BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 3: “Rut Race Saskatchewan to Idaho”

sask woods before cut

As the script goes: Saskatchewan’s muzzleloader season is 2 weeks earlier than my usual rifle hunt up here, and the warm, wet weather is killing us. It’s hard just to get around in the mud and slop, and the deer are inactive in their thick winter coats…the forest is dead…but you have to keep your head up.

That I did, though I did not see a single buck all week. A few does, but not one buck. My 10-plus-year streak of amazing buck hunts and good fortune in the Saskatchewan bush had come to a crashing end.

I could not let it end that way. I’d have to come back next month…

Down but not out, I put a tough hunt behind me and prepare for daunting terrain in the river canyons of northwestern Idaho.  A far cry from the mental fatigue of the ground blind, this hunt will test my physical stamina and work ethic…

white bird

White Bird, Idaho, named after a chief of the Nez Perce tribe, is surrounded by prime western whitetail habitat…but you have to earn your buck in this tough country.

First no buck in Anticosti Quebec and ditto for Saskatchewan last week. My rough start to the 2015 whitetail season rolls on. The first guy I met in Idaho was a local game warden named George, a nice fellow who said, “You should have been here last year. Plenty of bucks. This summer, EHD hit the whitetails hard in the area you’re hunting.”

…you have to keep your head up.

We started glassing and hunting in this stunningly beautiful paradise where during a normal season you can find 10 or more whitetail bucks a day without too much effort, along with lots of mule deer and elk. Some mule deer and herds of elk were still here, but we were hard pressed to see one whitetail buck. Just as I thought I’d eat my third tag in a row, Bob and I crossed a creek, looked up and…

idaho buck mike

As the show ends, you’ll see how to make a whitetail backpack and carry the whole darn deer, sans legs, up and out of the mountains on your back. (Not mine, but a strong, tough 20-something named Ryan.)

whitetail backpack

This new episode of BIG DEER TV airs 7 pm Eastern tonight on Sportsman Channel, set your DVR.

Ultimate Air-Travel Guide: How to Fly With Guns

planeI have flown hundreds of thousands miles with hunting guns in the last 30 years, on all the major carriers and in tiny bush planes, to cities and small towns across the U.S and Canada. While I have had minor hassles (you can’t fly anywhere with or without guns without some grief) I have not, knock on a walnut stock, had a major incident with any airline or Transportation Security Authority (TSA) employee or officer.

I have had 3 gun cases not make it to my final destination (knock wood harder) and those were only delayed a day. Three incidents in some 600 trips spread over 3 decades isn’t bad.

The reason I’ve had good fortune: I know the rules of packing and traveling with guns and ammo, and I follow those rules.

The goal here is to lay out a plan that will help you check your guns safely and legally at the airport so that they arrive at your hunting destination secure and on time. DISCLAIMER: It is up to you to read and know the rules and follow them to the letter of the law.

To do that, I’ve posted the official TSA guidelines for transporting firearms and ammunition. In the HANBACK NOTES that follow read my personal observations and tips that will make your travels easier, and keep you from messing up.

And you can’t mess up. Break a rule and at the least you’ll get hassled and miss your flight. Worst case, you risk a $10,000 fine and jail time.

Print a copy of this blog guide and carry it with you when you fly with guns.  

TSA: Transporting Firearms and Ammunition

You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

Firearms

–When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments.

–Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.

–Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.

–Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

–Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.

AMMUNITION

–Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

–Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).

–Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm.

HANBACK NOTES:

–First, about hard-sided gun cases. Buy a good metal or hard-plastic one ($200 or more) with quality locks and ample foam padding on the inside. A cheap, flimsy plastic Wal-Mart special won’t cut it.

–You can buy and use a case with TSA-approved locks, which means the TSA master key at any airport will open the case. It expedites the process, but if you’re paranoid somebody will open your case without your approval use your own locks.

–I used to use a case with TSA locks until a TSA officer at a Texas airport recognized me as he checked my rifle and said, “Surprised you use TSA locks, I sure wouldn’t if you now what I mean…” I bought a new case and now use my own heavy locks.

–If one of the locks or lock hinges on your gun case is loose or gets broken in transit, you must replace it or the case immediately. Do not show up at the airport with a damaged case or faulty locks, TSA will not allow you to travel.

–You can never check a gun case curbside; you must go inside to an airline counter. Somebody there will probably tell you, “Use the kiosk.” You tell him or her right off, “I’m checking an unloaded firearm and need assistance.” A ticket agent must help you. You’ll fill out an orange tag declaring the firearm unloaded; open your case and put the tag inside, and lock it back up. All the while be polite and follow the agent’s instructions to the letter.

–The firearm must be unloaded. Sounds like a no-brainer, but there are horror stories of experienced hunters and travelers trying to check loaded rifles they knew were empty.  Triple and quadruple check that your rifle is unloaded before you case it. I travel with bolt-actions, and so I remove the bolt, visually look and see that the chamber is empty and then often pack the bolt separately in the case.

–TSA inspects all gun cases somewhere near the ticket counters. You and an agent will roll your case down to a baggage security area. Stay with your case until it is screened and accepted by TSA. Do not wander off. Have your keys handy, most of the time an officer will open up the case, check inside and re-lock it. Be there to get your keys back.

–As for ammo, carry 2 boxes securely packed in their original cardboard boxes. In the U.S. these boxes may be carried in your locked gun case, and that is how I like to do it, but I have encountered a gray area here from airline to airline. Once in a while an agent who does not know the rules asks me to transfer the ammo to the separate duffel bag I’m checking. If asked, do it to avoid any confrontation, just be sure not to put any ammo boxes in your carry-on by mistake!

–Traveling anywhere in Canada, make sure to pack your ammo in your  checked duffel, they don’t let you pack it in your gun case up there.

–I reiterate two things: Pack all cartridges securely in their boxes; you cannot have any loose rounds rolling around in your duffel or in a pants pocket you packed. You’ll get busted and hassled for that. And triple check your carry-on (maybe a camo backpack you used while hunting) and make sure there are no loose rounds of ammo or even empty casings in there–failure to do so can land you in big trouble at the security line.

–TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps to be transported on airplanes, not even in checked bags. On a muzzleloader hunt, you’ll carry your .50-caliber rifle and bullets in a locked case, and you’ll have to buy percussion caps and powder pellets at your final destination. Arrange that before your trip. Make sure to locate a big-box store or gun shop where you can stop and purchase caps and pellets before you head to camp.

–The TSA notes that individual airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition, and advises you to contact your airline regarding their carriage policies. Sounds like a good idea, but I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t get a straight answer from anybody on the phone. Just follow all the rules/notes above to the letter and you’ll be fine.

–This information is for the U.S. and Canada only. You must study up and follow a more complicated set of rules if flying with firearms to Mexico, Africa, etc.

 

Virginia: Monster Buck (201 7/8”) to Appear on BIG DEER TV

va jimmy compress

The new season of Big Deer TV premieres in July on Sportsman Channel and airs through the end of the year. More later on days and air times.

One of the episodes we’re working on right now is a compilation of conversations and interviews I’ve had with regular hunters across the nation who have shot monster whitetails. I love to hear these guys tell their stories of the 180- to 200-inch dream bucks they shot, and I think you will too.

One of those stories comes from Virginia and really hits home. The giant was shot less than 30 miles from my house by a great old country boy, Jimmy Taylor. Actually Jimmy and his buck appeared briefly on my show 4 years ago, but in the new episode we expand the story, which goes like this:

On November 17, 2007, Jimmy, who works at the farmer’s coop and takes his vacation every year during the first week of the VA rifle season, climbed into his ladder stand about 4 PM. His brother had killed a good buck that morning, and he was riding Jimmy pretty hard about it, bragging and getting away with it as only a brother can.

Jimmy heard crunching in the leaves and saw a doe. “She was really small,” he remembers. He heard more hoofs—a huge deer was behind her, “just meandering slowly, taking his time,” Jimmy said. With more than 40 years of deer hunting under his belt, Jimmy knew the buck was big, so he raised his .270 and fired.

It was a 90-yard shot, and the 150-grain Core-Lokt dropped the buck on the spot. Jimmy walked over to it about fell over! “I knew he was big when I saw him, but man I didn’t know he was that big!”

Jimmy had never seen the monster before, nor had anybody else. That is takeaway #1 from this story. Isn’t it fascinating how a world-class deer can come out of the woodwork, never having been seen before, dragged out into the open one November day by a sweet-smelling doe?

This was an incredible deer from a region known for some good bucks, but rarely if ever a 200-incher. So remember, you might kill your dream buck anywhere, anytime. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve haven’t seen or shot a good buck in a while, maybe this will be your year.

Jimmy’s brother heard the shot and came running. He kept up his ribbing, “I hope you didn’t let the big one get away!” until he saw the rack, and then he and Jimmy went crazy.

Jimmy carried the head to a prominent VA taxidermist who has mounted some deer for my dad and me over the years. “Jimmy, that’s the biggest buck anybody has bought in here in 50 years!” he said.

Tale of the tape: total points 20…spread 22 4/8…main beams 27 7/8 (R) and 27 1/8 (L)…total mass measurements 44 5/8…final score 201 7/8.

No surprise Jimmy’s monster was first in the VA big-buck contest that year. It is currently the 23rd largest NT ever shot in VA.

Postscript: Several months after shooting his dream buck, Jimmy heard that a kid riding a 4-wheeler had found an enormous shed antler in the area. He tracked the kid down and after some wrangling, acquired the huge chunk of bone that had fallen off the buck’s head some 9 months before Jimmy shot him. You’ll see and hear all about that on the TV show.

Takeaway #2: The kid found the shed 500 yards from where Jimmy killed the buck. Proves once again that many old whitetails are homebodies, and the older they get the smaller their core areas get. Find a huge shed now and there’s a chance the huge buck will be living right there this fall.

Field Report: Calling Illinois Coyotes

IL coyote 1Longtime Big Deer blogger Scott from MI went on his annual coyote hunt down in Illinois and filed this report, which includes great info on calling coyotes and coyote guns and loads:

Hi Mike: We had a great coyote hunt the other weekend in Illinois. We hunt along the Mississippi River in the northwest corner of the state.

Weather was great, low in the teens and highs in the upper 20s and 30s. Most of the snow was melted with some hard icy spots left, so it made it a little difficult to sneak around and into our setups. Still, it was much better than previous years when we have had 12 to 24 inches of snow to deal with!

All of our normal group made it, my buddies John, Jason, Ryan and Mike, and Dad and me. Dad mentioned this may be his last year going with us, so I was hoping we could put a big coyote in his lap and make it a successful hunt for him.

We hunted in two groups of three the whole time, which seems to work pretty well. The caller and one or two guys covering downwind and watching the back door.

On the second call of the morning I set my FoxPro on top of a steep ridge and called down into some bottoms, with Dad and Mike sitting downwind of me. I started with some bird distress calls for a few minutes, then after a slight pause I added some raccoon fight sounds.

About eight minutes into the call I saw a coyote pop up from the bottom about 80 yards from me. He was limping in slowly on a hurt front leg. He got to about 60 yards and stood still for a moment, but right behind a large branch. I started lip-squeaking at him, and as he cleared the branch I put him down with my T/C Venture .243 using a Barnes Vortx 80-grain tipped triple shock. Nice male coyote that weighed around 30 pounds.

About an hour or so later my buddy John also scored on a nice coyote. John, Jason and Ryan had set up in one of our best spots overlooking a large ravine where we have killed a coyote almost every year.

John called with his FoxPro as well, using distressed rabbit sounds and switching between DSG & TT Frenzy. About 14 minutes, the critter came trotting along the bottom of the ravine. John put it down at about 80 yards with his Tikka .223 using 55-grain Hornady Vmax ammo.

Good start to the day!

Later that evening, an hour or so before dark, we set up on another large ravine that has produced in the past. Mike was calling with his FoxPro and hit a coyote howl–a pack of them lit up in the bottom a few hundred yards away! He continued to call for 15 minutes but couldn’t get them in. We decided to sneak up closer to where we had heard them and see if we could coax one in.

We stayed up a little higher on the ridge. I took center and Dad and Mike watched two fingers on each side of me in case one of the coyotes tried to back door us. I started doing some wounded coyote sounds with my mouth call; it’s actually the squealing hen turkey call, but it works well to mimic a wounded coyote as well.

After about eight minutes of blowing on the call, I heard something hit the barbwire fence to my right. Then about 10 seconds later I saw three coyote heads pop up from the bottom about 35 yards away! I stayed motionless, not making a noise, as I was positioned away from them and they were making their way up the hill towards Dad.

Il coyote 2

They finally crested the hill enough for Dad to see one and he put the hammer down. After the shot the other two took off running, and Dad and I squeezed off a couple more shots, but a running coyote at 30 yards with a scoped rifle isn’t an easy target!

We got up and walked over the ravine and Dad’s coyote was lying right there. Heck yeah! we both yelled. It was a big male close to 40 pounds with a beautiful fur coat. Dad shot him with his Howa .223 using 55-grain Remington Premier Accutip varmint ammo.

That was #3 for the day! We celebrated with a couple cold beers later that night at the lodge.

Early afternoon on the second day Jason and Ryan set up on the same ridge top where I had shot a coyote on day one. Jason was doing some hybrid calling with the FoxPro and mouth calls combined. He mimicked some female whimper/mating mouth calls, and followed up with some challenge howls from the FoxPro.

Il coyote 1A

About 12 minutes in, he saw one trotting in along the bottom a good 200 yards away. He was waiting for Ryan to shoot because it was more in his direction, but Ryan could not see the critter from his position. Figuring this, Jason decided it was now or never before it got away. Jason took the shot at about 200 yards with his .22 Hornet and dropped the coyote in his tracks. It was a great shot through a small opening in the brush.

Jason went down to the bottom and recovered his yote, another beautiful and good-sized male around 40 lbs. The 35-grain Hornady Varmint Express has been a great load with that rifle; this was the third coyote in two years that he has dropped with it.

The next morning we headed back home with four nice yotes. It was as much fun as I can remember having on our trip and I look forward to seeing what next year brings. Maybe I can talk Dad into one more year. If not it’s good to know we went out with a bang!—Scott from Michigan

il coyote 3

Review: Barnes VOR-TX Ammo & Copper Bullets For Hunting

barnes 1Copper bullets for hunting came onto the scene more than 30 years ago. But since I have been traveling all over the country and shooting lead bullets with great success during that time, felling my share of bucks and a few elk, I never felt the need to go non-lead.

Until last September, when I traveled to the Central Coast of California to hunt for blacktail deer. Doug Roth, my host for this hunt, told me to bring copper bullets, as lead projectiles were prohibited in the area we’d hunt. This was a first for me, but I gladly did so, seeing this as an opportunity to test a different kind of hunting bullet.

On the hunt I carried a Remington Model 783 rifle in .270. In my past experience with the .270, most any brand of 130-grain lead bullet had always proved very accurate. So for my first “copper hunt” I chose the Barnes VOR-TX .270 with 130-grain Tipped TSX (Triple Shock) boat-tail bullet.

barnes ttsxPhoto: As to the bullet’s design, notice the circumferential grooves in the long shank. I understand these grooves serve as relief valves, giving the hard copper material little slots in which to expand as the bullet travels down the bore. This in turn reduces pressure and leads to good accuracy in most rifle barrels.

Now see the bullet’s blue polymer tip, which serves two purposes. First, it improves the ballistic coefficient of the TSX bullet for better performance at long range. Two, upon impact with a thin-skinned animal (deer), the tip is driven back into the nose, initiating rapid expansion. As the bullet penetrates, the nose peels back into 4 sharp copper petals that basically double the bullet’s diameter to create a wound channel. The nearly 100% weight retention of the copper bullet results in great penetration and tissue damage, since the bullet doesn’t break apart and continues to do damage all way through an animal to the exit wound.

That is what this Barnes bullet is designed to do. So how did it perform for me?

barnes accuracyFirst, as you can see in this next photo, the 130-grainer shot super accurately in my Remington .270. At .6 inches with two holes touching, this was one of my best 100-yard groups, but I can consistently shoot MOA with this rig on a good day with little wind.

cali blacktail scenicPerformance on game: As you will see on TV later this year, the blacktail buck I shot with this bullet was quartering-away, pretty hard.  I could not have asked for a better angle for bullet-testing purposes. I aimed back on the last ribs and let the copper pill run three-quarters of the way up and through the animal and vitals, and into the off shoulder. The buck ran 60 yards, maybe, and piled up.

The bullet did not exit, and we found it when we skinned the deer. It had mushroomed nicely to about halfway back the bullet, which made for a “longer” mushroom that I am used to with a lead bullet. But I think this is pretty typical with a hard copper bullet.

On the smaller pig that I drilled at about 120 yards, the bullet blew through the critter noticeably fast and blew up a big cloud of dust on the off side. (A copper bullet is lighter and less dense than lead, and velocities are higher; this Tipped TSX 130-grainer is about 3,060 fps at the muzzle.) So fast was that bullet that it looks like I missed the piggy on TV. But no, it bolted 20 yards and went head over heels in a death roll.

In my limited experience, the Tipped TSX performed wonderfully, both at the range and on game. As we skinned the buck and I found the bullet, I asked my new friend Doug, who has hunted big game across North America with lead bullets for 30 years, and who through his first-rate California guiding business has seen as many animals shot with copper as any man, what he thought.

Given his druthers, I suspect Doug would still use lead. “I will say copper bullets have come a long way,” he says. “The early ones didn’t perform or expand very well. But the newer tipped rounds, like that Barnes you used, are pretty good.”

Some final notes: I look forward to using this copper 130-grainer more this fall, not because I have to, but because it might solve a dilemma for me. I love a lead 130-grainer in the .270 for its accuracy, as mentioned earlier, but oftentimes this bullet does not exit on a good-size buck. It kills deer dead, but with no exit wound, blood trails are non-existent. Bucks can run off and be difficult to find. Sometimes for that reason I go with a heavier 150-grain bullet for .270, but then I give up some velocity and flat trajectory at long range.

I like a hunting bullet that works hard all way through a deer, and then exits with a good-size hole. Copper bullets are noted for their penetration, so the 130-grain Tipped TSX might be just the ticket for me in my .270. I need to try it more on broadside deer to see.

In the end, I am glad I got the chance to hunt with copper bullets and I will do it again. The Barnes VOR-TX with Tipped TSX Bullet is available in some 20 calibers suitable for deer hunting, from .22-250 to .300 Win Mag. Best price I found on the Web was $41.99 for a box of 20 cartridges.

UPDATE May 6, 2015: California will require the use of lead-free hunting ammunition state-wide by July 1, 2019. And know this now: Non-lead ammo will be required for all hunting on CDFW state lands beginning with the 2015 season! 

cali pig