Chasing Spring Bear

by Matt Thomsen on May 19, 2011

I had to admit, the plan had definite appeal.  The old logging road would provide a high ground vantage point overlooking the dense forests of southeast Lane County.   A fifty yard section of road provided several viewpoints from which a number of grass-covered openings could be glassed.  Suffering from perpetual sleep deprivation (as most who work graveyard shift do), I was happy to hear Scott utter, “We don’t have to be out there too early.”  Perfect.

South Lane Vantages

The plan was simple.   We would park the truck at the top of the road.  Packing binoculars, we would walk a stretch of the road, pausing to glass the various openings for signs of feeding bruins. 

Easy Going

In the event a decent bear was spotted, Scott and I would drop down the opposite side of the bluff and blaze a trail to an old, gated logging road which wound back up the center of the opposite face.  As luck would have it, this same road would provide ease of access to any of the openings in which a bear might be glassed.

Scott's Diligence

We hit the landing a bit after dawn.  Visibility, unlike the previous trip, was excellent.  The haze customary to the area had burned off with the last remnants of darkness.  Scott and I spent the better part of the morning hours glassing, moving, and glassing some more.   Scott proved to be a bit more patient than I and maintained strict adherence to the plan.  My self-diagnosed ADHD manifested by 10AM, resulting in a pause from glassing and a bit of pyromania.

Scott was the first to sound the alarm, hoarsely whispering, “I’ve got one.”  He did indeed.  My Leupold 8×32 Gold Ring binoculars brought the bruin into closer scrutiny, but they were far from necessary.  Even across the vast expanse, it was clearly a big bear. 

As the bear slowly fed through one of the open clearings, old problems were replaced with new.  While we were relatively sure we knew how to get to the bruin, a work meeting scheduled later the same day was likely to cut into much needed hiking, shooting, skinning, and packing time.  However, being loathe to pass a rare opportunity at a great bear, the dice were rolled and quickly Scott and I found ourselves racing downhill toward that old logging road and chance at a bragging rights, a nice rug, and a punched tag. 

Southern Lane Skyline

A combination of misfortunes resulted an all-for-naught effort.  The view of the logging road afforded from our perch kept hidden more than a couple of forks.  As a result, a fair amount of time and boot leather was burned retracing our steps from unfamiliar road to the right track.  A completely uphill climb out of the area promised a much longer hike out than in.  And while Scott and I were able to get within stalking distance of the clearing in which the bear meandered, lack of time finally caught up with us.  Common sense was afforded its weighted opinion and, given the likelihood of finding the same bear in relative proximity the next time, we opted to begin the track out rather than rush the stalk and possibly spook the bruin away.

A long, hurried (and sweaty) hike out and a quiet drive back brought us out of hunting country and back to daily life.  Though most of our hunts involve half-day drives, miles of burned boot leather, and trailers full of camping gear, it was still a welcome respite to spend even a half-day away from the grind.  Time spent afield is time well spent, regardless of its duration.

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Preview of Blogs to Come

by Matt Thomsen on April 6, 2011

As one ages, certain aspects and altruisms of life become more abundantly clear.  As an example, there is an inverse relationship between the enjoyment found in a given activity and the free time in which to indulge in same.  No man ever lamented about spending too much time shooting ducks, though most of us can relate to the feeling of having spent far too much time at our places of employment. 

This blog (and the activities found therein) falls within the above mentioned absolute truth.  And given there is only so much time in a day, the predominant amount of mine has recently been spent at work.   I am thankful to be gainfully employed, but as most will understand, find myself wishing for much more time to spend in outdoor endeavours.  Such as life, I suppose.

And so, in the absence of any new outdoor experiences with which to regale the reader, I submit my plans and ideas for blogs to come.

In the weeks to follow, there will be several hunts to recount.  Spring bear season in Oregon has started and both Scott and I possess tags for the Southwestern portion of the State.  As such, the next few weeks to come will involve time spent glassing clear cuts and drainages in search for a couple of bruins upon which to hang our tags.  Additionally, the spring thaws will also bring newborn deer and elk and, as a result, some prime coyote hunting.  As the snows completely melt away in the Central and Eastern portions of the State, sage rats will be found (and dispatched) in the myriad agricultural fields.  More than a couple of hunts to chase “squeaks” will undoubtedly be enjoyed.

As a compliment to Spring hunting opportunities, I will also be completing a few articles regarding firearms, both in practice and material.  Articles on reloading for maximum hunting round accuracy and my personal method for selecting reloading components will be penned (or typed, as the case is).  Reviews of the Badlands 2200 pack, Leupold binoculars, Danner boots, and some really great products from North American Rescue will also be presented.  Other topics will include concealed carry tips, range practice suggestions, and training specifically for the sport of hunting. 

And so, I’d encourage you to check back frequently.  Be assured, as I’m able to eke out more time afield, you will undoubtedly be reading about it.

Stay safe.

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Thompson/Center NorthWest Explorer

by Matt Thomsen on March 18, 2011

There is something truly therapeutic about a day at the range.  Whether it is the paring of one’s focus from the myriad trappings of modern life down to the simple fundamentals of marksmanship or simply the act of being outside, a range day never ceases to exert a calming effect on me.  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
After a long week of intense, out of town training, I was already primed for a trip to the 100 yard line . It took little encouragement from Scott to convince me to be up and ready for a 9AM departure time the following day.  To sweeten the deal to near diabetic levels, Scott had just purchased his first muzzleloading rifle.  As neither Scott nor I had ever shot (let alone hunted with) a muzzleloader, I was more than interested to experience this form of firearm.

Thompson/Center Northwest Explorer

The following day met us with fair skies and low winds.  Scott and I were accompanied to the range by his sons Kraig and Michael, as well as his son-in-law John.  John’s presence also served as a mentoring force, as he was the only one of us who was familiar with muzzleloading rifles.  Indeed, John owns the same model of muzzleloader as Scott had recently acquired.  Therein lies a good firearm altruism:  If you aren’t familiar with a specific model of rifle, allow yourself to be taught by someone who is.  Manuals are a weak crutch for hands-on experience.

Scott’s particular muzzleloader was a Thompson/Center Northwest Explorer (Model #8797).  This offering from T/C is specifically designed to comply with the unique muzzleloading requirements found in several of the northwestern states (Oregon et al).   It features a full length, checkered composite stock with a Monte Carlo type butt.  The standard stock comes in black, though Scott’s model included Realtree Hardwoods HD coloring. 

WeatherShield Finish

The finish on the barrel is T/C’s Weather Shield.   Resembling muted or brushed stainless in appearance, this finish is designed to resist rust and repel the moisture so often experienced in the Pacific Northwest.  The .50 caliber barrels are 28″ in length and feature 1-in-48″ twist rates. 

Exposed Breech Design

The Northwest Explorer’s exposed breech design uses No. 11 caps to initiate detonation on its powder charge.  This design is compatible, again, with the current muzzleloading hunting rules in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. 

Adjustable Rear Sights

Its rear sights were plain, black, adjustable, and impressive, in that they were nicer and appeared better machined than those I generally find on centerfire rifles.  I suspect this is, in part, due to the fact current rules do not allow optics on these rifles.  When open sights are the only option, they generally tend to be a bit better engineered. 

Front Sight

The Northwest Explorer’s front sight is secured to the end of the muzzle via a flathead screw.  The white bead is easy to pick up, though fiber optic sights are available and it would appear front sight replacement is as simple as turning a screw. 

After the requisite initial examination was concluded, it was time to get down to shooting.  With John’s help, Scott was walked through the individual loading steps.

Measuring Powder

First, seventy grains of Hodgdon Triple7 are meted out using a measure, then transferred to either the muzzle-up pointed weapon or stored in a speed loading device. 

Maxi-Hunter 275gr .50cal

The powder charge is followed into the bore by whatever projectile you chose to shoot.  Scott was using Maxi-Hunter .50 caliber, 275gr lead projectiles.  These feature lubricated belts which allow for easier loading and negate the use of a patch.

Seated Maxi

Once the projectiles is seated in the bore, it is pushed back into the powder charge using T/C’s full length aluminum ramrod.

Open Breech and No.11 cap

The breech is then opened and a No.11 percussion cap is placed on the nipple of the breech plug.  The breech is closed and the weapon is ready to fire.

Shooting the T/C Northwest Explorer

Ready for its first round downrange, we took the T/C Northwest Explorer to the twenty-five yard line.  With hammer cocked and forend supported, Scott pressed the trigger.  Through the cloud of blue-black smoke, we could see the hit.  More clearly, however, I immediately became aware of one aspect of muzzleloading which sometimes doesn’t make it into to the glossy magazine ads or smartly decorated shipping packages:  Shooting muzzleloading rifles is fun.  Lots of fun. 

My Turn with the T/C

The loading process was repeated several more times during the course of our range day, with each participant getting his turn at the trigger.  With each press of the trigger, the allure of muzzleloading became more apparent to me.  It is equal parts history, modern science, and unadulterated fun.  And with the features offered in the Thompson/Center Northwest Explorer, it also represents a viable, lawful, and alternative method by which hunters can harvest wild game. 

If you’ve ever been curious about muzzleloading in general or the T/C Northwest Explorer in particular, give them both a try.  I challenge you to get through your first trigger squeeze without cracking a smile.

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Coyote Day Trip

by Matt Thomsen on February 28, 2011

The look pasted upon both of our faces was nearly identical.  The appearance of comfortable contentment was, in a flash, replaced with mild panic.  And the cause of the transition between the two states should have been obvious and expected, as clues had been present all throughout the trip.  Cold. 

Scott and I had planned a day trip on the east side of the mountains, intent upon chasing coyotes and getting some time outdoors.  At 4AM, the temperature at our homes in the valley was a balmy twenty-six degrees.  Signs of a reduction in this number were evident even as we climbed out of Oakridge and continued up the Willamette Pass.  Small snow drifts bordering the road soon gave way to packed snow on the road and occasional patches of ice. 

As we turned onto the Cascade Lakes Highway, even more insidious signs presented.  The temperature inside the truck began to take a noticeable dive.   The afterburner-like blast from the heater slowly began to reduce in intensity until only lukewarm air trickled out.  Unsure if the problem was outside temperature or a mechanical failure, we proceeded on. 

But as we headed south through Fort Rock, the most obvious sign emerged.  Ice.  And it was not found in its standard presentations, covering the roadway or obscuring my vision on the exterior of the windshield.  Rather, ice formed an opaque sheet across the inside of the driver and passenger windows.  “Pass me the scraper,” Scott said.

We reached Silver Lake as the sun was fully up.  The roads were covered with a skiff of dry, powdery snow and the surrounding hills were a mix of snow-covered sage and Ponderosa pines.  Pulling to a stop, we both jumped out to ready our equipment for the day’s hunt.  It was then we were both stopped in our tracks.  Cold.  The mid-twenties of the valley had surrendered to obviously below zero temps.   Moments in the Silver Lake air caused painful fingers and full body shivering.  Clearly, more clothing would be the order of the day.

Silver Lake Snow

The plan of action for the day would involve first driving a sixteen mile stretch of roadway.  This reconnaissance would provide us information in the way of tracks.  Upon finding areas containing fresh sign, we would pack from the roadway out to a spot from which we would be able to visually cover a good amount of property.   A series of calling and some time in waiting would reveal whether the given location would produce potential targets. 

The roadway was littered with myriad fresh animal tracks.  In the powdery snow, they were easily read.  Deer, snowshoe hare, chipmunk, elk, cattle, and ample amounts of coyote tracks were observed winding zig-zag patterns across the snow covered blacktop. 

Fresh Tracks

Scott and I hiked through the foot deep snow to our first blind location.  After clearing a bit of snow from the ground and hunkering down against a scrubby Juniper tree, I began a series of calling.   While an electronic call would be more suited to my skill level (or lack thereof), I had settled on a mouth call which mimicked the dying screams of an injured rabbit. 

A word on predator calls in general and dying rabbit calls in particular:  They are the most horrible noise you will likely ever hear in all of your life.  While it is explained the calls evoke a predatory response in carnivores, I would submit it is equally as likely anything hearing this call would come in just to stomp its source flat.  They are simply awful on the ears.

Predator Combo: Bolt Gun and Mouth Call

The plan was simple.  Scott and I sat facing opposite directions, covering as much area with our eyes and guns as possible.  I was using a Remington M700 Police in .308 Winchester.  Topped with a Leupold Mark IV scope and loaded with Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition, this combo was better suited for longer shots taken from a seated or kneeling position.  In addition to his Winchester Featherweight in .270 Winchester, Scott also had a short-barreled Mossberg 500 in 12-gauge handy.  Coyotes and other predators are famous for sneaking in very close to the calling location.  The scattergun would, hopefully, be the right tool for this scenario.

Calling Stand

The first calling sequence came and went without tangible results.   After a half-hour of calling, we decided to vacate the spot and try another.  The sun had risen high into the central Oregon sky and, as such, comfortable temps were now enjoyed. 

The second calling location presented as the first.  Another half-hour calling sequence came and went without any appearance by Wiley and company. 

Scott's Stand

After a third repeat of the first two performances, both Scott and I were ready for a heated truck and a warm meal.  Luckily, a short drive out of the hunt area was all the more effort needed for a great meal at the Silver Lake Cafe.   With a double cheeseburger in my belly and a four hour drive ahead, Scott and I loaded our gear and headed west back over the mountain. 

Failing to connect (in the ballistic sense) with a coyote or two in no way diminished the trip.  In reality, neither of us really expected success in this regard.  Trips like this often serve as a tool of decompression and any time spent outside is a blessing.  Perhaps next time will yield the added bonus of a pelt or two.

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Bone Collector Benchmade Blade

February 17, 2011

I am a rabid fan and user of Benchmade blades.  Though I almost exclusively use Gene Ingram fixed blades for breaking big critters down into more convenient, portable sizes, you will never catch me without some form or fashion of Benchmade clipped inside my pants pocket or sheathed on most any piece of tactical gear […]

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Firearms Safety, Every Time

February 17, 2011

As is often the case, it is tragedy which makes us revisit those fundamental rules designed to, ideally, prevent it.  Sadly, it is the untimely, accidental passing of a Brother Warrior that motivates me to pen (or type, as the case may be) some thoughts on firearms safety.  Accidental discharges rarely are.  Rather, they are […]

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North American Rescue Casualty Response Kit

February 12, 2011

I’ll admit this is not generally the most popular topic to broach.  Most people seek out blogs for their flowery presentation or the benignly informative content therein.  They are looking to be regaled with stories of fantastic hunts past or how to plan same.  And while product reviews are popular, they generally gravitate toward items […]

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The Girlie Gun

February 9, 2011

I am not sure I was able to wipe the smile from my face during the entirety of the trip home.  After one day afield with a rifle chambered in Hornady’s .17HMR, I was sold. I am generally a purist when it comes to taking game.  That is, I’m much less about extreme wound ballistics than I […]

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Another Season Passed

February 4, 2011

As Scott and I looked out over the sunny marsh, I knew the season was over.  The season had been ended by neither the predetermined end date set forth by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife nor by the closing of the given area in which we hunt.  As we sat in our waders […]

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Hunting Dogs: The Ultimate Hunting Buddy

February 2, 2011

Spend any amount of time around me afield and you’ll likely hear me exclaim, “I like my dogs better than I like most people.”  And there is a fair amount of truth in the statement.  Even as nothing more than unpurposed pets, dogs are readily capable and willing to give you love in a manner […]

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