Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Let There Be More Than Light

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 30, 2011.)

With a few adaptations, you can make
a cheap little flashlight into a
dutiful tool for the everyday hunter.
Back in May during a turkey hunt, a buddy and I were talking about flashlights. Neither of us routinely use a light to find our way in the dark woods because generally we know where we’re going and it’s seldom dark enough to need a light.

Still, a hunter is far better off with a flashlight than without one. We agreed that the most common use for a flashlight is to search for something we drop. And using one to alert other hunters to your presence is a good, safe idea.

A light can also reveal where to cross a fenceline or find solid footing at a stream crossing. And if you get caught deeper into the woods than you planned – or have to stay overnight – you’ll be glad you have a light.

Flashlight users are well aware of a flashlight’s disadvantages. Many flashlights are bulky. Using one can spook game. They get misplaced. They burn batteries. They malfunction. Too often, they fail when you need them most.

Twenty years ago the flashlight most hunters carried was probably the Mini-Mag light. Today it has lots of impressive descendants because lighting technology has come a long way. Modern LED bulbs turn more energy into light and less into heat. They’re easy on batteries, and are almost sure to work long past the time older technology fails.

It seems as though every company with even the smallest niche in the outdoor market has entered the flashlight business. Top end flashlights by Fenix, Streamlight, or Surefire will outlast you. In fact, you’re far more likely to lose it than break it or wear it out.

But for lots of hunting, you don’t need a light costing $70, $80, or more. A basic light will do just fine. You won't want to stake your life on it, but with a few adaptations you can make a cheap little flashlight into a dutiful tool the everyday hunter won’t want to leave behind.

I buy those little 9-bulb LED lights you can get almost anywhere for less than $5.00. Sometimes only six or seven bulbs work, so check to make sure all nine bulbs shine brightly. They run on AAA batteries. (If you can find one that uses AA batteries, all the better. I’ll tell you why later.)

Despite everything being dressed up with camo these days, camo is a disadvantage here. Get a light with a brightly colored barrel so that if you drop it into the leaves you can find it easily.

Then, start wrapping it with duct tape. Four feet adds only an eighth of an inch to the light. Next, neatly wrap some para-cord over the tape – you can get about six feet of it in two layers. Now you have some all-purpose tape and an all-important piece of light-duty rope available when you need it. And, when you need to keep both hands free, you have a soft place to grip it in your teeth.

You’ll still have some space on the barrel of the flashlight. Wrap some 8-pound monofilament fishing line there. It’ll come in handy when you need to tag a deer. Thread a wire or a small split ring through the little hole at the back end of the light, and add a key – the key to your vehicle, your house, your camp, or the locks on your trail cameras.

Besides a key (or two), you might have your own idea about what to add – maybe a small Swiss Army knife or a single blade folder. This won’t be your main knife, but you’ll be glad to have it in a pinch.

Tape, cord, monofilament, key, knife, light… you’ve already wrapped a lot into this little package. And if you can find a slightly larger LED flashlight that uses AA batteries (the most common ones), when you need a couple of semi-fresh batteries for another piece of gear, just swap out the ones in your flashlight.

Finally, losing one of these is no great loss. Just apply the finders-keepers rule – whoever finds it will be a little better off. Then, put another together, and let there be more than light!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Hunter’s Injury Report

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 16, 2011.)

One careless swipe with a
skinning knife turned my left
index finger into a fountain of blood.
Does a hunter have anything in common with a quarterback who gets slammed to the ground by a defensive end?

And with a boxer who gets a serious cut that could cost him the fight?

And with a point guard who goes down with a sprained ankle when he takes a high-pressure shot in a basketball game?

Whether hunters are athletes is debatable, but they're not that kind of athlete. Still, the hunter can get the same injuries superstar athletes get. Knees, wrists, ankles, elbows, ribs - they're all vulnerable when you go hunting.

Years ago, after a freak accident with my truck, Dr. Gottwald told me I had the kind of injury quarterbacks get. How can that be? I'm only a turkey hunter.

As I eased my truck into the woods, the passenger-side wheels hit a drop-off. The truck rolled onto its right side, and slammed me against the door. I couldn't raise my right arm. The x-ray showed a second-degree shoulder separation.

In the heart of Alaska, one careless swipe with a skinning knife under the inch-thick hump skin of a moose turned my left index finger into a fountain of blood. I severed the digital artery and the digital nerve. It was distressing because I was 50 miles from medical attention and the only way out was by a Super Cub bush plane, not due to pick us up for six days.

Twelve years later this knucklehead is still paying the price for burying his knife into his knucklebone. Half of that finger is still numb.

More recently I took a game-ending shot from an awkward position at a hefty spring gobbler and ended up chasing him down. He flopped though the long grass and I nearly flopped too as I caught my heel on a stump and sprained my ankle. Hobbled as I was, I won that foot race with some help from a buddy. Two months later my foot is no longer purple, but the ankle remains tender and stiff.

I've suffered a few other wounds. Bouncing a scope off my forehead earned me three crescent-shaped scars just above and between my eyes. Yes, three. The first time was the worst. I was shooting at a flock of fall turkeys to split them up, and ended up with a face that was scary bloody, plus a sprained knee. Oh yeah - I also remember a flock of little cartoon bluebirds orbiting my head.

At least the next two incidents had an up-side. My bleeding forehead was less important than the eight-point buck and the dandy spring gobbler I took home.

So, in the sporting world it's not only athletes who get separated shoulders, sprained ankles, and bloody cuts.

We hear about accidental shootings and falls from treestands. While the statistical probabilities of those tragedies happening are negligible, they're never low enough to ignore. Every precaution must be taken to make sure life-threatening accidents never happen. Ever.

Despite my track record, I'm not really as hapless as I sound. I know it pays to be careful. Freak accidents happen. Simple mistakes such as stepping into a woodchuck hole can have big consequences.

That knife fight with a stubborn moose hide could have been worse. Under the circumstances it was almost impossible to clean my wound, but I had the foresight to bring an antibiotic to Alaska and I began taking it right away. The penicillin may have prevented a serious infection and perhaps even saved my finger.

Respect knives, guns, the trees you climb, the rocks and stumps you jump over, the streams you cross, the antlers, hooves and spurs of the animals you kill, the trucks and other vehicles you drive, even the ground you walk on. If you don't, any one of them could end what you love doing most.

As we get older we take more seriously the wisdom that boy scouts preach - be prepared.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

A 21st Century Walking Varminter

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 2, 2011.)

“Walking varminter” is one of those
inexact terms some creative gun writer
came up with ages ago.
If you’re under 50, you might be asking, “What’s a walking varminter?”

Well, it’s a rifle, but neither I nor anyone else can define it precisely. If you’re an old-timer, you know one when you see one. And there was a day when you couldn’t do without one.

“Walking varminter” is one of those inexact terms some creative gun writer came up with ages ago. (Those guys weren’t immune to the need to invent catchy marketing names.)

They’re usually bolt actions, mostly because bolt guns generally are as reliable as light switches. Many are not overly expensive, so their owners tend not to fret overmuch about dings in the stock.

Often a walking varminter rides around in a truck, waiting for the driver to spot a field where the woodchucks need thinning. Just as often, it’s a back-door gun whose owner takes it for frequent walks and uses it to eliminate pests and nuisances of the winged, digging, or feral variety – critters from starlings to coyotes.

The most critical trait of a walking varminter is that it must be easy to handle and accurate when fired from an offhand position.

It’s hard to meet that requirement without a scope. A variable is probably best, though the higher powers can be counterproductive when taking quick, offhand shots. And since it will be carried, it needs a sling.

The walking varminter can come in many calibers. The nearly obsolete but still sting-worthy .218 Bee (another marketing name), the old slowpoke .25-20, all the .22 centerfires – almost any cartridge with comfortable recoil can be a walking varminter. In fact, the .22-250, when it was spawned by the .250-300 cartridge, was originally called the “Varminter,” although the .250-3000 was a varminter in its own right.

That generally sets the parameters – calibers from .22 rimfire through the .25 centerfires.

All those caliber numbers can be confusing to anyone unfamiliar with the nuances of cartridge development, but they bring me to my own walking varminter. It’s a little rimfire number smaller than the ubiquitous .22. It’s a .17 HMR (Hornady Rimfire Magnum), which is the new baby sired by the old .22 Rimfire Magnum. As with most kids, he’s faster than his daddy, some 500 feet per second faster.

The rifle I chose as for that cartridge is the Savage Model 93. Mine has a laminated wood thumbhole stock that feels like an extension of my arms. I topped it with a bright Alpen Apex scope in 4-16 power with a 44mm objective lens.

Why go up to 16-power for a pipsqueak of a cartridge? Since the rifle has zero recoil, it reveals to the shooter what happens at bullet’s impact, whether your target is an egg at 50 yards or a woodchuck’s head out there a hundred yards farther.

Unlike most carry guns, mine has a bull barrel. The tiny cartridge doesn’t require lots of steel like the high pressure centerfires, but the heavy barrel adds some steadying weight.

Some gun writers view the .17 HMR as temperamental, and recommend testing a wide variety of ammunition to find the most accurate. So far, my Savage seems to digest any ammo very well. Bullet choices are fly-weight – 17 grains and 20 grains, half the weight of a .22 rimfire bullet. That limits it to 150-yard shots, but on a windless day with a good rest it’s reasonable to ask it to place a bullet accurately at 200 yards.

The light bullet pretty much dissolves inside the target or on impact with anything else. That’s why the .17 HMR is probably the safest cartridge to use where farm animals might be nearby. It’s quiet, and not prone to ricochet.

If you want a walking varminter, you can call nearly any small caliber rifle into active duty. But in today’s world where people are more anxious about firearms than they once were, and you’re not taking long range shots, you can hardly do better than the .17 HMR. It has more ballistic enthusiasm than the .22 rimfire or .22 Magnum, and it’s actually a little safer thanks to the very lightweight bullets. In the 21st century, it’s close to perfect.