2018 Hunting Trip

As I write this, I am returning from my annual hunting trip. I hope that the following post will be of interest to both hunters and non-hunters alike. As usual, I’m going to share a brief summary, along with a few observations that may pertain to the armed civilian lifestyle.

This year’s trip was notable for me for a couple of reasons. I shot my first deer, a spike buck that I tagged at last light as it trotted quickly across a field after one of my hunting companions missed it from his stand. Also, I killed a wild pig with a knife instead of a gun. I wrote about this last year and I fulfilled my intention of being an active participant instead of merely watching… more on this later.

At the end of five days of hunting, our group was able to bring home meat from five deer and three hogs. The coolers are full and one of our party will have a nice 8 point mount on the wall in a few months. We kept the backstraps for the freezer and will debone the rest of the meat and have it made into delicious Italian sausage, kielbasa, and perhaps some summer sausage at a local old school German butcher shop. This way everyone can share what we bring home, regardless of what each individual actually shot.

For me, this annual trip serves as a welcome break from the daily grind, and any time spent south of the Mason Dixon line is a good time in my book. I mean no offense to our Northeastern readers, but I was born and raised in the South, and that is my comfort zone. Especially after the results of the recent midterm elections, there are days that I truly feel that I live behind enemy lines. Other days, Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone” could well be the soundtrack to my life.

The culture shock for one of our group was amusing to watch. He was amazed that he was able to buy ammunition over the counter without any hassle. (Where I live, one must possess a pistol permit or at least an ammunition certificate to purchase ammunition and magazines.) We generally hunt in the Deep South, and what feels like home to me can be both liberating and at times frustrating for the uninitiated. The language, cultural norms, and pace is all a bit different.

Regarding gear, I’ve discussed layering systems in the past, but what I found this year was a desire to have everything still better organized and more accessible in a quiet and efficient manner. I’ve been using an inexpensive butt pack and shoulder harness, but in the future I suspect I’ll go afield with a Hill People Gear pack. I would have done so this year, but the pack I want was out of stock. Among the many things I kept in my pack, I reached for my laser rangefinder, snacks, and water the most. As with most everything in life, the smartphone has changed the landscape of sitting in a deer stand. This has both good and bad points, but will probably necessitate the addition of a backup battery pack to my kit next year.

Regarding rifles, I had intended to use my Browning AB3 Micro Stalker chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. However, one of our group had recent shoulder surgery and wasn’t even sure if he would be able to shoot. Among all the rifles we brought, mine had the least recoil and was the most comfortable for him to shoot. (That’s why I bought it!) Thus, I loaned that rifle to him for the trip and I used my Browning Stainless Stalker in .30-06. While I’ve been generally happy with the rifle, this week of hunting cemented my decision to order a Boyd custom stock with a reduced length of pull that will be similar to my AB3 Micro. Ultimately, I plan to wind up with two hunting rifles set up almost identically. Same LOP, same sling, similar optics, similar design and manual of arms. As with everything in shooting, consistency is key.

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On the subject of optics, both of my rifles have variable power scopes. My .30-06 wears an inexpensive Vortex 3-9×40 that has served me well. However, ever since reading Jeff Cooper and coming of age at a time when fixed power scopes were still more robust, lighter weight, and more compact than variable power scopes, I’ve been a fan of the fundamentally simpler design. But fixed power scopes are not common these days. I don’t remember where I first encountered this concept, but it’s fairly well known that a variable power riflescope will have peak optical performance at the middle of its magnification range rather than at the extremes. Since I’m sort of a set it and forget it kind of guy, I simply left my scope set roughly at 6x for the vast majority of my time in the blinds. I have no idea whether this really helped in any way, but I’m going to continue to do this in the future unless I have reason to do otherwise. Further, many subject matter experts (Ryan Cleckner comes to mind) actually recommend not using excessive magnification when striving for the utmost accuracy. However, note that if you have a second focal plane reticle with bullet drop compensation marks or range finding marks, the scope usually has to be set at the maximum magnification to take advantage of those features!

Incidentally, after listening to Ryan Cleckner extolling the virtues of the Sellior & Bellot ammunition that he used on a recent African hunt, I had purchased a couple of boxes of S&B 131 grain soft point ammo for my week of hunting. (Ryan Cleckner, among many other things, hosts the “Going Ballistic” podcast. Check it out.) The ammo is quite accurate in my gun, and our week of hunting left me with little doubt as to its terminal ballistics. My friend using my rifle happened to miss one shot, and was able to retrieve the projectile from the divot in the ground that the impact made.

I thought about ammunition a great deal while sitting in my stand, and I plan on settling on a couple of commercial loads for both rifles in the near future. While I was pleased with the S&B ammo, I’m planning to stick with Hornady Precision Hunter ammo in the 6.5 Creedmoor. That ammunition is loaded with the 143 grain ELD-X bullet. I have obtained exceptional accuracy with this round in the past, better than I have with some other ammo. Interestingly enough, I happened to pick up an old Field & Stream magazine in the lodge, and read a comparison review of premium hunting ammunition. Needless to say, the Hornady Precision Hunter ammunition delivered solid results at all ranges. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always pass the Wal-Mart test, but every legitimate sporting goods store I’ve been in recently has had it on the shelf.

For the .30-06, I’m going to plan to use a couple of standard Federal loads. These do pass the Wal-Mart test, and more importantly, work well with the Browning BOSS that came on my rifle. Reality dictates that I have neither the money nor the time to tune the BOSS for a premium load. My understanding is that Browning developed their suggested sweet spot list using standard loadings. Premium ammunition is generally loaded to higher velocities which would require a different “sweet spot.” (For those who may not be familiar, the Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System allows the end user to “tune” their barrel harmonics to different loads with different internal ballistics by means of a threaded weight and locking collar installed on the end of the barrel. I would never buy another rifle with a BOSS installed, but it’s what I’ve got.)

I want to share some thoughts on killing a hog with a knife as well. (There are no doubt those that will take issue with this, and call it blood sport, but the same could be said of boxing or MMA. The practice is legal, and in much of the country, feral hogs are considered a destructive species with an open season with few if any restrictions in place.) I wrote a little about this last year, but my interest in killing a hog with a knife stemmed from a desire to better understand the potential use of a knife in a fight. I’m not entirely sure that legitimate corollaries can be drawn, but I’m going to try.

For those that have never done this, dogs are released to track and locate the hog. When they do, the hunter closes in and dispatches the hog with a long knife. You have to stab behind the front leg and target the heart, lungs, and great vessels. Death is quick, but not immediate. This is a definite example of a “timer” vs. a “switch.” The process is bloody and somewhat messy. There is definite primal violence involved when you add in the adrenaline, the barking dogs, the knife, and the blood. I think this is important for someone who may choose to rely on a knife for defensive purposes. Having said that, I’ve not trained extensively with the knife, nor do I really intend to, and I still think relying on a knife instead of a gun is a strategy fraught with liability and legal concerns.

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I also want to discuss one more observation regarding visualization. I had seen a hog killed last year, watched it on video, and envisioned how I would handle the situation. Through all of that, I had visualized holding the knife in my strong hand. Imagine my surprise when I was forced by circumstance to use my support hand. What’s the lesson? The fight will very likely not be what you expect. Adapt and overcome. Don’t hesitate when immediate action is required. Know what you can and cannot do. All of this is relevant to more than just a knife. In fact, the weapon is irrelevant. Know how to use whatever you choose to arm yourself with.

Finally, I’m going to return to the subject of food. The group I hunt with appreciates trophies, but we also eat everything we kill. Processing the animal and the meat is a big part of hunting. Even if one simply watches the process at first, the sights and smells are literally visceral. In my profession, I’m no stranger to blood and guts, but a game animal is fortunately a little different. Unfortunately, being able to cut up a game animal and fundamentally understanding what you put on your dinner plate is something I think we’ve largely lost as a society. That’s not a good thing, and hunting is one way to restore this fundamental knowledge.

That’s about all I have for this post. I’m going to continue to hunt late season on public land near my home, but I’m already looking forward to planning next year’s trip. I’m fortunate to have good mentors and good opportunities. I still have a lot to learn, but truly, that applies to almost everything in life.

Thanks for reading. As always, comments, questions, and civil discussion is welcome. I can be reached at civiliangunfighter.john@gmail.com.

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