Sunday, April 12, 2009

First Handgun Black bear

I am by no means an expert bear hunter. So far I have only taken three black bear over bait with a handgun in the state of Maine. I remember the first time I went black bear hunting in the Pine Tree State. A friend of the family had been going to the Grand Lake Stream area of Maine to hunt with Master Guide Dave Tobey. One year Paul had invited me to go on a hunt during the first week. He knew that I would really enjoy that type of hunt and it would be a great opportunity to get a nice black bear.

I drove north to Grand Lake Stream and found Dave's home. Dave is a very quiet and sociable person. He is very good at what he does and we soon began to discuss what to do and what not to do. My main hunting gun would be the Thompson Center Contender with the Super 16 45-70 barrel attached to the frame. So far this barrel has become my favorite. I have taken deer and wild boar with this barrel with the possibility of taking a nice black bear with it. As a rule I hand load all of my ammunition but for this hunt I had used Federal factory ammunition. A 300 grain hollow point load that shot well out of my gun.
I learned a great deal about black bears while hunting that first year. Black bears have poor eyesight. This is more than compensated by their nose and hearing. They have padded feet thus they can shuffle through the woods rather silently. To go with the scent issue I made sure that my hunting clothes were as scent free as possible. I washed daily before the afternoon hunt in scent free soap and used scent killer spray. I did not use any bug repellent but covered my face with a thin layer of Vaseline. One of the dreaded creatures of the North woods is a gnat called the no see um. This minuscule virago is able to penetrate head nets and will leave a burning welt on your skin the size of a dime. Just thinking about them made me scratch my head. Another thing I learned is that when I went to the bait site I asked the guides assistant to walk me to the stand. You see the bear has learned that the baiter's scent means food. If I stepped in the same footsteps as the assistant then that would minimize the contact with the bait area . One of Dave's assistants is a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation in eastern Maine. As a rule, Curt did not speak much. He tended to keep his own counsel and I was told he didn't like too many people. For some reason, we hit it off.
The first night was spent on a bait site next to the tribal lands. It was quintessential Down east Maine woodlands. A bit of a mixed hardwoods but mostly softwoods consisting of spruce, hemlock and balsam. As I sat still as a statue I spotted something. Sure enough, it was a black bear. I didn't know what to make of it but the bear stood broadside to me about twenty yards away. I could have made an easy shot with the Contender but for some reason I didn't want to take the first thing I saw. Soon the bear ambled off without a clue that I was perched above him.After a while the sun began to set in the western sky. At dusk I saw two shapes. One large, the other rather small. It was a sow and her cub. I knew that in Maine it would be legal to take the bear but I don't want to leave an orphan. That cub would not survive and the next day I would find out more about bears and their behavior. That night I was excited about telling all the other hunters in camp of what I had witnessed. Dave agreed that the bear would show up again so I hunted the next day at the same site.
I was escorted by Curt to the site and climbed into the stand. As I sat there I contemplated many things. I think all hunters become very introspective. One of the joys of hunting is the solitude that one can obtain. I have commented that at times I feel closer to God in a tree stand or mountain top than in a Church. I know that may sound sacrilegious but I am sure others have had the same feeling. I am surrounded by the wonders of Creation.
Towards the afternoon I spotted the mother bear and her cub. They came out earlier. The cub would bobble through the woodlands following and staying close to her side. The little guy was a sight to behold. Then all of a sudden, the mother made a sound."Whoof." The little cub ran up a tree next to me. He was at eye level about ten feet away. At that instant the mother took off in a beeline. She moved so fast that there was a cloud of leaves and other forest detritus behind her as she took off. Then she ambled back. Soon she repeated that behavior again. She took off after something. I was looking around and still saw the little cub in the tree next to me. He seemed somewhat concerned and had a look of fear and confusion in his little black eyes. I peered off to the southeast and saw another bear. It was the bear I saw yesterday at about 4:00PM . It was a male bear of about two hundred pounds or so. One fact of bear biology and behavior is that male bears can be cannibalistic. They will kill and eat a cub so they can mate with the female again. I know it is harsh but that is the way nature works at times. I feel blessed in having witnessed such a show in nature. Many people go through their lives without seeing the workings of nature . Many get their natural experiences from a visit to the zoo or a nature program on television. That cannot compare to the real thing.
The next night was rather uneventful. It became hot and humid for that time of year. I was in another stand. I told Dave that I don't want to hunt in that spot. I can't tell the difference between the male and female and I will not shoot a bear with a cub. Self defense would be the exception. I think that impressed Dave and he put me on another stand that was close to the New Brunswick border.
That Thursday evening I went out with Curt and he dropped me off at this level site. The woodlands were very thick and near a stream shadowed by tall spruce and hemlock. I was facing west towards a bait in a small clearing. I climbed the wooden stand and sat still. I don't know how long it was but after a while I spotted a black bear. It was alone and there was nothing with it. I learned that a female with a cub will usually stick very close together. The little fur balls will be within twenty feet of their mother. This bear was alone and after several minutes had moved towards the bait. I raised the TC Contender and centered the cross hairs of the Burris 2x on the shoulder area. I slowly squeezed the trigger. It is hard to believe but time slows down when you take the shot. I could see the bear through the cross hairs as the shot went off . She dropped in her tracks. The Federal 300 grain hollow point did the job. I learned it was a dry female a few years old. She did not have a cub with her and there was evidence she was not nursing. I felt elated at my first bear. I attached my tag and then put a sprig of balsam in her mouth. I remember as a child listening to my father's friend who had hunted in Germany. He talked of the traditions that were ingrained in the hunting culture of that nation. One such was the last bite. A branch is placed in the mouth of a game animal taken and one would then sit and contemplate the life of that animal. It has always been a time for prayer. Whenever I had taken an animal I would say a short prayer of thanks. I waited until night fall and soon spotted the headlights of the Toyota pick up truck that Curt drove. He congratulated me on my first bear and we spoke of hunting and the traditions associated with it. He said that following his people's tradition he would burn some sweet grass or a smudge. I believe that there is a connection between hunters that transcends most other bonds.
At camp we skinned out the bear. We had weighed it at the check station and it went at 140 lbs. That is the average Maine black bear as far as weight is concerned. I was very happy and elated at the first bear. When I arrived home I made arrangements to have the head mounted. As I sit here there is a reminder of that first bear hunt in Maine in the den. This would not be my last trip to Maine for bear. The following year I would take my largest bear of my life , but that is another story.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dreams of Alaska

I remember the year I obtained my first full time teaching position. I was working with a husband and wife who taught at the same school I was in. Annie and Norman had some relatives in the state of Alaska. Annie had a brother who moved to Soldotna Alaska some time ago and there was a family reunion of sorts in the works. One of Annie's relatives, her Uncle Avigo, was very old and stated that he could not make the long flight to the Great Land. As I was behind my desk correcting papers on the roots of the War of Northern Aggression Annie approached me. She basically stated that I could take the place of her uncle and spend two and a half weeks in the Great Land for ...err... $250...flight included. How could anyone with a scrap of sanity pass that up? I immediately said yes and started to make some phone calls. I was about to live a dream come true.

Shooting the ROA...

This revolver holds a special place in my heart. I bought it a couple of years ago when I was teaching at a special education collaborative in central Massachusetts. I have read a great deal about the Ruger Old Army and wanted to own one . So on the way home I stopped at a gun shop in the area and spotted this behind the counter. It is a bicententennial model with the roll mark Made in the 200th year of Liberty across the top of the barrel. In addition, I bought some conical bullets and a small container of percussion caps. I did not shoot it for a while. The main reason was because I spent a great deal of time job hunting. There was a change in administration and many people who had been with the school did not have their teaching contracts renewed. Needless to say I was in the boat with those who would be looking for new venues of employment. That year was tough in plain English. Not to belabor the point but I was looking for a teaching position for several months. About the only good thing that came of it was that I had the whole fall off to hunt but that was about it. One of the things that was difficult was the mental anguish one feels when you are unemployed. You begin to feel as if you are useless and that the path you had undertaken in life was the wrong one. Well, that whole situation is worth a post of it's own.

It would be a few months before I actually got any range time with the Ruger Old Army. Here in Massachusetts it is difficult to obtain real black powder. There are only a couple of dealers that I know that sell black powder. Most sporting goods retailers sell substitute propellants such as Pyrodex and H777.

One of the things that I noticed right off was that this gun was built for shooting round balls. The front sight is low in profile and when I shot conical bullets they all appeared to hit six to seven inches high at twenty five yards. I knew that there would have to be some changes. Bear in mind that the rear sight was all the way down and could not be adjusted further. I bought some replacement blades but the bad thing is that no matter how hard I tried to put them in right there is a slight cant to the front sight. This will have to be remedied by a gunsmith.

At the range I shot some Buffalo Bore 190 grain conical bullets with a maximum charge of H777. The gun has some recoil and for a lack of a better term feels like a .357 or hot .38 . I did get some wonderful groups off the bench and adjusted the sights. My best group was less than two inches. A real feat. I figured that now it would be set and time for off hand practice.

One of the things that I have noticed with this gun is that you can shoot two to three cylinders before you have to clean the gun up a bit. After that you will get some misfires. They are quite discerning.

My next step is to create a field shooting kit for this gun. I want to buy or make a small leather pouch to contain some basic tools and enough components to reload three cylinders while out in the bush, so to speak. I'll let you know what I discover.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Cow Trick

This was an exciting time in my life. I had a summer full of travel over Alaska as well as much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West. Now the culmination of that first summer across the big river would be a guided hunt for pronghorn antelope in the state of New Mexico. This would be the first hunt "out West " for me. To make it more distinguished was the fact that I would be hunting with a single shot handgun. Most people who hunt this magnificent animal use a flat shooting rifle with a variable scope . This would be a challenging hunt not only for me but for the guide. I was a member of HHI and had read about pronghorn antelope hunting in many of the western states. I had made it a point to research and make some phone calls to fellow members as to who would they use for a guide. I came across a story about a guided hunt with Joe Jakab and his outfitting service,Point Blank Hunts. My guide, who is also a first class taxidermist, was Karl Brosig .

I had arrived the day before the August private land season for antelope was to open in New Mexico. We were scheduled to hunt in the northeastern portion of the Enchanted State near the town of Raton. I had driven down a long dirt road to the ranch once owned by a man named Crews Wells. The family had owned the ranch for generations but unfortunately lost it due to inheritance tax. I could understand how he felt as one of my student's family went through the same situation. They were land rich but money poor but the Infernal Revenue Service didn't see it that way. Anyways, I have a bad tendency to go off on a tangent like that with such things.

I met Karl and Nolan Henry the camp cook. Nolan was an interesting character. He was a retired USMC drill Sergeant who worked as the camp cook. He was a wonderful fellow to chat with and always had a good word about things in life. I helped them out set up the large army tents for the camp and then helped Nolan with his cook set. I believed that assistance helped out when I had some "technical difficulties" while trying to get within range of my pronghorn.

That night I slept soundly as the other hunters arrived in camp. The next day I was off to the other side of the ranch . The ranch was approximately 44,000 acres in size. To someone who lived in Massachusetts for one person to own such a piece of land was hard to comprehend . I was dropped off at one spot overlooking a large arroyo and a flat area. As I sat there I had some difficulty comprehending how to hunt these animals. The guide told me that the antelope would be traveling in front of me. Well, there was one that was more than traveling. It was running. These creatures don't exactly move too slow. This thing was clipping right along. They seem to have a natural gait when running. Their bodies remain at an even level while the legs gyrate into locomotion. Other game that I have seen seem to arch their backs when running. This animal seemed to naturally run. I realized that this was going to be tougher than I had imagined, especially with a single shot 30-06 handgun.To a life long New Englander the biggest shock was the openness of the terrain. I have shot deer at ten yards in my hunting career yet here I was in terrain that looked like this

The gun that I took with me out West is a semi custom made single shot called the Competitor. The Competitor uses a rotating breech like a howitzer cannon. You turn the large knob end clockwise to open the breech and drop the shell in . A turn counterclockwise closes and cocks the firearm. This handgun was very accurate. At the NRA's Whittington Center I shot a 2" group at 200 yards off a bench rest. Needless to say the gun would do the job. The bad thing was that the gun was less than reliable. I had a number of misfires. It seemed that I was getting light primer strikes and this would happen a number of times as I was taking aim at some wonderful antelope. I suspect that the striker lost a certain amount of energy as it made that U turn through the breech block.

After that first morning I got a tad antsy and decided to move around. I was on the edge of this large arroyo that was crescent shaped. It partially encircled this flat pan. On the other side were a group of antelope browsing the flat desert plain. I was amazed at their sense of vision. They spotted me from what I gathered to be one mile away. I could visualize this plain area as one square mile as I reside on a lake with a body of water approximately the same size. This was not going to be easy. I thought to myself that if I get down into the arroyo I may be able to sneak up within a certain range of them. Well, I got down and walked a ways. After a bit in the 100 degree sun I ran out of water. I had taken some with me but apparently not enough. I noticed I felt a tad light headed and figured I had better rest. After sitting for a while I spotted Karl's truck. He picked me up and we headed off with the rest of his hunter's for some lunch. He queried me as to how well I did. I told him what happened. I wondered if he questioned my wisdom in using a single shot handgun.

We then went out for the afternoon. I sat on the other end of the flat plain I was on after telling him what I had seen. I hate to say it but my only cover was a fence post. Again this openness was bugging me. Believe it or not I hunt behinds people's homes with a bow and arrow and they are unaware of it. There vegetation can conceal many things. Here there was no concealment to speak of. I knew that these animals had excellent eyesight and can discern movement very well. How would I be able to get within range of one of these animals? I did learn some things. I noticed that antelope run in small herds and that the males tend to be loners. The small herd would be led by a dominant doe. I watched one small herd run across the open flat I was in and stop . The lead female ran up to the fence and then ran a small circle around the herd. Then the whole herd seemed to follow her through this one opening.

That night we ate well. We exchanged stories and pleasantries. It seemed that my New England accent was a point of amusement for some. We retired for the evening. I sort of enjoyed sleeping in the large canvas tent on the arid plain of New Mexico. The next day came quickly.

We all awoke to a wonderful breakfast made by Nolan and then plans were made. I would be with a couple of people and a friend of his as a guide. We took off in his Suburban and then did some spot and stalk. To make a long story short I had some 'technical difficulties'. Remember how I stated that this single shot pistol had a cannon like breech. Well I got some misfires on antelope. I was upset and getting angry at the failure of the thing to fire on many occasions. I am not sure why but I blew some shots. I remember a nice stalk on a trophy antelope and then nothing. The gun malfunctioned again. I was ready to smash it.

That day I took some good natured ribbing and then we headed back to camp. That evening we experienced a large thunderstorm. In fact lightning struck nearby and killed two cattle about two hundred yards from the camp.

The next day we went off. I cleaned my gun and we were ready. This was the final day of the hunt and we planned to use the " cow trick". One of the great weaknesses of antelope is the gift of their acute vision. I surmise that there is a cost to such powerful vision. It must be with depth perception. You can take a plywood cut out of a cow and use it as a movable blind. Karl and I took the cut out and we were able to stalk within forty yards of this one large antelope. It was rough because we did a lot of knee crawling. One of the things I learned was that the ground is rocky, hard and does have some cactus. I did kneel on one nice big cactus that did not tickle.

Anyways. We did very well sneaking up on this animal as it grazed. I then used my ALICE pack stuffed with a sleeping bag as a rest. I put the cross hairs on the animal and took the shot. The 165 grain hand loaded Barnes X bullet took out the antelope. I was elated at the news as Karl watched it drop through the binoculars.We then retrieved my prize and headed to town where it would be processed.

That hunt took place many years ago but I can still close my eyes and see it happening now. Many times I wished I could relive that moment of stalking such a magnificent animal on the open terrain of the Great American West. Maybe I will be able to repeat that experience again. Time will tell.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Black powder handgun hunting.

Many years ago I was bitten by the handgun hunting bug. I became infatuated with hunting with this type of specialized equipment and hunted as much as I could with it, where legal. When I heard that Thompson Center was coming out with a special single shot muzzle loading handgun designed for hunting I was ecstatic. TC came out with their Scout carbine and handgun in the late 1980's with the intent to satisfy a niche market. These firearms were traditionally styled exposed hammer muzzle loaders but utilized an inline ignition. I bought a 54 caliber Scout and mounted a 2x Burris scope on the gun. I liked the feel of the gun and envisioned going on some special hunts with it but never got around to it. For one thing, the gun was not all that accurate for me. I tried all kinds of loads and to make it short, the gun did not shoot well. In addition the gun was a pain to disassemble and clean properly. At that time the only alternative powder was Pyrodex and you needed to clean it almost as soon as regular black powder. After a lot of frustration at the range and the pain cleaning the gun I sold it.

After a number of years I became aware of another specialty muzzleloading handgun being made. Gordon Kahnke of Redwood Falls Minnesota makes a unique muzzleloading rifle and pistol. The Model 82 handgun is similar to the Contender handgun in that you can change barrels to different calibers and lengths. Although their website will state a limited number of barrels, in reality Gordon will make a barrel of any length you want. I bought the muzzleloading handgun , a stainless 50 caliber with a 14" barrel, with the intention of hunting whitetailed deer and other game in northern New England.

The Kahnke M82 is one of the most accurate handguns I have ever owned and shot. It rivals the TC Contender in many ways regarding accuracy. The first time I hunted with the M82 was at a hunting preserve in Maine. I wanted to do some hunting at the end of the deer season but I really didn't want to drive down to Florida for wild boar. I did some net searches and discovered a preserve in northern Maine. Scott Beede is the owner and operator of Hillside Guide Service. In addition to being a guide for native Maine game he also owns a fenced in hunting preserve with several exotics residing in it. I know some people have mixed views on hunting in a preserve. My intention was to try out this handgun and to take home some meat. I knew it would not be as challenging as say stalking feral hogs in a Florida pasture but it wasn't like shooting fish in a barrel. I discovered that the wild boar at Scott's place hide in the hemlock swamps. As a rule they don't like to come out unless pressured by his dog.
I arrived late in the day and met Scott, his daughters and another young man who assisted him. I retired for the evening and slept soundly. The next day I arose to a rather chilly December morning. The temperature was in the single digits and I was glad I had prepared for the weather. I donned my Polar fleece outfit , boots and got my Kahnke M82 loaded and ready. I loaded up a 250 grain TC sabot with a 90 grain charge of H777. Later I chronographed this load at 1350 fps. So in effect I was shooting a 44 magnum.
We crossed the road to the enclosure. The area is a hemlock swamp interspersed with hardwoods and thickets for the game to live in. I was escorted to a box blind overlooking a feed station. I sat there for a couple of hours when I spotted Scott motioning me to come forth. His dog had pushed a wild boar through the area but it was in the hemlocks. He wanted me to have a crack at it.
I followed him through the snow and black growth . We stopped and soon I saw the familiar shape of the boar trotting through the woods. I took careful aim and followed as best as I could. The shot went off and the boar was hit but a bit far back. We had to chase the animal and then finish it off with my Ruger SRH in 454 Casull. My boar was down. The hunt lasted the morning but it was a fun hunt and I had some meat for the freezer. At that time Scott had a special price for the holidays. He had a discount for red deer hinds( those are the females) and I decided to add one to my freezer. I will not lie to you. That portion of the hunt wasn't a challenge at all. I spotted the hind in a pasture and she stood broadside at thirty yards. One shot to the heart and she ambled off for twenty yards and dropped dead. I can't add to that description because it was pretty much matter of fact. I look at it as a pure meat shot. Nothing more. Would I hunt red deer again? Most likely not. Wild boar. Well yes. The was some "hunt" to that hunt.
All in all I had a fun trip and may go again , but for wild boar alone. The other game, to me at least, didn't do much. It sort of sat there.
One of the neat things about the Kahnke is that Gordon can make a smoothbore 20 guage barrel so you can use bird shot. About a century ago Harrington and Richardson made a smoothbored single shot handgun in 410 bore and 28 gauge. It was called the Handi Gun and a number of people hunted small game with them. I know someone who legally owns this type of short barreled shotgun and has hunted with it. I like the concept but the fact remains that it is a class 2 weapon and needs the proper documentation and tax paid to the Treasury. There is a way around the concept, so to speak. Muzzleloaders are exempt, barring state laws, from the federal regulations on barrel length. So in effect you can own a legal handi gun. I called Gordon and asked him if he could make up a 16 " barrel with open sights. He agreed and after relatively short time, I received a package in the mail.
I did some patterning with the gun and centered the 1 ounce load of lead shot with a sixty grain charge of H777. I was ready for the Club's Annual Pheasant Hunt. Each October our sporting club hosts a pheasant hunt on the grounds. Birds are purchased and released on various portions of the property for members to hunt. I was walking with two other members down the old rifle range when we flushed a bird. It flew straight up. At that moment I was able to align the fiber optic sights and pull the trigger. A cloud of white smoke obscured the image of the bird but it was hit and fell in the thick brush. We did some searching and found the bird.
This unique handgun offers the handgun hunter a new opportunity to take on a greater challenge or to hunt the special muzzleloader seasons where allowed. Hopefully I will be able to experience more memories with this special gun.