Project Bantam Kilo

Operators gonna operate. I had to come up with a suitable “operator” type name for this little project, so Bantam Kilo it is.

This is the project in its current state. Range reports will come soon, weather permitting. It’s been raining darn near every day (and Crom knows we need it too) but the frequent rains have made getting out to the rifle range a wee bit difficult.

Stay tuned and I’ll post more on this project later.

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Latest Project

RugerAmericanPredatorThis rifle is currently making its way to my local FFL as part of our newest super secret project.

The rifle is a Ruger American Predator chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. It features a 22″ cold hammer-forged free floating barrel that is heavy tapered and is threaded to accept a suppressor. The receiver is bedded using Ruger’s Power Bedding® integral bedding block system.

Soon it will be mated up with some very nice glass that will sit atop the factory installed rail.

What are we doing with this little project?

You’ll have to wait and see.

Trained to Kill: Physical Conditioning for High Altitude Elk Hunts

Elk frequently make their habitat at high altitudes and in rough terrain.

Elk frequently make their habitat at high altitudes and in rough terrain.

Almost every state that offers elk hunting licenses requires them to be purchased, usually through a lottery system, many months in advance. Every year it seemed that as the autumn leaves began to turn I found myself, too late, wanting to go out hunting for one. Last year as elk season approached, I decided that the next year would be the one when I went out on my own elk hunt for the first time.

I’ve hunted deer, hog, antelope, and various other wild game throughout the United States, but I’ve never had the opportunity to hunt elk before. For non-residents of states that offer elk hunting opportunities, cost is a huge barrier. I know it is for me. A single elk license can run over $500, while my normal in-state hunting license runs me less than $100. Add in travel costs, lodging, and hiring a guide and the expense quickly soars into many thousands.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can hunt without a guide. Sure, you could, but then you don’t know the area as well as they do. As a deer hunter I know how important scouting and patterning is. I spend days and weeks out in the fields and forests that I hunt in my home state before I ever pick up a bow or rifle. You could go without a guide, and you might get lucky. Hunters who live in and around elk country could probably get by without a guide if the area is scouted properly. For the rest of us, relying on luck when on the hunt of a lifetime isn’t a good recipe for success.

A successful hunt is made months before the taking the shot. You would never take a rifle that hasn’t been test fired and zeroed out on a hunt. By the same token, your body must also be prepared.

Elk hunting is physically taxing. The terrain that they move through during the hunting season is rugged and unforgiving. Compared to the North Americal whitetailed deer I’m used to hunting, elk roam much farther too. Add in a lack of oxygen from the high altitude and even an experienced spot-and-stalk hunter can find themselves winded and fatigued.

Lowa Boots

LOWA Renegade GTX Mid-rise boots

Proper footwear and a good pack are key when hunting elk. A large pack that is well balanced will allow you to carry the meat out in fewer trips. High quality lightweight boots protect your feet and ankles allowing you to hike faster without fatigue or risk of injury. The biggest mistake however is buying new boots just prior to a long hunt. Many have made that mistake and paid the price with blood and blisters.

I needed to get in shape and get my boots broken in long before the season approached, so back in February of this year I got my hands on a new pair of LOWA Renegade GTX hiking boots.

They promptly disappeared.

A brief search found the boots resting on my wife’s side of the closet. You see, my wife and I wear the same shoe size. A bit longer discussion revealed that she had found them, tried them on, and loved them so much that she’d “adopted” them and I was informed that if I could afford to go on an elk hunt that I could afford to buy another pair for myself.

Fine.

The boots look better on her anyway...

The boots look better on her anyway…

After ordering another pair, it was time to get serious about my training regimen. The core of my workouts would consist of rucking through the nearby foothills while wearing an Arcteryx Altra 85 pack loaded with fifty pounds of sand bags and carrying my rifle at a brisk pace. The Altra 85 is a very large pack that distributes weight well over uneven terrain. It would work well for packing out the meat I hoped to harvest. The rest of my training gear consisted of my regular hunting pants and a t-shirt as well. Every week I did at least four hikes, usually five, with each one covering a minimum of four miles.

“Easy” days consisted of a short hike combined with an upper-body workout. “Heavy” days I hiked longer distances, sometimes over ten miles, and did core body-strength exercises. “Off” days I did yoga. Don’t laugh! Yoga is enormously helpful in not only strengthening your core, but the increased balance and flexibility you gain from it helps to prevent injury. Generally the schedule was “hard” days on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and “easy” days on Tuesday and Thursday. Yoga I did on the weekends.

Training at altitude is an enormous help if you can do it. I’m not quite as high as the elk will be once hunting season starts. They will be close to 10,000 feet while I’m training at only about 4,000 feet above sea level. Still, every little bit will help. I made a few trips higher up into the mountains to get some training done up higher. If you don’t live in an area with rarefied air, it’s even more important to get some extra cardio workouts built into your training regime. In my case I have been pushing pretty hard on the cardio. The foothills in this area provide a pretty decent challenge. Alternatives could include running up and down the bleachers at a local stadium, doing the same on a small hill, or even hitting stair-climbing equipment at the gym.

The first week of workout was hell. I didn’t push myself that hard, even did the hikes without a pack at first, and still the soreness and pain was a reminder of just how woefully out of shape I was. Perhaps it was my lack of physical fitness, or maybe the boots just weren’t broken in yet. Regardless, the provided insole didn’t really provide as much cushioning as my tender feet were used to, so it was removed and replaced with a Dr. Scholl’s gel insert.

I was enormously grateful that LOWA’s Renegade GTX is a only a featherlight 2.5 pounds. My previous pair of hunting boots weighed nearly five pounds, and my steel-toed work boots tip the scales at well over seven. While rain and puddles aren’t a big concern in the desert, the Gore-Tex lining used in the boots helped to keep my socks dry despite my sweaty feet.

It’s only been two full months since I started these hunting workouts, but I can already see and feel a difference. Many hunters obsess over their gear, trying to shave an ounce here and an ounce there. To be sure, I’ll go out with some ultra-light gear as well. Both the LOWA boots and Arcteryx pack are weight-savers. The biggest difference however will be the pounds and inches I’ve dropped from my waistline, and the muscles I’ve gained instead.

***Training Gear***

LOWA Renegade GTX Mid
Weight: 2.40 lbs
MSRP: $ 225.00
UPPER: Nubuk leather.
LINING: Waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX®.
MIDSOLE: PU Monowrap® Frame
OUTSOLE: Vibram® Evo.
STABILIZER: Full length nylon.

Arcteryx Altra 85
Weight: 5.75 lbs
MSRP: $498.95
100D ripstop and 210D nylon body material
C² Composite Construction system
GridLock™ shoulder strap adjustment system
Internal hydration pocket with zipper
Rotating Load Transfer Disc™

Gearing up for Hog Season

Deer season is long gone. So too is goose season, duck season, even turkey season. But there is one year-long season for medium game hunters: hog season.

They’re a menace. They’re smart, wiley, and considerably more dangerous than most other North American medium game animals. They also make tasty tasty bacon.

For an avid hunter, the spring and summer months are prime hog hunting opportunities. It keeps skills sharp, and keeps us out in the field scouting and learning the patterns of various prey. So, every year after cleaning and storing my goose and turkey equipment I start to put together my hog hunting setup.

In many areas, including Texas where I do most of my hunting, it’s legal to hunt hogs at night. A call to the local game warden to let him know is usually considered the polite thing to do however. Night hunting presents numerous challenges that we don’t normally deal with in the daylight.

Hunting feral hogs with a handgun is a more challenging way to spot-and-stalk.

Hunting feral hogs with a handgun is a more challenging way to spot-and-stalk. This particular boar was dropped with a Para 14-45 pistol.

I’ve hunted numerous times with military grade PVS-14s. They are no longer top of the line, but the nice thing about technology continually marching forward is that the costs keep coming down. The PVS-14 for example is no longer an $8,000 piece of optics and electronics. It’s now down to around $3,900 and the price keeps falling. There are other optics such as FLIR along with other thermal sights, which are now priced around what the PVS-14 was just a few years ago.

These are pricey accessories, but horribly effective and fun as well. Still, you don’t need to break the bank in order to have fun pursuing porkers. The large sow pictured above was one I shot with a dirt cheap Howa 1500 topped off with a Leupold VX-3. Now, I know what you’re going to say: “You’ve got a piece of glass that costs more than the gun it’s sitting on!” and you would be correct. But the thing is that when hunting in low-light conditions the quality of your glass is immensely important.

We’re not talking about 600 yard shots here either, and the Howa 1500 is more than competent at making those more common 75-250 yard shots. With quality ammunition it’ll easily make “minute of pig” at those ranges. Having the ability to see your target is of much greater importance. Trying to discern the target area of a black boar at night is no easy task.

The other thing I do at this time of year is service any feeders or bait stations and change out the batteries in my hog lights. These lights are key if you’re able to hunt over a feeder at night. They don’t disturb the hogs and the LEDs give you plenty of battery life. I’ll also start adding more bait on the ground in the form of corn mixed with Tang or Kool-Aid. Any sugary powdered drink mix works pretty well I think.

Once all my gear is ready, the feeders set up, the really difficult part begins. Finding time to take off from work! The point is, if you’re like me and find the amount of time that you can spend in the woods to be limited, you need to spend that much more time ensuring you have quality gear that is set up correctly. It’s time well spent.

Component Shelf Life

Metallic components like these don't go bad.

Metallic components like these don’t go bad.

The debate never seems to end: how long can modern ammunition, or the components used to load it, be safely stored? The answer is: it varies, and for a variety of reasons.

It should go without saying that the metallic components of a modern centerfire cartridge, namely the bullet and the case, have an indefinite shelf life. Primers can be susceptible to moisture and oil, but are otherwise shelf-stable. It is primarily the powder which can degrade on its own over time. How long powders remain stable depends primarily on when they were manufactured and the environment in which they are stored.

Almost one hundred years ago chemist Theophile Jule Pelouze nitrated cotton creating gun cotton, the worlds first nitrocellulose. This breakthrough was short lived however as the initial refinements were quite unstable and prone to explode. The problem is that nitrocellulose tends to decompose on its own, producing various nitrogen oxide. These oxides go on to react further, creating heat and even more oxides. This creates a rapidly accelerating cycle until enough heat is generated from the reactions to cause the entire mass to auto-ignite and explode.

Modern smokeless powders have a very long shelf life, but ONLY when stored properly.

Modern smokeless powders have a very long shelf life, but ONLY when stored properly.

Modern smokeless powders are still based on Theophile Jule Pelouze’s chemistry, but with the important addition of stabilizers and burn regulators. The burn regulators do exactly what their name implies, and give us powders that combust faster or slower depending on their mixture as well as their size and texture.

Stabilizers on the other hand work as sponges, absorbing the nitrogen oxides that are naturally given off by the nitrocellulose and preventing them from reacting further. Because of this, the most likely result of using powder that has been stored for a long time is that you get a slightly smaller “bang” as some of the nitrocellulose (or nitroglycerin in the case of double base powder) has decomposed.

There is another concern however: the rate of decomposition can actually increase when powder is stored in large lots, like an 8-pound keg. In the case of powder already loaded into a cartridge, the oxides have other things they can react with, like the brass case itself. In addition, the heat generated by the reactions can dissipate faster and with greater ease. When powders are stored in bulk the heat is not able to dissipate as well and this actually accelerates the reaction and subsequent decomposition. With enough heat and decomposition autoignition, while unlikely, is still possible even in newly manufactured powders.

High humidity can also degrade your powders. Anti-caking agents make up a small portion of modern smokeless powder and work to keep it from clumping together. With enough humidity or moisture however, these measures will be insufficient. Powder that has clumped together will not burn as quickly, and again result in a smaller “bang” than what you expected.

To reduce the rate of decomposition and increase the length of shelf life ammunition and powders should be stored in a cool dry place. Your garage may seem convenient, but the heat and humidity that is generated there can very rapidly turn a shelf stable powder into, quite literally, a ticking time bomb.

Always check the date of manufacture on your powder kegs and load the older batches first. Take the time to regularly inspect your stocks of smokeless powder, especially before loading. Any hint of orange or rust color in the powder, or an acidic smell, should indicate to you that the powder is no longer safe to use and should be safely disposed of. Alliant recommends that unsafe powder be disposed of by burning out in the open, unconfined, in small shallow piles that are no more than 1-inch deep, and never more than one pound at a time.

Setting Up A Reloading Bench

IMG_1416When getting into reloading newbies tend to focus on loads and dies and powders. What doesn’t often get discussed is the importance of a good, sturdy, and well-organized work bench. I’ve seen presses chucked into boxes in the attic only to get hauled out once or twice a year to be assembled on the kitchen table or on a rickety filthy bench in the garage. Frankly, I may or may not have been guilty of some of those things in the past.

Organization is key to efficiently and accurately loading up rounds, and a clean well organized workbench then is not so much a luxury as a necessity. It doesn’t have to be big and elaborate, or even expensive.

I’ve been collecting photos and design details of other reloader’s setups, and will be profiling them with you periodically on these pages. To start things off we’ll look at Brian Cameron’s bench. Brian’s bench is everything a reloading station needs to be: sturdy, well organized, and inexpensive to build.

Build Sheet
2×4 Basics Workbench and Shelving System P/N 90164: $63
12 – 8′ 2×4, Select Grade: $42
1 – 23/32″ B-C plywood: $25
1 – 2’x4′ sheet 1/8″ Masonite: $6
1-1/4″ deck or sheetrock screws $7
LED desklamps with removable base: $30
Heavy-duty power strip: $30
Paper-towel holder: $5
Magnetic knife strip: $20 (perfect for holding trim gages, hand tools, etc)
4″ bench vise: $50-$100

Total cost: about $300

Building the actual bench was pretty straightforward. The 2×4 Basics Workbench comes with a complete set of instructions, and you can scale your bench bigger or smaller, as desired. The list of materials provided will leave you with a bench 2-feet deep and 4-feet wide. By cutting the 2×4 pieces longer or shorter you can adjust the height of your bench.

Brian then went on to add the Masonite top in order to have a smooth worktop that makes cleanup much easier. He secured it with the sheetrock screws every 6 to 8-inches. He then drilled holes on either corner of the top shelf and mounted the desk lamps (sans bases) to provide adjustable lighting. The location of the power strip, paper-towel holder, and the magnetic strip can be customized to suit your individual needs.

Brian’s Lee Challenger press over-cams the lever when working and required him to notch the front 2×4: your press(s) may or may not require similar modifications. The beauty of this design is that it’s easily customizable to a height and width that suits your individual needs. The shelves provide valuable organizational space for bins and boxes, and the modified desk lamps keep your work area well lit.

Interested in having your own reloading bench featured? You can send your photos along with design and build details to DanielS@AmongTheLeaves.com.