Making Lightweight Hunting Rifles Behave

By Wayne Van Zwoll

If your bullets wander about the target, and game inexplicably runs off, maybe you lack ounces.

The lure of the lightweight: comfort on the trail, speed for the shot. Note hand well ahead on for end. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

The lighter your burden, the more you enjoy walking, climbing, hunting. Many early bolt-action hunting rifles weighed over 8 pounds. In the 1950s Winchester introduced its Featherweight Model 70 at 6 ¾ pounds. Now 6-pound rifles are common. Kimber’s walnut-stocked 84M weighs 5 ¾ pounds and its Montana 5 ¼ pounds. The Adirondack and Mountain Ascent scale just 4 ¾ pounds. Yes, these last three wear carbon-fiber stocks.

Weights bump up for longer actions and barrels. But Kimbers aren’t skeletonized or stubby. They look good and balance well. In my experience, they shoot well too, if shot properly. But any rifle becomes less manageable as you pare ounces. That’s because mass reduces the bounce of your pulse and twitching muscles as you aim, the nudge of your hand and shoulder and trigger finger as you fire. Trigger resistance compounds the problem. The heavier the trigger, the more muscle you must tap, and the more movement you’ll see in the sight. Recently I fired a 6-pound rifle whose trigger broke at 6 ½ pounds. The muscle required to loose a shot was sure to move the rifle off target first! Such imbalance is woefully common in handguns.

Stiff triggers handicap lightweight rifles. Adjust so break weight is a small percentage of rifle weight. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

I’m not in the camp that insists lightweight rifles require special shooting technique. Still, from the bench some rifles perform best when left to recoil freely, while others excel with hand pressure on the forend or even down on the scope. These “preferences” seem to depend as much on bedding as on rifle weight or barrel diameter. By the way, barrel stiffness, has greater effect on group size than does its mass. A short, relatively slim barrel can be stiffer than a long heavy one. A Remington XP-100 pistol was one of the most inherently accurate guns I’ve yet fired. Very little flex in its .17 barrel!

Of course, accuracy is most closely tied to the quality of the bore.

At the bench with a lightweight rifle, I make sure the front rest contacts the forend adequately. On a hard rest, a slim, rounded forend has essentially single-point contact. I prefer a soft rest that better limits bounce. A bit of side support helps steady the rifle. Often I pull the front of the forend down into the rest while aiming. I also use a toe rest. My trigger hand grasps the rifle firmly, tugging it into my shoulder and against my cheek. Without firm support front, rear and center, a lightweight rifle will almost surely move as you press the trigger. To deliver tight groups, all rifles must be held the same way each shot, no matter your shooting style. A lightweight rifle is more sensitive to slight changes in technique.

On the bench or prone, use a toe bag. Or as here, grasp the toe to steady it. Note supporting cheek pad. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

Do lightweight barrels heat faster? Well, their reaction to heat is often quicker and more evident than that of heavier barrels. A given bullet at a given speed imposes on a given bore a measure of friction. Thick barrel walls act as heat sinks, and their stiffness resists the bending and lengthening that can change the impact points of subsequent bullets. Still, the value of a lightweight hunting rifle has little to do with the size of warm-barrel groups.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Lamper’s Essential Backcountry Hunting Gear List

When it comes to getting geared up for a big game hunt in the backcountry there are few people that know this drill better than Ryan Lampers. For most of the year he can be found running the family business, Ray’s Baits, in Granite Falls, Washington. Ray’s Baits delivers  night crawlers, herring, sardines, anchovies, salmon eggs, and sand shrimp to retailers and fishing guides all over the Pacific Northwest.

What you may not know, however, is that this quiet and unassuming cat might be one of the most prolific big game hunters in the region. Lamper’s stock and trade is the pursuit of trophy elk and deer on public ground deep in the backcountry of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Lampers is a public ground success story that’s come from an insane amount of work and years of trudging around in the backcountry putting as much stress on himself and his gear as is humanly possible.

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Ryan and his hunting partner Joey Pyburn spend weeks in the high country every fall in search of trophy elk and deer and they seldom see a soul. Lamper’s tells me he hasn’t seen another hunter in four years. Why? Because there are few people that go where they go. And doing that, my friends, takes and immense amount of work and some of the finest gear in the world. Ryan’s tested every piece of lightweight backcountry camping and hiking gear you can imagine and thru his decades-long research he’s kind enough to share some of his favorite gear items here on the Outdoor Line.

Shelter – MSR Hubba One Man Tent

The MSR Hubba one man tent weighs under three pounds packed and it’s small enough to fit into a deer bed on the side of a mountain. These incredibly lightweight tents are a breeze to set up anywhere and the footprint is so compact Lampers can hunker down for the night just about anywhere.  msr_tent_elk_web

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Here’s a video that highlights just how quickly the MSR Hubba lightweight backpacking tent can be assembled.

Cooking-Jet Boil Minimo

Ryan prefers the Jet Boil Minimo because of it offers the most finite valve control of any upright canister system on the market. He can slowly simmer soup over a small flame or blast the heat to quickly boil up water for a freeze dried meal or a hot drink.The Minimo weighs just under a pound and will boil 16 ounces of water in 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

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Drinking Water – Steripen

With a SteriPen there’s no need to pack a cumbersome and space-consuming filter pump. The SteriPen uses UV light to zap 99.9% of the organisms that live in water. The outdoor models will purify one liter of water in 90 seconds and last up to 8,000 treatments.

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Backpack – Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500 

The EXO Mountain Gear K2 5500 pack comes with a titanium frame and weighs an astonishing 5 pounds, 4 ounces. The EXO has pockets galore for stashing all the necessities for a long backcountry hunt and long side pockets for guns, spotting scopes, tent poles, and hydration bladders. This pack also has an expandable 2500 cubic inch load shelf for hauling meat and 14 compression straps to secure loads to the pack. It can be expanded to 7,000 cubic inches for packing into the backcountry and compressed down to 3,500 cubic inches for day hunts. Ryan’s hauled loads to 140 pounds on the EXO K2 5500 and says it’s the most comfortable and durable pack he’s ever owned.

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Head Lamp – Black Diamond Storm

Ryan’s number one backcountry headlamp is the Black Diamond Storm. He likes it for it’s brightness and most importantly it’s longevity. With a fresh set of batteries this head lamp will last for an entire week in the backcountry. Sure, he brings an extra set of batteries along but they rarely get used.

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Trekking Poles – Black Diamond

When laden with a heavy load of backcountry gear and venison a set of trekking poles is an essential item to provide stability and safety. Black Diamond trekking poles come with two Flicklocks for adjustability and when they’re not needed they can collapse and be stored in the long side pocket of the EXO Mountain Gear K2 5500 pack. Lampers highly recommends picking up a set of rubber Tech Tips for any hunting trip into the backcountry. Using the rubber tips eliminates the noise the poles make while hiking in rocky terrain.

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Traction – Kahtoola Micro Spike

Carrying heavy loads on steep and sometimes wet or frozen alpine slopes can be dangerous work. Lamper’s always has a set of Kahtoola Micro Spike’s stashed in his pack for traversing steep areas in the backcountry. Micro Spike’s are easily slipped over hunting boots and pack down nicely.

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I’ll be catching up with Ryan again soon to get another gear list going. We’ll talk rifles, slings, game bags, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and whatever else comes up. The one thing we won’t talk about, however, is where in the backcountry you need to be. That’s gonna be up to you.

If you want to catch up with Ryan Lampers I recommend hitting him up on Facebook (Ryan Lampers), Instagram (sthealthyhunter), or on his newly-launched website huntharvesthealth.com.

Thanks for stopping by and remember…next hunting season starts now!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Try this Ram Mount for Field Photos

I find myself hunting solo quite a bit and I’m always looking for a new gizmo to help capture the moment. Ram Mount’s manufactures a slick X-Grip to hold a cell phone and a one inch ball adapter that will screw directly into a camera tripod, or in my case, the tripod from my Vortex spotting scope.

The camera on the new iPhone 7 comes with a timer feature that makes it easy to set this up for a big game photo in the field. When I’m hunting I nearly always have this spotting scope and tripod with me and if I don’t then I’m packing a small tripod that fits easily in my pack.

Field Photos with a Ram Mount

I brought it along on a recent field trip with our oldest daughter and it worked great. When your not using this X Grip in the field it can be used in your truck or boat to keep your phone right where you need it. This X Grip will eventually be mounted on the dash of my charter boat in Alaska to keep my phone from rolling around on the dash of the boat.

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If this Ram Mount doesn’t work for you the’ve got around 5,000 configurations of mounts for your phone, tablet, marine electronics, etc.. I’ve got another Ram Mount in my jet boat that holds a Lowrance HDS 7. When I don’t need the Lowrance unit I can take the mount and unit off the boat entirely or swing it out of the way. It can be adjusted infinitely for viewing anywhere on the boat.

I’m not aware of any other mounting system that offers so much flexibility. The mount in my jet boat has been in the rain for three years now and it still looks like it came right out of the box.

If you’re interested in picking up a Ram Mount for yourself or for someone else for Christmas they’ve got a special 10% off offer for Outdoor Line listeners that’s going on thru the end of December. Click on the link below to get your discount:

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Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your next outdoor adventure!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Next Hunting Season Starts Now

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Tips for Becoming a Successful Deer Hunter

by Jason Brooks

With most deer season’s winding down and and folks updating their social media sites with “success” photos some might find themselves asking, “How are certain people so successful and other’s only find a buck, any buck, every few years?”. I am often asked this same question and what it comes down to is lifestyle. Those that live to hunt also hunt to live. Making eating venison a priority in their life. Ryan Lampers, of Ray’s Baits, is one of these guys, and so is his family. Ryan is a very successful hunter and he explained on The Outdoor Line radio show a few weeks ago that the primary reason he is so successful is because hunting is a lifestyle. Lampers lives, eats, and breaths hunting.

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

Rob Endsley and I were talking about hunting and how it drives the way we live. Both of us agreeing that preparing for next year’s deer season starts the day after this year’s season ends. Endsley spends a lot of time scouring maps and a lot of time on Google Earth. Pouring over data, success rates, public lands, and access to public lands is what successful game plans are all about. This leads him to new hunting grounds and a higher success rate than the “average Joe”. A willingness to hunt new places, and even other states, will force your to learn new areas, migration routes, herd management, and deer behavior. All of this leads to becoming a better hunter.

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

My main hunting partners, Chad and Kyle Hurst, also subscribe to the “hunter’s lifestyle” and make wild game a staple in their diet. Kyle is one of those hunters I describe as a “machine”. A guy who puts physical fitness as well as dietary essentials as a main focus of how he lives. It showed this past fall when we flew into Idaho’s backcountry. Kyle hiked nearly 39 miles in five days and packed meat on three of those days. The last evening of our trip he heard about a hot springs three miles upriver, which he jogged to.

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Kyle Hurst

Luckily, we don’t have to be in “super-human” physical shape like Kyle or Ryan, though it does help immensely. Back to how Rob and I prepare for our hunts. By expanding your hunting areas and knowledge you increase your chances at success. Of course I prefer to hunt from my deer camp in my home state of Washington, and I have taken some nice bucks over the years there, but on an average day in Washington I might see three or four bucks. In Idaho I see around ten to fifteen a day. Even then, the “caliber” of bucks is no comparison. In Idaho I passed up bucks until the last afternoon, always looking for “Mr. Big”, and let go several four points that were in the 140-150 inch class. In Washington I rarely pass up any legal buck.

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

This brings us to the measure of “success”. I talk to a lot of hunters, some who brag about their big bucks, as they should, but also frown on those that take barely legal bucks. Then there are the hunters who draw a doe permit and get stoked at filling the freezer. The measure of success is an individual decision. Personally, I still get excited to get a doe with my muzzleloader or bow as much as shooting a buck with my rifle.

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

In Idaho this year I wanted a “monster” buck but on the last afternoon of my hunt I ended up taking one of the smallest legal bucks I found on my entire trip. I was thankful for the deer, as I wanted the meat more than the antlers. Plus, I was able to hunt the entire week, given an opportunity at any moment to find my “buck of a lifetime” and enjoying the week in the mountains. This was a total success and at any time I could have shot the buck of a lifetime.

When we got home both Chad and Kyle took their four point racks and put them into the pile in their garage again reminding me that it is the hunt that drives them and their hunt-to-live, live-to-hunt lifestyle.

Most big game seasons are coming to an end right now, but next season is just beginning. Make a pact with yourself to do your homework and up your game between now and next fall. Spend some time studying maps, Google Earth, game department data, and online forums. Become overly proficient with your bow, muzzleloader, or rifle and get yourself in shape. If you’re a weekend warrior then make those weekends count!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Two Hunting Products That Have Helped Me Tag Out

By Rob Endsley

Here’s a couple of outstanding products that have helped my hunting tremendously the last few years:

KUIU Binocular Harness

A few years ago I started shopping around for a new binocular harness that was durable, easy to use, lightweight, and compact. I found that with KUIU’s binocular harness. I live in Washington State and most of my hunting occurs in the west where we don’t think twice about scrambling up mountains and ridges after big game.

As advertised this bino harness fits tight to my chest and does a fairly good job of keeping the rain off my binoculars. If it’s really coming down sideways I’ll pull the rain cover over the harness. Most of the time I don’t need to do that though. If you hunt here in Washington you’ll spend quite a few days in the rain.

Here’s a quick video from Jason Hairston of KUIU that shows how the binocular harness works:

Primos Trigger Stick

I originally purchased the Primos Bi-pod Trigger Stick and had great luck with it. On a particularly windy day a few years back in the blacktail woods, however, I couldn’t hold the crosshairs steady for a standing shot at a buck around 150 yards away. The wind was howling and even with the rifle resting firmly on the bipod the crosshairs were waving all over the place. The second I returned home I jumped on the Primos website and found that they had just released a new tripod version of their Trigger Stick.

I immediately purchased the Jim Shockey Tall Tripod and it’s helped put several deer in our freezer now. Here’s a quick video that shows how it works and there are plenty more videos on YouTube for this product.

The only drawbacks I’ve found with the tripod version is that it’s a little heavier to lug around and if you’re in a stalking situation be sure to keep the rubber strap around the bottom of the legs. If they catch on the brush and then come back together quickly they make a clanging noise thats no bueno. Keeping the strap cinched tightly around the legs alleviates that problem. Because of the added weight I probably wouldn’t take it with me on extreme hunts into the backcountry when shaving pounds and even ounces off a pack is critical. It’s always along on day hunts or hunts where I’m using an ATV for transportation though.

Other than those two minor details the trigger stick has worked flawlessly for me. I’ve hunted with it in -25 below zero temperatures in Montana and driving rain in Washington and it’s worked every time. Learn how to operate this piece of equipment and I promise you it will help you make those difficult shots in the field a lot more do-able.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle 

One week, two tags!

As anyone who has hunted for big game in Washington can attest, filling your deer tag can be challenging. Notching your elk tag in Washington is even harder. Accomplishing both of these tasks in a week? That takes a pile of preparation, a realistic opportunity and to be completely honest, one whale of a lot of luck!

The first stroke of luck came in the form of the Skagit Valley Quality Bull tag that I’ve been applying for since the Bush Administration.. . Once that bit of luck was in pocket, another bolt from the blue was in store as my good friend Steve Stout who lives in the unit also was drawn for the hunt and was as fired up as I to start scouting! This hunt opened on the second weekend of October so my September which is usually spent chasing coho (but we won’t go there..) was spent on glassing, bugling and rifle range time.

Robbo has an unbelievable talent for spotting game and is putting them to use as the misty early arrival of fall envelops the north Cascades. On this day, I was given an opportunity on a magnificent bull and missed. I sincerely believe that a day will never go by for the rest of my life without me thinking of that moment.

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I would hunt for nearly another week before getting another opportunity and this time there would be no miss. This tremendous 6×6  was standing among his harem of cows and fell so quickly after the shot that he simply disappeared and scared the heck out of me until I saw him lying there and WHAT A GREAT FEELING!!!

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Getting that massive bull out was not all that bad thanks to the Can Am Defender Max XT1000 4-seater ATV. The built in front end winch and tilt box worked hand in hand to slide the big ol’ bull right in!

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The antler mass of this elk is quite impressive and most I’ve talked to place this specimen in the 320 inch class. My second Washington State 6×6 and easily the largest of my life.

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After delivering the bull to the butcher and shaking my head over the 487 pounds of hanging weight, my hunting season was already a success by any measure but, I was not done. My black lab Bailey was not-so-patiently waiting for me to finish up big-game so she could terrorize the pheasant release site roosters. So, over to Whidbey Island we go and sure enough the pheasants cooperated!

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Our host on the Whidbey Island hunt was my friend Bob Maschmedt who just happened to pack a couple of slug-ready shotguns and suggested we go looking for an Island Blacktail. It was a GREAT suggestion as the first place we looked, here’s a nice 2×3 that was way more interested in his does than he was in me!

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Bob Maschmedt and I are all smiles as now I’ve filled two tags in the same week and it’s back to the butchers with a fat blacktail buck!

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All told, the butcher got a hefty 607 pounds of venison in the space of one week. Without question, it was the certainly a magnificent big-game season and certainly a strange feeling to be tagged out in mid October but I’m ok with it!

Now it’s back to the drawing board, starting back at “zero” on the elk-tag drawing points but as long as I can buy a tag, I’ll be putting in for WDFW Special Permit hunts and who knows? I guy can get lucky two years in a row…right?…Right???

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Montana Mule Deer “Matriculation”…

Anytime one ventures outdoors in search of fish or game and returns without learning anything, it is an opportunity lost indeed. One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful lifestyle we call hunting and fishing is the fact that no one can possibly “know it all” and as such, every single one of us can add to our knowledge base literally every day afield. That’s a long-winded way of explaining my use of the word “matriculation” in the title of this post as I learned much on this hunt that will allow me to become a better deer hunter.

The planning of this hunt began in March when we applied for non-resident deer tags and then we had to wait until the November rut to make the 12+ hour drive to our Montana area. It was a uniquely challenging and fun hunt on many fronts from the minus 20 degree temperatures, the unfamiliar landscape, my first hunt using the Outlander 450L Max ATV and Lord willing, it will not be my last!

Mule deer or “muleys” as they are known to most hunters, get their name from an pronounced set of ears that are well suited to picking up any -and every- noise within a wide radius.

abigbuckThe first morning of our hunt we were “greeted” with temperatures in the minus 20 degree range and a breathtaking snowy landscape. We unloaded the 4-wheelers and got to it!

aOulanderSnVintage Montana: The landscape is littered with abandoned artifacts of days gone by. In this case, a loosely assembled pile of wood that was once someone’s boat!

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One of the most fun and unique aspects of this hunt was the use of our Outlander ATV’s. We were able to reach remote areas and once we hopped off our energy was intact to fully devote to the hunt! Our Triton ATV trailer made loading and unloading the ATV’s a snap and towed like a dream!

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The trailer made long hauls on mountain passes and gravel roads look easy…until you looked at our license plate that is…

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The State of Montana does a great job of opening up blocks of private land known as BMA’s or Block Management Areas. Here Robbo signs in at the registration box allowing us to hunt the area.

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Glassing, glassing and more glassing. Learning to pick an area apart and find an ear, antler tip, tail or patch of hair is an invaluable skill to a mule deer hunter. Patience and persistence is the key…and hand warmers…Brrrr…

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Robbo and his beautiful mulie buck taken on the final day of our hunt. Robbo passed up more bucks than I could keep track of and his patience and discipline were rewarded when he spotted and stalked this dandy deer!

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Although I wasn’t able to fill my tag this time around, I learned more by hunting hard each day of this trip than I would of otherwise. Learning what to look for and where to look is a huge part of the mule deer equation and seeing numbers of Montana mule deer each day is a great way to learn to spot deer when few are around. I’m looking forward to next hunting season to test what I learned on this hunt and to answer the challenge of becoming a better hunter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

D.I.Y. European Skull Mount

The first time I decided to do a European skull mount it was a long and very stinky process. It was so disgusting that I vowed to never do another one on my own. Yuk!

You can send your mount to a beetle shop that immerses the head in a box full of meat-eating beetles that devour every ounce of meat, tissue, and cartilage off the skull in a very short amount of time. It’s a great option but you’ve got to either ship the head or have a shop within driving range of your home. Not a good option for me.

The following process is how I went about making my most recent skull mount of a beautiful Montana mule deer. All in all I had about two full hours into this process and the final product will look excellent on the wall of my office.

First I cleaned the skull with a pressure washer much like Mark Kayser does in the video below. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s since his days hosting a hunting show for Truck Vault and I followed his video to a “T” to get my deer skull fully cleaned.

I used a big Honda 9 horsepower pressure washer to clean the skull to my liking. This took about 45 minutes and it helps to have very high pressure for this process. You’ll want to tape the base of the antlers to keep from removing the coloring away from the antlers in that area with the pressure.

skull_mount2_webThe skull mount after pressure washing. Ready for step 2!

skull_mount_webNext I brought a large pot of soapy water to a boil and immersed the head into it. Drop the temperature down on the water and simmer the skull in the soapy water for around an hour. This brings out any grease that is left in the skull and helps eliminate discoloring later.

This is when things get kinda weird in this whole process. Head to the nearest beauty supply store and pick up an 8 ounce bottle of Salon Care Volume 40 Developer Creme and a packet of Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. The lady at the beauty supply store asked me what I was using it for and since the whole place was packed with ladies I simply answered, “Uh…I’m working on a little project.” You can probably get away with 4 ounces of this stuff, but I went with 8 to be on the safe side.

Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl and then use a brush to completely cover the entire skull in paste. It doesn’t exactly smell great so it’s best to do this outside in a ventilated area. Get as much paste into every corner of the skull as you can.

After your done with this wrap the skull in plastic stretch wrap and place it in front of a space heater. Rotate the skull a couple of times in an hour period. Pull off the wrap and rinse the skull in warm water to get off all the bleaching goop. If the skull doesn’t whiten up to your liking hit it with another coat of goop and go thru this process again.

I performed this final process twice and the skull turned a nice, crisp white.

skull_mount3

Two notes of caution when doing this. First you want to make sure you wrap the bottom of the antlers with tape during the pressure washing process or you’ll blast off the staining on the base of the antlers. Also be very careful not to get any bleaching compound on the base of the antlers or it’ll effect the stain on the antlers, as well.

Now that I’m done preparing my European mount I just need to build a custom wooden base to hold the mount. I’m thinking a hardwood with a dark finish would work great to accent the skull.

If you really want to get fancy with the final product, however, you could ship your skull mount off to Jana Waller at Painted Skulls. She does some amazing artwork with skulls!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Setting Up My New Deer Rifle – Savage 7mm-08

I’m always looking for an excuse to purchase new toys to satisfy my hunting and fishing fix and this time it just so happened that I “needed” a new low-recoil rifle. I needed one because of a recent hunt for Sitka blacktails in Southeast Alaska and a daughter that just turned two. She seems a little young for a rifle but with the rapidly rising cost of guns and ammo in the U.S. I pitched it to my wife as a solid investment. With any luck our daughter will be hunting with me in the next ten years, or so, and she sure as heck won’t be shouldering my .300 Winnie or my shoulder-thumping Belgium Browning 30.06. It took some convincing but my wife finally bit on my sales pitch.

After a ton of research I settled on the 7mm-08 because the load offers a wide range of ammunition choices and it resides in the lower end of the recoil charts. It’s a veritable cream-puff compared to the bigger magnums. My good friend Jay Field purchased a 7mm-08 a few years back and simply loves it for blacktail hunting in Western Washington and short-range mule deer or whitetail hunts in Eastern Washington.

You can find 7mm-08 ammo from 100 grain all the up to 175 grain which provides a lot more opportunity to hunt big game larger than just deer. Black bears and elk are definitely not out of the picture with the 7mm 08.

I was so happy with the last Savage I purchased I just went ahead and ordered a second one from Sportco in Fife, Washington. For optics I went with a Leupold VX-2 in 3X9 with a Boone and Crockett reticle. This rifle will be used mostly for shots less than 300 yards, so I didn’t see the need to purchase a jacked-up scope for it.

I dropped the gun off with Don Davis and Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club and they set the whole sha-bango up for me while I was in Alaska running saltwater charters for the summer.

The first thing Don did was to take the rifle and scope to Northwest Hydroprint in Montesano, Washington to have them apply a camo pattern called “Swamp Hide” to them. After pouring over all the camo patterns on their website I figured this one would fit-in best in the blacktail woods.

After the camo was applied Don mounted the Leupold scope and it was ready for the range.

Factory barrels come with microscopic burrs than can effect the accuracy of the rifle. The first thing Steve does to remove those burrs is to run JB Bore Paste thru the barrel to remove the burrs and polish the barrel. It’s called lapping the barrel and this task should be performed on any new rifle. After every pass with bore paste Steve follows it up with Montana Extreme solvent until he gets a clean patch.

Then the barrel break-in starts. Steve fires a single shot and cleans the barrel with Montana Extreme solvent after every shot for ten shots. He then fires 3 shot groups, cleaning in between each set of shots until he reaches 20 or so. After that the rifle is ready to be sighted-in.

Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club breaking in Rob Endsley's new Savage 7mm-08 Another handy product that Steve uses is a bore guide from Midway USA. Bore guides come in a variety of caliber groups and they make sliding the rod into the barrel much easier. Plus, they eliminate any damage that may occur as your banging the cleaning rod against the receiving end of the barrel.  hand_lapping2Here’s the bore guide from Midway USA

hand_lapping After Steve was done conditioning the bore he left the rifle with me for the final sight-in. He already had the rifle hitting the paper and dialing it in from there was a snap. After many years of using sand bags to stabilize my rifle at the range I finally broke down and purchased a Caldwell “Lead Sled”. These platforms make is SO EASY to dial your rifle exactly where you want it and keep it there. lead_sledAfter that it was just a matter of finding a Sitka blacktail and making the shot. As it turned out finding a Sitka blacktail during the pre-rut was no easy task. Sitka’s go into a pre-rut funk the third week of September where they simply vanish from the face of the earth. Low and behold I finally found a buck and my new Savage 7mm-08 performed beautifully.

Rob Endsley with his first Sitka blacktail taken with a Savage 7mm-08 with Federal 140 grain Barnes X ammunitionIf you’re wading thru a mountain of info on small caliber deer rifles I urge you to take another look at the 7mm-08. The 7mm-08 is an excellent caliber for shots under 300 yards and it might allow you to hunt a few different species of game than just deer.

I’m very happy with how this rifle turned out and I can’t wait for the day when I can share the experience of deer hunting with our daughter!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle