A bucket full of Bucks

We all have heard it before; “he’s no trophy” or “you can’t eat the horns”. For some reason, the hunting public feels the need to justify themselves when a small or young buck is taken. Whether it be because of declining herd numbers, bad timing, or even just pure old fashioned laziness. Most times we end up filling our tag with an animal that won’t make the cover of Eastman’s, or Field & Stream. Why do we do it? I’m as guilty as anyone else on the subject, so in this piece, I’d like to address it directly.

I got what some might call a delayed start in big game hunting, sure I went hunting as a child with my Father and Grandfathers, but my own engagement with big game took place many years later. I had always had a passion for hunting, and like most I had dreams of stalking a big buck or bull using only my skills and tackle. I still remember vividly the first time I went hunting with a tag in my pocket, it was a doe tag due to my not being in-country at the time of our states draw period. A doe tag was my only option, and I was so excited to go I jumped at the chance. Green as can be, and completely unprepared I went with my younger brother and some friends. I was the only one to draw blood that trip, probably more due to my doe tag than any hunting prowess. But I can still remember the rush of the chase, sneaking through the brush, getting into a shooting position and making a shot as my young heart pounded. The excitement and participation in this millennia-old practice touched me so deeply that it sparked a passion that at times seems to overshadow almost everything else in my life.

I hunt for many reasons, to eat, to enjoy time afield with family and friends, and to take my place as an active participant in the circle of life. The size of our quarry holds no bearing on those aspects of hunting.

Of course, we all want to shoot the biggest buck, we all want to lay hands on a monster bull. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter to me. But why do we somehow find shame, or at least a lack of pride when the animal we tag is not as big as we had hoped? It’s a complicated question I suppose, I think it is partially because of our perception; all we see on hunting shows and in the magazines are pictures of huge bucks and bulls. We naturally aspire for the same thing, we all want to be the guy with a monster bull rack affixed to our pack. Surely there is nothing wrong with a goal like that, but a large set of antlers is not the only way to judge a trophy. For those of us who hunt to eat, a full cooler of meat can be a trophy. I haven’t had to buy meat for years, and I’m not about to start,that too is a prize I take pride in.

I have been lucky to take a mule deer buck almost every year since I started, as well as several does, cows, and other animals. For the longest time, we have had a joke in my family about a five-gallon bucket, a joke at my expense. The first decade or so of my hunting career, not only could you fit all my buck antlers in a five-gallon bucket, you could fit them all in there together, at the same time. I wasn’t particularly proud of it, because I wanted bigger, but I didn’t feel bad about it either. I go deer hunting because I enjoy it, as mentioned above. I like hunting, and I like getting what I’m after, the act of taking an animal is the climax of the hunt and I don’t like to give that up. Others in my hunting party are far pickier, their sights are set for bigger and more mature bucks, which is fine. But they haven’t gotten to feel that rush of engagement or the satisfaction as often, nor have they eaten as well as I have

This particularly puny buck stepped out on the last day of my hunt, the only thing I killed that year.

There are many reasons put forth to not shoot young bucks, many people say let them get older and more mature. That’s fine I guess, nothing wrong with it. As I’ve matured I have come to understand and come closer to that perspective, and I too have let plenty a young buck walk. But is doing the opposite actually a bad thing? As much distrust as I have in state-run wildlife agencies, I have to assume they are mildly competent in their regulations regarding wildlife populations. If shooting two points was actually detrimental to the population, then my state of Utah would be barren. A trigger happy pumpkin patch is standard for any general season here, and anything with antlers is almost sure to be gunned down by everyone who catches a glimpse of him.

There are also many reasons put forth to shoot small bucks, though I don’t subscribe to or even know them all. But I do know this; if you have a child or other first-time hunter, one of these small and inexperienced animals can be the difference between a heartbroken aspiring hunter, and a future addicted sportsman or conservationist.

It also can make a huge difference for a
seasoned hunter. Imagine packing out the last animal ever with a loved one like your Father, cousin, or Grandparent, imagine savoring that last memory together in the forest, the size of the animal you hauled out together is likely not the part you will tell your own Grandchildren about. Many times its the journey that matters, not the destination.

If chasing and taking mature animals is your thing that’s great, I wish you luck. And if you are hunting just to hunt, and to get something you can take home to share with your loved ones, I wish you luck as well. I don’t think we need to make excuses for shooting small or immature animals though. If you show up to a game check station, be as proud as you want of your animal. Don’t make excuses like “he’ll taste better” or some other qualifying justification. Don’t dishonor the sacrifice of an animal’s life by consigning him to just a tag filled. We never know which hunt will be our last, so take pride in what you do, savor every moment you are given. Eat what you kill with pride and honor the sacrifice that it took to get it there.

-CBM

Patriot Valley Arms Jet Blast Muzzle Brakes

I often talk about how we are living in the best times of precision rifling, part of that is because of technology, and also due in part to the thriving market of suppliers bringing great new products to us.

Patriot Valley Arms is one of those manufacturers, pushing the envelope and innovating products for shooters, And today I’d like to discuss their Jet Blast muzzle brakes.

Muzzle brake technology has changed significantly even since I started paying attention, I remember the first muzzle brake I ever had installed. Back then there was a simple purpose, reducing recoil. Radial porting around the whole barrel that blew dust all over, made it even louder than it was before, but it did tame the recoil. We have come quite a ways since then.

The Jet Blast Muzzle brake comes in a three port design, with baffles directed to the sides and back. The Jet 4 brakes have an additional port for a total of four, giving additional braking force. Both three and four port brakes are available with an up to 6.5mm bore, or an up to .308 bore, this gives most shooters a close enough option for their rifle. They are also available finished in stainless, or nitrided black.

One of the handiest features of the Jet brakes is the built in timing apparatus. There is a counter threaded jam nut built right into the back of the brake, which allows you to time the brake easily and quickly. With nothing more than a cresent wrench or something similar, you can set the brake and snug it up. And just as quickly you can pull it off and switch it to another rifle to enjoy its braking qualities there as well.


The curious design of the Jet Blast brakes, creates an interesting pressure flow. I’m certainly no engineer, but the seeming delay of pressure wave created by the brake is just enough to get the shooter through the shot. What I mean by that, is that after the shot, and impact, you feel almost like a delayed cyclone of air passing by you. This must be by design, to give the shooter less antagonizing from muzzle gasses. The loud report from brakes seems to be lessened from the shooters perspective, which is a very nice added value.

If you find yourself in the market for recoil reduction, do yourself a favor and check into Patriot Valley Arms and their Jet Blast brakes. Excellent recoil mitigation, easy install, all for a reasonable price (starting at 135$). Tell em I sent ya.
-CBM

Nikon Monarch 82ED-A Fieldscope

I do a fair amount of glassing on average, not just for hunting but also for target shooting. The Rocky Mountains tower over my home to the east and the animals I hunt are tantalizingly close. I found it necessary to get a good spotting scope, a good multi-purpose scope that would suit both my hunting and target shooting needs. Is it possible for one scope to do everything? I’d like to think I found one that can.

Features
The Nikon Sport Optics Monarch Fieldscope boasts an 82MM objective lens, which gathers every detail of the landscape before it. The image is reflected through a coated prism in the aluminum body of the scope. There is a focus ring around the body that allows the user a tactile touch to finesse the image into perfect clarity. At the rear of the scope, you find the angled eyepiece, and that is where the magic happens.

The quick-release of the eyepiece allows you to use any of the available eyepieces from Nikon. There is a 20-60 power option, a 30-60 power option, or my favorite, the 30 power option with either the FX Mrad reticle or the FX MOA reticle. The same reticle I use in my riflescope is now in my spotting scope, giving me the ability to call misses and judge distances with exactness.

Having two eyepieces would be a bit superfluous, but it sure is luxurious to be able to zoom in to sixty power and inspect a nice buck. Then swap over to a thirty power eyepiece with a reticle so I can measure his spread if that’s what you want. I love the 20-60 zoom eyepiece, but my shooting style would find the reticle more useful than the extra power.
The fixed thirty power eyepiece does have a focus ring around it, this focuses the reticle against the target giving the user the best possible image to call shots, measure adjustments, as well as range targets.

The angled eyepiece is complemented by a rotating body, giving you several angle options. There is a set screw on the side that allows the scope body to rotate 360 degrees, offsetting the angle to whatever suits you. The body has a spring detent to hold the scope every 90 degrees during the rotation.
The scope also has the extendable shade around the objective. I like shades for two reasons, one is obvious, keeping direct sunlight from coming into your view while glassing. The other is to keep dirty hands and fingers away from the lenses.

The Monarch Fieldscope also came with a nice bikini-style soft cover that zips over the scope body. It also has soft plastic lens covers to protect the glass which goes on under the snap over lens covers, to double up on your protection.
It also comes with a shoulder strap should you want to carry it that way, though I think I am more comfortable carrying it in my pack. The only gripe I might have with the cover is that it limits your ability to rotate the scope body, its not much of a gripe as I feel I won’t use that feature very often.

The FX MRAD reticle is a very good companion to the Monarch Fieldscope. Some reticles can get pretty busy, leaving some observers feeling a little cluttered. The FX MRAD reticle is a perfect mix of simplicity and subtensions, it has both whole, halves, and .2’s all represented on all four posts. Whole MIL’s are only numbered on the evens to simplify, and there is even a small one MIL square in the lower right quadrant that has .1’s both vertical and horizontally.

The FX MRAD reticle as seen through the Monarch Fieldscope

In The Field
Taking the Monarch Fieldscope into the Rocky Mountains was a long-awaited venture for me. I couldn’t wait to see how my favorite varmints looked through this scope, and to see how well it would function as my main spotter.
A couple of my very good friends came along with their rifles, and we took shots from six hundred yards all the way out to fourteen hundred yards. The Monarch performed my every expectation, allowing me to see all the little details of hits, misses, and all the trace as well. I glassed across miles of canyons and shady draws, and pictures just don’t do it justice. As my friend crossed over a ridge spine some three miles away, the light was just right as I watched him stop to look at flowers, and even pick one. Clarity is absolutely top-notch with this scope, I cant wait to take it on a mature bull Elk hunt this fall.

Conclusion
I’ve used many high-end spotting scopes from most of the big names, and to be fair, I have loved every one of them. They all have a few things that I like, and a few that perhaps I would change. The Monarch Fieldscope is right up there with most all of them, the image quality is outstanding, and with it’s multiple eyepiece offerings it leaves many scopes of significantly higher price far less desireable to at least this frequent user.

I can’t imagine what it would cost to build a scope like this out of carbon fiber or something similar, but reducing the weight of it seems like one of the only things I could change to make it even better. But until they do, I will be transfixed behind this eyepiece, enjoying the view.

CBM

The Desert Tech SRS A2

I have long enjoyed an affair with precision rifles, and one of them in particular. I fell in love with the Desert Tech SRS many years ago now, it has been through several generations since, and the latest generation is the SRS A2.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SRS family, it is a detachable box magazine-fed, bolt action bullpup, with the added advantage of being a multi-caliber rifle. A bullpup means that the rifle’s action is behind the trigger, and against the shoulder. This design has been tried many times over the years, in order to shorten the overall length and portability of the rifle. The SRS has all of the advantages a bullpup was designed to bring to the table, as well as the quality and a stellar record of performance sought by both law enforcement, military, and devoted precision shooters. And the icing on the cake is the multi-caliber capability.

The SRS A2 follows the long celebrated A1 model, from which it evolved. The SRS features an all-aluminum receiver, that is sandwiched between two polymer skins that comprise the pistol-grip, and magazine well. The receiver is split down the middle, and has four clamping screws down the side, together these features allow one of the SRS’s strongest assets. All SRS barrels have a shank at the breach that fits very snuggly into the receiver and is then clamped in via those four screws. Barrels are slid into the chassis from the front and seated against a steel feed ramp that doubles as an index point. The unique barrel clamping system also allows the SRS to return to zero, guaranteed every time you install each barrel, it will return to shoot the same point of impact every time. Bolts are slid into the breach by easily removing the recoil pad from the back, I say bolts because with differing cartridges you may require at least a couple of them. Anything from 223 Remington all the way up to 375XC, most options from the factory are your well-known bestsellers such as 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Win, and 338 Lapua Magnum. The SRS has a large following with a multitude of aftermarket barrel manufacturers, allowing users to customize these factory-built rifles in whatever caliber they desire.

What’s New:

The evolution of this precision bullpup has brought several advantages to the system. One of the first notable differences of the new rifle is the M-Lok handguard, the more popular mounting system replaced the pic rail design from prior generations. The next most obvious change is the rifle’s weight, the A2 was put on a healthy diet. This new revision has the rifle weighing 2.1 pounds less than its predecessor, through various cuts and shaving material where possible.
The trigger also received an upgrade, a new design they call a “field match” trigger. This new trigger is adjustable from 1.5 to 7 pounds.

The SRS A1 featured a built-in retractable monopod in the bottom of the butt-pad, many users found this monopod to be a very valuable tool because of its quick deployment, and both coarse and fine adjustments. The A2 model was designed to be lighter, and the monopod was then made optional equipment instead of standard. That also helped lower the overall weight of the rifle.

The new M-Lok handguard is also interchangeable. The A1 handguard was difficult to swap between different length handguards, and it required a proprietary tool from Desert Tech. The new SRS A2 handguard is user-replaceable using only a Hex Key wrench, this allows users to easily swap between the standard length (longer) handguard, and the shorter length (Covert) handguard. Desert Tech sells the separate handguards as a kit for end-users to install, so they can enjoy the benefits of either configuration.

In addition to the new rifle chassis, Desert Tech will be releasing a few new calibers specifically marketed towards big game hunters. These newer barrels are chambered in popular cartridges such as 300 RUM, 300WM, and 7MM Rem Mag with more to come. A lighter contour barrel also helps lower the overall weight of the rifle. With a lighter rifle, the SRS is now even more appealing to those of us that would like to hunt with it, so these new offerings are a welcome development.

What’s the same:

The SRS A2 being a direct descendant of the A1 means that it inherited some of its best traits. The barrel mounting system is the same, which means that the barrel collection most SRS owners enjoy, can be used in the new A2 chassis as well. Bolts, barrels and magazines are also interchangeable between the two rifle chassis. This is a very welcome feature to SRS aficionados, as barrel kits can cost anywhere from 800 up to 2000 dollars.

The barrel clamping procedure remains the same, there is a barrel lock on one side of the receiver and four clamping screws on the other. The barrel lock rotates 360 degrees, but has a detent on the lock and unlocked positions. After installing the barrel in the chassis, the barrel lock is rotated to the lock position which rotates a cam to hold the barrel in place. The four clamping screws are then torqued down to 80-inch pounds.

The SRS A2 Covert with my 18” 6.5 Creedmoor

The A2 maintains both standard length and Covert models as was the A1, the Covert model allows for using shorter barrels like the very popular sixteen-inch 308 Winchester. The longer standard handguard, allows for further forward bipod mounting, as well as clip on night/thermal optics.

The adjustable comb height adjustment stays the same, as does the spacer system to adjust the length of pull. These features are easy to adjust and allow you to fit the rifle to you.

On the Range:

Being quite familiar with the SRS platform, I found almost everything about it to be very recognizable. All the same functions I was used to, I tried several of my older conversion kits in it with great success. One thing I didn’t miss at all was the weight, the couple pounds lost make the rifle noticeably lighter. And the new hunting profile barrels are lighter than I was used to, making the whole kit seem more friendly to hiking hunters.

Clockwise: The new Field Match Trigger, fluted bolt body, M-Lok handguard with QD sling receivers, handguard mounting screws.

Desert Tech claims the A2 to be even more accurate than its precedent platform, this was a claim I wanted to see for myself. The SRS has always been a very accurate rifle in my experience, half MOA groups are expected and even guaranteed by Desert Tech when using match grade ammunition.  The accuracy guarantee for the A1 SRS was half MOA, I was surprised to find that the A2 did not come with a better guarantee according to Desert Tech’s 36% better accuracy claim for the A2.

Shooting the SRS A2

I shot several different barrels in the A2 while at the range, among them were 6.5Creedmoor, 308 Winchester, 300 Remington Ultra Magnum, and 300 Winchester magnum.  The new hunting calibers were all the lighter contour, this made the felt recoil a little more aggressive than I was used to, but with muzzle brakes installed the recoil was very manageable. Accuracy was everything I expected it to be from the SRS platform,  typical groups were half MOA. Ammunition types gave wildly varying results, some of them did not even shoot MOA, while others easily shot sub half MOA.  I can’t say for sure if the lighter barrel contour had anything to do with it because when they had the right ammo they just shot great.

A typical five shot group from the SRS A2

My fourteen-year-old son also shot the rifle a bit and carried it around, he too seemed pleasantly surprised by the rifle’s easy handling and modest recoil.  As usual, the rifle shot better when the sound suppressor was installed. The Desert Tech suppressor mounts directly to the muzzle brake and provides hearing safe shooting with enhanced accuracy. Another moment the bullpup platform shines is when a suppressor is installed, the SRS A2 with a suppressor mounted is still shorter than comparable rifles without one.

Whether shooting inside a 100-yard underground tunnel or shooting 1200 yards across a breezy mountain ridge, the SRS A2 tackled targets with great ease.

Detractors

The only problems I found with the SRS A2 were not so much problems as they were questions. Previous generations of SRS rifles had fully adjustable triggers that were serviceable in the field with a simple Allen wrench. The new trigger requires disassembly of the chassis to complete the adjustment. While an infrequent necessity, it is still an unwelcome one.

Final Thoughts

The SRS A2 is a pleasant breath of fresh air that I didn’t even know I needed. It appears Desert Tech has listened to consumers and delivered a better bullpup, my A1 wont be going anywhere soon, but it definitely needs an A2 to go with it.

-CBM

A Hunt for Four Lifetimes

Few hunts actually capture perfectly every aspect of the hunt. This is one of those however that did, at least for the four lives involved.

It’s been 18 years that we have patiently waited to take my Father on a bull elk hunt. Age and health have pushed this hunt right to the limit for Dad, so it was no small chore to get him prepared and in place. Dad let his .264 Winchester do the walking he couldn’t.
My Brothers and I have dreamed of this hunt since we first heard the bugle of these massive and majestic animals. The only thing missing for the action was my middle Brother who had to leave before all the action went down.

My middle Brother keeping a close eye for movement across the canyon.

We were four days into a week-long hunt, midweek and things were calming down.
We had called and stalked several bulls, but they were either too small or too in a hurry.

Last night as a cold storm blew in, bringing rain, hail, and wind, I felt our luck was about to change. Raking trees and calling into the deep dark woods, wouldn’t bring them out like it had been. So Dad and I worked slowly around a brushy ridge towards more open country. The sky went dark and yellow as the fading sunlight fought through the falling rain.
It was then I spotted the phantom and unmistakable shape of elk walking across a distant ridge-face. In a flash, we confirmed his shooter-hood status, and it was time to engage.
We closed the distance as hastily and quietly as possible, I screeched at him through my reed, hoping to slow him down. He did stop, and turn to answer with his own profanity-laced scream. Dad and I closed the distance down to 575 yards, and just in time as the bull was about to disappear into the thickly wooded Aspen grove.
As my little brother watched from the hilltop behind us, Dad positioned his rifle, and I again sent a challenge call to our bull. After confirming the distance, 2.5 Mrad was dialed to cover the almost six-hundred yards, and Dad settled in behind his rifle, ready to deal swift wrath tempered with respect.
I watched through my shaky binoculars, my heart pounded from both the excitement and the running to get into position.

Dad fired a shot, and I listened for the return of an impact, but none came. The bull took a few steps forward, and Dad fired again. And like the prior shot, we heard no report. The bull walked calmly up the slope and stopped again under a tree. As Dad was about to send another shot I watched through the wet darkness, and as though a switch had been flipped, the bull toppled over and tumbled down the hill. Both of Dads shots had severed major arteries, and the bull had pumped himself dry.
Reduced to primal emotion by the happenings, I nearly tackled Dad with a hug. His eyes still wide open, and surprised, he hugged me right back.

The next 24 hours were a grueling task of cutting, packing, and hauling the incredible amount of meat from the kill-site.

Nothing beats having good friends to come help.
We left little for the buzzards and coyotes, only the spine, pelvis, guts, and hide were left.

We took as much as we could, grateful for every bit of it to share the victory with Dad, and fulfill this old dream of all of ours.

A hard-earned hunt, with plenty of effort, highs, and lows to challenge even an optimistic hunter. Shifty animals, full of heart and spirit that can appear or vanish into nothing. The camaraderie with friends and Family, all leading up to a triumph over the wild chain of life here in the high Rockies. These are the aspects of hunting that I love to live, and the prize we win is more than the meat on my plate or the bones on the wall.
And now with sore legs and feet, we sit around the warm campfire, recounting and sealing the memories into forever, where they should be. Any elk hunt could be a hunt of a lifetime, but this one was a hunt for four lifetimes.

-CBM