Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sighting in Before the Opener

Brett reviewing his shot placement while using the Bullseye Camera System.

Waiting until the last minute is not something I am known for. In fact, I am more of a planner than anything else, but I was caught off guard this year due to finding time to hit the range and sight my rifle in. With the deer season opener in a couple weeks, Brett and I needed to go to the rifle range to be certain we were zeroed in.

A few months back, Brett and I spent time dialing in our rifles and figured we were pretty close before the bees took over. We couldn't be 100% sure we were ready, so we had to wait. I spent time with my friend Bill reloading my 300 WM ammo and prepping for range day. After doing my homework, I found a range that would work for Brett and I. We both got the day off and made our way to the Angeles Ranges.

After signing in, we set up at the far end. The range safety officers were really great and had no problem with me setting up my Bullseye Camera System at 100 yards. I saw so many guys with spotting scopes and watched their frustration of not being able to see which shot was which, and where there last shot went. I knew the BCS would be awesome for this.

I was the fortunate one to shoot first. As I tried to chamber on of my handloads, I noticed that the cartridge wasn't chambering properly. It would only go 80% of the way in and then stop. The first one stuck a bit, so I ejected the round and loaded a different one with the exact same result. I became increasingly concerned and wondered what I had done to my rifle! I had brought some factory rounds with me and decided to chamber one of them, and wouldn't you know it, it loaded perfectly! For some reason, my handloads wouldn't fit. Bill and I had taken a great deal of care in prepping the brass and loading them properly. I just couldn't figure out the problem. I brushed it off and shot the Federal cartridge, holding the rifle as I normally do. I was way off to my left. Before getting upset, I chambered another and fired. Then another and another. I disregarded the first shot due to the frustration of the rounds sticking in the chamber and making me upset. The next three were lower than I wanted and a bit scattered, but in the kill zone. I wasn't happy with the grouping, but I wasn't done shooting either. The Bullseye Camera System was fantastic in allowing us to see each shot with ease.

My target after shooting my Remington 700 chambered in 300 Win Mag at 100 yards.

For the past month, I have been reading The Long Range Shooting Handbook: A Beginner's Guide to Long range Shooting by Ryan Cleckner. Now, I am not a beginner shooter, but I am also no expert, so I read most of the book (still not done with it) as I would if I were a beginner. Ryan mentioned a few different ways of shooting and how he dislikes pistol grips on a rifle stock, but that if one were to use one to relax your hand and not torque the stock. There are also a few other tips he gave, so I applied them to my next three shots. I wanted to be 2" high at 100 yards to have my scope ready to shoot at longer distances. My next three rounds were exactly 2" high and two were touching, while the third was less than an inch away. Success! To be honest, I was ecstatic! I don't know if I have EVER had a rifle sight in that well. I was done, or so I thought. My next actions proved to be regretful. I took a different one of the reloads and chambered it to see if it would work. It was a tight fit, but chambered well. I shot and then attempted to eject the shell. The bolt was jammed! I pulled as hard as I could and had no luck. My heart sank and I got upset at first, but that quickly turned to questioning why this happened. I set the rifle down and helped Brett out while I considered my options.

Brett sighting in his hunting rifle at the Angeles Ranges.

We spent the next half hour on Brett's rifle and getting his shots tighter. After a half hour of shooting, he took a break. I tried ejecting the shell again and pulled with everything I had. When the shell gave and the bolt came back, it was so quick i didn't have time to react. My fingers became jammed between the scope and bolt handle. Not just stuck, but pinched tight enough to tear skin and not allow the use of my fingers. I had to use my other hand to push up on the bolt to release the tension. Yowza! That hurt, but it was totally worth it to know that the shell was ejected successfully. I checked the chamber for damage and saw none. The shell, on the other hand, showed exactly what had happened. The tolerance in my chamber is really tight and these shells were off by just a minute amount, but it was enough. Whew! To be sure my rifle was still shooting properly, I shot one of my lead rounds with success. 

Jammed my fingers in between the scope and bolt while extracting a stuck shell. Elbow is from the kick of the Win Mag.

Brett and I spent the rest of the afternoon dialing in his weapon. When we were finished, we were exhausted, but thrilled that we were ready for opening day of rifle season. With the opener less than than two weeks away, we are now packing and preparing for our hike into the backcountry. With any luck and hard work, we will be hauling one or two deer out of the woods next weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Recap: Bowhunting Deer in SoCal Seminar at Bass Pro

Last Saturday morning, I prepared for my Bowhunting Deer in SoCal Seminar at Bass Pro Shops like I do any seminar. I collect my thoughts, make some notes, and set up in preparation for a few people to discuss hunting in SoCal. Normally, I try to keep my seminars to 20-30 minutes and save time for questions after. What I didn't prepare for were the number of blog readers that actually showed up! (Thank you all!)

The chairs filled very quickly and more hunters showed up to stand and listen to what I shared. I won't go into everything I covered (you can come to a seminar for that), but it was a great experience. I had the great pleasure of sharing my knowledge and fielding numerous questions from new and experienced bowhunters alike. My one hour seminar was extended and continued on for several hours. Yes, it went over three hours! I wanted to be sure each question was answered as there were many great questions! I do apologize to the wives and girlfriends that had to wait patiently. I hope the attendees got as much out if it as I did. Thank you all for showing up and participating!

I want to thank Bass Pro Shops for inviting me to do the seminar. It was a pleasure and I always have a good time! I also want to thank Raptorazor and Badlands Packs for providing some top-of-the-line giveaway items. Many walked away with a brand new Raptorazor Mako or Big Game Skinner. Raptorazor went above and beyond with these items and for those that won, please go over to their Facebook page and thank them. One lucky bowhunter walked away with a Badlands Calor 1/4 zip in the new Approach pattern. He emailed me and mentioned he will be using it this deer season. Great to hear! I would guess that he's going to get hooked on that pattern. I hope all of you get to use the prizes you won and I hope to hear the stories of your success!

Next month, on October 22 at 2 PM at Bass Pro, I will be giving an Intro to Archery seminar. I'll have more details soon, but in the meantime mark those calendars!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Opening Weekend Success! Deer Season is Here!

Opening day! The words just sounds sweeter when you say them out loud, right? For months, Brett and I have scouted, set trail cameras, and researched an area we wanted to hunt deer in the D14 zone. It's an area untouched by recent fire and we had high hopes. After seeing a couple bucks on camera and having opening weekend off, we made the trek and began our three day adventure.

Day one was simply a travel and scout day, as it was the day before the opener. On the way up the mountain I got tagged a few times by a hornet. Dang thing flew on my arm and I brushed him out the window only to have him fly back in, behind me, and land on my back. Brett pulled over and I ripped my shirt off as fast as I could. I think I may have blinded a few people by the sheer whiteness of my back! Fortunately, the hornet flew out the window, never to be seen by me again.

Once we had our gear settled into the cabin, we opted to glass our hunting location from a half mile away (as the crow flies) from a high vantage point. The area we sat was incredibly beautiful, quiet, and held deer. We spooked two doe when we set up, but they bedded 100 yards from us and watched us for over an hour. Those telltale ears gave them away as they lay on a hillside behind us. Glassing was great, but turned up no movement at all. Back at the cabin, we ate a good meal and hit the hay.

When the 3:00 AM alarm went off, I was grumpy. I had slept awful and the only reason I was thankful to get up was to turn the coffee maker on. Twenty minutes and two cups of coffee later I was ready to rock. It didn't take us long to gear up and head out the door.

The drive to our spot was a decent one, but worth it. We were at the trailhead before anyone else and it was at least a half hour before we saw other headlights on the road. Unfortunately, the wind was kicking up more than we expected. Long before sunrise, Brett got out to check the wind and thought he smelled smoke. It was faint, but present. A half hour later, we got out and began prepping to hike in when we both exclaimed that the smell of smoke was not only present, but strong. The sun now rising, we hiked up to a point and glassed for any sign of a plume. We couldn't find any and with the speed of the wind, and direction, we were on edge. We made a fire plan and set off about 200 yards apart to hunt the morning. We saw nothing and both of us, in our respective separate locations, noticed that around 9:00 the smoke was much stronger and began to fill the valley. I made my way back down the trail and met with Brett. He got up to talk and pointed behind me. Not far off, across a few ridges, was a plume of black smoke. Immediately, we headed for the truck with a plan to get out of Dodge, if we had no other choice.

Back at the cabin, we got online, made some calls, and within an hour the fire was out. It was called a 'trash fire', but we both think some twit got cold and started a campfire. We know the general location where it started and it's a tough to get to area. Then again, we are no experts. With the fire out, we gathered our things and made our way back out for the afternoon and evening hunt. 

A new area had been shared with us and Brett and I decided to scout it out midday. We hiked about 3 miles, over very rocky terrain, and found limited sign. According to Brett (and I agree), it was simply another area we will check off as an area we will not be hunting.

Back at the truck, with our options dwindling, we drove back to our original hunting spot. We split up and I decided to hit up some new, unexplored ground. The wind was still a factor, so I figured I wouldn't see much, but wanted to see what was over the ridge. The moment I crested the ridge and saw what was below, I knew we had been limiting ourselves. I double-checked the OnXmaps and topo map and the area was public land, legal to hunt, and beautiful! There were lush pines, cedar, and brush that would make any deer feel comfortable. I found deer tracks all over and surprisingly, tracks from a young bear. 

I was ecstatic! We had never seen a bear in this area before. I slowly hiked/hunted the area for over an hour and then made my way back to the ridge. I knew that the majority of the deer we saw were moving in the morning. I decided to glass from the ridge for the last couple hours and then meet up with Brett. I saw nothing but chipmunks and birds, but it was a pleasure to be outside. The new Badlands Approach camouflage worked great! The chipmunks and birds couldn't figure out what we were the entire weekend. Brett had a chipmunk sneak right up to him and a hummingbird attacked him. I had a wren do a few fly-bys to see what I was, but decided I wasn't worth the trouble after a while.

The next morning, we made plans to hunt one side of the property in the morning and the other in the evening, provided the wind played along. Mother Nature had other plans and the wind actually picked up. Hunting the first side was going to produce nothing but frustration as the wind was all wrong. We decided to head into the spot I scouted the day before. As we sauntered up the hillside, I pointed out the deer trail and how you'd never see the deer moving from the trailhead. Brett was equally as excited to see the new area as I had been. We explored and decided to hunt two ravines for the first hour. We saw nothing, but felt energized from how amazing the area was. Deer tracks, rabbit tracks, and dense brush for both to hide in. A gem for sure!

As we made our way to a wide-open clearing, we stopped to discuss our next move. As we talked (rather loudly, I might add), I noticed the distinct ears of a deer coming over the ridge toward us. She was actually heading WITH the wind and not into it. 'Stop! Deer! On the ridge!' were the only words I could get out quickly. We stopped talking and moving. Then a buck followed the doe, followed by another even larger buck. He was a shooter! They had come in on the exact trail we had walked in on. They walked directly toward us and the first buck, a spike, knew something wasn't right as he gave us the stink eye. Brett and I were in the worst position imaginable and there was no way to get to cover without spooking the deer. We nocked our arrows and patiently waited as the deer found a large scrub bush and began feeding. They were only sixty yards away, but we had a large branch in our way. Our only option was to wait for them to come in on the trail ten yards closer.

Numerous times, we watched as the mature buck chased the doe around the bush. I was surprised to see them rutting so early, but it was great to watch. Then the doe chased off the spike for a few moments while they continued to eat. After about fifteen minutes, they took a distant trail into another section of forest. We needed to get out ahead of them right away. I wanted Brett to get the shot, so I positioned him ahead of me. I knew there was a chance they would pass through a small window and for him to get ready. Sure enough, the two younger deer went right by it, but the mature buck stopped in the clearing, right behind a tree that completely covered his vitals. The five second stare down was too much for him and he bounded off.

While we were disappointed that we didn't get a shot off, we had a great encounter and a successful hunt. Our encounter brought back the hope that we will indeed fill a tag or two this year. Finding time to get out there again will be tough, but once we do it will be awesome.