Make that Slaughterhouse a Slaughterhome

If you haven’t noticed yet, I love to eat. Nothing is more satisfying than a home cooked meal made from ingredients procured by my own hands. Whether its tomatoes grown in the garden, or a lean trimmed elk roast that I cut out by hand in a cold October garage.
One of the ways I maximise the flavor and the satifaction that comes with it, is by butchering all my own animals. It started long ago, when as a child I watched my Father bring home deer to be butchered on the kitchen counter.

Many years later, more out of necessity than desire, I began carting my own deer carcasses into the kitchen. Being a bit of a germaphobe, as well as a bit picky at the table, I couldn’t fathom leaving the cleanliness of my food to the hands of some game processer. Just the look and smell of those outfits is enough to make me toss my lunch, so I was determined to do it all myself.
In the beginning, I’ll admit it wasn’t great, but I have become pretty good at it. I think its important to share a couple of the advantages that I have by doing it myself.
I am in complete control over what gets used and how. Being particular about my food, I like to know it was well cared for both before and after it was butchered. I always take great care of my animals, trying to get them gutted, cleaned and cooled as soon as possible. I have seen overwhelming evidence that the crucial time between death and freezer has a huge impact on the flavor and quality of your meal.
Once the carcass is cleaned, and cooled down, comes the aging. I think that aging the meat is very important, second only to the quick cleaning and cooling of it. Call me crazy, but I like to age my venison a minimum of four to five days. I actually wait until the first signs of decomposition start to show. When little specks of white mold start showing on the carcass, its time to start cutting. Much like a good piece of fruit, the best flavor comes right before it spoils. Obviously this must be done in a state of refridgeration, lucky for me, October temperatures here hover around freezing.

Not only does the flavor and texture of the meat improve, but its easier to handle and separate. Meat peels right from the bone, leaving a clean white surface. All the hard work of removing tendons and silver skin is also simplified, little to any coaxing is needed to fillet them right off of your favorite cuts. The meat itself takes on a softer, stickier texture, it almost feels greasy in a way, like near room temperature bacon.
Another benefit of butchering my game at home, is the ability to cut the meat the way I want to cook it. I have recently explored many different bone in cuts that not only increase the quality of my meats, but also cut down on waste. When cutting bone in pieces, you get to eat all the meat in between the bones that is typically discarded.

Some of these great examples are cutting whole T-bone steaks. Since some deer arent that big, I actually cut them as Cross-bone steaks, basically two T-bones that haven’t been split in the middle. I cut them about 1.5” thick, and sear them in a pan, till rare (120*) at the center near the bone. The only way to improve backstraps and tenderloins is to serve them together on the bone, with butter and rosemary.

Another great cut that Ive tried is a bone in Frenched rib rack. This is done by again leaving the backstraps attached, and sawing the backbone and ribs out. You can then either cut lengthwise down the back, splitting the two, or go really fancy and leave them whole.

Sawing the shanks is another great way to use bones that are almost always discarded. Cooked slowly the shanks are a very tender and tasty piece of meat.
I also like cutting out the meaty ribs of deer and elk. Cooking them twice, first in a pressure cooker, and then again in the oven. This melts off the undesirable fat from the ribs. I then season them a second time and slow cook them in the oven, it makes for an extremely soft and tasty meal.

All these custom cuts and preparations can be done at your own pace, and even cooked without having ever been frozen. I love a good fresh celebratory meal during the hunt.

I like to use a good fillet knife for processing my game. The flexible blade, and the razor sharp edge allow me to skin the dried rind off of most of my meat, exposing the perfectly aged and protected meat below. It also allows me to shave off any damaged parts, leaving as much meat as possible.

I start out with a sharp knife, and regularly sharpen it during the process, to keep the edge from dulling. The sharp blade easily separates broad tendons like those found on backstraps, just like skinning a fish fillet.

Many people grind a lot of their meat into burger. While I enjoy and love a good burger, I rarely grind mine until Im ready to eat it. Part of the reason I think so much meat is ground by so many, is because of the large scrap piles of meat that accumulate during the butchering process. I try and avoid this as best I can by keeping the meat in the largest pieces possible, and the scraps that I do get, I set aside for bottling.

Bottling venison is an often overlooked process. I have had spectacular results putting my venison into jars instead of the freezer. A big benefit to this approach is no need to keep the meat frozen, and subsequently no loss should a freezer go down, or a power outage.
If those reasons arent enough, then the simple fact that it tastes so good should be enough. Bottled venison is extremely tender, and when bottled together with other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, or even a complete recipe, it is a whole meal ready to eat. One of my favorites is a simple chilli that consists of venison, tomatoes, roasted red or green peppers, onions, garlic, barley and black beans. Thrown together in a bottle with some salt, and cummin, it makes a delicious meal that requires nothing more than a source of heat to bring it to life.

Bottling meat is a slightly different process than you may be used to, do yourself a favor and look into it.

When I do grind venison, I like to do it just before cooking. I also add in some pork fat, either straight fat, or fat with a little meat. This, as well as some good seasoning and some garlic and onions mixed into the burger will make one of the best hamburgers you will ever eat.

Butchering an animal myself has led me to several practices while still on the mountain. One of them is a valiant effort to get the animal out whole if possible. Sometimes it is just too difficult, and an animal must be halved or quartered for extraction. I always prefer to get them out whole, this minimizes the amount of meat lost. For every cut that is made before the butcher table, there is meat lost. Whether it be from drying, contamination, or some other reason.
Keeping the animal whole keeps as much meat as possible protected from the elements.

Another field tactic that I use is the gutless extraction. Some of the places we hunt here in the Rockies are quite close to home. Almost every year, one or two of the deer or elk we kill, are close enough to home, that I can have them home, skinned, and washed out within thirty to forty minutes after the coup de gras is fired. That being the case, I will often leave the guts in the animal until we reach a vehicle. This avoids getting the chest cavity contaminated with dirt, leaves, or any other debris. The animal is then gutted, and transported home where it is skinned and washed in preparation for the aging process.

Another big lesson I have learned, for antelope in particular, is to get as much blood out of the animal as you can. In my experience, one of the best practices is to take head shots. This leaves the circulatory system intact, allowing it to evacuate its volume even after brain-death has occurred. Obviously this practice is not recommended for an animal who’s head you intend to mount, or save. But for antlerless and meat hunts, it works great. Not only does it empty most of the blood via the headwound, but it does little to no damage to the eatin bits of the animal. And its much easier to gut and clean.

I cant believe how much venison I could have enjoyed so much more over the years, instead of suffering through it. It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to put these things into practice, but it will make a night and day difference in how you enjoy all that beautiful game meat that you work so hard for. I hope these tips help make your meals better and more memorable, and please feel free to offer any tips you may have!

-CBM

“Why Do You Hunt?”

The world we live in is infinitely more convinient than it was even twenty years ago, we can have almost any commodity delivered to our door. We almost feel cheated if our food isn’t ready in moments, the services we use are expected to be streamlined and painless. With our lives being simplified and aided by technology and ingenuity, why do so many of us still find virtue in the massive efforts of hunting down our own food?

Despite the convenience of modern life, it is still no easy task to find a wild animal, and through one manner or another convince it to surrender to the dinner table. There are tedious applications and preparations to do, months in advance, there is tackle to make or procure, and that is to say nothing of the actual physical work of scouting, hiking, butchering, hauling out, and preserving our kill. Depending on the hunt and what we put into it, it could be cheaper to just purchase our protein.

Like many of you, I reject the excuses made by our modern society to leave the forest, to gather my food in little plastic containers. I choose to hunt for many reasons, some of which I can articulate, and others I may not be able to put to paper.

I was made to observe nature, but also to be part of it. An observer of nature is exposed to its beauty and cycle, but as a predator within the circle, you get far more than just a snapshot. The vivid imagery one gets when participating in the life and death struggle of nature cannot be seen, it is experienced. Everything from the beauty of a sunrise, to the revolting stench of death are just part of the highs and lows you get to be a part of. The suffering that comes with the challenge of hunting makes the moments of beauty and success much more than victory, even triumph. As an active part of the ecosystem I inhabit, I am no longer an outsider, but part of the same circle as the animals I hunt.

For all our technological advances, we cannot beat nature’s prescription for clean healthy food. Everyday as I prepare food for my family, it is with great pride that I feed them clean and healthy meats that are free from so many of the side effects of agriculture. Knowing that our food lived a free life, moving as it pleased, eating what nature provides gives me satisfaction as we fullfil our part in the food chain.  My children watch and participate as well, which brings me to my next point.

My children know exactly where their food comes from. Most of the time they are with me, they get to see what it takes to bring home these tasty meals. They know what it costs, they are intimately aware with the effort required to get it done. They know the value of the life of the animal, and the sacred responsibilty to respect it. Our traditions may or may not be important, but respect for sacrifice such as this is a must. And while speaking on tradition and its value, I’ll add this;

Doing something because we always have, is not necessarily a good reason to continue so. It is the virtue and moral value of our traditions that should earn them a place in our future.  Handing down a gun for example is traditionally something of great importance to many of us, but it means nothing if the responsibility and respect for it are not expressed in kind.

My Brothers and I, together in adventures of every kind.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the traditions and hunting in general, is the deep conection and camaraderie we feel with our fellows. Nothing I have experienced can quite compare to the friendship and company of loved ones who stand beside us in our adventures. I have so many close friends, like Ive said before, many of them are related by blood and others that should be. Most of these relationships have been cemented in both good times and bad, usually on a cold mountain also involving darkness, steep terrain, snow, rain, fire, heavy lifting, late nights and early mornings. It may sound bad, but the triumph over all is what makes memories. And memories are the lasting beautiful thing that we take with us to turn into tradition.

I will never apologize for being a hunter, and I will fight for the right to do so always. Not just for the reasons above, but because I take responsibility for what I eat instead of allowing others to kill on my behalf. Instead of distancing myself from the unpleasantness of taking a life, I respectfully do it on my own. Cleaning, butchering, and preserving it as best I can. Instead of absent consent, then scavenging on the sanitized remains at the market.

It is my hope that our future will be full of great experiences based on honored traditions. And that those traditions will keep the virtues of hunting safely treasured in the hearts of those that will someday take our place.

-CBM

Two Many First’s, the 25 Creedmoor goes Deer Hunting

A young man’s first deer is a memory that lasts a lifetime, but this story has more than one first time.

The 25 Creedmoor project that I named Operation Quarter Lord, has taken down its first big game animal. But it doesn’t stop there either, it is also the first time a Blackjack bullets ace 131 has been used on a deer.

It started late one afternoon, after a heavy rain storm had passed through the dry desert canyons of Utah. Myself, my Brother, and a good friend of ours headed up into the hills to see if we could get on to a deer or two. Also in tow was my friends son Aiden, who was eager to fill his first deer tag.

Can you spot the buck?

Only a few minutes after setting up the spotting scope, we had eyes on a fine little buck who would fill the tag nicely. The gun obviously was new to him, it was still new to me for that matter but I was very confident in its potential due to much practice.

Aiden was quickly voluntold to get in position for a shot, and after a few moments he more or less said “shooter ready”. We all focused through our perspective optics, and waited for the buck to give us a good broadside shot. When he did, just a moment later, everything went quiet, and we all concentrated on the small buck, six hundred and ten yards away.
Thats no short poke, but this wasn’t Aiden’s first rodeo either. He has practiced all summer shooting further distances with a custom .223 Remington his father built.

Excitement was in the air, and even my own heart pounded. We waited silently as Aiden took his time to get a good hold, and calmly broke the trigger.

I watched as the ultra flat shooting Ace flew through the cool evening air, barely arching above the target due to the uphill angle. It found its mark, as I have found it always does, impacting the young buck behind his left shoulder. He staggered forward a few steps, looking as though he was going to take a dive, but since he didn’t, Aiden sent round two. Running the bolt on the Tikka like some kind of pro. The second bullet also impacted the bucks chest, and after a couple more staggers, and coughing up much blood, he rolled over and died.

The excitement was thick in the air, a Boy’s first deer, a Father’s first successful hunt with his Son, and ontop of that, my excitement for a project perfectly executed.

The deer was dragged back down to the truck, cleaned and inspected, then back home where he was summarily skinned and washed for butchering.

The excitement never dims, be it the first, or just another hunt. These adventures bring so much flavor to our lives, and tables. I can only hope it stays so.

-CBM

Exit wound on the offside

Riton Optics RTS Mod 5 6-24X50 Riflescope

The optics race is a nonstop fight to get the attention of prospective shooters. It has been exciting if nothing else to watch some of the developments over the past decade or so, particularly from a consumer’s point of view. But have there been any real game changers?

I am always on the lookout for good optics, as I am frequently approached by friends and others looking for good shooting options. And optics is one of those heavily fielded questions.
So when I had the opportunity to try out one of Riton Optics scopes, I jumped at it.

Riton is a fairly new manufacturer, I had hardly noticed them before getting hands on one of their scopes. That scope is the RTS Mod5 6-24X50, it is a first focal plane scope, which is a must for me anymore. It has a traditional configuration with a side focus/parralax adjustment, an illumiated proprietary reticle with the rheostat ontop of the eye box, and a focus ring at the back.

First Focal Plane reticle

The reticle and turrets are both MOA, I’m more of an MRAD fan, but at least they both match. It wasn’t that long ago that many scopes were a hybrid mix of MOA and MRAD, thank goodness those days are gone.
I like the reticle, I found it very useful for measuring corrections and holdovers. Being an FFP reticle was also very handy, avoiding any kind of field math is a plus for my slow processor.

The turrets feature a push pull locking system, to keep them from being turned unintentionally. There are fifteen minutes per revolution of the turret with a total of 70 MOA internal adjustment, that is plenty of adjustment for the kind of shooting I do. I ran the scope on two different rifles, first on my 6.5CM MDR, a bullpup semi auto multicaliber, and then on my brand new 25Creedmoor, a custom built bolt rifle in an impressive new caliber. Both rifles shoot well beyond a kilometer, and the Mod 5 had all the elevation and power I needed for such shots. (Scope was mounted in a 20 MOA cant on both rifles)

While shooting the MDR I became quite familiar with the features of the Riton scope, though it took me a second to revert back to MOA.
Engaging targets as far as twelve hundred yards was no problem with the Mod 5. I am not a large magnification shooter, I usually have about five to ten more X’s than I need, but most of the time I shoot between eight and sixteen power.

I think that is where the Mod 5 shines, as with most scopes, you loose some clarity and brightness at the higher magnification. And in my experience, the lower the price point on the scope, the higher the disparity in sharpness at high magnification.
The Mod 5 was no different, I did find that at twenty four power it was a little difficult to pick out little details out past the grand mark. I solved the problem by backing off to eighteen or twenty power for those long observations. I also wish I’d had a sunshade for it, most of my scopes use one, and it is very apparent when even a little bit of sunlight hits the objective. Luckily, Riton has me covered, and Ive got a shade on the way.

I also ran a test on the click values, they were consistent, but slightly off. Over the course of the forty nine minutes of available elevation from my zero, the click value was on average 0.262 MOA. Again, thats a little off, but it was consistent. The good part was it returned to zero perfectly every time, and no significant reticle wandering or cant.
There was a time that I wouldn’t have trusted a sub 1000$ optic to be precise for repeatable turret travel in serious long range shooting, but technology has caught up it seems. And now scopes like this one are showing that not only can it be done, it can be done well.

The Mod 5 weighs in at thirty ounces, which isn’t necessarily light when compared to it’s competition, but its not particularly heavy either. For my taste, it’ll do just fine. I am used to hauling heavy guns all over these mountains, so switching to something this light was very refreshing.

I ran the Riton pretty hard, up and down, zooming in and out, hiking across mountains and riding up dirt roads in the bed of a truck, semi auto fire,  mounting, re-mounting, etc. No issues with it so far, it keeps right up with me.
All Riton scopes are guaranteed for life, with no hoops to jump, or rules to follow. Thats good to know, becasue we all know about Murphy’s Law.

There was plenty of things to like about the Mod 5. I like the reticle, and the the glass is inline with the price point, the internals appear to be robust and repeatable, with simple turret rezeroing. I will also say this, according to the medical practitioner, my eyes are in pretty good shape. So I tend to second guess my own approval of some optics, mainly because what looks fine to me, is usually pretty crummy when someone with anything less than great vision tries it out. I was happy that the Riton RTS Mod 5 got more than just my own approval. The clarity and quality of the imagery seen through the scope was exactly what I would have expected for a scope in this price range.

If I had to pick out the things I dont like about it, I guess that wouldn’t hurt either;
-MRAD for starters, its not 1987 anymore. I know there are some misguided souls out there still addicted to minutes, but the rest of us have graduated to MRAD. Having both options would greatly improve this scopes desirability to a larger audience.
-Turret rotation graduations, would be very helpful to see what rev your on.
-Parrallax, seemed a little off at times, not bad, but requiring frequent adjustment and checking.
-Magnification ring, the texturing was counterintuitive, making it slightly uncomfortable from the shooting position to zoom in or out. This is a very small gripe, and could simply be preference.

I dont want to sound too hard on this scope, because I actually do like it very much. Hunting season is here, and Junior and I have a date with several deer, and elk. I have all the confidence in this scope to get us on target, whether it be a head shot on a cow elk at four hundrd yards, or a high shoulder shot on a big cross canyon buck at eight hundred and fifty yards.

I look forward to a long future with this scope, and Im sure it wont be long till Riton brings something new. They obviously have the drive, adapting newer and better optics is inevitable. I’ll be waiting to see what that is, and I’ll make sure to have an empty set of rings available until it does.

-CBM

Operation Quarter Lord, the 25 Creedmoor

I suppose you could say I’ve come full circle, I started this game with a .25 caliber rifle, and after many many years I have a new one. I learned much with that first rifle, a Ruger M77 in 25-06, I still have it, and I dont think I’ll ever get rid of it.

My love for the 1/4 bore was cut short, by the lack of high Ballistic Coefficient bullets. There is a good assortment of 115-120 grain bullets, but many of them peeter out long before my then goal of one thousand yards. So despite claiming many of my first’s, the 25-06 went to the back of the safe.
In the defiance of time, I always had a 1/4” hole in my soul. Turns out that I wasn’t alone, and some folks with impressive math skills finally saddled the long range quarter-horse. Black Jack Bullets is a new manufacturer with a specialty in high BC 25’s.
As soon as I had spoken with Miles and Logan, I was convinced that my old love of the 25 needed to be rekindled. I almost immediately started Operation Quarter Lord, my goal; a .257 rifle that I could build light, and haul all over these Rocky Mountains to take antelope, deer, and even elk.
Due to the piles of 6.5 Creedmoor brass I had laying around, I decided to go with the 25 Creedmoor. I wanted to stay with a mag fed short action, and with Black Jack’s new high BC bullet (.330G7) it would outperform even the heaviest 6.5 Creedmoor loads.

From Blackjackbullets.com

The project came together very quickly, parts started arriving, and my gunsmith took minimal arm twisting to spin it up. We started with a Tikka T3 action, then added an X-Caliber .25 caliber, seven twist blank. Cut to finish at twenty two inches, because I dont like long rifles. All that was left, was a chassis system. I have always been a big fan of KRG, so I took this opportunity to get hands on their new Bravo chassis, it’s rigid and intuitive design was a perfect fit for this project that I wanted to keep light, but tight. Everything was cut, chambered threaded, and finished at ES Tactical, Eric does great work, and Im beginning to lose track of how many barrels of his I have.

With a twenty MOA scope base mounted on the Tikka, I mounted up my new scope, the RTS Mod 5 6-24X50 from Riton Optics. You can read more about the scope here: Riton RTS Mod5.
For rings I went with Aadland Engineering thirty milimeter HD rings, Mr. Aadland makes top notch mounts and I’ve always loved the quality.

Now that I had the rifle basically built, it was time to start manufacturing the top fueled cartridges that would make the Xcaliber hum. I started fireforming the Alpha Munitions 6.5 Creedmoor brass. I considered myself lucky to have such high quality components available. Alpha makes probably the best brass money can buy, and their small rifle primer brass was perfect for this high pressure project. To make the 25 Creedmoor brass, I swapped my Redding 6.5 Creedmoor die’s bushing out for a .281. Then I would run the lubed neck over a .257 expander ball. I was amazed at how consistent the Alpha brass was, seating depths were extremely uniform due to the constant neck tension. Looking back, I’d probably go with a .282 bushing, to work the brass less.

I also tried several other brass manufacturers, just for the sake of science. I made 25 Creedmoor brass out of Hornady, Lapua (SP), Federal, and Petersen. As you might imagine, the Federal and Hornady had some pressure issues and stiff extraction with the hottest loads. Even the Petersen was a little sticky, but the small primer cases won the day for sure. Both Lapua and Alpha had zero stiff extraction, but the Alpha took a smidge more powder. This allowed for a non compressed load, with the best velocity, and no pressure related problems. Alpha is definitely the way to go.

With both bullets and brass so rare, I was very slow and methodical in my loading. The long pointed tips of the 131 Ace seemed to fit just fine in my 6.5 seating die, and despite their long nose, they still fit the AI mag. I seated the bullets twenty thousandths off the lands, and charged the cases with 42.7 grains of Hodgdon H4350.

Hornady 120 HP’s were used for fire forming

The chronoed loads with the 131 Blackjacks averaged 2930fps, with single digit SD numbers. The groups fired were easily 1/2 MOA, and if I wasn’t so terrible at shooting groups, they’d likely cut in half. The X caliber barrel obviously was a big part of the accuracy, which wasn’t a surprise to me as the other X caliber’s I have shot were also very accurate. And even though we cut it at 22 inches the velocity was right where I had hoped it would be.

L to R: .25 Ace131, 6.5 Barnes 140, 6.5 Berger 140, 6.5 Hornady 140

The main appeal of the Ace 131 is obviously the BC, which is advertised at .330(G7), I have found that number to be fairly conservative.
Unlike many manufacturers, Blackjack must not inflate their data. After punching in all the data to various ballistic engines, I was consistently shooting over targets by a minute or two. The only way to compensate for it was to true up the BC to a slightly higher number. Once I did that, my Trasol program was predicting the bullet path close enough to make cold bore hits on 1-2MOA targets at 575,840, and 1057, each with a follow up confirmation hit. All this in a very switchy wind as a storm came in, the Ace didnt seem to mind. With my average DA here in the high desert, the Ace should stay supersonic to almost a mile.

My next project for this rifle is hunting season, which is only a few days away. I might make it easier on Junior by just taking the one rifle for both of us, and any deer within half a mile would be foolish to show his tines. With a trajectory nearly as flat as my 7SAUM shooting 183 Sierra Match Kings, but the tender recoil of a Creedmoor, I cant imagine a sweeter little deer rifle. And first chance I get I’ll put it up against wild Wyoming’s pronghorn as well, but the likely precursor will be Rocky Mountain Elk.

My very first elk fell to a single shot from that old 25-06, and with the added power and accuracy of the Blackjack Ace 131 I am very confident both Junior and I can pull it off again.

Im a hunter at heart, so thats where I always turn towards. But the 25 Creedmoor would really shine in a competition setup. With its light recoil, super flat trajectory, and great accuracy, it would stand ahead of most of it’s 6.5 competitors.

This project is still very fresh, so I will continue to update this post with new information as I get it. There will be acompanying youtube videos soon, on both the rifle and its components. Follow my social media pages for frequent updates, and for answers to your questions. And follow the links here in the article to get to those mentioned.

-CBM