Monday, March 28, 2011

Reloading & Muzzle Loading

A few days ago the subject of reloading came up and what started out as a simple email turned into this blog instead. My original plan for this blog was to share with my family my life experiences, especially my younger years. So this counts.

Reloading is a fun hobby and there is a lot less to learn about it than you might think. My brother and I started reloading 12 ga. shotgun shells around the age of 16. He ordered a Lee Hand Loader from the local hardware. It came with everything needed except the powder, shot, wads and primers. He upgraded it with additional powder and shot measuring cups and an attachment that fit on a drill to heat seal the crimped folds on plastic shot shells that were just coming out then. At first we followed the instructions and made many reloads by the book. It was very simple to do. First you had to check the empty shells for damage (i.e. - cracks, dents, dirt, corrosion) anything that was suspicious was tossed and dirty shells were cleaned up and checked again. The you removed the old primers with the included tool and cleaned the primer pocket (pipe cleaners worked well for us). Following that you carefully installed a new primer using the included tool. Next you add the right measure of gunpowder, (before starting you must consult the charts for the proper brand and type for the load you want to make and choose a shot size) followed but wadding or shot cup, and then you add the proper weight of shot (I liked using #5 shot size because of the larger BB size and the increased killing power at a distance. This also meant that each shell held fewer BB's. My brother on the other hand liked using #8 shot, filling the air with dust sized lead balls). Finally you crimp the shell and Viola !! You have just reloaded your first round. Make a few more and then go out and try a test shot and chart the pattern. Repeat a couple of times for consistency. If you weren't happy with the outcome you could try a different recommended powder, primer or shot size on your next batch. If you were happy, it was time to go hunting. We loved our new hobby.

After a while we started customizing shells for our own purposes, you could do that back in the day of paper shells and felt & cardboard wads. I used too make ultra light loads with less powder and less shot but more wadding, to get squirrels without tearing them all up and it was pretty quiet too. As a matter of fact instead of a bang it sounded more like someone blowing down a length of plumbing pipe. We also made some magnum type loads for bird hunting. When I think back on it, I am amazed that we never got hurt messing around like we did. A little knowledge and a teen-age attitude towards danger made for some scary loads, I would give you some examples but I am afraid someone might try them out. But we were smart enough to test fire our wildcat loads with the gun tied down to a tire and a LONG string on the trigger with us behind good cover. Kind of like the coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. Maybe the new one piece plastic wad/shot cups are a GOOD thing.

Anyway LEE PRECISION CO. still makes those inexpensive loaders in most rifle and handgun sizes. And they work pretty much the same way. (Unfortunately they no longer make them for shotguns. But they do make an amazing inexpensive shot shell loader. I have had mine for years and punched out many rounds.)

I do have a British .303 cal. rifle hand loader but would like to upgrade to a set of dies for my loading press to get better accuracy and to better crimp the shell to the bullet to get factory load power. But since I don't hunt with it, I don't really need to.

Plus I can buy military surplus ammo cheaper than I can make reloads for it. But there is a certain satisfaction in shooting your own loads that makes it fun. It's kind of like fine tuning a black powder rifle. Getting the right primer, to the right powder, to the right wad, to the right lead, so you can get the most power and the best accuracy out of your gun. And that is why there are so many people who are fanatical about reloading. It only has to be as complicated and expensive as you want to make it.

And speaking of black powder, when I was shooting Muzzle Loading competitions (something my brother talked me into, as I suck at shooting paper targets with any gun, but give me a challenging shot and I'm there), it took me years to get the right combination (at that time I lived in town and worked too many hours to get in much target practice). I had a .58 cal. almost smooth bore musket, an Italian reproduction of the Civil War era Remington Zouve. It had an over sized bore so would not fire the standard minnie-ball that it was designed for, so I had to use a round patched ball. I got it to the point where I was consistently shooting in third place in competition with rifles, but I wanted more. I knew it wasn't me or the gun, I just hadn't found the right load combination yet. I had bought enough sights for it that I also new that wasn't the problem (I used fixed sights to match my shooting style). I tried different patch thickness and ball diameter combinations without any luck, finally settling on HORNADY .560 soft lead ball with a .58 cal. plastic "POLY PATCH" that was available at the time. I could only buy one brand of black powder or use "PYRODEX". I tried that and didn't get good results, so I tried using FFF instead of FF sized powder. (Either was recommended for use with my musket but FF was the preferred charge). Black Powder is graded to 4 sizes, from cannon powder F (the slowest burning) to FFFF or flash powder (the fastest burning, used for charging flintlocks and flash pans for very old cameras). I had even less success with that, so I hunkered down to to minute changes in the ff black-powder charge. As with all of the charge change attempts, I also tried using a variety of available caps including musket caps (which are way larger). Still no joy. Finally I came across an article in a magazine about homemade (made partly from chicken manure or women's urine) and mixing grades of black powder. Now that is something that anyone will tell you is a definite No-No, but since both FF and FFF were recommended for my gun I was desperate enough to try it. (different size powders cause different pressures along the barrel.) It didn't take me long to find the right combination. (I based this on the lowest recommended charge of FFFand gradually omitted some and replaced it with FF and blended it together.)

At the next competition I came in second at the 35 yard standard targets, I finally out shot my brother (on paper targets) with his black powder double 20 ga. using a round patched ball.
Then they had a buffalo shoot. They put up life size cardboard buffalo targets at 500 yards and invited us to try to hit them. This was a surprise for all of us. I knew that the Zouve musket had the ability with a minnie ball and that using a Poly Patch was close to it, as they stuck on the ball throughout it's flight. So I gave it a little Kentucky windage and elevation and let 'er fly....completely missing the target. I wasn't the only one, as a matter of fact only one person managed to hit the cardboard at all. Next round called for a little more elevation....same results. Now I was beside myself with disappointment. Then a light went on above my head, when I was target practicing at 50 yards my ball flew a little high. 35 yards my sight was set on the up curve of the flight trajectory...I was shooting way too high. My next round I aimed for the front leg where it met the bottom of the body and placed my round in front of the knee. BINGO!! I had the round with correction on elevation and windage was a little high but a lung shot anyway. My final round was deemed a heart shot. Second place again. First place went to 3 lung shots and a body shot, by the guy who's idea it was to shoot the buffalo targets (he claimed that he didn't get in any practice shots...huh). He also took first place in the 35 yard shoot, but then he always did whenever he showed up.

I then went on to shoot at an axe-blade driven into a cedar post with a board behind it supporting clay pigeons on either side. The idea was to split the ball and break both targets. This was supposed to be just a fun target but no one had tried it. When the competition was over the judge asked me to give it a shot. How could I say no. At 35 yards I did just what was asked, I shot 4 more times with the same results. A crowd had gathered and they were shouting at me to keep going, so I did....19 times in a row, standing, reloading as fast as I could. I could have done more but by this time my gun was so fouled up with lead and powder deposits I could hardly get a ball down the barrel. After I was done everyone else had to try it. No one else even came close to my record, (a few did manage to split a ball though) even with their fancy rifles. bet. But the only first place ribbons I ever got were for moving targets, odd shots, knife and tomahawk throwing, but that's for another blog.

Sadly after this competition, the guy who started it passed away. He was the owner of the local black powder gun shop and an amazing friend. Several people tried to get it going again but it never happened, nobody had the heart for it. After many years of sitting idle I finally got rid of my gun. They had quit making Poly Patches many many years ago for some obscure reason. I bought up any I could find, but my supply was running out. And it was getting hard to find the round lead balls for it anymore, the New Wave in black powder shooting is sabot rounds and pre-measured powder formed into a solid pellet. I could have bought some ball molds and made my own, and reworked my load recipe. But it is too cold for me to go out and sit during muzzle loading deer season anyway. If I ever get another muzzle loader it will be a small  .36 or .22 caliber, just for plinking. They sure are fun to shoot.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Winter is BACK

What a mess,  ice and snow and freexing rain, with mud underneath.

Bright sunshine and it's snowing big fluffy flakes that this photo doesn't  do justice.

Nor does this one, have you ever tried to get a good photo if snow fall?

Well it deffinatly isn't Spring here yet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Searching for Spring

A rabbit's eye view of a pine tree sprout.

     We are attempting to revitalize our poor ancient orchard.  When my in-laws moved here in '64 the orchard was old and unkept and it hasn't seen any real care since. About 30 years ago my brother-in-law and his friend gutted it for firewood and apple wood for smoking fish.  After that nature took its course and it became a staghorn sumac breeding ground with a few other air and animal born tree and shrub seeds sprouting here and there.
     Then about 10 years ago my daughter and her husband decided to clear out all of the sumac and some of the junk trees and shrubs.  Then came the mowing.  I can't tell you how many riding and push mower's, blades and decks were ruined in the first few years mowing those 2 acres, but it was too many.  But their effort sure payed off in looks.  The deer still came and grazed and bedded there, and enjoyed the bug infested scabby apples in the fall.  Not many, but worth the trip anyway, on their way  from the pine woods a half a mile behind us, down to the river a half a mile in front of us and back.
     Three or four years ago we had a bumper crop of apples, since 1972 when I first started coming here I have never seen the like.  The crop was so heavy limbs were breaking and during a severe wind storm 2 trees broke off near the base.  We gathered bushels of good eating apples and bushels of others to use as stock feed and for canning.  Any other year it was hard to find a good eating apple and maybe enough for a few pies.
     Last spring we planted 2 apple and 4 pear trees and lost one, (two if you count the old ancient one in the yard).  The year before we planted a sweet and a tart cherry tree, which the deer ruined in the fall and they died and a peach tree.  The year before that I planed 1 peach and 2 mulberry trees which I am still trying to nurse into growing, they keep dying off in the winter and restart from scratch in the spring.  Last year they grew the best and I hope they survive this spring.  This year we have ordered 2 cherry, 2 peach, 10 sugar maples and 5 Dawn Redwoods.  I am not quite sure where the last 2 items are being planted yet.  And we will probably pick up a few more apple trees locally.
     Well lets get back to now.  Last week we decided to prune the old apple trees of all dead branches and old non-productive growth.  We also had a tree that had broken a main trunk during the winter that needed removal.  We had only done 4 trees when wifey decided that she wanted to trim the lower branches of some of the pine trees growing there.  And that is when she discovered the pine seedlings.
     Last year wifey decided not to mow the orchard because she wanted to get some milk goats and pasture them there.  It didn't happen.  This year wifey says come hell or high water we are getting some goats.  And these seedlings must be transplanted first.  So for the last few days we have been looking for pine tree seedlings, so far we have found over 90 of the tiny things.

Now we have little flags all over the orchard marking their locations. We have to hurry up and get them all marked before the weeds grow and cover them or it greens up any more than it is because they are so small and hard to see.

Some have been mowed down for years and others are just starting. Since we didn't mow the orchard last year all of the dead grass and weeds have covered up many of them making them almost as hard to find as a needle in a haystack.

Thursday we let Harley loose to come with us, but he got bored after a while, and when he headed for the neighbors and wouldn't come to our calls, we had to chain him back up and let Bear loose.

Bear came with us but made such a nuisance of himself by laying wherever we placed a flag that we had to go and put them both in the house so we could get anything done.

To make marking flags I cut metal coat hangers in half, straightened them and formed a eye at one end to tie a strip if plastic grocery bag onto.  I got all of the coat hangers from my daughter Sarah who had bundles of them in her car that she left here to sell. She collected them from her laundry service that did her work uniforms when she was going to college.  When it sold I had to clean out the car and wifey made me throw most of them away, but I snuck some into hiding. She says I save too much junk, but I always find a use for good strong wire.  Hows that for recycling?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New Arrivals

In my last blog I mentioned an unexpected pregnancy and on Valentine's Day we found these 9 little fur balls.
Luckily we had put a nest box into the mothers pen just 2 days prior.

Just the day before the new arrivals, we had our grand kids visit.  It was a beautiful day with temps just above freezing for the fist time in a long while.  Aden & Ethan built this snowman while their father and I butchered 4 rabbits for a customer. 

For the next 4 days we had temperatures in the high 40's.  The wife shoveled a path out of the chicken coop and the whole flock broke out for the first time since snow fell.  I am amazed that our "chicken" chickens who are so afraid of walking in the snow, have no problem with the cold mud and water and will stand in it all day but refuse to let their delicate toes touch the snow. 

The arrival of warm weather gave us a chance to clean out the rabbit pens and muck out some of the chicken coop.  We throw it in the trailer.. and just as fast the chickens scratch it out....until we brought Bear out to guard the trailer. 

The arrival of all of that melt water caused the river to raise and broke up the ice, causing an ice jam down river and backed it up to the nearby bridge.  

The warm weather also prompted the arrival of a logging crew.  They started clear cutting the woods across the road from us on state land.  I hate this practice.  I also find it quite ironic that this land which at one time had great access by state game trails was closed to motor vehicles many years ago.  And only 10 years ago when I asked the local DNR for permission to let my Boy Scout Troop camp there that they were too concerned about the impact it would have on the local ecology to let us.  And now THIS ??? 
The melting snow heralded the arrival of local deer herds to the field behind us.  The farmer had planted a cover crop of alfalfa last fall, and on this night wifey counted 148 deer grazing there.  

Bear went with her to protect her and make sure she counted them right. 

At nine days old the bunnies are finally starting to open their eyes and show that they are being well fed by Mom.  

The next night brought only 136 deer back to the field.  Sorry these photos are so poor in quality, but they were a quarter of a mile away and this was the best I could do with my poor camera and photo tools. 

Also on St. Valentine's Day we put our old computer to rest and upgraded to a less ancient one that required me to learn Windows Vista....I am not impressed.  Then due to an unfortunate accident our satelite modem died and we were without the internet for a week.  We have had another snow storm and tonight it is raining.

I guess spring is arriving soon......But not quite yet....March has come in like a watch out later this month !!!!