooting at a buck at 550 Yards with that caliber, bullet, and hold over, his bullet would have hit low by about 40 inches between the bucks legs.  If there was any kind of wind, it would have pushed the bullet off by at least 24 inches and that’s with only a 10-mile per hour wind. Shooting long distance takes several things to be able to do it and do it well.  First, you need to sight in your rifle for the distance you are going to be shooting.  If you know that you will be shooting four to five hundred yards then sight your gun in accordingly.  A 200 yard zero is good for most shooting, but for long range 3 or even 4 inches high at 100 is better.  The contrary to this is if your are hunting in heavy timber or the thicket of East Texas, then you will want to sight in for short range and dead on at 100 is perfect!

Flat shooting cartridges are great, but how flat is flat?  Two of the flattest shooting cartridges on the market are the 300 Remington Ultra Mag and the 7mm STW.  If you compare these flat shooters to a good old 30-06 or a 270 Winchester, you will be surprised at just how non-flat they really are!  A 30-06 or 270 Winchester will drop about 44 inches at 500 yards and the 7mm STW or 300 Ultra will give you the same drop at 550 yards.  I find it incredible that a cartridge that is 400 feet/second faster will only give you an extra 50 yards in flat shooting.  Don’t feel to bad about taking your old 30-06 on a New Mexico Pronghorn hunt.

Point blank range is a term used to find the perfect path in which to sight in and max distance to shoot any given round.  Most game animals have a kill area of about 10 inches.  So you will want to sight in your rifle where it will not shoot more than 5 inches high at any give point or no more than 5 inches low at a given range.  A 7mm Remington Mag shooting 150-grain bullets has a max point blank range of 364 yards, and a max high point of 172 yards.  You will have to sight in the rifle 3.7 inches high at 100 yards.  Basically any range from 0 to 370 yards you hold the cross hairs dead on the chest cavity and pull the trigger, the bullet will hit in the kill area.  The point blank range will work well for most of our true hunting ranges.  Even for shooting varmints like Prairie Dogs or Coyotes the same 10-inch kill area will work for a prairie dog standing up.

Custom scopes that compensate for the range is another way to go when shooting long distances.  Swarovski, Premier Reticle and Leupold all have custom range compensating reticles.  Swarovski uses the TDS system, which has a cross-hair for 100 or 200 yard shooting and lines under the main cross hair that work for 300, 400, and 500 yards. Leupold has their new Boone & Crockett scopes, which look almost identical to the Swarovski TDS crosshairs.  My personal favorite is the custom cross-hairs made by Premier Reticles.  This company takes the Leupold scope and will put range-compensating dots below the main cross-hairs.  The dots can be used for 300, 400, 500, and 600 yards.  Premier can install dots all the way out to 1200 yards if the customer requests.  These dots are right on the money for the different distances, however you will have to give Premier the exact bullet information like brand of bullet, weight of bullet and the velocity.  I have used both the Premier Reticle scopes and the Swarovski TDS scopes and I can tell you it takes all the guesswork out of long range shooting.  If you know how far the animal is you can put the right dot or cross-hair on the chest and that is where the bullet will go.

Practice, practice, practice, there is nothing that will help you more than shooting your rifle at the longer ranges.  Take a day and go out to American Shooting Center and shoot on their long-range course.  Head up to the forest and set up a target or better yet red or yellow balloons and shoot long range.  I like balloons because it’s easy to tell when you hit one, the balloons also move with the wind, which is more like shooting at a moving animal.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shooting Them IN

At times I think there must be something magic to sighting in a scoped rifle.  I have had customers who have been shooting and hunting for years bring me guns to sight in before they take off on a big hunt.  I have even had outfitters call me to ask how to adjust their scope to hit point of impact. 

Why should you sight in your rifle every year?  It should be simple to make sure it is still shooting in the right place.  Just because old Betsy was shooting one-inch groups last year doesn’t mean it will do the same this year.  Pre-season is the right time to check everything out.  Make sure your rings are still tight.  The worst problem found is with rings and bases.  The Redfield or Leupold STD bases have windage adjust screws that will come loose and you will find yourself with a rifle that won’t hit a 4 x 8” piece of plywood at 100 yards.  Check the base screws which hold the bases to the action, they will come loose over time.  Ammo will have a big difference from brand to brand.  Just because you sighted your rifle in with a 150grain Remington Core-Lokts, don’t expect the 150-grain Winchester Fail Safe to hit in the same place.  Don’t think you can have two different bullet weights hit the same point of impact.  I mean don’t have your first shot a 165-grain bullet and then have a 125-grain bullet loaded in the box magazine in case you see a hog.  Just shoot the same ammo all the time! Believe me if you hit the hog with the same bullet you are using for Deer you will kill the hog.  Some people try to get too specialized with their bullets.  I have seen as much as 8 inches of different point of impact between two different brands of ammo with the same bullet weight, not to mention changing to a different bullet weight.  

Shooting your rifle off sand bags is not a big deal as long as you follow a few simple suggestions.  First, put the front sand bags under the forend of the stock about where your front sling stud is.  Never place the barrel on the sand bags.  The bags will put too much pressure on the barrel and it won’t shoot the same place twice.  Place a sand bag in the rear grip area of the stock.  This will stabilize the stock and you won’t be moving all around trying to keep the cross-hairs on the bullseye.  Place your forward arm (left if your right handed) on the stock just behind the front sand bags or don’t touch the rifle at all with the forward hand.  Never lay your arm over the scope. This may look cool but it won’t help your shooting.  Watch your breathing, it is a good idea to hold your breath as you are getting ready to squeeze the trigger.  Stay loose, don’t bear down, relax and let the recoil push you.  By relaxing you will feel less recoil.  I know everyone understands not to jerk the trigger and to just squeeze, but at times with the heavy factory trigger settings, it is hard not to jerk.  One of the best things that will help your shooting will be to have a Gunsmith do a trigger job on your rifle.  Repetition is the key to good shooting, try to do the same thing every time.  Don’t hold your breath on one shot and not on the next.  Consistency is the key to shooting accurately. 

Scopes are not all built alike but they all work the same.  You have to adjust the cross- hairs in the direction the bullet needs to go.  If you shoot to the left of the bullseye then you have to adjust the scope to the right.  If you shoot high then you have to adjust your scope lower.  This may sound simple but most people do just the opposite.  I even catch myself moving the turrets the wrong way.  The new Europeon scopes like Kahles or Swarovski don’t use up or down for their marks they use an H, which stands for Height.  So if you have to bring the cross-hairs up then you should use the H to go up.  The new Zeiss Conquest scopes have the same turrets on both the elevation and windage sides and this can get real confusing when the top turret says both H for up and an R for right.  Last, 20 power and higher scopes are great for seeing animals at long distances but most of the time it is too much power for sighting in at 100 yards.  You tend to pick up every movement and heartbeat while trying to sight in this type of scope.  Try shooting a group at 6 power, a group at 9 power, and one at high or 20 power and you might be surprised what you get.

What distance is best to sight in depends on the type of shooting you will be doing. And the type of rifle you are using.  A 30-30 is a short range rifle and should be sighted in for short range.  If you are hunting in east Texas where the shots are seldom over 100 yards then sight in dead on at 100 yards.  But if you are headed to New Mexico for a Pronghorn hunt, then a 300 yard zero is more like it.  I usually will sight my rifles in about 1 ½” high at 100 yards which will give me a 200 yard zero and a 8 inch drop at 300 yards.  Most rifles will shoot like this whether it is a 270 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Mag., or a 340 Weatherby, they will all shoot about 7 to 9 inches low at 300 yards with a 1 ½” high at 100 yards sight in.

No magic, just a little work.  I can usually sight a rifle in with 3 shots, but I have to do my pre-shooting work first.  Make sure the gun is clean.  Make sure you have the right ammo, know that the rings and bases are tight and how the scope works.  And believe me, if I can do it then you can too!