Sunday, February 25, 2007


Far from alone in human pursuits, outdoor activities and the blood sports revel in gear.
When you can not get out in the field to hunt or fish, you can always mess with gear; or think about new gear. Or, now, with the internet, shop.
The pursuit of gear takes so many interesting paths. That archery hunter carrying a self bow probably spent hundreds of hours searching out the right osage orange or yew blank, shaping his bow stave, deciding on a string material (nylon, gut, silk, cotton?) and getting familiar with his tool. The mountain man recreationist, getting ready for a rendevous or a primitive hunt, probably has even more time invested in his buckskins, possibles pouch and every little accoutrement. As for his weapon, go to Track of the Wolf sometime and check out the beautiful examples of period type rifles and smoothbores they offer.
In one form, pursuit of gear can replace pursuit of game. Thousands of dollars spent of rifles, optics, trucks, tents, trailers, stoves, chairs, cots, sleeping pads, rods, reels, lures, and footwear replace money better spent on getting those boots out on the ground, learning about the animals or fish. Only through experience actually in the woods can you form useful opinions as to superior gear. However, while you are getting that experience you will be adapting yourself to your gear, learning its virtues and shortcomings, you find yourself becoming perhaps a little resistant to change.
One classic example of gear problems comes with the big game rifle. Some folks switch so often they never really shoot the rifle they are currently carrying enough to realize their potential with it. On the other hand, stick with that first rifle and you might be passing up something that suits you a little better or that improves your capability and reduces your chance of loosing an animal. Three years ago, I switched rifles. For years I carried a Remington Model 700 ADL in 7mm Remington Magnum. The rifle has a wood stock, a 6x Redfield scope, and a 26 inch barrel. It was first intended for the South Texas senderos, where long shots from a rest are not uncommon and it is a good rifle for that. As an elk rifle, it leaves a little to be desired. The ballistics with heavier bullets, especially the 175 grain bullets, are not great. Not horrible, but not all that impressive given the amount of powder requried to fling the bullet. I grew up in a family full of guys shooting the 30'06, almost always with 180 grain bullets, so the 175 seems a natural choice in the 7mm, especially to achieve more penetration on elk. The recoil from the round is substantial, especially when sighting in on the bench. That magnum case requires more powder which means recoil. Further, the trigger on this particular rifle is very bad, gravelly, long, and with a fair bit of creep. As to virtues, the long barrel hangs perfectly from offhand, just as it hangs up in brush or thick timber. More importantly, the rifle will group three shots into an inch or so at 200 yards using the Hornady spire point 175 grain bullets. Perhaps most importantly, I took my first half dozen or so elk with it, confident that the bullets would go exactly where I pointed the gun. Not only that, but Hornady's sturdy spire point performed wonderfully every time, lending further confidance. Nonetheless, I changed. My rationale was that, after fifteen or sixteen years with the 7mm, I wasn't that happy with the rifle. It worked, and well enough..... however; as elk hunting is, with any luck, going to be a large part of the remainder of my life, I felt I should do it with something that came closer to my ideal. Consequently, I purchased a Savage Model 116 in stainless with a synthetic stock, chambered for 30'06. Now, I shoot the same caliber and cartridge as the rest of the camp. Further, the new rifle has a 22 inch barrel, much easier to stalk with. I would have gotten it with a laminate wood stock, but those were discontinued shortly before my purchase, more's the pity. The new rifle features Savage's "Accutrigger", which breaks smoothly and crisply at three pounds, feeling like much less. I haven't really played with loads for the new rifle, it will shoot three inches at 200 yards with the family favorite 180 grain '06 load, good enough for practical purposes if not bragging material.
Three elk have fallen to this new rifle and my shooting has not been as good with it as with the old one. Part of that is just the circumstances of the last couple of years, part of it is, no doubt, familiarity with the 7mm. Part of it is the lighter weight and lighter barrel of the new rifle, which does not hold as well. I will say that I do not love the plastic stock. It is noisy and the forend is badly shaped (so squared are the edges, and flat the bottom, that it is unnecessarily fatiguing to carry). Perhaps I will change it for a laminated wood stock once I find one for a reasonable price which comes with the pillar bedding which Savage uses now. Of course, every change lengthens time to familiarity. I'll check back in five years or so.

I think that the best thing in gear is not found in a large item, though. Some of the advances in clothing and packs and other peripheral equipment really is amazing in terms of improving comfort. Here's a tip for all cold weather hunters out there- save up and buy a pair of Gore-tex lined pants. For years we hunted in jeans, first over cotton waffle-weave long underwear, then over polypropylene and thermax. Nobody died, no one became frostbitten. Thermax made things much better. Still, we did get wet and spent a lot of time cold. However, in the waterproof pants, many of which are more quiet in brush than jeans, you never have to worry about where you sit, your butt is always dry. Two years ago I crawled for over one hundred yards through knee deep snow to shorten the range to a bull, then sat in the snow against a pine for twenty minutes while waiting out my shot. My butt was cold, but dry, as were my knees. This year, the crawl was seventy-five yards through a fair bit of mud. While I have in the past and would have then made the same stalks in my Levis, the aftermath is much more pleasant without your trousers stuck to your butt and chafing your knees. As thermax and polypro is to the old waffle-weave longhandles, so are the new waterproof pants to jeans or even wool. Life is better with the good stuff.

The other day I asked a friend of mine who has been a competitive bicycle racer for decades what his favorite piece of gear was. What thing, introduced since he started riding, made the biggest difference. His answer was first, perfected spandex bike shorts, which are both more comfortable than the old wool and chamois models and much easier to care for. Next, Underarmor poly tops, which wick moisture and stop wind better than even merino wool, making chilly rides much more comfortable.

Much as I love gear and hope to write a bit more about it, I think that the real progress has been made in the little things. New cartridges, wonder blends of graphite in fly rods, those things may add a little edge here and there. Better clothing and easier care have made time in the field much more comfortable, allowing us to concentrate on enjoying those all too fleeting days.

Friday, February 23, 2007

gun community

I was thinking about gear the other day and considering composing something about gear intensive sports, which can include hunting and fishing, when I came across the recent series of events involving the outdoor writer Jim Zumbo. Zumbo is an editor and writer for Outdoor Life magazine. I believe he took over the position of shooting editor from Jack O'Connor. As such he has had a long career in an influential publication. Over the President's Day weekend Zumbo wrote on his blog (which was on the Outdoor Life magazine web page) a post stating that he was on a hunt and had just learned from his guide that many of the guide's clients shooting prairie dogs and jackrabbits use AR style rifles. That is to say, semi-automatic rifles built on the same action as the AR-15 and the same basic action as the M-16 (lacking the latter's capability for burst or automatic fire). Zumbo then launched into a bit of a diatribe about how he considered such rifles "terrorist rifles", along with AK style rifles, and that such had no place in the pursuit of game. As I recall, he pretty much said there was no need for such rifles, period. One fairly short quote gives the sense of the message: "Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our 'sporting firearms.'" The blog has been taken down, but you can find the text at
I'm not going to provide the links to the rest of this story, just go to the home page at Xavier's just above and he has the information. Shortly, the post made it onto a couple of message boards for gun owners and shooters, who were largely responsible for four thousand some comments before the blog was taken down by the magazine. Remington, one of Zumbo's major sponsors, ceased sponsorship and published a message from its CEO to that effect within a day or so. Other sponsors also pulled out. Apparantly, Zumbo has since lost his job as senior editor or shooting editor with the magazine. He has since issued two apologies. Looking around the web, many commenters seem unappeased, with lots of talk about "Fuddites" (aparantly Elmer Fudd- incompetent hunter- Luddites, very funny, really) and the gap between recreational shooters & collectors and hunters.
I'm pretty aware of that gap, as I've lived it. In high school I was on two rifle teams and shot matches and serious practice totalling about 1100 rounds per month at the peak. I attended several state and regional matches a year and went to the highpower championships at Camp Perry a couple of times. I held NRA certification cards in five disciplines (which just means I shot a sanctioned match in five sports, but I wasn't classified "Sharpshooter" or "B" in any of the sports). I hunted, but not that much. I was too busy shooting. In contrast, I haven't shot an NRA sanctioned match in over ten years. I shoot a couple of hundred rounds a year in practice in an effort to maintain my skills at some minimal level. In my spare time, I fish and hunt and backpack and scout. Quite a lot, actually. For a while, I was out 40 weekends a year, leaving only a weekend a month for housecleaning, gear maintenance, and planning. Surprisingly, I didn't date at that time. Nonetheless, I'm now one of the "hunters" rather than "shooters". I could easily live with four sporting arms, none of them semi-automatic. However, I would never choose to do so, nor would I suggest that anyone else be required to so limit themselves. The chest beating by the folks who are into guns, many of whom don't talk about formal competition much, it getting to be a little much. They are verging on committing the same error Zumbo did, which is to divide the community of sportsmen, which is a mistake.
As I see it, Zumbo's errors are three, and I can't feel too sorry for him losing his job because of their egregiousness. The first is ignorance. He mentioned that he heard that some AR type rifles are "tackdrivers". For the last ten years are more, the highpower service rifle competition has been dominated by the AR type rifle. Match shooters will not adopt an inaccurate platform. If he didn't talk to competitors, he could have cruised around the web. Not many custom makers of bolt action rifles offer the accuracy guarantee you can get from Les Baer,, or Clark Custom, who guarantee 1/2 minute of angle (which is to say, a group of shots, usually three to five, will stay within a half inch circle at 100 yards, a one inch circle at 200 yards, and so on) for some of their ARs. That is "tack driving" in the book of any but the most serious benchrest competitor.
The second is pandering to fear of "scary looking guns". He said "As hunters, we don’t need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing." If my memory serves, Zumbo competed a bit in highpower rifle silhouette in the late 70's and early 80's. That is a competition shot offhand at ranges from 200 to 500 meters. Many of the rifles used for the competition back then looked like ray guns, with brightly painted fiberglass stocks in thumbhole or high combed configurations, heavy stubby barrels, some with flutes cut in them, and large target scopes with enormous adjustment knobs on them. Some even had electronic triggers. While the action might have come from a pre-64 Model 70, the end product bore no resemblence to that sporting rifle and might appear pretty scary to someone not familiar with the game. They were also frequently single shot and, apart from being more accurate and a pain to carry due to their configuration, no different in technology than any treasured bolt action sporter, whether London best or Winchester Super Grade. Scary does not equal deadly. More importantly, any restrictions or guns by action type will be far reaching, as only a half-dozen mechanisms account for the vast majority of our guns. As a gun writer, Jim Zumbo should be aware of this.
Most egregiously, Zumbo fell into the idea that "if it isn't for hunting, we don't need it". He spoke of banning AR and AK type rifles from the hunting fields. The idea that firearms must have a sporting use in order to fall within Second Amendment protection is specious. In fact, in United States v. Miller,, a 1939 Supreme Court case (one of the few addressing the right to keep and bear arms) which upheld a 2nd Amendment challenge to the legality of the National Firearms Act's prohibition on shotguns with a barrel less than eighteen inches, the court premised its conclusion on the fact that such a weapon would have no place in a militia. Arguably, any single shot or double barrelled weapon would have no place in a militia, as they are obsolete, militarily. In contrast, an AR or AK type rifle is eminently suitable for such duty.
Rather than delving into 2nd Amendment analysis and interpretation, I will say that in a world where hunting is practiced by a shrinking segment of the population, we cannot ignore natural allies. Gun hunters and shooting enthusiasts are such. The logical conclusion of Zumbo's post is that hunters should join in condemnation of "assault rifles" and call for their restriction or ban. I suppose we are to then hope that we will be left alone to practice our increasingly esoteric sport. However, when animal rights groups seek to ban hunting as cruel, or gun control advocates declare those precision bolt-action rifles "sniper rifles" and a threat to the common welfare and seek to ban them as well, hunters would find themselves very alone, politically speaking, and likely out of luck.

Friday, February 16, 2007

something cultural

I saw an interesting discussion over at 2Blowhards entitled "Taste and Aesthetics: Gay or Not-Gay?" which has probably aged down into their archives by now.
In it, Michael Blowhard wonders why appreciation for art and aesthetics, whether it be opera, painting, dance, food, dress, or decoration is frequently seen as gay in American culture. I got to thinking about the whole thing a bit from the only perspective to which I can bring credibility- that is to say the purely personal and anectdotal.

First, a disclaimer: gay- nothing wrong with that. A-ok, do what you want with whichever person you want (who has attained their majority). Get a civil union, health benefits, tax breaks or penalties, no problem.
Second, a disclaimer: I have no complaints, I just think all of this is amusing.

So, anyway,
speaking from my own experience, in seventeen years or so of adult dating I haven't found aesthetic appreciation or (I flatter myself) sophistication to be particularly useful as a tool for garnering feminine attention.
I can't really speak to art. My knowledge is mostly limited to a few college classes. I've been to a few museums and like some photography, non-abstract painting, and non-abstract sculpture. I like some folk are quite a bit. However, my knowlege base is small and my vocabulary limited. In this way, my Philistine credentials are good.
On the other hand, I live in a city where you will see jeans in almost any restaurant. For work, I wear a suit nearly every day. It trickles down, my dress will generally be a bit more formal on social occasions than most of the crowd. More importantly, my shoes are polished and my belt matches them. My shirts have neither holes nor stains and are tucked, my gig line is straight and I generally follow the guidelines set out by Michael Flusser.
I've accumulated nice furniture and put some thought into what goes into my house in terms of color and coordination. I own china and will serve you on it. I like wine and know a very little bit about it. I cook, to my mind and reportedly, well. I also cook frequently, feeding myself on a daily basis and friends regularly.
While women have expressed some appreciation for the above, particularly cooking, I gotten a bit of an impression that they'd rather raise up or civilize a fellow who dresses terribly and lives in squalor on canned sphagetti. That impression has been elevated by listening to comments between women, many of whom seem to take a joy in the "my significant other is so clueless in the kitchen/dressing/decorating department" conversation that has no parallel I've encountered among men.
While some of us might thing of Cary Grant as a template for masculine appearance and manners, I think Russel Crowe has a bit more currancy. Pity.
I've actually been told on a couple of occasions that I would have been assumed to be gay, but for the fact that I fish & hunt. Since I'm not a sports fan, the blood sports may be the only thing saving my heterosexuality. Strange, that. I've a gay friend who is a rabid baseball fan, I don't know that his knowledge and enthusiasm has given him "straight cred".
A related but interesting topic: why is fps, sectional density, and discussion of actions and ballistics (guns) or scents, calls, and camoflauge (hunting) not gay?