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Best American Lever-Action Rifle

Deer killed with cast-bullet loads from an 1886 Winchester lever-action rifle. Soft or hollow-pointed bullets would have given better results.

  My selection as the best lever-action rifle ever made would be the Browning ExtraLite 1886 Winchester chambered  for the historic .45-70 cartridge. This gun was a joy to carry, functioned smoothly, was reliable and could kill any North American game.  After being first offered by Browning-Winchester and then discontinued, the ExtraLite again appeared at the 2010 Shot Show as an available items. 1886s in .45-70 replica editions of the rifle and carbine were also listed as available from Chiappa (These guns are carried by Taylor Gun Works, among others.) and Davide Pedersoli will have a round-barreled half-magazine version ready by mid-summer. 

 Both the Chiappa and Pedersoli versions lack the tang safety which Browning added to the gun. It is hard to argue against additional safety devices, but I prefer the original versions. For hunters, I would recommend the Perdersoli as being the best value, while reenactors would probably gravitate towards Chiapps’ designs.  

Casting over a fire is a primitive as you can get, but it is difficult to produce good bullets.

  I like the .47-70 because of the variety of loads that can be purchased and reloaded for it using relatively primitive reloading tools. For most uses expanding 300-grain bullets are fine for deer-sized game, the 405-grain soft-points are commonly available in mild loadings and high-velocity ammunition in this caliber is available from Winchester.  

A simple reloading set-up for sizing bullets and loading a few dozen cartridges.

  Taking a more modern approach, my next best selection would be the Marlin Model XLR which has a 24-inch stainless barrel and is available in either .30-30 Winchester  or the new .308 Marlin Express. I have shot this gun and like it. The new spire-pointed express round improves the bullet’s trajectory and increased its point-blank range. In addition, this gun can mount a scope for those of us with failing eyes.  

  Another Marlin, the 1894 Cowboy, chambered in .44 Remington Magnum, has good handling characteristics, is chambered for a cartridge that can kill close-range deer and can be inexpensively reloaded. This is a 7.5-pound gun that is pleasant to shoot, even with higher-velocity loads.  

  All of these are longer-barreled guns which are desirable in adding needed weight to dampen recoil and for more accurate placement of off-hand shots. Carbines are wonderful to carry, but difficult to shoot well. Even the .30-30 can be punishing in too light a gun.  

  If I were to put one more rifle on my list it would be the .300 Savage Model 99. Although not as accurate as some later designs and shooting a now-uncommon cartridge, this was always an excellent deer rifle. If you still have your grandpa’s Savage 99, drag it out. It will surprize you.  

  Comments on the .45-70 as a deer cartridge are in my book Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound and more detailed information on guns like the .577 Snider are in my new book X-Treme Muzzleloading which will be released in the Fall of 2010.  Go to for more details.

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Christmas Prayer

A wild swan, ready for Christmas dinner.

  This brief Christmas Prayer is from my new short story, “A Visit from Auntie Thresa Claus” that will be released in 2010.  Both screen and stage play versions of the story are presently available. Once some illustrations for the story are ready, I will start a new blog on this project. 

  Heavenly Father, in remembrance of the child Jesus that you gave to save the world from sin let us celebrate this day in honor of his birth. Bring peace and your blessings to those gathered here, this family wherever they may be and to the world. Amen.  

  For information on cooking swan, turkeys and other wild fowl refer to my book, Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound  and blog

Merry Christmas 

Wm. Hovey Smith 


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Texas Hogs with Traditions’ Flintlock and Horton Scout Crossbow

The Dahlstrom Ranch near Austin provides hunts for both exotic and domestic game animals.

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  A December hunt on the Dahlstrom Ranch near Austin, Texas, provided the opportunity to use Traditions’ PA Pellet Hunter .50-caliber flintlock rifle and Horton’s Scout crossbow.  Both are specialized instruments with limited applications, but both downed their animals.

Hovey Smith and Sharon Henson with TX hogs, Traditions PA Pellet flintlock rifle and Horton Scout Crossbow.

  The Traditions’ rifle is synthetic stocked, a flintlock and is designed to be used with either Hodgdon’s Pyrodex or Triple Seven pellets or loose powder. I used a two-pellet load (about 110 grains FFg equivalent) and a 240-grain saboted hollow point bullet. The lock is a more recent Traditions’ design and features a  larger pan along with a wider frizzen for better ignition. I used a fresh agate flint and had no ignition problems during load development or hunting. Loading techniques are different in that about 5-grains of FFFFg priming powder needs to be trickled through the touch hole into the barrel to insure pellet ignition. 

  The bullet hit high in the neck, passed into the spine and broke into two fragments. One exited  the right shoulder and the other penetrated the liver. The 200 lb. sow dropped on the spot.

  Sharon Henson took a smaller hog with the Horton Scout. The Grim Reaper point went through both shoulders. Instead of dimming the Red-Dot sight to compensate for the fading light, Henson turned it to a higher power and near-blinded herself with the glare from the red bulb. (A classic problem with Red Dot sights that is easy to do in the excitement of shooting game.) Ideally, the shot should have been placed behind the shoulder and forward, rather than straight through both shoulder blades.

  The flintlock is light weight, and I added a pound of lead shot suspended in the middle of the hollow buttstock with compressed plastic bags to help balance the gun and reduce recoil. This added weight gave the gun a better “feel” and improved handling.

  The Scout crossbow is designed for women and younger shooters. It has a relatively short stock, a short barrel, 125 pound pull and is easier to cock than “standard” 150-pound-pull crossbows. This is also a relatively light-weight crossbow. It is accurate and can be depended upon to kill deer at 25 yards (and further with proper shot placement and hold-over). When zeroed at 20 yards its “point-blank” range is about 25 yards before arrow drop becomes noticable.

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Christmas Gift for New Hunters

  For the new hunter information is often more important that hardware, and some recent books could be appropriate stocking stuffers for less than $20 delivered to your door.

 Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound  contains basic information on all aspects of hunting. It considers everything from “why people hunt?” to equipment, regulations, knives, first hunting rifles, cleaning, processing animals and ends with 50 easy recipes for cooking deer and other game. Not only does this book consider deer, it also discusses wild hogs, other big game animals, small game and waterfowl. It is available from and other sources and is presently being discounted.

  For hunters in states that have recently allowed crossbows to be used during the general archery season such as TX, MI, PA, RI and NJ; Crossbow Hunting, is the only book that completely considers the crossbow as a hunting tool. It is complete with descriptive information on various price crossbows, hunting strategies for different game animals, hunts for African lion and other animals and concludes with chapters on cleaning and cooking game. This book is also being discounted at and in other electronic book markets.

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Making Head and Neck Shots on Game

This Cape buffalo was stopped when it charged the Professional Hunter at a range of a few yards. This is one of the relatively few occasions when the author thinks a head shot should be attempted.

  Shooting an animal in the head or neck does not appeal to me except for some specialized circumstances.  The head and neck are small targets that are frequently moving which makes sure-shot placement difficult. I have successfully made many such shots, and I have also muffed them. In general, I think that it is unwise to attempt head and neck shots except  when the animal  is only inches from the gun’s muzzle or you must stop a charge.

This was a successful neck shot on a deer delivered at about 15 yards. Even so, a little movement could have resulted in a wounded animal.

  If it were the case of missing the animal completely or hitting it, that would be O.K., but an all- to- frequent result is to hit the animals’ nose or lower jaw resulting in a lost animal that carries off a painful, ultimately deadly, injury that may result in its dying many days later. I consider it far better to maybe loose a little shoulder meat and take the animal through both lungs.

  As always, there are exceptions. When shotgunning for swan, geese and similarly big birds, I think  it best to shoot for the long neck and head, rather than for the body because of the difficulty of the shot (particularly steel shot) to penetrate deep enough to cleanly kill the bird.

Large birds like turkeys, swan and geese are best taken by heavy loads of shot directed at the long neck and head, rather than attempting to penetrate the heavy feathers and muscles protecting the vital organs.

Alligators also need to be dispatched with a shot delivered at a

Both a pistol bullet in the brain and a knife thrust through the spine are used to dispatch alligators.

range of a few inches from the skull. Similarly, when it comes time to kill livestock an expanding bullet shot at very close range that ranges  forward from the back of the skull  towards the nose is very quick.

  I once refused to attempt a neck shot in Ireland at the biggest red stag I ever saw because I was shooting from an unsteady platform and could not hold the scope steady on such a small target. I don’t even like such shots at squirrels and rabbits with a .22 L.R. There is not much meat on the ribs and even passing a .45-caliber ball through a squirrel’s midsection does not result in much loss of eatable meat.

  It is always the hunter’s responsibility to kill game quickly. Except under absolutely ideal conditions, I think that most hunters would do well to avoid neck and head shots and put the bullet squarely into the heart-lung area.

  For more information on game shooting consult the author’s book, Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound  and visit the website

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Coot Soup


A raft of coot at Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina. These abundant waterfowl can provide good eating if property cleaned.

  I once thought that I had rather eat an old coot than be one, but now that I am approaching the age of being an “old coot,” I have had cause to rethink that position.

  Fact is that the limit on coot is 15 birds a day, and I thought that more of these abundant North American waterfowl ought to be utalized.  After some experimentation I discovered that they are eatable, even good, provided that they are skinned and the greenish-yellow fat is removed prior to cooking. They also have the largest gizzards of all waterfowl, which I either used boiled or fried after they have been cleaned.

  For coot soup:

   Use 3 coot,  skinned with fat removed; 1 small onion, 2 stalks of celery, 1 14-oz. can of whole kernal corn, 1 14-oz.  can stewed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of garlic salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

  Put coot in large pot and cover with water. Boil until meat starts to seperate from bones. Remove bones and return chopped meat to pot. Add other ingredients. Adjust seasionings to taste. I like a garlic tast to this dish. This is one of the few dishes that goes well with a dark beer or stout.

  This recipe is from my forthcoming book, X-Treme Muzzleloading: Taking fur, fowl and dangerous game with muzzleloading rifles, pistols and smoothbores  that will be published in the Spring of 2010.