Hard Effort and Elk Hunting

As hunters, we seem to revel in the challenge and frequent suffering that accompanies the efforts of hunting. I believe this comes from deep in our DNA handed down from our ancestry, from generations of exceptionally hard people that lived on the edge of survival. Pushing ourselves to that same absolute edge of our abilities during a hunt seems to tap into the very root of our hunting heritage, and the feeling intensifies the closer we get to the edge of danger and complete collapse.

I was lucky enough to refine this discourse with a partner during one of my most recent hunts. Hard labor and putting in the time are a must when hunting Rocky Mountain Elk, and we were already deeply committed to a stalk high into the snowy mountains at seventy-five hundred feet. Nick and I have been friends for years, but this was his first time with me hunting elk, his first elk hunt period in fact. He had only taken his very first big game animal a few months prior during the Utah general season mule deer hunt, so this hunt was as much a learning experience as anything else.
The weather that day was brutal to say the least, a winter storm had been producing freezing rain all night as the wind howled across the mountain range stacking the snow anywhere it could. Our time to hunt was short, so we’d decided to go for it since success favors the brave.

As the light of day continued to brighten around us, we climbed a ridge spine that promised to put us in shooting range of a small group of cow elk spotted from the bottom of the canyon. The wind seemed to increase with every step, at times causing us to lose balance and slip in the deep snow. We took the opportunity to talk, as the noise of the wind could cover up a Peterbilt at fast-idle. I regaled Nick with hunting stories of the past, hardships endured, triumphs after failures and so on. Nick being quite eager to learn and be successful as a hunter was happy to discuss all the fine points that make for a fortunate hunt. The wind battered our faces with bits of hail and snow as we lumbered up the ridge, and our discussion turned to a different subject. “At what point does the suffering endured during a hunt cease to be fun” in the traditional sense. After all, most of us hunt because we enjoy it despite the difficulty.

My inquisitive colleague also asked how this hunt stacked up against other difficult hunts I’ve been lucky to endure. If I recall correctly he asked; on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst hunt I’d ever been on, how are we doing today? Like a veteran of some awful war, my eyes glazed over and immediately took me back to a freezing cold evening on a slippery mountain deep in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. For days we had hiked countless miles through clouds and freezing rain, taken several spills down rocky scree-piles and still had nothing to show yet. I found myself clawing up an incredibly steep and treacherous mountain, slipping and sliding grabbing at sticks to gain traction. I would have given up long ago but we’d taken a shot, and I swore to myself that I would either find it or confirm the fear that it was a miss. My heart pounded like I’d never felt before, rain and sweat both ran freely down my face. I couldn’t have cared less since the point of full soak had passed hours before. My patience and exhaustion threshold had been reached, and using my rifle as a crutch I dug into the hillside for every taxing step. After what seemed an eternity, I finally reached the landmark only to find that the better part of the day had all been a waste of effort. I was ready for complete surrender, ready to throw my rifle down the hill and leave my tag hanging in the nearest tree.

I flashed back to the windswept ridge where Nick stood awaiting my answer, I quickly evaluated the labor and suffering we had seen already that morning. And I multiplied it as I looked at what lay ahead, compounded by the unknown that was sure to stand out later. I told Nick, right now we’re at about a six. And we carried on.
The snow got deeper, and we found ourselves moving from one hole to another, digging our feet out with each step. I found myself looking for small trees and bushes protruding from the snow, and stepping on them to use like a natural snowshoe. If only I’d been smart enough to bring a pair I could use for every step.

It was early afternoon when we finally neared the ridge-top where I expected we might have a shot, and it was time to make ready. The wind had only gotten worse, and our condition hadn’t improved, but Nick prepared his rifle for the shot we hoped would come. Removing ice from the rifle to ensure everything was ready, Nick dry fired it several times to make sure we wouldn’t have a malfunction, and then finally chambered a 338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. He backed of his riflescope to six power, and we crept across the crunchy snow between the scrubby trees.
Everything moved with the wind and blowing snow, so I cant be sure when it happened, but almost without any indication, there stood a cow elk a mere forty-yards in front of us behind a small tree. I motioned Nick who was in the process of raising his rifle to bare, but before he could, she bolted from view. We followed her with our eyes as more elk appeared from behind the trees, and moved in a huddled mass away from us. As clouds blew in between us, we used the cover to move below the tree-line where we might have a clear shot at them. We found a tree trunk that provided a solid shooting position and peered into the cloudy breeze waiting for an opening. As Nick continually wiped the snow accumulating in the objective of his scope, I peered through binoculars to where I’d last seen the elk. Through several courses of clouds we waited, getting ghostly glimpses of them but nothing long enough to make a shot. The wind was now blowing at us directly from twelve o’clock, and pelting our eyes and faces with every look. But just as we had nearly reached our threshold for the bone-chilling cold, the wind blew another patch of clear air into our canyon, exposing a few of the elk that stood among the trees. Nick spotted them through his scope, and I watched through my binoculars. When both of us were ready, he finally let the Lapua off the chain. The muffled shot wasn’t particularly loud with the roaring wind around us, but my ears were focused downrange. Among the sounds of ice bouncing down my ear canal, I over heard the old familiar whap come back a second or so after the shot. Both Nick and I watched through our respective optics as the cow stumbled backwards then faceplanted into the snow before her. The three-hundred grain Scenar had broken one shoulder and perforated her heart, and she slid down the steep slope leaving a bright red snow patches along the way.

It took us another grueling trek through the deep snow to get to where we last saw her, the whole way we spoke of the excitement and our individual perspectives. As we laid eyes on our prize finally, we went in for a high-five that turned into a bro-hug halfway through. And like we had hundreds of times that morning, we again fell over, finally able to laugh at our hardships.
“Now it was all fun” Nick said as he descended towards his first elk, up until that point it had been indeterminate extreme effort and endurance. That magical act of laying your hands on a prize that you’ve worked your ass off to get, the one you’ve daydreamed about since last season, when you finally have a tangible trophy you can take home and justify all the effort you put in seems to tie it all together into an adventure you will never forget. In spite of the overwhelming imbalance between exertion, suffering, and the few minutes of celebration, that simple act of winning seems to atone for every negative challenge endured to get there.

Our frozen hands were soon warmed as we again set to work on dressing the animal, and the even harder work of getting her out began. Luckily I have some good friends who volunteered to help us get her out, and as I write this she is quietly aging out in my woodshed.
There are few things I enjoy more than sharing this incredibly rewarding and at times crazy lifestyle of hunting, watching Nick take his first elk was the ice cold icing on the cake for me. Watching him dig deep into the snow and pushing beyond what may have seemed rational. I’d like to think he reached his roots down in that deep snow, and felt the same connection I often do when we join the circle of life around us.

I expect Nick will hunt again, I think the affliction of big game hunting has grabbed ahold of him. And he surely has become too accustomed to the taste of venison to stop now. I too will be back next year, by then all the aches and pains will have been forgotten. And I’ll again be ready to make seemingly poor choices that will put me in range of my objectives, and I look forward to sharing it with new friends and family.

-CBM

Elk Hunting Carnivores

I had the great opportunity to take Iain Harrison (editor of Recoil Magazine and Carnivore Magazine) on a cow elk hunt here in the Utah mountains. I got sick during the trip (turned out to be Cofeve) so I was hurling literally minutes before the action went down in this video. Surprisingly I was able to make it through the whole thing without getting any worse, and even managed to help pack out. Give it a watch, hope you like it.

Cayuga solid copper bullets: 6mm 100 grain

Some of you may have already read about my experience with the 6.5 Cayuga from a year or two ago. That may or may not have led you to this subject, but if you are seriously looking into the Cayuga as a hunting bullet then I’d recommend reading both articles.

The Cayuga
All Patriot Valley Arms Cayugas are solid copper monolithic bullets, lathe turned to perfection from the same alloy as traditional copper cup bullets. This allows them to be extremely consistent from bullet to bullet, and the CNC turning process also allows their profile to be controlled meticulously. The Cayuga solids boast much higher ballistic coefficients than comparably weighted bullets, but due to their lighter weight from lacking a lead core they can be shot at higher velocities. So to sum it up; higher bc’s and lighter weight make them better for distance shooting and the lot consistency and gentile ogive make them accurate and easy loading.
Earlier this year, I started my second six millimeter project, a 6mm GT for my Desert Tech SRS M2. It took only a few minutes to fall completely in love with the Tiger, so when given the opportunity to test these new Cayuga bullets in it, I wasted no time. The 6mm GT easily pushes hundred grain bullets to the 3,000 fps mark, and the high BC of the Cayuga meant that it would hold onto that velocity and energy for quite a ways.


The Numbers

The 100 grain Cayuga didn’t exactly come with an owners manual, PVA gave me some suggested data to work with which seemed to be spot on. I used a G7 BC of .270 which is very similar to the extremely popular Berger 105gr. I tested the Cayuga to beyond 1400 yards and as far as I shot with it, that .270 lined up perfectly.

Easily Loaded
Once I had the Cayugas in hand, I sat down at the loading bench to get busy. The go to powder for the GT is Varget, and for good reason. But if your reading this in the same era it was written, then you know how hard its been to get certain loading components. Varget was hard to come by, but I had eight pounds of Reloader 17 that I could make work. And boy did it!
The very first load I tried with the Cayugas was a modest charge of RL-17 that produced around 2960 fps from my twenty-four inch barrel. The first five bullets I tested went through nearly the same hole, I shit thee nay. Groups in the .2’s and .3’s were immediately achieved with ZERO load workup or seating depth fiddling. While I do consider myself to be both lucky and handsome, I think the generous curve of the bullets ogive likely bears more credit for the accurate shooting than any luck of my own.
I added a touch more powder to break the big three-o, and left the rest alone. From there I spent the rest of my test shooting validating drop and such to confirm the bc. The end goal here was the same for nearly every project of mine; what can I kill with it?

Hunting Season
The GT had accompanied me on a bear hunt to Montana, no kills were made there so the next opportunity would be the Mule deer hunt in my state of Utah. The Rocky Mountains that I call home are quite spacious, and the steep and deep canyons where we hunt our deer can often stretch for miles. Shots can be anywhere from one hundred yards, out to two or three ridges away. To put it simply, a five, six or seven hundred yard shot on a mule deer buck is about as common as anything. The Gay Tiger loaded with Cayugas had become such a predictably accurate shooter that anything in that realm felt like a chip shot as far as hitting my point of aim. So when opening day arrived, the GT road right next to me, and never left my side. We ended up using it for two separate shots on deer, both of which hang quietly in the shed in my backyard.
The first deer was shot at six-hundred and eighty yards, it was a perfect broadside shot that passed through leaving an inch and a half hole on its way out. The deer staggered about twenty yards before he tipped over.

The second deer was taken a few days later, at a distance just over a thousand yards. He too took a single shot and dropped straight to the ground where he expired. While the second shot may have had less energy than recommended by many, it certainly did the trick just fine.
Broken rib bones, shredded lungs, and bright blood stains against the dry yellow grass are exactly the kind of indicators that good hunters like to judge a bullet’s performance.

Conclusion
Just as I had expected, the 6mm Cayugas are everything I had hoped for. Accurate and flat shooting bullets that make an impressive wound cavity through animals. We often joke that Im going to have to shoot an elk with a 6mm Cayuga if ever I want to find a fired one. But after seeing what I have, it’d have to be really far away, or else I’d have to shoot him length-wise. We killed seven deer last week, just in my group. And the 6mm GT shooting Cayugas killed every bit as well as the larger cartridges used (6.5CM, 260, 308). If you are in need of a solid copper hunting bullet, or if your stuck in California for example, the Cayugas are just the ticket for six-millimeter big game hunting.

-CBM

Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon 6.5 Creedmoor

When I first saw the Browning X-bolt Hell’s Canyon at SHOT Show, I remember thinking to myself that many folks were going to eat it up. And as years have passed it surely has become one of the most talked about hunting rifles out there. So when I finally got a chance to check it out myself, I was eager to see if all the hype was well founded. I had already been playing with a different X-bolt model, so I was pretty familiar with it before I even opened the box. What I didn’t realize was just how deep into Hell’s Canyon I would descend.

First Impression
My very first impression of the rifle was not unlike my feeling when I saw it at SHOT Show, it was just a plain handsome rifle. A bronze colored Cerakote job and similar A-TACS camo pattern clearly sets this rifle apart on the rifle rack. The fluted barrel and it’s inconspicuous muzzle brake flow seamlessly into the receiver, all of which is set nicely into the camouflaged composite stock. A nice soft recoil pad at the back was a welcome feature, as was the detachable box magazine. And like other X-bolts I’ve shot, it was just smooth. The sixty-degree bolt design makes shorter and faster operation, and the gold-plated trigger breaks as clean as most any hunting rifle I’ve ever pulled from a shelf. The X Bolt action features a bolt release button to unlock the bolt when the safety is on, a very cunning and intuitive design. If this rifle shot as good as it looked, I was going be hard pressed to let go of it.

Setup
I wanted to get straight to the range with this rifle, but first I had to get a scope mounted. I went with a one-piece scope base that uses eight screws to hold it down to the top of the receiver. I found this to be a superior mounting system than the traditional four screws that most manufacturers use to mount scope bases.

I tried a couple different mounting systems and riflescopes, first a Nikon 4-16 scope which worked great, but was too high. I ended up with the system that seemed to work the best, a Crimson Trace 3-12 mounted in Warne rings and bases.
I had a small amount of Hornady American Gunner 6.5CM ammo that I could test in the rifle, but I wanted to try more than one thing just in case the rifle didn’t care for it. So I sat at my loading bench to crank out another couple options hoping at least one of them would provide me with the exceptional accuracy I was hoping for. After that, I installed a Harris bipod so I could get this rifle into the field and shooting.

Continue Reading Here…

Surgeon Scalpel 300 Win Mag

There are many names that stand out in the extremely competitive precision rifle market, one of those big names is Surgeon Rifles. Once a fairly small custom shop, it has grown to become a very well known manufacturer and supplier of civilian precision rifles and sniper rifles. I had seen and handled many different Surgeon actions and custom rifles over the years, but I’d never had my own until today.

Unboxing
I eagerly opened up the Pelican case when it arrived, knowing what was inside. It was the Surgeon Rifles Scalpel 300 Winchester Magnum in the Cadex Dual Strike chassis. The OD Green and black rifle immediately commanded my attention, as I lifted it from the foam-lined case. My very first thought as I looked it over was the incredible amount of structural detail on the Cadex chassis, many fasteners and interlocking pieces make up this rigid structure. The impressive weight of the rifle was also immediately perceivable, the twenty-six-inch heavy-profile barrel is responsible for much of that. But the chassis itself is also no insignificant thing. I shouldered the rifle, to run the bolt and feel what kind of rifle this would be. My support-hand was opened wide to accommodate the large forearm of the rifle, and I pulled the bolt to the rear to inspect the chamber. I ran the bolt a few times, impressed with the feel so much I had to confirm it several more times.

The Cadex chassis featured a rubberized pistol-grip, also of a large size to fill the palm of your hand. The soft exterior of the grip is necessary to firmly grasp and control a rifle this long and heavy. The rifle is available with a Trigger Tech or Jewel trigger, this one came with the Jewell trigger. Something I wanted to get a feel for right after running the smooth bolt. The trigger broke as clean as one could ask for, with no perceivable movement at all. Also included with the rifle were five Accurate Magazines. The Dual Strike Cadex chassis is a folding model, with a small lever on the right side that allows the buttstock to be folded over the bolt side of the rifle. This folding motion protects the bolt and significantly shortens the length of the rifle for more compact transportation. It also locks in the folded position, preventing unwanted opening of the rifle when manipulating.
After familiarizing myself with the adjustments of the Cadex chassis, I put the rifle back into its case as I impatiently waited for a chance to shoot it.

Continue Reading Here…

Western Rivers Mantis Pro-400 Electronic Call

Electronic calls have become very popular over the last decade or so, hunters of all types have found value in the ease and convenience of simply pressing a button. Of course there are die-hard’s that must use mouth calls or something more natural, and there is certainly some additional skill and finesse with that approach. But for those of us who live fast and hunt hard, there is something to be said for the modern convenience of an e-call.

I have a somewhat perplexing past when it comes to hunting coyotes, I’ve tried my hand a calling them, ambushing them, and even downright chasing them. There seems to be a kryptonite like shield between me and coyotes, I usually miss ten for every one I do shoot. So I was intrigued with the opportunity to try out a new tool in my efforts to land another.

The ability to drum up any animal call you want on demand has obvious advantages when hunting. But would a device that claims to do just that for hunters actually work in the field? Or is it just a fancy gimmick? I decided to give it a try with the compact, remote-controlled Mantis Pro 400, which I recently tested in the field on some actual hunts.

The Western Rivers MP-400
The Mantis Pro is a compact remote controlled call. The remote controller fits easily into the palm of your hand, when it is not snapped into the main housing of the call. The Mantis Pro boasts quite few features that I hadn’t expected to see, but the more I found out about it the more I liked it. It can be powered by AA batteries, or plugged into an alternate 12v power source, And it can also be plugged into other call units or external speakers to give multiple sound emittance. In addition to the sounds that come pre-installed on the MP-400, you can add your favorite sounds using an SD memory card. The sounds on the card can be arranged and edited via a micro USB port, and if that wasn’t enough, you can also bluetooth connect the MP-400 to your phone and play whatever sounds you might have stored there. The MP-400 also has a port for a decoy (sold separately). Continue reading here…

Browning X-Bolt 6 Creedmoor

Even though I’m a bit of a rifle junkie, the Browning X-Bolt is a bit of a stranger to me. I’ve shot a few of them over the years, and even had good luck loading ammo for them for friends. That said, I’ve never owned one myself. Browning is a common name down our way, the man himself was born just a few miles north of where I sit as I write this.
The X-Bolt rifle has plenty of clout in the rifle world, so I knew not to underestimate it as I prepared myself for this project. I was giddy with excitement to get my hands on this one.

The Browning X-bolt Target

The Target model of the Browning X-bolt comes in a McMillan A3-5 stock with an adjustable comb, as well a a match grade heavy profile fluted barrel. The muzzle is threaded 5/8-24 to attach any muzzle devices. In addition to those add-ons, the X-bolt receiver has an extended bolt handle, and a 20 MOA pic rail mounted on top. There are a few other little extras as well, such as QD sling swivel studs, and a bipod pic rail mount. I pulled the rifle from the black Browning box, and was instantly in love. The fit and finish of this rifle were superb, and as soon as I put the Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad to my shoulder I knew it was going to be a good match. I adjusted the cheek piece to fit my hold, and ran the bolt and trigger a few times. I love the 60-degree bolt throw, it is shorter and faster than the alternative. And the smooth bolt stroke on the X-bolt feels much like a nice custom. The Trigger in this rifle is as good as any factory trigger I’ve felt, The Feather Trigger as Browning calls it, is adjustable from three to five pounds, and has a tang mounted safety. The detachable box magazine is Browning’s own design, it is an all polymer rotary magazine that holds four rounds. It fits flush with the bottom of the McMillan stock. Continue Reading Here…

Marlin 1894 357 Magnum

What seems like forever ago, my little brother snagged a Model 94 Winchester from the local gun shop. It was chambered in .44 Magnum, and lets just say we all fell in love with that short and sassy little lever-gun. Ever since then I have been dying to get something similar for myself, but life has a way of dictating your gun purchases doesn’t it?
So when the opportunity to get a Marlin 1894 in .357 Magnum came my way, I was not going to let my dream go unlived. But would it be everything I had hoped for?

The Marlin 1894
Since the late nineteenth century, Marlin has been manufacturing leverguns and other firearms for the American public. It has seen several ownership transfers over the past decade or two, and the latest one will hopefully be a good and final one. The 1894 is perhaps one of Marlin’s most popular models over the years, but there are many others that have also graced the shooting public. The 1894 is like many of Marlin’s firearms, a lever action repeater. Probably the most distinguishing feature of the model is it’s side ejecting receiver. This has made Marlin leverguns very popular with users of riflescopes, as it allows a more generous mounting area. The rifle has an eight round tube magazine that loads from the side of the receiver through a loading chute. Continue Reading Here…