Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vicious Winters, Wolves, and a Come-back

Deep snow with sleet laden branches
The part of Saskatchewan that I love to hunt in is recovering from several brutal winters coupled with a Timber Wolf over-population. Deep snow, extreme cold, and wolf packs numbering in the twenties turned what was a hunting paradise into a hunting desert.

We used to scoff at white tailed bucks under 150 inches; considered it bizarre if we saw no elk, and expected to shoot at least one moose every season. Well, it's amazing what severe winters and wolves can accomplish; the forests were virtually emptied of game.

After the first severe winter the wolf population increased and local farmers began to suffer depredation of cattle for the first time ever, some losing several dozen or more head. The deer population was cut down by at least 80% and any cow elk we saw were dry.   The moose seemed to do fine the first severe winter, perhaps due to the fact that the wolves had lots of deer and elk calves to feast on.

The following winter more or less finished off all but a handful of deer, and drastically reduced the elk and moose populations. But, it also wiped out the wolves. By winter's end there was hardly a wolf to be found ... where we used to see wolves every few days and tracks everywhere, you can now find none. I have read several sources that claim that when wolves run out of game, especially in the winter, they cannibalize each other. I have no idea if this is true, but it makes sense. No wolf pack is going to go long without food before tempers flare, fights break out, and the losers become lunch.

This past year, 3 winters later, marked the beginning of the deer and elk come-back. Deer were plentiful, but mostly yearlings or two year olds, and the elk herds are creeping up to their old standard, with every cow trailing a calf. Large bull elk are not common yet, but in a couple of years we should begin to see decent mature bulls and even a few wall-hangers. Moose numbers though, are still way down.

Long Body; Small Antlers
Needless to say, I entered the season with low expectations. My son and I hunted elk in September and managed to bag two bulls; one spike and one large bodied, but small antlered 5x5. Moose though, turned out to be elusive, for the second year in a row. The sheer lack of sign was actually startling because not that long ago we took it for granted that we would be dining on moose all winter long.

My deer hunt consisted mainly of having a good time snooping around in the woods and bagging a small buck for the freezer.

So far the 2017-2018 winter is mild, and I look forward to better opportunities in 2018.  It's always a sad day when I clean up the 35 Whelen and put it away in the safe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Gravel Pit Winter Trout

I wrote previously about the trout I stocked in a flooded gravel pit. You can read the article HERE with details about the gravel pit.
rainbow trout ice fishing
Winter Rainbow: The two larger ones are 17 inch fish.

Winter has now locked the pond in under 28 inches of ice. It's nearing the end of January, but so far the fish are thriving. I don't expect them to survive the winter ... but of course I'm hoping to be wrong.

There isn't a lot of plant growth in the pond, and so far this year there has been little snow, and that which has fallen keeps being blown off the pond. This allows ample light through and just may prevent too many plants from dying off. If most of the plants survive, there may be enough oxygen for the fish to last until spring melt ... especially since living plants won't be robbing oxygen like decaying ones would.

Friends and I have caught about 25 trout so far. They are a bit finicky to catch, being that they are stuffed with water beetles and of course a bit lethargic in the cold water. But, once on the line they fight like mad, indicating that oxygen levels are still fine. The amazing part is their size. We are catching females which are 16 inches in length and chunky. It's amazing that the 4 inch fish I stocked last spring have grown so much.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

35 Whelen in Exhaustive Detail

One of the best sources on the internet for cartridge information is Terminal Ballistics Research.  The site offers frank, non-industry-driven facts about the world's most common hunting cartridges.

Three cartridges I have fairly extensive hunting experience with are the 30-06, 35 Whelen, and 300 Winchester Magnum.  After reading the exhaustive information on each offered by Terminal Ballistics Research , I found that my real-world experience matched perfectly what was stated.  Its always a good sign when you read about a cartridge or rifle, and find that your real world experience matches that which is written.

Terminal Ballistics Archive:
 The .35 Whelen (and .35 Whelen AI) is an extremely versatile cartridge due to its ability to produce hydrostatic shock for fast killing on extremely light through to relatively large bodied game as well as producing deep and broad wounding.

The increase in frontal area makes the .35 Whelen noticeably superior to the .338” bore. When using the .338 bore, the hunter must at times be careful with bullet selection in order to avoid having a bullet that is too tough for the job at hand. The .338 bore excels on larger bodied deer but can on occasion be left wanting if lean animals are encountered. In contrast to this, the .35 bore firing bullets of the same weight displays far greater and much faster energy transfer. So much so, that we sometimes see bullet blow back as a result of hydraulic forces. In these instances, entry wounds may at times be as large as exit wounds. Furthermore, the .358’s can display this performance at mild impact velocities. The .358’s not wholly reliant on velocity in the same manner as the small bores. In plain terms, one cannot have a full understanding of terminal ballistics until one has studied this bore diameter and this cartridge in particular.
Away from the extremes and inside 300 yards, the .35 Whelen is highly effective. In my experience, this cartridge is most effective in the hands of those who mostly hunt bush / woods, but with the chance of open clearing, gully, or river flat shots. This cartridge especially suits those who want a relatively deep penetrating cartridge but also one that is versatile across a wide range of game weights.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gravel Pit Rainbow Trout

The Pond at Sunset

There is a gravel pit near my home where I do a lot of my shooting. It's large enough to offer ranges of up to 400 yards with good high banks for safety.

One part of the pit is a lot deeper than the rest, and it used to form a sandy basin.  Decades ago the owner had dug an extra deep portion into the basin where he hit ground water.  Initially, there was only a small amount of water, but over the years the water table rose until it filled the deepest hole in the basin.  It created an 80 yard long by 20 yard wide pond within the basin.  For years it was a favorite swimming hole.

Then, amazingly, the water table began to rise even more until the pond overflowed and filled in the entire basin.  It formed a sand bottom lake 320 yards by about 80 yards.  Today, the average depth is about 5 feet, but the original hole where ground water was first struck is at least 12 feet deep.  That makes a 12 foot deep channel about 80 feet long in a 320 yard long lake.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nikon Prostaff 5: 2.5-10x50

35 Whelen Remington 700

I recently decided to upgrade the rifle scope on top of my 35 Whelen.  The rifle is a Remington 700 classic.  I had originally topped it with a Nikon Prostaff 5 in 2.5-10x40.

My hunting experience with the scope had been very positive.  I had taken 3 moose and an elk with it, and the scope had proven outstanding in close-in circumstances, where quick acquisition of target was necessary.  The price point had been good, and overall I was completely pleased.

I hunt in Saskatchewan, Canada, where we are allowed to legally hunt from one half hour prior to sunrise, to one half hour after sunset.  In late October and especially in November, what this means is that we can hunt in very dim conditions.   For example, on a cloudy day in November in the thick timber, visibility from sunset to half an hour after is very low.  Hence, I decided to upgrade to a rifle scope that offered good low light visibility.  I should mention that the Nikon I already had was very good; but being the kind of person who is always trying to improve my hunting rig, I decided to go one better.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

35 Whelen Recoil: How Bad is it?

Those considering the purchase of a 35 Whelen often express concern about recoil.  How does the 35 Whelen compare to the 30-06, or the 338 Winchester Magnum, or the 300 Winchester Magnum?

Reading online forums isn't helpful because every possible answer to these questions comes forth.  I've even read comments from participants who suggest the Whelen kicks as hard as the 9.3 x 62; but of course upon questioning them, one finds out that these individuals haven't ever owned a Whelen.

I'll share with you my experience with 35 Whelen recoil and compare it to cartridges and rifles I am familiar with. This is not a scientific comparison by any means; just a comparison based on that good'ol fashion thing called experience.

My current Whelen is a Remington 700 Classic in the original wood stock.  The recoil pad is original, and in my opinion more than ample. The barrel is 22" in length with a 1:16 twist.  I have free floated the barrel and epoxy bedded the action.

In order to make my comments a bit more relevant and accurate I will only consider factory ammunition in my comparisons.  I will be comparing the Whelen shooting 225 grain Nosler Accubond factory ammunition and Remington 250 grain PSP Ammunition.

The rifles which I'm going to compare the 35 Whelen to are firearms I have owned and fired a lot.  These include a Weatherby Mark V in 300 Win Mag (wood stock); a Browning A Bolt 7mm Rem Mag (synthetic stock); a Browning A Bolt II in 7mm Rem Mag (wooden stock); a Remington 700 BDL in 30-06; and a Sako Hunter in 338 Win Mag with KDF muzzle break. All of these rifles had decent recoil pads, including the 700 BDL onto which I had attached a Packmayr Decelorator.

  • Weatherby Mark V in 300 Win Mag (Wood Stock) using factory 180 grain ammunition definitely recoils sharper than the Whelen.  This, despite the fact that the Weatherby Mark V has a Monte Carlo stock and more weight. Even the Remington 250 grain Whelen loads kick less than the Weatherby. 
  • Browning A Bolt and Browning A Bolt II in 7mm Rem Mag using 150 grain ammuniton both recoiled more sharply than my 35 Whelen.  In fact, both rifles compared very closely to the Weatherby Mark V.  The synthetic stock A Bolt recoiled harder than the Weatherby Mark V.  The Whelen delivered less recoil ... hands down. 
  • Remington 700 BDL in 30-06 using 180 grain ammunition delivered very similar recoil to my 35 Whelen.  I found that 180 grain Remington Core Lokt ammunition kicked more sharply, but with less "push" than the Whelen.  Whelen 250 grain Remington Core Lokt ammunition delivered more "push" but with less sharpness.  It was almost as if recoil was delivered over a fraction of a second longer ... if that makes sense. 
  • Sako Hunter in 338 Win Mag shooting 225 grain ammunition gave the greatest recoil, hands down, even with the muzzle break.  None of the above rifles kicked as hard, in either sharpness or overall push. 
I have worked up reloaded ammunition that had the 35 Whelen kicking every bit as hard as the Mark V 300 Win Mag, but it took maximum powder charges and 225 grain TSX bullets to do so.  I didn't use these hot loads for hunting though, as they were inaccurate in my rifle.

I'm not sure why my 35 Whelen recoils about the same as my 700 BDL 30-06.  Logic would suggest that the heavier 35 caliber bullets would cause more recoil.  It could be that the reduced shoulder  on the Whelen works to mitigate recoil.  The result though, for whatever reason, is that my 35 Whelen gives 30-06 levels of recoil.

It is when reloading that the 35 Whelen comes into it's own. It can be pushed close to 338 Win Mag stopping power out to 300 yards but with considerably less recoil.  If your Whelen likes 250 Grain Nosler Partition bullets, you'll have a 300 yard moose and elk killer without the punishing recoil of the 338 Win Mag, but with comparable trajectory and power. 

For those who may be concerned about 35 Whelen recoil, let me make it simple.  If you handle 30-06 recoil well, you will handle 35 Whelen recoil well.