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A Mixed Bag November 2002
Dan Martinez  

Sorry that this newsletter is two weeks behind the normal 6-week cycle time. Couldn’t be helped. October has been a rather active hunting month for me, and anyway, I had no exciting feature story to share with you this time.

I had a turkey hunt up on the Kaibab plateau in mid-October, a week back to work, then another week deer hunting in unit 16A. Sad to say, I failed to find my quarry on both hunts, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

So instead of one great, suspenseful, frought-with-danger, but ultimately successful adventure, I’ve got a handful of little stories to relate – a mixed bag.

Sammy the Small Game Master
My younger son, Sammy, continues to earn the title of Small Game Master. On our trip up to the Kaibab, Sam was the first one of us to make game. Dale Saverud, my two boys, Ben and Sam, and myself were the parties on this trip. Dale, Ben and I each had tags for turkey. Sam didn’t want to go at all at first – until I told him that he would have the opportunity to hunt for blue grouse if he went.

Club V.P. David Stimens had alerted me to the possibility of running into grouse up on the Kaibab. This was to be my first trip there, and David had just got back from an archery hunt. He mentioned that he ran into blue grouse several times during his trip.

Now I’ve been wanting to bag my first blue grouse for a number of years. They’ve always eluded me. Oh I had seen one once in the White Mountains. It was midsummer, so they were definitely not in season. It was at the main campground at Big Lake. What I most remembered was how nonchalant the bird was. He was in no real hurry to get away from me. He just kind of sauntered away from me as I tried to approach him.

So Sam asked me, “What’s a blue grouse?” “Oh, it’s kind of like a small chicken kind-of-bird,” I told him. “Oh! I wanna go! I wanna get a chicken!”

I had the perfect gun for this hunt – my infamous Savage combo gun. .223 for the big birds, and 12 ga. for the “chickens.” I had loaded up a batch of “.223 Heavy Hornet” loads for the turkeys (55 gr. softpoint at about 2000 fps), and sighted in the Savage to hit right-on with this load at 100 yards. Sam was issued Ben’s Mossberg Bantam M500 in 20 ga. Ben was using his favorite centerfire, a T/C Contender Carbine in 6.5mm T/CU (a .223 necked up to .264 and blown-out). And to round things out, Dale brought along his 12 ga. Mossberg Model 9200 autoloader as primary, with his Ruger Number 3 single shot in .223 as backup.

Of course I also brought along the new Polaris Ranger. We were all sitting around camp midday on the second day of our hunt. We had just come back from an early morning walk-in-the-woods, on the prowl for turkey, when I announced, “I think I’m gonna go off Rangering for a while. Anyone else wanna go with me?”

Unexpectedly, there was no great enthusiasm shown. I suppose that energy levels were still a little low after the walkabout at high altitude. Eventually one kid said, “Okay. I’ll go.” Then the other kid said, “Okay. I’ll go.” Then the other big kid started saddling up his Mossberg 12 gauge. Hmmm. This presented a little dilemma. The Ranger only has seating for 3.

Dale ended up sitting in the bed of the Ranger, high up on top of the storage box. I suppose that he felt that he was in some sort of safari vehicle or something. He said that sitting up there got him up out of the dust. And the Polaris did just fine with all four of us aboard, each of us with guns and rucksacks.

We followed the road we were camped on about two miles down to where it dead-ended. We hunted around down at the dead-end for about half-an-hour, saw nothing, loaded up and started heading back toward camp.

Less than half-way back, I stopped the vehicle. Everyone was wondering what was going on. I whispered loudly and pointed: “Grouse!” We were about 75 yards back from where the bird pecked at the road. The next word I said was, “Sammy!”

I disembarked, ran around to the other side of the Ranger, and pulled down the hard sided gun case holding Sammy’s shotgun from the top of the roll cage where it was bungeed. While I was opening the case and handing the shotgun to Sam, the bird strolled off the road into the forest. Sam loaded two rounds into the shotgun and chambered one. Then he crept forward toward the last spot the bird was seen. Loudly whispering again, I told Sam, “Get off the road – follow him!”

As I stood by the Ranger, Sam disappeared from my view as he stepped into the forest. About a minute later, BLAM! I heard Dale yell, “Great shot!” Dale had stepped into the forest next to the Ranger and saw Sam tumble the bird from a range of about 10 yards.

Dale had brought along a steak for one of his camp dinners, so we ended up cutting up both steak and grouse breast into strips. Dale cooked up the meat with onions and we had enough to make grouse and steak burritos for the four of us for dinner that evening.

So Sammy has now taken squirrel, dove, and now grouse. He’s also hot to go duck hunting with me this year. We also saw quite a few antlerless deer in the Kaibab. He’s got two years to go before he’s old enough to hunt the Youth-Only, Antlerless Deer hunt they’ve had for the last couple of years in 12A. He’s already excited about that!

Casualty at the Buckhunter's Challenge
The fall Buckhunter’s Challenge event was held on October 5th. There were only four attendees (where were you?). That was my biggest bummer. From my perspective, this is really a very fun event. If you are an Arizona desert deer hunter, there is no finer practice for taking shots at game. But I’m not writing to bitch about a lack of attendance. We had our first Buckhunter’s Challenge casualty on this day.

We held the event at a new spot which is actually about two-thirds of the way from I-17 to Morristown on I-74. We had to go out that far to get outside of Peoria city limits! The new spot is in an area popular with Jeep and ATV enthusiasts, being laced with a number of motor trails. We used this as an advantage to set up the targets.

From experience at past events, setting up those deer targets at different spots at ranges approaching 400 yards can be very time consuming. I brought along the Polaris to transport targets and people around, to speed setup. That worked great.

When setting up a target, you need to find a big rock that you can place with the target to protect the electronics from an errant shot. The first target I set up right over an existing rock outcropping on the hillside. The rock had a vertical cleft in it which was just the right size to swallow-up the FRS radio and the eDeer electronics unit. “Perfect,” I thought, as I placed the electronics, wired up the target, and tested it.

We were almost done with the event and we were shooting at this target from about 300 yards away. The hunter who shot it before me had taken 2 shots, and having missed both times, decided that it was best to quit while he was ahead. Wounding shots after having missed twice already, result in a high negative score being awarded.

I was next. I took my first shot – nothing. I took my second shot – nothing. Earlier, we had other tries at this target at 390 and 360 yards. My new 7mm Mag and I were tuned to a high state of hunt readiness. I had made first-shot kills at both the 390 and 360 yard opportunities. I turned around and asked, “Did one of you guys take out the electronics?” I fired my third and final shot – still nothing.

When the shooting was all done, it was time for course take-down. When I got to the target I found that indeed someone had taken out the eDeer electronics unit. But it was not a direct hit. Because I had placed the electronics in a cleft in the rock, the low shot had hit the rock face behind the electronics. The resulting fragmentation of the bullet had thrown molten lead forward onto the box.

When I got home, I did a post-mortem examination. The main chip had been knocked loose out of its socket. The power switch had been ripped apart. The inside cover of the box was streaked by the molten lead which had cut its way through the plastic. Nevertheless, once I popped the chip back into its socket and hot-wired the power, the device still worked! The box is toast, but all I have to do is repackage it into a new box and all will be well!

My Newest Finnish Rifle
My interest in old Russian rifles led to an appreciation of the Finnish Mosin Nagants. Sako was started by the Finns expessly for the purpose of overhauling old, worn, or broken Russian rifles for issue to the Finnish Civil Guard. Never having had an interest in modern Sakos before that, this interest in the old ones caused me to take a good, long look at a Sako Hunter in 7mm Rem Mag I came upon on the used rifle rack at Intermountain Outdoor Sports in Meridian, Idaho.

I was in Idaho visiting relatives this past May. A couple of issues ago, I wrote about Elmer Keith’s Trophy collection displayed at Intermountain Sports. Alas, since then, Intermountain has gone out of business. I don’t know what will become of Elmer’s collection. Word is that Jack O’Connor’s collection is up in Idaho, too, stored, but not on display, at the University of Idaho. (Update: See

Anyway, while I was at the store taking pictures of Elmer’s heads, I saw this rifle. The price tag said $700. Nice, but I never had a particular hankering for a 7mm Mag. And while not a bad price for a rifle which sells new for over $1000, There was no reason to be dropping that kind of money on a rifle I didn’t need.

When I picked it up, I noticed that it was basically in like-new condition. The tag said that rings were included with the rifle, but from what I could tell, they had never been mounted. It had a beautiful walnut stock with a palm swell -- nice long, medium contour barrel.

The salesman noticed my interest in the rifle and casually mentioned that all rifles on the used rack were being discounted 20% for the Memorial Day weekend sale. A quick mental calculation told me that they would actually let me take this fine rifle home for only $560! Ka-ching! That was it! Where’s my wallet? If nothing else, I could take this rifle home and turn it around for $700 or more and make a quick profit!

When I got it home and started researching it, I found out that it was probably made in 1996 or 1997. Not long after that, Sako redesigned their rifles, and rechristened them as the Model 75. This one has a bolt shroud that looks just like the M75. The M75 however, is a three-lug design, whereas this one, designated as a model L691, is a two-lug design.

I decided that a fine European rifle such as this deserved a fine European scope. I ordered-up a Kahles 3-9x42 American Hunter model with the TD Smith ballistic reticle.

Since I still wasn’t sure I wanted to keep it, I didn’t want to invest in handloading dies and components for a new (to me) caliber. I bought a couple of boxes of factory ammo – some inexpensive Remington “green box” ammo, and some more expensive Federal Premium ammo.

Initial results did not make me happy. This was my first experience with a “Magnum” rifle. I definitely did not like the wallop it was hitting me with. Worse, the groups I was getting were mostly over 2 inches, some at 3 inches. Ok, the occasional group would drop into the Ones, but that was not the norm.

OK. I was ready to sell. I offered it to a couple of guys in the club with no takers. It rode on my shoulder around the gun show, again with no takers.

Oh what the heck! Let’s try some handloads. I ordered up dies and 140 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips. I had plenty of brass, having emptied all those factory rounds. I chose 140 grain bullets, which are on the lighter side for a Seven Mag, because I wanted to see what I could do to reduce recoil. Looking at the Nosler load book, I noticed that a top-velocity load for the 140 grain bullet should yield about 3300 fps using around 67 grains of RL-22.

BUT! Powder charge weight is ALSO an important factor in recoil! The book also told me that I could still get about 3000 fps with just 54 grains of IMR 4064 – a powder which I had recently been working a lot with for the 7.62x54 Russian. Nothing at all wrong with 3000 fps instead of 3300, if you ask me! Only the fastest possible loads in a .280 Remington will do 3000.

Recoil calculations, assuming a 9.2 pound rifle weight, told me that this would reduce kick by a full 25% . . .

Bullet Powder Chrg. Velocity Recoil
Nos. 140 BT 67.0g RL-22 3300 20.8 ft-lb.
Nos. 140 BT 54.0g IMR 4064 3000 15.7 ft-lb.

But the really great news was that when I range-tested this load, I was averaging consistent 1 MOA groups. On a blustery day, I shot a 200 yard group 2.12” wide, but only a half-inch tall! I blame the wind for most of the horizontal dispersion.

Now about that TDS reticle on the Kahles scope . . . It looks something like this:

You are provided with complete instructions on how to use it in the scope box, but here’s a quick run-down on the bullet drop aspect –

Depending on the ballistics of your rifle, your sight-in zero and the bullet drops at the different range marker bars will be different. Charts are provided to help you figure it all out. For a muzzleloader, for example, you would sight in the center crosshair at 100 yards, and the drops at the RMBs would be for distances of 125, 150, 175, and 200 yards.

For me, using the load talked about above, if you sight-in the center crosshair to zero at 200 yards, the first RMB down is the bullet drop at 300 yards, the next, 400 yards, the next, 500 yards, and the last, 600 yards.

This is the rifle, scope, and load I was using at the Buckhunter’s Challenge event. With this setup I made those first-shot 390 and 360 yard kills, and it is the reason I had enough confidence in my shots at 300 yards to ask the other guys whether they might have taken out the electronics when I scored an apparent miss.

I don’t know about 500 or 600 yard shots, but if I had to, I was prepared to make a 400 yard shot on my deer hunt. But the deer in 16A were so smart, the Sako and I never even got a chance.

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