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.
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 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 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.
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.
Every winter, after the cold snow starts to build up in these Rocky Mountains, I get a bit of fever going. Not the kind of fever that normally comes with the cold season, this fever is far more profound. Its a fever born not from germs or microorganisms, but rather comes from my DNA. Like many of you I was born to hunt, and the knowledge that hunting season is around the corner fills me with excitement and a feverish desire to get after it. The late-season elk hunts in our state of Utah give a much-needed extension to this natural high, and its one we all seek out ever year. This year was certainly no exception.
My herd of elk is a small one, it consists mainly of cows and their offspring. There is usually a few yearling cows, and spikes as well, and even more infrequent are the occasional mature bulls that follow them onto the winter range. Every year they come back the same pass they did the year before, and miles away, hunched behind a spotting scope gnawing on a cheese stick you will find me. Usually, I have all my gear ready by the time they show up, and this year it was only a matter of hours before we were on them.
Both friends and family participate in this yearly ritual, and today it was me and a good friend who we’ll call “Russ”. We had seen part of the herd heading in the right direction the evening before, and this morning we returned to our glassing post to see if they were still there. I say the right direction meaning a place where we knew we could get a downed elk out without extreme difficulty, we made our way towards the small group as they fed through the snow.
At seven thousand feet the air is thin and cold, and the fifteen to twenty mile an hour winds were not making it any better. We continued our stalk through the cold wind, knowing at least that it would cover both our sound and scent. We closed the distance to five hundred and twenty yards, any closer we would lose them with the rise of the hill. So we planted ourselves and set up our equipment, Russ was shooting a custom-built .260 Remington Ackley improved, on the end he had a Delta P Design 6.5 suppressor, and a Bushnell Elite Tactical scope mounted on top. In the magazine were a handful of Hornady 140 grain ELD-m handloads. Russ pushed his rifle up a snowy embankment pointing towards the elk herd, and I slid up to another spot, with my Desert Tech SRS A2 sitting in the saddle of my Precision Rifle Solutions tripod. I had been using the twenty-four inch 6.5 Creedmoor barrel in my rifle, and had very recently installed a new optic, the Riton Optics RT-S Mod 7 4-32 riflescope. I was shooting a new experimental lathe-turned solid bullet from Patriot Valley Arms, it is a 123 grain copper solid hollow point. Both of our rifles were shooting very close ballistic patterns, in fact, at the five-hundred and twenty yards we both dialed 2.2 MRAD of elevation, and with the wind blowing at a slight angle, we both held about .2 MRAD left wind. A wind call we would later rejoice over.
As we lay there freezing in the snow, we had to wait for a good shot. The low angle against the ridge made interference from brush and branches an issue, so we waited as the wind carried snow over our rifles and faces. The plan was to execute a command fire, both of us shooting in near unison to hit both animals before the rifle report ever reached them. Sounds easy enough, unless your trigger finger is freezing into a stiff hook while you wait. After a few long and shivery moments, we had two cows that offered us an acceptable shot. After loudly whispering back and forth about who was shooting at what, we counted down, fingers on triggers. In my mind, I decided it would be better to just shoot upon hearing the report of Russ’ rifle, so that’s what I did.
I was already pressing the trigger shoe on my SRS when I heard the rip of his 260 go off, so I finished my pull and sent the second round uphill towards the unsuspecting elk. Russ’ bullet found its mark perfectly, hitting just behind the left shoulder. She immediately lurched forward from the startling impact, while a few yards behind her, the second cow chewed bark from some of the brush. She may have seen the other cow leap forward, but it was too late. My bullet also impacted just behind her shoulder passing through her lungs and tapping her vertebrae as it passed by. This impact dropped her in her tracks, and she rolled down the steep and slippery slope. The first cow had just made it perhaps forty or fifty yards, both of us still trained on her with our rifles. And we watched as she stumbled, and tipped over, leaving a bright red blood trail through the pure white snow. It was over so fast, and yet my trigger finger was nearly frozen. I stowed it between my cheek and gum for a few minutes to bring back sensation.
We stood up in the breeze and watched as the remainder of the small herd slowly worked away from us. High fives were exchanged, and even a hug from the excitement. The work, however, had just begun, I doubted we would be getting too much aid in our elk extraction. So we left everything we wouldn’t need and carried only the bare essentials like knives, warm clothes, some rope and a few snacks. The steep mountain and snow-covered ground made the going slow, but an hour or so later, we stood over one of the two elk. After investigating her injuries and condition, we triangulated the other elk’s location based off the tracks leaving the first. The other cow lay exactly where expected, and left us a good trail to find her with.
As we began the decent with our two prizes, the morning had given way to a beautiful and sunny midday. We took our time, rolling and sliding these two ladies down the hill, taking breaks as needed.
As the afternoon went on however the clouds came back in, and threatened to freeze over the whole mountain. As we sat reposed in the snow, I watched as Russ’ dark pants steamed in the sunlight. But as the clouds came over us, it was like an icy blanket, and we both watched as the steam from his pants quickly turned to frost before our eyes. It was time to move.
After another four or so hours, we made it back to the truck, where we were met by other good friends who helped load our prize. An incredible blessing to have good friends to help after such a labor intensive day.
We have shot several other elk this winter, the most common factor is good friends and solid relationships. Elk hunting seems to forge relationships between like minded hunters, the intensity of labor, and overwhelming obstacles seem to sort fair-weather friends from what I consider to be the finest group of dear friends. I consider myself lucky to have them.
I’ve been on a few deer hunts over the years, and nothing teaches you a lesson better than being unprepared. I’ve been through it before, and know how it can turn a good hunt into a mess. With that in mind lets go over a few things you can do to keep from learning things the hard way.
Preparation is key to having a successful hunt, its easy to remember the most obvious things such as camo, arrows, and your deer tag. But there’s more to hunting than just shooting the animal your after.
1. Prepare your equipment.
We’ve all seen someone show up with an un-zeroed rifle, no knife, or forgot their hunter orange. Besides having your standard checklist, it’s a good idea to have an equipment readiness checklist, not just a “do I have it” list.
Make sure your rifle is zeroed, and you have enough ammo, preferably all from the same lot. Check scope rings and action screws, any mechanical thing that could cause you issues in the field. And finally, make sure it all works properly. I always like to go test fire my hunting rifles just before the hunt, if not just to function test them, but also to foul the bore. I leave my barrels fouled before a hunt, I find they shoot more predictably that way. Make sure you have the tools necessary to service your equipment should it be needed.
2. Prepare for the kill
Sometimes we focus so hard on the hunt that we neglect prep for the kill. It may be counting chickens before the hatch, but good preparation for the kill shows diligence toward our goal. And being committed to the goal will help keep us in the right state of mind.
When I hunt antelope on the warm windy plains of Wyoming, I have a cooler full of ice ready to drop the carcass into.
I always carry several knives, rope, and other tools needed to properly care for a downed animal. Every precaution should be taken to ensure meat doesn’t spoil, and nothing gets wasted.
Depending on the terrain you hunt, you may want to have alternative strategies to extract your quarry such as handcarts, or sleds. You dont want to find yourself alone and five miles in, with a downed bull elk and nothing but your hands and money-maker to get him out.
3.Backup gear, guns ammo, etc.
For many hunts, there is no second chance, always bring backup equipment.
I always bring at least two guns, and enough ammo for both of them to fight my way home if needs be. A broken firing pin could end a once in a lifetime hunt, bringing a second rifle (equally trained upon and prepared per step 1 above) could be a hunt-saver. Extra clothes, backpacks, cold-weather and rain gear can all be the last thread keeping you from folding.
Make sure you have two of everything that is vital to the hunt and your survival, some of us hunt in rugged country where things can go south pretty quick. And you can always count on one of your partners to be unprepared, so maybe have a backup for your backup too.
4. Prepare to make yourself comfortable
So many hunts can be miserable due to a lack of simple preparation. Things like a foam pad to sit on in the snow, or a mosquito net to keep from being eaten alive à la spring in Montana.
A good trekking pole could save your knees from exhaustion, and good boots are a must! As are a comfy pair of sneakers to change into back at camp.
It’s hard enough to hunt when you are tired, hungry, and cold. Spend the time preparing every little thing you can to be comfortable in the wild, if you aren’t successful in your hunt, at least be comfortable.
5. Prepare your body
I am terribly guilty of not doing this one, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
The exhaustive labor involved in hunting can tax the human body like few other things. Do yourself a favor and get the ham chassis in shape before the season starts.
Good nutrition and sleep have always been helpful to me during and prior to hunting season. And I usually find myself in the best shape of the year right at the end of my hunts.
I try and get plenty of hiking in, so my legs and back are ready for the rigors of pursuit.
Everybody’s body is different and needs its own care regimen prior to exerting the load of a big hunt. Find out what works best for you, whether its diet, exercise, or any other thing you can do to be in your best shape. It not only will make your hunt better, but it will also keep you safer in the wilderness.
Those of us who grew up in the Scouting program learned to be prepared. For at least this hunter, it is the best time of the year and deserves attention to detail preparing for every eventuality we may encounter.
The morning was damp from overnight rain, a muggy feeling as I rolled out of bed this morning. An early workday, and I was not feeling it yet. I stumbled down the stairs toward the kitchen, and turned on the light. The silence of the early morning surrounded me. As I sat there in a sleepy stupor, thinking about the day’s events. I was startled, by the sound of a grocery sack rustling across the room. For a moment, I thought I saw a shadow of movement near bye. I went about the business of making my breakfast when from the corner of my eye, I saw him. In the blink of an eye, a small dark shadow shot across the kitchen floor. My jaw clenched as I wrapped my still cloudy mind around the situation. An intruder, with no respect for sovereignty, or private property, was now threatening the peace of my home. All I could think of is my wife and her reaction upon discovering this interloper. No comfort, no solace, and the screams and torment would go on for days. In just a few seconds, all these scenarios played out in my mind. And above all this, a sharp deadline loomed over my head. My co-worker who was to carpool with me, would be pulling into the driveway any moment…Time slowed, and I squinted my eyes. My instincts aligned, and I transformed. My true nature revealed. Almost as if he felt the challenge, this foul rodent confronted me. Showing no fear, he walked out into the open, our eyes again met. We stared at each other, studying the other’s movements, calculating. When he’d had enough, he scurried behind one of my wife’s plants. Like a professional predator, I sprang into action. I hastily descended to the basement and armed myself. In no time, I had returned again to the kitchen. In my hands, I held the equalizer. His speed was now matched by my marksmanship. My weapon of choice was my daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake issue Daisy air-rifle. My triumphant return to the kitchen was a deeply disturbing realization for my opponent. I could see his worried demeanor from a crossed the kitchen. As time ticked away, I knew I needed to make it count. Several times, he exposed himself, but with the patience of a trained killer. I waited for the perfect moment. As he showed himself for the last time, I drew aim, and began the long trigger pull. When the shot was released, the BB shot crossed the kitchen, under the table and between the legs of a chair. The wee mouse disappeared from view, only the cold sound of a BB rolling across the floor could be heard. I paused, my breath still held tight, and listened for a sign. A warm sense of satisfaction poured over me, as I heard a rustling sound. My prey had succumbed to my shot, and was now in the throes of death. I carefully drew near, weapon still on point, never yielding. He lay there, in a puddle of his own life-sustaining blood. One shot, to his little brain pan, had ended this standoff. I reveled in the moment, knowing that my family would wake soon, and know nothing of the fear, and the struggle. I removed the offender, and cleaned up the mess. It was time to go to work, well, at least to my part-time job. My real job of course being a top predator.
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
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.