Monday, 12 December 2016

Book Review: Tracking the Major

The blogger known as the Bambi Basher and myself have a sort of yule-ish end-of-year catch-up tradition. Last year we stalked the Highlands. This year our December catch up was to return to its regular venue. Holts host their bi-annual london auctions - it's the nearest thing to an American gun show central london has to offer. You can 'view' by which I mean 'pick up and handle', firearms from £500,000 to £50. Did I mention it’s catered? You can see the appeal. This year BB couldn't make it, and worried that the excess provisions laid on would go to waste I stepped up to the plate[s], loosened my belt a notch or two, and headed for Hammersmith. 

There were some very nice things on offer: at least three Mannlichers, one with the famous rotary magazine, all with the 'double set trigger' mechanism, that can both aid accuracy and render the consumption of roughage unnecessary. For me the star of the show was a rather scruffy and well used Rigby take-down [obvs chambered in .275]. 
Back in the day when a sport could pop down to the Army & Navy department store and equip himself for everything from a weekend in the country to a multi-year expedition to untraveled lands, Army & Navy’s gun department kept a stock of off the shelf Rigbys, this one delivered to the store in 1901.

As you can imagine it’s been about a bit. The stock has some scratches, while in two pieces it's been dropped onto something hard denting one mating plate where the two parts meet, it had been re-barreled in the 90's and had a chamber sleeve added sometime after. One of the more lived-in Rigbys.
Like a wand in your hands, the stock's semi-pistol grip worthy of the name, super petite, and svelte at 7 lbs 2oz. Now 115 years old the bolt's travel has worn as smooth as a smooth thing's smooth bits. Not, perhaps one for a collectors safe, but a real traveling sportsman's rifle that would earn you a hit-tip from any aficionado, and derision from anyone with an ounce of fiscal probity.

The Victorian-Edwardian transition, the second surge of industrial revolution, must have been a great time for the rifleman. When adventurous english gents would embark on expeditions to far flung corners of the world with a realistic expectation of adding to the sum of human knowledge. For the gentleman explorer it was considered, if not an act of devotion, certainly one's patriotic duty to record the whole escapade. As Queen Victoria passed and Prince Edward sat in the big chair. A new age of recording the moment had begun. The birth of more portable photography, cinematography, the telegraph, audio recording for broadcast, and an age of prolific taxidermy. Newsworthy moments were transmitted by Reuters and Pathe back to the public; samples and specimens were preserved and prepared for display in cabinets of curiosities and diorama, in sizes from desktop to needing to build an extension on to your house.

By the 1970s and 80s the baby had been chucked out with the bathwater. Explorers were still just about ok, fur coats and taxidermy were out, and big game hunters, unthinkable! The once heroic figure of the sunburned Englishman in a pith helmet wasn't a passionate naturalist and ethnographer, he'd become a figure of fun to be mocked and derided. The life stories of these intrepid eccentrics were only remembered at places like Bisley, the reading rooms of moth-eaten gentleman's clubs, and the Bambi Basher’s bookshelves.

Taking a break from leaving greasy paw-marks over the merchandise I happened to be at the right end of the room (funnily enough where the free champagne was being served) to hear someone from Holts announce that Andrew Joynes was launching his book 'Tracking the Major - sketches from the Powell-Cotton Museum'. Then he mentioned Quex Park the major's estate. Theres a street not too far from where I grew up called Quex Rd, which is an unusual sounding place name, my ears pricked up.

'... In my attempt to fathom the mind of the Major, I began to think of his archive, with its variety of objects and documents, as a kind of lair to which a rare animal had retreated...
In the room behind the baize door, I had embarked on an exercise in historical fieldcraft. I had begun to track the Major... “
Andrew Joynes

Curiosity peaked I learned Major Percy Powell-Cotton was a massive celebrity of his time. On over 26 expeditions between 1887 and 1939 he hunted, collected, wrote and was an early pioneer of wildlife film making. He brought back over 2400 specimens and a plethora of artefacts. His collection out-grew his house and he built extension upon extension to house enormous diorama of full size taxidermy.
It’s not so much that his life was like something out of a boys own adventure, it’s more like the boys own adventures were based on him. His zeal for adventure was matched by his abilities as a self-publicist, he was news and he knew it. By sending regular(ish) dispatches from his trips he became a fixture of the newsreels and in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. His books best sellers, the public first saw the charismatic mega fauna of Africa in his films shown on the weekly newsreels. 

Such was the scale of his collecting that some of the skins he shipped across the world didn't get incorporated into his museum for more than 30 years. 
The most famous taxidermist of the day, Rowland Ward, wanted to mount Powell-Cotton's elephant, which has the second largest tusks ever recorded, and mount it life-size. This would mean raising the height of the roof at Quex Park. Powell-Cotton felt there had to be an end to the expenditure somewhere and declined. Rowland Ward was adamant, perhaps guessing correctly that the days of the really big elephants were at an end, and made his case that the mount could be life-size if he did the work for free, and Powell-Cotton paid for the raising of the roof. They shook hands and the elephant is still there today.

Andrew Joynes has done a great job of sifting through the major's meticulously notated stories behind many of the exhibits. A favourite anecdote: 

Whilst on honeymoon,  Powell-Cotton was being mauled by a lion he had failed to dispatch with the first shot. His death was postponed when a copy of the satirical magazine Punch resisted the lion's claw. Which gave a few vital seconds for his guides to save him. News of this near-miss reached London before he did, adding to his living legend status. 

The lion in question, as mounted by Rowland Ward & Co.

If that wasn't enough, he added a dash of panache by putting the lion, the safari suit and the copy of Punch on display in his museum. Which the public flocked to see.

It gets better.

A museum in his garden he’d been wise enough to commission, while on his travels, leaving his brother to deal with the builders. 


Andrew Joynes tells loads more great tales in 'Tracking the Major - sketches from the Powell-Cotton Museum’ , it's well worth a read.

I’m hoping to make it over to the museum in the next few weeks
I’ll post a field report obvs. 
Your Pal

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Fullbore At Bisley

I'm posting some new stories and some retellings of past adventures on Steemit

This morning its a piece about my new-found enthusiasm for target shooting, at 1000 yards.
Yep over half a mile with open sights. Story is HERE

Keep well and thanks for reading
Your pal

Thursday, 6 October 2016

SBW Now On Steemit

I've been having a look at a new blogging platform. There's some interesting stuff over at but there was no Hunting stuff so I've done a major rewrite of the last Scottish adventure.

I'll be adding to this post as stuff goes live later today in the mean time heres my info post

Worth a look, and my story is quite good too ;-)


Saturday, 24 September 2016

I Heart Cabins

If the above makes perfect sense to you, I can warmly recommend
Where I found love. Real enduring love.

200 year old Bushwhacker on the outside

Austere minimalism on the inside. 

 It's in Switzerland, so I'd shoot 10.3x60, you know, just because I could. 

Keep well 
More soon
Your pal

PS for scale The Bambi Basher and I once took a look at a rifle chambered in 10.3x60, I could poke the end of my pinky down the barrel!!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Old England,Bisley And The Queen's Prize

This BBC film from the 80's has everything, a blast of history, some very old posh people, and Brian Glover! Yeah that Brian Glover, the teacher from Kes!

Many times I've been told that Bisley is in a time-warp, and this film backs that up. The place still looks exactly the same. Wandering around you'll see a miniature world of, what 150 years ago were temporary buildings. These wooden club houses all have their legends and traditions. What the film doesn't explore is the full range of Shooting Types.
The film's visit that Bisley institution G.E. Fulton & Son, Bisley Camp shows a shop that is exactly the same as the one I visited a few weeks ago. Piles of stuff everywhere, and a floor that was secondhand on the first day of trading. A man in tweed [paired with red trousers] came it for some 22LR. The RP accents aren't 'quite' as ubiquitous these days and the ammunition costs more.

Worth a watch

Your pal


Sunday, 4 September 2016

A Shooter's Education: Civilian Service Rifle?

I’ve been expanding the range of my shooting lately [ber-boom], trying my hand at a few new disciplines, I’ve shot some short range Gallery Rifle where pistol calibers and .22LR are shot in what used to be pistol competitions before they were banned [for the most part – we’ll come to that later]. I’ve tried shooting Fullbore out to 1000 yards, and I’m hoping to shoot some Civilian Service Rifle.

When I first heard of the Service Rifle competitions, I’m not sure why but, I thought red tunic’s and pith helmets would the dress code. Or at least wearing those itchy green army jackets and the soup-bowl helmets. I imagined reenacting the shooting drills of WW1 with SMLE’s in chambered in the venerable .303British. Events like the legendary ‘mad minute’ where even with a ten round magazine you’d have to reload 3 times to beat Sergeant Major Jesse Wallingford's record of 36 shots on target at 300 yards.

It turns out what’s become the fastest growing Rifle sport in the UK is now Civilian Service Rifle a service rifle competition ‘civilianised’ i.e. without the semi automatic rifles used in today’s service rifle, which isn’t open to the public.
Shots are taken prone, sitting, kneeling and standing at ranges from 25 to 500 yards. Targets are engaged against the clock, and with a few ‘jog downs’ to get your heart rate up between shots.
You can use a bolt action or straight pull rifle, with most people shooting straight pull AR15’s in 5.66 NATO topped either with iron sights or in two optic classes; service which it limited to 4.5X magnification for Service Optic, unlimited magnification for Practical Optic. There’s also a Historic class for SMLE’s etc. 
If you want to wear a pith helmet you have to bring your own.

As usual with anything to do with shooting in the UK there is a hilarious controversy, with a well-known shooting writer having a war of words with a well-known competitor. They both feel the other is bringing shooting sports into disrepute. I’m paraphrasing a bit here  – The chap who likes to shoot standing up in a fedora and tweeds called the fella who shoots lying in a muddy field in army surplice clothes ‘selfish and weird’ telling him that the public were put off by his ‘playing soldiers. This was rebutted ‘your great white hunter act is loathed by the public.’  I’ve no idea whether either of them is selfish and/or weird in real life. However practical army surplice clothes are in a field, wear ‘em and you’ll be accused of being a militia wannabe [trust me on this one]. Just as if you insist on rocking a fedora, checked shirt, and tie you’ll look like you’re an Edwardian fieldsports re-enactor. The public find it hard to see behind the caricatures guys.
At any UK shooting event I’ve ever been to if you mixed and matched a badge strewn fedora with some tweed breeks and a couple of camo layers from more than one nation, you’d just be yet another harmless shooting eccentric.

Trigger pull is from 4.5lbs – the sticker shows this rifle was tested at the start of a competition. Bradley Arms who built this rifle have been competing in CSR and building rifles for other competitors have acquired a great reputation for the reliability of their guns and the modernity of their customer service. I have it on good authority that, in an innovation unknown to the English gun trade, if you leave a message they will actually return your call.

Where the sport wins out in attracting new entrants is you can spend anything from very little on a SMLE with open sights, all the way to spending a fair old lump a fully bespoke AR15 customised to your needs and wants. The options when choosing and accessorizing an AR are endless. There’s plenty to study and source. Even the ammunition has a big choice of permitted rounds. For budgetary reasons surplice 5.56 or 7.62 NATO are the obvious choices, but you could home load 6.5 Grendel, or .300 Blackout. 
Earning yourself extra points in the game of ‘more obscure than you’.

For the optics there’s also plenty of choices, you’ve got to balance your needs between standing snap shots at 25 yards, and shooting prone all the way out to 500 yards. Iron battlefield sights look like a challenge. Reflex sights are the middle way between spending a grand and up on a used S&B scope and the open sights that came with your rifle. CSR even has a division for 4.5X magnification reflex sights. The guys at alloutdoors have a list for the best reflex sight, there are lots of options. The Gallery rifle guys tell me they’re unbeatable for the close stuff,  I’m yet to see how they perform beyond the first 50 yards.

Some of the enthusiasm for these rifles defiantly comes from their modular build, once you've chosen your lower you could have an AR upper receiver for every other use. They are a marketing guy’s dream with their never ending list of tweaks and accessories, the cube-jockey can surf for his ‘perfect’ spec all day and then assemble the gun at home. Things that for the sporting rifle require a trip to the gunsmith are plug and play with the AR. While it may not appeal to the traditionalists, with the cultural place that the AR platform has, in movies and video games, I think Civilian Service Rifle is set to grow in popularity. For the kids like my son who grew up playing warry video games it’s a rifle and sight picture that’s an extension of something they already know.
Ties and fedora’s are alien to them.

More soon
Your pal


Saturday, 28 May 2016

I Want One - A Not So Occasional Series Pt22 Titanuim Rifle

While noodling about on 'tinerweb this morning I discovered that Lawrence Precision, who are famous for their titanium moderators also make this  2.3 Kg mountain rifle. 
From Titanium. Drool.

In order to create a unique Rifle, we have started from the ground up. Using our own unique super light receiver, built from High Strength Aerospace Grade Titanium, our super strong lightweight Carbon fibre stock, Match grade barrel and trigger, we have created an ultra light and accurate rifle.
Proven reliability and performance, weighing a mere 2.3 KG* 
When incorporated with our Titanium Sound Moderators and Scope Mounts, this produces a unique ultra light winning combination.

The tantalising combination of exquisite machining, Titanium, and Carbon Fibre really does it for me. This is a 100% custom rifle, not an assembly of parts, all the work of one man. Let us not discuss tawdry things such as the price and four month build time. 

Mr Lawrence only makes Short Actions, and suggests; 
.243 Win [aka 6mm08]
6.5 Creedmoor 

I've also seen a .308, for me its the magic of the 6-7mm range. With such a light rifle I'm veering towards the .243 BUT at 100gr it's at the top of its bullet weight range, whereas the other two are at the bottom of their's. Obviously there are lots of other factors to be considered. What would you choose and why?

More soon
Your pal

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Unboxing Review: Markhor Elk Mountain 45l Pack

Would you like to review a pack that's lightweight, durable, and affordable?
Would I ever. Does, or could such a thing exist?

Most people have one pack, for people like BoB, Mr Grendel and myself this shows a cavalier attitude to foot travel and a lack of commitment to adventure. I asked BoB (brother of bushwacker) how many packs he and Mrs BoB have, his response 'Hard to say'.
Having spent the night in Mr Grendel's gear room I mentioned 'I saw you've got a few packs' and heard the words I've so often used myself to head off an argument  with the kind of person who has 4-5 thousand pairs of shoes but thinks everyone else can get by on a half a drawer full of clothes and camping equipment. Combined.  'They're all for different things".

Hunter to Hunter have launched the  range of Markhor Hunting packs. Where most packs are designed on the Alpinist model - lots of room for rope, a smaller space for clothes and attachment points for ice axe and or snowshoes. The hunting pack would do well to carry a rifle or a bow, needs to be waterproof and needs to carry loads of an awkward shape. It's quite a big ask. The Elk Mountain
pack in the 45l class seemed to fit my current needs so I accepted their kind offer of a pack for review.

I've got er, one or two expedition sized packs; the 45l class will just about swallow an double duvet 

This dart and compression strap are cut to push the content down towards your hips.

Clips on both shoulder straps for the tube from your water bladder.

A vertical compression strap means the lid's straps aren't doing all the work, so its easier to get things in and out of the lid's pockets when the pack is full.

Very nice, neat, and strong Bar Tacking at all the load bearing points.

The mesh panel is an extra, which adds to compression and if the pack is empty turns it into a carry frame for a chainsaw or trophy.

The extra straps give a lot more 'squish' which stabilises the load

Comes with a rain cover

Comes with a condom / hood thingy.

Excellent value for money, all the bits you'd pay extra for are included.
I would have made the lid detachable, and the compression straps longer.

Weather's getting a little warmer, lets get outside
More soon

Monday, 15 February 2016

Highland Deer Stalking Pt 4: The Gear List

This wouldn't be the SBW blog without a round up of the kit used. Some of the kit used was tried and tested on other adventures, some things I've seen that would answer problems we either had or could have had. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think I've left out. Here's my thoughts. Where you hunt may differ.

All three of us dressed as though our lives depended on it; if you did have the misfortune to have any one of a number of potential misfortunes befall you, it's a long wait for the air ambulance on a freezing hillside. In the dark. Did I mention it'll be snowing? The Ghillie on the other hand knew he'd never be far from the sweat lodge of his Landrover and apart from the last day where we stalked the hilltops, didn't even bother with a jacket.
The ground is rough and tussocked, any distance will be 'only 300 meters' and its always 'doon-huil', you will stumble, the soft clinging ice-cold mud is punctuated with jagged sharpe stones. In some ways its a bit like hill-walking, although there are a couple of crucial differences beyond the obvious
'Rifle' bit, there will be crawling about, lots of crawling about. The terrain is rougher so the level of protection clothes need provide against abrasion becomes more important and your boots are all that protect you from a twisted ankle.

On the drive up The Bambi Basher had gone to great lengths to prepare Mr Grendel and myself for what was ahead.

BB: ‘The ground is pretty steep, the Ghillie is the proverbial racing snake, but he makes sure everyone gets some good stalks. There'll be times when your struggling to keep up and he needs to get into position quickly. There's no shame in letting the ghillie carry your rifle across the really rough ground, he prefers it’

What he should have said is
“ the ghillie hates this rifle and everything attached to it. While you wheeze towards the firing position he’ll snatch it from your hands, wrench angrily at your bipod and leave your rifle set up on the edge of a puddle of melted snow. You will then have to lie in the puddle to peer through the fogged scope desperately trying to find the deer he claims to be able to see. All the while he will be demanding to know the whereabouts of a single piece of tissue he gave you an hour ago while you were in the Landrover which if you can find it will fail to de-fog the scope."

Lundhag's  Ranger boots
Your boots should come at least half way up your shin, you don't have the ankles the Ghillie has. Personally I'm all about the 'Hags' no lining means they dry out overnight and the big toe-box seems to keep my tootsies feeling warmer. I wear two pairs of socks so the wool can act as a bearing surface soothing out any rub patches. Stupidly on the first day I wore little socks under my big socks and the Compeed saved the trip. Two pairs of big socks minimum bid. While Lundhags  don't call their boots waterproof I've always found them to be so, unlike so many boots advertised as being so.
The Bambi Basher wore the high Le Chameau Mouflon's and disdains the second pair of socks. I know quite a few Le Chameau devotees, but I've not found a pair that fitted me like the Hags. Not something I'd recommend buying online.
Mr Grendel chose a much lighter weight and lower walking boot which he wore with 'Sealskins' socks. The ghillie wore wellies, Anti-grav wellies.

Gaiter's from the Mac Gaiter Co.
I’ve had a few pairs of gaiters over the years from the excellent but noisy Yeti’s that Berghaus used to make, waxed cotton which were rubbish [hilariously Elfa washed them to get 'that smelly grease out of them'], and a couple of generic lightweight pairs in ripstop nylon. All better than no gaiters, all a bit noisy in comparison to the Mac's. Mac Gaiters are made from neoprene [wetsuit material] and have been the best by a long way. Warm when wet, and quieter than any of the other materials I’ve tried or seen. All the other times I’ve worn them these have been perfect, during the rough and tumble of our assaults on the hillsides I would have preferred them to have the under-arch strap as when your foot plunges through the snow and then mud the mud sometime rolled the bottoms up. Some kind of more enthusiastic closure at the calf would be nice but its an easy mod to do with a sewing machine. I will defiantly buy another pair as even with being able to spin them in the washing machine at night, being neoprene they can't dry out very quickly. If I were starting a clean sheet re-design I’d move the velcro closure to the front so they’d be easier to put on and adjust while cramped into the Landrover. When you're standing up they're easy enough. A nice feature is the little hook that holds the front of the gaiter to the laces of your boot has been upgraded to a Big Hook which is better in every way.
Update: I’ve spoken with the manufacturer who tells me that under-arch straps have now been added to the design, and another camo and or Realtree will be available later in 2016.

NomadUK Breeks/Plus4’s
I know you foreigners like to mock us with our funny short trousers, I've been addressesed as Tintin more than once. Guys cast your prejudice aside, you've nothing to lose but your soggy bottoms or 'Pant Cuffs' as I'm told some of you call them. Once you go Breeks n Gaiters you'll never go back.
If you plan to rock a pair of breeks these are the breeks all other breeks should be judged against, they are absolutely fantastic. There is no piece of soggy ground, no wet slimy rock, or even puddle that you cant sit on or in with total impunity. Waterproof but silent. The Best. NomadUK really do make some nice schmutter, I would really like a pair of the Salopettes for wearing sitting in a highseat or shooting prone on a windy rifle range.

NomadUK: Zip Hill Smock
I’ve tested the this jacket in some pretty inclement weather: beating on a south downs pheasant shoot in the pissing rain, and run a pressure washer over it with me inside, so I was confident in its water repelling properties. This test took things to a new level, it was a longer day, some rain but mostly snow and hail, during which I was compelled to roll around on the ground, and much much colder. If the snow wasn't enough to contend with I was struggling up hills so steep I was puling myself up grabbing hands full of heather and taking more than one [or ten] unexpected plummets into the snow.
The jacket was in contact with wet heather or snow almost continually for the whole day. NomadUK's fleece solution does actually keep you warm even when it's selves eventually became completely saturated. I will defiantly be buying more of this company's kit. Possibly the best feature for the travelling sport is if you’ve got access to a washing machine the spin function will leave the gear dry enough to wear. If I was going further afield I’d take two as drying time isn't that quick without the spinning. Very simple, very quiet [which doesn't matter much in the howling gales that pass for a gentle breeze up there] NomadUK remains the benchmark.

MacWets gloves
These would be in the category of ‘Things That Don't Suck’ I’m really impressed with these gloves, they’re available in quarter sizes so they really are a second skin, they are warmish when wet but redeem themselves with a very quick drying time. I took two pairs, everytime one pair saturated I’d wring them out, put them in an inside pocket, put the other pair on, and as long as I could keep them in rotation I always had warmish dryish gloves and hands. They stick to a slick rifle stock like glue. Double thumbs up.

Eden Binoculars 
The best of the budget glass by a long long way. 8.5x42 are magic for woodland stalking, the Ghillie’s range finding Leica 10x42 really were that much better on the hill. Take your lens caps off before you leave the cottage, one of mine is still on the hill.

Draw Scope or Spotting Scope
Although considered standard equipment for highland stalking and I had really nice draw scope with me, I didn't use it once. I'd have preferred a pair of 10x42 binoculars.

I'm pretty much in the fixed-power camp on this one. Less to go wrong, and less weight. Schmidt and Bender Hungarian in 6x42 for me and BB, although the wider field of view of the 8x56 might have been a bit better a few times.

A few thoughts about a highland stalking rifle:
After WDM Bell got home from the Karamojo he stalked Red Deer with a .220 Hi-Power these days to be all-deer-legal in Scotland the bullet must weigh at least 100 grains and have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second and a minimum muzzle energy of 1,750 foot pounds.

An internet test of a Mountain Rifle is; can you hold it fully loaded and with everything on it, in your outstretched hand for a whole 60 seconds.
On the hill for the Highland Professionals 200m is the average shot. The ghillie doesn't expect you to shoot out to 600m but 300m is every day to him. Asking about, the chaps all valued accuracy over lightness and took a devil-may-care attitude to their rifles external condition. The spec for an ultimate Highland rifle might be: Can you confidently hit a four inch disc at 400m,  and not give a monkey's when you scratch the stock and the metalwork. On the same day. Twice.

Bambi Basher: Is there any rifle you'd not want to use?
The blue touch paper is now alight, you can see from the smoke coming off the Ghillie. BB has set off a chain reaction leading to another 'full and frank expression of strongly held views.'
The Ghillie: Feckin' three oh feckin eight! I had a client with one, to be fair not too bad a rifle, [looks at BB's Ruger 77 in disgust] but what a shite cartridge that is, 'bout foot and half drop, Jesus, that's be the last roond I'd ever use.

BB had this particularly nice .308 with him that never saw the light of day. Its for sale HERE

The usually wonderful falling block rifle (Ruger No1 in BB's battery) is sub-optimal when lying uphill on steep ground - the round can [which in the highlands is a synonym for 'will' ] fall out while being chambered.
The Ghillie had a lot of time for Blasers. The short-throw straight-pull helps in being ready for the second shot, which is vital up there and the lack of a bolt race is one less place for muck to cause jams. Accuracy never goes amiss either. "ye can tell a lot about a tradesman by his tools"

.270 is still the ‘Scottish calibre’ the guy in the gun shop confirmed they always have it in stock.
"In whatever grain weight you may require."

25-06 is a fantastic highland calibre, [100+gr and bob-on out to 300m]

.243 is both revered and derided.

As the Highland Professionals are doing it for a job Moderators are standard to them. Health and safety init.

Exotica and wildcats: If you had a reliable supply of ammunition 6XC would be great, and 6.5mm Grendel would be perfect. Its worth noting that if you are flying in the customs guys prefer to see a head stamp that matches the declaration. Getting the vernier out to 'prove' each home made round is what you say it is will only irritate them.

Everyday take 10 more rounds with you than you think you need.

A small torque wrench set to your scope’s requirements is a good idea. A very good idea.

Your Bipod needs longer legs for snow and bog, it also needs to be the kind with lots of tilt. Those Harris or Harris-style bipods are crap. Javelin is the new kid on the block, Neopod is a few grams lighter,  more expensive and isn't as tall. Javelin it may be.

If you have any sentiment at all about your rifle’s condition or want to get your money back on it, cover as much of it as you can in tape, its easy to scratch your hands, knees, or rifle up there.

Electrical Tape over the muzzle would be a good precaution. Mr Grendel would like to confirm for BB's benefit  the correct nomenclature is "Electrical Tape" not 'Sniper Tape".

Loc-Tight or Nail Varnish - if it can come undone it will come undone, before the stud that closed my sling came un-crimped and failed the ‘locking’ clasp that moors the strap to the rifle’s stud came loose, never seen that before. A knotted piece of leather boot lace might have been better. Everything with a threaded closure will benefit from Loc-Tight.

SAM Emergency Splint - weighs nothing in your pocket but might be dead handy, like the best tenner you ever spent, handy.

A waterproof case for your phone/camera is one less thing to worry about.
The Ricoh WG-M2 is good to -10c which might be handy.

A lens cloth - preferably on a string inside your hat. I always seemed to need to wipe either scope or binoculars at the most inopportune moments. I'd often find muck of one kind and another in my pockets. The inside of my hat was always dry.

Compeed. Without Compeed this adventure would have ended on the second morning. I've tried a few ways to overcome blisters NONE OF THEM WERE AS GOOD AS COMPEED!

More soon
Your pal

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking Part 3

The week races by, we are either on the hill, or drying out in the cottage. Where we feast on venison from home and cakes from the supermarket.  There is no internet so evenings are filled with military history programs on obscure TV channels. Even the comedy was military history. I quite like military history programs but I'd not considered how much better they'd become in the presence of real fans.  I once watched a whole 3+ hours of a marathon on TV with a committed sports buff, previously I'd not been able to work out why marathons were even televised, but there I was enthralled. I've gotta tell you, you've never watched Dad's Army until you've watched it with two guys who are playing the 'more obscure than thou' game, each topping the other with ever more arcane facts about the uniforms and weaponry used in the show.

The last couple of days we all spend together further up the glen, where we are stalking in twenty minute sessions  from the mobile bothy of the Landrover. Drive a bit stalk a bit. Now we're on the really exposed hillside, the snow has mostly melted but the wind is fierce. Even the ghillie is wearing a smock.
As the Landy rattles up the glen crunching the pebble and ice road beneath its fatter taller tyres I'm in the front, to my left sitting motionless on the steep wall of the hill is a Hind.
SBW: "Look theres a deer there!"
The Ghillie: Oh aye. Is that right
The ghillie seems almost pleased that we're going to knock in an easy one early in the day.
Mr Grendel: Don't say that we've got to drive back down south with him [adopts whiney tone] Did you see that? The Ghillie said I was the best when I spotted that deer"
The hind is sitting on the hillside staring at us, I poke the rifle out of the window and chamber a round.
The Ghillie: "Wind the feckin’ window up then you’ll have a rest."
still the deer doesn't move, 'Feckin'' window wound, I give her a round, still she sits and stares at us.
I give her another.
The Ghillie: Why’d do that? She's deed.

The Hind in question is the easiest retrieve we done all week, right up until I'm standing on top of her I can't work out why she didn't get up and bound off into the gloaming. At first sight I assume her injury is a broken leg from a fall, the bone has been severed by a round. From the black edges of the wound it looks like she's been hobbling about on it for a few days, the intact part of the leg is swelling but not yet gangrenous.  While the Ghillie gralloch's it suddenly occurs to me, it's almost exactly nine years and eleven months to the day that I had shot that first deer, which had also had its leg shot off.

During one of our short stalks from the Landy, which usually involve the Ghillie getting into position, with me trying to join him in time to take a shot only to watch the deer bound away. We find ourselves hiding behind a rather improbable wall. Its not three feet high and runs all the way up and over a windswept hill, and down the other side for no discernible reason. I ask the ghillie why anyone would build a wall there?
The Ghillie: "Sheep like ‘em", he looks into the middle distance for a while and adds, "wall bulldin’ and fecking, there’s not a lot else to do"

The Bambi Basher has brought a Ruger No.1 with him, chambered in 25-06. The quarter aught six is a cracking round, popular with highland professionals and Fox shooters down south for it's flat trajectory and reputation as being a lightweight that can still stabilise the 110-115gr pills which the .243's struggle with. If you don't like falling block actions you can start your own blog.

The Bambi Basher realises the Falling Block action loads better working with gravity, than against it.

The Bambi Basher and Mr Grendel have both gone out of their way to make sure my first Highland Stalking was a success, pushing me to the front. I suspect that they also enjoyed sitting it the warm watching the Ghillie beast me along through the binoculars. As the last day was drawing to a close the Ghillie had one more stalk in mind. Having dismissed my shooting and the Bambi basher's rifles Mr Grendel is in his sights.

Ghillie: Mr Grendel do you think that little rifle of your can get me a Hare for my soup?
We are all looking out of the Landy's windows with our binoculars, no one wants to be the first to ask what we're supposed to be able to see.
Ghillie: You see those little rabbits I painted white for you?

As we are now on the highest bit of the estate the wind, which lower down is like invisible tin-snips on your ears, is really fierce.  Mr Grendel's first misses, but his second vaporises the Hare's skull at a measured 187m!

Ever the Highland Professional the Ghillie made sure everyone goes home with a fitness-appropriate stalk under his belt, and at least one withering remark stinging his ears.

SBW:I saw lots of Grouse, how do you raise them?
The Bambi Basher's head sinks towards his hands
Ghillie: They’re wild

Testing the trigger on the Ruger 77
Ghillie: For a guy who loves his shooting, Bambi Basher always brings such rubbish rifles.

SBW: Do you mind if I use these gloves?
The Ghillie: I don't care as long as you hit the fecker.

Watching a pair of Roe I've missed bound away
Ghillie: At least you managed to shoot the one I tied up wit a dog lead last night

Watching Mr Grendel wheeze up a near vertical hillside
Ghillie: I think big Bambi maybe fitter than little Bambi.

Bambi Basher: So you're seeing (names mutual acquaintance)
Ghillie: Aye I asked her if she'd like 50 shades of Ghillie

SBW: Where do you stand on the Blaser debate?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting one] You can tell a lot about a craftsman by the quality of this tools.
SBW: What do you shoot yourself?
The Ghillie: [dryness on setting two] Custom rifle
SBW: Calum Ferguson?
The Ghillie:[using his extra dry voice, shaken over two rocks of smugness]
Aye I’ve got two, 270 & 243
[for overseas readers: people argue about which of the many British gunsmith's is the second best, you never hear a word said against Calum Ferguson's work, the waiting list is years and for two of them, with glass, easily £10,000] 

It was a fantastic week, which would never have happened without The Bambi Basher's endless enthusiasm and generosity. Many thanks to my new friend Mr Grendel, hopefully we'll all do it again someday.

Final score

SBW 7 ( six roe and one red) Ruger 77 chambered in 7x57

BB 3 (roe) Ruger No.1 chambered in 25-06

Mr Grendel 2 (roe) + 1 hare CZ 527 re-barrled/chambered in 6.5 Grendel

For the gear hounds and kit-tarts I'll do a round up of the gear we used, and the gear we should have used, in a future post.
more soon
your pal

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Stalking Fallow With The 7mm08

A couple of weekends back I managed to get out of town for the weekend to go stalking with 
Mr7mm on the flatlands of the east coast. Viewed from the train the farms are divided into lots of neat rectangles of expensive fencing. Horse country. Up there its Fallow and Muntjac, the Fallow being more pressured never really get that big, the Muntjac being perfectly sized for living in the margins of these hobby farms are everywhere. I prize Muntjac as an eating deer, but there's not much to them, so only the most committed restaurant chef would put them on the menu, the work-to-meat ratio will never compare well to putting a Fallow in the chiller.  

The season has been so mild in the south of England its been more a very long autumn than an actual winter. Inevitably  the weekend we'd chosen had been the tipping point and the frost had given the ground a crunch with even some former puddles now ice lying in the shade. Mr7mm has some highseats but this is to be stalking on foot. As usual significantly over dressed I wobble along behind him glassing as we go. 

The site Mr7mm has chosen is that great classic stalking ground, where the woodland edge provides a browse-line and a wide ride / narrow meadow gives lots of visibility, under the pylons and power lines. The sun is behind us, and across the clear cut,  falls warming the browsing opportunity. Within a few minutes a Muntjac Doe ambles out of the wood to take the evening air. Before I can get into position she's off back into the wood. About 400m to our right a a mixed-sex group of Fallow silhouette against the evening traffic. We wait, birds sing, traffic whooshes, the power line's buzz and the occasional boom of a bird scarer. The far Fallow disappear from view. We wait. But not for long. Two Fallow Does pop out of the trees directly opposite us, even nearer than where the Muntjac had been standing. This isn't the frenzied snap shooting of highland stalking, we have all the time in the world. The deer munch a bit, chew a bit, and munch a bit. We too have time to chew over which to shoot, there's little difference in size or range. Once a Doe pauses for a few seconds longer than usual presenting a perfect opportunity Mr7mm gives the word and I drop her two steps from where she caught the round.
In the time it takes for the firm handshake [no whooping or high-fiveing - we are in England after all] the mixed-sex group reappears milling around not 50m from the dead Doe. They seem totally oblivious to the gun shot. It turns out they are acclimatised to the continual bang of the bird scarer during daylight hours. The Fallow have moved on a bit so Mr7mm gives his scope turret a twist and with a muffled crack drops the Buck to the ground. 

 The guys I've done most of my stalking with are very committed to simplicity and use fixed power scopes with simple reticles. Mr7mm has one of those Swarovski's with the turrets so you can move the scope to range by twisting to one of three pre-set markers on the turret. Very impressive bit of kit, with that little bit of extra light transmission and the red dot instead of a reticle, it was just that little bit easier to get on target in the dying half hour of the daylight. Very nice bit of kit, but literally the price of a NEW Blaser. Yikes! Amongst other 7mm rifles Mr7mm shoots today its a SAKO 85 in 7mm08 with 120gr bullets, doing just over 3,000fps and what a great set up it is. With the combination of; lightweight bullets, the moderator, the 85's stock design, and several layers of clothing, the load recoils so lightly its not far off shooting a really light .22LR. Colour me impressed.

The following morning we make another outing to a different piece of ground, where we see a spectacular opportunity for a Muntjac Buck, which sadly doesn't end up happening. It's called Hunting not Shopping. At our next stop we get a perfect broadside on a Fallow Doe. Which somehow I mange to shoot through the liver. We skirt round the hedge she's hidden behind and Mr7mm hastens her end with a head shot. Slightly deflated from where the day before's text book shot had left my confidence I except Mr7mm's offer of some of his sausages, and burgers, and with plans for the afternoon back in the smoke I head for home. We've not set a date, but one day I will return to the flat lands in search of that freezer full of Muntjac, and while I'm at it I'll get him to give me a few pointers on sausage making. Dude's got skills.
More soon
Your pal

For more about the 7mm08 Remington you can read Hodgeman's thoughts HERE

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Highland Deer Stalking: Part 2

The Ghillie's Office a short walk between desks

What are you doing for your birthday?
I'm going to be on a freezing hillside in the snow and rain, lugging a rifle along as I'm beasted up and down the highlands by the ghillie. 
My happy place

There have been a lot of stories told about the highland stalking experience, often from a money no object perspective. With everything sporting on these islands there is a kind to historical theatre on offer for them that wants it. You can go to estates where the Stags are brought down off the hill on the backs of especially stubborn ponies. Led by kilted locals of similar temperament. You’ll be guided by Ghillie's and Keepers wearing patterns of tweed unique to the ground you’re standing on. On the really big estates there’s enough water courses to have Argo-cats to get about. This story takes place on a relatively small estate of only 5,000 acres. The estate sells Grouse shooting both from the Butts and Walked Up, Pheasant, Reds, Roe and Mountain Hare. On the big estates you stay in the grand baronial mini-castle. We are self-catering in a cottage down the road.

“Yes I’ve done it, where you crawl about all day in the mud and bog, you shoot a deer and on walking back you’re 200 yards from the cottage, I bet you love it”
Unknown Toff - met at Pheasant shoot

I awaken in the glorious any blackness of the predawn of my birthday, no street lights, no car horns, or sirens. Surprisingly considering the day before’s exertions no searing pain. It’s my birthday and just for once I have no expectations or hopes to be crushed. Just a brutal day of highland stalking with whatever surprises it throws my way. But first the sweet black taste(s) of morning. Coffee served as it tastes best, with a new day all to play for. A day with rifles and venison in it. The temperature outside the bed covers suggests that it may even be a day that starts in dry clothes. Any day that can start with dry clothes; coffee of the Italian persuasion, and eggs, eggs from shells-not from powder, has started well. As I leave my room it occurs to me that the Bambi Basher has brought a black pudding and some sausages with him. The foundations are in place for a really great day. Happy birthday me.
The cottage is picture postcard, with brass ornaments, exposed stonework and an assortment of furniture that will one day puzzle interior design students. Nice but has some strangely thought out features; in England light switches are placed where your eye falls, in Spain they’re where your hand falls, in the cottage, perhaps in an attempt to limit the amount of copper wire used, they are scattered where you’d least expect them to be. Some we never found.
I give up looking for a hall light and too lazy to stumble back to my room to look for my head torch I make for the kitchen. The stairs may have been recycled from a much larger property, they are wide enough for a town hall so its very easy to step into empty space with the banister rail you’d use to save your life well beyond reach.
Now thoroughly adrenalised and fully awake I tour the drying areas in front of the storage heaters and rearrange the now warm dry clothes. So far so birthday.
The kettle boils, the sizzle of sausages and black pudding becomes a siren call drawing fat boys from their beds, in order of size. “Morning mucker, happy birthday!” first up The Bambi Basher hoves into view.
There are two opposing schools of thought when it comes to a hill-breakfast.
Plan A; stuff your face so you’ve got enough fuel to survive all day without eating again, using slow-burning carbs.
Plan B; smaller breakfast made of protein and fat. Memories of being over dressed and over stuffed the day before, prompt me to eat the smallest birthday breakfast I’ve had in a few years and dressing, I sacrifice one layer of fleece. After the debacle of the day before where the scope came loose from the rifle, I spend a couple on minutes looking at the crumpled sheet of paper we used as a zeroing target, with its cluster of holes overlaying the back squiggle of marker pen. Absolute confidence in the equipment is a must.
The clothes I’d chosen performed flawlessly, I’d eventually gotten wet, but never cold and wet. My binoculars had recovered from being dragged though the bog a few times, my boots had kept water out until totally submerged for the Nth time. What could go wrong? The Bambi Basher has other plans for the day, so Mr Grendel and myself set off to find the Ghillie.

The Ghillie looks delighted to see us, which immediately makes me suspicious that he has some horrific fate planned for us. “Its his birthday” Mr Grendel announces. The ghillie’s eyes narrow slightly. The wind drops for a moment and I can hear to ghosts of long dead sportsman, whose bones lie where they fell on the hillside, wailing their terrible warning ‘Yer doomed! Doomed I tell yee’. Facing my way with his back to the Ghillie Mr Grendel allows himself a little smirk knowing my fate is sealed.

We clamber into the landrover, it's been raised up on significantly bigger wheels in a conspiracy to make all but the tallest sport feel as unfit as he really is. The Ghillie fires up the repurposed blast furnace of a heater, its all very cozy, my trepidation lessens, the Landy has started to feel like a refuge from the elements.

Mr Grendel: I’ve had a few Landy’s both of my own and of Her Majesties, I’ve never been in one with a heater like this!
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?

This is the highlands so the changeable weather has blown in a change. Some of the day before’s snow has melted, and being the highlands has just a quickly changed back and been refrozen as a thin sheet of ice over the snow and freezing mud. The Landy lurches and slides its way up the glen, the Ghillie’s hands shuffle the wheel like a Stig, When that doesn't work he tries to use the the tires to melt their way through the snow.

The Scottish tourist board have laid on another of those stunning moments where you’ll swear you will return, all aching limbs and inaccuracy induced shame momentarily forgotten. The clouds part like stage curtains, sunlight illuminates the hillside, heather glows with diamond sparkling dew and the Red Stag herd, some 250-300 of them, stand proud against the snow on the far far side of the glen. Emerging from the rancid cloud of tire smoke we lurch forward and the clouds bear in again. A white mountain Hare bounds past, turns to watch us, bounds on, turns to watch us, after the forth time it bores of the game and scampers away across the heather.

Mr Grendel: I like your office a lot more than mine.
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?
SBW: Do all clients say that to you?
Aye, [pause] you might say its worn a little thin, [special Scottish extra-long pause] over the years.

I give Mutley style snigger, and blow snot all over my own face. The ghillie’s expression says ‘you just can’t the the clients these days’. So far so birthday. And the torment is yet to begin.
We leave the hothouse of the Landrover, as usual the ghillie is off like the proverbial racing snake. By the time we’ve shouldered our rifles he’s away across the snow. I try to long-stride after him, stumbling from tussock to tussock. We are about the same height and it gets a bit easier as I start to stepping-stone his foot prints, wearing a bit less than the first day I’m feeling a bit less overheated and light headed. In spite of yesterday’s equipment failure I’m starting to see how this could work out. I turn back to see Mr Grendel face down in the snow, on turning back the ghillie is a field of snow, heather, and mud away. He’s now doing that exasperated waving thing again, the wind howls, more snow gusts at us, I struggle on. I’ve lost the Ghillie’s footprints and either lose my footing; my boots slipping between the tussocks, or worse still I sink knee deep between them where the thick black mud sucks. After many a slip I finally start to make some progress.

There’s a sudden lightening of my load. Surprised I twist back just in time to catch my rifle while its still butt-down but upright on the ground. Sling failure. Of course the Ghillie has turned back to issue more impatient hand gestures so is watching the whole debacle. I look back the way I’ve come. I’m not sure if Mr Grendel is recovering from another plummet or just had his head in his hands in despair.
Sling mended with a bit of string - Ghillie’s pocket - I didn’t have a piece, for shame. We’re all caught up and the next stalk begins. “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
No more fart-arse-ing about, after all the Ghillie is in wellies boots, but his ankles never bend, most of the time he still has his hands in his pockets.
SBW: [panting] I keep expecting you to spark up a fag
The Ghillie: [deadpanning]
Aye. is that right, ah used to smoke, [special Scottish extra-long pause] it did used to irritate the clients.
We stalk up hill, we stalk down hill, occasionally we stalk across the hill, somehow we stalk around the hill crossing our tracks several times. Suddenly the Ghillie does that thing where ‘racing snake’ leaves the realms of metaphor and becomes a literal description, he basically dives down the steep hillside slithering along on his belly until the heather gives way to shale where he moves into a low crouch. I follow him, more sedately obviously. Rounding a mini-crag of cold slippery rock I find him signalling and then shouting for me to catch up. Two Roe doe have just become aware of his presence and are high tailing it away. I trudge back to Mr Grendel who’s taking a breather, sheltered behind the remains of some ancient drystone wall. We share that moment of wordless understanding familiar to all travellers in far flung lands. The Ghillie strolls past “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”
Back to the Landrover. Once we’re back in the warm its all a laugh and a joke again. Like many psychopathic bullies our Highland Professional alternates between being hilarious and withering disdain. But on the upside he will not let you fail, even if you nearly die in the attempt.
Some more of the same later we’ve been up and down, and down and up, I’m really not sure if I’ve got it in me to climb another one, we cross a stream, and cross back again several times, taking the route down along the water course we are obscured from the hillside far above us. The ghillie turns and starts up the near vertical hillside. I pull myself up grabbing handfuls of heather until I run out of heather, I struggle on up the hill and catch him up, he takes my rifle and in his anti-grav wellies saunters on up the hill. I follow. Instantly falling through the thin crust of ice into the snow, as I push down with my hands to get my head out of the snow, both of them disappear into snow deeper than my arms, I’m like a beached bearded walrus, I roll over on to my back and manage to struggle to my feet, the Ghillie is lying prone about twenty meters above me, somehow we’re now bellow three Roe. Reinvigorated by my snow-bath I power myself alongside him collapsing behind the rifle which balances on its bipod. I’m wheezing like a broken set of bagpipes lying in the snow. Breezily he tells me to relax and let my heart rate drop, I chamber a round and at his command shoot the first one, he tells me to shoot the second, and then the third. The first bounds away and the other two drop dead in their tracks, “there you see just as easy as that”.

Obviously I’m delighted, the light is failing fast this was the last shout. We pull the first two together and the Ghillie gralloch’s , the third eludes us. As we’re driving back I’m resigned to going back up onto the hill with a dog to look for the lost beast.
Ghillie: Oh aye that's what we’ll do, we’ll wait ‘till it gets dark and is snowing before we go and look for twelve pounds worth of venison”
Suddenly I cant help but see the pantomime of him guiding us as we play at doing his day job.
The next morning I cant get up from the sofa, BB and G spend the day on the hill, as they meet him at dawn the Ghillie smirks “ I think I may have broken your pal the Bushwacker” if i’d been there all I could have done is feebly concur.
More soon
Your pal