Is Old Ammo Safe to Shoot?

ammo 002Mike: I have some boxes of Core-Lokt .270 loads that must be 10 years old? Are those shells still safe to shoot and hunt with? Love the blog, keep up the good work.—George from Nebraska

George: For starters, let me say that I’ve been hunting with .270, .30-06 and 7mm loads from a test batch I got at least 10 years old. Some of the cartridges are 15 years old.They are still reliable and accurate, and I’ve killed dozens of bucks with them.

If center-fire cartridges are stored in a dry place at moderate temperatures with low humidity—say on a shelf in a dry basement where you have a dehumidifier running—they can have an amazingly long shelf life. There are many reports of people shooting 50-plus year-old ammunition with no problems, and killing deer with such ancient rounds.

But before shooting any old cartridges, check each one carefully. If the cases look clean and aren’t corroded, the ammo should work fine. But keep in mind the warning signs of unusable (and potentially unsafe) old ammunition: split case necks and/or corroded/rusty bullets, brass or primers. If ammo shows any of these signs, discard it properly and don’t shoot it.

DISCLAIMER: If you have the slightest doubt that a round or bullet does not look right, discard it and don’t shoot it.  

Probably the best and smartest thing to do with shells left over from the last few seasons is to go the range this spring and shoot them up. Then go buy a couple new boxes of your favorite deer load before next season. The ammo companies will appreciate it, plus you’ll benefit from the shooting practice. You’ll know those shiny new rounds to be safe and effective.

2017: It’s a Tough Economy for the Gun & Hunting Industry Right Now

2017 tough ecnomyThe health care chaos last week on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, things have been looking pretty good since President Trump’s election last November. The stock market is up and consumer confidence is high as the President reduces burdensome regulations on business and moves to act on tax reform this summer.

But ironically the election of our first pro-gun president in 8 years has slowed the sale of firearms and softened the overall shooting/hunting market. In recent years, with anti-gun Barack Obama at the helm and with the prospect of Hillary looming for another 8 years, law-abiding and freedom–loving Americans had a deep and well-founded concern that their gun rights were in serious jeopardy, and so we purchased guns and hoarded ammunition at a record pace.

But now, with President Trump in the White House and our Second Amendment rights secure for now, firearms sales have slowed and as a consequence cast a pale over the entire industry.

Colt, Savage, Remington and Federal Premium recently announced that they are constricting business and laying off employees, and many industry experts predict that other manufacturers will follow suit.

The record sales and profits from firearms and especially ammunition of the last 5 years carried over into the general outdoor and hunting market, and helped to account for decent to good sales. For example, a guy walked into a Cabela’s store to buy 3 boxes of ammo, and he picked up a new camo jacket and some other stuff on the way to the register. But many of those impulse buys have dried up and dried up fast.

In addition to declining gun/ammo sales is the overall retail industry’s struggles of 2017 and beyond. Namely, how do retailers with heavy investment in brick-and-mortar survive and grow in the Amazon world? You likely have empty storefronts in your hometown that thrived just 5 short years ago.

You might have heard that Gander Mountain recently declared bankruptcy, and as a part of that will close 32 of 162 retail stores in 11 different states. Click to see if a GM store near you is on the list to be shuttered.

Word is that Bass Pro Shops’ $4.5 billion deal to buy Cabela’s could be in jeopardy as federal regulators have requested more information from both parties. But most financial experts predict that the merger will still be approved and completed, most likely later this fall.

The bowhunting industry is not immune. The Outdoor Wire spoke with industry experts who pointed to significant problems facing the archery business and the considerable drop-off in bow and gear sales. One big reason—the trend of manufacturers toward high-end bows that cost $1,000 to $1,500. Not all hard-working hunters can fork out a good chunk of a mortgage payment for a new bow, so fewer bows are sold each year, and people are upgrading less and keeping their bows for 4 or 5 years.

While the gun/bow/hunting/outdoor industry is facing uncertain and tough economic times, there is light on the horizon. If President Trump can get our dysfunctional Congress to work together for once and approve meaningful tax reform for corporations and individuals alike this summer, and retroactive to January 1, 2017, the industry (and all retail) will receive an immediate boost. History shows that every time people get even a little more money in their pockets, they will spend some of it on their passions. There are no more passionate Americans than deer hunters. Give us back some more of our money and we’ll buy a new rifle or bow or trail camera or camo, just in time for the 2017-18 season.

As for the manufacturers, you will continue to see some constriction and shifting business strategies in the short term, but that can be a good thing. Smart business leaders step back, analyze changing market trends and then build and market products that people will buy in 2018, in this case quality and affordable guns and bows.

For retailers large and small, the future is inescapable and simple. We all still love to go to a Cabela’s,  Bass Pro or Gander store, and we love our local gun shop. We’ll still buy at those stores, but if a company is not heavily online and Mobile, they’re out of business or soon will be.

What about you? Are you spending less on gear? Buying more online? Will you purchase a new gun this year? Does a new bow cost too much?

Spring Gobbler Fever: How to Call Wild Turkeys

montana merriams turkeys

While this is a deer hunting blog, I know that millions of deer hunters will be hitting the turkey woods this spring. Here are some calling tips from one of my turkey hunting books.–MH

Diaphragm Mouth Call

Mouth calls have been around for 150 years. Early diaphragms were big and crude, but modern calls are streamlined and high-tech, featuring either a latex or prophylactic reed crimped into an aluminum frame. A tape skirt covers the frame and acts as an air seal.

There are many mouth calls on the market. Some have one or two rubber reeds; others three or four. Some calls have clipped or notched reeds designed to put rasp into your yelps.

How to Mouth Call

Place a diaphragm in your mouth with open reeds facing forward. Tongue the call up to the roof. It shouldn’t sit too far forward or too far back in your mouth. Your tongue should touch the reeds and extend a half-inch or so to the front of the call.

If a mouth call feels too wide and bulky, trim the tape skirt a little. You can also bend the aluminum frame slightly downward to make the call fit more comfortably and create a better air seal.

Two major keys to using the diaphragm: First, don’t blow air across the reeds, but bring it up and “huff” from deep in your diaphragm. And work your jaw up and down when you call, just like when you talk.

Now, to mock the hen vocalizations:

  • To cluck, pop air across the reeds while saying the word “puck” or “putt”. While you might drop your jaw a bit, clucking is more about popping or smacking your lips.
  • To cutt like a hen in spring, string together a series of sharp, fast and irregular clucks. Cutts have a staccato quality, with notes that go up and down. Vary the amount of air you force across a call’s reeds while popping your lips.
  • To mock the two-note yelp of a hen, the bread-and-butter call you’ll use the most in either spring or fall, run a high note and a low note together. Say “chalk” while moving your jaw up and down. Practice a lot to get the speed and cadence of your yelps just right.
  • To cackle like a hen flying down from the roost, string together some fast, excited yelps. Say “kit, kit, kit, kit, kat, kat, kat, kow, kow, kow” while running air rapidly across a call’s reeds.
  • To kee-kee or whistle like a young turkey in fall, say the words “pee, pee, pee.” Pin a call tightly to the roof of your mouth to create a good air seal. Bring your lips tightly together and let the whistles come out. To roll into the kee-kee run, a call young gobblers make in fall, back up your “pee, pee, pee” with “chalk, chalk” yelps.
  • To purr like a contented hen, pin a call to the roof of your mouth, push air up from your chest and flutter the back of your throat. Sound tough? Well, it is and some hunters have a devil of a time purring on a mouth call. Keep practicing until you get it. Or purr on a slate call.

The Slate Call

Pot-and-peg calls have been around since the 1880s, and they are still the most popular turkey calls today. Early calls were crafted of wood or turtle shells, with crude slate surfaces in the middle. Modern calls have come a long way. Today you can use a finely machined wooden, plastic or graphite cup into which is glued a slate, glass, ceramic, aluminum or copper surface. To talk turkey, strike a surface with a hickory, ash, rosewood, acrylic or carbon peg. This call is easy to use and sounds great.

How to Slate Call

If you’re right-handed, hold a pot lightly in your left hand and up on your fingertips. Grasp a peg as if you were writing with a pencil. Hold the call out in front of your body to keep from muting the sounds.

Hold a striker at a 45-degree angle to a call’s surface, and then run it lightly. Tweak the way you hold a peg to make the various calls. Work a peg in the middle of a call’s surface to make deep clucks and yelps. Move the striker out to the edge for more trilling notes.

To create friction and make a call ring true, rub its surface frequently with an abrasive pad or sandpaper. Don’t forget to roughen the tip of a wooden striker from time to time.

Now, to make the key calls:

  • To cluck, place a peg on a pot, angle it slightly inward and pull a short stroke. Do not pick the peg off the surface; let it skip across the slate or glass. Put just a little pressure on the peg to cluck softly. Bear down harder for louder clucks.
  • To cutt, serve up a series of fast, broken clucks. Bear down fairly hard on a peg and skip it over a call’s surface for five seconds or so, but again, don’t pick up the peg. There is no rhythm or cadence to cutting.
  • To yelp, run a peg on a surface in straight lines or ovals. Make small ovals or short lines for soft yelps. Put a little more pressure on the peg and expand the ovals or lines for louder yelps.
  • To cackle, string together some fast, raspy yelps. Finish up with a few reassuring clucks, like a hen makes once she flies down and hits the ground.
  • To purr, exert just enough pressure on a peg so that it skips lightly over a call’s surface. Run little straight lines or make half-circles. Purring on a slate call is tough to beat for pulling a tom those last few yards into bow range.

The Box Call

An Arkansan named Gibson patented the first box call back in 1897. The big call has withstood the test of time and is still popular today. Most long, rectangular boxes are crafted of wood—maple, cherry, walnut or poplar—and have free-swinging wooden handles or “lids.” The box is a snap to use. Pick one up, fiddle with it for a few minutes and you’ll be talking good turkey.

How to Box Call

Hold a box lightly in your left palm and work the lid gently with the fingers of your right hand (vice versa for lefties). Keep your fingers off the sides of a box so you won’t deaden its sound. Some people run a box better with a vertical hold. Lay a call in the palm of your hand, turn your hand perpendicular to the ground and scrape the lid up and down.

Chalk a box call before you hit the woods, and a couple of times during a hunt. Use wax-free chalk that won’t gum up the grain of the wood.

To make the calls:

  • To cluck, pop the handle lightly on the call’s sounding lip. Another way: hold the call in your palm, press your thumb semi-tightly on the top of the lid and tap it with your other hand.
  • To cutt, bear down on the handle a bit and pop or tap a series of fast, sharp clucks. The vertical hold works great for cutting.
  • To yelp, move the handle an inch or less off to the side of the sounding lip and “close the box” to run two notes together. Light pressure on the lid will give you raspy yelps; put a little more pressure on the handle for higher-pitched notes.
  • To purr, set the lid off to the side of the sounding lip and drag it softly across the lip of the box.

Now go and call in a big gobbler, good luck!

spring gobbler compress

Study: Trees Know When Deer Feed On Them

deer browseScience continues to uncover interesting things in the deer world.

The Deer Forest Blog reported that a recent study found that some trees know when they are being browsed by deer…and they put up a defense mechanism to stop it.

The study looked at beech and maple saplings that comprised the regenerating under-story in a forest, and thus were often browsed by deer. The researchers simulated deer browsing by clipping buds off the saplings and then applying deer saliva to the wounds.

They found that the saliva caused the saplings to increase production of salicylic acid, which signals a tree to produce more tannins. Tannins are bitter and not palatable to deer. The scientists concluded that the production of tannins may deter future browsing by deer on those saplings. Saplings that were clipped off but not treated with deer saliva did not produce tannins or initiate other defense metabolites.

Bottom line: Some species of saplings that are browsed by deer initiate a defense mechanism so that the trees are literally not eaten alive by the animals, thus perpetuating the growth of under-story and the health of a forest.

Fascinating! Isn’t nature grand?

How to Clean a Deer Skull Plate

skull antlers

Mike: What’s the easiest way to get the skin and hair off the skull plate when I want to mount a buck’s antlers only? Thanks, Dennis

Hey Dennis: Lance Waln, who I watched grow up from a kid to a great hunter and accomplished taxidermist here in Virginia, says to cut and peel as much hide and hair off the skull plate as you can with your hunting knife. Getting the skin away from the bone and antler burr is tough sometimes; try a large flat-tip screwdriver and pry the skin away from the antler base. Use your knife to remove the last hairs that stick to the base and the burrs.

Skin as much meat and tissue as you can off the skull plate. It’s done, but if you want to go a step further, boil the skull plate in water for a few minutes. After that, the residual meat will flake easily off the plate. After boiling, handle the skull carefully because it’s fragile until totally dry.