Friday, March 02, 2007

more gear

Hunting as art?
Maybe as craft. I'm thinking about the line between ethics and taste in the gear that we use.
Last year I took up black powder for the first time, lured by early elk season and the (illusory, as it turned out) prospect of fewer hunters. I chose to use an Austin Halleck cap lock mountain rifle, which is, generally, a copy of the rifles produced by the Hawken brothers and others for fur trappers and other western explorers. The rifle has fixed sights and, cosmetically, could pass for a 19th century piece of tech from a distance. However, it isn't entirely authentic. The barrel is modern steel, of a length and heft designed for a modern foot hunter rather than a horse riding mountain man, and it is rifled in a twist designed for modern conical hunting bullets. For that matter, I loaded the rifle with a modern black powder analogue to make cleaning a bit easier and corrosion less of a problem. Those choices represent a compromise on my part in a series of aesthetic choices. Within the regulations of my home state, I could have used a telescopic sight on a rifle indistinguishable from a modern bolt action, except for the limitation that powder and projectile would have to be loaded from the muzzle end. Modern muzzleloading rifles have made the sport more popular and extended the range at which the arms are capable of reliably and quickly killing game from 100 yards or less to 200 yards. In addition, stainless steel, along with modern breach designs and ignition systems have made the rifles less subject to corrosion and less subject to misfires.
Over the course of the short season, I didn't see another hunter using a traditional muzzleloader.
I could have gone further, though. First, I could have chosen a flint lock, perhaps more authentic for a mountain rifle and certainly requiring more care in handling and use. I could have chosen a rifle with a barrel designed for a patched round ball, definitely more authentic to the pre-Civil War era and less deadly, particularly at longer range. I also could have used black powder. For that matter, I could have dressed in period dress, buckskins and linsey-woolsey. The latter would have felt too much like play acting to me. As for the rest, I wanted something which a hunter in 1840 would have recognized and even perhaps used and, within that limitation, I wanted the most deadly combination in order to most limit the chance of wounding my prey rather than killing it quickly.
I think that choice is typical of many that I make in hunting. While I admire fine double shotguns and own a perfectly decent over/under, I carry a gas operated semi-auto with a military-type finish and a plastic stock while duck hunting. The gas gun has much less recoil and you don't wince when it bangs off of a rock or takes a dunking. It is a tool, albeit a favorite one. On the other hand, the plastic stock on my primary big game rifle will probably have to go. It is ugly, of course. Practically, it is not that comfortable, a bit noisy, and cold to the touch. I would prefer to replace it with a laminated wood stock. Those stocks are still fairly ugly, so far as grain goes, and they almost as much synthetic (glue) as wood, but they are warmer and quieter than plastic, without being subject to the warping, softening, or as much chipping as wood.
I find the choices people make in how they go about choosing their gear for hunting and fishing nearly always interesting and the contrasts in gear fascinating. I'll end with a couple of thoughts. If one ever wishes to see an example of gear being unable to substitute for practice, head to the San Juan River in New Mexico, a famous and crowded trout fishery, in summer. There you will see guys walking around with a thousand dollars in rod and reel, more in flies and peripheral gear, with little idea how to use them. Next, if you want to have fun getting dirty looks or are just generally in a contrary mood and you are familiar with the San Juan tailwater or are good at tailwater trout fishing, go up there with one of the old automatic reels on your fly rod and proceed to catch fish. The only thing that lessens the fun is that the automatic reels are getting old enough (or enough people are so new to fly fishing) that a lot of folks don't realize what they are seeing. That's ok, there will be a few older fishermen who will whip their heads around when they hear the ziiiiip! of the automatic line take up. Bonus points if you use a fiberglass rod!


Steve Bodio said...

I love that automatic- fly- reel- on the San Juan idea.

A LITTLE like my 50's style- rifle..

What would be the shotgun equivalent?

Chas S. Clifton said...

I discovered your blog today via your comments at Querencia.

I just wanted to say that it would be a blessing to my tired, print-weary eyes if you chose a template that did not have white type on a black background. That combination cuts readability about 50 percent. Ask this guy.

mdmnm said...

Chas Clifton:
Don't mean to cause no pain. I read black on white all day and thought it might be restful.

It is about the same and I get a probably unholy amount of glee doing it. The shotgun equivalent would require an amount of skill I just don't possess. Something with a Polychoke or a Weaver choke, probably semi-auto. I have a bit of a fascination with old pump guns; I bought a Stevens 527 just because it was complex, steel, funky and old. One of these days I'll add an Ithaca 37, Winchester 97, and Remington 17 just because they make me happy in their American-ness and embodiment of other days :)

Steve Bodio said...

Ahh, Ithaca 37's-- still made I think! That's the one I'd get-- all American all- steel old - fashioned design...

Chas S. Clifton said...

Wow, thanks for the format change. And I did enjoy the image of you on the San Juan tailwater with the automatic reel.

We Southwestern duck hunters face a real sun-on-stock glare problem, which is why my duck gun is now a Winchester pump with camo synthetic stock in one of those patented patterns and flat-black steel. (Designed for turkeys.)

mdmnm said...

My pleasure.
Sun flashing on the stock will sure flare ducks, but I have to say I love bluebird ducking, at least when they don't make me.

I will say that I took the automatic reel up on the San Juan as a joke the first time, but it really is pretty handy for managing line in the faster riffles. Less so when you hook the odd hot fish, but more handy than I had thought it would be.