Who doesn’t get just a little sad when hunting season is over? Springtime for me can be somewhat depressing, perhaps its the colorless and winter torn look of the high-country I love to play in. But spring also is a new beginning of a whole new type of activities, as it begins to warm up and green begins flourish through the hills, there is still much to do. And I love spending time out in the wilderness. This is a video I did with the folks at Recoil, in the video we go into some of the fun and challenging activities that can still keep you on your toes until hunting season is back.
Women are perhaps the fastest growing group of hunters, and they makeup a large subculture in the gun community overall. Being myself a staunch advocate for the hunting lifestyle, I always embrace the opportunity to add another hunter to our community. But in today’s case it was part of my own family that would join the fold.
My wife grew up in a family where hunting was not the norm, but it was common enough for her to be familiar with the idea and even a little excited to try it. The 2020 hunting season was her very first opportunity to take her first big game animal, together we made it an adventure that was nothing short of a perfect introduction to hunting as a lifestyle. She has since been preparing delicious meals for our children with meat that she took herself.
This year was her first time going after a Mule deer buck, and our goal was to make it as fun and meaningful as possible. A large part of this plan was to make her a self sufficient hunter, able to accomplish the task on her own merits. Since she has used my rifle in the past, a rifle of her own would be fundamental. And as it happens, the perfect rifle just happened to join our collection. My wife is quite petite, so a rifle small enough to manipulate and carry would be crucial for her.
The Browning X Bolt Hells Canyon Speed
The Browning X bolt is a fine rifle, and the Hells Canyon (HC) model is a fancier version of the base rifle. The X Bolt HC Speed came to us in a twenty-two inch 6.5 Creedmoor, in a composite ATACS camo stock and burnt bronze Cerakote. It is a very refined hunting rifle, with many great features such as a detachable rotary box magazine, recoil reducing muzzle brake, and a soft recoil pad at the rear. It’s quite a handsome little rifle, and it functions as good as it looks. The sixty-degree bolt throw is shorter and faster to run, and the adjustable trigger breaks like glass rod. There is much more to say about the X Bolt, click here to read all about it.
In order to match the rifle to it’s new owner, I mounted a Crimson Trace Hardline 3-12 scope in a set of low Warne rings. I wanted the rifle to fit her as best it could, I would have liked to chop a couple more inches off the barrel but time wouldn’t allow. Using a thread adaptor from Xcaliber Firearms I was able to mount a suppressor to the rifle, which is also another advantage for someone new to hunting. I mounted the very lightweight Yankee Hill Machine Nitro N20 suppressor built from all titanium, the recoil reduction and comfort far outweighed the ounces added to the rifle.
Practice Practice Practice
Despite having spent a fair amount of time behind a riflescope, I wanted to make sure she was comfortable as possible with her own rifle. So we spent a few trips going into the mountains to ensure she was familiar with every aspect of the rifle, and how to operate it quickly and under pressure. We took shots at targets out to five-hundred yards, and once she was comfortably hitting them with predictability, we added a time crunch. Putting a ten-second time limit to get on the rifle and make a good shot became a fun and useful game. With both rifle and shooter working in harmony, we counted down the days till the deer hunt started. Continue Reading Here…
As hunters, we seem to revel in the challenge and frequent suffering that accompanies the efforts of hunting. I believe this comes from deep in our DNA handed down from our ancestry, from generations of exceptionally hard people that lived on the edge of survival. Pushing ourselves to that same absolute edge of our abilities during a hunt seems to tap into the very root of our hunting heritage, and the feeling intensifies the closer we get to the precipice of danger and complete collapse.
I was lucky enough to refine this discourse with a partner during one of my most recent hunts. Hard labor and putting in the time are a must when hunting Rocky Mountain Elk, and we were already deeply committed to a stalk high into the snowy mountains at seventy-five hundred feet. Nick and I have been friends for years, but this was his first time with me hunting elk, his first elk hunt period in fact. He had only taken his very first big game animal a few months prior during the Utah general season mule deer hunt, so this hunt was as much a learning experience as anything else.
The weather that day was brutal to say the least, a winter storm had been producing freezing rain all night as the wind howled across the mountain range stacking the snow anywhere it could. Our time to hunt was short, so we’d decided to go for it since success favors the brave.
As the light of day continued to brighten around us, we climbed a ridge spine that promised to put us in shooting range of a small group of cow elk spotted from the bottom of the canyon. The wind seemed to increase with every step, at times causing us to lose balance and slip in the deep snow. We took the opportunity to talk, as the noise of the wind could cover up a Peterbilt at fast-idle. I regaled Nick with hunting stories of the past, hardships endured, triumphs after failures and so on. Nick being quite eager to learn and be successful as a hunter was happy to discuss all the fine points that make for a fortunate hunt. The wind battered our faces with bits of hail and snow as we lumbered up the ridge, and our discussion turned to a different subject. “At what point does the suffering endured during a hunt cease to be fun” in the traditional sense. After all, most of us hunt because we enjoy it despite the difficulty.
My inquisitive colleague also asked how this hunt stacked up against other difficult hunts I’ve been lucky to endure. If I recall correctly he asked; on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst hunt I’d ever been on, how are we doing today?
Like a veteran of some awful war, my eyes glazed over and immediately took me back to a freezing cold evening on a slippery mountain deep in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. For days we had hiked countless miles through clouds and freezing rain, taken several spills down rocky scree-piles and still had nothing to show yet. I found myself clawing up an incredibly steep and treacherous mountain, slipping and sliding grabbing at sticks to gain traction. I would have given up long ago but we’d taken a shot, and I swore to myself that I would either find it or confirm the fear that it was a miss. My heart pounded like I’d never felt before, rain and sweat both ran freely down my face. I couldn’t have cared less since the point of full soak had passed hours before. My patience and exhaustion threshold had been reached, and using my rifle as a crutch I dug into the hillside for every taxing step. After what seemed an eternity, I finally reached the landmark only to find that the better part of the day had all been a waste of effort. I was ready for complete surrender, ready to throw my rifle down the hill and leave my tag hanging in the nearest tree.
I flashed back to the windswept ridge where Nick stood awaiting my answer, I quickly evaluated the labor and suffering we had seen already that morning. And I multiplied it as I looked at what lay ahead, compounded by the unknown that was sure to stand out later. I told Nick, right now we’re at about a six. And we carried on.
The snow got deeper, and we found ourselves moving from one hole to another, digging our feet out with each step. I found myself looking for small trees and bushes protruding from the snow, and stepping on them to use like a natural snowshoe. If only I’d been smart enough to bring a pair I could use for every step.
It was early afternoon when we finally neared the ridge-top where I expected we might have a shot, and it was time to make ready. The wind had only gotten worse, and our condition hadn’t improved, but Nick prepared his rifle for the shot we hoped would come. Removing ice from the rifle to ensure everything was ready, Nick dry fired it several times to make sure we wouldn’t have a malfunction, and then finally chambered a 338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. He backed of his riflescope to six power, and we crept across the crunchy snow between the scrubby trees.
Everything moved with the wind and blowing snow, so I cant be sure when it happened, but almost without any indication, there stood a cow elk a mere forty-yards in front of us behind a small tree. I motioned Nick who was in the process of raising his rifle to bare, but before he could, she bolted from view. We followed her with our eyes as more elk appeared from behind the trees, and moved in a huddled mass away from us. As clouds blew in between us, we used the cover to move below the tree-line where we might have a clear shot at them. We found a tree trunk that provided a solid shooting position and peered into the cloudy breeze waiting for an opening. As Nick continually wiped the snow accumulating in the objective of his scope, I peered through binoculars to where I’d last seen the elk. Through several courses of clouds we waited, getting ghostly glimpses of them but nothing long enough to make a shot. The wind was now blowing at us directly from twelve o’clock, and pelting our eyes and faces with every look. But just as we had nearly reached our threshold for the bone-chilling cold, the wind blew another patch of clear air into our canyon, exposing a few of the elk that stood among the trees. Nick spotted them through his scope, and I watched through my binoculars. When both of us were ready, he finally let the Lapua off the chain. The muffled shot wasn’t particularly loud with the roaring wind around us, but my ears were focused downrange. Among the sounds of ice bouncing down my ear canal, I over heard the old familiar whap come back a second or so after the shot. Both Nick and I watched through our respective optics as the cow stumbled backwards then faceplanted into the snow before her. The three-hundred grain Scenar had broken one shoulder and perforated her heart, and she slid down the steep slope leaving bright red snow patches along the way.
It took us another grueling trek through the deep snow to get to where we last saw her, the whole way we spoke of the excitement and our individual perspectives. As we laid eyes on our prize finally, we went in for a high-five that turned into a bro-hug halfway through. And like we had hundreds of times that morning, we again fell over, finally able to laugh at our hardships.
“Now it was all fun” Nick said as he descended towards his first elk, up until that point it had been indeterminate extreme effort and endurance. That magical act of laying your hands on a prize that you’ve worked your ass off to get, the one you’ve daydreamed about since last season, when you finally have a tangible trophy you can take home and justify all the effort you put in seems to tie it all together into an adventure you will never forget. In spite of the overwhelming imbalance between exertion, suffering, and the few minutes of celebration, that simple act of winning seems to atone for every negative challenge endured to get there.
Our frozen hands were soon warmed as we again set to work on dressing the animal, and the even harder work of getting her out began. Luckily I have some good friends who volunteered to help us get her out, and as I write this she is quietly aging out in my woodshed.
There are few things I enjoy more than sharing this incredibly rewarding and at times crazy lifestyle of hunting, watching Nick take his first elk was the ice cold icing on the cake for me. Watching him dig deep into the snow and pushing beyond what may have seemed rational. I’d like to think he reached his roots down in that deep snow, and felt the same connection I often do when we join the circle of life around us.
I expect Nick will hunt again, I think the affliction of big game hunting has grabbed ahold of him. And he surely has become too accustomed to the taste of venison to stop now.
I too will be back next year, by then all the aches and pains will have been forgotten. And I’ll again be ready to make seemingly poor choices that will put me in range of my objectives, and I look forward to sharing it with new friends and family.
I had the great opportunity to take Iain Harrison (editor of Recoil Magazine and Carnivore Magazine) on a cow elk hunt here in the Utah mountains. I got sick during the trip (turned out to be Cofeve) so I was hurling literally minutes before the action went down in this video. Surprisingly I was able to make it through the whole thing without getting any worse, and even managed to help pack out. Give it a watch, hope you like it.
Some of you may have already read about my experience with the 6.5 Cayuga from a year or two ago. That may or may not have led you to this subject, but if you are seriously looking into the Cayuga as a hunting bullet then I’d recommend reading both articles.
All Patriot Valley Arms Cayugas are solid copper monolithic bullets, lathe turned to perfection from the same alloy as traditional copper cup bullets. This allows them to be extremely consistent from bullet to bullet, and the CNC turning process also allows their profile to be controlled meticulously. The Cayuga solids boast much higher ballistic coefficients than comparably weighted bullets, but due to their lighter weight from lacking a lead core they can be shot at higher velocities. So to sum it up; higher bc’s and lighter weight make them better for distance shooting and the lot consistency and gentile ogive make them accurate and easy loading.
Earlier this year, I started my second six millimeter project, a 6mm GT for my Desert Tech SRS M2. It took only a few minutes to fall completely in love with the Tiger, so when given the opportunity to test these new Cayuga bullets in it, I wasted no time. The 6mm GT easily pushes hundred grain bullets to the 3,000 fps mark, and the high BC of the Cayuga meant that it would hold onto that velocity and energy for quite a ways.
The 100 grain Cayuga didn’t exactly come with an owners manual, PVA gave me some suggested data to work with which seemed to be spot on. I used a G7 BC of .270 which is very similar to the extremely popular Berger 105gr. I tested the Cayuga to beyond 1400 yards and as far as I shot with it, that .270 lined up perfectly.
Once I had the Cayugas in hand, I sat down at the loading bench to get busy. The go to powder for the GT is Varget, and for good reason. But if your reading this in the same era it was written, then you know how hard its been to get certain loading components. Varget was hard to come by, but I had eight pounds of Reloader 17 that I could make work. And boy did it!
The very first load I tried with the Cayugas was a modest charge of RL-17 that produced around 2960 fps from my twenty-four inch barrel. The first five bullets I tested went through nearly the same hole, I shit thee nay. Groups in the .2’s and .3’s were immediately achieved with ZERO load workup or seating depth fiddling. While I do consider myself to be both lucky and handsome, I think the generous curve of the bullets ogive likely bears more credit for the accurate shooting than any luck of my own.
I added a touch more powder to break the big three-o, and left the rest alone. From there I spent the rest of my test shooting validating drop and such to confirm the bc. The end goal here was the same for nearly every project of mine; what can I kill with it?
The GT had accompanied me on a bear hunt to Montana, no kills were made there so the next opportunity would be the Mule deer hunt in my state of Utah. The Rocky Mountains that I call home are quite spacious, and the steep and deep canyons where we hunt our deer can often stretch for miles. Shots can be anywhere from one hundred yards, out to two or three ridges away. To put it simply, a five, six or seven hundred yard shot on a mule deer buck is about as common as anything. The Gay Tiger loaded with Cayugas had become such a predictably accurate shooter that anything in that realm felt like a chip shot as far as hitting my point of aim. So when opening day arrived, the GT road right next to me, and never left my side. We ended up using it for two separate shots on deer, both of which hang quietly in the shed in my backyard.
The first deer was shot at six-hundred and eighty yards, it was a perfect broadside shot that passed through leaving an inch and a half hole on its way out. The deer staggered about twenty yards before he tipped over.
The second deer was taken a few days later, at a distance just over a thousand yards. He too took a single shot and dropped straight to the ground where he expired. While the second shot may have had less energy than recommended by many, it certainly did the trick just fine.
Broken rib bones, shredded lungs, and bright blood stains against the dry yellow grass are exactly the kind of indicators that good hunters like to judge a bullet’s performance.
Just as I had expected, the 6mm Cayugas are everything I had hoped for. Accurate and flat shooting bullets that make an impressive wound cavity through animals. We often joke that Im going to have to shoot an elk with a 6mm Cayuga if ever I want to find a fired one. But after seeing what I have, it’d have to be really far away, or else I’d have to shoot him length-wise. We killed seven deer last week, just in my group. And the 6mm GT shooting Cayugas killed every bit as well as the larger cartridges used (6.5CM, 260, 308). If you are in need of a solid copper hunting bullet, or if your stuck in California for example, the Cayugas are just the ticket for six-millimeter big game hunting.
Elk hunting is a dream hunt for many of us and 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, I have put together my thoughts on the gear you won’t want to be without when you go. Of course, a good gun and the right ammo are always the right start, but there’s other gear you’ll also want to have on hand.
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. Continue Reading here…
Don’t miss the video at the end of this article
With modern rifles and bullets, the distances we shoot at animals keeps creeping further and further out. But as bullets travel further away, they lose more and more velocity. How much they lose, and how fast they impact is a very important subject when it comes to cleanly killing an animal. We’ve killed many animals over the years, and its an interesting and important subject. And one particular instance is one I’d like to discuss today.
Last fall, a friend of mine shot a small deer at 900 yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor using a 143 ELDX. This was certainly towards the end of the envelope of energy and velocity for that combo, but it did the job as good as one could hope. The deer took a single shot quartering away, the impact hit just behind the rib cage and passed completely through the animal, exiting through the front of the chest. The heart was punctured, and the deer made it about forty yards before tumbling down the hillside. Everything looked textbook as far as killing it cleanly and quickly. The impact velocity was right around 1800 FPS which according to Hornady should have been enough to open the bullet.
After much hiking to get to the deer, we found a massive blood trail and a perfectly perforated buck. We retraced his steps, as well as the video we recorded looking to see all the details. I was absolutely amazed when as we stood there recounting the events, I looked down to see the bullet laying there in the dirt, not far from where the deer lay dead. The bright copper shown against the damp hillside. Even though the bullet had hit a rock after exiting the deer, it had come to rest nearby. Our immediate impression was “that doesn’t look right”. The bullet had barely opened at all, it had only lost its plastic tip, and bent the front of the bullet off to one side. On further inspection back at the house, the bullet weighed 142.3 grains. Probably just the weight of the lost plastic tip.
Despite the bullet not opening as best we could tell, it still did plenty of damage. But it seems the 1800 FPS in this instance wasn’t enough to cause sufficient deformation of the bullet. This is one of the reasons I like to use “softer” bullets when shooting long-range, they are much easier to rupture.
Impact velocity greatly effects the bullets ability to do damage. I have found several bullets in elk over the years, that obviously didn’t do the job. Whoever shot those bullets may still be scratching their head wondering what happened. Bullets can fail to perform just like anything else, which is one reason why I stress shot placement so often. This event is a perfect example why, even though the bullet did not rupture as designed, it still made a hole through the most vital of organs, causing a quick death for the animal in question.
Distance to the target, and the impact velocity of any given bullet is just one of the many things marksmen need to take into account when evaluating a firing solution. Another anecdote featuring the same bullet; a friend of mine shot a cow elk at approximately 600 yards, the bullet impacted broadside passing through both lungs and stopping in the offside shoulder. Again this one had lost its tip, and barely opened. The cow made it into the trees a few dozen yards, where it lay down and expired. In this case one would surely expect the bullet to have opened, as the impact was likely in the 2200 FPS range. And again, due to good shot placement, it worked despite the bullet not opening.
These are of course a couple of anecdotal examples, and surely not a full representation of this particular bullets performance. But it is certainly food for thought, and something to keep in mind. I have gone into much more detail on the subject in this article about shot placement, I’d invite you to read that one as well, and we can carry on the discussion.
I hope these discussions are helpful, the game we hunt deserve the best skillset we can prepare to avoid undue suffering.
Many of those reading this story probably have some experience hunting, whether it be whitetail deer, black bear, or another one of the incredible game animals available to hunt in North America. But what you hunt every year, could be somebody else’s unicorn. I am lucky to hunt elk every year, spotting them, tracking them, eating them, watching them through a scope and so on. But if you’re a guy from Florida, the idea of seeing an elk or even hunting one may be just a pipe dream of the distant future. Today we’ll embrace the dream, and jump down the rabbit hole with both feet, how far we go depends only on your ambition.
A ghost in the clouds
My dream hunt might be different than yours, but I’ll bet it shares some of the same attributes. It begins at the very end of the world, up around the tree line where the air is thin and weather uncertain. High country strewn with dark wet clouds filled with sinister motives, and country so remote you may question the safety of every step. And yet so beautiful nothing can keep you from cresting the next hill to see what lies ahead. I dream of a Dall Sheep hunt up north, the romantic draw to such a wild place consumes the dreams I still have left. I’ve been lucky to experience some of the wildest country the lower forty-eight has, and just enough of Alaska to want everything it has to offer.Continue Reading Here…