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Inexpensive Deer Guns for New Hunters

The author's H&R .45-70. A similar rifle is now made by New England Firearms.
The author's H&R .45-70. A similar rifle is now made by New England Firearms.

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  There is an undesirable trend for new hunters to think along the lines of, “how fast can it shoot?” or “how many shots can it hold?” or “how powerful is it?”  In these economic times the more pressing questions are “can I afford it?” and “can I shoot it well enough to put the bullet where it needs to be?”

  I recommend inexpensive single-shot rifles in my book Backyard Deer Hunting. The critical thing in deer hunting is putting that first shot in the right place. I personally like New England Firearms’ drop-barreled shotguns and rifles chambered for short-ranged rimmed cartridges like the .44 Remington Magnum, .30-30 Winchester and .45-70 Government as first deer rifles. These now sell in the range of about $300 as does a similar drop-barreled Rossi. For those of us with aging eyes, both may be fitted with scope sights.

Used .30-30 Win. cases, .44 Rem. Mag., and factory and reloaded .45-70.
Used .30-30 Win. cases, .44 Rem. Mag., and factory and reloaded .45-70.

 

Traditions All-Weather .50-caliber muzzleloader.
Traditions All-Weather .50-caliber muzzleloader.

 For about $200 Traditions has their Deerhunter line of muzzleloaders in .50 caliber. These light-weight side-hammer guns are best used with iron sights and modest loads of about 85-grains of FFg or Pyrodex RS with bullets of about 300 grains or round balls. The all-weather version shown retails for about $180.

 I noted an excellent value in Cabela’s Christmas ’09 catalogue. This is their Buckhorn 209 Magnum which has the convenience of being a striker-fired muzzleloader that can use pellets at a price (with rebates) of $99.00. Although many more complex mechanisms have been developed, I always liked the striker-fired approach first popularized  by Tony Knight.  Use two pellets of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder, Winchester Triple Seven 209 primers and PowerBelts’ 295 grain bullets and shoot from a rest. Do these things and this gun will kill deer year after year if you clean it with soap and water after each shooting session or hunt.  You can even get the gun with a scope and a starter package for $239.95 (recommended).

CVA's .50-caliber Buckhorn 209 Magnum. An inexpensive striker-fired in-line muzzleloader.
CVA's .50-caliber Buckhorn 209 Magnum. An inexpensive striker-fired in-line muzzleloader.

  If you don’t want to go muzzleloading, but still want to save money, all of the recommended cartridges may be handloaded with simple Lyman tong tools using readily available components. Handloading reduces costs and also allows the user to work up low-recoiling loads. These are light-weight guns and I sometimes  increase the weight by adding a lead shot-wax mixture in the hollow buttstock.

  These are close-range deer rifles, that when supported by a rest of some sort, can take deer out to 65-yards (muzzleloader) or 100 yards (cartridge) even when used with iron sights. With practice, the guns’ ranges may be extended, but most hunters don’t shoot often enough to really learn their guns.
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Knives and Alligator Hunting

  

Muzzy's Mark Land with an 850 lb. GA gator.
Muzzy's Mark Land with an 850 lb. GA gator.

 I hope that most of you gator hunters in the Southeast have your gators by now. A video in an earlier post describes alligator hunting and cleaning, but I have a few things to add about knives.

  Alligator hunting is one of the few sports where the actual kill is made by driving a stout knife between the skull and backbone and severing the spinal cord. Even with its brain blown to mush, the gator can “come back to life” and still be powerful enough to chomp off a limb or swamp a boat.

  Among others, Jim Zumbo had an incident in Africa where a 14

A Buck Master Series Bowie
A Buck Master Series Bowie

 footer revived in a 14-foot boat and caused considerable excitement. For a killing knife I prefer a stout Bowie-style blade. This has enough “prick” on the point to work between the backbone and skull and sufficient blade strength to do the job.

  Gator skinning and cleaning is best done with flexible sharp knives. Here

A professional gator processor with knives and hide scraper.
A professional gator processor with knives and hide scraper.

the less point the better. It is a real chore to get the hide off one of the critters, and a task to do so without making as many holes in it as you make cuts.

  Wash your critter down with Clorox-water and dishwashing soap to kill as many surface bacteria as possible before starting. It also helps to inflate the space between the hide and the carcass with an air hose to help break the hide free from the animal.

There are verbal descriptions and photos in my books  Crossbow Hunting  and  Practical Bowfishing.  See more about them at www.hoveysmith.com.

  Bowie knife furnished by Buck Knives.

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Identifying and Using Puff Ball Mushrooms

E-mail Puff Ball Mushrooms  The common Puff Ball mushroom is found throughout most of North America and may grow to be basketball size, but is generally smaller. I see most of them in early fall when they will almost magically appear a day or so after a rain in areas that have full sun. They do not last long and often  mature and scatter their spores within a few days.

  There is a poisonous mimic that has a rough corrugated skin, so

A sliced 6-inch puff ball. The dirty roots are to the R.
A sliced 6-inch puff ball. The dirty roots are to the R.

 pick those with  white or brown dimpled skins. These mushrooms yield a soft white flesh, (if it has started to turn grey,  let that one mature and find another). 

 Cut off the roots, peel and dice the mushroom. It may be used immediately in meat loafs, hamburger steaks or in stews. If you have a bumper crop some may be dried and re-hydrated for later use. I store mine in used Mason jars.

The photo below shows three deerburger steaks being cooked in water. They were made up with onions, bell pepper, puff ball pieces and a little salt and pepper. Brown them in a pan, then add water and steam. I put no fat in my deer burger so it is necessary to finish off the burgers in a moist environment. Backyard Deer Hunting  also has a recipe for a meat loaf using the mushroom. E-mail Ground deer burgers with puffball mushrooms

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Hovey’s Postulate

Wm. Hovey Smith    October, 2006
Wm. Hovey Smith October, 2006

  While sitting for hours in a deer stand, here is a thought problem to consider. I have observed that the search for knowledge in all fields of human endeavor is the art of progressive, successive approximations towards the ultimate objective of obtaining truth, which is, of itself, unknown and unknowable in its full extent.

  However far human knowledge is pushed, it can only advance so far as the intellectual and physical tools of the day can measure it. Furthermore, this advance is not linear. There are many false branches and dead ends. Whenever there is a claim of absolute truth, this is a danger signal that a dead end has been reached; and the real truth lies along another pathway, perhaps to be discovered by different means.

  We see many examples today where physical “laws” are now known to be not so absolute as they once were. Where limits once thought to be unobtainable, have been exceeded. Where profound “truths” believed by millions have been confounded.

  They way to knowledge is not to find an end, but to push the search beyond the limits of perceived boundaries. With persistance man will make progress towards the betterment of his life and the species, but there will never, in any field, be a stage where all knowledge is known. It is folly to think otherwise.

  Man’s true path towards truth lies in the search, not in its supposed attainment. We can drive the calculus of progressive, successive approximations closer and closer, but the final objective of perfect understanding, will always be just beyond our grasp. If you think you have obtained it, look again, look deeper.

  This realization should serve to push the bounds of science, the humanities, religion, government and social science in all directions; rather than disappointing those truth seekers who are now being told that they will never, can never, realize their objective. We can come closer, but will never absolutely succeed.

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Stone Knives: Beauty and Utility

 

Deer backstrap being removed by obsidian knife.
Deer backstrap being removed by obsidian knife.

 Some people going through cornea surgery are shocked that their surgeon is doing this delicate eye surgery with a sharp rock. Obsidian microblades have the advantage of yielding a cleaner cut from their spalls than is available from any sharpened metallic blade.  

  As I write about knives in the magazine Knife World and the Krause Publications knife annuals I have a natural interest in knives of all sorts, including those made of stone. On one trip

Mississippi flint napper Ken Austin with one of his knives.
Mississippi flint napper Ken Austin with one of his knives.

I picked up some blades from Mississippi knife maker Ken Austin and used them on later hunts for hogs in Texas and buffalo in South Dakota.

   No doubt about it. These knapped flint and obsidian blades can cut very well. Their shortcomings are that they are brittle and cannot be subjected to any twisting motion or lateral pressure. They also tend to gum-up with fat and hair worse that steel blades.  Stone projectile points will also not hold as keen a point as a steel-pointed arrow. This is why the American Indians replaced their stone blades and arrow points with steel ones as soon as they could.

   As unique utilitarian items that are  both historical and objects of beauty, I have a soft spot in my heart for stone knives and the men who still produce them. My most recent article on these blades is in the Knives 2010 which is just appearing on the shelves.

  It is an interesting modern analogy that ceramic blades are now being introduced which are hard, super sharp, give no metallic taste to the materials they work; but are as brittle as the original stone blades. If you do not have a ceramic blade in your kitchen, try one. I think that you will like it so long as you use it just for slicing.  Ceramic blades, like the flint ones, are  not appropriate for jabbing, prying, twisting or punching through metal can lids.

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Simple Muzzleloaders that Work

   Muzzleloading deer seasons are about to get started throughout

Modern in-lines or the older Hawken-style muzzleloaders such as this CVA will take deer decade after decade.
Modern in-lines or the older Hawken-style muzzleloaders such as this CVA will take deer decade after decade.

 the nation, and some who have never considered muzzleloading as a practical way to hunt are now taking up this aspect of deer hunting. I write about muzzleloaders  in Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound  and also in my annual Gun Digest  review

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  I am pleased to report that you can hardly go wrong to purchase a pre-packaged set made by CVA, Thompson Center Arms or Traditions. These are mostly modern 209 primed in-line muzzleloaders, and they are sold with everything needed to make them shoot except for the primers and powder. All of them will shoot, and all of them will kill close-range deer. None of them are “sighted in,” and the user will have to do that task and learn to properly clean his gun (diswashing soap and water works best followed by drying and oiling), unless he plans to shoot one deer and throw the gun away.

 Read the instruction manual, and watch any available videos.

  Pellitized powders such as Hodgdon’s Triple Seven pellets work very well in in-line guns, but not in conventional side-lock muzzleloaders. For a starting load in inexpensive, light-weight in-line guns, I recommend a load of two pellets (100 grain equivalent of FFg black powder) and something like a 300-grain bullet (I very often use PowerBelts). These will give moderate recoil and kill deer very well out to about 75-yards or so.  At 100 yards bullet drop is significant and gets rapidly worse at increasing range.

   Heavy loads, even though they may be safe, require a heavier gun. I used a 12-pound gun in Africa which I loaded with 150 grains of powder-equivalent and a 530 grain bullet to use on Cape Buffalo. This load gave moderate recoil. When moving up to 150-grain powder charges and bullets heavier than 300 grains I prefer to shoot a 9-pound gun. 

 Light-weight muzzleloaders with thin barrels must be shot from rests beyond about 30 yards. The best muzzleloading gun for off-hand shooting remains a Hawken-style rifle weighing between 8-9 pounds. I have re-rigged mine to take musket caps (replacement nipples available from Dixie Gun Works) and usually shoot 85-110 grains of FFg or Pyrodex RS and a patched round ball as a deer hunting load in .50-caliber rifles.

 If you inherited your dad’s or grandfather’s Hawken or traditional long rifle, learn how to shoot it and use its set triggers. These guns will still kill deer, wild hogs and bears very efficiently. They are somewhat more trouble to learn how to shoot and clean; but are worth the investment in time and energy; providing that your eyes will still allow you to use iron sights.

 If you are a new shooter, do not start with a flintlock gun. These are much more “fussy” to shoot, and it is best to practice with one of these for some months before taking it into the woods for the first time. Shooting flint guns well takes both physical and mental conditioning.

  The author’s CVA Hawken was built from a kit gun provided by CVA. These kits are no longer imported, but a few might still be in some distributor’s old stock.

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Crossbow Range and Accuracy

This arrow is the last of four shots in the center of this 20-yard target shot with Horton Legacy crossbow.
This arrow is the last of four shots in the center of this 20-yard target shot with Horton Legacy crossbow.

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 “Can I make my crossbow shoot like a rifle?” The short answer  is, “No, you cannot.”  Most crossbows if fitted with proper arrows, points and loaded correctly have a maximum recommended range of about 40 yards for a 150-pound pull instrument. Depending on the launch velocity, the arrow may drop from between 3 and 10-inches at that range if the crossbow is sighted in at 20 yards.  

 The crossbow is no rifle. It is an accurate short-range piece of archery equipment that can reliably kill deer and other game. The best thing that a new user can do to improve accuracy is to make sure that the string is positioned in exactly the same place (left and right) on the barrel when the crossbow is cocked. If it is pulled one way or another the arrow will have a laterial drift. Mark the string with a dab of white paint on either side of the barrel so you can instantly see if the string is properly positioned.  

 Although you may be able to easily cock your crossbow, a rope cocking device helps insure that you have even tension on the string and will improve accuracy.

 The next most common error made by new shooters is not pulling the arrows straight out of the target and slightly bending the shafts. With carbon arrows this is not quite as bad a problem as it once was, but be careful anyway. Also shoot only one arrow at the target at the time, retrieve that one and shoot again to keep from ruining your shafts and fletchings. Modern crossbows at 20 yards will shoot arrows in very nearly the same hole.

 A rangefinder is the single most use useful accessory tool for making killing shots on game. Shoot your crossbow enough to learn what your drop is at various ranges and write this info on a piece of tape and stick it on your crossbow in a place that you can instantly reference.

 Read your instruction manual, and apply the recommended lubricants to your string and barrel. I also put a protective coat of oil on all the steel parts, pins etc.

 There is much more about how to target, use and maintain crossbows in my book Crossbow Hunting that is available from Amazon.com and other sources. 
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 Crossbow provided by Horton.

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Deer Hunting: Basic Equipment.

  Georgia’s deer hunting season starts Sept. 12. A few states such as South Carolina and California started their seasons in August, but for most of the nation there are a few weeks before the season starts. What basic equipment do you need?

Add a tree stand, and you have the author's basic set of hunting gear.
Add a tree stand, and you have the author's basic set of hunting gear.

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 Obviously some hunting tool and the stuff it takes to make it work. For me, and in the 14 states where crossbows are allowed during archery season, that is a crossbow and arrows. This year I will start with a BowTech Stryker, one of the most powerful of modern crossbows.

 Tree stands are next up. I like the Tom Cat climbers, and have used their archery stand for years. I will actually hang my stand today. (I should have done this earlier, but have been busy – like most of us.)

 Butt comfort is important if I am going to sit for hours. I will have my homemade cushion with me. I have shot more than a hundred pieces of game sitting on this cushion, and even took it to Africa with me.

 Other items include a safety harness (particularly for a bow stand where you stand and shoot), flash light, knife, trimming saw, toilet paper, drag rope, hoist rope and the legally required licenses and international orange (in places and seasons where it is required). Also important is a ThermCell to keep the mosquitos at bay and a few snacks to hold me during a four to six hour sit. 

 These basic items will allow me to kill and extract my deer. Take only what you need, not what you might want. Unused “stuffs” get in the way more that they help. If you don’t use it, leave it next time.  There is some useful information on deer stand placement in an older post, and for a complete discussion go to the heading “Preparing for opening day” on pages 85-95 of  Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound.

 Go get “them deers!”  Good luck, particularly for you first-time hunters. This is as close as I can come to being with you. I will take out some new hunters this year, and I hope that  many other experienced hunters will do the same .  Also see my blog, “Friend. Take a Friend Hunting.”

 Crossbow provided by Horton.
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If the Queen of England can serve and eat deer, why can’t you?

  I had an encounter with a lady at a supermarket who was in the

A nearly all deer meal fit for a Queen.
A nearly all deer meal fit for a Queen.

check-out line ahead of me. She had a basket full of groceries, including some packages of meat. This being within days of the start of Georgia’s archery deer season on Sept. 15, I asked if her guys were ready to go deer hunting.

 She said that her husband had been invited to go with some of his friends, and said that he might take them up on their invitation this year.  Being shameless about shilling my books, I recommended Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound  to her as an appropriate gift.

 This working housewife then remarked that there were too many deer in their neighbourhood, that she had no objection to someone thinning them out; but that she did not eat deer meat.

 Queen Elizabeth II was served and ate deer meat on the occasion of her recent 80th birthday party and also served it at a birthday party honoring Prince Charles. The royals also frequently serve deer to visiting heads of state from other nations. The point is that properly prepared deer meat is fit for anyone’s table – even the Queen’s. Poorly prepared, it is hardly worth eating.

  Buy my book, use my recipes and learn how to enjoy this lean, healthy, additive-free meat.  You and your family will benefit both physically and financially.