Monday, July 30, 2007

R.I.P. Spencer

Spencer, 12 years old, died on July 26th after a long illness. He was Fiona's brother, a great family pet and friend to our children, and briefly William Michie's last puppy. He is missed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Get on the woodchuck bandwagon

Here is a hunting-related piece of woodchuck ephemera that is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

chucks where they fell outside the woodchuck blind

Stalking Moby Chuck

It was another two-chuck night in the woodchuck blind last night. Hunting from the old corn crib previously described, I spied the youngster on the right who came out of the woods in the same spot as the previous two babies harvested and which offered yet another swing set shot.

Mindful of Ernie's admonition about my Defcon Level Five Attitude of Heightened Woodchuck Bloodlust, I repeatedly drew a bead on the little bugger and then eased off the trigger, not wishing to kill senselessly for the sheer Kleinmanesque thrill of the thing. If you know what I mean.

heh heh.

Twenty minutes of playing cat-and-mouse with the baby chuck came and went, with no baby chuck notch added to the Marlin. I was showing admirable restraint, if I do say so myself. When what do you know but all of a sudden I catch a glimpse of mature gopher walking UNDER my gun barrel, coming out of the burrow directly under the woodchuck blind platform.

I was beside myself. Here was a chuck not five feet away, below me! Thar' she blows!

He didn't hear me on the deck of the platform, and I crouched down so the last few remaining rays of the westward setting sun wouldn't shine off the top of my baldpate and give away my location to the enemy. When he went behind a tree, I shifted position; and when he scrambled onto the lawn beyond, I put the crosshairs on the back of his head and squeezed the triggger. He never moved and died instantly. (I later pulled out the laser rangefinder--seven yards.)

I let him lay, bloodlust level now WAY above code orange, somewhere in the neighborhood of Defcon Ten. Baby chuck came back out on the lawn minutes later, and I shot at him some sixty yards away and missed. Damn! chuck fever.

What do you know, but three more minutes pass, and the same baby chuck reemerges. This is one persistent pasture poodle! But evolutionarily impoverished, from a pure survival instinct standpoint. I resolve to remove him from the gene pool.

I gave baby chuck a few minutes to get out in the open, I took off my shoe to use as a rest on the rail of the deck, let him get past the tire swing, and let fly. He scrambled off a couple of yards, fatally wounded, and died just inside the brushline of the woods.

Here is what is so great about woodchuck sniping: it is the ultimate family sport. My daughter Sophia, who for some reason shares my enthusiasm for the wily woodchuck, especially in the dead and bloody form of that particular species of local fauna, grabbed her camera and started snapping pictures. When I examined Mr. Big Bruiser, pictured above left, I decided to pull out the kitchen scale and weigh him.

Sophie was there to catch the action. Enjoy:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To Huglu or not to Huglu?

I’m gearing up to buy a new duck gun. I swore off of autoloaders after the Browning jammed for the umpteenth during the waning minutes of my final Double Black hunt.

I’ve been watching the web auctions, looking for something with modern steel barrels to handle steel and mag loads. Add to that 3” chambers, a little bit of sexiness and, most importantly, two fat 12 ga barrels sitting side by side. Two triggers would be nice too, just to keep things simple when I switch from this gun to the Pahkah. Oh yeah, screw in chokes would be a plus. And, did I tell you that I will have to use the proceeds from my anticipated sale of the Browning Gold, plus whatever change I get from redeeming soda cans?

El Huglu 201A

For obvious reasons I keep returning to Huglu, despite the fact that its name reminds me of Yugo. Huglu’s are inexpensive, have lots of options and, I think, are nice to look at. Also, I read a fairly favorable review of the Huglu in Shooting Sportsman a few years ago.
I’m contemplating getting the 201A with 30” barrels, Prince of Whales stock, and splinter forend (no cheek piece as in the picture above).

Anyone care to throw out an opinion on the Huglu as a gun? As a duck gun?

Huglu Model 201 – A OPTIONS
*Gauge : 12,16,20,28,.410
*Chamber : 70 - 76 mm (2_"-3")
*Trigger Type : Double
*Barrel lenght : 20", 22", 26", 27", 28", 30"
*Safety : Manual
*Engraving : Hand-engraved (50%)
*Receiver : Machined from steel blocks
*Recevier Chrome: Write or black chrome optional
*Ribs : Sunken or raised
*Stock : Walnut*Stock Type : Optional
*For - end : Walnut
*For - end Type : Optional
*Barrel : Machined from steel blocks
*Barrel Chrome : Inner side plated with hard white, outer side plated with black chrome.
*Choke : Optional
*Weight : 3.2 - 3.4 KG

Only the Fight

The bushbuck did not feel the crosshairs on his shoulder. He did not think about his future as he came to water in the tumbledown creek. Nor did he seem to notice the twisted wire, the snare around his neck. The shackles of his past. He had battled packs of dogs, lynx and leopard. His sinister horns, like spirals with sharp edges, twisting menacingly towards the sky, had some how found their way through a trap, the metal noose slipping over his head and tightening around muscle, bone, jugular, and esophagus. He was magnificent, and scarred.

The mature buck, enraged, had battled his invisible captor, straining against the tension, the unseen restraint. The snare dug into the strong neck muscles like a cruel saw, but still he fought, summoning all his primordial wildness and resisting this fate, this sudden oppression, this entrapment. Violently he refused this destiny, knowing nothing of his potential death, knowing only his anger, knowing only the fight. His rage unabated after hours, but tiring, he gave a great shake of his head finally pushing the tensile strength of his noose to the limit, snapping the tether line.

He did not contemplate his victory. He did not immediately rest. He lowered his curved dagger-like horns briefly towards the snapped tether wire, now wearing the necklace shackle embedded slightly under his skin. He walked away.

Over time his wounds healed on his neck, yet still he wore his cruel cravat. As more days passed the skin grew over the wire. He continued to court his females, he continued to turn his rage toward all challengers.

He came down the side of an embankment to drink, lithely and stealthily, both slow and quick. He stopped briefly and felt a searing hammer strike him, knocking him to the earth. Again he was pinned, this time by lead and not steel. The more he fought, the more his life pumped out of him and spilled onto the dust of the bush veldt. Again he shook his head violently, hoping to slash and pierce this new unseen captor. Quickly he tired, his long horns making a neat and perfect arc in the fine soil.

The unseen, the unknown had invaded his home, had stolen into his sanctuary and burst his heart. He blinked once more, his head and body, though grounded, still in combat posture. He knew nothing of his death, or after. He knew only his anger, until the last embers of his warring were extinguished. Until the end, he know only the fight.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gotta take your excitement wherever it comes

Okay gang, vacation's over and it's almost back-to-work time. I feel like a Penn Stater fer sheese crissakes . . . .

Had an awesome week hunting the wily woodchuck, aka Mr. Marmota monax. I'll have to breeze through the detailed blow by blow, but here is a summary of how the week panned out:

July 12th, Thoreau's birthday.

You will recall that in Walden, Thoreau writes: "Once I went so far as to slaughter a woodchuck which ravaged my bean-field--effect his transmigration, as a Tartar would say--and devour him, partly for experiment's sake; but though it afforded me a momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding a musky flavor, I saw that the longest use would not make that a good practice, however it might seem to have your woodchucks ready dressed by the village butcher."

Well, I celebrated Thoreau's birthday in style by sluicing the bruiser pictured above out in the sheep pasture. I saw him from the kitchen window, did a sneak a la Kleinman to "close the gap," and shot him at about 40 yards using a half door to the sheep shed as a rest. As you can see, he expired mid-hole.

Mr. Marmota, as found DOA

July 13th, Friday the 13th. It was a very unlucky Friday the 13th for this little chuck, who picked the wrong time to come out wandering from the big barn to explore the newly cut hay in the adjacent field. First kill with the new Stoney Point bipod; another long shot at 25 yards. Dead instantly.

One unlucky woodchuck

July 14th. Skunked. Can't win them all.

July 15th. Tonight, two for two. I shot the Papa Chuck who has lived under our pole barn and who has been a clear target for assassination for some time. I was hiding in my woodchuck blind about twenty yards away when he snuck out; I shot and he turned around without batting an eye and beat a hasty woodchuck retreat. I didn't follow up immediately so as not to scare the other big one I was after who lives under the big barn. But then an hour later a little baby came out from the big barn, and I shot it whereupon it expired instantly.

At that point I went to see about woodchuck # 1's whereabouts. I turned over the picnic tables leaning against the pole barn, and lo and behold there was a woodchuck blood trail! I got an old yard stick out of the barn and probed the burrow: pay dirt! or should I say, soft chuck butt!

These are the things they don't teach you in grad school! Utilizing the following array of gopher-getting-gear, I was able to pull him close enough to the mouth of the burrow so that I could reach in and pull him out by the tail.

Professional Gopher Grabbing Gear

Sure enough, I had hit him right where I was aiming--right in the old boiler room. Being the tough old chuck that he was, it took him an extra ten yards to die.

Pole barn gophers

So that's it. A good gopher getting week. Seven confirmed kills, a couple of other questionable ones. It's back to work tomorrow.

Daddy in the gopher boneyard:
photo courtesy of Sophia

Friday, July 13, 2007

I'm not addicted to propane

Lest anyone think me incapable of hitting a woodchuck without using a propane tank for a rest, here is the scene of the third kill of the week.

We have an old corn crib in our yard that at some point was turned into a lean-to on a flat platform. Finally the platform rotted and had to be dismantled, but the lean-to remains--now on blocks.

Well this makes just the ultimate woodchuck blind. All you gotta do is set up in the comfortable chair on the deck and wait for the pesky varmints to come out. This vantage point lets me look backward through the swing set--don't laugh yet--or towards the house where the varmint is living under the mudroom.

So of course, another baby woodchuck comes out in the same spot the other baby chuck came out of. Not wishing to decimate next year's seed chucks, but desirous of testing the new scope and the new hollow point varmint ammo, I took a pop at the baby chuck through the swing set about forty or so yards away. (Over the slide, to be more precise.) Got him! And when I retrieved my prize, I learned what the hollow points can do at close range. Yuck. Masaman or no masaman, that chuck went into the growing carrion heap in the sheep pasture.

Through the swing set--nothing but net . . .

This week at Daddy Camp

Some of you may have guessed by now that I was off from work this week, goofing off while shooting woodchucks and taking care of my kids.

I took the opportunity to teach my kids how to shoot. I decided, however, that the Marlin would have been too difficult for the kids to attempt to learn on. So I went over to Dick's, which just happened to have some of its youth guns on sale. I settled on a Rossi two-barrel combo of a single shot hammer .22 and 20 gauge. A brick of Remington Thunderbolts followed me home.
First up was Sophie. I can't tell you how much she enjoys making one-liter soda bottles filled with water explode! and for what it's worth, she does a good job of making them explode.

Her older sister Julia was a bit more tentative about the whole thing, waiting an entire day before she'd come out in the yard to try it.

And although she enjoyed making soda bottles explode as well, Julia really surprised me with how intense she got with target shooting at paper. Her powers of concentration really impressed me, and her steadiness at squeezing the trigger improved with each target. Here's her fifth target from the bench rest after shooting four ten-shot groups.

We weren't shooting quite at 25 yards, more like 20 yards . . . but I'm pretty damn proud of her shooting on the first time out. Aside from the flyer in the 8 ring (the first shot of the target), that's about an inch and a half group with open iron sights. Not too shabby!

Just the thing for deer hunting

Propane tank of death--woodchuck killing fields in background

Clearly the propane tank has caught everyone's attention. Well folks, here it is. Just the thing to bring along for deer hunting--Ernie, can you loan me a trailer to bring it along on my next trip to Canoga?

Hey, I just surfed the net for such a gizmo: this one doubles as a barbecue smoker! Now that's stylin' . . . .

Suitable for smokin' woodchucks . . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What to do with a gunshy labrador

I've gotten a couple more varmint kills this week. I put the scope on the Marlin and shot some more paper with a hunting load. I'm shooting CCI maxi-mags with a 40 grain hollow point bullet. Here's the best group I got at 50 yards; I tweaked it a bit more toward the center after this target, which I figure is good for zero at 100 yards.

So I was confident when the next opportunity presented itself: a baby woodchuck that popped out of the bushes along the back edge of our lawn going down to our pond.

I was out like a flash and did my sneak around to the propane tank again. Lined up on the little sucker, using the propane tank again as a rest and let 'er rip from about 70 yards away. Down it went! or so I thought. I got up to the edge of the brush and there was no chuck to be found. Damn! I looked around for a while, but nothing to be found.

I took the dogs out a while later for a run around the yard, and steered them both over to where the chuck had crawled back into the bushes. Lo and behold, there goes the gunshy lab over to a spot just inside the brush--he drops the bone he was carrying and laid down on all fours basically pointing the thing. I walk over, and there on the ground is a very neatly dispatched young woodchuck with a serious head wound. Aldo saves the day--and now I'm thinking he may just earn his keep yet, as a no-slip gun-shy woodchuck retriever.

So there you have it. I'm two for two with the new gun, and the gunshy one has a new job. Life is good.

Why woodchucks are a serious issue

As if I needed a reason to go sniping for woodchucks. Take a look at this video news report to see why chucks are a bigger problem than many people think.

The only problem with setting up in cemeteries is the ricochets off the gravestones.

"But she walked off and left the bones. . . ." Sheesh.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My so-called career as a varmint hunter

This summer I've taken up a new hobby, branching out further in the hunting arts to don the role of varmint hunter. We've been inundated with a flood of woodchucks this season, and the final straw was the newly-dug burrow under the steps to our newly-remodeled year-old mudroom. Mrs. Zaitsev finally said, "Go out and get a new gun."

How many times have I longed to hear her say THOSE words.

Ahh, sweet music to my ears. I did some research, made a field trip to Bass Pro Shop, where the salesman, short of .22 cal rimfires, tried to sell me everything from .22 Hornets to .270 "varmint guns." This for woodchucks and generic plinking around the yard.

I then made a second field trip to Gander Mountain, where the salesman very helpfully educated me as to the virtues of the Marlin 980 series .22 magnum guns. After briefly contemplating the more expensive CZs and Sako Tikkas, I settled on a very nice Marlin 983S in stainless with iron sights, and bought a scope with rings and mounts while I was at it.

Marlin model 983S in .22 cal WMR

Brought it home, shot some paper, and was very pleased with its accuracy out-of-the-box, which was my prime concern. Trigger pull also seemed good, a pleasure actually, after years of yanking at my slug gun's trigger. (Remind me to get my slug gun a trigger job for Christmas.) I decided not to mount the scope yet but to see how it goes with open sights.

Next morning I'm awoken at 5:30 am by my eight year old daughter, Sophie. "Daddy, I'm sorry to wake you up, but there's a woodchuck in the yard under my window." I of course jump out of bed, look out the window, and thar she blows: VARMINT!

Downstairs I go, load up a single round, and I'm out the front door. I told the kids they could watch from their upstairs bedroom window.

Now, before I go any further . . . . Some of you may recall the exploits of a certain deer-sniping, air conditioner-loving nuisance control hunter named Zaitsev. Last year he regaled us all summer long with stories about the deer sniping life, stories whose main themes aways seemed to center around how tough and hazardous the summertime deer-sniping business is. Idling the truck, not slamming the door, horseflies the size of pigeons . . . that kind of thing.

Let me tell you, summertime woodchuck sniping is no walk in the park, either.

Out the front door I go. Skillfully placing my wife's minivan between me and the chuck, I creapt stealthily behind the van and tiptoed around the back of my pickup truck. Peering over the truck bed, I realized the chuck was now on the other side of the outhouse that we use to store garden tools. Halfway there!

Without making a sound, I stealthily maneuvered my way from behind the truck to a position just behind our propane tank. Peering over the tank's pressure valve, I located the varmint in the grass a mere eight yards away.

I raised the Marlin stainless to the ready, banging it ever so slightly on the propane tank which resonated an empty metallic-sounding echo. The chuck never looked up.

Using the propane tank as a rest, I lined up the sights broadside on the chuck, still obliviously nibbling the grass, although it had ambled away somewhat and now stood approximately 9.5 yards distant. I mentally re-calculated windage and elevation for this new range, slipped off the safety, and calmly lined lined up the front bead on the belly of the beast.

Pop! The woodchuck jumped, kicked out its hind legs, and then proceeded to make tracks for its burrow twenty yards away. "Hmmm," thinks I to myself. "I couldn't have missed it, could I?" If so, that would clearly be a case of . . . chuck fever.

I rechambered another round and was once more ready for anything. I ground-trailed the beast back to its burrow . . . success! There at the mouth of the main burrow lay an enormous female chuck, belly up, breathing her last. The Marlin was christened!

I gave the thumbs-up to the kids upstairs in the window, and Sophie came outside to assess the carnage. "Look Daddy, its leg is still twitching." Proudly I hoisted the now-dead-but-still-twitching varmint for Sophie to inspect, and after the usual self-congratulatory pleasantries were exchanged, I carried it over to the middle of the sheep pasture and deposited it in the middle. I do not feel the need to experiment with varmint stew (sorry PW), but I figured having a dead woodchuck carrion station out in the middle of the fenced pasture would be good for vultures and safe from our dogs.

There you have it. A notch on the buttstock for woodchuck number 1. Vassili Zaitsev hunts again.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kill the mommy

Well, I’ve been surreptitiously reading the blog for awhile now, usually under the guise of the missus (I like that kind of ambiguity). So, tonight I took the plunge, did my homework and figured out how to resubscribe to this here service. Fancy.

We spent a few weeks in Arkansas over June, visiting the in-laws and hanging out with phosphorus folks at a conference. Twas our first great American road trip, with all kinds of firsts. One of the highlights:

Kendall and Clayton caught their first fish, in a pay-by-the-pound catfish pond. Kendall wielded her Barbie pole with great skill, landing a 4 pounder, then, after apprising her success, ran off to the swing set for more exciting action. Clayton pulled in a 2 pounder on the Superman rod he received for his birthday from Hannah and Cam (now named the “Spiderman” rod, as Clayton has eyes for Spiderman only). We left with but four fish, which suited the family fine as few of the in-laws eat ‘em. The kids quickly named them: Daddy Fish; Mommy Fish; Older Sister Fish; Younger Brother Fish.

At home, when I announced it was time to kill the fish, Clayton wailed in protest. This can only go badly I remember thinking. I extrapolated to a much older Dirt family of rabid, anti-hunting vegan children. All because I killed those catfish on that fateful evening in Arkansas, June, 2007.
So, it was with some trepidation that I allowed the kids to join my father-in-law and me in the ritual of impaling the catfish on the quickly fashioned filet board (paint splattered 1x8 with a rusty 10 penny nail protruding from one end). I started with Daddy Fish, since he was by far the biggest and undoubtedly the one for which the kids held least sympathy (if their sentiments toward fish families paralleled their feelings for their own parents). They were fascinated even as I completely butchered the butchering job. In the end, five small filets from the Daddy fish were piled where two should lain. It was the dull knife, honest.

The kids were even more fascinated when I pulled out Daddy Fish's entrails and poked at its sacks of roe. “I guess this one was a mommy, not a daddy” I pointed out. Were the children's eyes wide with amazement or were they wide with disgust that we had killed a beloved mother and certainty that they would only eat at the Moosewood from now on? With that inadvertent blunder, I decided to make the adventure a little more participatory.

“Which one do we kill next kids?”

“Kill the mommy” blurted Kendall.

“Yeah, kill mommy” cried Clayton with all the enthusiasm of a young carnivore reaping the rewards of his first fish.

And kill the mommy I did.

Ain’t that sweet?