Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Surprisingly, that was first blood for the Scout.

"Isn't this first blood for the Scout?" my father asked on the phone when I told him I'd just scored on a caribou just off the Denali Highway around Mile 13.

Well shut my mouth.  It is.  I've certainly carried the Scout afield a few times, but never actually got a shot with it until now.  Excellent!

I was very pleased with the "gunnie" part of it.  It was a quick stalk;  my hunting partner said he couldn't believe how fast I covered the half-mile distance from the road to the mound where I took the shot.  I do remember moving around a bit on the mound to avoid shooting in the direction of a distant someone on an ATV, skylighted on a ridgeline;  in the end I accepted an angle of convergence of about 135 degrees, which I still don't entirely like, but which was the best I was going to get.  The shot was at a little over 150 yards, rested on my pack to get above the willow, and the cow was mostly broadside.

I remember being surprised at how not-loud the shot was;  I am well aware that field shots for blood are never as loud as they seem at the range, but this was conspicuously soft;  I suspect that much of it is the acoustic absorption of that fantastic quantity of biomass in the tundra.  Anyway, she didn't move at all, so (having instantly run the bolt at the first shot) I hit her again, and saw her stagger, down into a shallow gully that got her out of sight.  As it happens I didn't need to do that, but I am a whole lot more into followup shots than I used to be, especially up here where sometimes a very big animal can get itself into a place you don't want to go.  I love the "one shot" philosophy, but I want a hit critter to go down even more.  Alaska is not a place for bushwhacking.

She only made it a few steps;  both shots landed within a couple inches of one another and completely scuttled her lungs.  The Barnes "VOR-TX" 165 grain load did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I'll be happy to use that on much bigger critters as necessary.  Excellent!

From there, things got nearly comically poetic.  I ran back out to get my partner;  we were at the very end of our available time and I figured we could both go back together and have this critter gutted and out in a single trip.  But on the way to turn the truck around, he spied his own 'bou and had it down within half an hour himself.  Great results, but the day just got...much longer.

A "quick extract" of his animal with the ATVs turned into a six-hour ordeal involving a broken frame, a real scare of a broken hunting partner, and some bona fide anxiety about attracting ursine attention at the kill site.  We got his bull out, though--on the wheelers, no less--and by the time we got back to the truck, it was getting dark.  Partner wasn't in the best shape by that point, and anyway he had lots of things to do to get the wheelers back on the trailer, etc.

And so I wound up walking back out to my kill site, alone, in the dark, to gut an animal laying in a small gully with no real visibility, entirely by headlamp--in an area famous for bears.  (In an area that another hunter had just told me he'd spotted a brownie that he was going to see if he could chase.)

Does that make me brave, or stupid?  I can see both arguments--and I now know just exactly how to avoid that problem going forward ('cos I got no problem not having to be brave).  But nonetheless, there I was, because she needed to be gutted to cool properly, even if we couldn't do a full packout until morning.

It certainly seems foolhardy in hindsight.  Yes, I had my Ruger Blackhawk with Buffalo Bore 325-grain loads as a last-ditch backup.  Yes, I had a bear flare.  Yes, I was listening carefully, and working quickly.  But still--moving over more than a half-mile of damp tundra and willow is neither fast nor sure-footed, even in the daylight, and the consequences of attracting a thousand pounds of nocturnal, carnivorous company are potentially severe.  Let's just say I was particularly on my guard.  And honestly, I was pretty efficient at getting her dressed and cooling, even slightly away from the gut pile.  It was most welcome to see the truck lights on my way back, and hear the sounds of partner's assembly of all our broken and unbroken gear.

It was only slightly less trepidatious the next morning, when we went to pack her out in the light.  On one hand, I had a partner, with extra eyes and his own sidearm and flare;  on the other hand, we were going into a kill site, invisible from view until you're right up on it, in which a gut pile in a bear area had been out overnight, with meat cooling nearby.  Nerve-wracking is the right word.  But to my intense relief, nothing had been in either the gut pile or the meat, and we got her packed up and out in one trip, moving slowly but surely.

Whew.  Felt a lot better after that!

Lots learned on this trip, in general.  The area is simply spectacular, and I'd be happy hunting it again with a little more time and no need to separate from partner.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Now that was more like it.

Got back to the zeroing range today.  After last week's frustrating attempt with handloads, and without the time to find and remedy the problem at home, I ponied up for some good factory loads, and today was...much better.

I was a bit paranoid--after all, maybe it was just me:  you know, my shooting.  So I brought some of that good old M80 ball to shoot first, just so I could see if I could hit anything, and see where my sights might have been left over after last week.  So, at the 100 yard line, I shot my first three.

Click to embiggenate.

Well hell, that's a lot more satisfactory than anything I did a week ago.  The aim point was the diamond to the lower left, so the group is about 2.5" high and 2" right.  And importantly, it's a useful group, at a bit over an inch in dispersion.

Okay then, that's where the 147-grain load hits.  Lovely.  How about the Barnes VOR-TX 165-grain load?

First shot at bottom, next three above that, next three at top.

The first shot is the lowest one.  Works for me!  Now to raise the point of impact to about 2" to 2.5", to give me a good "maximum point-blank range" for a 6-inch target diameter.  (Both moose and caribou are much bigger than that, of course, but I figure this gives me a margin of error in my own shooting.)  I moved the reticle adjustment up a bit and shot three, and you can see the next three shots right above and to the right of the first one.  Nice tight group, but not quite as high as I wanted, so I went a bit further--and as you can see it was a bit too far.  Not only that, but the point of impact moved to the left at the same time!  (This is why you never adjust both planes at the same time.  :-)

And by this point I was feeling much better about my shooting.  A 2.5x scout scope is not exactly made for benchresting, and lots of people pooh-pooh it as being "underpowered", but as you can see it certainly can work!  But 3.5" is a bit too high.  Okay, back it down just a bit and shoot three (new target).

Good enough to hunt with!  1/2" right and just over 2" high.
This should give me just over 250 yards of MPBR and about 9" of drop at 300.

Now we're talking.  Back over to the right, okay, but more importantly just about the right height.  Using JBM Ballistics, and presuming about 2600f/s of muzzle velocity from the Scout's 19-inch barrel (I didn't chrony today), the two points of intersection with the line of sight should occur at exactly 25 yards and exactly 200 yards, with a MPBR of just over 250 and about a 9" drop at 300.  If for some reason I'm seeing the full 2700fps claimed on the box (which I'd not expect, but that Mannlicher barrel is known to shoot a bit faster than its short length would suggest), the numbers are little different:  0.1" down at 25 yards, 0.4" up at 200, MPBR of 265, and a drop of 8" at 300.  If for some reason I shoot well enough in the field to notice that, I'll...well, I won't, so no matter.

What's important to me is that I know that trajectory already, and I'm confident to 300 for hits with it. (Actually, I'm reasonably confident to 400 with a good steady rest, but I'm also of the opinion that you have to apologize for shooting that far away, and at any rate the problem out past 300 isn't so much setting the holdover properly, as it is being accurate about range estimation.  On a wounded animal getting away, sure, but I won't go that far for a first shot.

Okay, so I'm happy now, with zero.  I figured I'd finish with a quick test of position skills.  Using the M80 ball, which I know shoots a bit high and right relative to the Barnes, I shot one round from each position at a pistol target at 100.  The first three positions (squat, sitting, prone) used the Ching Sling, into which I looped up while acquiring the position;  the fourth was bipod prone;  and the fifth was an offhand shot, completely unsupported.  Each shot was acquired and delivered as fast as I could get a good position, sight picture and compressed surprise break--this was supposed to be "under pressure".    Of course, I snapped the bolt at each shot as well, and quitted each position reloaded and on-safe.

Yes, I'm happy with this as a quick test.  About 8" total dispersion, including offhand.

The aim point was the orange center on the pistol target;  I did not make any attempt to "Kentucky windage" any of these shots, even though I knew the ball load would print a bit higher and more to the right than the one I'm using "for blood"--which itself is zeroed about 2.25" high at this distance.  The offhand shot is over on the far right, at the edge of my "wobble zone", but it was within the zone, and delivered within about three seconds--yeah, I'm happy with it.

The supported shots, again taken as fast as I could manage them, show a dispersion of under 5", with an apparent center about 1.5" right and a little over 5" high.  If the ball load really does print about 2.5" higher and 2" to the right of the Barnes load, this would seem to suggest a group center of...about 2.5" high and within half an inch of right on for windage...  Yeah, I realize that's at least a bit of academic reasoning there, but still, if the purpose is to instill confidence, I'll take it.

Now...for the problem of finding the critter at the right time, and getting close enough for a good shot.  I think I can say now that if I get such a shot and blow it, it's on me, not on the rifle or the ammunition.

Good.  That's the way I like it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The unexpected hazards of an air rifle match.

Had a delightful afternoon providing a bit of assistance at a small 4-H air rifle match about 80 miles up the road.  It was held at a gun club that I may have to look into further, as they do have bona fide facilities to run rifles at a distance (meaning:  300m plus), which is oddly missing around here.  For this event, we were in a pistol bay, with a tow-strap-in-the-sand firing line and a rather clever clothesline-style target apparatus at the 10-meter line.  Add in an unusually sunny, brilliant day, and things were looking good.

A lot went wrong.

The poor fella running the match (who I know to be both perfectly competent and a genuinely nice guy) just couldn't catch a break.  One by one the rifles (Daisy Avanti 888 Medalists, powered by removable 2.5g CO2 cylinders), ran out of gas, and of course the refill tank was with someone else.  It got down to one working rifle, and thus one shooter working at a time, before the ability to recharge arrived--and even then it was not a slam-dunk.  "Recharged" cylinders...weren't.  Some didn't seat correctly.  A couple of new shooters repeatedly dipped muzzles into the (very fine) sand on the prone mats.  The same sand found its way into bolts, making it a challenge for some of the kids without well-developed hand strength.  Once new cylinders started making it properly seated into rifles, sights needed to be adjusted for the fresh fill of gas (normally this wouldn't be much a problem as the CO2 is largely self-regulating, but there is a difference between a cylinder at exhaustion and a completely-topped-off one).  And of course what to do with a shooter who was interrupted by a failing rifle in the middle of her string?  Some of the kids are good enough shots that it doesn't seem fair to handicap them with erratic equipment.

Oddly enough, I had recently been thinking about what I'd do myself, with what I've learned about airgunnery, if I were asked to build a "school set" of rifles to handle a wide variety of conditions.  The 888 Medalist certainly seems a nice rifle, but the dependency on specialized fill equipment seems to make this sort of problem inevitable at some point.  Personally, I find the 888's trigger spongy, the bolt a little awkward and stiff, and the loading tray a challenge for the tiny .177 pellets.  And I admit, I just do not care for target aperture sights--I can't stand not being able to see around what I'm shooting at--but this is probably just part of the game and not something I'd have much influence over.

What I'd do is go with the Benjamin Discovery, instead.  For about the same money as the 888, you get the "Disco" rifle and a hand pump to feed it!  I'd spend a little more, though, and find a simple receiver sight to replace the open rear that comes on the gun, and replace the fiber optic front with a plain square post.  With this slight upgrade, I think we have an outstanding training and match rifle which can be entirely self-supported.  The Disco is renowned for being durable, accurate, and easy to work with.  The fill pressure is much lower than most PCPs, and so almost anyone can operate the hand pump.  It can still be filled from a tank, of course, if need be, but I rather like the idea of having each shooter fill her own rifle prior to stepping up to the line--knowing exactly how much air is in the gun on account of having just put it there.

Especially with a ghost-ring aperture in the rear, the Disco is a much more suitable rifle to learn and train on, than a specialized 10m competition gun.  I think we do people a disservice to start them on a sight system so specialized that it deliberately obstructs everything around what you are supposed to shoot at (honestly, how can you even observe Rule 4 when all you can see is the bull?), and then wire it so specifically to that precise little bullseye that it's essentially useless for anything else.  Sure, maybe I'm a slave to practicality, but I also know that I am very little, if any, better with target sights than I am with general-purpose sights, and the latter is far superior to the former in every realm other than formal competition.

And besides, I remind myself, I am not looking at the 10m competition as the end point, but the starting one.  Once you can get shots in the bull at 10m, it is time to start a) going faster (acquiring position), b) going farther (effectiveness of position), or c) both.  This is what will develop you beyond basic mechanics, and which will set you up to appreciate the use of efficient sights, shooting slings, and good ergonomics, along with understanding why the technique is what it is.

Which then segues into the Scout-Rod* concept all over again.  See?  There's at least a convergent consistency to my geekery.  :-)

* And the Scout-Rod, at least at this writing, is modeled on the Disco's refined descendant, the Marauder, which takes many of the Disco's nice features and adds to them (e.g., a bolt-action repeating mechanism, internal sound suppression).