Friday, April 29, 2011

Braggin' On Jack

This spring, my son Jack joined our local shooting range's youth trapshooting team. It's sponsored by the Scholastic Clay Target Program, a national organization that strives to get kids involved in the shotgun sports.

Being a fifth grader, Jack is on the younger side of things, but he's really taken to it. Like his dad, he wasn't blessed with a heaping portion of athletic ability (or really even a morsel).  But we're discovering that (also like his pop) his hand-eye coordination is pretty darn good.

Good enough to earn him and his squadmates second place in his first-ever trap shoot. More importantly, it's teaching him gun safety and sportsmanship. I'm awfully proud of the kid.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter at the Scampwalker's

'Twas a nice and leisurely Easter Sunday at Casa Scampwalker.  After Sunday services, Mrs. S and I whipped up a couple of brandy milk punches.  It's an old family tradition of mine, and one I can remember my parents savoring many years ago when I was my son's age.  The ingredients sound a bit odd, but they almost taste like a melted milkshake.  A decidedly grown-up one.

The centerpiece of our Easter meal was a ham that I prepared from scratch.  I bought a 14-pound fresh ham from Bichelmeyer Meats, and, using the recipe in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie,  brined it in a cooler for about six days.  It wasn't a fancy brine -- just kosher salt, brown sugar, and some pink salt.  I smoked it up on Friday (about 7 hours total, until the internal temp hit 155 degrees).  It was delicious!  I always thought a ham required a lot more knowledge, skill, and equipment than the average home cook could muster, but I can gladly report that we'll be doing this again -- just as soon as we eat the other 13 pounds of this one.

The ham was accompanied by a terrific blue cheese and chipotle scalloped potato recipe taken from Homesick Texan, and some gently steamed asparagus drizzled with some lemon juice.  It was all paired with a 2009 Becker Prairie Rotie, a really tasty Rhone-style blend that complemented the flavors of the meal.  And a fresh strawberry pie for dessert.

After a prodigious nap on the couch, we engaged in another Scampwalker ritual: cascarones.  A south Texas and Mexican custom, a cascarone is a dyed eggshell filled with confetti.  A spirited battle at a nearby park ensued, and the Scampwalker tradition of "It Ain't Easter Until Someone Cries or Bleeds" was fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Tricked-Out Ruger 10-22

Remember back in the day when all it took was a silly little .22 rifle to make you happy?  Cans, squirrels, and paper targets were all in danger when that little gun was in your hands.  I've recently rediscovered that joy.

A good friend, looking to liquidate some of his excess firearms and components, offered me the receiver of a Ruger 10-22, the most popular, reliable, and vaunted autoloading rimfire rifle ever produced.  Admittedly, I was a newbie to the platform, but I knew it was popular for a reason, and decided it would make a fun winter project.

My receiver-providing friend, no firearms slouch, had already done a trigger job, upgraded the firing pin and bolt handle, and jeweled the bolt.  But the rest of the gun didn't exist.  Enter the internet.  The next most important -- if not the most important -- component of any rifle is the barrel, and the 10-22 offers a dizzying array of aftermarket ones.  After a lot of investigation, I decided on the Tactical Solutions X-Ring fluted machined aluminum .920 barrel.  In rifle parlance, that's a "heavy" barrel, though this bad boy weighs less than a pound.  Installation was mind-numbingly simple.

I initially wanted a classy wood or laminate stock, but nothing really suited me.  I wanted this to be a gun that would fit me as well as Jack, my 10-year-old son.  Somewhat begrudgingly, I went for Blackhawk's Axiom R/F adjustable telescoping butt stock.  Boy am I glad I did.  It's free-floated, weighs just over a pound, and fits us both to a T.

For optics, I couldn't justify spending a ton on a rimfire gun (yes, I know, I had already spent an inordinate amount of coin on this gun, for those of you keeping score at home).  I "settled" for a Bass Pro Shops Redhead Ascent Rimfire 3x9 scope for about 60 bucks, with rings.  I chose a Tactical Solutions picatinny-style rail base as well.

I should've stopped there.  But I had a Leapers UTG bipod on order from Amazon that was originally destined for my AR, but I figured I was rapidly moving from tactical to "tacticool" on that weapon.  So I put it on the sling swivel stud of the Ruger's Blackhawk stock, and I've been amazed at how great it works on the range bench.  No sandbags, and much more stable.  I've heard there are reliability issues with the UTG rest, but so far, I haven't seen any.

So how much does this monstrosity weigh?  Would you believe a mere five pounds, three ounces?  Pretty slick, huh?  But is it a shooter?

Hell yeah.  Out at the range yesterday, at 50 yards, in 10-15 mph variable winds, I was routinely bulling my target -- and so was Jack.  You can shoot the thing all day, of course, since the noise, recoil, and expense of the ammo is minimal.  And if you like shooting centerfire rifles and pistols like my son does, you need to make sure you have a fun-to-shoot .22 in your gun cabinet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I'm Listening To: Spring 2011

It's been awhile since my last sonic update. Here are a few new (and new to me) tunes that are wearing out my MP3 player.

Jason Isbell - Here We Rest
The former Drive-By Trucker's third solo effort is being hailed from all corners, and for good reason. It's a damn fine album. To me, it feels distinctly more mellow than his last two, but that's not entirely a bad thing. His songwriting has become has become even sharper, and his smoky, bourbon-on-the-rocks voice is in top form. Styles range from the straight-ahead rocker "Go It Alone" to the almost folky "Codeine" to the Department of Tourism-ready "Alabama Pines." Most songs are about loss and longing, but unless you listen closely to the lyrics, the melodies are generally sunny. It's another album that was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama -- a place that's deservedly enjoying a nice resurgence in attention these days.

Turnpike Troubadours - Diamonds & Gasoline
This one came out late last summer, and it sort of fell off my radar until just recently. My loss. These guys are going to be the Next Big Thing to come out of Oklahoma -- if they aren't already. Literate and geographically astute lyrics are decorated with really great melodies and can't-get-it-out-of-your-head hooks. This is country music for people who say they're too smart for country music, and rock and roll for for those who think they've outgrown it. It probably didn't hurt that the record was produced by Mike McClure, a veteran of the Red Dirt music scene.  I had the chance to see them recently, and they're every bit as good on stage as they are on Memorex.

I became a fan of the Allstars back during their Shake Hands With Shorty debut and 51 Phantom follow-up, but they kind of fell off my radar as they jumped on the jam-band bandwagon. Today, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew are back in a big way with Keys To the Kingdom. Last year, the Dickinson boys lost their father Jim, a legendary Memphis session man, and his departure deeply influenced their latest release. Tinged heavily with southern gospel, soul, and blues, Keys to the Kingdom veers between mourning their father's death and celebrating his life. "Hear the Hills" is a poigniant tearjerker, while the irreverent "Jumpercable Blues" contains the awesome refrain of, "hey hey, well well, all y'all can go straight to hell... you have seen the last of me, pissin' in your wishing well." They even do a brilliant and uniquely original cover of Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again."

Eleven Hundred Springs - Eight the Hard Way
The long haired, tattooed hippie freaks from Dallas turn out another solid record full of "Hardcore Honkytonk." The album track by the same name is a dig at present-day Nashville, and "We're From Texas" is their obligatory salute to the Lone Star State. Nothing here is terribly original, but I think that's maybe the point. Over 13 years and 11 albums, these guys simply turn out great, timeless country tunes.

Band of Heathens - Top Hat Crown and the Clapmaster's Son
About the only thing that sucks about this album is its unwieldy and weird title. BOH started as sort of an Austin "supergroup" of individual talent from the likes of Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist, Colin Brooks, and Brian Keane. Their first couple discs sounded great, but you could definitely tell they hadn't entirely gelled as a band. Their newest one (whatever the hell it's called) is definitely more cohesive and tight, and they've expanded their sound by drawing elements from soul, gospel, funk, New Orleans style jazz, and good old rock and roll.

Black Joe Lewis And the Honeybears - Scandalous
What a fun album. I've worn out their debut full-length album, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is, thoroughly enjoying classic tunes like I'm Broke, Get Yo Shit, and Humpin'. They've followed it up with a blistering soul-funk-R&B opus that includes gems like "Booty City," "Black Snake," and "Mustang Ranch," in which Joe tells the story of visiting the renowned Texas whorehouse to get his "ham glazed." But beneath the outrageous, sweaty, slightly mysogenistic lyrics, there's some damn fine musicianship among the eight (or so) band members. This album is tighter and better crafted than the previous.  It's Otis Redding, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett sprinkled with a little Rick James. And it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Road Photo Friday: Snakebit

These three photos from my recent turkey hunting trip in the Lone Star State do well to sum up the experience.

This photo depicts the guajillo bush that was hit by my shotgun this morning.  The turkey standing in close proximity was not.

This photo is of the Mexican free-tailed bat that inexplicably ran into my hunting buddy's neck on Tuesday.  Mind you, this did not happen as we were walking to our stand in pre-dawn hours -- it was at 2 p.m.  The incident prompted another buddy to quip, "if you start growing fangs, we're shooting you."

Oh yeah, it was a hundred degrees.  The first week in April.

This final photo is of the five foot long western diamondback rattlesnake that decided to join us on our early morning turkey hunt Thursday morning.  Like within a foot.  We escaped, unscathed.  The snake did not.

Some trips are just that way, aren't they?