Category Archives: hunting

Essential Gear for Elk Hunting

Elk hunting is a dream hunt for many of us, I am lucky enough to have had the chance over and over throughout the years. If an elk hunt is on your list of must-do hunts, here I have put together my thoughts on the gear you won’t want to be without when you go.
The Rocky Mountains are a bountiful and impressive place to hunt, whether you are after monster mulies, elk, or one of the other beautiful species herein, it can be quite a job. Today we’ll speak specifically about the elk hunting side of it, and the differences you should know between elk hunting, and smaller animals like deer.

The Bugle of a Bull
Contrary to what you see on all the hunting shows, calling elk is not as simple as it appears. Elk are most vocal during the rut, which is usually in September. If you are hunting outside of their rutting schedule, then your bugling tube and all your practice might be nearly useless. If it is a general season hunt, or any hunt where there will likely be people around adding hunting pressure, elk tend to shut up unless they are rutting. So keep in mind when your hunt is, and the kind of pressure they will be under. Elk are quite smart, and a call under the wrong circumstances may send them charging off into oblivion. Whereas during the rut, they can be hormone-driven fools, that come in fast looking for a fight.
Cow calls and other noises can be useful depending again on the general mood on the mountain you are hunting. I’ve brought in several bulls just raking the trees with a broken branch. If a big bull is what you are after, you have to play to his attitude.
Whether you are after a bull or a cow, you will want to keep an eye out for the cows. There are lots of eyes and ears in a herd of elk, and the ladies are usually the ones to bust you. Minimal sounds and calls may be all you need to find them and get into place for a shot. If you are hunting active herds, make sure you bring your A level calling game, a good bugle can bring in a monster on a string.

Boots of Hermes
Elk hunting will drive you right to edge of sanity, plodding through soft mountain soil, chasing towards a ridgeline in pouring rain or snow, your legs and feet will take punishment like never before. Having a good pair of boots is absolutely essential, or even better, have more than one pair. Sometimes you might find yourself sneaking quietly through dense forest, and other times clawing your way up a loose rock pile or chute. Having good boots and perhaps several different pairs for these differing terrains may keep you fresh. Make sure you have good comfy shoes waiting for you back at camp as well, with clean fresh socks. You’ll want to care for your feet as best as possible because they will be punished.
Lightweight is a must, but the weather can dictate the rest. If it’s cold and snowy then you will obviously want insulating boots to keep the heat in, and if it’s wet and raining, you’ll want waterproof footwear to keep from getting soggy and cold. The best practice is to have several good options, that way your feet get a pleasant change from day to day and hike to hike.

Extraction: Rope and a Plan
Until you walk up to your first downed elk, they just look like a big deer from a distance. But as soon as you lay hands on your prize, you will realize just how big they are. The realization shortly after recovery, offers quite the challenge, even with a buddy just turning a large elk around is hard enough. So one of the most important things you can have before leaving camp is a plan to extract the animal, that could be quartering it and packing it out, or hauling it away in one big piece. Whether it is horses, ATV’s, or just some good backpack frames, make sure you have everything in place beforehand.
A good extraction plan could just be a large group of friends with an affinity for intense labor, or it could be as simple as a profane and indecent amount of cordage. I’ve been party to several different types of elk recoveries, but whole is by far my favorite, and for that, you usually need enough rope to reach the animal with either a vehicle or a hypothetical team of mules. We’ve pulled elk nearly half a mile up steep canyons with enough rope, other times we have carried quarters from a pole carried by two, and the most ingenious plan ever, we built a sled from fallen trees and used it to drag an entirely butchered elk up a steep hill to the truck. There are hundreds of ways to do it, research the country you intend to hunt, and see what kind of work it will take to get your prey back to camp. Sometimes if you are lucky, you can drive an ATV or truck right up to them, of course, those stories don’t sound as adventuresome.

Bag it
As I mentioned already, elk are very large animals, handling a fallen animal the size of a horse can be a lot of work. If you are lucky enough to get it out whole, you will need to get it cooled down and skinned asap. If you end up having to pack it out, it will likely be in large pieces, and nothing beats some high-quality game bags to keep those pieces in. Typical game bags may be a bit small for an elk unless its in pieces. Make sure you have enough game bags to protect your meat from contaminants and insects, it will make it that much better to eat and butcher once you get back home.
It’s also a good idea to have a bunch of twine or paracord you can use to tie-up open ends, or to hang it from. Many times we have had to make multiple trips to pack out an elk, and sometimes overnight. Paracord is great for hanging up those pieces left behind to keep out of reach of foraging animals, it also keeps the meat clean and elevated where the air can maintain it cool and as fresh as possible.

Eternal Optimism
Elk hunting can be feast or famine, days can pass with little to no sign. One day they could be everywhere, and the next day they may have evaporated into the atmosphere. Elk hunting requires a good attitude, and if you couple that good attitude to diligence you can be successful. Study the area, know where the animals go when spooked, get a feel for their safe zone, and unless its a last-ditch effort, do not push them out of their safe zone. You’d be better off waiting for them to come back out on their own, whereas if you push them, they might run for thirty miles and never look back. In my experience, you don’t get the prize without putting in the effort, only after your hopes are broken, and your body pushed to the edge, does that magical moment happen when stars and sights align.

-CBM

Why you should try waterfowl hunting

If you weren’t lucky enough to be raised in a hunting family, getting started can be a little bit intimidating. One great way to get your feet wet, is with a little waterfowl hunting. We’ll discuss some of the progressive ways you can experience a good hunt, and by the end you’ll know what I mean by wet feet.

Ducks and geese were my first hunting addiction, it didn’t take long to get hooked on wing-shooting these high speed birds. If you like shooting shotguns at all, then shooting ducks is an incredible and fun challenge. They come in from any direction, at speeds varying from almost a hover to so fast you just hear them zip by as the wind whistles through their feathers.
Waterfowl hunting can be done all over the country, you probably are a lot closer to a marsh than you think. And though you might think it requires chest-waders and expensive equipment and outerwear, you can actually have a great time just hiding in the tall grass in earth toned clothes.

Getting started into water fowling can be done at your pace. If you have a shotgun capable of shooting non-toxic shot, your in business. Most waterfowl management areas require the use of non-toxic shot due to lead contamination in filter feeders.

Some of the best duck hunting spots are all on the water, but you can still have a great time hunting from walkable banks and shores. Decoys can help bring the birds in, but if you play your cards right you can shoot a limit by being in the right place at the right time. A good bird dog with an affinity for water could be an invaluable hunting partner in this case.
Shooting ducks and geese will turn you either into a crack shot, or a nutcase. Their aforementioned speed and agility make them a very challenging target.

I started out as a kid with a classic Remington 870 12 gauge, as have countless thousands. Hard to go wrong with something that simple and tested, but any good shotgun will do if it fits you.
Due to the typical wet and muddy conditions encountered when waterfowl hunting, it would be a good idea to use a gun with synthetic furniture like the Benelli Nova.
If goose hunting is to be part of your waterfowl adventure, then you may also want to consider a shotgun with a three or three and a half inch chamber. The added shot capacity can be helpful with bigger birds.
Whether you choose a pump shotgun, or a semi-auto like the Beretta A300 make sure you practice with it. One thing I love about shotgunning is that a lowly red-neck shooting his Grandad’s model 12 can out-shoot a millionaire with a twenty thousand dollar English double. So don’t fret if your gear doesn’t match the guys on the Duck’s Unlimited calendar.
As with most types of bird hunting, you can get into it as much or as little as you want. You might start by just walking down an irrigation canal wearing jeans and a jacket. Or you can go full Redhead with flat-bottomed boats, motorized decoys, and electronic calls. I would suggest wading into it slowly, and see what works for you. One of the best things you can do is to find a local group or club that can have you along, they can show you the tricks and nuances of your local marsh.
Keep in mind that waterfowl don’t mind the weather, and some of my absolute best days wing-shooting have been in completely miserable conditions. Wind, snow, and cold seem to produce the best hunting days in my neck of the Rockies. Hopefully you don’t have to endure the same just to try it out, but if Im going to go out, it’ll be in a winter storm.

Contrary to popular belief, ducks are edible. They can actually be done quite well if you spend the time to learn to prepare them. So you can add another feather in your cap by enjoying a meal you took from the sky into the kitchen.

Perhaps one of the best parts of waterfowl hunting is the camaraderie between friends and family. There is always plenty of time to talk, take friendly jabs at each others shooting, or tell old hunting stories.

So you might start out with a two-hundred dollar hand-me-down shotgun, and an old musty duck coat. But you could end up knee deep in muddy water with your very best friends, freezing together while discussing shot patterns, retriever breeds, and Pintail whistles, all while your clammy wet feet shiver from worn leaks in your favorite waders. If that sounds like fun to you, then you might need to try duck hunting.
-CBM

Triumph Favors the Prepared

I consider myself quite lucky when it comes to hunting, not only am I blessed to hunt frequently, but I’ve managed to become mildly proficient at it. This past season was a tough one when compared to the preceding decade, but perseverance and healthy bit of luck kept a special surprise for me waiting at the end.
I say it was a tough season, but to be more accurate, it was a season void of mule deer bucks. This came as surprise to most of us as it had been a wet year, with plenty of feed. And there seemed to be as many deer around as there always had been.

I spent several weeks scouting my traditional spots, trying to get a pattern established with them. But I was astonished with how few deer I saw, and nearly none of them were bucks, much less a good buck. So as October arrived, and friends, family and I began hunting, the outlook wasn’t too good.

Days passed before we even aimed a rifle at a buck, and even then it was nothing big enough to write home about. Everybody I spoke to both on and off the mountains described a very quiet and inactive hunt. Dad and I were lucky enough to get on to a small buck that found his way into the bed of the truck, but even after five days hunting, I could count every buck we’d seen on one hand. And not one of them was more than a fork.

On the last day of the season, we had another patch of good luck. A very cold wind had brought in a snow flurried storm, dusting the entire mountain with a white coating. I know from experience that when the weather turns off bad, the hunting gets better. The tops of the mountains were enveloped in clouds, making it almost impossible to see more than a hundred yards or so. I determined that the foothills would be a better place to try, at least there we could see for half a mile or so, depending on the snowfall. As the early-morning darkness slowly turned to light, I found myself glassing everywhere I could make out through the falling snow. And before it was even quite shooting light, I spotted three deer feeding their way up through a grassy open area on the edge of a deep river ravine. Their dark bodies contrasted greatly with the all-white surrounding, I could tell immediately that one of them was a good buck.
The deer were eight hundred and fifty yards or so away, they were feeding quietly, so I decided to close the distance to somewhere that at least had a better place to shoot from than my current position. Anybody who has hunted Mule Deer knows how tricky they can be, and this guy was no exception. He must have either sensed our closing presence or perhaps caught sight of us as we snuck through the brush. When we reached the spot I had hoped to ambush him, they had gone into the deep river draw with its thickly wooded sides. I knew that the buck was likely to have either gone down the river towards the safety of civilization, a place I surely could not shoot at him. Or he went up the river, towards the safety of the brush-covered canyons that expand for hundreds of miles. I took a gamble, expecting that if he’s gone down, he’s likely already gone and we missed our chance. So we went up, towards the top of the ravine, slowly and quietly glassing the whole way. The snow continued to fall, and the wind picked up carrying wisps of snow from the trees where it had accumulated. I prepped for the shot I hoped was coming, though I had no idea where it would be.
The flying snow made my rangefinder almost useless, still I estimated the distances to various locations where the buck might come out. I laid flat on the snowy ground, hoping to avoid further detection by either the deer, or a large group of wild turkeys that foraged about sixty-yards uphill from us. I brushed the snow off the lens of my scope, knowing that any second I would need to see through it clearly.
As I laid glassing above the opposite side of the draw my eyes caught through the fog the unmistakeable image of a white deer butt, with a broad face beside it looking back directly at me. I knew it was him, and I immediately dropped my binoculars, and shouldered my rifle, I could see him through the falling snow. He was only a step or two away from disappearing into the brush permanently, he made his last mistake by looking back to see if I was there.
I knew that there was only seconds to shoot or lose him forever, I had estimated that treeline to be about 400 yds, and with no time to dial, I held four MOA just inside his right shoulder, hoping to cross his vitals diagonally. I pressed the trigger, and the shot broke.
Everything felt right, despite my rushed shot. Steady hold on him, good clean trigger pull, and I held a good hand, full of Blackjacks. My 25 Creedmoor is quite possibly the most predictable and flat shooting rifle I own, and I had a warm feeling that the buck had succumbed like many others, to the 131 Grain Ace.
After a grueling hike across that miserable little creek canyon, I closed in on the spot where I’d last seen him. The snow continued to fall as I quietly poked into the trees, prepared for another shot, I carried my rifle at the low ready. But the tension evaporated into excitement as my eyes picked out antlers just a few yards away, already built up with a white snowy coating.

The buck was the biggest deer I or anyone I know even saw during the whole hunt

The buck had only made it a leap or two before he collapsed, the shot had hit him perfectly. It entered at the back of his rib cage on his right side, it traversed him diagonally and exited left of the side of his neck. The Ace had cut his lung in half, and detached most of its pulmonary plumbing.

I was amazed at how quickly this season had turned from bust into bounty. The sun was just coming up, though you’d never see it through all the snowy storm clouds. We could get this buck back down to town, and be home for breakfast.
It was mostly luck, but triumph favors the prepared. Turning off during the hunt just isn’t an option for me, eyes, ears, and nose are always going. Familiarity and training with my gear all year long have paid off over and over, so that one chance you might get doesn’t go to waste. Be prepared, and embrace the high speed tunnel vision that is the mind of a predator within you, it’s there for a reason…

-CBM

450 Bushmaster, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

If I had a rifle for every time I fell in love with an idea, the world would lay quietly in a torpid slumber beneath a blanket of heaped weapons strewn beyond the horizon. I was blessed with a vivid imagination since childhood. My mind is in a perpetual cycle of finding project ideas, digesting them mentally until my brain has either built the whole thing and tested its flaws, or until the same has been exhausted to the smoldering dumpster where ideas die. If it weren’t for the occasional successful brainstorm that ends with a nifty new project, I might lose my mind. This is a story about one of those.

450 Bushmaster cartridges loaded with Hornady 350 grain round nose bullets, these bullets were .458 until I swedged them down to .452 for the Bushmaster

I have long wished for a slow and heavy cartridge that could readily be used for subsonic launching of big, heavy bullets that will go a very long distance. There were many possible suspects; big bore cartridges, the Whisper family, and many others. I had long wished for a 510 Whisper, but my suppressor inventory ventured only to the .46 mark. Making the 510 and similar cartridges inapplicable. The next best thing for a diet of heavy and slow would then be something in the .45 realm.
But even then, .451 or .458? Why not both?

The .458 bore has a much larger and heavier selection of bullets, and they are easily swaged down to .451. Which makes a perfect fit for the 450 Bushmaster. The 450 enjoys quality brass from Hornady, making reloading a snap. And using mild charges for subsonic velocities would keep the brass life high. The straight walls of the cartridge would hopefully last to be reloaded again and again.
The beauty of my main rifle, the Desert Tech SRS A1 Covert, is its multi-caliber role. I have a pile of barrels accumulating for it in my safe, so starting this 450 project was as simple as a barrel, some dies, and some powder and bullets.
The sixteen and a half-inch barrel was made by ES Tactical, crowned and threaded for my SilencerCo Hybrid. It didn’t take long to start falling in love with this basically large pistol.
I found that the factory Hornady Black 450 Bushmaster ammunition was a good place to start. At 100 yards it was printing groups just under two inches, I was hoping for better so I tried my hand at reloading. A set of dies for the BM isn’t as easy to come by as other calibers, all I could find were Hornady and another set from Lee Precision. I opted for the Lee set, which I still don’t regret. The four die set has allowed me to load quite a bit of very precise ammunition.

Seeing as how my objective was to eventually reach a heavy subsonic load, I went ahead and ordered Lee’s .458 to .451 swage die. That way I could take advantage of the larger and heavier selection of bullets in the 458 family. I wasted no time in doing so, some of the first reloads I tried were Hornady 350 grain round nose bullets swaged down to 451. They did pretty well, but I wanted bigger, so I purchased a box of 405-grain lead bullets that had been made for the 45-70. The lead slipped easily through my swage die, and in no time they were 451’s.

Subsonic loads for the Bushmaster used 405-grain lead solids, these were made to shoot in the 45-70, but after running them through the Lee sizing die, they ran perfectly through my Bushmaster

I tried a couple different powders, but as usual, when it comes to subsonic shooting, IMR Trailboss powder was the ticket I needed. I was blown away with the consistency of the results, I was seeing velocities more consistent than anything I had loaded prior. Not only single digits but SD numbers in the 1-4 fps range. I was praying that this would translate into extremely accurate ammunition, it wasn’t bad but not as good as I’d hoped. Accuracy still averaged around 1-1.5 MOA at 100 yards, good enough to hit most targets of mine at the ranges we expected.

My excitement about this whole Bushmaster project was tripled when Mad Scientist/Gunsmith Eric Smith built me a second barrel, this time for my Desert Tech MDR. The MDR is a semi-automatic bullpup, it brings accuracy and multi-caliber universality to a compact and quality package. I couldn’t wait to try my same loads in the MDR, I figured it likely wouldn’t cycle the action but I wanted to try anyway.

The accuracy was almost the same from the MDR as from my SRS A1, but as I feared it would only cycle the faster supersonic ammunition. I am currently working on an alteration to make it cycle, if it works out, it may be the coolest thing ever.

The goal, of course, was to use this project for some very quiet hunting. Sneaking into bow range of animals is exciting enough, but the ability for movie quiet rifle shots with one MOA accuracy made it even more exciting.

This past season we were able to put it into use, and the results were exactly as I had hoped. We had eyes on a small group of mule deer that we could predict movements with some regularity, so a good hide was fashioned that would give a view of them with no more than 120 or so yards max range. As it turns out, a young buck made his way across the opening one dusky evening, and he wandered around the 60-yard line.
The hushed report of the Bushmaster made every ear in the group perk up, but only one of them jumped. He jumped from the impact of the bullet, which hit him right above his right elbow, and passed through him exiting almost exactly opposite. He ran for about 20 yards where he toppled over and kicked on the ground for a short time.

This young buck hoped to escape from the Bushmaster, but a perfect shot through both lungs shortened his run to a 20-yard dash before he toppled

Internal inspection of the buck showed perfect damage to his lungs, the bullet passed through both lungs rupturing many vital passages along the way. His lungs quickly filled with blood, causing what most of us would call a near-perfect kill. Another positive result was very minimal meat damage, the lower velocity didn’t seem to cause all the bloody mess that supersonic bullets tend to do. It was more reminiscent of an arrow wound.

With experiences like this and all the other advantages that it brings, this will likely not be the last time we use the 450 Bushmaster for a hunt. While the purpose I have described here today may not be orthodox, it shows you what can be done with a little imagination and firepower.

-CBM

PVA Cayuga Solid Copper Hunting Bullets

The good folks at Patriot Valley Arms helped get me started down this road, what seems like a very long time ago. Good people and good products are the norm for PVA.

The 123 Grain Cayuga loaded into Petersen brass

I was given the opportunity to test drive PVA’s new 6.5 line of solid hunting bullets. Hunting is my bread and butter, so I was excited to put these lathe turned solids into action.

The 123 grain Cayuga bullets are turned from solid copper bar stock, using the same alloy of copper that jacketed bullets use. Turning them on a CNC lathe gives precise control to bullet geometry, it is this precision cut construction that gives the Cayuga its uniformity.

The bullets are solid copper, with a hollow point cut into the tip. They have a tapered boat-tail, and a driving band around the middle. The gentle taper of the ogive makes these bullets very generous when it comes to seating depth sensitivity.

I cautiously loaded these bullets into some 6.5 Creedmoor brass from Petersen, with a goodly charge of H4350, and took them to the range. Initial groups were easily sub MOA, and with little adjustments, I had them shooting around half an inch.

It was time to hit the track on this test drive, a Rocky Mountain Elk hunt. Some might think that a 6.5 Creedmoor is a bit light for elk, which it may be. But I’d hunted with similar setups plenty of times in the past, so I wasn’t worried.

The first elk to fall to the Cayuga, hit at 475 yards

The first engagement we had with an elk took place at 475 yards, a young cow stood quartering away. The bullet hit her at the top of the left side rib-cage, on a slightly down angle. It passed through the ribs, passed through her lungs leaving quite a mess, and exited the front of her chest just to the right of her neck. She dropped immediately, and slid down the snowy slope. Damage was exactly what I expected to see from such an acute injury. Broken bones, spalling through tissue, leaving mayhem in organs which could no longer sustain life.

The Cayuga plowed through these ribs leaving a clear path of destruction
These lungs stood no chance, ripped open by the passing bullet

The second Cayuga fired at a big game animal was a mature cow elk, chewing away at the brush bark on a cold winter storm blown mountain. She was 520 yards away this time, completely unaware of the heated copper cutlass headed her way. It again impacted in the ribs and shoulder, breaking both the shoulder blade, several ribs, as well as one of her vertebrae as it passed by. She instantly dropped, and bled out as quickly as one would expect.

Entrance wound on the second elk, after passing through the shoulder blade
Again the lungs were damaged beyond function, both animals quickly succumbed to their injuries

The damage done on both animals was very proportionate to the size of the expanded Cayuga, unfortunately both of them blew right through the animals so I was unable to see their final dimensions. Never the less they did a perfect job, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

If you are in need of an all copper hunting bullet, or if you want a hunting bullet with an extremely high ballistic coefficient, then give these Cayuga bullets a good look. When the shots count the most, send something that brings it all.

-CBM