Sunday, September 17, 2006

We're Back After A Pleasant Summer Recess

Gordie’s “silly season” began yesterday when he was asked to be one of the experienced hunters for young people attending a Pheasants Forever sponsored Youth Day at my release club very near Niagara Falls. Even though they know me, the PF people allowed me to handle Gordie anyway.

The temperature was just above 70 degrees, and the cover in the field we drew was knee to shoulder high. Thankfully a thick overcast kept temperatures from soaring. With mixed goldenrod and young redbush interspersed with the odd singleton oak or pine, the field offered a realistic but hot hunting experience for the kids. After the Mentor explained the ground rules which stressed safety, I gave a brief description of my 2 year old English Cocker, explaining how he hunted, what the kids could expect, and how I wanted the gun to work with me. After the customary teases from friends and hangers on – “Hey, Mister, where’s the other half of your dog?” – I hupped Gordie, removed his lead and cast him off.

For all of you who have had your dog teased because (s)he was a little different from what was expected – too small, too fat, too old, too slow, whatever – This One’s For You. Gordie swept the cover before us 12 yards right, then 24 yards across to the left, and so on as we windshield wipered our way up wind. When the bird took off rising slightly and just a bit skewed to the right of straight away, the young hunter did a very nice job identifying it as a rooster, making sure that both people and dog were clear of his shot, and fired the single round I’d given him.

I thought he’d missed as the bird glided down in heavy cover across the field at the edge of a wooded area. The gallery milled about, and we all jabbered a bit, trying to decide what had happened. I have not steadied Gordie, so I knew he was up ahead in the region where the bird landed. I was about to recall him when a fellow I trust said he was pretty sure the bird had dropped a leg, indicating a hit. So I held off on the whistle and gave it a moment’s thought.

I only had a moment before the goldenrod parted in front of us and a very hot, burred up Cocker presented me with a still flapping rooster. The oohs and aahs from the former non believers was more than adequate repayment for the teasing they’d given earlier.

We then swapped kids and began again. This youngster demonstrated remarkable restraint in not shooting at either the hen that PF likes to set just for the educational opportunity, or at the rooster that flew over the gallery. I was glad that he was shortly rewarded with a nice pair of roosters. Here’s a photo of father and son with smiles all around.

Today I sat with friends and watched the locals win their televised football game, then dressed around 3:45 pm and took Gordie back to the club to see if any of those birds just might have escaped yesterday. It seems that a lot more than a few were available. Gordie worked his first field nicely, and made a nice retrieve of the straight away hen I chopped off with the new Benelli Ultra Light. After a bit more work, I decided to work a field adjacent to our large pond so that Gordie could enjoy frequent cooling swims. It didn’t take long for Gordie to boost a rooster from some dense cover on the bank. It flew landward from the pond, offering me a right to left. I let the bird get out a bit and suddenly the Benelli was two for two. Gordie dropped his retrieve short and sat panting. So I picked up the bird, gave him some encouragement, water and rest. When we started again, I decided that I’d only take one more bird. Gordie would have to flush it such that it flew out over the pond, thereby giving him a chance for a coolly successful retrieve.

It was not hard silently to salute the first rooster that Gordie flushed over the cornfield into the forest. Nor the second and third. By the fourth and fifth, however, my discipline was fading like April snow on the morning Honey Wagon. So when Gordie nicely jumped a long tailed rooster that squawked up and off across the sun, my resolve was toast. When Gordie brought this bird all the way in, I loved him up, sent him into the pond, and unloaded. All in all, a nice two-day prelude to the season.

I bought the Benelli Ultra Light 12 ga autoloader at the end of June. This was my first experience “hunting” with it. I used the factory’s IC choke for the 3 shots out to 30 yards. I may pop in the Mod when snow knocks down the cover. But Gordie seems to work closely enough that I can use IC with great comfort. I was using the rather beefy Remington Shur Shot Heavy Field load. This is a 3.25 dram, 1.25 oz. Load, in this case of #7.5 lead. The “longitudinal” recoil into the butt pad was insignificant. There was a bit of jump in the butt stock which massaged my schnozz with my thumb. The 3 dram 1 oz. loads I intend to use in this arm for ruffed grouse will behave just fine.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cheering Family Celebration Par For The Course At The AuSable Club

The AuSable Club was pretty much a mystery to us. Years before, we had parked near there for a scoot up Giant. Other bits of lore gleaned from fellow travelers and from Adirondack-themed magazine articles teased us with visions as sweet as Christmas sugar plums. But we had never been actual guests there.

Leave it to The Kids to help us scratch that itch. One of my wife’s younger twin brothers was engaged to a lovely young lady who also had strong Adirondack ties. The photo below shows all three in August, 1995. They decided they’d somehow get us all invited to the AuSable Club where we could relax and celebrate their wedding in memorable Adirondack style. We were pleased to hear their intentions, and did much polite head bobbing and um-umming. But we privately held off just a bit on packing our hiking boots and flannel shirts until such time as their intentions became a date on an engraved invitation.

Not to have worried. And so we found ourselves driving east on a rainy Thursday afternoon in June, 2000, hoping the weather might improve by the time the outdoor ceremony began on Saturday. But from the moment we turned off Hwy 73 and headed up the St. Hubert’s Road, we experienced a remarkable turn of weather events: the sun came out, brilliantly, and didn’t hide until we were on our way back home after breakfast Sunday morning. The preacher reckoned that if the kids could talk their way into the AuSable Club for their wedding, then schmoozing the Big Guy for a little nice weather was a cinch.

If the weather was a pleasant surprise, our initial view of the main building was a genuine jaw-dropping eye popper. This was going to be nice. Entering the building through the venerable doors on the lengthy covered porch, our blood pressure dropped by about 100 years. Inside, the pleasant staff informed us that we had the Club to ourselves for the entire weekend. Already tickled by that information, we asked about greensfees. “There is no charge for the course. Enjoy yourselves!” This was going to be very nice.

The course is a 9 hole affair with smallish greens and largish changes in altitude, design features common in “mountain golf courses.” Although surrounded by “the Forest Preserve,” the fairways were in general liberal and not nearly so severely tree lined as, for example, the course at Inlet or some of the back 9 holes at Craig Wood and Thendara. But the dramatic views and the “Holy Cow! We’ve got it all to ourselves!” nature of our visit made the golf uniquely delectable.

Eight of us played on Friday afternoon, with an encore on Saturday morning. There were several pars, a birdie or two, and a whole sackful of ooohs and aaahs. The surrounding high peaks framed most shots, already visually interesting to the golfer, in rich tones of green, gold and black. For those 18 holes, we older folks in the party had the rare joy of having it “as good as it gets,” and knowing it.

In a broader sense, the enduring charm of the weekend is borne of the inspiring scenery, the well-worn-in comforts of the clubhouse, the challenging golf, and the warm mix of family and friends all intersecting synergistically as we bore witness to our friends' celebration. That, and the bittersweet knowledge that, like the fellow fly fishing in Heraclitus' river, we will not be able to enjoy that enchanted weekend again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rowing an Adirondack Classic

The invitingly remote waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Ontario’s Quetico Park provided the classroom in which I enjoyed my earliest canoe instruction. In the summer of 1965, the instructors at the Minnesota Outward Bound School used J- and draw strokes along with portages and woodcraft skills as sternly physical vehicles to deliver lessons of self discovery to us teenage boys.

Ten years later, I “discovered” recreational canoeing in the Adirondacks. With the exception of calling portages “carries,” New Yorkers enjoyed paddling a forest-framed mosaic of darkly beautiful and wild waterways much as did their Minnesota counterparts. Paddling within the “Blue Line” also offered occasional views of high peaks and a heightened sense of pride in my home state’s natural beauty as added perks.

By 1990, I was cheerily married to a wonderful North Country girl with whom I’d dabbled in several types of canoes and a pair of kayaks. I suspect that modern building materials and technologies were beginning to trickle into the recreational boat building market then, as we began to see advertisements for wood-and-laminate versions of the classic Adirondack Guide Boat. Intrigued, we arranged to try one on the water. When we met a retailer at a small pond nearby, he had already set his boat in a few inches of water on a gently sloping sandy beach. We waded in, hopped aboard, and spent ten delightful minutes putting the nimble craft through a series of tight turns and arrow-straight sprints. By the time we had driven home, we were committed to a custom order.

We were excited when we picked up our black and green boat in the spring of 1991. Our initial surprise – and viewed against our experience with canoes, it was a disappointing surprise – was the boat’s ungainly fit as a car topper. Our canoes had been generally lighter; less beamy amidships; and shaped more like a cigar than a football. As a result, I found the guide boat somewhat unwieldy and was unable to load the boat onto the car without a helper. Once up on the rack, we discovered that the guide boat had much more rocker, or curve, than our canoes. This design feature compromised visibility through both the forward and rear view glass of our SUV.

Over the summer, we developed solutions to these new challenges on shakedown trips to the water. The good looking boat never failed to draw questions and positive comments from curious onlookers. The photos here were taken in August, 1991 on Indian Lake in Hamilton County. The lead photo clearly shows two features of guide boat design. The oars are "pinned" so that the guide could release one or both to take care of other business - presumably his sport's - without losing the ability to positively and effortlessly reacquire them. The cross over of the guide's hands at the completion of the stroke is also readily seen. In the bottom photo, yet another feature can be seen in the delicate taper of the oar's shaft from just below the pin down to the top of the blade. The relatively long, squared "handle" section of the oar from the pin to the grip, in combination with the tapered shaft, gave the rower great mechanical advantage while simultaneously providing a slight "shock absorber" effect in the narrow flex-and-release portion of the shaft. This combined benefit more than compensated the guide for learning to row using the cross-over finish.

The third photo also gives some impression of the rocker built into the hull.

Although rowing is arguably a more efficient action than paddling, it comes with this cost: it's much easier for the rower to see where he's been than where he's going. Since I used the boat only for personal recreation - frequently solo recreation - I ultimately found the one-two punch of problematic car topping and reverse visibility sufficient to knock me out of guide boating. In 1994 I traded it for a Kevlar hulled, cane seated canoe. Even so, if I ever were to own a lake-front Adirondack camp where I could leave the boat near the water and use it whenever my wife or guest felt so inclined, I would definitely consider another purchase. For me, the lovely boats, a good companion and Adirondack flat water belong as synergistically close together as pancakes, blueberries and maple syrup.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Carry a Pumpgun while you're Learning to Hunt

Young people enjoy joining their families for a day spent hunting. Nothing says a youngster's "grown up" quite like his - or her - being allowed to carry a gun afield. And getting to take a shot when the hunt goes well is an extra special bonus.

Adults enjoy hunting with their youngsters, too, and realize that kids who are safety conscious contribute greatly to a pleasurable day afield. Here's a tip that not only assures a youngster's safe carry of his shotgun, but also improves his gun handling skills and provides a stage for him to demonstrate sound decision making afield.

I think a young hunter is really well served by carrying a pump gun as he or she learns the game. Guns built for smaller shooters are readily available, and they're almost always lighter in weight and much less expensive than semi automatics or over/ under doubles. And pumps offer a neat loading configuration that yields them visibly safe to other hunters in the party while still being instantly ready to activate for firing. I was taught this technique when I learned about small game hunting, chasing rabbits before beagles many years ago. I was told to load two shells by inserting both into the magazine and none in the chamber. Whenever possible, I also was to leave the action visibly open. The open action part is a whole lot easier to do when the gun is at rest.

By keeping the chamber empty, the gun remains safe. The novice hunter gets the opportunity to decide when a shot is imminent, and then (s)he can arm the pump and enjoy that satisfying "snick" of the action in the process. I think this is a terrific technique for keeping the gun safe until the appropriate time, and for encouraging the novice to understand that the time spent shooting is only a small part of the total time spent afield.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Is a professional fitting with a "try gun" for you?

Gun Fit Basics

Ever notice that shotgun writers are forever obsessing about "fit" while you may never find that word referenced in writing about rifles? A rifle that shoots high or low, left or right can readily have its impact point corrected by moving the rear sight. Since there is no physical sight on an upland shotgun, it has to be invented by placing the dominant eye - that's the right eye for me and other right handed shooters, and I'll stick to that frame of reference here - consistently over the centerline of the gun's barrel or barrels, and consistently at just the right height. Experienced shotgunners can accomplish this by fine tuning their guns' length of pull, drop, cast and pitch.

Before I talk just a little about these four variables, let me emphasize the importance of the term "experienced." If you're a newer shotgunner and haven't considered, practiced and grooved the moves you make when mounting your gun in acquiring a moving target, then your lack of consistency in locating your dominant eye means that you, as yet, have no "perfect fit." Save your money, but spend your time grooving a good mount.

Getting back to those four gun fit variables, let's first collocate them by stating, perhaps obviously, that they all relate to the size and shape of the butt stock, traditionally the piece of wood held in the right hand. Length of pull is the distance from the trigger to the back of the butt. For the other three, let's first imagine shoving a broom stick down and, in our imaginations, through the back end of the gun's barrel or barrels. The drop of the stock measures its distance below the extended broom handle; the cast of the stock measures its distance right or left of the extended broom handle; and the pitch of the stock measures the angle - usually close to 90° - made between the extended broom handle and the line made when the sawyer cut the butt's rear end off.

A "try gun" as shown in the lead graphic is a simple break action gun that the customer is made to shoot at fixed and moving targets. The fitter notes the impact point of the shot cluster when the customer believes he has "centered one," and, through a series of adjustable joints, configures the physical dimensions of the butt stock to place the dominant eye right in the sweet spot. When this is achieved, the gun will shoot, in fact, "right where the shooter is looking," and the gun will be said to "fit."

What The Try Gun Doesn't Tell You

An experienced shotgunner can expect measurements for all four variables, accurate to about 1/8", from his "professional fitting." In 2006, this most likely costs somewhere in three figures. If the cost doesn't make you blink, good for you; but it's far from the worst of the news. First of all, there is no Grand Poobah of Gun Fitting who has set out The Standard And Immutable Table of Values for fellows of your size and shape. This means that your measurements from a fitter in Portland, ME, accurate to 1/8", might in no way match similarly "accurate" measurements from another fitter in Portland, OR.

Worse yet is what can happen after you actually - finally! - get "your perfect measurements." You know these measurements are sweet because of the way you effortlessly smash your targets as they pass left and right. But, as time marches on, your wondrously fitting gun becomes erratic, and seems to experience success rates as variable as the weather. What has happened? Part of the problem is, in fact, the weather. You were wearing, well, whatever you were wearing when the fitter measured you. When you're out shooting on days hotter or colder or wetter than the fitter's studio, you change your inner and outer wear accordingly, effectively making you larger or smaller than the fellow who paid for the fitting. With the addition of a garment a bit bulky here, a tad stiff there, your perfect fit has gone down the drain. The other part of the problem sometimes comes with the passage of time. You lose weight - ha! - or gain weight, in your face, or chest, or variously; or your neck loses some of that youthful flexibility. The result is a needed change in one or more of the formerly "perfect measurements." Or, if you are fortunate and nothing changes but your preferences, you may decide that you need to replace the butt plate with a recoil pad, or that you just must have one of those little leather "pot holders" that the Brits slip over the fore end of their pricey side by sides. This, too, can hurt fit, specially if it had been pretty good to begin with.

So there you have it. A shooter shouldn't even consider a gun fitting until he has begun to groove a decent mounting move. Once he has, the fitter he chooses - and don't get me wrong, there are some good fellows doing this - will not even have had an opportunity to become licensed in his profession. Finally, once a shooter "gets his numbers right," it's unlikely they'll stay the same over a 25 year shooting career. Sort of takes some of the magic from the ads promising you a "perfect fit" through a try gun fitting, eh?

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

What should you do? Many shooters buy, sell, trade, borrow and sample several guns over their shooting careers. When I say "several," that's what we tell our wives, if you follow. In this course of transactions, we occasionally find that a particular gun is very dependable in a certain regime of shooting. We either kill 35 yard ducks stone dead with it in our cold weather gear; or hammer woodcock in the pleasant weather of October; or maybe score consistently well on clays during the off season. Here is the mistake we too often make. One bad day - sometimes even one bad miss - sours us on that gun, and we make haste to get it out of our safe pronto. Don't do it!! It says here that a shooter's safe is best filled with several proven "niche" guns of whatever price, configuration and dimension, acquired after the shooter has begun to develop a sound mounting move. And don't even think about finding that one magical gun that "does it all;" it's mythical, not magical, most likely the peevish concoction of some seasoned bride with one too many dogs to feed and all too few party dresses.

"A Great Collection: Guns That Deliver On Your Favorite Game"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hitting The South End Of A High Pheasant Flying North

Coveys of "Gentleman Bob" obligingly held tight in front of southern pointing dogs before a hunter's boot sent them buzzing off the ground like a feathered explosion. And northern gunners still catch their hearts in their throats when a ruffed grouse thunders up out of the gnarlies and rockets his way toward safety beyond leafy cover. Whether he chooses to hunt with one of the pointing breeds, a flushing dog or even dogless, the upland hunter is routinely presented with a classic rising shot.

Since the rising bird is such a common shot, the technique for shooting it is very important. There is even a shooting game dedicated to this shot. Trap, the most popular shooting sport in America, is designed solely around shots at rising outbound birds from random angles. Guns set up for trap shooting typically incorporate some simple design features so they remember that the target is rising even if the shooter forgets.

Figure (1) shows a typical example of the shot at a rising bird. As the bird comes into view at A, the gunner begins his mount and the muzzle rotates up and through the bird, taking it just beyond B.

Figure (1)

Every now and then, though, the technique for shooting rising game can really hurt your score afield. I'm talking, in particular, about those birds that have already gotten up a head of steam - maybe they were put up by your friend or his dog - and are now flying straight and level away from you. As you see the pheasant's tail heading away pronto, you rotate your 12 gauge up and through the bird and slap the trigger. Instead of a spray of feathers, you just see that rooster heading over the horizon. What happened?

A quick peek at figure (2) shows what the gunner must do with this shot, as counter as it might be to what we've learned from birds flushed from the ground. As the bird heads straight away at A, the gunner has to make his mounting move and then slip his muzzle below the bird, not up and through it. The hunter will not want to obstruct his view of his target by elevating the muzzle above the bird and then rotating down. An alternative technique might be to insert the muzzle on the bird's belly and then just "ease off" a bit, taking the bird a bit beyond B.

Figure (2)

Next time a bird has a flying start on you and sails by like an outbound express, remember the diagrams you saw here. They're not as complicated as the ones that confused you in high school geometry, and they may help you add a bird or two to your bag.