Monday, September 28, 2009

My 50-Cent Shooting Box

I'm sure that I'm not the only person who muzzleloads who also loves to get up early on Saturday morning, when the snow's not flying, and drive around looking for yard and garage sales. I love a great bargain, and much of my hunting, fishing, and especially camping gear comes from these front and back yard extravaganzas. Some of my outstanding recent buys include a set of insulated chest waders...still new in the my size...for just $10. And I was just about to head on over to the local sporting goods store and pay $130 for the same thing. (And the price sticker showed that was exactly where these came from!) Another great deal was a set of top quality Motorola camouflaged hand-held radios...again like new. And when I asked the price, the guy looked me in the eye and said..."How about a dollar?" After I handed him the buck, and had the radios and chargers in my hands, I asked him what was wrong with them. He simply said they wouldn't charge. I took them home, plugged in the chargers, set the radios in...and they charged just fine. In fact, they stay in my truck, sometimes for a month or more, and they hold a full charge.

I could name plenty more great buys...but I don't want to create too much competition for those unbelievable bargains.

Of all the things I've bought at yard sales this summer, one has easily been used more than anything else. It's an old hand-made wooden carpenter's box - which I bought for 50-cents. That's it in the photo above...being used as a shooting box. I keep it and a few other old tool boxes (also bought at yard sales) to keep shooting supplies in - powder, bullets, sabots, primers, several tools, loading equipment, cleaning supplies, you name it - all ready to head to the range. This particular "shooting box" is for the more recent in-line rifle models I use as my regular test rifles. And it sure makes getting ready to go to the range easy. I just slip a rifle or two or three into the truck, and grab this box - and I'm set.

I'd have to say that was the best half-of-a-buck I've ever spent.

What do you use to haul your shooting stuff to the range?

Toby Bridges

Thursday, September 24, 2009

United's Skies Not So Friendly

Do you have a long-range hunt this fall or winter, one which will take you a thousand or more miles from home, and requires you to fly by a commercial airline? If so, and you already have tickets and/or reservations, you just might want to call to insure that you'll be able to bring back the trophy you hope to hang your tag on.

I was contacted today by my good friend Ed Beattie, who handles much of Cabela's Adventure Travel, who shared that United Airlines has recently adopted a "verbal policy" of refusing to accept antlers as checked baggage - no matter how they are packed. Ed pointed out that United does not mention this policy on their website, nor will they supply anything in writing to Cabela's.

So, it just kind of comes as a surprise when you try to check your trophy as baggage, and they refuse to accept it.

"The other major airlines all mention on their websites that they will accept antlers or horns - if properly packed," states Beattie.

Cabela's currently has over 300 whitetail hunters booked to Canada this fall - and see's this as a real issue.

If you are planning to use United Airlines to fly to your hunting destination, perhaps you should call them right now. For that matter, you might even want to call any other airline you might be flying. The last thing you need, following a long and successful hunt, is to have an airline agent tell you that your trophy rack or horns cannot be checked as baggage...just a couple of hours before you are scheduled to fly home.

While larger trophy racks, like moose or elk, are normally shipped, it has been very common practice for successful deer, antelope, mountain goat, and sheep hunters to carefully pack their trophies, and bring them home as checked baggage.

Toby Bridges

NOTE: Since this was posted, Cabela's has heard back from Untied Airlines. THEY WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT ANTLERS OR HORNS AS BAGGAGE. So, if you are headed out on a muzzleloader big game hunt, or any kind of big game hunt for that matter, and must fly - DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH UNITED.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Early Hunting Seasons...Just A Walk In The Park!

Here in Montana, there are four "wilderness areas" where the big game seasons open on September 15th. Last year (2008), I was not yet a resident of Montana and missed the deadline to apply for a non-resident elk or deer tag. But, I went into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area with three others, just to spend a week or so "In The Bob". One of those hunters, at age 75, took the 62nd elk of his life - a good 6x6. And I was there to help him pack it out.

Anyway, this year was different. And with a resident elk, deer and wolf tag in my pocket, I headed into the Bob Marshall for a day-long hunt, and tagging along with me was my good friend, and fellow muzzleloader hunter, Will Moore - who owns a small piece of Big Sky Country in the Bitterroot Valley.

We left my truck at the trailhead in the first light of morning, then made the 5 mile walk, from 5,500 feet to the pass at 7,500 feet. It is a good trail, and that hike took about 1 1/2 hours. At that point, we were in the wilderness area, and the hunt began. On the way in, we had spotted about 20 elk - including a good bull.

Will and I decided to follow a shelf that ran along the side of an otherwise steep mountain slope, which paralleled a heavily wooded valley - with a nice open meadow here and there. Elk sign was everywhere - with the ground so tracked up it looked as if it had been plowed. And in several places a small pine or spruce didn't have a chance, and all had been nearly ripped out of the ground by bulls doing a little antler rubbing and perhaps practice sparring. Several times, our cow calls were answered by a half-hearted squeal from a bull. But, by noon we had not seen another elk.

It was dry, with none of the usual springs running up high. So, we decided to drop down a thousand feet or so and hunt the grassy meadows - where I knew a clear running mountain stream ran freely. Not surprisingly, we found lots of older wallows, a lot more tracks and dozens of major rubs. But, we still did not see any elk. By the time we stopped for lunch, around 1 p.m., we had already covered close to 10 miles of extremely rugged mountain country.

We hunted the series of meadows up to the head of the valley, and with afternoon temperatures in the 80s, we never heard another elk that afternoon. Fresh wolf tracks here and there told me we ought to try calling - to see if one of us could be the first modern day Montana hunter to take a wolf with a muzzleloader. Relying on a multi-sound Knight & Hale deer call, I started with a series of doe bleats...putting just a bit of distress into the calls. Within 5 minutes, something was right behind us, stomping and snorting. Through the trees and low brush, I could see it was a mulie buck, but could not get a visual on the rack - other than it looked heavy and tall.

Will brought his rifle up several times, but never shot. The deer finally turned and bounced back into the heavy cover.

With all of the commotion, I decided to switch to one of the Knight & Hale rabbit distress calls, hoping that a wolf nearby just might charge in for an easy meal. I had made a couple of squalls, when my partner brought his Traditions Pursuit up, and was aiming once more - in the opposite direction. Then, suddenly, the deer was back, less than 20 yards behind him...stomping and snorting once again. Will turned and aimed at the deer for a few seconds, then turned and aimed again 180-degrees the opposite direction. The deer finally ran off, and whatever it was in the opposite direction had also slipped away.

It turns out that he could have shot the buck, knowing it was big and heavy - but never getting a good look at the rack. And his other "target of opportunity" had been a big old dog coyote that had run to within 50 yards of where he sat - 25 or so yards to my right. We enjoyed a few laughs, and with a good 5 hour walk out, we headed for a trail we knew would take us back to the main trail and down to the truck. In the dim evening light, we stopped occasionally to glass mule deer and a few whitetails - but no elk. We did hear one good bull bugle, but never managed to get a fix on his position - since it bugled just once.

We ended up walking the last 2 miles of the trail in total darkness. And with a long day and close to 20 miles of tough walking under our belt, the ride down the mountain to camp was a quiet one. It had been a great day, even though neither of us had snapped a cap. Fortunately, I had a very good woman waiting for me at camp, with a good fire and a hot meal. Sleep came easy that night...after a day's walk in the park - a very, very big park.

Toby Bridges

Monday, September 7, 2009

Montana Ignores The Popularity Of Muzzleloader Seasons

Depending on who's information one chooses to trust, there are now between 3 1/2- and 4-million muzzleloading hunters in the United States.

Likewise, every state in the country now offers a "special" muzzleloader season for those hunters - every state except one. And that state is Montana.

Sure, big game hunting is extremely popular in this state. And, if you live in this state and truly want to hunt with a muzzleloader - you can. But not during a season specifically for muzzle-loaded guns. In Montana, if you want to hunt with a muzzleloader, you'll have to do it during the 5 week general season - or other seasons set for hunting with a modern cartridge rifle, handgun, or shotgun. There simply is not a "Muzzleloader Only" big game season or hunt,

Montana Fish,Wildlife and Parks does absolutely nothing to promote hunting with a muzzleloader.

The incentive for hunting with a muzzleloader in other states has been seasons that have been established especially for the muzzleloading hunter. In fact, more and more states are now conducting several muzzleloader seasons each fall and winter - commonly an "early season" that takes place prior to the modern firearm seasons...and a "late season" which runs some time after the modern gun seasons have closed. Where states tend to offer just one muzzleloader season, it seems the majority are of the late variety - following the general firearms big game seasons.

Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is not only cheating big game hunters in this state out of a special season that is extremely popular with hunters everywhere else in the country, this game commission is also cheating the Montana fish and game agency out of a very valuable management tool - and an opportunity to bring in additional revenue through muzzleloader hunting permit sales - just as it does for bowhunters. In this state, bowhunters get first crack at big game during an early 6 week archery season.

Montana muzzleloading hunters are forced to hunt side-by-side with center-fire toting big game hunters, packing super long range rifles in calibers like .300 Winchester Magnum or 7mm Remington Magnum. There is absolutely no incentive to hunt with a muzzleloader in this state. And consequently, few modern rifle big game hunters here know anyone who does hunt with a muzzleloader.

The state's whitetail populations are busting at the seams in some regions of the state, and need additional harvest. Several times, the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING ASSOCIATION has suggested that the state schedule a late muzzleloader season just for whitetails - but it has fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks is afraid of a muzzleloader season because no one within the agency truly understands muzzleloading and muzzleloader hunting - and to conduct a season they might just have to learn a little more about it. One thing is for certain, if they did they would quickly realize how many hunters really would like to hunt with a muzzleloader - just as game departments in other states have already come to realize.

What are your thoughts?

Toby Bridges