Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jack + .50 Cal Barrett + 5 Lbs. Tannerite = One Badass Time

In my previous post, I discussed the very worthwhile Pass It On Outdoor Mentors benefit that my ten-year-old son Jack and I attended last weekend.  Like most fundraisers of the outdoor ilk, there was an obligatory auction featuring some nice fishing and hunting trips, good-looking shotguns, a chance to fly in an open cockpit Stearman airplane, and more.

It was the "more" that caught the attention of me and my son.  The winning bidder would receive the chance to shoot a Barrett M82A1 .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle.  The .50 BMG cartridge was originally designed about 100 years ago by the esteemed John Browning to take out lightly armored vehicles and airplanes (and any personnel that happened to get in the way).  It hurls a 661 grain projectile at a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second.  For the non-gun nuts, the average deer rifle shoots a puny 150 grain bullet at more or less the same speed.  It remains a mainstay machine gun round that serves allied forces well in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The Barrett, however, is a different beast.  Sure, it's the same day-ruining round, but the M82 is, believe it or not, more of a finesse weapon.  The military variant is used to take out single Al Qaeda targets and other unsavory types from over a mile away.

So the bidding started.  We stayed on the sidelines, and as the auctioneer droned on, Jack whispered to me.  "I really want to do this, dad.  It would be so awesome to tell my friends about!"  I paused.  The bid was $50.  "Jack, do your friends even know what a Barrett is?" I asked.  "Sure they do... from video games."

The bidding had stopped, and the Barrett's owner took the stage, in hopes of raising the stakes.  "C'mon, guys, 50 bucks won't even cover the cost of ammo.  If you bid this thing up, we'll throw in some Tannerite to shoot at."

And that's when my son's hand went up.  Tannerite, for the uninitiated, is a perfectly legal "binary target" that, when mixed together, explodes upon impact by a high-velocity centerfire rifle round.  You can drop it, or shoot at it with a handgun round (though I'm not testing this assertion), and it won't go off.

A flurry of bidding ensued, but when the dust settled, Jack and I were proud owners of ten rounds of the largest production centerfire rifle ever manufactured, and a gun to shoot them in.

The next afternoon, after a great round of sporting clays and lunch, it was time to go shooting.  We were escorted out to Flint Oak's range, along with 15 or so curious onlookers.  Jack was nervous, and even though I knew firsthand that this menacing-looking gun's recoil was about the same as a standard 12 gauge, I was a little nervous for him.

The video below, while amazingly cool, doesn't do it justice.  Simply racking a round into this massive gun puts chills down your spine.  Bystanders experience a soul-shuddering whoosh of air each time the trigger is pulled.  Jack is aiming at a target about 125 yards or so away, and the exploding Tannerite was the size of a small house --- the secondary report from the explosion is even more rattling.  See for yourself.

Dad of the year, anyone?  It was a teriffic experience for both of us, and I'm glad we got the chance to fire one.  At $8500.00, it's not likely I'm buying one anytime soon, and even if I could afford the gun, the ammo is sky-high and I don't have a place that I could shoot it.  If you ever get a chance to shoot one of these beasts, by all means, do so.

Scampwalker's common sense disclaimer: I fully support the ownership and legal use of the .50 BMG and Tannerite.  Please help keep them legal by using common sense.  Don't use them to destroy property that isn't your own, and if you shoot stuff, pick up the junk afterwards.  Don't make more noise than is reasonable, and wear hearing protection, for the love of God.  Be a good neighbor and an ambassador of our Second Amendment!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Helping to Pass It On

Last weekend, Jack and I had the privilege of attending the Pass It On Outdoor Mentors Bust-A-Clay for Kids' Sake fundraising event.  It was held at Flint Oak, the renowned hunting and shooting lodge in southeastern Kansas.

Pass It On is a nationwide program that helps connect mentors to at-risk kids who aren't fortunate enough to experience the outdoors.  The group hosts camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and shooting events that provide kids with activities and opportunities that they otherwise wouldn't ever experience.  It benefits the kids, the mentors, and helps stem the declining ranks of anglers and hunters.

Jack and I raised money for the group, and in turn, we were treated to a steak dinner, evening auction, and subsequent morning on the finest clays course I've ever had the chance to visit.  It's been called the Pebble Beach of clays shooting, and now I know why.  The grounds are immaculate, and the stations present pretty much every conceivable shooting opportunity.  And brother is it humbling.

But back to the kids.  Organizers say they raised nearly $40,000 for their group last weekend.  I sincerely believe that each and every sportsman should have at least one cause that they're willing to back with their monetary resources and old-fashioned sweat equity.  I think I found my new group.  Some of you contributed to the cause.  A sincere thank you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bad News/Good News Update on the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Boots

Nearly a month ago, on April 23rd, I received this note (above) from the fine folks at L.L. Bean, informing me that they were canceling my backorder for a new pair of Technical Upland Boots. Many of you know that I've been raving about these incredibly comfortable (if a bit silly looking) boots ever since Bean began offering them about a year ago. They quickly became my go-to boot, and saw extensive duty in midwestern CRP and cornfields, Minnesota grousewoods, Montana prairies, and Texas brush country.

Towards the end of the season, the toe bumper and an external arch tab began separating from the Superfabric upper. Bad news. Once the season was over, I decided to test the company's exchange policy, and they happily agreed to swap out my boots for a new pair, once they had a new shipment in the warehouse. Good news.

And then this note came. Bad news again. I was curious, so I decided to contact the company's media relations guy, Mac McKeever. Mac quickly put me in touch with Jeff Miller, a Senior Developer for L.L. Bean's Upland Technical line, which was definitely good news.

Jeff is a lifelong birdhunter, and grew up in the shadow of the L.L. Bean mothership in Freeport, Maine. "I have been chasing grouse and woodcock around for over 35yrs - starting around six years old with a pneumatic cork gun that I carried while my dad hunted over a good friend's setters," Miller emailed me. For the last 15 or so years, he's been raising and training his own shorthairs. Good guy, and the real deal.

But back to the boots. I explained my situation to him, and asked him why my order was canceled and the boots are no longer avaialble on the website. Here's his emailed reply.

"You and I are both big fans, as well as a bunch of other guys, and I'm sorry to say that I don't currently have the toe-bumper/mudguard issue solved for [fall 2011]. The last revision was improved considerably but after several weeks in the field we saw signs of the same potential issue and I am in the middle of the fourth revision/redesign to solve the problem. I assure you, I am doing everything I can to resolve it quickly and get them back on the market - they really are great boots but unfortunately it doesn't look good for this October."

Major bad news. But I'm going to give Jeff and the folks at L.L. Bean some major credit on this. There are a lot of companies out there that would capitalize on the buzz around a new product and churn out junk, just to make a quick buck. But that's not L.L. Bean's way of doing business, and I applaud them for it.

So I'll wait. As long as my current pair stay comfortable, I'm going to continue wearing them. They may need a dab of Liquid Nails here and there, but that's the cost of being an "early adopter."  It also makes me comfortable to know that when they finally DO have a design that passes the torture tests, it's more than likely going to be bombproof.  The most important thing?  L.L. Bean just earned a lifelong customer.

And good thing, too, because Jeff and I got to talking about some of the other Technical Upland gear that his company is pioneering. I'll have more about that in an upcoming post.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Road Photo Friday: Five Months 'Til Grouse Camp

Right now, northern Minnesota is transitioning from frozen wasteland season into swampy, bug-infested season.  But for a few weeks in mid-October, it's heaven on earth.  Most of the bugs and many of the leaves have died off, yet it's still warm enough that you can sit by the evening campfire in a fleece jacket, sipping whiskey and trading lies.

I snapped this photo at Dan's legendary cabin, where I've been going for what seems like an eternity.  Hunting season wouldn't be hunting season without a visit here every year.  I woke up thinking about grouse camp, so it only made sense to post this shot today.  I owe Dan a much longer essay (something he's pointed out repeatedly), but this'll have to do until then.

Here's to you, buddy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Extreme Makeover: LuLu Edition

LuLu, my 15-month-old pointer, is resting comfortably at home, after a big day at the vet yesterday. I'm getting her ready for her early June trip to the trainer -- more on that in another post, but here's a list of the procedures she underwent:

Ovariohysterectomy (AKA spaying). As I mentioned in my previous post, I no longer harbor any illusions of breeding one of my dogs, and as I learned firsthand with Dottie, it's much more healthy if female dogs are spayed. After much research, I opted to let her go through one cycle prior to the procedure. There are pros and cons of that, but I thought for a bird dog, it was important to let them reach full physical maturity. And besides, the increased cancer risk was fairly negligible.

Nipplectomy (2 nipples removed). Yeah, I know, weird, huh? As a by-product of going into heat, it is common for many female dogs' teats to enlarge. But hers were ridiculous! For some reason, two of LuLu's nipples grew to ginormous proportions, and never shrunk after she went out of season. They were literally the size and circumference of my pinky finger. Gross, but more importantly, I was concerned she'd lacerate them in the field. So after consultation with my vet, off they went.

Front dewclaw removal. When I picked up LuLu as a pup, I was a bit disappointed to see she still had her front dewclaws. Circumstances with my breeder prohibited him from removing them at an early age, so I opted to have them removed while she was already under anesthesia. I have been told that removing a damaged dewclaw can be much more complicated, painful, and potentially crippling, so I opted to be proactive.

Microchip implant. Despite an extensive ID collar and an Astro, I opted to get my big-running dog microchipped for easy identification. The company that my vet uses is HomeAgain, but my research indicates I can register it with virtually any database for a reasonable one-time fee. I believe I'm going to choose the AKC registry, which seems to be the largest and best-known. Anyone out there have any additional advice on microchipping?

Rattlesnake vaccine. In addition to her various other vaccinations, I've chosen to get LuLu vaccinated against rattlesnakes. While I've read about the horror stories on the internet, any reputable breeder or trainer that I've spoken with likes to vaccinates dogs that frequent snake country. LuLu certainly does -- between western Kansas, Montana, and Texas, her odds are pretty good of coming in contact with a rattler. While I'd still take any dog to a vet if they were struck, I think the vaccine might mitigate the effects -- especially since it's a 45 minute drive (at least) to the nearest vet when I'm out hunting. My own vet wasn't familiar with the vaccine, and after calling the manufacturer, Red Rock Biologics, I learned that no vet in the Kansas City area has the vaccine. After consulting with my trainer, he's going to have his vet do it once LuLu arrives in Montana for training this summer. Any other advice or thoughts on this vaccine?

All the poking and prodding slowed down LuLu a bit -- she was actually a pleasure to pet and love on, instead of her usual hyper-puppy self -- but this morning she was almost back up to full speed. I never cease to marvel at bird dogs' capacity to recover. At any rate, by the time she goes to college next month, she should be ready to rumble.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Braggin' On Finn: A New Pup On Our String

Meet Finn.  This stylish and exceedingly cute 15-week old setter pup is my buddy Wes' newest edition to his crew.  He's out of Berg Bros Setters in Dayton, Minnesota.  I'm decidedly a pointer guy, but a shaggy dog like this one could certainly sway me.

The pigeon trapping was a little bit slow this week, so instead of going to bigger land where we could run both Finn and LuLu (my year-old-and-then-some pointer pup), we just took the little guy to a nearby park and let him have at the one pigeon we had.  I was really impressed with his drive and nose.  At this age of course, it's all about simply introducing them to new experiences, but even so, it looks like Wes has a real winner on his hands.

On a somewhat related note, LuLu is going under the knife tomorrow to get spayed.  While I think she's got some terrific potential, I've learned over the years that I've got no business breeding bird dog pups, so this seems the wisest route for me.  I've got to get her ready for her formal training this summer.  More on that later.