How Much Should I Pay for a Scope?

Modern scopes are fog-proof, recoil-proof with brilliant coated lenses, positive adjustments. Enough! (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

By Wayne Van Zwoll

Accuracy follows precise aim. But useless features are a money pit. Maybe you should spend less!

Many of the biggest animals in B&C records fell to rifles with iron sights. Jim Jordan’s whitetail. John Plute’s elk. Zack Elbow’s Quebec-Labrador caribou, Ed Broder’s mule deer. You might say hunters these days have more competition for fewer outstanding animals, that shorter seasons and limited permits reduce the number of chances you’ll get, even at great distance.

Optical sights help you make the most of each shot, and score at long range. But spending more money on a scope doesn’t guarantee you more effective shooting.

This SIG has features now common: illuminated reticle, parallax dial, finger-friendly elevation dial. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

When I began ogling scopes, Weaver cataloged its K4 at $45. Like Bausch & Lombs, Leupolds, Lymans and Redfields then, K4s were fog-proof, with coated lenses – improvements that made post-1948 scopes much better than earlier versions. I still like the 4x sights of that era.

Now scopes have more features. Variable power is up from 3-times magnification (bottom power to top, as in 3-9x) to 4-, 5- and 6-times ranges. You can order range-compensating reticles, illuminated to various levels of brightness with motion-activated shut-off. A turret dial can focus the target and eliminate parallax error. Trajectory-matched elevation dials let you spin to the distance and hold center. Eyepieces on helical threads refine reticle focus instantly.

Complex even in their basic forms, scopes are now packed with features that substantially hike cost. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Prices have ridden that wave of refinements. Top-end scopes now list for $3,000, even $4,000! OK. Side-stepping the most expensive sights from Germany and Austria, you’ll find plenty at $1,500 to $2,500, like Eotech’s 3-18×50 Vudu ($1,799), Leupold’s 3-18×50 VX-6HD ($2,210) and Meopta’s 3-12×50 RD ($2,530). Bump down to around $1,000, and you can get a Nikon Monarch 7 4-16x50SF or a Vortex Razor HD 3-15×42 for $1,100, a Burris Veracity 3-15×50 for $839.

But wait! Hardly anyone pays MSRP prices for scopes! That $1,100 Vortex Razor HD costs just $900 from one on-line source, the Burris Veracity $700. Figure comparable savings on other models. The biggest bargain may be in 3-9x40s, whose useful magnification range makes them exceedingly popular. Every scope maker I can think of lists a 3-9×40, and price competition is fierce. A Burris Fullfield E1 lists for just $329, and sells for as little as $190 – less than a Leupold 4x. And it gets excellent reviews!

For hunting, stick to essentials in mid-priced scopes. Here Wayne used Leupold’s fine 3-9x Vari-X II. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Before springing for the latest, most sophisticated scopes, think of what you’ll use, also what you can do without. A 30mm tube permits more erector tube movement in the scope, increasing windage and elevation adjustment range. Or, if oversize, yields a slightly sharper, brighter image. But you’ll probably never tap additional W/E range, or detect disparities in images due to erector size. A fast-focus eyepiece is hardly a bonus, because after the reticle is sharp to your eye, you won’t adjust the eyepiece again until age alters your vision! A left-side turret dial serves at high magnification to sharpen the target image. It’s not so useful at 4x. And parallax is a mute issue if you aim through the scope’s center. I’ve occasionally found a lighted reticle useful. But black seldom costs you a shot, even in dim conditions. Broad power ranges leave me cold because all but two of the big game animals I’ve shot could have been handily taken with a 3-9x scope. Arc-matched elevation dials do make a long poke easier. But your .30-06 zeroed with pointed bullets at 200 yards hits at 400 with around 20 inches of holdover – which you should be able to estimate. Ordinarily, marksmanship becomes a limiting factor well before dial changes become necessary.

Heavy, costly, large-diameter scopes require beefy, expensive, tall rings. What will you get in return? (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Powerful glass with a full suite of features not only imposes higher cost; it adds weight and bulk. The K4 and kin scale about 9 ounces. Many variable scopes weigh double that.

Trajectory-matched elevation dials help you hit quickly at very long range. But not inside 400 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Some exceed 2 pounds, as the 1-inch tube has given way to the 30mm, and now the 34-mm and, yes, 36mm! Heavy scopes demand stout rings to fight inertia on hard-kicking rifles. Tubes with objectives larger than 42mm require medium or high rings. Big sights high above the bore make a rifle top-heavy and impair handling. Ironically, many of these scopes afford you little free tube, limiting options for ring placement.

I prefer scopes that scale no more than 15 percent of the rifle’s weight. A 7-pound rifle will thus bear, at most, a 16-ounce scope.

You needn’t give up variable power to get a slender, lightweight scope that helps you shoot faster and more accurately than hunters once did with iron sights. Keep useless features to a minimum, and that optic won’t take your last nickel.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Zelus Insoles – Breathing Life into my Hunting Boots

By Rob Endsley

I’ve spent countless time shopping for a new mid-elevation hunting boot and have yet to come up with a more comfortable boot than my Danner Pronghorns. My feet are accustomed to them and I’ve logged hundred’s of miles in these boots with very few blisters. Instead of spending money on a new set of treads I opted to breath a little life into my Danners by swapping out the old insoles with advanced Olympus insoles from Zelus.

Zelus insoles offer impact reduction, superb arch support, and a cushioned yet springy feel from the Smart Cell technology that acts as the foundation of these insoles.

The nice thing about these insoles is that I could trim them to fit into my boots without the risk of bursting an air bladder or damaging the integrity of the insole. With a little trimming around the edges with some scissors they fit perfectly into my Pronghorns.

I tested Zelus insoles over the course of three grueling mule deer hunts this fall in Washington, Nevada, and Montana. All three hunts involved extremely steep terrain, countless miles of hiking, and heavy packouts. I never really kept track but I’m guessing the mileage total of all three hunts at around 50 to 75 miles.

The insoles didn’t suffer any compression issues and they felt much the same on my last day of hunting as they did the first day I used them. On one brutal packout I hauled 120 pounds of meat and equipment for four and a half miles over steep, broken terrain and didn’t even get the hint of a blister. The photo below is what the Smart Cells look like on my Olympus insoles after all this abuse. They look exactly the same as the day I slid them into my boots.

Hunting is my passion and I’ll do just about anything to get a few more years of mountain time out of my legs. I could definitely feel the difference these Zelus insoles made this fall and I’m looking forward to more advancements from this great company based right here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Here’s a discount code that will get you 25% off your Zelus insoles for this holiday season!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle  

 

Rodakowski’s Tips for Taking a Westside Blacktail

Dubbed the “grey ghost” blacktail have earned the reputation as one of the toughest big game species to hunt in the world. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

There are only a few magical days a season when mature blacktail show themselves during daylight hours and if you plan on having some success you need to make sure you are in the woods when these days happen. Every year people ask me what it takes to harvest a mature blacktail and why are some folks successful while others are not. Simply answered, you need to be out there with the deer when they are active and that peak activity usually occurs in late October through the month of November when the rut occurs. The rest of the time they are extremely nocturnal and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of them during daylight hours.

September blacktails rub their velvet and transition to a more nocturnal pattern. (Troy Rodakowski)

The first cold snap of the season usually hits during the month of October and makes fo
some great hunting. By then the rain has dampened the forest floor and made for some very quiet hiking enabling hunters to sneak to tree stands, ground blinds, and elevated vantage points. Of course, finding trophy deer is not easy but with does beginning to come into estrus bucks will be more visible during daylight hours especially first thing in the morning and just before dark. During these times you’ll want to meticulously scan the densest cover with optics before giving up on a good looking location. The bottom line is
that blacktail relish the thickest cover and they tunnel and weave themselves through it which enables them to go nearly undetected for much of their lives. As a hunter you need to put yourself in the cover or very near it to be successful. The biggest of blacktail won’t be too far from the edge of a field or clear cut and you want to take your time glassing these areas

The Coast Range: Deer on the coast typically have smaller racks due to genetics, thick cover, and slightly less nutrients in their feed. There are exceptions to this rule though and larger deer can be found near old burns and logged locations that have opened up the canopies. These areas can produce some real monsters that score well into the 130 to 140 class. Hunters need to spend time near the perimeters of likely locations like this that have the lowest human activity. Tree stands or elevated locations that allow hunters to watch the thickest cover around these cuts can provide some excellent opportunities at bigger bucks. Large bucks often spend the majority of their time in thick cover and seldom step out into the center of the cuts in broad daylight. You can sometimes coax them out with fawn and doe bleats but make sure to use them sparingly. These calls can spike their curiosity and entice them to pop their heads out of the dense cover.

Public land hunting is becoming more difficult. However, finding road systems closed to motorized travel will help put you on deer. (Troy Rodakowski)

Valley Deer: Lowland blacktail thrive in small patches of woods near rivers and agricultural grounds. Access can be difficult though because most of these lands are private. If you can gain access to some of this ground, however, you might be surprised by how many blacktails roam these lowland areas. Deer numbers have slowly grown in many lowland locations and numerous farmers and private landowners have seen increased blacktail traffic and agricultural damage from the increase in population. Establishing good relationships with multiple landowners is essential in order to find trophy deer in these locations. Due to increased human activity deer here frequently move under the cover of darkness even more so than in the coastal clear cuts. Finding a place to hunt that’s close to home will be of great benefit for scouting and the number of hours that you are able to spend in the field picking apart these areas to pattern the deer. Binoculars and spotting scopes are a great tool here because of how open most of these farmlands are and you can increase your odds by scouting the cover in the intersecting areas between agricultural tracts. These lowland blacktails behave much like whitetails in the midwest. Hunt them like you would an ag-land whitetail and you’ll be in the game.

Rub lines and areas with multiple rubs are sure signs that a blacktail buck is in the area. Focusing on these places will tip the scale in your favor. (T. Rodakowski)

Deer in these areas will usually feed into the edges of agricultural fields at twilight and dusk. Plan to be in the field and set up before dark in the morning and an hour or two before dusk in the afternoon. Ground blinds and tree stand can be the ticket once a buck is patterned or a good field is located with a lot of deer activity. I have seen deer exhibiting rut activity in mid to late October or even earlier and I definitely hit the field early every year to get a handle of what the blacktails are up to. I’ve also seen a good number of bucks chasing does well into the month of December. Fellow blacktail hunter and ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer from the Springfield ODFW office prefers hunting when the bucks are most active during the pre-rut. “I have observed the most buck activity during the pre-rut in late October and early November when deer are chasing each other around,“ says Wolfer.

On dry years animals will gravitate to local water sources near irrigation ditches, slough bottoms, and ponds near river systems. Seasons with higher rainfall and early fall rains seem to encourage deer to rut much sooner and will also become extended into early December. Heavy rains will also push deer out of slough bottoms as they begin to fill with water. “We have been trying to get a better idea on migration and movements from collaring and collecting harvest data over the last few years,” adds Wolfer. Even though state game officials are learning more and more about blacktails these deer continue to remind us how mysterious and illusive they are.

Checking for fresh sign and focusing on those locations will put a hunter one step closer to harvesting a deer. (Bill Wellette)

Cascade Blacktail: Snowfall at higher elevations will push deer into migratory mode and with the rut progressively ramping up bucks will continue to breed does on the move. Deer here will travel greater distances in comparison to others at lower elevations. Snowline hunting is the norm for many late season hunters as numerous deer will drop in elevation with accumulating snow. Even though the snows usually push them down I’m amazed every year at trail cam footage and reports of large bucks taken in several inches of snow. There are some larger, mature blacktails that are much slower to migrate and can be found at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 ft. through much of November. If you can be in the field in late October or mid-November when there’s snow on the ground the odds go up dramatically.

Once the weather changes deer will begin to migrate. The author took this buck on a late season hunt. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finding migration routes is helpful for high country blacktail but in the lowlands finding isolated hidey holes for these deer is the key and many hunters have had success, calling, rattling and hunting from tree stands in these lower areas. Bucks at higher elevation are quite difficult to pattern because they are on the move, especially late in the season as the weather and rut greatly affect their habitual patterns.

If you plan on hunting the general firearm season this year I highly recommend getting out there and doing your homework early to see where a buck might be hanging out. Chances are he’s not going to go far and if you’re in the field when rut activity starts ramping up he might give you an opportunity during shooting hours.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Scout Now for Fall’s Hunts!

by Jason Brooks

With special permit draws being announced hunting season is starting to feel a little bit closer. If you drew your “dream tag” or struck out once again now is the time to start your scouting. If you attended my seminar last April then you heard me talk about other resources to help with your scouting, if you missed the seminar then keep reading as I highlight some of the details. A record snowpack means that you might not be able to put “boots on the ground” to find your big buck or bull this fall for a few more weeks or even a month but you can start your scouting right now!

Finding bucks in the summertime helps find them again in the Fall-Jason Brooks

Start with your state’s Fish and Game website and their hunt planning tools. For Washington it is the “Go Hunt” feature at the WDFW Hunting Tab. On this planner you can find public lands, private lands that allows access, integrated maps with satellite photos, roads, unit boundaries and harvest data.

WDFW Go Hunt allows you to find maps of your unit as well as harvest data-Jason Brooks

Once you have your unit figured out then it is time to start thinking about other places for information. Websites such as Hunting WashingtonEastman’s Hunting , Muley Madness, and other sites offer articles and even forums where hunters give up information. You can also contact members and ask them directly about their experiences, especially for the hard-to-draw tags.

The SNOTEL website lets you know how much snow is still in the high country-Jason Brooks

As you start to narrow down your areas search maps and topography websites such as “Google Earth”. You can also find other maps and data about your area from government websites such as the SNOTEL site that gives you up-to-date snow depth information. This will let you know when you can actually head to your unit and do some physical scouting of the ridges, mountains, draws, and drainages you want to hunt.

Google Earth shows you topography as well as other features such as lakes, open slopes, and ridges-Jason Brooks

Other websites that provide information are ones that non-hunters frequent and provide trail reports for such as Washington Trails AssociationWilderness.net and wildland fire data at National Interagency Fire Center.

Before you head to your unit make sure to check the local forest service website if you are hunting the national forest. This will list road conditions and closures, trail conditions, planned projects such as construction or prescribed burns, and other information including ATV use.

National Interagency Fire Center provides up-to-date fire maps and information-Jason Brooks

Now that you know if your hunting the yearly “deer camp” or are heading to a new unit and a dream hunt it is time to start scouting. Between weekend trips keep up to date with various websites and maps. Learn the area and talk to those that are familiar with the unit such as biologist, guides, and other hunters. Just remember to share information as well when asked.

Kyle Hurst knows scouting pays off and helped him harvest this mule deer during a general season-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Deer Cartridges – A Trio at the Top

by Wayne Vanzwoll

Name three fine deer cartridges? Easy! Name only three? Oh. That’s really, really hard!

Wayne shot his first deer with a SMLE in .303 British. He still hunts with the round, here in a Ruger. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

The deer was loping through Michigan poplars when a bullet from my $30 SMLE broke its neck. My first whitetail. The .303 British, now 130 years old, still works fine for deer. It has surely killed more Canadian moose than any other cartridge. It has downed elephants.

A pointed .303 British bullet outruns flat-points from the .30-30 and .32 Special popular in lever-action rifles for most of the 20th century. So do modern softpoints from the 6.5×55 and 7×57, also infantry rounds pre-dating the Great War. Fine deer cartridges, all.

Dating to 1892, the 7×57 with modern pointed bullets is a fine deer round. It gave Wayne this muley. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

But at its debut in 1925 the .270 Winchester started hunters on a different track. Since then, bolt-action deer rifles have chambered ever-friskier rounds, with flatter arcs and more punch.

The .270, introduced by Winchester in 1925, set hunters on a faster-is-better kick. Scopes contributed. (Wayne Vanzwoll)

Now the deer-cartridge bin bulges with options. The 7mm and 30-caliber magnums, while useful for bigger game, strike me as excessive. Like sending Junior to college in a $50,000 pickup. You needn’t have my blessing to hunt with a hotrod cartridge or spring for a new F-250. But I’ll stick with milder deer loads – say, those firing 100- to 140-grain bullets at 2,650 to 3,150 fps from bolt rifles with 6mm to 7mm bores. Specifically: the .243 and 6mm, the .257 Roberts and .25-06, the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×55 and .260 Remington, the .270, 7mm-08 and 7×57. Add the .300 Savage and .308 with 150-grain missiles to make it an even dozen. How can I include the .270 and not the .280? You’re right; they’re too similar. A baker’s dozen, now, these are easy to shoot, and with proper bullets deadly even on quartering shots to 300 yards.

But what about the .30-06, long America’s darling and arguably its most versatile round? Well, arbitrary lines must fall somewhere. The ’06 is a notch up in power and recoil from the .308, which itself has more punch than plaid-clad riflemen a century ago could have imagined using on deer.

Top trio? Perhaps the three 6.5s, ballistically very close. The .260 and the 6.5 Creedmoor work in short actions, the Swede not so much. The Creedmoor trumps the .260 for efficiency and paired with long bullets. But these are academic differences.

The .260 Remington, a necked-down .308, shoots flat, recoils gently, kills deer past 300 yards. Bravo! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

If you like lever rifles, sifting cartridges became harder after Hornady introduced LeverEvolution ammo. It sends spitzer bullets fast from hulls long shackled by flatpoints, almost doubling effective reach. Last fall I shot a buck at 80 yards with a .25-35 rifle predating women’s suffrage. The 110-grain Hornady carried 1,200 ft-lbs at impact – three times the energy of a .25-20 at the muzzle. You’ll recall it was a .25-20 that in 1914 killed the Jordan buck, a gigantic whitetail that topped Boone & Crockett lists until 1993.

The .308 with 150-grain bullets makes Wayne’s list. It creates wound cavities once hard to imagine! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

Favorite deer cartridges are like favorite songs, or favorite dogs. Your top picks depend largely on what you expect of them. I prefer to hunt close, increasingly with iron sights. Given a 100-yard limit imposed by cover or irons, a .25-35 makes sense. It’s about as light a cartridge as I’ll use. A humane kill matters to me, and not every buck is a ribcage awaiting a bullet from the side. I had to fire again to kill the deer I hit (obliquely) with the .25-35.

My favorite deer loads? Whatever’s in the chamber when my rifle comes to cheek, and the brass bead or the crosswire finds a forward rib.

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

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

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

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