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Hunting in the Land of Ishi

Posted on 31 August 2016 by Cork Graham

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country.

Early morning set up in the canyons of Ishi Country for Cork Graham and his guide.

Ishi, the last of California’s Yahi tribe, had hunted these hills and canyons. While he carried only a few arrows and a hand-made bow, I shouldered my Montana Rifle Company X2 chambered in .338-06. My hope was that the famously large mule deer/blacktailed crossbred deer had migrated out of the high country onto this ranch. Philip Massaro of Massaro Ballistic Laboratories had especially loaded custom rounds for me to using a variety of non-lead bullets from Barnes—TTSX and TSX and EBR—I sorely planned to connect with a mulie/blacktail cross using one of those bullets.

A guest of Harry and Rocque Merlo, of MERLO VINEYARDS and MERLO WATERFOWL, two cousins who had done well making their love of hunting, farming and wine a successful career, I had heard about these big deer that had almost reached mythical status due to how they hid so well up in the Sierras of Northern California, only driven down onto the ranch by snow. But, while I was having a full season of rain back in Alaska, California was deep into a fourth year of major drought.

We had stretched it as far as we could, by having me fly into California on my way home from a fact-finding mission to the Baltics. This put me there just in time for the last week of the coveted G-1 deer season. But, my luck was just not turning. So, when I was sitting on a bluff overlooking a canyon on my hosts’ ranch, and noticed a “bush” move in the early morning light below us, I had hoped it was a buck.

A quick glance through my 8X56 HD-R Geovids and it was clear I was instead looking at very big black bear. A gorgeous cinnamon phase American black bear, it moved with that swing and roll that the bear who owns the woods carries himself.

He was the kind of bear wildlife manager like hunters to remove as these bears love to eat deer. And, with the new prohibition of the use of bear hounds, the California’s wildlife conservation department had lost another effective tool in keeping a major predator’s numbers in check.

In whispers, I told my guide. The range was 280 yards. This was an easy downhill shot for someone who practices out to 1,000 yards and efficiently and consistently takes his big-game out to 400 yards. Taking a few deeps breaths I setup best as I could in a seated position, which, with rifle locked into my hands by twist into the military leather sling, was solid.

Two deep breaths to settle the crosshairs of my ER5 on his chest as he angled away, and it was clear, through the 2-10X50 magnified to the maximum setting, how big this bear really was. He was an easy 350 pounds, if not 375! I began moving my finger back on the trigger. Trigger pull set for three pounds, and crisp, it didn’t travel far before the Barnes 185 gr. TTSX was on its way. A millisecond later, the bear reacted as if shot in the heart, a conclusion the guide also came to, exclaiming on the video shot on his iPhone of how good the shot was.

It was a good shot…but why did the bear keep moving downhill? Based on the reaction and the sounds of its thrashing as it moved downhill, it should have seemed more like a roll, and then should have ended short thereafter. Instead, the crashing and snapping of brush continued for a little longer than I would have expected or felt comfortable with. It left me with an uneasy feeling as we waited for the guide’s buddies to come help us pack out all that great tasting meat.

All was quiet when we finally arrived at where the bear had been standing when the bullet hit him. All the sign was there: the blood from the hit, even a large pile of scat where he had stopped for a second to relieve himself, just before I hit him. Inspection revealed that he had fed well on manzanita berries and acorns: the tastiest bears in California, other than those feeding on black berries, are those fattened on manzanita berries and dropped acorns.

Alas, we searched almost half the day, following what was at first good blood sign, then meager, neither of it having the good signs of a lung, or liver shot: no frothy bright red blood, no rib bone chips, not even any sign of a horrible gut shot, such as digestive track contents.

Blood spatter on the brush limbs....

Blood spatter on the brush limbs…

When the trail started back uphill after 150 yards in the opposite direction, I was completely disheartened and beside myself. I’ve always made sure to make as efficient a kill as possible: less suffering for the animal, better taste of the meat, and less chance of waste.

This bear was hit, but evidently not mortally wounded. He would be back here again next year.

No hunter likes to wound an animal. We do our best to make sure our shooting skills are beyond exceptional. We match out gear to the job at hand. But, even when the best laid plans are put into action, we are only left to variables that just can’t be explained…and are no less distressing.

About the Boots

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

The LOWA Hunter GTX Evo Extreme

There have been two pairs of boots that I’ve been able to take right out of the box, and head into the hills with. A pair of Danner boots I received in 1994, while I was the outdoors columnist for THE TIMES of San Mateo County; and this pair of LOWA GTX Evo Extremes. This hunt was my first trip out with the Lowa GTX Evo Exreme.

There was a lot of thought put into the GTX Evo Extreme. It starts with the design and how it hugs the foot and ankle. There’s major support. As a result of the materials used, I was able to wear one pair of socks, instead of the normal two, in order to keep the blisters down.

As for durability, that comes through in the use of quality of the materials: Nubuck leather, stitching, glue, rubber. Their warranty is phenomenal.

What I found was that the boot held to the lower leg and foot, at the same time offering enough slippage to let the foot move enough to not require two sox in order to keep the feet from blistering. Most materials inside boots hold the sock so tightly that the only thing to give is your skin.

Within first six hours of hunting, I was chasing that bear up and down a variety of terrain on that steep hillside that often crumbled away. This was a great opportunity to challenge the quality and efficiency of material and design for the GTX.

The Vibram Masai sole, that has a self-cleaning mountaineering tread, grabbed slipper dry grass, and offered solid purchase on rocks. Not once did I feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the potential of falling or sliding into danger. Confidence in footwear goes much further than just comfort.

One of the hardest ideas to deliver in production is a boot that is as once offering solid support, but enough suppleness to offer mobility, resulting in stealth. Moving through the young buckeyes, live oak, and madrone that cover the sides of canyons in the foothills of Northern California was made that much easier due to the design and fabrication of the GTX Evo Extreme.

Part of the reason for the comfort and stability is the C4 tongue that has a metal stud to whip the laces around and hold in position. Very few boots have this and after experiencing the stability due to the stud holding the tongue from slipping right or left, I feel it a necessity for a hunting boot.

Not every boot is appropriate for every terrain, but the GTX Evo Extreme is best suited for alpine and sub-alpine environments. It can also be used in boreal and mountainous deserts. Attention to average temperatures down to cold is what works with this boot. Waterproof and breathable due to GoreTex, and filled with 200 grams of Permaloft, I consider it a great boot, whether you’re going after blacktails in the mountains and foothills of the Lower 48, or hunting sheep, and goats in the rocky shale of Alaska, in temperatures from below freezing to 80 degrees.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on the Mountain Expert GTX Evo, and factory visit to the LOWA factory in Germany.

lowahuntergtxevofactory

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CORK’S OUTDOORS COMPETES ON FINNISH TV’S “AMERICAN FOOD BATTLE”

Posted on 23 June 2012 by Cork Graham

California draws visitors from all over the world. Some come for the wine. Others come for the sun. Many come to see what has been described by such literary luminaries as Jack London and John Steinbeck. It was Steinbeck Country (the Duckworth family, depicted under a pseudonym in The Grapes of Wrath, has a family graveyard and ranch just down the way) that a production team from Finland’s JIM TV had come to film an episode of AMERICAN FOOD BATTLE. The main ingredient was to be the well-known feral hog of California.

Within an hour of meeting the cast and crew at the gate to Native Hunt Ranch, we were onto pigs. They were huddled under the overhang of a large, old oak when we came over the knoll in a four-wheeler. I knew they had to be there what with how a cold snap and rain had rolled in the night before. I breathed a sigh of relief as they weren’t where they normally were on Native Hunt Ranch. There was a lot riding on getting a pig today. I had a new AR-15 that UT Arms had specially made for our sister online publication, GCT Magazine, that need to get practical use, and I was guest-hosting a new cooking show for Finland’s JIM TV satellite channel. AMERICAN FOOD BATTLE had come out all the way from Helsinki to see how we hunt and eat in Monterey.

Frankly, I was actually delighted with how swiftly things were happening. Though I have spent a bit of time at rocker and friend, Michael Riddle’s Native Hunt Ranch, and enjoyed watching the multitude of animals on the property, there’s nothing guaranteed in nature. Normally, the pigs like to hang out in a canyon that bisects the ranch, a thoroughfare between the Fort Hunter Liggett Military Base on one side, and another ranch on the other.  It wasn’t very comfortable navigating across the green hills of Monterey County in the early morning drizzle, and so I knew the pigs had the same problems. Like the log house lodge that serves as respite from the cold and rain to guests, the shelter  under California oaks provides the same.

When we encountered the feral hogs, I pointed to a glade of oaks, and hushed, “Pigs!” Henry Dhuy, the cameraman, grabbed his equipment from the back of vehicle. I grabbed my AR-15 from its case, and did my best to chamber a round quietly. The pigs were tired from what must have been a horribly unsettling night of rain, thunder and lightning, and were sluggish in making a break from comfort: all of them were huddled next and on top of each other to keep warm from the wet and cold. By the time I edged over the hill, and checked back to make sure the Finnish cameraman was ready, two had come to their feet. One of them would be mine.

Laying the forestock of the AR-15 on a collapsible bipod, I quickly lined up the crosshairs on the smaller of the two pigs. This was a cooking show and I was doing my best to get the best-tasting porker in the bunch, 50 yards away. With the RR-CQLR’s crosshair bead centered on a point made by an imaginary crossing of two diagonal lines, from base of ear to eye on the other side, I touched off a round. The 65-grain hollow-point hit the 55-pound sow, and she jumped straight up in the air, just like countless cottontails I’ve shot in the head with a .22LR. After a few photos to record the event, we transported her over to the skinning shed on the other side of the ranch, and began the quick process of gutting and skinning the perfect-sized porker. Innards are oft lost in this modern day.

“You want the liver and kidneys?”

I think it’s because so many hunters, and even cuisine enthusiasts, just haven’t been taught the merits of liver, heart and kidneys. Our parents delighted in these. Our ancient ancestors, long before the advent
of agriculture thrived and survived on these, so much so that it was all they needed….and they didn’t get tooth cavities which became more prevalent as we moved from hunter/gatherers to farmers, from meat to grains.

“Do you want to work with these?” I asked our culinary masters from Finland. Chef Henri Alén, and Sommelier Nicolaus Thieulon, are co-owners of the successful Muru Ravintola, a French and Italian fusion restaurant in Helsinki. Veterans of a variety of cooking and travel shows in Finland, they’re well-versed in not only cuisine and but also pairing good food with wines. They took the liver, kidneys, heart and ham. I took the ham and the backstrap. The meat cut like butter it was so tender.

Heading back to the lodge’s open bar and roofed kitchen, we began work on meat preparation. I was going to offer my old bear, deer and wild boar standby Vietnamese-style marinated and grilled meat on rice noodle and salad, for the competition. The Finnish team opted for wild boar bourguignon.

Knowing the Fins have a long history with firearms, not the least of which is noted in history and present day by Sako, a manufacturer of fine rifles and ammunition, I invited the hosts to do a bit of target shooting off the back deck at a metal target stand 50 yards away. I’d been looking forward to getting more practice with a GLOCK 17 and my new favorite 1911, the S&W 1911TA. Emptying the 1911’s magazine into the target, the show’s producer, asked if he could have Henry Dhuy, a Los Angeles-transplanted cameraman, collect some video of me teaching an impromptu basic pistol shooting class, albeit at very long ranges.

Alén and Thieulon were ringers. Henri attributed his great shooting with the Glock 17 to his days as a recruit in the Finnish Navy.  When we were done it was time for me to get to work on the grilling of the meat component of my dish so that both our dished would be ready at the same time. I’d say more, but that would be cheating the viewers of finding out who won the competition. According to the producer, this season is presently being being edited and will be broadcast on JIM TV spring 2013.

 

Explaining the recipe…

So what was it like to be on Finnish TV? Very edifying! Here in the States, aside from language-dedicated audiences, such as those of Canal 14, we shoot in English for an English speaking audience. In Finland, a nation that was one occupied by Russia and Sweden, the production team shot English with me, and then in Finnish and Swedish between Alén and Thieulon. It gave me a lot to think, and you’ll begin to see some add-ons at Cork’s Outdoors, and our other multi-media publication, GCT Magazine, for our international audience.

 Hunting the Black Rifle

When hunters began using AR-10 and AR-15 rifles many words were fired back and forth between two camps. One camp considered the introduction of the “Black Rifle” a pall on the activity. The other camp lauded the attributes of the AR as a fine addition to the hunting community, either with a full 30-round magazine, for varmint control, or a five or 10-round for big and small-game. Many of those in either group can often be determined by their generation.

Many more options, many more calibers.

Those over thirty years old are often in the first group. They were also likely to have had their first experience in hunting with a more traditional lever action, pump, or bolt-action rifle. AR enthusiasts, on the other hand, were often introduced to the AR-style of rifle through M16/M4 they were issued in the military, or attracted to the firearm through watching action-adventure movies. Perhaps they purchased a civilian version of weapon they carried during their youth and want to recapture that part of their military life, and used it to plink and enjoy the relaxing activity of target shooting. Unlike the other shooter who probably graduated from a learning to shoot with bolt or pump action wood-stocked and started hunting small-game, then developed into a big-game hunter, the shooter first introduced to shooting through the military, had never hunted, but suddenly wanted to try it out, especially if they’re part of the “slow-food” movement that has sprung up in response to Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. They went to the firearm in which they were well-versed: the AR platform.

Personally, I have no problem with the use of using AR type rifles, though I also prefer to hunt with a more traditional bolt-action or lever-action rifle. I’m not partial to shooting fast with a rifle having the type of pistol grip on AR and AK-type rifle. It’s a smoother transition to shoulder a rifle or shotgun from a two-handed, ready, carry with a traditional type of grip, like the straight, English-style grip on a Winchester 1894, or a curved grip on a Model 70. An AR15 on the other hand makes, because of its overall design, for a precision rifle for shooting from a rigid position, a stand or a blind, with a platform a set of shooting sticks. The reason is that the pistol grip  found on Black Rifles positions the trigger hand in a very relaxed position when the rifle is shouldered and enables the shooter to put all tension into the trigger finger.

In the world of traditional hunting stocks, this positioning of the grip hand is accomplished by either adding a pistol grip to a slightly modified stock, or forming a stock in the manner done for a thumbhole stock. One of the most accurate rifles I ever owned, the Savage 93R17 BTVS, was a true tack driver, for not only the stainless steel bull-barrel and AccuTrigger, but also the thumbhole laminated stock.

With regard to whether using an AR-15 or AK-47 is sporting or not, is pretty mute. Most states already require a round limit on magazines. Also, most hunting situations offer only a few viable shooting opportunities before the animals make it to safety: while shooting to remove the enemy’s will fight is the norm in war, incapacitation; shooting for a “clean kill” is the objective in hunting. Regarding overtake, there are laws and whether the shooter is a law-abiding hunter, or poaching game hog, is irrespective to what firearm the person in question is carrying. Finally, do you think the animal being shot really cares how sporting it was that you just killed it with a 5-shot bolt action rifle, or AR15 with a hunting regulation-required 5 or 10-shot magazine?

Whether you hunt with a traditional wood or composite stock, or an AR15 rifle that was originally designed to arm soldiers, is your prerogative. How you carry yourself in the field is was matters, and just as importantly how much time you spent on the field getting to really know the ins and outs of your firearm of choice, and its ammunition, to make sure that your shot is fast and efficient, both for the least amount of duress to the animal targeted, and the increased likelihood its flesh will be delicious at the dinner table.

Cork Graham is the publisher of GCT Magazine and Cork’s Outdoors. For his latest books, writings, and appearances, follow him at www.corkgraham.com, Facebook and Twitter. He is also a small-arms instructor and security consultant with ETS; for more information visit: www.emergencytacticalskills.com

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Wonders Optics 4-14×50 [Product Review/Radio Interview]

Posted on 24 June 2010 by Cork Graham

 
Cork Graham sighting in the WOTAC 4-14×50

With only a couple months until California’s coastal deer opener, it was time to not only check out the new custom loads received from Nosler, but also the Wonders Tactical (WOTAC) 4-14×50 scope (4th generation) I’d been given by their sales rep, Forrest Ebert. Just yesterday, I learned that I’d been lucky in the special deer draw with an X3B tag, so I’ll not only be hunting with the WOTAC scope for the first time, but also using it on my first California mule deer…good hunting luck on my side, I hope.

My first trials at the range were excellent. The glass is very clear, and the elevation and windage knobs turn easily without that mushiness scopes made in Asia can have. A number of target shooters had requested louder clicks to them, and WOTAC has made those improvements.

First trained on the MilDot reticle in the military, I was actually very impressed with the EPB reticle. For really long shots, those over 1,000 yards, I’d still recommend doing “come-ups” with the turrets (1/4 click MOA adjustments). But, for ranges under 1,000 yards, I can see how just raising or lowering, using the small hash marks along the main verticle line of the crosshair can be very easy and accurate.

Easy to use turrets and parallax correction

It was very fast to get on target with the adjustsment and longer hash mark at the bottom easily aids shooting for a crosswind. Would I use this scope to shoot an animal at 1,000 yards? No. Would I shoot a deer at 600-700 yards? Absolutely!

Ethical long range shooting will be covered in a later article, but you don’t have to start adjusting for elevation until 300-plus yards on a modern high-velocity rifle, a move from 300-600 is not that much of a challenge, especially if you’ve been practicing—and it’s all about practice!

What the hash marks (each represents a shift in 2MOA) do is make quick elevations using the reticle that much more effective. Let’s the take the new rifle I’ll be using this year. Sighted in at 200 yards, there’s a 68.8-inch drop at 600 yards with the 130 gr. Nosler Accubonds out of my .270 Winchester Model 70 Super Grade.

The EPB Reticle

All I have to do is check the wind speed (let’s say an afternoon 10 mph crosswind from the right). Then, raise the rifle so that sweetspot at the deer’s shoulder is halfway between the fifth and sixth hash mark. Compensating for wind, move the rifle muzzle to the right, so that target center is two and a half hash marks to the left (4.75MOA) of the vertical crosshair.

This is done with the scope zoom ring set to MOA. There is also a mark on the zoom ring for MIL.

Either MOA or Milliradian

What I don’t like about the scope are the turret screws. They are too small and always worry me that I’ll strip them in trying to make sure they’re tight. I’ve already read reports of stripped heads. Best would be to either have the turrets locked in with one larger screw, or to have a flip-lock system as can seen on the Premier Reticle scope.

Now it’s not a US Optics, Premier or Nightforce scope (And you know how much I love my Nightforce Optics™ 3.5-15×56mm NXS with MilDot!). It’s also not priced in the thousands of dollars like them, either. Like those higher-end scope manufacturers, Matt Wonders, the owner of WOTAC, offers a solid guaranteed. If you’re not happy with your WOTAC scope, contact them within 14 days of receiving it and they’ll either replace the scope or give you a total refund!

For a scope that provides good glass, an excellent reticle design that can efficiently turn your highpower 300 yard rifle into a consistent 600-700 yard shooter, it’s a very good deal at $329. If you’re looking to get a scope that you can accurately adjust your crosshair in the field for longrange shooting,  the WOTAC 4-14X50 is an excellent scope to start with.

Looking forward to putting it through its trials on a real hunt instead of just at the range!

For more information, or to order your own, contact Wonders Optics Sales Representative Forrest Ebert at email: ebco2009@gmail.com

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy the latest news at Wonders Optics (WOTAC) on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

TOPICS: Wonders Optics Sales Representative Forrest Ebert talks about the history of Wonders Optics line of tactical, target and hunting rifle scopes.

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