Alaska, just one of the last frontiers.
"There are great wild places all over the globe. Far more than the climate change panic-ers, animal rights nuts and radical political ecological activists would have you believe. Alaska is incredibly vast and wild, almost beyond comprehension. It has to be seen to be understood. Understanding the vastness and primal wildness of Alaska is life-changing, yet it is just one of many wild places in the world.
No logical person would deny that mankind has to be ever proactive to reduce pollution, conserve wilderness and wildlife, but there are many who actually believe that we have ruined all of the world’s wild places and natural splendors. Most of these people live in crowded cities, and may have never set foot in an actual wild place. Never mind that all of the people in the world could fit into a corner of an average sized county, in an average sized state in America, with lots of room to spare. These people think that human kind is a plague that has completely over run and despoiled the globe and that we should be eradicated, or at the very least, governed into submission.
Well there is no better cure for delusions of this type, in my opinion, than to prescribe an up close and personal experience in the wilds of Alaska. No one can spend time in Alaska without gaining a new perspective on the true nature of wilderness."
These thoughts were randomly floating through my mind, mixed with other ideas pondering the stunning beauty before me, the potentially dangerous remoteness of where I was currently standing, and my own relative insignificance, as I punched long Spey casts out into the untamed river currents in which I found myself. Thoughts of a juicy steak, a cold beer, old girlfriends and the other typical imaginings of a fly-fisherman, filled in the voids.
It was the end of summer in South West Alaska and the snow line was further down the mountains each morning now. The fireweed had bloomed to the very top of their stalks. The tundra was turning red, the river valleys were turning gold and rolling out of the sleeping bag to stoke the morning fire, in the frosty air, was getting more and more challenging. It was that in-between period as summer abruptly exits and winter charges in. On the calendar it was still summer but it looked, smelled and brought the quickening pace of late fall.
The tributaries that pour into the Bearing sea were absolutely jammed with fish. The last of the Kings were still around, Cohos were everywhere. Dollys, Char and Grayling and virtually every other fish, bird or mammal were frantic in their desire to fatten up before the long dark night. Rainbow trout of gargantuan proportions were my target this day and they were no different.
A couple of buddies and I were closing out the season with a busman’s holiday of sorts. Having spent the last 11 weeks traveling around the Bristol Bay water shed guiding clients for all that the area had to offer, we had had our share of giant, brutish King salmon and long hard days of work loading float planes, rigging and maintaining gear and running jet boats. Now we were exploring and fishing for ourselves, while also traveling around closing up outpost camps that we’d maintained for the summer’s fishing clients.
I’d caught score upon score of all that can be caught in Alaska’s river systems, from pike to grayling. Giant rainbows were my main target now in the last week before I’d make a hasty retreat back to the lower 48, where I’d trade fly rods for bow hunting gear and a bit of actual autumn.
Some might think a Spey rod is overkill for rainbows but I can tell you that in Alaska, it’s not. I was in a river that was famous, (among a very small group of tight-lipped people), for having enormous resident rainbows, though “resident” is a relative term. These rainbows did travel a lot. We were 20 miles from the ocean but it was common to catch these giant “residents” with sea lice stuck to their flanks. Beautiful, football shaped, heavily spotted “Leopard Bows” in the 24-30” range were the rule. Mixed in among the locals, we found a good number of ocean run Steelhead too. The biggest, fastest, silvery-est, Steelhead I’ve ever seen. Coho were pretty common too, so the Spey rod was the perfect tool to handle bulky, enraged fish, and it was my preference for the day if for no other reason than a change of pace, and a love for a bit of tradition.
I was intermittently throwing mouse patterns, egg flies and rabbit fur “flesh” flies and all seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered, and everything was catching fish but by mid-day I was leaning towards the mouse. Rainbows, Steelhead and Coho all went for it readily, and the Spey rod would punch out casts effortlessly, and then handle the psychotic brawl that would ensue upon setting the hook. Nothing is as fun as catching fish on the surface. The shark-like takes are something to behold. Fish would sometimes charge the fly from a distance with their bodies, dorsal fins and tails half out of the water, or launch themselves completely out of the water to land, mouth agape, on top of the fly on their descent. The takes weren’t subtle, but rather murderous instead.
This un-named river flowed through a long tundra valley, mountain ridges flanking both edges. The valley itself was about 5 miles across…or maybe 10. It’s so hard to tell and the distances always tend to be far greater than anticipated, especially if there’s a hike involved. The valley was rolling tundra engorged with berries. Blueberries, salmon berries and high bush cranberries spread out for miles in every direction. This valley, being remote and untouched by tourists and lodge traffic was perhaps the most pristine that I’d experienced. Not uncommon, there are thousands of similarly untouched valleys in Alaska, Far more than anyone could explore, in a dozen lifetimes. This one seemed to be all mine at this moment in time.
Being remote seemed to suit the wildlife in the area. It was hard to take in a vista that wasn’t crawling with animals. Moose, caribou, wolves, foxes and of course bears. Large costal brown bears were everywhere. On the day our float plane dropped us off and after setting up our tent camp, I glassed the surrounding area for about 10 minutes, spotting 21 bears within sight of camp, which was a sobering reality that never really left our thoughts. With no trees in sight in which to stash our food and supplies, we would have to hope for the best.
Our camp was set up right where three tributaries came together to form the main river that we were concentrating on. We picked a little rise in the tundra for our camp, about a hundred yards away from the river, due to the very heavy bear traffic on the banks. We felt that a little distance from the bear’s dining room was a wise choice. The elevation gave us some small sense of security, being able to see an approaching threat. As it was, the smaller tributaries were still full of spawned out salmon and the bears were still intent on gluttony. One of the tribs circled around our promontory, about a hundred yards away on the other side of our camp from the main river, creating a bit of a peninsula. While we did have a couple of bears check out our camp, one in broad daylight, one at night, the biggest threat turned out to be a lack of sleep caused by the constant noise from all the bears splashing and crashing after salmon, at all hours of the day and night. Added to our distractions was the constant sound of tundra swans, loons, wolves and ptarmigan, the latter of which loved to hang out around camp all night, “talking” the way ptarmigan do, which if you’ve never heard it sounds like Leprechauns or elves holding court. One day, for about 16 hours straight, a herd of caribou flowed down the valley, crossing both rivers and coursing around our camp on their way to greener pastures. The noise of splashing, grunting and clicking knee joints was like freeway traffic. I took to stuffing my ears with toilet paper, pulling my stocking cap over my eyes and ears, and pulling the hood of my mummy bag tight to block out the sound for a bit of shuteye. Then they were gone, as quickly as they had come.
Written words can’t ever do justice to the spectacle that we witnessed every day. The wildlife and stunning natural beauty was breathtaking. It was untouched, un-assaulted, unspoiled and certainly unsurpassed, yet this experience in this relatively small valley was just one in a million, in Alaska, or in one of the many other great wildernesses around the world.
The Great Plains, the Rockies, Alaska, the Yukon or any of the Canadian provinces, the Great Lakes, the South West, the Smokies, the Appalachians, Maine, The Everglades and bayous, the Sonoran desert and countless other areas in North America alone are comprised of vast expanses of wilderness. There is far more wilderness than “settled” land. This is true of just about every other continent on Earth as well.
The next time you find yourself “in the wild”, stop and take solace in the fact that there is far more wilderness left in the world than you, your children, your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren can ever hope to fully explore in all of your collective lifetimes. While you’re at it, start working on a list of places that you want to see and start working on your attempt to conquer and explore our wild planet. Alaska might be a great starting place….and it might be all you’ll ever need.
By Brandon Vaughan
Detroit River Walleyes
A chilly start yields good numbers.
A cold unrelenting winter that refuses to release its icy grip has made for a slow start to the 2018 walleye “run” in the Detroit river, though walleye numbers have been good on the few days in April that have been temperate enough for comfortable fishing.
The Detroit river divides Lake Erie downstream, and Lake Saint Clair, the Saint Clair river and Lake Huron further upstream. Separating Detroit Michigan from Windsor Ontario near the mouth where Lake Saint Clair flows in, and other “Downriver” communities at its terminus at Lake Erie, the river flows for 24 nautical miles and serves as an international border for the US and Canada and a major shipping route for everything from iron ore to wheat. Enableing freighters from all points of the globe to reach as far into the continent as Chicago and Duluth, the Detroit river is a key trade route that connects North America to the world. Curiously, to get to Canada from the city of Detroit, across the river, one must travel South, using a bridge, a tunnel or a boat.
My favorite method is a boat because that usually indicates a fishing trip. Most Detroit river anglers ply the waters on both sides of the river, which requires a fishing license from Michigan AND Ontario. It’s not necessary though if you choose to stay on the US side, but most of us who have grown up around the river, Lake Saint Clair and Lake Erie like the freedom of being able to move to where the fish are biting at any given time. The river is a huge waterway more than a half mile across in most areas. It can host thousands of fishing boats, sailboats, all types of pleasure craft and dozens of 1000 foot freighters, all at once. The “shipping channel” runs to 40 ft; depth and most of the productive walleye water is in the 20-30 range. Numerous holes, humps, eddys and structure known to those who fish a lot, provide incredible fishing for walleye, perch, smallmouth bass, pike, muskie, white bass and sturgeon to name a few. Often times all of the species mentioned above can be hooked in one day while targeting walleyes.
Windsor Ontario and Detroit Michigan (Originally Fort Detroit) are rich in historical significance due to their importance as fur trading epicenters long before the US declared independence from England. Governed by native Americans, the French, the English and ultimately the Americans over its long history. It’s rumored that many thousands of historical artifacts litter the depths of the river, including everything from tomahawks, muskets, cannon, shipwrecks, treasures in gold…to cars, trucks and ships from the modern age. The Detroit river was once a horribly polluted waterway but clean-up efforts and the foreign zebra mussel have drastically improved water quality and clarity. The jury is still out on the zebra mussel. Once feared to be a pending ecological nightmare, the foreign invader does cause problems with man-made machinery and pipe systems, but there hasn’t yet been a huge negative impact to the fisheries. Wherever they are present, which is almost all of the Great Lakes now, water clarity seems to have improved, though this may yet prove to be problematic, with algae blooms and other by-products starting to show in the Northern Great lakes, which were already clean, blue and bountiful prior to the zebra mussel’s introduction. As I stated, the jury is still out. On the Detroit river, Lake Saint Clair and Lake Erie the formerly muddy, polluted and oft times, smelly water is now blue, clear and seemingly fresh. Most of us who spend time on these water ways are pretty happy about that. The fishing has never been better.
Friday April 13th 2018 provided a brief break in the lingering winter weather on the River. Opting to fish the US side, near the mouth of the river at Lake Saint Clair, we launched my good friend Steve D’Arca’s 20’ walleye boat into the river at 4:00pm hoping to explore 3-4 of our usual hot spots by sunset. The two of us, along with two more buddies, made a quick 5 minute run to our first “hole”, got rigged with our vertical jigging gear and went to work. Though all manner of gear and techniques can, and do get used, the vast majority of fishermen opt for vertical jigging. Letting the river current take the boat through each “slot”, (some of which can be up to a mile long), is the norm. Some drifts are short, perhaps a hundred yards. Boat control is important and a good electric trolling motor, used to keep positioned over the targeted structure, and to control drift speed is vital. Drift speed equates to how vertical you’re able to keep your line, perfectly vertical, and in contact with the bottom being the goal. A good graph is worth its weight in gold too, to avoid working unpopulated water.
With deep water, a decent flow rate and often conflicting winds, a 1 ounce jig head is ideal to stay in touch with the bottom. My rig consists of a1 oz. round jig, in one of many color choices, (though chartreuse is the first choice usually), with a 5-6” rubber worm or minnow pattern. A stinger hook is imperative for the short strikes that are common. Rubber worm size, color and shape vary from plain straight black (again, first choice…and most productive usually) to chunkier minnow profiles and curly tail variants in many colors. Many angler use live worms or minnows, but we do at least as well, if not better with artificial lures.
I rig a 6’, stiff, medium action jig rod with a good quality spinning reel loaded with non-stretch braided line. 8 lb. typically, which is plenty strong enough to land the occasional Muskie or sturgeon in the wide open, mostly snag free river, while being thin enough to not spook fish. I also use a mono leader of about 24” joined to the braid via a very small swivel. I use 4-6 lb. low stretch fluorocarbon typically. It’s very important to have anti-reverse bearings on your reel. Most good reels nowadays have this feature, which prevents ANY reverse movement from your spool and reel handle when setting the hook. The combination of stiff rod, non-stretch braid and anti-reverse reel equate to many more fish being hooked…and landed. Any rig that falls short of this set-up will have difficulty detecting strikes or setting the hook on the deep dwelling fish. As with anything the details matter.
Our maiden voyage this year proved to be well worth the effort. We caught our limit of 20 walleyes in under 3 hours, all between 16-21”, which are perfect for the fryer. (This is not catch –n-release fishing like so much of the other fishing we do…this IS catch-n-eat !!). We typically release any walleye over about 24”, and any large female fish which can often top 10 lbs, or more.
It’s very normal to hook Muskie and sturgeon also, and I did land a 30lb Muskie on my walleye gear this trip. After a quick photo it was released back to the depths. We usually hook 6-7 sturgeon per season too, which can sometimes top 100 lbs or more.
Walleye should be plentiful through May. Huge runs of White Bass, perch and smallmouth Bass will also fill the river as the temps warm. Most fisherman move out to either Lake Erie or Lake Saint Clair in late May or June, chasing walleye, smallmouth and Muskie. These connected waterways are world class fisheries for all three species, Perhaps best in the world for the latter two.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get in on this fantastic fishery. It can last as much as 10 weeks or as few as 5. For the millions of anglers that live close to this “urban” fishery, it’s a godsend that is as highly anticipated as opening day of deer season, Tigers baseball or Christmas. Good luck, stay safe and fill your livewells!
Report and photos by Brandon Vaughan
By Brandon Vaughan
This winter, after the final day of deer season, I did what I do every year, for the last 40 years. I take a Saturday morning to organize and take stock of my hunting gear before storing it away for the year. Things get fixed, sewn, sharpened and cleaned as needed. Batteries are removed from everything that uses them, so that nothing is destroyed by corrosion over the winter. Arrows get repaired and stored, bowstrings get waxed and bows get maintained before everything is put in its place for the summer months to come.
This practice of taking stock usually evokes a fair amount of reflection. My hunting gear is a collection of serious tools used for my pursuits but all of it is also cherished possessions with sentimental value for the many memories that each piece recalls. No piece of gear evokes more fond memories from my lifetime's passion for bow hunting, than traditional bows and arrows. Longbows, recurves, wooden arrows, feather fletched cedar shafts with old fashioned, glue-on broad heads. The look, feel and smell of traditional gear is heady stuff indeed.
This winter after my year end chores were done, I had the bug to look into getting a new longbow and thumbing through a back issue of "Traditional Bowhunter" magazine, I stumbled upon an ad for Java Man Archery. The longbow pictured in the ad was beautiful so I looked a bit closer and was surprised to see that the company was just a 20 minute drive from my home. Seeming like fate, I quickly put a call in. (Javamanarchery.com) Gregg Coffey, owner of Java Man, answered the phone and very graciously answered a laundry list of questions that I had compiled, and it was decided that I would take a trip over to his shop in Holly, MI., to check out the operation and sample his work. A few days later, I did just that, and what a treat it was.
Upon my arrival, Gregg met me at the door and led me into his well organized and tidy work shop. Stacks of bow forms and exotic woods lined the walls. Workbenches and tools were efficiently positioned. Carefully detailed "build" journals with notes on every design and construction aspect, filled a shelf. It was obvious that this artisan had a background in engineering as well as fine craftsmanship.
Gregg showed me his entire line of bows, we shot most of them at targets lining the back wall of the shop, comparing all the nuances of each. The amount of time and interest that Gregg took in helping me figure out which model I wanted, was surprising and much appreciated. It wasn't long before I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend. That's the type of guy that Gregg is. His passion for what he does and his interest in the sport shows through instantly. We talked hunting..a lot. We both whipped out our phones and showed off hunting pictures and compared notes on everything from shot placement to quality deer management. Gregg even let me watch over his shoulder as he worked, laminating, sanding and shaping bows. It was very educational and incredibly interesting.
Gregg is the consummate craftsman. With a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University in 1983 AND a Masters of Science in Administration from Central Michigan 1994, Gregg went on to a 32 year career in Product Engineering and Program Management in the tier one automotive world working on everything from Mechanical Speedometers, Odometers and Instrument Clusters to Fuel Rails (Dana Corp, Millennium Industries, Cooper Standard).
After retiring from his long career in the car industry, Gregg decided to follow his true passion for archery and hunting by going into the bow business full time. For many years he had been building bows in his spare time, but as a still young man, in retirement, he decided to go back to work full time. "I made my first self-bow in 1994, and started selling them almost immediately. From 1994 till 2003, it was mostly self-bows and all wood laminated bows. In 2003 I started working with glass laminated bows, and stopped making "all wood" bows by 2005. In April of 2016, bow making went from my 2nd "full time" job, to my only job. "I’m still loving it !!". "My friend Jim Clem thought of the name Java Man around 1996-1997. It seems to fit pretty well, with my last name being Coffey."
Churning out almost 200 bows a year, the back log for a Java Man bow can be up to 6-7 months, which isn’t excessive in the custom bow business, but as they say, he who hesitates is lost. The wait is well worth it. With 10 models to choose from, there is something for everyone. Each model is available in several lengths. Longbows are available from 52" to 70" and recurve models can be had from 52" to 62". Various draw weights can be accommodated too. All models can be made as one piece, or as two piece, take-down versions.
With a stunning array of gorgeous woods to choose from, Java Man bows are usually custom made to some extent. Gregg makes stock bows but always accommodates customer requests for something special.
"I like to treat all my customers more like friends than strangers, and I have made quite a few friends along the way. Each bow is crafted as an individual, made as close as possible to the customers exact preferences, which includes their help in selecting the exact pieces of wood to be used where possible. Smart phones and texting sure make that part much easier!"
Gregg's favorite model is the Elkheart, a 52"-58" reflex deflex hybrid longbow. It's well known for its smooth draw and very good arrow speed. I can attest, I shot many of Gregg's bows and while they are all beautiful to look at and sweet shooting, the Elkheart stood out and completely fit the bill for what I was looking for in my next traditional bow. I went for bocote and zebra wood in a short-ish, 40-45 lb bow. Light as a feather, it'll be perfect for still hunting, stand hunting or spot and stalk. I can't wait to just walk the woods and "stump shoot" with it... "roving" as the old timers referred to it.
When asked about his philosophy on bow building, Gregg's typically humble reply was, "There's way more wisdom on shooting and hunting out there, than I can muster." Truth be told, there's a lifetime of wisdom that goes into the designs and beautiful craftsmanship of every Java Man bow.
If, you're like me, and love to shoot and hunt with a beautiful traditional bow, contact Gregg Coffey at Java Man archery. You'll be glad you did! javamanarchery.com In Holly, Michigan. Ph. 810-599-7878
Pheasants Aplenty in Iowa 2018
By Chris Zimmerman
‘Twas a fitting farewell to the last hour of bird hunting in central Iowa. Not a minute from the truck, we were into the thick of things. My little Brittany, Shorty, climbed a steep embankment on the edge of a gravel road and slammed on the brakes. He stood there for ten, fifteen seconds – frozen by the scent of game. As quickly as spoor hit him, it was lost in the swirling Iowa breeze. Shorty eased down the gradual slope, stopping two or three times to reconnect with the running bird. Of course, Shorty’s body language said it all. Great fun – watching the spectacle unfold, in the heartland of the country, on a beautiful, late season morning.
I stayed even with Shorty, and his stop-and-go waltz down the slope. Ahead – where the terrain flattened – was a copse of woody brush that looked like a patch of lilac bushes. I knew that the clutter represented Custer’s last stand when it came to the fleeing pheasant. As they often do, pheasants run as far as they can, then take flight when they’ve run out of options.
Shorty didn’t know any different. Past the brush he raced, about the same time as a rooster dashed from cover and flew away, out of range. My disappointment was quickly replaced with optimism as a second, closer rooster tried to slip out the backdoor of the cover. As quickly as it takes to read this sentence, I had the gun up, and was flailing away at my long-tailed prey. He kept smoking towards the horizon.
My second shot at the backdoor bandit triggered a pheasant exodus from the brush. A whole flock of birds – maybe ten or twelve members in all, and half of them roosters – hopped over me and the road, as if they were tokens in a game of checkers. I stood there with an empty shotgun, fumbling for shells and clinging to the notion that somehow, some way, I could get reloaded in time to pluck a bird from the departing masse.
It didn’t happen.
And the icing on the cake? A covey of quail took me off guard, when they erupted out of the tiny brush pile and dashed away in a tiny whir of wings.
Although it would have been nice to head for home with a couple more plump Iowa pheasants, my friend and I had piled up the birds in our weekend jaunt to the Hawkeye State. It was great fun because the action was so good. It seemed as if we were constantly into the birds.
And when we weren’t flushing them at our feet, they were getting up out of range.
In Iowa, pheasant season is open to January 10th, 2019, while quail season is a bit longer: January 31st. The daily limit is three rooster pheasants per day, and 12 in possession. Hunters may shoot eight quail per day, and the possession limit is 16.
With its weed-lined ditches and draws that snake their way up gentle, rolling hillsides, Iowa’s cover is tailor made for raising pheasants. Unlike my little slice of mid-Michigan – where farmers have successfully drained, tiled, mowed and destroyed any remaining pheasant habitat – a trip to Iowa is a refreshing visit to the way things used to be.
Armed with a plat book and google maps, my partner and I were able to target the juiciest of cover. After calling one of those farmers, he wanted us to meet him at a local watering hole, where he was playing cards. A couple draft beers later, and the farmer said we could hunt all of his 2,000 acres. When his brother joined our table, he said we could hunt his place, too. We got the sense that maybe the farmers wanted to size us up before saying yes.
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources has reason to be optimistic about their bird hunting possibilities. After conducting roadside population surveys, biologists concluded that they have enough birds to support a harvest of 400,000 roosters, but because there are 2,000 fewer pheasant hunters than 2016, they believe the harvest will be 250,000 to 300,00. They also claim that there are 30,000 fewer pheasant hunters than there was in 2007, when they shot 600,000 birds.
The lack of bird hunters was obvious. Over a four-day weekend, we didn’t see any other bird hunters, which helped open doors to property. Since the farmers weren’t overrun with hunters asking permission, we never wanted for places to hunt.
And even when we did run out of places, there was always the roadside ditches, which can be accessed without permission. Those little nooks – adjacent to cut corn – proved to be real gems.
Chris Zimmerman is a freelance outdoor writer, author of six Michigan-based novels and an independent insurance agent in Shepherd, Michigan.
Here's a simple tip for a highly effective and simple to use rear sight for archery.
Years ago while trying to decide on the best way to wring the utmost accuracy from my compound bows, and after watching friends struggle with a variety of solutions. I came up with a simple, trouble free method.
I started in archery with traditional and even primitive gear. Long bows, self bows, wooden arrows and instinctive shooting. Simplicity is best with those options, but when shooting hi-tech bows, hi-tech releases and hi-tech sights, technical and mechanical advantage is the order of the day. Sight pins reign and nowadays it's pretty rare to see a bow that doesn't also have a rear sight of one type or another. Peep sight are the norm. There's no two ways about it. A rear peep sight in conjunction with front sight pins makes for very accurate and consistent shooting! Back when rear sights were somewhat new, people struggled with them. They would twist and spin. People resorted to rubber tubing to force them to line up properly. They were hard to see through, or around, in low light, (when the deer show up). I never liked em! For about 20 years now I've been using my own method for "rear sighting". I use glow in the dark "Flashabou" filaments borrowed from my fly tying supplies. Flashabou is a strong synthetic string-like, or hair-like material used for tying streamers, salt-water flies and many other types. I use it for Walleye "buck-tail" jigs, summer and winter. It comes in many colors, one of which is Glow.
Using it for a bow sight starts like this. I first shoot my bow and set a 20 yd pin that I'm happy with. Then I wrap 3-4 Flashabou filaments on to my bow string to form a small ball about 1/8" in length and diameter. I use the word ball but this proceedure is no different than "serving" a bowstring. Start this "ball", as close to the point where you'll want your rear sight to sit, as possible.. Don't be tempted to thread the Flashabou through your bow-string... it's not necessary, and won't work when "adjusting" the rear sight. Tightly over-wrapping the material to start, and then whip finishing the ball by pulling the tag end under the last 4-5 wraps to end, (I use a loop of dental floss for this), will make a neat ball that won't come undone. At this stage the ball can still be slid up and down the string gently. Taking care to NOT fire your bow yet, draw your bow naturally and look at your first sight pin, THEN focus on your rear sight ball. Let down the bow and adjust the ball up or down as needed. Repeat this process a few times to fine tune it. When you're satisfied with the location, apply a tiny drop of super glue to the ball. Let dry. Now refine your 20 yd pin, making any minor adjustments to the front sight.
Now you have a tiny rear sight that glows in the dark and will never be rendered useless by a twisted string. Because the "ball" is close to your eye, you can focus "Through" it to your front sight. It works just like a peep sight. You can choose to orient it, when aiming, in relation to your front sight, anywhere you like, so long as you consistently do it the same way. I choose to draw my bow, settle the front sight and then bring the rear sight "ball" to rest on the right edge of my front sight, just because it feels natural. You can line them up perfectly every time. You can choose to bring the rear sight up to rest on the bottom of the front sight, or on top, whatever you like. Just always do it the same way. Visibility, especially in low light, is much better, than looking through even a large peep sight aperture, and there's no aperture "body" so there's nothing to block you view. I've been using this method for over 20 years, on 6-7 bows, and I've never had a failure. It takes 5 mins to install and for $4.00 you can buy a lifetime supply for you and all your friends. The key is in making a nice small, tight wrap and "whip finishing" the knot. Be careful to make a neat wrap, and while sliding up and down for adjustment, and it should work great. Go easy with the super glue too. Use just enough to lightly coat the ball, and even soak up any excess with the corner of a paper towel if you over-apply.
You'll never mis-align your rear sight when shooting at last light again. Try this "secret" method of mine. I think you'll like it.
By Brandon Vaughan
Custom rifles 9-1-2018
– By Brandon Vaughan
As a kid, I lusted after a Winchester model 94 lever gun in 30-30. It was the gun that almost every other deer hunter in the Michigan woods carried. It was standard in every old black and white photo from deer camps gone by. It was good enough for Grandad, it would be good enough for me, and besides there was no better way to feel like a real cowboy. It was a gun I’d be proud to own.
Well when it came time to buy my first hunting rifle, with my own money, I went to the best source that I knew of, my uncle John. Uncle John was a real gun collector and the only real hunter in the family. He lived in Houghton, in Michigan’s upper peninsula. which was 12 hours from our home in suburban Detroit. As far as I was concerned, he was a hunting and shooting sage who lived in a wilderness paradise that might as well have been Alaska. He would surely be able to find the gun I was looking for.
I wrote a letter describing what I wanted. This was pre-internet or cell phone days, and a land line call to the U.P. would set my dad off on a rant about the high cost of “long distance” calls and as a 15 year old, my options were limited but I detailed my thoughts and needs and mailed them off to the UP. About three weeks later I received a return letter from Uncle John with 3 Polaroid photos and a letter detailing each gun and John’s rational for suggesting them.
To my slight dismay there wasn’t a 94 lever gun in the group. All three were bolt guns. All three were modified Mauser style Enfields. Sporter-ized WW1 “leftovers”. Being ignorant, I was not impressed. After a bit more correspondence with Uncle John, it was clear that he A: didn’t want to part with one of his model 94s, and B: strongly suggested that I go with one of the bolt guns for a number of pertinent reasons.
Perhaps Uncle John knew that I was passionate about hunting and guns and would need a more capable gun, or maybe he had a glut of sporter-ized Enfields. I think it was the former, but in any event I did end up going with one of the bolt actions. It was a model 1917 marked “Winchester”. The other two were also model 1917s but were marked Remington and Enfield respectively, in that the design was manufactured by all three companies to serve the war effort. Ironically the “modified” Mauser action had been adopted from the German Mauser just a few years before we started shooting them at each other in WW1. The three guns were almost identical guns but the Winchester had a very nice walnut stock from Bishop and an adjustable rear peep sight. It was chambered in 30-06, like the other two. The action was buttery smooth and vault-like. It was deadly accurate with its peep sight and it was a really beautiful gun that I came to be very proud of. In my motley crew of high school hunting buddies, who carried an assortment of worn lever guns, shotguns and cheap single shot rifles, my 30-06 was coveted and I enjoyed the status of being considered a real rifleman who could make the long shots, beyond the range of a smooth bore slug gun. We tended to hunt in groups as kids and more than once, sitting in a brush blind, with two or even three buddies, someone would spot a fat doe at 200-300 yds. knowing that only the bolt gun would work. It rarely let me down and we usually enjoyed “camp meat” with our illicit beers after sunset. An important factor since we rarely had enough money to buy hunting licenses, drive North, buy beer AND food. Food was usually a lower priority from memory and besides we were hunters after all, we'd live off the land. We were all pretty thankful whenever someone's mother packed "rations" for us.
Maybe it was inevitable, maybe it was Uncle John’s intervention or maybe I just liked being acknowledged as a marksman by my peers, but I became enthralled with fine guns. With rifles, bolt guns held sway and over the years I’ve owned many. The more I shot and hunted and the more varied my pursuits became, the more specialized I wanted my rifles to be. Before too long, factory guns, however good they were, didn’t fit my needs. I wanted better triggers, better stocks, better butt pads, faster rifling, lighter actions, better bedding and more specific modifications to suit an exact application. Consistent tack-driving accuracy was always the first criteria, but some guns, in specific calibers needed to handle long range shots with heavy bullets, from box blinds, others needed to be ultra-light weight for mountain hunts, but without compromising accuracy in the unlikely event that a shot had to be taken with a “hot” barrel. Other guns were conceived of, and built just to be drop dead gorgeous, others for hunting dangerous game in harsh weather. Of course different critters require different calibers. My old 30-06 could do a lot, but it was really too much for groundhogs and impractical for coyotes. It was heavy for mountains and its wood stock wasn’t good for rain and snow, if a really long shot was necessary. Options from 22 Magnum to 45-70 became necessary.
Putting together “custom” guns is interesting to me in and of itself. Like tying my own flies or building my own bows and arrows or knives and sheathes, there is a real satisfaction in using “home made” gear. Anyone that has delved into the custom gun world can tell you that it can be expensive. I’m not a gunsmith so I have to farm out some of the machining that is required. I take my time and buy the bits and pieces that I need for my projects, usually putting in a fair effort to find the best deals and parts guns, but no matter how you figure the costs, custom guns cost a lot, and don’t usually provide for a good return on investment in the event that one needs to sell a gun to make way for a new project, or just to pay an unexpected bill. Building your dream gun can be very satisfying but tread lightly, it can also put you in the poor house.
I don’t know if I’ll ever lose interest in making my own gun ideas come to life, but it is now very possible to find exactly what I’m looking for, “off the shelf”. The “semi-custom” gun market has boomed in recent years. Driven by ever more sophisticated hunters and shooters, and the long-range shooting craze, boutique rifle builders are popping up everywhere. Started by fellow “gun-nuts” who know the particulars of how to build insanely accurate rifles, these gun building companies now offer just about anything you could hope for in a custom rifle, now for a pretty competitive price. Chamber choices may be limited but you can be sure to find something suitable for your purposes, IF you don’t have something extremely specific and slightly rare in mind. Rest assured, if you are bent on joining the 6.5 Creedmore club, you won’t be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you’d like to be in the arguably better 260 Remington club, you might be, though most of these smaller builders can accommodate your choice of chamberings if not too obscure.
At last check there were about a dozen fairly well known providers in the category, and more seem to be gaining ground every year. Hopefully competition won’t drive a trend to compromise on build quality to meet price points, like it did with the big brands over the last few decades.
My last custom build was built for the mountains. A stainless Remington 700 short action was sourced. A Jewel trigger set at 2.5 lbs replaced the factory trigger. The bolt assembly was fluted and skeletonized. The firing pin and shroud were replaced with light weight versions. My gunsmith installed a 1:8” twist barrel, cut and crowned to 23" long, .030" over standard diameter, which was then fluted and chambered for 260 Rem. An ultralight carbon fiber stock with aluminum pillars was bolted on. A one piece, light weight Nightforce 20MOA mount/base was affixed and a Leupold 4x12x44 VX-R installed, the latter picked for weight savings and optical performance. A custom drop compensating elevation dial, custom built for my load and bullet completed the project. Weight was saved everywhere, except the barrel, which while fluted and cut to 23”, started off as a heavy barrel. The length and fluting make it lighter, and combined with every other weight saving choice it makes for a very light rifle, with a barrel that will resist point of impact shift as it heats up. A feature that matters most at the range when trying to sight in and work up loads. When hunting, a single, cold bore shot is what matters, and even if something goes wrong, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll shoot enough to heat a barrel. Pencil thin barrels are a joy to carry in the mountains but they’re a bitch to get dialed in for consistent accuracy. I rarely go ultra thin on barrels.
There’s always a new project in mind. I tend to not go with “trendy” options when it comes to guns. I like tried and true calibers and I like to be able to find ammo in far flung locales if necessary, airlines being the consistent “losers of luggage” that they are.
I’m a fan of 7mm Rem Mag, I’ve built and owned and sold a few, but another one is on my wish list right now. When I was a high school kid, Remington’s 7mm Mag was still discussed as somewhat “trendy” and new, though it was already 20 years old at the time. Now it’s well over 50 and as firmly entrenched as any chamber. You can find ammo for it anywhere, even at Walmart. It’s awesome for long range shooting and can handle any North American, and probably even any African game species, with the right bullet choice. I know most African PHs require a 375 H&H as a minimum but the 7mmRM can dispatch anything realistically. I’ve seen the smaller 6.5 x 284 effectively take almost every big African animal except Cape Buffalo, and of course Elephant. I recently saw a well placed shot from 6.5x284 take an Eland which is about the size of an Alaskan/Yukon Moose. It dropped in its tracks. I know other 7mm options, like the new 280 Nosler, or the 7mm RUM can do “this or that” better, but I’ll stick with the “old timer”.
I think I’ll seriously consider an “off-the shelf” boutique builder for my next 7mm. They seem to have what I require, and I’m curious about the process and product, which may be reason enough. Picking the right company may be the toughest decision. I’m certain it’ll be quicker, and probably a more relaxed process than building my own. If the performance equals my projects, I’ll be a happy and willing customer.
I never did get that 94 lever action, though I still keep my eye open for just the right one. I own a beautiful single shot stalking rifle in 30-30 and it is a great whitetail round, and when hunting thick Upper Peninsula cedar swamps where shots are close and nostalgia plays a role in my gun of choice, I’ll usually grab that gun first. My 6 year old asks me to take her hunting on an almost daily basis now. I can’t think of a better rifle than a model 94, to start hunting with, an opinion I’ve held since I was a beginner. She’s a couple of years away but maybe she’ll start off with a 94, like I intended to. Funny how one’s path can be redirected, and then often comes back full circle. I’ll probably be thinking about a custom 94 project now. Figured walnut, case colored receiver, cold rust bluing etc. Doug Turnbull, if you’re reading this, give me a call!
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