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There are hundreds of gun manufacturers throughout the world and the companies that are known to us; either invest a lot of money in their advertising or just simply make fine firearms. Some manufacturers however achieve both these points and much more by producing outstanding firearms, with beautiful designs, and overall great performance.

Browning, Marlin, ArmaLite, Colt, Remington and Savage are just some of the names that may sound familiar to you or you might have used their firearms while out on a hunt or at the shooting range. Personally, I have actively used firearms for well over two decades and some include the names listed above and still I find it difficult to consider myself an expert in this field, because of all the advancements in the industry.

Today, I am an ordinary fellow that really enjoys small game hunting but I also lead a very busy life which includes unexpected expenses and bills. So when considering a new purchase, the cost of a firearm is without a doubt one of key factors that can affect anyone’s decision. Then of course you also have to think about many other points such as the design, its performance in the field, including both federal and provincial regulations/laws with concerns to munitions being used by that particular firearm or the game you are pursuing. Performance points can be identified as the range of the firearm in various conditions or its overall durability and many others.

I have used the Remington 870, my collection of .22’s from Savage and Cooey for various small game and I absolutely enjoy them; now I wanted to add some flare to my hunts and my choice this year was the T-Bolt Composite Target/Varmint in 17 HMR from Browning.

I spent weeks studying the T-bolt and comparing the rifle to similar types made by Marlin and Savage; the Browning may have been more expensive but I liked the fact that the action was a pull-back instead of the bolt-action like the others; which I find makes it easier to stay in a good shooting position without having to move too much to reload another round in the chamber. I also really liked the features of the Double Helix rotary magazine allowing for a reliable reload with its design; you also have a second magazine tucked away in the butt plate for quick access. Although the T-bolt does not have iron or a bead sight this did not matter to me as I plan to put on a scope.

Because I hunt hare, coyote and groundhog the 22 inch heavy varmint profile barrel was the best choice for my hunting scenario. Some manufacturers are better than others, but ultimately they are all legitimately good, if not they would not be able to sell firearms. My advice is to identify your requirements for your hunting scenario and then set out to buy the firearm you really want regardless of the price. If you find yourselves having to save up like I did for a few months and buy quality, then do so. Not only will you benefit from this great firearm but future generations will also.

Here are some examples of hunting scenario choices:

Barrel length and type, for example heavier barrels provide more accurate shots; keep in mind your federal and provincial or state regulations. It is also easier to walk through thick brush with a shorter barrel.

Look and feel or design, this is really a personal preference with concerned to drawings on the stock, having different gunstock types and grips.

Ammunition, again keeping regulations in mind, whether you want to take close or long distance shots and the type of the game you will be hunting will affect your choice. If you look up rifle cartridges in Wikipedia they have a great photo/chart with various rounds listed. Velocity and range also fall under ammunition and the firearm being used.

Carrying capacity, reloading and firing speed; magazines of any kind will facilitate the ease of reloading to ensure you can shoot rapidly in the event that the game is moving quickly in front of you. Magazine designs can affect the types of loading and can help avoid jams or double feeds.

Game types, know which firearms can be used for the type of animal that you are pursuing and then inform yourselves on the type of firearm that is best suited and most efficient for that hunt. Duck hunting is a good example; I would recommend semi-automatic shotguns over pump-action because of the increase in speed it provides when reloading allowing for a quicker release of your 3 shells.

Conduct a lot of research and talk to fellow hunters who have a lot of field experience and also store owners and pro’s.

Be safe.

When you are thinking of buying and you are not quite sure; you may find yourselves doing research on the web which is not a bad thing, but you can easily drown in all the information that is found on discussion or web forums. And besides what are the chances of that person providing you with their opinion ever going on a hunt with you? Heck! They may not even hunt the same type of game as you or may just go to shooting ranges.

Choose wisely & have a great hunt!

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Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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Snare2

Snare2

The early morning air that surrounded me in the woods was crisp and cold. It was almost like time was standing still and every sound in the forest was amplified. The trees had a pure white coat on them after a light January snow fall at dawn.

The temperature was thirty below and the twenty gauge wire that I was working with for my snares was burning my hands as they slowly went numb. I had been tightening the wire around a broken support branch that I had placed overtop my hare lead at its narrowest section.

After carefully placing twigs creating a funnel cone toward the opening of my snare, it was now time for me to tie up my trail marker tape identifying the second snare spot. I was only on my second setup and my goal was to have five more completed by mid morning.

At about eleven o’clock all my snares were in place and had been inspected. A friend and veteran snare hunter had taught me that after the holidays around mid January it was a good idea to adjust your snare openings. Making them slightly larger than the size of your fist and instead of having the wire around five-finger widths from the ground, he suggested it be around three.

Satisfied with my snares, I packed away my gear and prepared myself for the drive home; the anxiety for the next morning’s potential harvest was slowly consuming me. As an avid hunter my excitement level was about the same as someone would experience while waiting to open their gifts on Christmas day. It was now time for nature to take the lead no pun intended.

For those who are familiar with nature, especially North American animals there is a belief that badgers have an interesting relationship with coyotes. This relationship gets even more interesting when they are hunting for food together. Let us imagine they were pursuing a ground dwelling rodent, the badger would attempt to dig him out. The coyote on the other hand would simply wait at one of the escape holes and grab the rodent as it escapes.

Now it is also a known fact that coyotes are smarter than foxes. The question is then: Is it just smarts or is it simply theft? Another interesting fact about this relationship is why the badger doesn’t just kill the coyote that is stealing or trespassing during the combined hunt. Opportunistic or instinct, is it theft or just survival?

The following morning had come and the temperature on the thermostat was showing twenty-four below zero. My goal was to get to the site before nine in the morning, check all my snares and then plan to be home in time for lunch. So I loaded up my gear and headed out to the woods, which was about an hour drive north.

My first snare was intact and although there were fresh tracks in the new snow, they did not lead to my opening, so I slowly removed the wire and marker and placed it in my pocket and prepared myself to move to the second snare. I had put on my yellowish tint shooting glasses, which offer such a visual advantage during the winter when sifting through pine and cedar. I also brought along my .22 bolt-action Savage in the event that a hare may break into a full chase, so with this in mind I decided to stalk between my snare spots.

When I got up to my second snare, I instantly noticed the scattered blood droplets on the white snow and branches. There were obvious signs of a struggle, I also saw several droppings scattered on the fresh snow and there were tuffs of fur stuck on the branches and the log nearby.

My shiny twenty gauge wire had been torn and was still tied off to the main log. I tirelessly looked for a blood trail around the leads but the hare had just vanished and although there were three other leads heading up the ridge there was no sign of blood.

I did however notice prints in the snow heading north-west that looked like coyote tracks; they were headed directly into heavy cedar underbrush and into an area that was quite dark even in daylight. I spent the next forty-five minutes searching the area around the second snare site but did not see any sign of my hare. I gathered up my remaining snares and prepared myself for a challenging season.

The tell-tale signs indicate that I had successfully snared my first hare this year but ended up getting badgered by the local coyote. This most definitely adds a more positive spin to my snowshoe hare and small game season this winter because I now have an added challenge ahead of me.

I do not wish to be badgered again.

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I must admit that this is one of the toughest choices anyone can be faced with, even for those who consider themselves experts. The simple reason is that there are so many factors, just like a vehicle purchase. You need to identify what you are looking for and what are your requirements. Examples of this are: Speed, looks, color, make, functionality, practicality, performance, load capacity and most of all keeping the law in mind.

Here are lists of tips that may help you with your purchase in choosing the best firearm for small game hunting:

1. Federal & Provincial regulations for hunting small game with concerns to the gear being used and its caliber or shot size, pellet sizes and speed with concerns to air guns. (Quebec)

2. Budget, my Remington 870 which is my work horse for migratory bird and small game/Varmint cost me just under $400.00 Cdn. The next firearm on my list to acquire is the Browning T-Bolt Composite Target/Varmint using 17 HMR ammunition and it is listed at $780.00 US. Now if you are new at small game hunting, you can get a fantastic firearm that meets all your needs without spending over $200.00. (Hunting magazines and your local hunting store is where you can find great firearms used or new for low prices, if you are just starting out.)
3. “Versatility” This is one of my favorite words because for me it represents savings, practicality, durability and ultimately outstanding performance. Example: I can change my shotgun shell shot size and hunt rabbit, then the next day put back the plastic plug that allows for a total of three shells in the shotgun chamber and tubular magazine then I am ready for Waterfowl. Heck, the 870 can be used for Black bear.
4. Ammunition, shot sizes & ballistics. It is important to know the difference between center-fire and rimfire. Knowing the distances and shot needed to be a successful and accurate small game hunter, is very important. The author Larry Koller mentions this in his book “Treasury of Hunting” he once used a .22 LR and shot a game through the chest cavity but it kept on running and got away. He suggested then using .22 rimfire with hollow point and it contained the shocking power he needed.
5. Action types and ease of disassembly and assembly when cleaning the firearms. I have cleaned bolt-action rifles, shotguns and various other types of weapons in my lifetime and the bolt-action and the shotgun were by far the easiest to clean.
6. Noise, kickback/recoil. Many web articles, books and experts suggest a .22 rifle, bolt-action or semi automatic or even combo guns such as the shotgun and .22 combined for the first firearm. There is practically no recoil on the one’s I listed and they are very accurate, especially with the addition of a scope and they are cheap. (Savage, Remington, Browning, Marlin are all great name brands) It really depends on the buyer, also look for a .22 that allows you to use various .22 Long Rifle or Short.
7. Know the game you will be hunting and study which ammunition would be most effective with the type of game you will be hunting.
8. Safety, Safety, Safety. If you buy a second-hand rifle or shotgun or an old military firearm, make sure it is usable and safe. Inspect the barrel for damage, the safety mechanism and also check the fore-stock or any external components for damages on the firearm.
9. Fitting. Make sure you hold the firearm in the shooting position with the assistance of a professional making sure the rifle or shotgun butt length is the right fit for you. Check the barrel length and make sure it meets the Federal  & Provincial Regulations.

On my “Kit List” page I have listed the firearms that I use for small game and varmint hunting. My Remington 870 pump-action is my latest addition to my collection of hunting tools and is without a doubt one of the shotguns I use the most when I hit the woods or farmland.

In his book “Treasury of hunting” the author Larry Koller did a fantastic job in giving us a few choices of rifles and shotguns for each type of game. List of his suggested firearms are separated into game type.

Small Furred Game: Hare, Rabbits
Remington Model 572, .22 rim-fire
Savage Model 94, all gauges
Savage Model 24 Combination-.22 WMR and 20 Gauge-Magnum
Mossberg Model 500 Pump Gun, in 12 gauge

Guns for Varmints: Coyotes
Winchester Model 70 Varmint Rifle
Browning Safari-grade Sporter
Savage Model 110
Sako Varminter, heavy barrel
Winchester Model 275 Deluxe, .22 WMR

Guns for Upland Birds: Grouse, Pheasant
Winchester Model 21
Winchester Model 59
Winchester Model 1200
Daly Commander, over/under
Browning Superposed, over/under
Remington Model 11-48

Guns for Wild Fowl: Geese, Ducks
Browning Superposed 12 Gauge, 3-inch Magnum
Remington Model 1100 autoloader
Remington 870 Pump Gun
Savage Model 750 Autoloader
Savage Model 30 Pump Gun
Winchester Model 1400 Autoloader
Ithaca Model 37 Deluxe Pump Gun
Winchester Model 101, over/under

In Canada in order to acquire/purchase a firearm you need to be certified and have successfully completed and passed the Federal Firearms Safety Course for the firearm categories you have selected during the registration of the course. Non-restricted is the most common category. You will need your firearms card in order to purchase a firearm and ammunition.

In order to hunt in Quebec with a firearm as a resident, you will also need to successfully complete the hunting course and obtain a passing grade. You will also need to purchase a small game permit at any hunting store that prints them. Migratory bird hunting will also require a permit that can be purchased at any Post Office across Canada and also Online. In Quebec it is important while hunting migratory bird to have your small game permit and Migratory bird permit + Stamp on hand at all times.

Local hunting stores, SAIL, Canadian Tire and many other locations are great places to start. Happy shopping!

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